Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Choosing a host for next year’s Political Book Awards has been a very tortuous process. For the first two years of this event, which takes place at the IMAX on the South Bank each year, we used the wonderful Gyles Brandreth, and he has been superb. He’s funny, risqué and you have complete confidence that if something goes wrong, he’ll cope. And there aren’t many people who can do that.
However, you have to keep events like this fresh, so this year we decided to see a new host. But who? We needed someone who could be funny, who a political and publishing audience could relate to and who could keep the show on the road.
Well, I’m delighted to announce that Rory Bremner has agreed to host the evening. I had a meeting with him this week and he treated me to some of his new impressions. His David Cameron is absolutely superb. Like others, I think Rory found it difficult to “get” Cameron initially, but I can promise you, it’s now spot on. He still finds Nick Clegg a challenge though. My advice was that he just needed to sound permanently indignant and slightly petulant.
It’s been a week of Christmas parties for many people. I took my LBC show team to the Heliot restaurant, which is in the Hippodrome Casino just off Leicester Square. I’m always baffled, when I walk through the casino, at the number of Chinese people in there. On the four or five occasions I have eaten there, around 70 per cent of the punters seem to be of Chinese origin. I wonder why this is.
Anyway, there were nine of us and we did the usual ‘Secret Santa’ thing. It was most disappointing to find that everyone had treated it quite seriously and bought rather nice presents for each other. Apart from me, obviously. I got my Labour-supporting producer a copy of Why Vote UKIP? Nine people and not a single dildo in sight. Unheard of.
On Wednesday, I did my fortnightly Sky News paper review with Jacqui Smith. A couple of Christmases ago, live on TV, I pulled out a sprig of mistletoe and gave her a smacker. (The evidence is here). Well it’s best not to revisit the scene of a crime, so this year I thought I’d give her a present to unwrap.
Again, I thought Why Vote UKIP? might be an amusing thing to give her. So she unwrapped it live on air. Guess you had to be there, but I enjoyed the moment. Mark Longhurst, the Sky host, looked on rather quizzically and said: “It’s a bit of a slim volume, isn’t it?”
Thirty five years ago yesterday, my grandmother, Constance Henriette Dale, died at the age of 85. I was 17. Why do I mention this? First of all, because it make me feel very old, but more importantly, it was she who roused my interest in politics. She used to tell me at regular intervals: “Never trust Labour. They always spend more than they can afford”, and “Michael Foot’s a communist”. Well she was certainly right on one of those. I still miss her.
I’ve decided to revive my blog, and between now and the election I will be blogging most days (hopefully) at www.iaindale.com. The next four months could be the most exciting we have seen in British politics for many a year.
One of the things I will be doing is trying to predict the outcome of each individual seat at the election. Opinion polls are fairly meaningless at the moment. Why? Because there isn’t going to be a national, or even regional swing. You have to look at each constituency on its own merits.
I’ve started by looking at seats in Essex and Norfolk, the two counties I am most familiar with. It’s a real challenge, because for each seat you have to assess where the LibDem vote will go – if anywhere – and what will happen to UKIP.
You also have to ignore friendships and party political allegiances if the predictions are to have any real meaning. The 27 seats I have done so far have provoked much debate, not least among those who are adamant that Robert Halfon will retain Harlow. With a very heavy heart I have predicted he won’t. It’s the one prediction so far that I would love to get wrong. He’s a superb MP and I sincerely hope he pulls through.
So, will West Ham come down with the Christmas decorations? Chelsea away, Arsenal at home. Six points. No problem. And in other news from Narnia…
Mehdi Hasan is someone who most people on the right love to hate. Opinionated, clever, robust and on the left, he has moved from being a talented writer to a brilliant broadcaster on Al Jazeera. It has just been announced that he is leaving the Huffington Post to take up a full time post with Al Jazeera in Washington DC.
It’s rare that I am jealous of anyone, but in this case I will make an exception. I don’t have many regrets in my life, but one of them is that I have never worked in Washington. It’s a city I love, and I’ve probably been to visit on 20 or 30 occasions. I know it will never happen now, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t stop me becoming wistful.
Mehdi will be a big loss to the British political media. I’ve always thought he would end up standing for Parliament and becoming a leading light in the Labour firmament. But maybe, like many others, he has come to the conclusion it this would be a fool’s errand, and not for someone whose outspoken tendencies would not be tolerated. I wish him all the luck in the world. We may not agree on much, but I’ve valued his friendship and support over the years, and he’s a thoroughly nice guy.
Mr Goodman has decided to let me have the week off next week. After all, who on earth wants to read my drivellings on Boxing Day? Don’t answer that. I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas. I’ve enjoyed writing this column during 2014 and I hope that you have enjoyed reading it. I’ll be back on January 2nd.