Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publications, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
My interview with Ed Balls on Wednesday (recorded above) seems to have created a bit of a stir. According to the Huffington Post it was “the most cringeworthy LBC interview in, well, recent days.”
Personally, I thought it was a hoot. You see Balls had come top of a Mumsnet survey of sexy MPs: he was described as a “sexy beast”. Whatever floats your boat, I guess.
Anyway, we sent Tom Swarbrick, our reporter, out to see what the good citizens of London thought, and then played the results to him. As Owen Bennett of the Daily Mirror put it: “The Shadow Chancellor was appearing on LBC radio when host Iain Dale surprised him with a small package”.
Er, I can honestly say I have never surprised anyone with a small package, but perhaps that’s a story for my column in Attitude Magazine, rather than here on ConservativeHome.
Anyway, to cut a long story short, Ed Balls waxed lyrical about his sexual prowess – he’s a “long, slow burn” in case you’re at all interested – and it was all good fun, at the end of an hour-long phone in which covered heavy economic subjects.
Naturally the Daily Mail wrote this up as “excruciating”. In truth, it was nothing of the sort. It was a good laugh, which showed that Balls has a great sense of humour and, in reality, is a thoroughly nice guy – far away from the stereotype image that I am sure most of the readers of this column have of him.
If we want our politicians to be robots and never to show a sense of humour, then that’s fine. But I’d rather have politicians like Balls who aren’t afraid to stray off the political path once in a while, and be entertaining.
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All of which brings us to Natalie Bennett and her car crash on LBC. It was an interview during which Nick Ferrari appeared to hand her a silver revolver and asked her if she’d like to shoot herself.
And she duly did. Ferrari can be quite an aggressive interviewer if he thinks a politician is not on their game, but on this occasion he simply let Natalie climb on the chair, tie a rope around her neck…and jump.
Now, there’s no doubt that she wasn’t feeling her best and had a massive cold. I have sympathy with her on that score since I, too, had one at the beginning of the week – and believe me, presenting a four hour phone-in show when you’re not feeling your best is quite a challenge. I wasn’t at the top of my game, but I got through it on the basis that the show had to go on.
The fact is that Bennett should never have got out of bed that morning but, as a party leader, it’s quite difficult to pull a sickie on the day of your general election campaign launch. But she needed her media adviser to tell her not to do the interviews and simply to appear at the launch…and then go home and take a hot toddie.
I suspect, however, that there won’t be too many long-lasting effects from this “brain fade”. The Greens, like UKIP, have a slight Teflon quality, wherey bad news bounces off them – a bit as it used to for the LibDems.
The final point I would make about this is that this type of brain fade happens to Boris Johnson rather often, yet interviewers let him get away with it. In future, we should all be far more damning of Boris, and not let his bluster and general bonhomie mask the fact that, on many issues, he can appear just as ill-informed as Bennett.
Admittedly, it happens less and less nowadays, but if his political ambitions really are as high as we are led to believe, he will need to be much more on top of complicated policies than he sometimes seems to be.
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During the 1990s, there was a great series on ITV starring David Jason called A Bit of a Do. Every episode revolved around some sort of family “do”, such as a wedding or funeral and the disasters and rows that happened at it.
Whenever something bad happened, Jason would frown and utter the words: “today, of all days”. I wonder if those words came to mind for Nigel Farage when he woke up in Washington DC to hear the UK’s immigration figures announced.
He and his diary planners (not that he has any, since he keeps his own diary) must have been kicking themselves that he was 3,000 miles away when it was announced that the net immigration figure for last year was 298,000 – higher than in any year under Labour.
Talk about an open goal for Farage to score. But he couldn’t – because he wasn’t here. Instead, he had been persuaded by his trusty adviser Matthew Richardson to show his face and speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which takes place every February in Washington.
The CPAC really is a gathering of the ‘faith, flag and family’ wing of the Republican Party. I don’t mind admitting that my definition of the word ‘conservative’ differs somewhat from theirs. And I suspect that even Nigel Farage might be left feeling a little queasy by it all.
I remember one incident from my last visit to CPAC during 2008. One afternoon, I got talking to a young girl from Alabama there, and was explaining to her the differences between British and American Conservatives. I mentioned that neither abortion nor gay rights were big issues in British politics.
“Oh,” she said, “I’ve never met anyone who’s gay.” I then offered my hand and said: “well, now you have!” She roared with laughter, and then added: “We don’t have any gay people in Alabama.” I told her the horrible truth, and we then joked that they had all probably left or been driven out of the state.
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It’s been reported that Sol Campbell is now the official CCHQ choice for the next Conservative Candidate for Mayor of London. I may be accused of partisanship here, because of the nasty things he says about West Ham in his recent book, and call me old-fashioned…but exactly what qualities does Campbell possess to make him the standout candidate?
Apart from being black, of course. And a pseudo-celebrity. Do we know his views on anything apart from the Mansion Tax? Has he ever shown any aptitude for the cut and thrust of political life? Or an ability to run anything?
Now, to be fair, Boris Johnson wasn’t actually the ideal candidate back in 2007 when he was selected, and he hasn’t done a bad job, but are we really reduced to choosing a candidate just because of their celebrity or the fact that they happen not to be white?
The three declared Tory candidates so far are Stephen Greenhalgh, Andrew Boff and the appalling Ivan Massow. How anyone can take Massow seriously is quite beyond me. He’s announced several policies so far, none of which could remotely be called Conservative – hardly a surprise, I suppose bearing in mind his history of political flip-flopping.
No doubt when he is rejected, as he surely will be, it will time for another defection. No doubt he will ask: ‘Is it coz I is gay?’ It’s his habitual excuse for political failure. I may have failed to get elected, but I’ve never trotted out that excuse and never will.
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Moving on to Kensington, where Sir Malcom Rifkind saw the political writing on the wall and quit before he was pushed, it will be interesting to see how the selection for his successo develops.
Victoria Borwick has already declared her hand and, according to Guido Fawkes, has hired Nick Wood’s Media Intelligence Partners to boost her profile. The front runners for Kensington mostly seem to be a potpourri of sporting celebs – Andrew Strauss, James Cracknell and Frank Lampard (yes, really).
I know nothing about Strauss’s political ambitions, but I do know that James Cracknell has been serious in pursuing a political career and was a Euro candidate. But we are told that Number Ten are determined to have a woman selected in Kensington.
The finger is being pointed at Laura Trott, a Cameron adviser, who has tried for various seats with no luck so far. I’ve no idea how good she is, but isn’t it rather sickening that, in virtually every final at the moment, the same nine or ten people are appearing? No one can seriously tell me that this is all down to local decision making.
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One name I was very pleased to see on the betting odds for Kensington was that of Tim Montgomerie, late of this parish.
Tim and I may not agree on much, but I think he’d make a superb parliamentarian – thoughtful, passionate and with a strong set of ideological beliefs. The trouble is that he’s having none of it. It’s a sad indictment on our politics that someone like Tim isn’t at all interested in pursuing a career in elected politics.
I’d like to think that at some point he might indeed still appear in Parliament. In ermine.
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And, just for the record, even though my name has appeared at 33/1 on the betting odds for Kensington, I have absolutely no interest either. Not even a flicker. Not a twinge.
Just as well seeing as it’s nearly five years since I have been on the candidates list. One of my LBC colleagues reckoned he could make a quick buck by putting some money on me to win, and I kept protesting that I don’t want to run. (Was he trying to get rid of me?)
He then said: “What if David Cameron rang you up, and told you he wanted you to stand?” I didn’t even need to think. “No, Dave,” I’d say, in the style of a sketch show character whose name I have now forgotten: “It’s not a maverick radio presenter you need in Kensington – it’s a future Prime Minister. I bid you farewell. Now get on with running the country.” His next call would probably be to Katy Hopkins.
Now there’s a thought. I really shouldn’t put them into people’s heads, should I? But I am serious. Whoever wins Kensington should be someone who you could imagine in ten years’ time leading the Conservative Party, and then the country. If I had a vote there, I wouldn’t even consider shortlisting anyone who didn’t meet that criteria.