Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
David Cameron seems to have become remarkably more relaxed about Call Me Dave. On Monday he sat down in the Commons tea room with a group of Conservative MPs for a chinwag, and noticed the book on the table. Keith Simpson had a copy, since he is reviewing it for Total Politics.
Cameron asked Keith what he thought of it (I’ll leave you in suspense on that), and then Keith found himself suggesting to the Prime Minister that he might like to sign it. “Why not?” replied the Prime Minister, and wrote in it: “Don’t believe everything you read!”
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Monday saw the launch of the book at Altitude, the party venue on the 29th floor of Millbank Tower. I’ve rarely been so nervous before a launch before.
It’s not often that such an event is held when the host and co-author will be absent. I was one of only three people who knew that was going to be the case, and even though I have a mouth the size of the Mersey Tunnel, I did actually manage to keep the secret.
Everyone now knows that Michael Ashcroft has been extremely ill, and has suffered a near-death experience, which is why he hasn’t been able to defend his own book. He is actually quite a private person and, understandably, didn’t want his condition to be widely known about until he was out of the woods.
So when accusations were made that he had hung Isabel Oakeshott and myself out to dry by not doing media interviews, it was extremely difficult not to react. All one could think was: “If only you knew”. I suspect even now he’d have preferred people not to know, but we just couldn’t cancel the launch event and, rather than come up with some unbelievable reason as to why he couldn’t be there, it was far better to tell the truth.
I was tasked with delivering his speech in his absence – the only time I have ever stood in for a billionaire – and before doing so introduced a video from Belize TV about Michael’s illness, which was to be aired later that night on their main TV news show.
I think many of those attending the launch thought it was some sort of elaborate spoof, until it dawned on them that the detail given couldn’t possibly have been made up. When the video finished, there was total silence in the room among the 300 guests. No-one quite knew what to say. The many journalists present rushed out of the room to phone their respective news desks. The Sun’s Harry Cole got it on their front page although, rather laughably, with an ‘Exclusive’ tag.
There was quite an eclectic group of guests which included Nigel Farage and Labour MPs John Spellar and Michael Meacher. It was the last public event attended by Meacher before his sudden death on Wednesday. More on him in a moment.
Although there were a fair few Tory MPs there – I won’t name them for fear of reprisals – many were noticeable by their absence. Loyalty is an increasingly rare thing in politics. Various ones pulled out at the last minute with a whole host of pathetic excuses. Lily-livered cowards, the lot of them.
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I first came across Michael Meacher when I was a lobbyist back in the late 1980s. I was advising the port employers on their campaign to rid the industry of the iniquitous National Dock Labour Scheme.
We held a lunch with Meacher, who was then Labour’s Shadow Employment Minister, to explain the damage that the scheme was doing to ports like London, Liverpool and Southampton in terms of jobs and economic growth.
Since he was an ardent trade union supporter and on the left of the party, we knew we were on a hiding to nothing, but he listened politely, asked all the right questions and,, at the end of the lunch parted by saying: “I agree with a lot of what you say, and understand your reasons for wanting to get rid of the scheme, but you’ll understand that when I leave this room I’ll be denouncing you to the journalists outside.”
Over the last two or three years I got to know him a little more as I published his last book The State We Need. It is a left-wing treatise about reforming the economy. Needless to say, I didn’t agree with a word of it, but I suspect that it’s now regarded as an economic blueprint by Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell.
Despite the fact that we’re on opposite ends of the political spectrum, I really liked Michael Meacher. He may have been known as ‘Tony Benn’s representative on earth’ during the early 1980s, but he was a kind, polite man, who truly believed in what he said. He always seemed genuinely perplexed that not everyone agreed with him, as if he must have explained it wrongly. He’ll be much missed.
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On Wednesday, I trotted along to the Foreign Office who were hosting the Pink News awards dinner. I had been nominated for Broadcaster of the Year, along with Jeremy Kyle (I kid you not), Victoria Derbyshire, Vicky Beeching, Anna Richardson and Reggie Yates.
I reckoned Victoria or Vicky would win, and I was right, as the award went to Victoria Derbyshire. As many will know, she has just gone through a pretty awful few weeks with breast cancer, so it was great to see her there and in such fine form.
She absolutely deserved to win. And while I am at it, many congratulations to Ben Cohen on ten years of Pink News. It’s a fantastic resource and he should be very proud of what he has created.