Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Last week, I wrote that I thought Andrea Leadsom had been a star of the Leave campaign. Let me this week sing the praises of Liam Fox. In terms of putting the Leave case, he has been calm, assured and believable. He hasn’t indulged in stoking up ‘Project Fear’ and has been excellent in head to head debates.
This won’t have gone unnoticed in Downing Street which, when the referendum is over, will surely look to unite the party. One way of doing so may be to bring Fox back into the cabinet. But I’d say this was a possibility rather than a probability. After all, the way he was treated last time may well mean that he’d tell them to sling their collective hooks.
For those who don’t remember, Fox – having been asked if he would like to return to government – was called by Downing Street (not by the Prime Minister himself) and offered a Minister of State job at the Foreign Office. Indeed, it was the same job he had held as a young MP during the early 1990s. A total insult.
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On the Remain side, what on earth has happened to Ken Clarke? I expected him to be on the TV 24-7 during this campaign, but I’ve barely seen him. Same for Michael Heseltine. Aren’t these the big beasts of the jungle who are most respected by the electorate?
I suppose it’s possible that they are being saved up for the last two weeks, but it’s most odd that they haven’t appeared much so far.
And while I think of it, what on earth has happened to Theresa May? Almost totally invisible during in this campaign. Very odd for one of the big three Cabinet Ministers and for someone who aspires to lead the Conservative Party. Perhaps she thinks that it’s least said, soonest mended. She may be right.
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Is the country actually being governed at the moment? I only ask because I can’t actually remember reading a news story about anything else other than Brexit during the last two weeks.
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On Wednesday, I did an hour-long live interview with Mark Regev, Israel’s new Ambassador to Britain [see above]. I first interviewed him on the late lamented 18 Doughty Street in 2006. I wrote at the time: “Anyone who heard him would have been impressed, regardless of where they stand on the current dispute. Calm, honest and assured he answered every question put to him with a dignity and honesty unusual in Government spin doctors. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him have a great future in Israeli politics.”
I stand by every word. I may not agree with everything he says – it would be strange if I did – but if every Israeli spokesman had his capabilities, I suspect Israel might have a much better reputation in the world than it currently enjoys.
He has a fascinating back story in that he arrived in Israel at the age of 22 to join the Socialist Zionist Movement. Latterly he was a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry and has spent the last eight years as Benjamin Netanyahu’s official spokesman. London is a plumb diplomatic posting, and I suspect will be a stepping stone – either to the Ambassadorship in Washington or to going into Israeli politics. It wouldn’t at all surprise me to see Regev reach the top of Israel’s greasy pole.
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Vice News have been given privileged access to Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and the result is a 30 minute fly on the wall documentary, which was released on Wednesday. It’s presented by Ben Ferguson, a Labour Party member and self-confessed Corbyn supporter . It’s all fairly harmless stuff and ultimately tells us little that we didn’t know before – apart from one thing: it tells us an awful lot about Seumus Milne’s media priorities.
If you’re going to grant this kind of access, why would you give it to a little-watched website? This film may get several hundred thousand views (17,000 on Youtube at the time of writing), but I doubt whether many of them will be floating voters.
Most of them will the kind of people who think Corbyn represents the second coming. Or they will be professional Corbyn-watchers, such as me. Surely it would have been better to let a proper journalist in – someone like Michael Cockerell – who would have done the job properly.
Ferguson seems like a nice guy, and it’s a perfectly watchable film but he doesn’t ask Corbyn a single searching question which would force Corbyn to provide an answer he hasn’t given several times before. We learn little about Corby as a human being – what motivates him; how he deals with the frustrations of the job.
However, we do get to meet his wife, and we also get to know his hapless events officer, Gavin. I suspect poor Gavin will cringe a little when he watches this: “The best way to get Jeremy out is to let him fail in his own time,” was one of his more memorable comments. With friends like these…
We knew that the Corbyn camp operated under a siege mentality, and this was certainly confirmed through his little anti-BBC rant towards the end. Indeed, it seems that he and his entire team believe that the media is out to get them. That’s why they operate in a bunke – only to peep out occasionally when a friendly journalist promises not to be too nasty.
Milne has a lot to answer for. It is he who is intent on not allowing Corbyn out of the bunker any more than he has to. When he was a backbench MP, I would interview Corbyn at least once a month, sometimes more. He loved coming into the LBC studio and was a regular guest on my late, lamented Parliament Hour. He knew he would always get a fair hearing and fair treatment. Since Corbyn has been leader not only have I not interviewed him once, I don’t think he has ever appeared on LBC – a station which he always regarded as a friend. And it’s not for want of trying.
John McDonnell only ever agreed to appear on Ken Livingstone’s show – and now that that’s gone, I don’t suppose he will talk to any of the rest of us. Our experience is not unique. The thing is that a regular Phone Jeremy programme would do him the world of good but, in Milne’s world, LBC is no doubt considered a proto-fascist organisation and all part of the capitalist conspiracy.
Back in reality, all we want to do is quiz leading politicians on their views and allow our callers to put their questions direct. You’d have thought that Corbyn would find that “a different way to do politics”. There will come a time when his team realises that it needs to deal with the broadcast media in a very different way. But how long this will take is anyone’s guess…