Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
As I write this, Michael Gove has just put an incendiary bomb under the Conservative Party leadership contest and announced that he will be standing as a candidate himself. Personally, I am glad, because I think the party needs the widest choice of candidates and, given that Andrea Leadsom has just announced too, they’re certainly going to get that.
Conventional wisdom suggests that the favourite never wins. Well, Johnson has consistently been the favourite, and he will be feeling very betrayed this morning – as he realises that the job he has coveted for many years will not now be his.
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Was it an ambush, or a hastily taken decision? I suspect we’ll have to wait for the Sunday papers for the full revelations (though see this site’s account today), but there are growing suspicions that both George Osborne and Dominic Cummings had some role in what transpired yesterday.
No-one can quite put their fingers on what exactly, but the more one learns, the more it becomes apparent that all is not quite what it seems. Why did it take Michael Gove so long to work out that maybe – just maybe – Boris might not make the best Prime Minister we have ever had? That he could be flaky. Unreliable. Off the wall. Did it really occur to him in a flash yesterday morning? I found his explanation in an interview yesterday with Laura Kuenssberg far from convincing.
Iain Martin has written that Gove was unhappy that Johnson wouldn’t allow Cummings a role in the campaign, or for him to be Gove’s Chief of Staff as Chancellor. Meanwhile, Johnson’s team apparently wouldn’t hand over a list of BoJo’s MP supporters. Given that Gove was his campaign co-chairman, Gove took great exception to that.
As it turned out, it was a wise decision by the former Mayor. Then there were various leaks to newspapers, some of which allegedly came from Sarah Vine, a.k.a Mrs Gove. Then came her leaked email. Taken individually, all these things are part of the stuff of politics. Taken together, they may (or may not) amount to a conspiracy. Time will tell. It is now alleged that Osborne is the Svengali-like figure behind all of this. It’s his way of getting back at Boris, apparently. I just don’t really buy that.
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I think few will disagree that Andrea Leadsom was one of the stars of the referendum campaign on the Leave side, and she has attracted many new admirers across the Party. Her late declaration may well have been because she was trying to strike a deal with Boris and failed, but whatever the reason – and frankly, whatever the result – Andrea is a winner and will secure a top job in the Cabinet.
The question is: can she come from behind and overtake the clear favourites? I interviewed her on Thursday and, for those of you who don’t know her very well, it might be worth you taking ten minutes out of your day to listen to. She certainly answers straight questions head on. HS2? Axe it. Airport capacity? New runways at both Heathrow and Gatwick! And so it went on.
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I finish this diary at 2.30am on Friday morning, having just got home from my debut appearance on Andrew Neil’s This Week show. I got a call from them at around 2pm asking if I’d like to make a short film for their ‘Take of the Week’ slot. Do bears shit in the wood? You bet I would.
Only trouble was, I had my radio to present first. So the reporter and cameraman arrived to film me after the show finished at seven. I had a script to work from, but I am totally useless at remembering more than about 15 words at once. In the end, the film lasted three minutes, but it took us about an hour and a half to film!
I then went on to do an interview with Al Jazeera English, before heading to the Millbank studios to do the show live. Alan Johnson was already there in the green room. What a totally lovely man.
Michael Portillo then showed up in what I can only describe as his ‘elf’ outfit: lime green shirt, red trousers. I said that a man of a certain age should never be seen in red trousers. Alan Johnson disagreed. He reckoned that no man should ever be seen in red trousers. He’s right.
David Starkey then arrived, and also Corbyn fanatic Rachel Shabia and the SNP MP Tasmina Ahmed-Sheikh. I was on at the beginning of the show, and really enjoyed the 12 minute discussion about the Conservative leadership. I felt totally relaxed ,and the time flew by. I’d put the video on here, but the BBC doesn’t allow embedding.
However, here’s the three minute film I made. Great three minute advert for LBC. My boss will be pleased.
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I keep being asked to predict who will win the leadership election. I have no idea. Who knows what twists and turns remain in this fascinating contest? My instinct is that Liam Fox and Stephen Crabb are struggling to gain the traction they will need to get to the final two – and that Gove will need to act very quickly if he is to get away from the poisonous atmosphere he has in large part created.
I’ve been told he had a screaming match with Nadine Dorries in the Commons tearoom yesterday. She accused him of total disloyalty to Boris. Insert your own joke here. My gut is telling me that if Leadsom can gain traction over the weekend, she could well end up in the final two alongside Theresa May. It would be quite something to have two women in the final.
If that happens, and Angela Eagle manages to topple Jeremy Corbyn, we’ll have female leaders of both main parties in England, one of the main parties in Wales and the three largest parties in Scotland. I think that would be the glass ceiling well and truly shattered, don’t you?
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Today marks the centenary of the Battle of the Somme. On this day, a hundred years ago, 57,000 lives were lost. It’s almost incomprehensible to our generation. I am almost embarrassed at how little I know about what happened, and I suspect I am not alone. My uncle Clifford was killed in the first world war, only a month from the end. A couple of years ago I took my dad out to Belgium to find his grave. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life.