Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Since the election I’ve felt a bit sorry for the Liberal Democrats. They didn’t deserve to lose 49 of their MPs and only be left with eight. OK, I did take a little vicarious pleasure in the electoral demise of one or two of their number, I admit. However, I do think a third (or, in their case, fourth) party is necessary in our political system. They performed a role which whatever its frustrations was, at times, valuable.
Since their electoral demise you’d think they’d be happy to get any sort of attention. Yes – but at a price, it seems. They’ve now hit on the novel idea of charging publishers to do book signings at their party conference. Pay them £500, and they will graciously allow your authors to sign their books.
It’s an interesting form of licensed extortion. And this is how it will work: a publisher will give the conference bookshop a 55-60 per cent discount on the cover price of the book, and then have to pay £500 on top. Given all the other costs involved in the publishing process, the publisher will almost certainly make a loss unless a booksigning results in unexpectedly massive sales.
I ran the bookshop at the LibDem conference for five years, so I know that if you sell 20 copies at a booksigning, you’re doing well. Of all the different party members, I can tell you that LibDems are the most uninterested in books. They’re not buyers. A book that would sell 100 copies at a Labour conference would sell 30 at the LibDems – and that was in the days when their conference actually mattered.
So this particular publisher has told them what they can do with their demands for £500. No doubt other bigger, richer publishers will bow down and pay over the money. Well, shame on them.
Mind you, the LibDems do have an eye for a bargain. I well remember the beardy LibDem delegate who asked for a discount on a 50p postcard. He was told in no uncertain terms to go back to his constituency and…well, you can guess the rest.
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Anjem Choudhary is being sent to prison. Good. About bloody time. I interviewed him on my LBC show several years ago. Afterwards, I vowed never again to allow him onto the airwaves. He joined a select little band of extremists and nutters banned from my show. What a pity that Newsnight and Today didn’t adopt a similar approach. These people thrive on the oxygen of publicity. Whip that away and they preach to a small band of deranged acolytes.
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As Owen Smith warns us of yet another secret Tory plan to privatise the NHS – so secret that only he seems to know about it – there is one question that neither he nor Jeremy Corbyn seem at all interested in addressing. At the last election Labour got 9,347,304 votes. In 1997, Tony Blair (at this point any Corbynista should boo and hiss, or face being excommunicated from the cult) got 13,518,167. Why is no one asking where those 4.2 million voters have gone? And why?
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So Smith thinks we should “get around the table” with ISIS. Jesus, I think even I’d vote for Corbyn on the basis of that one idiotic remark. I know he thinks he has to move to the extreme left to attract support, but surely there are limits.
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If you have nothing better to do this evening, I am spending the last day of my two week summer holiday from my radio show, well, on a busman’s holiday appearing on Any Questions. The other three panellists are James Brokenshire, Chuka Umunna and Lindsey German from Stop the War! 8pm, then – or the repeat tomorrow at 1.10pm.
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I’ve spent this week at the Edinburgh Festival. Last year virtually everything I saw was a comedy or had some political tinge to it. Several of my friends said I should spread my wings this year and go to some plays too. So I booked to see the Chronicles of Narnia. Oh dear. A truly dreadful experience.
Rather better was a one-off performance by David Benson reprising his Kenneth Williams one man play, which he first performed 20 ago. Close your eyes and you could truly believe you were in the company of Kenneth Williams. Apart from the occasions when he lapsed into Frankie Howerd. Nay, nay and thrice nay!
I then went to see Guardian columnist Viv Groskop do a stand-up routine in a very bijou little venue. Her show was called How to be more Margo, ostensibly a celebration of the middle classes. My enjoyment was somewhat hindered by the middle-aged couple in front of me who spent the entire hour shaking their heads and tutting. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but what they got was clearly not it. The constant sneering at anyone who voted for Brexit got a bit wearisome and not really very funny, but I suppose it proved you can take the girl to Edinburgh, but you can’t take the girl out of the Guardian. Viv had some good lines, though, my favourite being a Waitrose supermarket tannoy announcement: “Would the owner of the Red Astra in the car park, please remove it and take it to Asda where it belongs.” A genuine Lol moment.
Show of the week so far has been Margaret Thatcher: Queen of the Game Shows. Starring Matt Tedford as the Magster, this followed on from his hugely successful Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho.
His great ability in writing the latter enabling to it appeal to people who idolise Lady T and to people who loathe her. Quite a feat. In this new musical extravaganza, Maggie becomes a Saturday night game show host, having grown exasperated at the state of Saturday night TV. It’s rather more pointedly anti-Thatcher than its previous incarnation. But still very enjoyable.
Tedford is joined by two other cast members who play a variety of characters from Bruce Forsyth and Cilla Black to Owen Jones and Angela Merkel. It really is a laugh a minute performance, some of it improvised, and at the end there was a deserved standing ovation, something that doesn’t happen very often in Edinburgh.
Thursday began with a double dose of Matt Forde. First off it was an hour of fast paced political standup. It was very good and very funny stuff. Even when he has slightly weak material he escapes from it through his brilliant mimicry. His David Cameron impression is the best I have ever heard, and he has Boris off to a tee.
A lot of the act concerned Brexit, and like Viv Groskop the day before, and Ayesha Hazirika later, his entire act consisted of barbed comments about racist Leave voters. They. Just. Don’t. Get. It. And probably never will. They all look at life through their soft, liberal lens without ever really venturing beyond the limits of the M25. That’s fine, it’s good for a comedy act – but all three of them demonstrate a total lack of comprehension as to what is happening in the country.
Forde’s second hour was an In Conversation with Tim Loughton. I did wonder (sorry, Tim) if he was a big enough name to fill the venue ,but I needn’t have feared. It was sold out. Tim was brilliant and extremely funny- so he has just become the second most popular Tory in Scotland. Forde does monthly interviews on stage with London and he adopts the very conversational approach, with humour, which tends to get the best out of interviewees. Tim was hilariously indiscreet on occasion. OK, on lots of occasions.
I had hoped to get along to see Geoff Norcott, one of the very few right-wing comedians in the UK, but my schedule wouldn’t allow. So later I moved on to a show called the Gayest Show You’ve Ever Seen. Well, in some ways I suppose it was, since it was hosted by a 26 year old wearing a pink T-shirt and high heels. The audience, shall we say, was not very numerous. Rather bizarrely, ten sat on one side and women sat on the other side of the aisle. Apart from me.
The show consisted of a ramble through our host’s coming out and series of sexual disasters. I’m sure he had a script, but judging from the number of ‘ers’ and ‘ums’ it was difficult to discern how rigid it was. As opposed to stiff. Nay, nay and thrice nay! If I was giving this show stars, it would struggle for a three. I didn’t not enjoy it; it was just a tad disappointing.
The evening finished with former Labour SPAD and stand-up comedian Ayesha Hazirika with her show Tales from the Pink Bus. She was genuinely laugh out loud funny, regaling her audience (which included Kezia Dugdale and Labour’s sole MP in Scotland, Ian Murray), with a torrent of anecdotes from her time working for Gordon Brown (whom she outed as a complete sexist), Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband. We learned a lot about Harriet Harman’s sense of humour and Ed Miliband’s moments of the Black Dog. We also learned that he was worried he was a badger. You had to be there, I guess.
There’s more from my Edinburgh diary on my blog at www.iaindale.com.