Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.

screen-shot-2016-12-15-at-20-40-43For anyone under the age of about 45, the name Jim Prior, who died on Monday, probably doesn’t mean much. However, those of us who know our history of the 1970s and 1980s also know how significant he was. A key ally to Ted Heath, he was Agriculture Minister in the Heath government, and stood in the 1975 leadership contest. He never reconciled himself to Margaret Thatcher’s leadership, and was the archetypal Tory Wet.

He became Employment Secretary in 1979,  but the Prime Minister became irritated with his softly-softly approach to industrial relations. In her 1981 reshuffle, she replaced him with Norman Tebbit. This was a key moment for Prior who, instead of resigning to lead the internal opposition to Thatcher, he accepted the post of Secretary of State for Siberia – or, rather, Northern Ireland. Because he necessarily therefore spent most of his time outside Westminster, Prior lost influence and in 1983, following her landslide victory, Thatcher summarily sacked him. And that was the end of his political career.

One funny anecdote. How true it is, I have no idea, but it demonstrates how Thatcher used her femininity. Arriving for Cabinet one morning, Prior engaged the Prime Minister in some light chit-chat. He said to her: “Margaret, you’re sounding very sexy this morning: have you got a cold?”. Raising an eyebrow, Thatcher put on her deepest voice and smiled: “Jim, I can assure you that I don’t need a cold to sound sexy…”.

Sadly, history doesn’t record Prior’s reaction. Condolences to his family, especially to his son David, who now serves as a minister at the Department of Health.

– – – – – – – – – –

Sometimes, just for a laugh, I have a look at the Morning Star‘s website. After all, it’s important to keep up with publications which form the daily reading of Her Majesty’s Leader of the Opposition, isn’t it?

I could hardly believe my eyes when I read it describing the fall of Aleppo as “a liberation”. Yes, really. That rather tells us all we need to know.

And the thing is, the likes of Seumas Milne and Andrew Fisher were probably nodding along in agreement. How do I know this? Well, the fact that someone has put a Soviet-style red star on the top of Jeremy Corbyn’s office Christmas tree is a bit of a clue…

– – – – – – – – – –

In the last eleven days, Labour has a) lost its deposit in the Richmond Park by-election; b) moved from second to fourth in the Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election, and c) recorded its lowest opinion poll ratings with two polling companies since the 1983 general election.

But, splutter the Corbynistas, we’ve got our highest membership since the 1960s and we’re the largest political party in Europe. That doesn’t really matter a jot in terms of electoral success. I’m told that in Richmond, Labour has close on two thousand party members. The fact that their candidate, Christian Wolmar, only managed to get 1515 votes tells you all you need to know. No doubt they will put it down to tactical voting, but if you can’t even motivate your own members to put a cross by their party’s candidate then there’s something very wrong.

Meanwhile, the party leader seems to have completely disappeared. I can’t recall the last time he did a major interview or did, well, anything to be honest. On Tuesday, we learned that he has virtually nothing in his diary between now and Christmas. Yet another reason why Labour MPs are starting to tear what’s left of their hair out again.

– – – – – – – – – –

Andy Carroll walks on water. Tra-la-la-la-la, la-la-la-la.

– – – – – – – – – –

George Osborne’s speech in the Aleppo debate was quite something. I wonder whether we are about to see a totally different Osborne – one who can spread his wings a bit, and make his mark in policy areas outside the economy.

Many MPs made powerful contributions to that debate, not least John Woodcock. He said that Osborne had made the speech which should have been made from the Opposition front bench. Woodcock is a man who seems to have increasingly little in common with his party. If CCHQ have a top ten list of Labour MPs most likely to defect, he’d be pretty near the top.

– – – – – – – – – –

I do think the election of Philip Davies to the Women & Equalities Select Committee is delightful. It will certainly make the committee’s inquiries a little more newsworthy. Only in Britain could you have a women’s committee with three men on it.

– – – – – – – – – –

If you missed ITV’s programme on Monday to mark the 60th anniversary of the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, be very thankful. Rarely have I seen such a terrible programme. The Duke clearly wanted no part of it, and gave monosyllabic answers to virtually everything he was asked by the show’s hapless host, Philip Schofield. Schofield was as cringingly craven as it is possible to be. How this 47 minutes of puerile rubbish passed the ITV quality threshold is quite beyond me.