Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
I suppose you should try everything once, just to see if you like it. So it was in that spirit that I accepted an invitation to go to the Conservatives’ ‘Black & White Party’ on Monday evening at the Battersea Evolution. Note that it’s degenerated from a ‘ball’ to a party. No dinner jackets, either, which if I’m honest was one of the reasons I thought I’d say “yes” this year. I hate DJ events.
I arrived just as the pre-dinner drinks reception was ending. I spotted the Prime Minister and a couple of Cabinet ministers but, otherwise, I was surprised by the fact that I didn’t really know anyone there. Perhaps my years outside active politics are beginning to tell.
There were 30 or 40 tables in the cavernous building, but there was ample room for many more. Having said that, we were told this was the biggest event ever. Apparently, there were tables for so-called ‘ordinary party members’ who were paying just £75 for the privilege of attending.
Boris Johnson was in much ‘selfie’ demand, but all the MPs and cabinet ministers there only stayed until around 8.15, when a minibus collected them all to go back to the Commons to vote in the Committee Stage of the Brexit Bill. Just as well it didn’t crash on the way: imagine the by-elections…
The food was unremarkable and not very plentiful. I never understand why anyone in their right minds would have fish as a main course. There were speeches from Patrick McLoughlin and Theresa May, and then an auction conducted by the party treasurer, Lord Leigh. Let’s put it this way, he’s not exactly in the Jeffrey Archer class of auctioneers. There were several times when I thought he could have got a whole lot more money out of the people who were bidding. Hey ho.
Some people think this event should not take place at all because it is too elitist. Well, there are plenty of people who enjoy such events, and it’s incumbent on to those who want to abandon it to suggest how the money it raises could be replaced. I have no idea how much the ball raises, but it must be in the high hundreds of thousands, I’d have thought. Given that the Labour Party is awash with money at the moment, the Tories need to use every opportunity to keep up with them.
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It is rumoured that Donald Trump is about to appoint Sarah Palin as US Ambassador to Canada. Quite what the Canadians have done to deserve that is anyone’s guess. Still, at least she can see the country from her front window, I imagine.
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So the Article 50 Bill has passed its Commons stages completely intact. I suspect that the Lords won’t be able to help themselves, and will amend it in some way, setting up a bit of ping pong between the two chambers. It may be a decision they come to regret.
However, assuming that they don’t get too self-indulgent the Bill is likely to get Royal Assent around 8 March, meaning that, in theory, May could trigger Article 50 while attending the EU summit the next day. I see little point in leaving it until right at the end of the month.
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So, a quiet couple of weeks for Jeremy Corbyn: he’s only managed to lose four Shadow Cabinet members. Result!
But there’s no doubt that Clive Lewis is a huge loss. Although only elected in 2015, he’s seen by many as a real star performer. At last year’s party conference, he was humiliated by Seumas Milne, who took a section out of his speech on his teleprompter without telling him. He was furious when he discovered what had happened – and wasn’t backward in letting people know.
I said at the time that although he will have hated what happened, the incident had raised his profile, and that he would look back on that day in a very different light. His resignation is a bitter blow to the Labour leader. Lewis had been a real Corbyn cheerleader, but he’s not stupid and soon saw that Corbyn could never be the leader he wanted him to be.
So what now? Will he now be seen as the king over the water, or will his resignation have damaged his reputation among those all-important 600,000 Labour members. I doubt it, to be honest. Expect him now to spend every possible evening on the rubber chicken circuit, building his support in the party. Many now believe that Corbyn isn’t going to last the course, so Lewis is probably better placed than most to succeed. Does he have it in him to lead Labour? On that, the jury is out, but we may well soon find out.
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I made a mistake on Wednesday evening. Last week, I reported that only seven out of the nine Liberal Democrat MPs supported their leader and voted for the second reading of the Brexit Bill. Norman Lamb and Greg Mulholland abstained.
Well, on Wednesday the LibDems tried to amend the Bill to include a clause allowing a second referendum. Again, only seven out of nine of their MPs voted for the amendment, along with 24 other MPs. So I pointed out that fact on Twitter. Of course, what I had failed to remember was that there would have also been two LibDem tellers, who are not included in the figures. Cue accusations of reporting fake news, and I should have known better.
Well, the latter may be true, but sometimes people just make a genuine mistake. This was one of those times. I decided to apologise on Twitter – which I then did. I also deleted the original tweet, as it was getting a lot of retweet action.
What really then surprised me was the number of people who tweeted their surprise that I had apologised. Perhaps it’s because on Twitter so few people ever do so when they’ve got something wrong.
I’ve never had a problem admitting when I’m mistaken. I’m human. It happens. Yes, at times it can be embarrassing, but I find that few people usually hold it against you, and in many cases think better of you when you do the right thing.