Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Boris Johnson has copped a lot of flak this week – unfairly so in my opinion. The media, and indeed some of his colleagues, have been waiting for him to commit a diplomatic howler ever since he was appointed Foreign Secretary back last mid-July. I was certainly not a founder member of the Johnson fan club, but one thing I do know is that he has a habit of outperforming people’s expectations. He did so as Mayor of London, and I suspect he will do so in his current job.
So far he has hardly put a foot wrong. I hear from Foreign Office sources that he reads his briefs, has much more of a command of detail than they had imagined, and that he performs well with his counterparts in other countries. He has undoubtedly been marginalised in the Brexit negotiations, but in his Commons appearances he has shown a mastery of his brief.
To criticise him for the fact that Germany and Italy vetoed his proposals on sanctions against Russia says more about them than it does about him. I’m not a great fan of sanctions, since they are often the political equivalent of virtue signalling, but in this case they were a perfectly sensible proposal.
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I’m a great hoarder. I hate throwing things away. I cannot abide the thought of getting rid of books, but as I get older I know that at some point I’m going to have to. I’ve run out of bookcase space in the house, and my partner certainly wouldn’t entertain the thought of building any more.
I’ve always had this hankering to buy a Victorian rectory with a ready-made library, but I’m not sure that is ever going to happen. In my bedroom, I’ve now got four columns of books stacked on the floor – all unread – which look as if they could topple over at any point. Probably in the middle of the night. I’m not sure I’m quite ready for Harriet Harman to fall on top of me…
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In a month’s time, we’ll be raking over the consequences of the local election results. Try as I might, I can’t see how they can be anything other than bad news for Jeremy Corbyn – and that’s not me looking at things through blue-tinted spectacles.
All the signs are that Labour will lose heavily in Scotland. They’re on a 14 per cent vote share there, and it’s difficult to see them gaining control of any councils, let alone have a net gain in seats. There are 32 unitary councils in Scotland (with 1,223 councillors) and 22 in Wales (which have 1,264 councillors). In Scotland, three quarters of the councils are under No Overall Control. Only four are controlled by Labour. The SNP are expected to make huge gains and increase the number of councils they control, and the number of councillors. The Conservatives will expect to increase their councillors, too. Given the electoral system used, it’s difficult to guess by how many.
In England, there are 27 county councils up for election. These seats were last fought in 2013, which was a good year for Labour. Even traditionally Tory councils such as Norfolk went to No Overall Control, or Labour. Norfolk this year should see a Tory resurgence. Labour will spin that they’ve never done well in county council elections, but to lose seats in a mid-term Conservative government is nothing other than a disaster. It’s expected they could lose more than 100 seats.
I expect the Conservatives to remain broadly where they are, or even to gain a few seats, with the Liberal Democrats doing the same. UKIP are defending 140 seats. Given their recent troubles I wonder if they might lose a high proportion of them. There is also the Manchester Gorton by-election and some mayoral contests taking place on the same day.
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The week after the local elections will be critical for Corbyn. If the results are as I think they may well be, he’s going to come under huge pressure to step down, and let someone else have a go. Labour MPs know another coup won’t succeed, so it will all be up to Jezza.
In the last year, there have been at least two occasions when he’s wanted to quit, but John McDonnell and Seumas Milne have put some lead into his pencil, and he agreed to stay. Some commentators think things may be different this time.
Wishful thinking, I’d say. There is no way Corbyn will be allowed to quit until after September’s conference, because that’s when the Left expects to get its leadership election rule changes through.
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Diane James seems to think that someone owes her a seat in Parliament. She says she would only “accept” a Tory seat if it was a safe one. Seeing as she isn’t actually a Party member, I’d say she was whistling in the wind. She really doesn’t know how Conservative selections work, does she?