Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
Now you may notice a distinct lack of political content in this week’s diary column. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, I am on holiday and haven’t spoken to anyone in the political world for nearly two weeks, and secondly, there’s not been a lot happening!
There do seem to be some continuing stresses in the Cabinet over Brexit, however. In some ways this is inevitable. There will always be differing views, but do they really have to be expressed in public? Last week we had the disagreement between Liam Fox and Michael Gove over chlorinated chicken and this week the Chancellor has yet again decided to wade into the argument about how long any transitional period should be. It’s pointless speculating about the length of a transition because in the end it will have to be agreed to by the EU. And surely a red line has got to be that we must be allowed to start formal trade negotiations with other countries from 29th March 2019, not from the end of a transitional period. I wonder whether the Chancellor is on board with that?
Isn’t it revealing that the Corbyn leadership has been unwilling to offer any condemnation of the brutal regime in Venezuela? Revealing, but not surprising. Even the Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, couldn’t bring herself to say anything. Instead, Shadow Home Office Minister Chris Williamson went on Newsnight, presumably without informing Seumas Milne, Corbyn’s Comms Director. Milne, it should be remembered, is a fan of the Maduro regime, having conducted a nauseating interview with the Venezuelan leader in 2014 for The Guardian. Williamson was asked by Evan Davis whether he considered himself closer politically to Maduro and Chavez than to Tony Blair. He naturally refused to answer the question. Says it all.
Radio presenters live and die by their audience figures. Yesterday, we all learnt how many people were listening to our respective programmes and for LBC it was a record quarter. We reached 2 million listeners for the first time ever with virtually every show putting on listeners both in London and nationally. Nick Ferrari’s figures are truly phenomenal. The breakfast show sets the scene for the rest of the day and if your breakfast show isn’t performing it’s likely that will filter down the schedule. Ferrari really is at the top of his game and nationally now has a record 1.19 million listeners each week. Nigel Farage’s show has done brilliantly. To get close on half a million listeners for an hour long show at 7pm is a real achievement. I never got anywhere near that figure when I was doing that slot.
My show had record figures too, beating James O’Brien in London for the first time (although not nationally), 18 per cent up year on year, and my show had the largest increase in national listeners of any show on the station, reaching 815,000 which was a massive 27 per cent increase on the same period in 2016.
All very pleasing, and a testament to the work done by our respective production teams, but as ever, we shouldn’t get carried away with one quarter’s figures. We should remember that in this quarter we had a general election, so it will not be a surprise if the figures move back a little in the next quarter. But this quarter we all stepped up to the plate and reinforced LBC’s growing reputation in the world of political and current affairs broadcasting. And if you haven’t given us a listen yet, please do.
One of the things you face as you get older is the decreasing number of weddings you attend, and the increasing number of funerals you go to. In all honesty, I can’t remember the last wedding I went to, but the funerals are coming thick and fast. Today I’m attending a funeral near Saffron Walden of someone I’ve known since I was 18. She was married to one of my best friends from my schooldays and died two weeks ago. She was the same age as me. Juliet had battled cancer for some time, and last year had to have a leg amputated. She knew she hadn’t got long to live, but even so the news came as a shock. Her husband rang me just as I had got off a train at Charing Cross. I don’t mind admitting I walked along the platform shedding quite a few tears. The end came very suddenly and was a shock to everyone. All sorts of clichés are trotted out at times like this but it really is true to say that she was a one off who was always totally positive about everything. I’m sure she must have had some very dark moments in the last couple of years, but she was a battler and an optimist. And my friend.