Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
On Monday lunchtime, as my parting shot on CNNTalk, I said that, in her statement responding to the Salisbury nerve agent attack, Theresa May should ask herself one question: “What would Maggie have done?” And then do it.
If I’m honest, I thought we’d hear a statement full of diplomatic ifs and buts. What we got instead, both on Monday and Wednesday was a full on Iron lady tour de force. It was the Prime Minister at her confident best. She was robust, forthright but grounded on an inner calm, based on the belief that she was doing the right thing. The nervousness and lack of self-confidence that is sometimes apparent was banished – hopefully for good.
There wasn’t a single Conservative MP who wouldn’t have given her their full support. And she got the backing of the more sane Labour MPs too. They lined up on Wednesday to tell her she had done exactly the right thing, and subtly to stick the knife into their own leader. The relative unity in the Parliamentary Labour Party has been well and truly shattered over this issue.
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While Labour has scored well over the last year on domestic issues, and struck a chord with the electorate, I wonder whether it could be foreign and defence policy that prevents it winning the next election.
By rights this should happen – but, then again, someone of my age tends to judge these things using old political metrics. We compare life to how it was back in the Cold War, but anyone under the age of 40 has little or no memory of those times.
Just as attacks on Jeremy Corbyn for his friendship with IRA terrorists cuts little ice with the Millennials, nor do attacks on Russia. The tendency of many to give Russia a free pass, and slumber in the belief that it is America that is the real threat to world peace, rather than the Kremlin, is worrying to observe.
Corbyn’s utter failure in his response to both May’s Commons statements this week lay was demonstrated by his fundamental inability to unequivocally condemn any of Russia’s unlawful acts on the international stage. So Ukraine’s problems are all down to US and EU expansionism, and so on.
All this is all fed to him by those reactionary old ‘tankies’ , Seumas Milne and Andrew Murray. They both seem to hanker after a bygone age when Russia really did provide a counterbalance to America. Both their pasts display an apparent hankering for the good old days. The Conservatives must be alive to this, and find a way of persuading Millennials of the dangers of the position.
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Back in 2003, when it became clear that Hans Blix wasn’t going to find any weapons of mass destruction, I remember saying that Tony Blair’s willingness to take us into the Iraq War (which I supported) would rebound not just on him, but on all future prime ministers.
I recall touring the TV studios to say that if our Prime Minister kept saying that Saddam Hussein had Weapons of Mass Destruction, then I was prepared to believe him on the basis that no Prime Minister would lie over a matter as serious as that. I remember saying that a Prime Minister knows things which he or she can’t possibly share with voters due to national security, but that it was our duty, whatever our political leanings, to support our Prime Minister on issues like this.
I believed it then and I believe it now. I still don’t believe Tony Blair deliberately lied, but it is clear that there were serious failings on the part of our intelligence services, and indeed of his own judgement. But these failings have had severe long term consequences. They have meant that people no longer give prime ministers the benefit of the doubt on matters of security and war. They want absolute proof.
Social media and the internet more generally have fed a narrative of ‘trust no one, especially political leaders’. Vladimir Putin could have been discovered manufacturing the nerve agent himself, there could be a recording of him giving instructions on how to use it to murder Sergei Skripal…and there would still be people blaming the Americans or the Israelis for what happened. The erosion of trust in political leaders because of Blair’s actions have corroded our entire political system. I wonder if he ever reflects on that.
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My musical tastes are famously ‘well-dodge’, according to many other people. One of the bands I like most of all is Roxette. They are playing at the Hammersmith Apollo in October, albeit without female lead singer Marie Fredriksson, who has retired from touring following recovery from a brain tumour.
So I went onto their website to book a couple of tickets, only to find out that the prices ranged from £57 to £68. This comes days after a cinema wanted to charge me £18.99 to see ‘Darkest Hour’. I admit that I could easily afford these prices, but I’ve chosen not to. I never pay a price which I think is a rip-off. Maybe that’s the going rate these days – but I for one ain’t paying it.