Iain Dale is Presenter of LBC Drive, Managing Director of Biteback Publishing, a columnist and broadcaster and a former Conservative Parliamentary candidate.
It’s not often that this column praises Harriet Harman, but her reaction to the rather bizarre story that, ten years ago, a young Kemi Badenoch entered into a jolly jape by somehow gaining access to Harriet’s website and making some funny changes tells us three things – that she is capable of being non-partisan, that she has a heart…and that she wants to be Speaker.
She accepted Kemi’s apology, and accepted that the incident was mischievous rather than malicious. Good on her. A lesser politician could have made hay. But credit also to Kemi, whose own reaction and handling of a slight media storm mitigated what could have been a much bigger problem for her. Well, that’s one vote in the bag for Harriet if she decides to stand to succeed John Bercow as Speaker of Commons.
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As I write, prospects of the immediate bombing of Syria seem to have receded, but who knows what will happen next?
At any rate, Bob Seely has called such action ‘gesture bombing’ and he makes a good point. Bombing in retribution for a chemical attack is entirely justified, and might make us feel better, but would it really be the right course to take?
I’m known for being fairly hawkish on these matters. Many of my listeners accuse me of being a warmonger but, surely the most important thing when taking military action is to have clear aims, understand the consequences, and know what the endgame is.
If it is to destroy the Assad regime’s ability to launch chemical weapons attacks, then count me in as an enthusiastic supporter. But if it is to be a repeat of Donald Trump’s retributative bombing of a year ago, then I have to ask: what would be the point?
The President received a lot of praise last year for taking the kind of decisive action that Barack Obama consistently failed to, but if the aim of launching those 59 cruise missiles was to dissuade Assad from using chemical weapons again, well, it failed, didn’t it?
Back in 2013, Assad crossed Obama’s red line. The Commons voted against taking any action, and that allowed Obama to wimp out as well. I was also against Britain taking action, as I couldn’t see how it was in our national interest to do so. I freely admit I was wrong. I now believe that, had decisive action been taken then, the whole course of the war in Syria might have been very different. We’ll never know, I suppose.
Then in 2015, the Commons voted to give Cameron the authorisation to join with the US and France in taking action in Syria following another chemical attack. I’d say that parliamentary vote is still valid, even though a general election has intervened in the meantime.
A Prime Minister has to be able to take military action at the right time, and to have to wait for parliament is an unnecessarily inhibiting factor. There is no constitutional need for it and, while it might be nice to have it, to govern is to choose, and then be held accountable for the choice you made. Apart from the Iraq War vote, and the 2013 Syria vote, that’s how we’ve always done it.
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There’s a pincer attack on the BBC at the moment.
From one side, it’s some Remainers, led by Andrew Adonis and from the other side, it’s the Corbynistas, led by Owen Jones. Owen is now trying to get Andrew Neil sacked from the BBC, on the basis that he is not impartial and is very right wing.
He alleges that the BBC would never employ a correspondent or presenter from the Left. He conveniently forgets that Newsnight employed Paul Mason as their Economics Editor for several years. I could go on.
And the very thought, as Adonis suggests at least fifty times a day, that the BBC is biased towards Brexit is so risible as to be hardly worth a debate. We can all have our views on where the BBC stands and how it displays a bias, conscious or unconscious, but I have never seen such attempts to undermines individual journalists in this way.
The idea that Andrew Neil doesn’t give right of centre politicians just as hard a time as left-wing ones is for the birds. He’s the best political interviewer in the country, and I hope all these attacks are water off a duck’s back.
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Tonight, I’m making my debut as an arts critic on Mary Beard’s new BBC2 show, Front Row Late. As a complete cultural philistine, I’m a bit nervous about this, so tune in – and you may see a complete car crash.
We’re discussing causing offence and freedom of speech, looking at the play The Assassination of Katie Hopkins; the anti-semitic mural that caused Corbyn so many problems, and a South African gay-themed film which has been classed as pornographic even though there’s not an erection, or indeed anything flaccid, to be seen at all!
What could possibly go wrong… Anyway, it’s on BBC2 at 11.05pm tonight after Newsnight. PS Look out for the shirt…