Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.
Theresa May’s trip to Africa seems to have gone very well. In some ways it must seem like a bit of a holiday to her given her troubles at home, where she continues to come under siege from both sides of the Brexit debate. Her little dance in South Africa, while obviously a little #awks, seems to have gone down rather better than her awkward curtseys to Prince William. The usual suspects have been out on the media deriding the amount of trade we do with sub-saharan Africa and claiming that any extra trade cannot possibly make up for the lost trade with the EU. Bollocks on so many accounts. I see no reason why trade with the EU should fall by any significant amount after Brexit, if at all. It has been declining in percentage terms for years now, so that trend will no doubt continue, but in volume terms I’d be very surprised indeed if there were any decline at all. The media have wheeled out Sir Simon Fraser, former Permanent Secretary at the Foreign Office, who can always be relied upon to deride any aspect of Brexit. He tweeted: “So far as I can see from ONS [Office for National Statistics] stats, [the] EU accounts for about 45% of all UK trade and Sub Saharan Africa accounts for about 1.5%.” I know the FCO has never quite reconciled itself to its new role in promoting British trade rather than simply host diplomatic receptions (I exaggerate to make a point), but what exactly is his point here? That we should just concentrate on trading with the EU and sod the rest of the world? There are huge opportunities in Africa and as the main former colonial power, Britain ought to have a head start in exploiting them, but instead successive British governments have virtually ignored Africa. President Xi has visited Africa 79 times. May’s visit was the first to Africa by a British prime minister since 2011. Go figure. The Chinese are cleaning up in Africa. They’re pouring huge amounts of money into various countries. May’s visit to South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya ought to be the first of many by UK politicians and business leaders. The ambition should be to double our trade with these countries within ten years.
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When I got home on Thursday my new book had arrived. I’ve edited it with Jacqui Smith, the former Home Secretary, and it’s a collection of biographical essays about all the 168 female MPs elected between 1918 and 1996, called The Honourable Ladies. The second volume will contain the biographies of all the MPs elected between 1997 and 2019, and comes out next year. All the essays are written by women politicians, journalists and academics. It’s a massive tome, at 640 pages, and I hate to describe it as a good ‘loo book’ but it is! Each of the essays are between 500 words and 5,000, so it’s a great book to dip in and out of.
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Arron Banks is no doubt delighted at the row he’s caused by suggesting that Leave.eu members should join the Tory Party to ensure Brexit happens. Anna Soubry, rather predictably, got on her high horse and declared that this was akin to Militant infiltrating the Labour Party. I wonder if it has ever occurred to her that Leave.eu supporters actually support the official Conservative Party policy of leaving the EU, whereas she does not and is doing everything in her power to oppose it. There was a time when the Conservative Party was encouraging UKIP supporters to come home and rejoin the party they left. Are we really in a situation where the party should reject new members who support its main policy? Many local parties are reporting an increase in membership at the moment, but that coincides with a major recruitment drive anyway. Some associations have increased membership by ten per cent, but often it’s from a pretty low base. If you’ve only got a membership of 200, it’s hardly an infiltration scandal if your membership increased by 20. Surely it’s a cause for celebration. None of this means that I think Arron Banks should be readmitted at the moment. However, when all the accusations against him have been found wanting, that might be a different scenario. Might.
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It was finally announced on Tuesday that Eddie Mair is taking over my LBC Drivetime show and I’ll be moving to the evenings. I’ve been presenting Drive for five and a half years and have really enjoyed it. It’s a great slot to cover breaking news, but the one disadvantage is that it is very pacy and fast moving. You move from one subject to the next in the blink of an eye. Because of commuting, people listen for a shorter time period at that time of day (like Breakfast) than in other time slots. One thing I am really excited about is launching a new show on a Wednesday evening at 8pm called Cross Question. It will be similar in format to Any Questions and Question Time but the guests will be in the studio and take questions from our listeners. We’ll generally have two politicians and two commentators and we’re also going to introduce a fifth panellist – an LBC listener, just to shake it up a bit. It will all be streamed live on video on Facebook and Twitter too. The first programme will be next Wednesday at 8pm, so I hope you’ll tune in!