Iain Dale is an LBC presenter, a commentator with CNN and the author/editor of over 30 books.
On Monday, I had the pleasure of giving a talk to 25 senior Chinese government officials about UK radio. They had already heard from Fran Unsworth, the head of BBC News, and were later to hear about media regulation from John Whittingdale.
I spoke about the differences between BBC and commercial radio, and then moved on to what I do at LBC. They seemed fascinated when I played them parts of my 40 minute interview/phone-in with the prime minister from last October. Surely it was all agreed beforehand, they asked? No. Surely you were told what to ask her, they suggested? No.
I explained that in 8 years in this job I had not only never been asked by a politician’s advisers to ask a particular question, but that, had they done, I’d have told them exactly where they could stuff their suggested.
I ended the session by putting a question to them. I explained that LBC stood for “Leading Britain’s Conversation”, and I wondered if they might like me to come to Beijing to set up LCC – “Leading China’s Conversation.
I looked out at a sea of poker faces. I think they all secretly rather liked the idea, but if a single one had suggested agreement they’d have immediately been snitched on back home, and intercepted off the plane at Beijing Airport.
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Well, she’s still there, clinging on like a limpet. The resilience of Theresa May has been on full display again for all to see.
On Sunday, many were speculating that she would be gone by the end of the week. On Monday, rumours were rife that Sir Graham Brady had the 48 letters necessary to force a confidence vote. He didn’t. The Prime Minister then turned up to the Commons to give an assured performance – making the most of the kind comments from opposition MPs deploring anonymous quotes from Conservative MPs in the Sunday papers about knifings and nooses.
And on Wednesday, she completed the job by putting in a competent performance at PMQs and then doing well at a 1922 Committee meeting. Recalcitrant rebels were left spluttering that it was all ‘stage-managed’ by the whips. What they meant was that they hadn’t got their act together to do the same.
There’s always a ‘but’, though. And the ‘but’ is that she may still have the majority of the Parliamentary Party onside, but whether her Cabinet is still onside is a very different matter.
Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting was, by all accounts, not one that May will look back on fondly. At last, it appears that quite a few Cabinet members discovered their bollocks were a bit bigger and more hairy than we had all thought. They seem to be in no mood to accept reassurances about the Northern Ireland backstop. They want a full legal opinion. For some odd reason, they don’t believe Olly Robbins any longer. Can’t think why.
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Talking of the future Sir Oliver, I was amused by a tweet that Theo Barclay sent to Jacqui Smith on Wednesday. “Do you think Iain Dale will self-combust if Olly Robbins is appointed Cabinet Secretary?”
This came off the back of the sad news that the current Jeremy Heywood has been forced to announce he is retiring to enable him to deal with the cancer that he was diagnosed with earlier in the year. Sir Jeremy has served two Labour and two Conservative Prime Ministers. Were I still in publishing, I would be hoping that he would be penning his memoirs.
He is succeeded by the Prime Minister’s National Security Adviser, Mark Sedwill, who has been deputising for Sir Jeremy over the last few months. What a time to be appointed head of the civil service. Perhaps it’s a good time to have some fresh thinking and a new approach, given we’re approaching D-Day on Brexit.
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I have no idea why the Budget is being held on a Monday. It’s not happened before, I don’t think – certainly not in my adult lifetime. What we really need is a radical budget, preparing us for any Brexit eventuality. What we need is the kind of Budget that Nigel Lawson used to deliver.
What we’re likely to get, I suspect, is something very different. Conservative chancellors always try to sell their budgets as ‘pro-business’ and ‘pro jobs’. I suspect this one won’t be able to be sold as either. What is clear is that taxes are going to have to go up if the £20 billion NHS splurge is to be paid for by anything other than extra borrowing. There will be a few painful personal income tax measures, no doubt, which are likely to involve thresholds being frozen and top earners being penalised even more. I can’t see the actual rates of income tax being raised.
No, it will be businesses that will be hit because they are an easy target and ordinary voters have little sympathy. I suspect that employers’ NI (and possibly employees’ too) will go up, and that there will be other sneaky rises. I hope I’m wrong, because it is carrots that businesses need rather than sticks.