Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio, and is the author of the forthcoming book ‘Why can’t we all just get along’.
I can’t imagine there is a Conservative in the country who doesn’t regret the resignation of Ruth Davidson as leader of the Scottish Conservatives. Any political observer with half a brain can see that she has transformed the fortunes of the party north of the border. OK, no leader achieves the kind of success she has singlehandedly, but she has set the tone and led from the front. I doubt any of us ever really believed she would help deliver 13 Tory MPs and overtake Labour to become the main opposition to the SNP in the Scottish Parliament. But she defied all expectations. I’ve never had children but I imagine if I had, it would have been a life-changing experience. Clearly that has been the case for Ruth and her partner Jen, and I hope she gets huge satisfaction from bringing up their young son Finn – the kind of satisfaction politics can never deliver. I very much hope this isn’t the last we will see of Ruth Davidson. She must know that if she wants a career in Westminster, it’s hers for the asking. Clearly that’s not going to happen for a few years, but there will no doubt be a stream of constant speculation on the issue for some time to come, unless she categorically rules it out.
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The decision to prorogue Parliament has launched a cascade of bluster and outrage among opposition parties and Remainers. I wrote a long blogpost on the issue on my website on Wednesday and won’t repeat all my arguments here, except to say this: isn’t it great to see a Prime Minister who knows what he wants, has a sense of direction and will get down and dirty in order to achieve his aim? It is of course fatuous to claim that this isn’t a tactical move. Of course it is. But then again, the reaction to it has been so OTT as to be risible. Those who have a full case of Brexit Derangement Syndrome have gone full tonto and likened it to a Latin American coup, or compared Boris Johnson to Hitler. Normal voters on both sides of the debate look on in bemusement and wonder if these politicians think we are stupid. We keep being told by people in the media who ought to know better that it’s the longest prorogation since the 1940s, conveniently omitting to point out that Parliament wouldn’t have been sitting for three weeks anyway due to the party conferences. Ah yes, says Lewis Goodall of Sky News, but you’re being disingenuous because MPs might have voted to sit during the party conferences. Might. That’s the key word. I doubt it very much. So now we are faced with the ludicrous spectacle of some MPs going to sit in Church House in a makeshift parliament. Who are they going to debate with? People they agree with? It’ll be the ultimate ‘massdebate’. If you get my drift…
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There was a right kerfuffle in France at the weekend when Downing Street cancelled a planned interview by Boris Johnson with Channel 4 News. It’s clear that the reason for cancellation was what Dorothy Byrne, the Head of Channel 4 News & Politics, said about the Prime Minister in her Mactaggart lecture at the Edinburgh TV Festival. She called him a liar – an extraordinary thing for someone in her position to say. It rather detracted from what was actually a rather interesting lecture. She questioned why leading politicians won’t do interviews without realising that comments like hers were one of the reasons. Her wider point is valid, though. For instance, it was ridiculous that on the day of the prorogation announcement that no government minister was put up to defend the decision on the radio or TV. All we had to go on was Boris Johnson’s pooled clip, given to Sky. I couldn’t get a government minister on my show, nor could Newsnight, or anyone else. So what did most programmes do? Line up a constant stream of guests who criticised the move. The next morning Jacob Rees-Mogg did a full media round, but by then it was a bit late. I had hoped that Downing Street would cut the apron strings a bit under the new regime, but it appears not. What political communications people need to realise is that if they don’t let politicians on the media to explain government policies, no one else is going to do it for them. If ministers can’t be trusted to explain government strategy or policy, then perhaps they shouldn’t be ministers at all. All that is needed is for there to be a cadre of 5-10 Cabinet and junior ministers who are known to be good communicators, to be placed around the media on days of big announcements. They can be properly briefed and sent out to bat. Sounds a perfectly sensible way of organising things to me…
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It’s great news that Andrew Neil is back on our screens with his own show on a Wednesday evening. My only regret is that it clashes with my radio show! It looks from the press release that it’s possibly only going to run until 31 October, but most people will hope that it becomes a permanent fixture. It’s not clear what kind of show it will be, but I assume it will be primarily interview-based. Exactly as it should be. Andrew is a pre-eminent political interviewer and his Straight Talk show is still sorely missed.