Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.
A sign of a Prime Minister in trouble is when journalists start writing articles about possible successors, and who might be the runners and riders in a leadership contest.
Given that Boris Johnson has only been the Conservative leader for just over a year, it comes as something of a surprise that he’s already being written off by some of his colleagues and commentators.
Some allege that it’s clear that he’s suffering from so-called “Long Covid”, and knows in his heart of hearts that he’s not performing on all six cylinders. Others reckon that if he gets a free trade agreement with the EU and the post- Coronavirus economy returns to something like normality, he might decide his work is done and he’ll be off to enjoy the fruits of a post Prime Ministerial career.
The truth is that no one knows. I find both these scenarios entirely plausible, if not wholly likely. It is very rare for a Prime Minister to give up office voluntarily, even when they might not be in the best of health. Tony Blair did – sort of, although a Gordon Brown shaped gun had been put to his temple. Harold Wilson did, but he knew his mental capacity was on the decline.
A party leader only serves at the pleasure of the Parliamentary Conservative Party. Yes, there are rumblings of discontent but, again, this is nothing unusual. Margaret Thatcher experienced such tremors throughout her leadership, but it took the cowards 15 years to get rid of her.
I find it difficult to foresee that things would get so bad within the next twelve months that Tory MPs would get rid of the man who brought them an 80 seat majority only 10 months ago. But in politics, the unexpected often happens.
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On Matt Forde’s Political Party podcast this week, I recounted a tale from my schooldays which left him open- mouthed with horror.
Back in 1978, when I was 15 my school held an end of term fancy dress disco in the cavernous school hall at Saffron Walden County High. I decided to go as a gamekeeper, given I had all the gear.
I arrived at the do dressed up in proper ‘Seth Armstrong’ gear (if you aren’t an Emmerdale fan, you won’t get that reference), replete with flat cap and wellington boots.
But more to the point, I was also carrying a double barrel twelve-bore shotgun (my father’s) and a cartridge belt full of live cartridges. No one batted an eyelid. If I did that now, the Police would be called and I’d probably get a mention in the Daily Mail, and get an ASBO. Innocent times.
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I am starting a new series of 55 podcasts on each of our 55 Prime Minsters to accompany the book I am editing on the subject which comes out in November.
Yesterday, one of the contributors pulled out of recording the podcast, because his three meetings in London that were summarily cancelled and transferred to Zoom calls – so he didn’t want to come in just for one.
In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon had continued to urge people to work from home if they could, whereas in England we had all be encouraged to return to work outside it if we could from July onwards. In hindsight, that was wrong.
Of course, we all want to get our city and town centres back to normal, but policy cannot be guided by an understandable desire to keep sandwich shops in business. We are not yet ‘Pret a Manger’.
The thought that this could all go on for another six months is not one any of us relishes, yet I think it was quite right of the Prime Minister to say that.
In March, he was criticised for what some described as false optimism, when he intimated that everything would be back to normal by Christmas. Now he’s being criticised for being a doomster…Sometimes, as a politician, you just can’t win.
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There’s a new authorised biography of Diane Abbott out this week. In the index it says I get a mention on page 52. The only Dale mentioned on that page is Diane’s maternal grandmother, Dinah Dale. I wonder if we are by any chance related? Now there’s one for Who do you think you are? It’s entirely possible we could be related, you know – I can’t count either.