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Westlake Legal Group > Friday Diary

Will Johnson get a Brexit deal done after all?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

It is still impossible to predict what will happen next week, but whatever it is will be pretty momentous.

It still seems unlikely that a deal will be done before the deadline day of October 31st but, given yesterday’s events on Merseyside, it doesn’t seem as unlikely as it did just hours before. At the time of writing, we don’t know who has conceded what – so it’s impossible to say what the Northern Ireland parties will make of it all, and whether any concessions on the UK side would affect the likelihood of any deal getting through the Commons.

So let’s park that one and look at a somewhat negative scenario.

So Boris Johnson goes to the EU council next Thursday; it ends in chaos; he comes back, addresses the Commons on Saturday week, sends the EU a letter requesting an extension to Article 50 – but also makes clear he doesn’t believe a word of it.

The EU then grants a year-long extension, thus enabling a second referendum to happen and at that point Johnson challenges the opposition parties to agree to an election.

And that is where the fun starts. Labour decides that it will only agree to an election after a second referendum is held, and it says that the options put to voters would be Theresa May’s deal v Remain. It is assailed by the SNP for effectively inflicting another nine months of a Conservative government on the country.

At that point, Johnson resigns as Prime Minister, and attempts are made to form an alternative government – all of which fail. He fights the election on a ‘leave the EU with no deal’ manifesto, which results in dozens of Tory MPs quitting, but the Brexit Party stand down all of their candidates.

Would Johnson win a majority in those circumstances? As the polls stand at the moment, yes, but we all know what can happen in election campaigns. And if you don’t know, just ask May.

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The scenario I paint above shows just how much influence Nigel Farage will have over events. And the core thing to remember is that he doesn’t trust Johnson one iota. I cannot see how the latter could ever agree to a formal electoral pact with the forner and if, he did, it would have to be written in stone.

There’s some talk of the Prime Minister offering the Brexit Party a free run in 50 selected seats, presumably in the north of England, I return for a free run everywhere else. I think it’s completely fanciful. But in this political environment, I suppose stranger things have happened.

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The best news of the week is that Chris Mason is taking over the reins as the new host of Any Questions. Chris is one of the few journalists that is liked by everybody (by which I mean everybody in the political firmament).

This is not because he’s pliant, or soft; it’s because he’s a transparently nice bloke who knows his stuff. I haven’t got a clue what his politics are anymore than anyone else has. It’s a cracking appointment, and even though he has huge shoes to step into, I have absolutely no doubt he’ll do well and bring a freshness and vitality to the show.

I did ponder applying for it myself, but I figured there was little point given I’ve been on the show as an opinionated panellist a dozen times, and the BBC would never appoint someone to a show like that with a previous political background.

The fact that I present a similar show and have proved my hosting abilities would be by the by. Sometimes you have to just accept the reality of a situation. Newsnight quite happily employed James O’Brien as a host, but then of course he is a man of the centre left. Someone on the centre-right would never get a look-in. And if you think that’s me being paranoid, John Humphrys says the exact same thing in his excellent new book.

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For almost this entire year, most of my weekends have involved work of some description or other. Not this one. At least, that’s the intention.

After doing my regular slot on Good Morning Britain, I’ll be driving west to spend three days in North Devon with my Aunt and cousins, who live in Braunton.

No Andrew Marr, no newspaper columns, no Twitter (that one is a lie) – just catching up with family gossip and reminiscing about times gone by. And a walk across Saunton Sands. I have honestly never looked forward to a weekend more. The calm before the storm…

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Iain Dale: Were it not for the fringe at each year’s Conservative conference, what would be the point of coming?

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

What a strange conference that was. Given the content of the sessions that took place in the main auditorium, you could be forgiven thinking that there were some people at the top of the party who would rather it hadn’t taken place at all.

I’ve been going to Conservative conferences since 1985, and I think there are only two in that period I have missed. It’s a form of masochism, I suppose. But I can never remember a conference where the sessions only started at 10am and finished before 5pm. The normal running times have always been 9.30-5.30.

I’m told that people in Number Ten tried to cancel the whole thing, but rowed back when they understood the financial consequences. I do think the Party needs to conduct a root and branch review into the future of party conferences.

They can’t just be looked at as an opportunity to earn money. What is the actual point of them apart from that? Are they rallies, are they just opportunities for Party members to be told what the government is doing, or should they switch back to being real exercises in consulting Party members on future policy ideas?

There was supposed to be a lot more opportunity for party members to get involved with the panel sessions, but this usually had to be done via an App, rather than spontaneously from a microphone. I chaired two different sessions and I have to say most of the questions submitted via the app were so inane as to be unaskable. I suspect the dead hand of censorship might have been involved somewhere along the line.

The only session which did provoke a bit of controversy was the ‘Meet the Chairmen’ session on Sunday afternoon, where I gave James Cleverly and Ben Elliot a good grilling, as did members of the audience. And I think both they and the audience enjoyed it. Conference needs to have a bit of risk about it. If you try and run a conference without risk, it becomes anodyne and boring.

No wonder the hall is half empty for a good proportion of the time. People find the Fringe much more , would rather spend time in the exhibition hall gossiping rather than be bored rigid by a series of tedious, autocued speeches from a bunch of boring Cabinet Ministers. Even Priti Patel couldn’t quite fill the hall. There were even a few empty seats near the front during Boris Johnson’s speech.

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Boris Johnson’s conference speech was very different to those of previous leaders. For one thing, it only lasted for some 35 minutes – way shorter than usual. He didn’t use those awful gigantic autocue screens secreted at the back of the hall which virtually every other speaker had read from. Thank God for small mercies. Two small glass screes in front of the podium are one thing, but the giant screens are an obscenity which should be banished forthwith.

There was precious little new in his speech, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. He spent time explaining his new proposals to the EU, and then outlined what the Government’s priorities would be after Brexit.

I was encouraged by the section in which he said it was important to look at how to encourage areas outside London to thrive and expand. There are a lot of areas in this country with hidden levels of poverty, and they feel left behind.

Many of them are on the coast. North Norfolk is considered by most people as a lovely, pretty area populated by quaint market towns, but there are lots of areas where poverty levels can be compared with some of our inner cities. Many people in these areas voted Brexit to send politicians a message. Enough. I’m glad that the Prime Minister seems to have heard the message loud and clear.

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One thing will stick in my mind from this week’s conference and that’s the fact that I could barely walk twenty yards without being stopped by someone asking for a selfie or telling me they love my LBC show.

Believe it or not, I am quite a shy person (I know, I know), and I never quite know what to say to people who tell me they love what I do. Of course, I say thank you, and it’s much appreciated, but I often feel I leave people feeling a bit underwhelmed because I can’t think what else to say!

And quite how I was supposed to respond to the people who marched up to me telling me they loved me… well… suffice to say, I didn’t reach for their thigh…

There was one amusing incident, though. I was having a fairly in-depth chat with a friend who works at CCHQ when a lady decided it was quite OK to break in and try to engage me in conversation. I explained, perfectly politely, that I was talking to someone, and would she mind waiting a moment until I had finished my current conversation? She marched off blustering about how rude I had been. Self-knowledge is a wonderful thing, isn’t it?

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Iain Dale: Beyond Westminster, Johnson’s stock with the public remains high

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

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Iain Dale: Swinson’s revoke policy disincentivises more Conservative defections

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

“I am your leader, let me follow you.” That sentence seems to sum up the new Brexit policy of the man who aspires to become Prime Minister. Yet again, Jeremy Corbyn thinks he walk along the middle of the road on Brexit. The trouble is, if you do that you will inevitably get run over.

The Liberal Democrats have a clear policy (more on that later); the Conservative have, too. Everyone kows what the Brexit Party policy is – it does what it says on the tin. But Labour’s policy remains – if I can use that word – as clear as mud. How can a party leader fail to take a position on the biggest political issue of the day?

It’s all very well to try to emulate Harold Wilson, but Corbyn doesn’t have the political skill to pull it off. I said on Question Time recently that I thought Emily Thornberry’s position on negotiating a ‘good Labour deal’ and then advocating voting Remain in a referendum was utterly ridiculous. But at least she has the merit of declaring what she believes in.

Corbyn doesn’t have the guts to do that. No wonder he doesn’t like doing interviews, because if he did, his position would inevitably collapse within minutes.

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Jo Swinson’s position on revoking Article 50 may be seen as illiberal and anti-democratic, and it might appear that she is transforming the LibDems into the Remain equivalent of UKIP – but it does have the benefit of clarity.

I wonder, however, if it will put off any more Conservative MPs from defecting to her party. It’s one thing to believe in a second referendum; quite another to advocate cancelling Brexit altogether. And this from the party that was the first to advocate an in/out EU referendum back in 2007.

Mind you, it is probably a good idea for the party to move away from the idea of a second referendum, since it has a leader who says that she wouldn’t accept the result even if Leave won again. Swinson’s position of insisting that she would revoke Article 50 in the event of the LibDems winning a general election has the superficial appeal of it being at least arguable that she would thus have a democratic mandate.

It does, however, retain a different problem for her. How can she possibly argue against a second Scottish referendum, given that one was proposed in the SNP’s election manifesto in 2016? She was asked that question in an interview this week and ended up gulping like a goldfish. It was something she had clearly given no thought to.

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I’ll be spending a couple of days in Brighton next week at the Labour conference. I’m broadcasting my LBC show from there on Monday and Tuesday, but we’ve already been informed we won’t be getting a interview with Jeremy Corbyn.

He hasn’t done a live interview with me, or anyone else for that matter, on LBC since he became Labour leader four years ago. Boris Johnson gets a lot of flack from broadcasters for not doing may interviews, but he’s positively prolific compared to Corbyn.

I’d have thought that he would want to talk to LBC’s 2.4 million listeners, because I doubt he can win an election without the support of a good proportion of them.

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Fraser Nelson and I have at least one thing in common. He and I are both celebrating ten years in our respective jobs. He’s been editor of the Spectator for a decade, and I presented my first show on LBC ten years ago this week.

Fraser was on the Media Masters podcast this week, and it was fascinating listening to him explain how the Spectator has gone from strength to strength over the past few years. The conventional wisdom is that print media is dying off. In newspapers, you get the impression that this is indeed happening, yet in the magazine world it’s not necessarily the same.

The key point for the Spectator is that their digital offering has led to an increase in print subscriptions. If anything, I’d say that it has increased its political influence over the last five years or so. Its design hasn’t changed much, and the content isn’t radically different, but somehow it’s smarter and more welcoming.

I always used to find the it a little stuffy and intimidating. That’s not the case nowadays. And its political coverage is second to none. So happy editing-birthday, Fraser. Keep up the good work.

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Iain Dale: The Prime Minister. He gets knocked down. But he gets up again.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

Number Ten, it seems, has recognised that withdrawing the whip from 21 Conservative MPs and preventing them from standing as Tory candidates at the next election might just have been a teency-weency bit over the top. A bit of rowing back has gone on this week, and the MPs in question have received a letter telling them that they can either reapply for the whip or, if they think they have been treated unfairly, appeal to a panel.

Time will tell how many will avail themselves of the offer. There will be some who will refuse and revel in their martyrdom, but others who will want to return to the tribe. I suspect, however, that the conditions imposed on them will mean that most may well refuse. If this is a genuine offer by Downing Street and the Chief Whip, then the 21 need to be treated sensitively rather than presented with the equivalent of signing a total surrender document.

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Having had a five week long political honeymoon, the last ten days have seen the Prime Minister experience the political equivalent of five rounds in the ring with Anthony Joshua. He’s been pummelled onto the floor by losing six votes Commons – but hasn’t been knocked out, despite being punched in the guts by his brother Jo.

And that’s the blow that hurt the most. I’m told that the Prime Minister was reduced to tears by this as he immediately realised the implications. Forget the political effect, it was the immediate realisation that his relationship with his brother would never be quite the same again. He was knocked for six.

This may explain his shambolic performance in front of the police cadets in Wakefield, where he gave a speech which was almost incomprehensible. And that’s being kind. On a human level, I think that many people will have a lot of sympathy for him. In some ways, this was far worse than what Ed Miliband did to his brother by standing against him in 2010. This was a dagger – straight to the heart.

One thing our Prime Minister finds very difficult to cope with is people who either don’t like him or who misunderstand his motives. It’s very human in many ways, and I warm to him because of it, but in politics it’s a weakness.

It may make him a less empathetic human being, but perhaps Johnson needs to grow a suit of human body armour. As Prime Minister, it’s impossible to be liked by everyone, and you can’t avoid the fact that your political enemies will come for you when they scent blood. And, boy, have they scented blood in the last ten days.

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Last Friday, I chaired the Norfolk Police & Crime Commissioner selection hustings in Norwich. The last time I had attended a meeting at the Mercure Hotel (formerly the Hotel Norwich) on the Norwich inner ring road was in April 1987, for the adoption meeting of the then Norwich North MP, Patrick Thompson, at the start of the general election campaign.

The room hadn’t changed a bit.  There were a lot of people there I knew from my North Norfolk campaign in 2005 and the age profile of the audience was very different to that I experienced during the leadership hustings. Yes, there was a scattering of young faces, but not a single person who wasn’t white.

Norwich itself has become a much more diverse city in recent years, and that needs to be reflected in the membership of local political parties. There was four finalists for the PCC job, all of whom were in their 60s (I think). Three men and one woman.

I gave each of them quite a grilling and all of them stood up to it quite well, even if I suspect none of them had ever experienced anything like it. The eventual winner (on the first ballot) was Giles Orpen-Smellie, a former diplomat with the gift of the gab. He provided the best answer to the final question I put to each of the four candidates: “I think PCCs are a complete waste of money and should be abolished. Tell me why I’m wrong.”

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I think enough has been said and written about my appearance on the BBC’s Question Time show last week. However, I was very aware that when I next hosted an LBC Cross Question show on Wednesday, I’d be under quite a bit of scrutiny. Could I maintain control over the panellists on my show – David Starkey, Andrew Adonis, Christine Jardine and Mark Harper – in a way that Fiona Bruce had often failed to do on hers the week before?

Would I allow one panellist to dominate in the way that Emily Thornberry was allowed to? Well, you can listen for yourself on the Cross Question podcast or view it on the LBC Youtube channel.

To be honest the hour was, in my opinion, exactly what a debate should be about. Apart from Starkey calling Theresa May “a hag” (which I made him apologise for), it was conducted with utter respect, without fake rows and I think the listeners learned a lot. But while I think I maintained control I think I failed to stop Starkey dominating. But then again, I defy any presenter to do any better than I did!

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Iain Dale: Bracknell, Broadland, Tunbridge Wells, Conservative candidacies and my future. A statement.

Iain Dale presents the evening show on LBC Radio and is a commentator for CNN.

I have to admit to feeling very torn over the whip being withdrawn from 21 Conservative MPs over their rebellion this week.

On the one hand, they all knew the consequences of what they were doing. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t had due warning that the vote was considered a vote of confidence. So the Prime Minister and Chief Whip were quite within their rights to withdraw the whip from them, thereby preventing all of the 21 from standing as a Conservative candidate in any immediate election.

And yet, and yet.  I feel a profound sense unease at this move, just as I did in 1992 when John Major did the same thing to the Maastricht rebels. They were seen by many, albeit unfairly – and especially in the media – as the mad, the bad and the sad.

The current rebels are people of immense stature and, although they differ from me on our views of Brexit, I regard each and every one of them as a proper Conservative. Whatever the proprieties are of withdrawing the whip, sometimes in politics you have to be pragmatic. You need to think how ordinary voters will view these things. It’s a long-established political fact that the electorate hates divided parties.

Part of the problem here is that some people seem to have drunk their own kool-aid. I’ve said before that I think the first month of Boris Johnson’s premiership was a success. He picked the Conservative Party up off the floor, provided a clear direction of travel and exuded some much needed positivity and optimism.

But with success comes the danger of hubris. No politician or adviser is without fallibility and I’m afraid there are one or two people in Downing Street who seem to think they are beyond questioning. The events this week have shown how wrong they are.

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A lot has been said about Jeremy Corbyn’s reluctance to accede to the Prime Minister’s request for a general election, so I won’t add to it much here except to say this: surely the best way to avoid a No Deal Brexit, if that is really his aim, would be for him to become Prime Minister – and the only way that can happen is for him to win a general election? Then he can make sure it doesn’t happen. But there’s the rub. Labour knows it’s very unlikely that he could win it. Democracy, eh?

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Back in 2009 I was in the final of the Bracknell selection. There were seven of us taking part – an unusually large number. I really felt I had a good chance, although I knew that the local GP, Phillip Lee, was always going to be the favourite.

On the day of the open primary, one by one those seven candidates fell by the wayside. It was a bit like X Factor. I got down to the final three, against Lee and Stewart. At that point, I realised the game was probably up. If they wanted to play safe, they’d go for Philip. If they wanted to take a risk, they’d go for Rory – and I fell somewhere between the two.

My rationale was that they wouldn’t want a compromise candidate; they’d want the real thing. I was right. I won’t pretend I wasn’t gutted, because I was. Bracknell was the perfect constituency for me, I thought, and I felt a connection.

Scroll forward ten years and Bracknell are about to select a new candidate. On Tuesday I interviewed the Chairman of Bracknell Conservatives to get his reaction to Lee’s defection. He was very gentlemanly, and resisted the opportunity to stick the knife in, but it’s clear that this move has been coming for some time. Lee’s done quite a bit of public agonising over the last year so the reaction, rather than surprise, was a bit of shoulder-shrugging.

The point is: Lee is no more a Liberal Democrat than I am. His views on Brexit may partially coincide with theirs, but on virtually everything else he’s a true blue Tory. I wonder how comfortable he will feel with them. No more comfortable than Chuka Ummuna, I imagine.

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So far this week, I’ve been linked with standing in Bracknell, Broadland and Tunbridge Wells – given that in addition to Philip Lee’s defection, my good friend Keith Simpson has announced he’s standing down in Broadland, where I have a house, and Greg Clark in Tunbridge Wells (where I live) has had the whip removed.

Were I 47, I might be tempted, but I’m not. I’m 57, and I very much enjoy my current life. Yes, there’s a part of me that thinks in this dire situation that all good (wo)men and true should come to the aid of the country, but in the end, self-knowledge is a wonderful thing. And I am far better equipped to resist temptation at 57 than I was when I was younger.

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I can only imagine the agonies that Jo Johnson has been through in making his decision to resign as a minister and quit as an MP. There will be obvious comparisons with the Miliband brothers, I suppose. It is rumoured that Jo didn’t inform his brother what he was intending to do. On the face of it, you’d have to say that appears incredibly ruthless, if correct. Families, eh?

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Iain Dale: Were the Prime Minister to pull the plug on HS2, would he call time on Heathrow expansion too?

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 have very mixed feelings about HS2. I am usually all in favour of visionary transport infrastructure projects. I rather liked the idea of the Boris Island Airport, and still regret that he didn’t make it part of his leadership campaign. I also think high speed rail is a good thing.

However, I still don’t think the business case for HS2 has really ever been properly made.  Capacity is clearly an issue on parts of the West Coast main line, but it seems to be the Manchester trains which suffer, rather than the Birmingham ones.

The Prime Minister is clearly minded to cancel the whole project, and hopes that the review announced this week will give him political cover. Quite how he will explain the waste of upwards of £7.2 billion I don’t know, but presumably the saving of a further £80 billion will be used to show how other parts of our transport system could be improved.

Of course, if HS2 is cancelled, one would quite reasonably wonder whether the third runway at Heathrow might be next on the list for a prime ministerial cull.

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A new Kantar poll puts the Conservatives on 42 per cent, with Labour trailing on 28 per cent and the Brexit Party on only five per cent. The Liberal Democrats were constant on 15 per cent.

So, a 14 per cent lead for Johnson. Is this a “Boris bounce”? None of the other polls have shown a lead anything like this big, so everyone should treat with a huge degree of scepticism. But since it is widely believed that there will be a general election by the end of November, this is not a bad place to start from.

But as ever, a Conservative election success surely relies on us leaving the EU on October 31st. If we don’t, quite a few of those per centage points will be shaved off by Nigel Farage.

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Talking of Farage, he has made clear that, if the Prime Minister signs up to any form of deal with the EU, the Brexit Party will stand candidates against every Conservative candidate up and down the country. The only way to avoid that would be for us to leave on 31 October with no deal.

That outcome seems ever more likely as each day and each exchange of letters with Donald Tusk takes place. But as with Farage, I have a feeling in my water that the prospect of a last-minute deal hasn’t entirely disappeared. Yet.

The purists may hate it, but in the end, we have surely to remain of the view that a good deal is better than no deal. The trouble is that few can see what would actually constitute a good deal from the UK viewpoint. We can all see what a bad deal looks like, of course. But how we get from that to a good deal is anyone’s guess. –

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The ‘N’ key to my laptop has come ustuck. Makes me thik a ew computer may be i order. I could stick it o agai , I suppose. But where’s the fu i that?

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This is my first and only week’s holiday of the year. I’m spending it in Norfolk doing nothing at all – apart from writing this, and two other columns.

And watching box sets. I’ve finished Designated Survivor on Netflix and have now started the Korean version. I’m quite used to watching programmes with subtitles, but normally I can pick up a few words of the language. Not Korean. It’s almost impossible to follow.

I’m also reading Andrew Roberts’ brilliant thousand page biography of Winston Churchill. I always find these doorstops of books incredibly intimidating, mainly because I normally only read before I go to sleep, and therefore only manage three pages a night. So I’m pleased I’m already on page 200. Right, time for another chapter…

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Iain Dale: Don’t mention the war, please. Why Johnson was wrong to suggest Hammond and company are collaborators.

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’.

Last week at the Edinburgh Festival, John McDonnell told me that Labour would insist on Jeremy Corbyn leading any interim government of national unity, following any successful vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson’s administration.

I told him that this idea was delusional, since the Labour leader wouldn’t be able to command a majority in Parliament in such circumstance.  Yesterday, Corbyn confirmed that this is exactly his intention.  But since there are plenty even of his own MPs who don’t have confidence in him, one wonders how he thinks he could persuade those of other parties to row in behind him.

Jo Swinson has made it clear she wouldn’t. Anna Soubry is p**sed off that she wasn’t even cc’d on his letter. I have never thought a national unity government is a runner, and I think it’s even less likely now. Jeremy Corbyn really believes that defeating No Deal is the be all and end all, he wouldn’t be taking such an uncompromising stance. I wonder if his public aversion to it is as deep as he is making out.

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Corbyn says that he will call a Vote of Confidence when he thinks he can win it. Well, obviously.  But his rhetoric at the moment leads me to believe that he’s in danger of boxing himself in. The more he talks about it, the more pressure there will be on him to deliver it. And if he doesn’t, he’ll be painted as ‘frit’.

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The defection of Sarah Wollaston to the Liberal Democrats was among the least surprising news of the week. She will surely not be the last of the original Independent Group of MPs to travel that particular journey. I’d have thought there will be at least a couple more before their conference takes place.

And then, of course, there could well be one or two defections directly from the Conservative benches. Guto Bebb and Phillip Lee are the candidates most often mentioned. Both seem to be going through a bit of public agonising. I suspect if either of them, or indeed anyone else does the dirty deed, it will be at a moment of maximum impact. August is probably not that time.

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The Prime Minister was unwise to use the word ‘collaboration’ on his Facebook Live session earlier this week. He was rightly complaining that the actions and words of some Conservative MPs – and he clearly had Philip Hammond in mind – were persuading the EU to stick by its guns while they wait and see what havoc Parliament can wreak when it returns in early September.

His sentiment was right – but you can’t go throwing around words which have World War Two connotations and effectively accuse some of your Parliamentary colleagues of being quislings (another word with the same suggestion).

To so so debases the debate. I don’t know if it was a deliberate use of the word, or whether it just slipped out. If the latter, fine; but if it was a deliberate attempt to feed into the ‘People v Parliament’ narrative, well, there are better ways of doing it.

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On Monday, I returned from my two weeks appearing on the Edinburgh Fringe. In 24 shows, I interviewed Sir Nicholas Soames, Brandon Lewis and Eric Pickles (together), and Johnny Mercer, among many others. We’re releasing all the interviews on a new podcast, Iain Dale All Talk, which you can now subscribe to on whichever platform you get your podcasts from.

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Today is the first day of my first and only holiday of the year. It will last ten days and I intend to spend it in Norfolk doing precisely nothing. Apart from play golf. And binge-watch box sets. And write next week’s ConHome Diary, of course.

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Iain Dale: Who’s afraid of the Big Bad Cummings?

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’.

Margaret Thatcher once famously said that “every Prime Minister needs a Willie”. She was right – but every Prime Minister also needs a lighting rod, someone who is able to soak up much of the criticism that would ordinarily be directed at the Prime Minister himself.

Margaret Thatcher had Norman Tebbit, Major had Chris Patten, Tony Blair had Peter Mandelson and Alastair Campbell, Gordon Brown had Damian McBride (until it all went wrong) and David Cameron had Andy Coulson and Steve Hilton.

Theresa May didn’t really have anyone. I suppose Damian Green fulfilled that role for a time but, after he left, there was no one. Gavin Barwell and Robbie Gibb were often targets of criticism, but not in the same way as the others I have mentioned. Their roles were very different.

Dominic Cummings is clearly taking on the former mantle for Boris Johnson. He’s the bete noire of lefties everywhere and the media is really building him up into a voodoo doll figure for people to stick their pins in. I don’t know Cummings, although I’ve been aware of him ever since David Davis intervened to try to prevent Iain Duncan Smith sacking him from his Conservative Central Office role back in 2003.

I don’t think we’ve ever met, although I did make a vain attempt to try to persuade him to write a book after the referendum. Instead, he wrote several massively long and entertaining blog articles about the experience.

There’s no doubt that he engenders huge loyalty from people who work for him. He’s one of those unpredictable, quixotic characters who the media love to write lengthy profiles about without ever really getting to the core of who he is and what he’s about. He’s a bit like the royal family used to be, in that he is brilliant at cultivating an aura of mystique, though in this case with a slight whiff of menace.

He has a great strength which few have commented on so far. Mandelson and Campbell always wanted to be feared and respected in equal measure. Neither could understand why some people, especially on their own side, intensely disliked them. Cummings couldn’t give a toss. He couldn’t care less whether he’s liked, feared or respected. He’s got a job to do and will get on with it – and sod the consequences if anyone’s nose is put out of joint.

Cummings is a brilliant strategist, but he’ll need to be at the top of his game over the next three months. Labour will move heaven and earth to oust him. There are plenty of Tories who loathe and despise him, and who will happily feed any destructive morsels to an eagerly receptive press.

He is worldly-wise enough to know they’re coming for him. I hope Johnson is able to resist any pressures to get rid, of him, because his track record of standing by advisers in a bit of media trouble is not, shall we say, exemplary.

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I’ve spent this week hosting shows at the Edinburgh Festival. One or two of my interlocutors have been busy ‘committing news’, as Ruth Davidson puts it.

My interview with Nicola Sturgeon got a lot of headlines because she was out of her normal zone and came across as a warm, entertaining human being, capable of laughing at herself. People hadn’t seen that side to her before, I think think.

With John McDonnell it was somewhat different. For someone with very hard left views, he is very skilled at coming across as the voice of sweet reason in interviews. This time, the mask slipped somewhat in his threats to imprison Conservative MPs for supporting austerity. “Under what law would you do that?” I asked. “I’ll have to invent one,” he said. I assumed he was joking, but the look on his face gave some people a different impression.

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It’s been ten days since I saw anything on television. The student accommodation I’m staying I doesn’t have one. OK, I’ve got my laptop but, generally, I’m completely out of touch with what’s going on in the world.

In other words, I’m probably in line with the majority of the country which generally gets on with their lives without worrying too much about what’s going on in the world of politics and current affairs.

I didn’t even know about the Whaley Bridge reservoir issue until two days after it had happened. Same with the El Paso and Dayton shootings. It’s amazing how quickly I’ve weaned myself off watching Sky News, or at least having it on in the background. There’s a lesson there somewhere. Sorry, Kay.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com 

Iain Dale: There are good ministers left behind by the Government’s drastic shuffle

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’.

The reshuffle is finally complete. Looking through the final line-up of ministers in each department it’s clear that this really wasn’t just a reshuffle, it was a clearing of the decks. The number of non-Boris supporters left in government is minimal, although the balance of Remainers versus Leavers is still uncomfortable for some. Some of the decisions, though, are quite baffling.

Why on earth would anyone think it a good idea to move Robin Walker from the Brexit department to be a minister in both the Scottish and Northern Irish offices? Why wasn’t keen Boris supporter and superb media performer Nadhim Zahawi promoted to Minister of State? He goes out to bat in the media where angels fear to tread, and whenever I see him I greet him by saying: “Ah, it’s the Minister for Sticky Wickets.” There are plenty more strange appointments and injustices I could mention.

Looking through all the different departments, I’d say the strongest ministerial line-ups are at Business, Education and the Home Office. There is strength in depth in all three departments.

There are a few names in the ministerial list, where you look at them and scratch your head in bewilderment. I’ll spare their blushes here…

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Two junior appointments caught the eye and, in a way, they reflect what I said about the Prime Minister recently – that he’ll be a shit or bust prime minister – either brilliant or utterly useless. The appointment of Zac Goldsmith as an Environment Minister and Nadine Dorries to the Department of Health will, in retrospect, be seen as inspired or whatever the opposite of inspired is. Both have the ability to really shine, but many will suspect they won’t have the self-discipline to curb their natural rebellious natures. We’ll soon see. Nadine has mental health under her policy remit. She has the personality to really make a difference here. I remember another junior minister hailing from Liverpool who was sent to the Department of Health in the late 1980s. We all remember what happened to Edwina Currie, but we forget the fact that until her resignation she had been doing a brilliant job in promoting public health.

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Some of the stories I have heard about the way the government was formed are hair-raising indeed. There were stand-up rows in Number Ten with ministers who had assumed they were going to be promoted to a higher rank than they were offered. Flounces were had. Tanties were experienced. I could name names, but apart from satisfying readers’ prurience I’m not sure what purpose it would serve.

One of the interesting things about this government will be to see how CCHQ operates. As I understand it, the new co-chairman Ben Elliott is in control of things day to day and is effectively the replacement for Sir Mick Davies, who departed last week as chief executive. James Cleverly will take on a much more front-facing role and become the Minister for the Today Programme. In some ways this is the more traditional role for the chairman. Going back to the 1980s and 1990s the chairman would effectively be the lightning rod for the Prime Minister. Being a co-chairman, though, is never quite the same as being Chairman on your own. I understand James wasn’t consulted about having a co-chairman and I do wonder how this relationship will pan out.

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I’m writing this in my rather inglorious student digs in Edinburgh, where I’m spending the next ten days hosting my ‘Iain Dale – All Talk’ show at the Fringe. Yesterday was the first day of previews and I hosted two shows featuring three ex Conservative Party Chairmen: Sayeeda Warsi, followed by Eric Pickles and Brandon Lewis. If James Cleverly is reading this, he now knows what lies in store for him! Both shows went well, with, I think, the right mix of light and shade. It was just a relief to get the first day done with. This evening I’ve got new Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer and Unite General Secretary Len McCluskey. It’ll be interesting to see how on message Johnny Mercer can stay. I do hope ministerial office doesn’t ruin his natural enthusiasm and sense of mischief. As regards Len McCluskey, one thing I do want to know is this. A friend of mine was in his office recently and noticed he has two chess sets on display. One I can understand, but two? It’s a bit like Boris writing two articles on Brexit before deciding which way to jump. Sort of.

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As you read this, I might face an enormous logistical challenge. If the Liberal Democrats have won the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election, their new leader Jo Swinson will naturally want to visit to reflect in the glory. However, she’s due to be with me in Edinburgh at 6pm. I do hope the Lib Dem ops team are on form, otherwise I’ll be having a conversation with myself.

If you’re in Edinburgh between now and 11 August do pop along to see my show. The full guest line-up can be found here.

Real Estate, and Personal Injury Lawyers. Contact us at: https://westlakelegal.com