I’ve worked in politics (Blair Government 1997-2010) and met Iain when he then ran the wonderful Politicos bookshop just down the road from Westminster and he somehow agreed to publish my book (recipes by politicians- still available in bargain bins on Amazon!) I have always thought him a thoroughly decent bloke- for a Tory!
He now hosts an extremely popular (amongst both the public and politicians) LBC topical evening show and is already the author of many books and host of the For the Many podcast. So, he knows his stuff and this book is both political and personal, often revealing sides I didn’t know to him. Timely too as it was published in August.
I worked for a Labour MP who used the campaigning slogan ‘Positive Politics’ (my invention!) and was also always considered polite and could debate intelligently and without rancour towards opponents. He was an exception but liked (but no ministerial promotion) Iain’s idea then has some traction in that even since 2010 the standard of political debate has lowered to not only an aggressive stance but a vitriolic shouting (particularly on social media) that leaves MPs not only with the tag ‘they are all the same,’ but that on certain occasions vocal threats turn into physical threats and violence (see the tragic death of Jo Cox, or hounding of Anna Soubry). What has caused this?
Well sorry Iain but recently both Brexit (2016 +) and Boris are partly to blame. We now apparently seek out even more shocking headlines, a blame culture upon many minorities and of course want a charismatic Leader of the country. Iain details the changes in political interviewing yet of course in the build up to Boris becoming Prime Minister he refused to be interviewed and still rarely does any – particularly of the incisive Andrew Neil type. Iain rightly denounces political programmes such as Question Time which have become a slanging match and I often turn off Radio 4 TODAY in despair. Yes, the public has a short concentration span and editors pursue this on both radio and TV as well as the still politically biased newspapers (and for information I have given up reading the Guardian now too Iain!)
Are people interested in politics or politicians? Celebrities with opinions on national and world events. Iain toured with Anne Widdecombe on a sold out set of events where venues were full of supporters of her plain -speaking views. But when is plain speaking just vitriolic prejudice? I weirdly admired Widdecombe for going against her Tory colleagues to support the ban on hunting brought in by Labour at a time when animal welfare crossed all political divides. Unlike Laura Piddock the ex Labour MP who gleefully pronounced ‘she had no Tory friends.’ That in itself, is a stupid stance to take as an elected representative in an office of over 600 colleagues many of whom you might have to work with in committees and groups on special interests for your constituents. Look how Dennis Skinner was loathed yet loved!
What staggers me is how extremism has seeped into politics and Iain is at pains to also say how he hates that too. I note he never mentions Nigel Farage who of course lost his LBC show when once again he ranted in a populist (ie racist) manner over something he thought the public wanted to hear. Single handed he has done more to stoke up hatred and intolerance in Britain speaking (with a pint in his hand) that he voices the common man and yet never won a seat in Westminster!
Iain speaks wonderfully about his partner John (to whom the book is dedicated) and how they have been together for many years and yet never acknowledges how the Labour Government and all those across the political divides who agreed overturned the Tories hateful Section 28 and then later brought in the Equality Act and also Civil Partnerships of which he and John experienced. I felt more and more reading this that the One Nation moderate wing of the Tory party really should have done more politically with Iain than just offer him one try at a Parliamentary seat in Norfolk. He would (and still could be) brilliant at the heart of a political party to maintain a wider pragmatic approach, rather than now how we see the right wing take over and (surely even Iain must agree) veer the country to a situation in which the role of Prime Minister and his small ideological cronies (ie Dominic Cummings) just leave the public laughing at their hypocrisy and inability to even get one policy right especially during this pandemic.
Iain often reveals little gems although not in a gossipy way. How wonderful to imagine him being helped by arch spin master Alastair Campbell to write an apology! I fully understand Blair & Co were the masters of slapping down awkward questions and of course that was at a time when Twitter and Facebook were just a nerdy aside (interestingly even my son recalled Iain was the first to start a political blog way back in 2002).
Heady days with John Major on a soapbox and John Prescott aiming a fist at a member of the public who slung an egg at him and yet getting great feedback. Perhaps having more women in Parliament (largest under Blair) tempered the level of debate? But that in itself is a stereotyping of the strong voices and views that have come from those great names across all parties and even I have to include Thatcher in that because love or loathe her if she said something she followed it through. Iain has a great podcast with ex Labour Home Secretary Jacqui Smith (now to appear on Strictly as is the want of all ex MPs!) They talk about contentious issues but in a reasoned way that answers concerns.
Perhaps that’s the nub of it all. It’s not how you say something but how you implement something. I don’t want to churn over all the hyperbole of the Brexit campaign but it put a huge line in the sand across big meaningless words that even now are rumbling through with the consequences of what should have been a better debate.
All politicians should shout less and listen more. But they won’t. Because many want attention – through the media, power in government and often the advantages (publicity and financially) that being a top politician gives them. In fairness to Iain he has thought ‘it’s not for me’ and I admire him immensely for this as I too felt disillusioned about much after I left Parliament and especially with Corbyn in charge and ruining my beloved Labour Party (reminder to Iain we are not all LEFT lunatics in Labour). We also both support West Ham, a trial as a football fan that often means a lot of shouting!
I enjoyed this such a lot as a personal read and Iain writes considerately about so much affecting us today to appeal (as in his radio show) to a wider audience than the Westminster village. I wish him well in this new furrow he has ploughed in the media and how his views bring us back into a world of decency and debate.
This may have a limited appeal to book groups but as an alternative factual read it has a lot to recommend. As a political memoir it will also cross all views and give rise to a reasonable debate about the state of politics today. The ‘Ayes’ have it!
HARDBACK ISBN 978-0-00837912-4 PUBLISHER HARPER COLLINS
Review by Philipa Coughlan