Iain Dale and me

The Tory blogger demands conformism

I have an admission: prior to joining the New Statesman in June, I disliked Iain Dale. I know, I know -- I can hear you now: "What's not to like about Dale?" and "Isn't he the top political blogger in Britain, a man adored by left and right?"

I didn't know him. I'd never met him. I'd only seen him on the television, reviewing the papers, and perhaps I was turned off by a familiar combination of Tory smugness and arrogance.

Then I met the man (during a BBC radio discussion in which we both took part) and found I liked him. He seemed friendly, charming and down to earth. Refreshingly, admirably and, I would argue, wisely, he chose not to join the online Islamophobic witch-hunt against me back in August, and linked to various pieces I wrote (for example, on the cult of Vince Cable). As recently as July, he was writing the odd piece for the NS.

But since the Kaminski row, Dale has turned on the New Statesman, and on James Macintyre and me.

In a recent post, Dale writes:

There's talk of hung parliaments, even of a Labour victory. Labour's cheerleader in chief, James Macintyre, has gone into overdrive, predicting a small Labour majority. Quite why the New Statesman relies on two political correspondents who are so woefully out of touch with political opinion is anyone's guess.

Forgive me, I'm confused. If, being "out of touch with political opinion" means refusing to follow the Westminster pack, I plead guilty. Or am I not allowed to have independent views, or to make up my own mind? Do we all have to be conformists like him? Perhaps he hasn't noticed that my blog is called Dissident Voice. I like being in a minority. I like having my own views, and not having to borrow them from Polly Toynbee or Matthew d'Ancona or Michael White.

Both the lobby and the commentariat are often wrong. Flat wrong. Take Iraq. Back in March 2003, I opposed the Iraq invasion while "political opinion" -- and, I would hazard a guess, Dale, too -- supported the war. Should I have fallen in line with political opinion then?

Let's take the issue of a hung parliament, since he raises it. In June, in the wake of Labour's worst election result since 1918, James and I wrote that "Labour may well still stand a fighting chance of a hung parliament at next year's general election." Now, Jackie Ashley asks, "But what if there is . . . a hung parliament?" and makes comparisons with 1974. Andrew Rawnsley says, "A spectre is stalking the corridors of Westminster, the spectre of a hung parliament." Peter Riddell says, "Perhaps it may not be so easy after all for David Cameron to win an overall Commons majority." David Owen says a "hung parliament isn't unthinkable".

Spot the difference? That's "political opinion" shifting long after James and I had made our judgement call.

Iain, you can remain a slave to political opinion. James and I prefer to lead it.

UPDATE 1: Iain Dale has responded (if you can call it that!) here.

UPDATE 2: Danny Finkelstein, over on the Times's Comment Central, has weighed in on the hung parliament debate:

I still believe that the next election will produce a Conservative majority. A hung parliament is, however, certainly possible given the ground David Cameron has to make up. And I don't believe we are mentally or constitutionally prepared for the minority rule that could be with us soon.

 

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Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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Who will win the Copeland by-election?

Labour face a tricky task in holding onto the seat. 

What’s the Copeland by-election about? That’s the question that will decide who wins it.

The Conservatives want it to be about the nuclear industry, which is the seat’s biggest employer, and Jeremy Corbyn’s long history of opposition to nuclear power.

Labour want it to be about the difficulties of the NHS in Cumbria in general and the future of West Cumberland Hospital in particular.

Who’s winning? Neither party is confident of victory but both sides think it will be close. That Theresa May has visited is a sign of the confidence in Conservative headquarters that, win or lose, Labour will not increase its majority from the six-point lead it held over the Conservatives in May 2015. (It’s always more instructive to talk about vote share rather than raw numbers, in by-elections in particular.)

But her visit may have been counterproductive. Yes, she is the most popular politician in Britain according to all the polls, but in visiting she has added fuel to the fire of Labour’s message that the Conservatives are keeping an anxious eye on the outcome.

Labour strategists feared that “the oxygen” would come out of the campaign if May used her visit to offer a guarantee about West Cumberland Hospital. Instead, she refused to answer, merely hyping up the issue further.

The party is nervous that opposition to Corbyn is going to supress turnout among their voters, but on the Conservative side, there is considerable irritation that May’s visit has made their task harder, too.

Voters know the difference between a by-election and a general election and my hunch is that people will get they can have a free hit on the health question without risking the future of the nuclear factory. That Corbyn has U-Turned on nuclear power only helps.

I said last week that if I knew what the local paper would look like between now and then I would be able to call the outcome. Today the West Cumbria News & Star leads with Downing Street’s refusal to answer questions about West Cumberland Hospital. All the signs favour Labour. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.