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 really controls the Labour Party now?

Jeremy Corbyn's allies will struggle to achieve their ambition to remove general secretary Iain McNicol.

Jeremy Corbyn's advance at the general election confirmed his place as Labour leader. Past opponents recognise not only that Corbyn could not be defeated but that he should not be.

They set him the test of winning more seats – and he passed. From a position of strength, Corbyn was able to reward loyalists, rather than critics, in his shadow cabinet reshuffle. 

But what of his wider control over the party? Corbyn allies have restated their long-held ambition to remove Labour general secretary Iain McNicol, and to undermine Tom Watson by creating a new post of female deputy leader (Watson lost the honorific title of "party chair" in the reshuffle, which was awarded to Corbyn ally Ian Lavery).

The departure of McNicol, who was accused of seeking to keep Corbyn off the ballot during the 2016 leadership challenge, would pave the way for the removal of other senior staff at Labour HQ (which has long had an acrimonious relationship with the leader's office). 

These ambitions are likely to remain just that. But Labour figures emphasise that McNicol will remain general secretary as long he retains the support of the GMB union (of which he is a former political officer) and that no staff members can be removed without his approval.

On the party's ruling National Executive Committee, non-Corbynites retain a majority of two, which will grow to three when Unite loses a seat to Unison (now Labour's biggest affiliate). As before, this will continue to act as a barrier to potential rule changes.

The so-called "McDonnell amendment", which would reduce the threshold for Labour leadership nominations from 15 per cent of MPs to 5 per cent, is still due to be tabled at this year's party conference, but is not expected to pass. After the election result, however, Corbyn allies are confident that a left successor would be able to make the ballot under the existing rules. 

But Labour's gains (which surprised even those close to the leader) have reduced the urgency to identify an heir. The instability of Theresa May's government means that the party is on a permanent campaign footing (Corbyn himself expects another election this year). For now, Tory disunity will act as a force for Labour unity. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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