I spent ten glorious days in Edinburgh hosting two shows at the Fringe: live versions of my podcasts, Iain Dale All Talk and, with Jacqui Smith, For the Many. I’ve been going to the Fringe as a punter or performer since 2015, and normally it rains more or less the whole time. This year, there was bright sunshine every day. I host the shows wearing a rather magnificent (or ghastly, depending on your sense of fashion) burgundy suit – mainly because it’s the one pictured on the posters that adorn many of Edinburgh’s walls. My main problem this year was mobility. In late July I fell from the stage at Buxton Opera House into the orchestra pit and buggered my knees. Being in a wheelchair or on crutches has given me a very different perspective, but thankfully I am on the mend.
The big sensation of my time in Edinburgh was the former Conservative MP Rory Stewart, who attracted an audience of around 630 people. They loved him and his message. But the biggest audience was for Keir Starmer, who attracted 662 keen souls.
Before we went on stage, the news came through that Salman Rushdie had been attacked. Starmer’s team and I debated whether we should start by discussing it. Details were sketchy. My view was that it was wrong to say anything until we knew more. I asked Starmer’s head of communications, Matthew Doyle, to WhatsApp me with any updates, but just before we started the show we saw a report saying Rushdie had walked off the stage. “OK, let’s leave it,” I said. Had I said the opposite, Starmer wouldn’t have had to deal with the social media onslaught that followed, with people complaining that neither he nor Angela Rayner had made a statement immediately after the attack. I still think it was the right thing to do.
A woman of the people
Angela Rayner appeared on All Talk with me on 8 August and was a revelation. She had brought two of her sons with her and it was the first time they had seen her perform live. They were mystified as to why anyone would pay £15 to see their mother! Teenagers, eh. My favourite moment of the Fringe was when I asked Rayner whether she thought Rishi Sunak could relate to people living on the breadline. She then spoke – uninterrupted by me – for about five minutes about her own experience, and that of the community she was brought up among, of a semi-permanent cost-of-living crisis. The audience was spellbound, as was I. No other MP in the House of Commons could have done this. Labour needs to make more of Rayner. She cuts through.
Bizarrely, a few environmental protesters tried to disrupt the event near the end. I was about to ask Rayner an audience question when I heard a rather posh young woman shout: “My name is Katie, I am from Green New Deal Action” (or something like that). I let her say her piece and it all fizzled out. The protesters had filmed it, but, I note, it hasn’t appeared on social media. I’m not surprised. It was all a bit sad.
For the best
One of the nightmares of putting together a Fringe programme is when a guest pulls out at the last minute. This happened to me three times. Diane Abbott did so with no explanation; just plain rude.
We replaced one of the three with the broadcaster, Loose Woman and imminent Strictly star Kaye Adams – a strange replacement for Arlene Foster, a former Northern Irish first minister, you may think, but Adams was also a revelation. She hosts a podcast called How to Be 60, about the fear many of us have of turning that age. I achieved the milestone in July and still haven’t quite recovered. Kaye interviewed me for an upcoming episode and I’m afraid that I rather overshared when discussing aspects of my coming out experience. If that doesn’t get you listening…
One of the joys of the Fringe was co-hosting six shows with my friend Jacqui Smith, the former home secretary. Over the years we’ve not only forged a political double act on TV and launched the For the Many podcast, but we’ve become the best of friends. We come from different political backgrounds but people say we are a living example of disagreeing agreeably. We even finish each other’s sentences.
Jacqui joined me for the Keir Starmer interview, where, when asking about Labour’s response to the cost-of-living crisis, she told Starmer that she looked forward to him revealing the size of his package. Oooh, er.
Iain Dale presents the Evening Show on LBC Radio
This article appears in the 17 Aug 2022 issue of the New Statesman, Six Months that Changed the World