The problem with polls, my secret affection for Ed, and why I didn’t run naked down Whitehall

When Ed returned to LBC to spend half an hour in our glitzy new studios, he had grown a new inner confidence.

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Seven years ago I wrote a column for GQ predicting that Ed Miliband would succeed Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party. He was Cabinet Office minister at the time. Ever since then, even though his politics and mine are far apart, I’ve felt invested in him. I remember telling my Tory friends in 2011, when he was in some difficulty, that they shouldn’t underestimate him. They smiled wryly and explained how lucky they were to have such a weak opponent. I wonder if they’re smiling now.

 

Phoning it in

Last July Miliband did a 45-minute phone-in with me on my LBC drive-time show. It went so well that I assumed he and his team would want to make it a regular event. A lot of listeners told me they saw a side of the Labour leader that didn’t come across in set-piece speeches or interviews.

In the end, despite asking every month, we never managed to tie him down for a repeat. I’d almost given up hope when I got a text message saying that he would, after all, do another phone-in with me during the election campaign. When I saw that he was refusing to do something similar with the BBC, I did wonder if it would actually happen but I should have had more faith.

So, Ed joined me in our glitzy new multimedia studios for half an hour, and from the off I noticed a new inner confidence in him. He almost had a “Sharron Storer” moment – when Tony Blair was ambushed outside a hospital by a woman who said there was no bed for her partner – with Claire from Manchester, who blamed Labour for the death of her mother. You learn a lot about politicians listening to them answer such questions; they’re on a hiding to nothing. But Ed emerged with his honour intact.

The only time I noticed a slight panic in his eyes was when I asked him what England meant to him. It’s one of those questions that can easily trip you up, because it’s far away from the usual subjects you’re used to commenting on. He wobbled a little but no more than that. And then it was over. As he left the studio, he shook my hand, saying: “I’ll see you on the other side and if it all goes well, I’ll be back.” I’ll hold him to that. He wants to have a weekly People’s Question Time in the House of Commons with ordinary members of the public. I reckon he should do it on air, too. With me. Assuming he wins, of course.

 

My beef with Ken

I’ve always believed it’s probably best not to shit on your own doorstep but here goes anyway. Ken Livingstone is also a presenter at LBC, so whenever I’ve interviewed him I’ve always felt slightly restricted in how far I can go. But on the day when Ken’s bessie mate Lutfur Rahman was found guilty of corrupt practices as mayor of Tower Hamlets, I let rip. He had previously accused Rahman’s critics of being racist. I asked him live on air if he thought the judge was racist and it went downhill from there.

Ken’s stance on Rahman is a disgrace. In his view the ex-mayor can do no wrong and if he was a Catholic he’d be well on the way to sainthood. How Ken survives as a member of Labour’s National Executive Committee is anyone’s guess. He ought to be up before its disciplinary committee for bringing the party into disrepute.

 

Bias and the bubble

It’s more usual for journalists to move into politics than vice versa, so trust me to do it the wrong way round. Having been a Conservative candidate and written a right-wing blog, I joined LBC in 2010. In the early days, whenever I did a hard interview with a Labour politician, I’d be accused of Tory bias. However, it’s a source of pride that in five years I’ve not had a single complaint about my interviews.

What I have found amusing, though, is that I now get a lot of social media criticism for supposed anti-Tory bias. It’s as if some Tories think I am somehow letting the side down if I expose the cracks in a Tory argument. My problem is that I don’t believe confrontational interviews achieve much. Because I don’t generally shout at my interviewees or treat them with contempt, some people seem to think I’m soft on politicians. I suspect Evan Davis would sympathise.

 

Noise and vision

None of the party campaigns has been inspiring so far. None has moved the polls, which is hardly surprising, considering they’ve all lacked focus, vision or exciting policies. David Cameron has done a great impression of Stanley Baldwin by playing to a “safety first” narrative. With only a week to go, one can but hope for some vision and for the Tory leader to take a risk or two.

Let me suggest one if the PM wants to get a few Ukip votes back. He should rule out a coalition with the Lib Dems or, indeed, anyone else. It’ll never happen, though. Why do I know that? Because I know two senior – and I mean senior – Tories who have already suggested it to him, to no avail.

 

Ginger moment

Pity the poor pollsters. OK, don’t. I don’t know how they drew the short straw, but Ipsos MORI will be conducting the exit poll for the BBC, Sky and ITN on election night. The egg on their face could be of 1992 proportions: that is to say, epic. It is nearly impossible to get it right. There is no way the outcome in individual seats can be projected by a national exit poll. The “shy” Tory, and in particular the “shy” Ukip voters, may scupper the poll’s accuracy altogether.

In 2010, it has to be said, I didn’t believe the exit poll that predicted the Lib Dems would win only 59 seats. I remember blurting out on air: “Well, if that’s true, I’ll run down Whitehall naked.” The Lib Dem Danny Alexander, whom I then interviewed, agreed to join me. My justification for failing to live up to my promise was that they actually got 57. Well, no one wants to see a fat bloke naked, do they? Let alone a ginger rodent. Eh, Harriet?

Iain Dale will be presenting LBC’s election-night show with Shelagh Fogarty from 10pm on 7 May

This article appears in the 01 May 2015 issue of the New Statesman, The Scots are coming!