In a new exclusive interview, The Speaker spoke to Iain Dale – political commentator, blogger, LBC presenter and former Conservative candidate.
When, Why & How did you first become interested in politics?
My first political memory comes from 1974 when there were two general elections. I can’t remember whether it was the February one or the October one but I remember marching into my parents’ bedroom one morning explaining to my Liberal voting parents why they should vote Labour. My mother told me to go back to bed.
I then remember in February 1975 running upstairs to tell my` ill grandmother, who was in bed, that Margaret Thatcher had been elected leader of the Conservative Party. She burst into tears, amazed that a woman could lead a political party. She had been something of a feminist in her youth. She was a huge influence on me. She told me never to forget that Michael Foot was a Communist and that Labour governments always spend more money than they could afford. Christ knows what she’d make of Jeremy Corbyn.
In your opinion, what is the biggest challenge you think our Government faces today?
It’s without doubt Brexit. How do they deliver a proper Brexit when they have such a narrow parliamentary majority, which the EU tries to continually exploit? Brussels is now weaponizing the Northern Ireland border for its own ends, which is an utter disgrace. Theresa May is being pulled from pillar to post by different parts of her Cabinet and only survives because there doesn’t seem to be an alternative. At some point in the next six months it will all come to a head.
In your opinion, what do you believe will be the biggest challenge for UK Governments in the next 10 years?
Again, Brexit. Once Brexit has happened, the challenge will be to make it work. I think there are huge opportunities for Britain, and once business realises this I think our economy will go gangbusters. I think there will be some hurdles to overcome in the initial two or three years but in the long term, the Government has to set the right conditions for trade and the economy to flourish.
With social media usage on the rise, how much of a problem do you consider fake news to be, and how do you think we should combat this issue?
Fake news has always been there to an extent but it is becoming more obvious because of the internet. The internet makes it far easier to propagate. The mainstream media must try to win back the trust of people by mending its ways. Too many people buy the propaganda put out there by the Russians and conspiracy theory sites like InfoWars. This propaganda must be exposed.
Why is it important that young people get involved in politics?
If you just sit on the sidelines and complain you can’t then complain when nothing changes. It’s like people who don’t vote seem to be the most vociferous, but if you don’t vote do you really have anyone else to blame but yourself? There are so many different ways to get involved. Party politics isn’t for everyone, but it can be tremendously rewarding, but I do understand why many young people prefer to involve themselves in single issue campaigns.
Why do you think many people are not interested in and feel disengaged from politics?
They feel the system is not only not working for them, but actively working against them. Trust in many of our institutions – not just governmental ones – has been eroded over the years. In addition deference has largely disappeared. There had always been an understanding that the ruling classes had a duty to look after those less fortunate, or less educated. Now that most people are educated they constantly question the decisions of those who rule over us, and they don’t like the explanations they get.
How democratic do you believe the UK is as a country? While engagement may have increased on social media, voting turnout has been low in recent elections – how much does the electorate care about decisions made by politicians?
In some ways the electorate is more engaged in day to day politics and important issues than ever before. Blogs and social media have been a tremendous way for normal people to make their voices heard – not always in a good way, it has to be said. There are many faults in our democracy and there is no perfect solution. Turnout in recent elections has actually been on the increase, and in the Scottish and EU referendums was very high indeed. That proves that people will take an interest if politicians and the media can engage them.
In what ways would you like to see more young people getting involved in politics?
I would like to see political parties doing more to encourage youth participation. They need to take some lessons from pressure groups, who have successfully done that.
In recent years, more politics programmes have been broadcast on TV and radio than ever before. Do you think this changes the ways the public engages with politics, or do you think other factors such as social media attract more engagement?
There may have been more programmes, but do they engage people? I think stations like LBC do a brilliant job in that, and I often get parents phoning in telling me that my show has made their kids more politically aware. I couldn’t get a higher compliment than that. But too many political programmes, especially on the BBC, are very exclusive, and they don’t engage their audiences because they are talking down to them. Reading out a few random tweets is not enough.
Bonus Question: If you were Prime Minister for a week, what changes would you hope to make?
I’d abolish stamp duty (licensed robbery), inheritance tax, make sure the Brexit referendum was delivered on, sell West Ham the Olympic Stadium so it doesn’t cost the public purse any more money, ban foreigners from buying property in this country unless they’re going to live in it or rent it out, expand the Army back to more than 100,000, introduce PR for local council elections in order to abolish one part states and reduce corruption, ban plastic bags completely, introduce measures to encourage smaller housebuilders to build more houses and work towards a simpler tax system and a flat tax. And quite a lot of other things too. And on Day 2…
Thank you to Iain for answering our questions and getting involved.