Review: Iain Dale at the Wells Festival of Literature

  Posted: 18.10.20 at 19:25 by Trevor Lethaby

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Review: Iain Dale – Why Can’t We All Just Get Along

Iain Dale, radio presenter, author, political commentator, blogger and podcaster, opened the 28th Wells Festival of Literature on Friday evening, a very different affair due to the Covid-19 restrictions with social distancing the order of the day.

It is good to see that although the live audiences are restricted, live streaming of this, and all other events, enables everyone to enjoy the festival.

His hour-long talk was based on his latest book, Why Can’t We All Get Along, the sub text of which is “Shout Less Listen More”.

The book was conceived at the end of 2018 - on Boxing Day he received a call from the Mail on Sunday asking him to write an 1,800-word article for the New Year’s Eve edition following the Queen’s 2018 Christmas message asking the nation to behave with more civility.

His talk started by explaining that over the years he has become increasingly frustrated with both the standard of the political debate but also that online too.

In his view the debate has become excessively divisive to the point where individuals on the extremes of an argument cannot accept that there is another point of view, or even that anyone else is entitled to a different opinion.

In his view, if you want to have an argument about something you should firstly understand that someone can have a different point of view and secondly you should listen to what they have to say and try to understand their point of view. He used the Brexit debate as a good example.

The book is broken down into three parts - Media, Politics and Issues - and deals with his view that there has been a definite decline in public discourse.

He spent a few minutes looking at racism and the language of immigration explaining that although he is generally on the right (in 2005 he stood as a Conservative candidate in the constituency of North Norfolk) as far as immigration is concerned, he is on the left - in his opinion immigration has been a good thing.

He then went on to talk about the media who he feels have a lot to answer for. In his opinion, too many producers and presenters go for the lowest common denominator.

Long-form interviews are now a thing of the past as editors and producers don’t believe that the audience will tolerate anything that lasts longer than a few minutes.

Short clips go viral within minutes if an interviewer has made an interviewee squirm, the “gotcha” moment is everything.

He argues that they should act more responsibly. He then went on to say how difficult it was to interview Theresa May and Boris Johnson, neither of whom would answer certain questions.

He then talked about why the internet, and social media in particular, has exacerbated the growing trend towards rudeness and hatred.

He focused on Twitter, where he admits that, up until two years ago, he would react aggressively to abusive tweets he received.

However, he realised that this was not the way forward and has made a conscious effort to calm down, dial back the rhetoric and take time to respond.

People gravitate to news sources that they agree with, particularly on the internet, but he maintains that unless you read people that you disagree with, how can you form rounded views or understand the arguments being put forward?

As far as he is concerned it’s being exacerbated by populism, as seen in the United States of America where Donald Trump seeks to divide and not to unite.

He talked, critically, about the quality of current MPs, where in his view the only transformational MP in the Cabinet is Michael Gove. He also thinks that the machinery of government needs reforming.

He then went on to talk, briefly, about being gay, only coming out to his parents at the age of 40. An attempted rape on him provided the inspiration to do a phone in, on the topic of sexual abuse, on his LBC show which received a huge number of calls from individuals who had never told anyone of their ordeals. He also spends a lot of time, on his show, discussing mental health.

The book ends with his 50 ways to improve public discourse, in answer to a question from an online viewer he went through a few of them:

Facebook should change their algorithms to avoid people only being shown political adverts they are likely to agree with.

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube should ban anonymous accounts and ensure all accounts are verified.

In answer to the penultimate question which was “what’s the difference between the MPs of today compared to those pre-2000, are they doing it for themselves or the greater good” his view was that the majority are doing it for the right reasons although the proportion of current MPs, on both sides, not intellectually equipped for the job is the highest it’s ever been. In addition, the country doesn’t have the political leaders that it needs.

Although there will be people who disagree with his views and possible remedies, the book gives us all food for thought.

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