Radio host Iain Dale withdraws from race to be Tory candidate for Tunbridge Wells

LBC presenter Iain Dale
-Credit: (Image: Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

A radio host who was set to run for Tory candidacy in Kent has withdrawn from the race. It follows the surfacing of comments he previously made about the town, when he said in 2002 that he'd 'never liked the place'.

Iain Dale, who has been a mainstay of LBC since 2010, announced earlier this week he would resign from his daily show to run to be the Conservative parliamentary candidate for Tunbridge Wells. It came after Greg Clark – MP for the constituency since 2005 – announced he would not be re-standing for parliament at the general election on July 4.

The veteran radio host, 61, said on his podcast: “I’m essentially giving up the best job I’ve ever had, I’m giving up quite a good income on the chance that I might possibly be selected.”

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However, previous comments from 2022 surfaced where he disparaged the town, saying: “I’ve lived in Tunbridge Wells since 1997 – slightly against my will, in that my partner comes from Tunbridge Wells and can’t really imagine living somewhere else.

“I’ve never liked the place, still don’t, and would happily live somewhere else.”

The announcement of the Conservatives’ shortlist of possible candidates for the seat was expected before the weekend, and the official announcement of the candidate was expected on Saturday (June 1). However, the broadcaster announced in an LBC interview with Nick Ferrari this morning (Friday), that he was withdrawing from the race.

He explained that after the announcement of Mr Clark’s resignation, he was getting messages from people in the town saying “you’re being talked about as a future candidate”.

“Less than 12 hours” after his announcement, the local Conservative Association texted him saying they had heard the clip of his comments on the town, he said.

“I instantly recognised the problems with that [his comments]. There is a context to it but nobody’s interested in context or nuance in these situations – you just have that little clip and that would be on every single Lib Dem leaflet that was put out in the election campaign.

“We’d always had this banter between us – I would take the mickey out of Redditch where [co-host Jacqui Smith] was MP for back in the day, and she would take the mickey out of Tunbridge Wells so there was a bit of a history here. I thought to myself – if they’ve got this on day one, I’ve done thousands of hours on LBC over the last 15 years, I’ve done hundreds of hours in podcasts.

“This sort of thing is something on a different level. I decided on Wednesday evening about 5.30pm that I would ask them not to put my name on the shortlist – I don’t know whether they would have done anyway, but that was a decision that I took.

“People have said to me ‘why didn’t you tough it out?’. I could have gone to the selection meeting, given a speech, told them we’ll beat these Lib Dems blah blah blah, but what if they’d gotten something else that I’ve said?”

“I wasn’t willing to suffer death by a thousand cuts. Imagine if the day before nominations close next week that they’d found something else that was even worse than this – I don’t know what that would be but they could have done.

“It’s one of those things where you know once you’ve made the decision you’ve done the right thing. I think I’ve recognised the political reality. I’ve lived in Tunbridge Wells for 27 years – I would say if I hated it that much would I have stayed living there for 27 years? I don’t think I would.

“In many ways it is a lovely place. Everybody listening to this now will have some complaint about where they live, I just put it in too graphic terms.

“I’ve learned that I should possibly take longer to make an important decision. I think I’ve got to take time to reflect on that.”

It is not yet known who the Conservative candidate will be. The other candidates are: Hugo Pound (Lab); Mike Martin (Lib Dems); Reform – Not yet announced and Green – Not yet announced.