LibDem Politics

Extortion by the Liberal Democrats

22 Aug 2016 at 11:04

Since the election I’ve always felt a bit sorry for the LibDems. They didn’t actually deserve to lose 49 of their MPs, to only be left with eight. OK, I did take a little vicarious pleasure in the electoral demise of one or two of their number, I admit. However, I do think a third (or in their case fourth) party is necessary in our political system. They performed a role, which whatever its frustrations was, at times, valuable.

Since their electoral demise you’d think they’d be happy to get any sort of attention. Yes, but at a price it seems. They’ve now hit on the novel idea of charging publishers to do booksignings at their party conference. Pay them £500 and they will graciously allow your authors to sign their books. An interesting form of licensed extortion. So this is how it will work – a publisher will give the conference bookshop 55-60% discount on the cover price of the book and then have to pay £500 on top. Given all the other costs involved in the publishing process, unless a booksigning results in unexpectedly massive sales then the publisher will almost certainly make a loss. Given that I ran the bookshop at the LibDem conference for five years I know that if you sell 20 copies at a booksigning you’re doing well. Of all the different party members, I can tell you that LibDems are the most illiterate. They’re not bookbuyers. A book that would sell 100 copies at a Labour conference would sell 30 at the LibDems – and that was in the days when their conference actually mattered. So this particular publisher has told them what they can do with their demands for £500. No doubt other bigger, richer publishers will bow down and pay over the money. Well, shame on them.
Mind you, the LibDems do have an eye for a bargain. I well remember the beardy LibDem delegate who asked for a discount on a 50p postcard. He was told in no uncertain terms to go back to his constituency and … well, you can guess the rest.

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TV/Film/Theatre

My Edinburgh Fringe Diary

19 Aug 2016 at 10:00

I’ve spent this week at the Edinburgh Festival. Last year virtually everything I saw was a comedy or had some political tinge to it. Several of my friends said I should spread my wings this year and go to some plays too. So I booked to see the ‘Chronicles of Narnia’! Oh dear. A truly dreadful experience.

Rather better was a one-off performance by David Benson reprising his Kenneth Williams one man play, which he first performed twenty years ago. Close your eyes and you could truly believe you were in the company of Kenneth Williams. Apart from the occasions when he lapsed into Frankie Howerd. Nay, nay and thrice nay!

I then went to see Guardian columnist Viv Groskop do a stand-up routine in a very bijou little venue. Her show was called ‘How to be more Margo’, ostensibly a celebration of the middle classes. My enjoyment was somewhat hindered by the middle-aged couple in front of me who spent the entire hour shaking their heads and tutting. I’m not sure what they were expecting, but what they got was clearly not it. The constant sneering at anyone who voted for Brexit got a bit wearisome and not really very funny, but I suppose it proved you can take the Girl to Edinburgh, but you can’t take the girl out of The Guardian. Viv had some good lines, though, my favourite being a Waitrose supermarket tannoy announcement: “Would the owner of the Red Astra in the car park, please remove it and take it to Asda where it belongs.” A genuine Lol moment.

Show of the week so far has been ‘Margaret Thatcher: Queen of the Game Shows’. Starring Matt Tedford as the Magster, this followed on from his hugely successful ‘Margaret Thatcher: Queen of Soho’. His great ability in writing that was to enable to it appeal to people who idolise Lady T and to people who loathe her. Quite a feat. In this new musical extravaganza Maggie becomes a Saturday night game show host, having grown exasperated at the state of Saturday night TV. It’s rather more pointedly anti Thatcher than its previous incarnation. But still very enjoyable. Tedford is joined by two other cast members who play a variety of characters from Bruce Forsyth and Cilla Black to Owen Jones and Angela Merkel. It really is a laugh a minute performance, some of it improvised, and at the end there was a deserved standing ovation, something that doesn’t happen very often in Edinburgh.

Thursday began with a double dose of Matt Forde. First off it was an hour of fast paced political standup. It was very good and very funny stuff. Even when he has slightly weak material he escapes from it through his brilliant mimicry. His David Cameron impression is the best I have ever heard and he even has Boris off to a tee. A lot of the act concerned Brexit, and like Viv Groskop yesterday, and Ayesha Hazirika later, his entire act consisted of barbed comments about racist Leave voters. They. Just. Don’t. Get. It. And probably never will. They all look at life through their soft, liberal lens without ever really venturing beyond the limits of the M25. That’s fine, it’s good for a comedy act, but all three of them demonstrate a total lack of comprehension as to what is happening in the country.

Matt Forde’s second hour was an In Conversation with Tory MP Tim Loughton. I did wonder (sorry Tim) if he was a big enough name to fill the venue but I needn’t have feared. It was sold out. Tim was brilliant and extremely funny. He has just become the second most popular Tory in Scotland. Matt Forde does monthly interviews on stage with London and he adopts the very conversational approach, with humour, which tends to get the best out of interviewees. Tim was hilariously indiscreet on occasion. OK, on lots of occasions.

Next up was comedian Andrew Doyle. I wasn’t sure what to expect from this one. I’d been recommended to go and see him by a friend of his who is one of my authors. He was incredibly funny and had the audience in stitches with his mix of morose musings about his failures in life and also picking on various members of the audience. I escaped his wrath as I sat at the back. I always admire comedians like him who are brilliant at improvising. He too had a pop at Leave voters. He asked how many of the audience had voted Leave. Out of around 150 people only two of us put our hands up. It’s bizarre that comedians think that only right on lefties attend their events. OK, insulting an audience can sometimes work, but you have to be very clever to get away with it. I suspect there were more than a smattering of people who didn’t like it – not just from Andrew but all the other myriad of right on Guardianistas who headline the Edinburgh scene. I had hoped to get along to see Geoff Norcott, one of the very few right wing comedians in the UK, but my schedule wouldn’t allow.

So, from Andrew Doyle I moved on to a show called ‘The Gayest Show You’ve Ever Seen’. Well, in some ways I suppose seeing as it was hosted by a 26 year old wearing a pink T shirt and high heels, it was. The audience, shall we say, was not very numerous. Rather bizarrely the men sat on one side and the sat on the other side of the aisle. Apart from me. The show consisted of a ramble through our host’s coming out and series of sexual disasters. I’m sure he had a script, but judging from the number of ‘ers’ and ‘ums’ it was difficult to discern how rigid it was. As opposed to stiff. Nay, nay and thrice nay! If I was giving this show stars, it would struggle for a three. I didn’t not enjoy it, it was just a tad disappointing.

The evening finished with former Labour SPAD and stand-up comedian Ayesha Hazirika with her show ‘Tales From the Pink Bus’. She was genuinely laugh out loud funny, regaling her audience (which included Kezia Dugdale and Ian Murray MP) with a torrent of anecdotes from her time working for Gordon Brown (who she outed as a complete sexist), Harriet Harman and Ed Miliband. We learned a lot about Harriet Harman’s sense of humour and Ed Miliband’s moments of the Black Dog. We also learned that he was worried he was a badger. You had to be there, I guess.

Thursday was a little less hectic, mainly because I cancelled watching a Simon & Garfunkel tribute act in the evening in favour of catching West Ham’s Europa League match with Astra Giurgiu. And what a terrible decision that turned out to be. Anyway, the whole day was bookended with West Ham because I started the day at the unearthly hour of 11.30 by watching a play called ‘Irons’. It’s about three West Ham fans and is set at three away matches. It explores the kind of friendships that working class men form through football, the bonds and emotional ties that ensue. The whole set is made up of three chairs, the seats that Dean, Jason and Ash sit in. The dialogue is littered with football chants and the kind of humour that you hear at games every week. It shows the macho side of football friendships and the aggression that can be experienced at away games, and I imagine virtually every football fan, whether you’re a Hammer or not, would relate to the interplay between the three characters. At one point Ash announces he’s going into hospital for ten days, but doesn’t reveal why, prompting a lot of speculation including from Dean, who jokes that he’s going in for a ‘dick enlargement’, and given that Ash never uses it, Dean can’t understand why. It’s difficult to write a review of this play and not reveal the plot twist, but seeing as it’s in the publicity for the play I think I can reveal it here. Ash becomes Ashleigh, a transgender woman. The other two, when Ashleigh attends her first match as a woman, are horrified when they eventually realise who she is. They launch into all the stereotypes and reckon that she can no longer be a friend. The interplay between the three of them is at times horrifying, at times poignant and at times funny. I’ll admit to the odd tear running down my cheek. The play ends with the three being reconciled after West Ham fail to win the Premier League by a single point from Manchester City. Just like their dreams, they face and die. I have no hesitation in naming this play as my ‘show of the week’. You don’t have to be a West Ham fan to enjoy it, you don’t even need to be a football fan. The other interesting thing was that I had assumed that all three actors must be West Ham supporters, given the way they did all he chants and West Ham banter. I spoke to the cast afterwards and in fact only one of them is a West Ham supporter. One of the others supports, horror of horrors, Spurs, while the other is a QPR season ticket holder and has a QPR tattoo on his arm! If you’re in Edinburgh next week, go and see it. It’s on that the Greenside on Infirmary Street every day at 11.25. Five starts from me.

The other two shows on Thursday were a tad of a disappointment. Arthur Smith’s one man show on mindlessness was, well, a bit tired. I’ve always liked Smith and his lugubrious manner, but somehow the material in this show wasn’t quite right. Yes, we laughed, yes there were indeed quite a few funny jokes, but you just got the feeling he was going through the motions. Later on Alistair McGowan was better, but again I felt some of his material was a bit weak. He lost his rag with an audience member at one point when the light from their mobile phone irritated him. There’s no doubt many of his impressions were excellent, one of the best being Andy Murray. He steered away from politics and Brexit, which was a blessed relief given what I’ve written above about some of the other shows that was a bit of a blessing. It’s not that I didn’t enjoy the hour, but at various points the eyelids were shutting and he didn’t hold my attention in the way that Andrew Doyle or Matt Forde did.

So that was it. All in all I don’t think I enjoyed the fringe as much as I did last year, but that may be because last year was my first proper visit. Perhaps every two years is the way to do Edinburgh, which is what many of the artists do.

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ConHome Diary: The Pantheon of PMs, Any Questions & Trumpageddon

13 Aug 2016 at 14:51

I’ve always thought all months should be like August. Most political journalists take the whole month off and politicians are largely absent from Westminster. And yet somehow the country manages to struggle on. Indeed, it struggles on very nicely thank you. It’s a bit like the time recently when Belgium had nine months without a government. The economy thrived and all was well in the world.
*
Someone asked me the other day where I thought David Cameron sits in the pantheon on Great British Prime Ministers. It’s not an easy question to answer. Indeed, I suspect it’s one best answered in about fifty years’ time, when we can best judge the effects of Brexit. However, there’s part of me that thinks that even if it goes really well, it’s not exactly down to Cameron. OK, he called the referendum, but he certainly didn’t get the response he wanted. He nearly lost Scotland too. Overall, though, I think he was a better than average prime minister. He clearly fitted the job well, although he sometimes did and said things that weren’t exactly prime ministerial. I think he can look back and cite many achievements on the economy and in domestic policy with a lot of pride. Foreign policy was a lot more mixed, especially in the middle east. He will say he was thwarted by Parliament over Syria, which is true, but the handling of the vote and his methods of persuasion were perhaps not ideal. Libya has turned out to be a mixed blessing. I’d still say our intervention there was correct and that the fact that the Libyans have made a hash of the aftermath isn’t exactly down to us. They asked us to stay out and we did. So, here’s my list of post war prime ministers…

1. Margaret Thatcher
2. Clement Attlee
3. Tony Blair
4. Harold Macmillan
5. Harold Wilson
6. David Cameron
7. John Major
8. Gordon Brown
9. James Callaghan
10. Sir Winston Churchill
11. Edward Heath
12. Sir Alec Douglas Home
13. Sir Anthony Eden

I’ve tried to judge them just as prime ministers, rather than take into consideration their party backgrounds. I think the first three were transformational prime ministers. They changed the political weather in a way the others failed to. Harold Macmillan was very much ‘steady as she goes’, and there’s a lot to be said for that, but he failed to make the changes in industrial policy that were needed. Perhaps he is too high on that list, but there’s no doubt that he did very well to elongate Conservative rule in that period to 13 years. Churchill features on the low side because I’ve only judged him on his 1951-55 administration. But he was still a better leader than Edward Heath, who will always be remembered for two things – the three-day week and taking us into the Common Market. Many regard the latter as his crowning achievement. It was not. The people had no say at the time and felt they were misled. Looking back, Europe has been an open sore for both the Tory Party itself and the country at large, and that is down to Edward Heath. I am sure many of you will disagree!
*
Next Friday I’m on Any Questions. It’s a programme I’ve been on five or six times and have never not enjoyed it. In some ways it’s quite terrifying as you always fear a question coming to which you have no answer whatsoever. I’ve always reckoned the secret to doing well on it is to crack a joke in the warm up question and get the audience laughing. Do that and the nerves disappear and it sends a message to the audience that they are going to have a good time. Normally in August they have panels that are not very political, but this year it’s obviously a little different. Chuka Umunna, James Brokenshire and Laurie Penny are the other three panellists. So, me and Laurie Penny. What could possibly go wrong?
*

I’ve been on holiday for a week now, with another ten days to go. I find it incredibly difficult to switch off from work on holiday. I put an ‘Out of Office’ on my emails, but I may as well not bother. A few years ago when I went to Crete for a week I only looked at email in the morning and in the evening. But if I’m not abroad, there’s no difference to my normal routine really, so the laptop is on all day. The only change to my routine, and the main way I try to switch off, is to binge on box sets. This holiday I’ve polished off Series 5 of ‘Homeland’ and Series 5 of ‘Covert Affairs’. Whether I’ll quite manage the latest series of ‘House of Cards’ before I fly up to Edinburgh on Monday is doubtful. I have actually ventured out of the house to take the dogs to the beach, but quite honestly the best way I recharge my batteries is to do nothing but read and watch DVDs. However, tomorrow I am doing a barbeque for a dozen friends. My partner is very much against the idea on the basis that they will all get food poisoning. If Gareth Williamson, the chief whip is reading this, he shouldn’t be too worried. Only one of the guests is an MP. And it isn’t Norman Lamb.
*
So on Monday I fly to Edinburgh from Norwich International Airport. Really. Norwich Airport is the only one I have ever been to where they charge you £10 to leave the airport. Normal for Norfolk. It’s my second visit to the Festival. I had such a good time there last year that I’ve decided to return. I’m there for three and a half days and have booked into 17, yes 17, shows. They range from ‘Trumpageddon’ to ‘Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Game Shows’. I’m looking forward to seeing Ayesha Hazirika’s new standup show, as well as ‘The Whinging Pom’s Guide to Oz. Matt Forde is doing an In Conversation show with Tim Loughton and I’ll be finding out ‘The Gayest Thing You’ve Ever Seen’. I’ll report back next week.

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ConHome Diary: Craig Oliver's Book, A Boost for the Economy & Trump's Unfitness to Govern

29 Jul 2016 at 13:06

“You may have seen I’ve signed a deal with Hodder. Hope all well.” That was a text message I received from Craig Oliver, David Cameron’s former Director of Communications, earlier this week. I hadn’t actually seen that news, so it came as a bit of a surprise to say the least. Two or three weeks ago I had texted Craig to ask if he was thinking of writing a book and we subsequently met for an hour to discuss it. The meeting seemed to go well and I liked his approach. We agreed to talk again soon. I texted him a week later to ask if he had had further thoughts. “Let’s talk more when things settle,” came the reply. Ten days later he had signed up with a literary agent and done a deal with Hodder & Stoughton. Quick work and the best of luck to him with what I am sure will be an excellent book. But this experience has taught me several lessons. I will leave it to you to decide what they are.
*
So, Turkey has shut down hundreds of media outlets in the wake of the failed coup attempt. Restoration of the death penalty is next. Isn’t it time that Brussels announced that Turkey’s application to join the EU is now in a semi-permanent state of suspension?
*

As the Democratic Convention moves to a close it will be interesting to see how far apart the two Presidential candidates are in the polls. Donald Trump completely failed to rise to the occasion and delivered a speech full of his usual bile and aggression. But he surpassed himself when, during the Democratic convention he urged Russian hackers to continue their efforts to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails. Just in case you think I am making this up, here were his exact words: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press. Let’s see if that happens." Quite astonishing. The trouble is, if the Clinton campaign uses this in any campaign adverts, then it just reminds the voters of the email problem, so in that sense it was a clever move by Trump. But more generally it shows how unfit he is to be President.
*
Owen Smith is a likeable cove. He also suffers from a major fault for a politician. He tends to answer a question and give his opinion – a sometime fatal flaw. He’s someone I always look forward to interviewing because he usually avoids and spin or flim-flam. But it’s very risky and also perhaps naïve. We saw that this week with his off the cuff remarks about wanting to “Smash Theresa May back on her heels.” As soon as I heard him say it I knew what would happen next, and sure enough it did. He stuck by his remarks only to then apologise for them a couple of hours later. A more experienced politician wouldn’t have made the remark in the first place. And that’s my point. Politicians nowadays seem to think that four or five years in Parliament qualifies them to lead their parties. There may be the odd exception (David Cameron, for instance), but generally experience shows that candidates with little experience tend to crash and burn. Why does no one quietly witness in their ears ‘have you ever thought you might not be ready?’.
*

This week the FTSE 100 reached a twelve month high, and the FTSE 250 surpassed its pre-Brexit level. GDP growth was higher than expected at 0.6%. Various international companies who had warned against Britain voting to leave the EU announced multi hundred million pound investments in the UK, including GlaxoSmithKline and Siemens. Wells Fargo Bank is spending £300 million creating a world HQ in London. I could go on. OK, we are only five weeks away from the vote so it’s too early to draw definite conclusions, but I think it is fair to say that the almost immediate implosion of the economy which we were warned about hasn’t happened. That’s not to say there are no stormclouds on the horizon. Retail sales have fallen at their fastest rate for four years and order books are apparently low. The lower Pound has caused foreign suppliers to put their prices up by 10%. Despite what the naysayers continue to warn I have real confidence in British industry to come through this and view the whole scenario as an opportunity rather than a threat. Exporters are already showing that they know the way forward. I was speaking to the owner of a manufacturer of safety equipment who has just announced he’s closing his Chinese operation and bringing it all back to the UK, creating forty jobs. He’s doing this because his costs will be lower. He says he knows quite a few other businesses who are doing the same thing. It’s not because our labour costs are lower, it’s because we have become so technologically advanced. It may be a straw in the wind, but it’s an encouraging one.
*
President Obama put on his usual polished performance, speaking at the Democratic convention, although he didn’t quite have the emotion of his wife Michelle. But this passage in his speech caught my eye. He said: “Our power doesn’t come from some self-declared saviour promising that he alone can restore order as long as we do things his way.” It was obviously an indirect attack on Donald Trump, but it displayed a distinct lack of self-knowledge on the part of the President. Wasn’t that the whole basis of his 2008 campaign, and isn’t it reminiscent of his own style of government?

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One Day My Kids Will Ask: Daddy, What Did You Do When Donald Trump Came Calling

26 Jul 2016 at 20:33

Guest Post by my American friend Daniel Forrester

First, you sent me Sarah Palin. Then, you created a process and vetted a bench of candidates that led to Donald Trump as the nominee. I have had enough. I am out.

After a lifetime spent supporting the Republican party and the ideas it once stood for, I have checked the box on the Election Commission form in my home state of New Jersey that reads: “I, being a registered voter at the address listed below, do hereby declare that I do not want to be affiliated with any political party or group.”

As a child of the 1980s, Ronald Reagan captivated me and I identified with his message that personal responsibility trumps anything Government can do.

When Bill Clinton won the Presidency in 1992, I remember a feeling of envy and political emptiness. I was concerned that people whose view of the world and the role of Government were so deeply at odds with my own would now hold the most powerful political office in the world. Clinton’s young and energized campaign team, led by his then spokesman George Stephanopoulos made me see myself as a potential contributor to a winning Republican Presidential campaign.

That winter, I found myself invited to a post-election event held by the conservative think tank “Empower America.” Coming from a family with no natural political connections, I felt like a real Washington insider. It was a rush. The event was a public lament for the Republican loss and a conversation about what it would take to lead the country again. Economics, the important role of small business, and globalization were discussed. It was just the sort of room in which a young political novice could finds himself in Washington — one where you naively begin to believe you can make a difference and play a role.

The keynote speaker that day was Jack Kemp, a man who had inspired me throughout my college years. The former Congressman from Buffalo and Secretary of HUD under President Bush (41) was surrounded by dozens of reporters and cameras. He had already been labeled the likely 1996 Presidential nominee who would take back the White House from Clinton.
Kemp took to the stage. For thirty-plus minutes, he spoke of everything from the character of Abraham Lincoln to monetary policy in a globalizing world. His words and ideas were intoxicating. He discussed the role of repressive taxes on emerging small business owners and boldly shared a vision of hope, empowerment, inclusion, and an “ownership society.” He painted a picture of Government as an engine that could play a compassionate role to support the private sector’s much bigger role, noting how agility, accountability, incentive for financial outcomes, and innovation occur far more inside companies than they ever can inside sprawling and risk-averse government bureaucracy.

I could not believe my luck when, after his speech, Kemp sat down next to me in the second row. I passed him a quickly scrawled note to ask what a young conservative should read. He suggested a few books on economics and signed the paper “JK.” I shook his hand and said, “Thank you.” To this day, I still have the note we passed back and forth.

Just over a year after that event, Kemp announced he would not seek the 1996 Republican nomination. I read the Washington Post article during my lunch break at a Georgetown restaurant where I waited tables. Tears welled in my eyes as the reality set in, and I learned a harsh lesson: falling in love with a politician is a dangerous thing — something young Bernie Sanders supporters are experiencing today. When asked why he would not run, Kemp said simply, “My passion for ideas is not matched with a passion for partisan or electoral politics.”

Kemp never held office again, though he did end up running as the Vice Presidential Candidate in 1996. Many of his ideas never came to be, but he inspired me with a core set of beliefs and his command of global events, which offered a renewed promise that the Republican Party would always flourish because it simply has better ideas. Yet no politician put forth by the Republican Party since Jack Kemp has moved me as much as he did. I have longed for a candidate with Kemp’s passion, energy, compassion, command of language, and big policy ideas.

Now, instead, we find ourselves with Donald Trump as the nominee. Inevitably, I have compared Jack Kemp and Donald Trump, and the juxtaposition is staggering. Kemp spoke of compassion and inclusivity, while Trump plays on people’s fear and preaches greater division. Kemp had big ideas about making the country more than it could imagine, while Trump “tweets” to Kim Kardashian and speaks with bravado and superlatives. And while Kemp had a commanding sense of global events and the power of markets, Donald Trump’s internal compass points incessantly to his own gut feelings. Trump knows nothing of statecraft and has no sense of history or the transcendent age we so painfully find ourselves living through. In a single word, Donald Trump is dangerous.

As the Republican Party loses voters like me — and I am far from alone in my opinions of Donald Trump — then there is a big, big problem for the party. Since meeting Jack Kemp, I have campaigned for Republican candidates. I have volunteered at two National Conventions. I have donated money. And for several years in the nineties, I spoke on an emerging cable television show to defend the core ideology of the party as I had first learned it from President Reagan.

I have not yet served in office or thrown my name in as a candidate. Rather, four years ago, I founded a company and created jobs. Small business owners make or break the economy every year. Now, I am one of them. It would be fascinating to watch every single politician (liberal and conservative) try for just one year to find the funding and actually run a small business. It takes far more than courage; it takes everything you’ve got. To politicians who defend all the government does and claim it should be further expanded, I suggest you try running and sustaining a small business. It will reset your entire relationship with the role of government, I can assure you.

I will vote for President this fall — but never for Donald Trump. My beliefs remain intact, supported by my own life experiences that now far surpass the emotional draw I once found in the Republican Party. Shortly after I cast my vote, I will get back in my car and drive to work. Once there, I will be reminded of all it takes to run a small business, deal with massive uncertainty, and have the courage to lead, and I will, as the British say, “get on with it.” I know Jack Kemp would see nobility in that. I certainly do.

@DPForrester

The original article was published HERE

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Attitude Column: If I Want to Watch People 'Fisting' Each Other, Why Shouldn't I Be Able To? (I Don't, By The Way)

23 Jul 2016 at 09:42

Imagine you are a member of a private WhatsApp group of friends. One day one of your friends sends a picture of an extreme pornographic act – let’s say fisting. You send a reply making a jokey remark about it but think little more about it. Some months later your phone is seized by the Police as part of a criminal investigation concerning your workplace. Nothing comes of it, but while they’ve got your phone they find this pornographic image, and they charge you with possessing an ‘extreme pornographic image’ as a so-called consolation prize offence. You go to court. You’re cleared, but your life lies in ruins.

In short, even though ‘fisting’ is a perfectly legal act it’s now against the law to use an image of it in a pornographic film or an image in this country. It’s not an act I have ever wished to experience or perpetrate, or even fantasise about, but I’ve long come to realise that in the sexual world, we all have very different tastes. But if an act is perfectly legal to act out, why on earth should the depiction of it be illegal?

Back in 2008 the then Labour government banned the possession of what it called ‘extreme pornography’. To you and me, that might mean that anything to do with bestiality, child sex or the like would be banned, although I’m pretty sure it already was.

Last year the Conservative government amended and expanded the remit of this law. The images must be a) intended for sexual arousal, b) be realistic and c) grossly obscene. All of those are incredibly subjective. In addition, the images must include at least one of the following: a) acts of non-consensual penetration, b) an act which threatens a person’s life, c) an act which causes harm to a person’s breasts, genitals or anus, d) bestiality e) necrophilia. Again, what constitutes ‘harm’?

In 2014 there were more than 1600 prosecutions under this law. It should be said that the majority involved bestiality, although one failed prosecution involved a man having sex while wearing a tiger costume. And who said the law is an ass? According to the Adam Smith Institute, which has recently published a paper calling for this law to be abolished, or at least amended, these cases involved spending £15 million of public money.

According to a survey of 19,000 adults in the United Kingdom 86% of men and 56% of women had viewed pornography; 29% fantasise about playing a dominant or “aggressive” role during sex; 33% fantasise about playing a submissive or “passive” role during sex; 4% fantasise about being “violent” towards someone else; and 6% fantasise about violence being inflicted on them by another person. So more than two million men and women have violent sexual fantasies of some kind, and nearly a third of all British adults fantasise about sexual domination and submission.

Crucially, these fantasies seem to be shared by a large number of women. Arguments in favour of restricting the circulation of pornography usually revolve around the need to protect women from violent men, who might try to act out their fantasies. As the ASI study says: “The argument in favour of criminalising extreme pornography has been characterised as a means of protecting women and supporting women’s interests and standing in society. Unfortunately, these claims discount the potential impact of criminalisation on female viewers of pornography.”

There is no such thing as absolute freedom of expression. I do not advocate a complete free for all. I accept that there is a need to regulate things like pornography, but surely if an act depicted in an image on film is a legal act in itself, or clearly meant as fantasy, then I cannot for the life of me what good is done by criminalising someone who possess it.

In the United States, if you possess films or images depicting consensual events or obviously fictional performances you are constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. We clearly need a First Amendment type protection in the UK, which would protect us against interfering, albeit often well-intentioned but ill-informed, politicians and civils servants.

The trouble is, the few politicians who are at all interested in this issue are understandably afraid to put their heads above the parapet. Or put their fists…. [That’s enough, Ed].

This article first appeared in Attitude Magazine – indeed, it was my final column for them!

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Iain Takes on the Man who Egged Ed Miliband

Iain has a testy encounter with Dean Porter, who that day had egged Ed Miliband.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: From a Spanish Poolside, Cecil Parkinson's Purple Head & Theresa May's Enemies

22 Jul 2016 at 14:07

Not that I intend to inspire any jealousy with this column, but I’m writing it beside a swimming pool in the Spanish mountains overlooking a lake. I normally write four of five ‘chunks’ in my columns so I am deciding to reward myself with a swim after each chunk is finished. This must be the most decadent way to write a column ever invented.
I’ve been here since Sunday and am going back today (Friday). From all I can gather the temperature in London hasn’t been far off that which we have experienced here – it’s 37-39 degrees during the day and 30 degrees at 10pm, ideal for a late night swim.
We’re staying with our friends Deborah and Mike Slattery. Deborah was a Conservative Party agent in the late 1980s and 1990s in Norwich, so we have spent many happy hours reminiscing about our nefarious political activities aimed at retaining Norwich North as a Conservative seat at the 1992 general election. It was a very different political era, and in many ways much more fun. It was a lot more innocent. Even our black arts would now be considered a pale shade of grey. Deborah reminds me of a visit Cecil Parkinson paid to Norwich in the 1992 election campaign. He still retained the ability to make Tory ladies go weak at the knees. I well remember him presenting a bunch of purple flowers to the head of the Norwich North Ladies. Without batting an eyelid she exclaimed to Cecil, “just look at the purple head on that.” Which can’t have been the first time a woman said that to him. Or probably the last.
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I really have tried to switch off this week. Up until now I’ve had a grand total of two days off work this year, so I was in much need of some R&R. I even thought about not taking my laptop with me but of course that was never going to happen. How would I write this column? And our esteemed editor doesn’t like it if I take a week off. I did go through almost an entire day without tweeting, which was a minor miracle in itself. And of course with modern technology as it is, even in Spain you can get all the main UK TV channels. So, yes I admit it. I watched Theresa May’s first Prime Minister’s Questions. And what a joy it was. David Cameron took to it like a duck to water back in December 2005 (“you were future once”) but whatever the exaggerated version of that phrase is, it certainly applies to Mrs May, as everyone seems to have taken to calling her. Who will ever forget the look on her face when she leaned over the Despatch Box and spluttered to Corbyn “Remiiiiind you of anyone?” Do you remember back in November 1990 when Mrs T had declared “I’m enjoying this!”? And then a Tory backbencher called Michael Carttiss shouted out “You can wipe the floor with these people!” Well many of us had a similar thought after Theresa May had wiped her feet on Jeremy Corbyn. Luckily for him he doesn’t have to face her again until September.
Right. Time for a swim. I will spare you the pics.
*

Now, where was I? I’ve only ever been to Spain twice before, once to Madrid and once to Barcelona, but both were work trips, advising the Spanish government and port employers on port labour reform. We’re staying near Iznajar (pronounced Iznacker), which is a very rural area. Every single acre is rammed full of olive trees, each one receiving a nice little subsidy from the EU. I cannot believe how cheap it is to eat out. And it’s authentic Spanish too. Unlike most British expats my friends are making every effort to learn the language and the locals seem to really appreciate it. It’s a very different lifestyle to the one they had in Norwich but they seem to absolutely love it. They have completely renovated their property. It’s taken them a year but they now say they could never contemplate returning to England given the lifestyle they are now able to enjoy in Spain. I’ve been here for four days and I have to say I know what they mean. Having said that, I’m not sure I would want to cope with ‘Scorchio’ temperatures every day. I like heat, but every day? I rather like the variety the English climate offers.
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Have you noticed that TM is the reverse of MT. Just saying…
*

So the final list of government ministers has been revealed. Although the Cabinet looks very different it is very much as you were in the lower ranks. An opportunity was lost to promote bright new talent into the government, while a lot of the same old faces inexplicably held onto their jobs or were moved to different departments. Love the old rogue as I do, I and many others were left scratching our heads to observe that John Hayes survived yet another reshuffle. Better to have him pissing out than in? What other reason can there be? And he’s gone back to a job in the Department of Transport where he was universally loathed in his previous stint there. Patrick McLoughlin, I am reliably informed, moved heaven and earth to get him moved out, so I do wonder how he and Chris Grayling will get on.
*
All Prime Ministers accumulate enemies, but few have embarked on their Premiership with so many. The Cameroons en bloc and a whole host of ex Ministers like Anna Soubry and Dominic Raab who were offered jobs which the powers that be must have known they could not accept. In Anna Soubry’s case she could reasonably have expected a Cabinet role, yet she was offered a job as number two to Liz Truss. She quite reasonably told Mrs M where she could stuff her job, seeing as she was far more qualified for the job than The Trussette herself. With a majority of only 12, the new PM should be careful how many more enemies she makes. She has won herself many admirers (me included), but we all know how dangerous it can be for too many backbenchers to have idle hands.
*

Sorry, but I can only resist that pool for so long. Laters.

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LBC 97.3 Book Club: Iain talks to Tia Sharp's Grandmother (Part 2)

Part two of an interview with Christine Bicknell and Tia's stepdad David Niles

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Books

Keith Simpson MP's Summer Reading List

18 Jul 2016 at 17:25

Guest Post by Keith Simpson MP

After the recent political roller coaster of the EU referendum, the resignation of Prime Minister Cameron, the Conservative leadership contest and the triumph of Theresa May who became the Conservative leader and then Prime Minister, the continuing agonies of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the challenge to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, politicians and journalists will escape on holiday with “chic-lit” and “old lag lit” packed for a relaxing recess break.

Of course, in forming her government Prime Minister May has purged a whole raft of ministers, reshuffled others and promoted or recalled to the colours some who have lingered on the back benches. Those who have been given their ministerial P45s or failed to catch the selector’s eye have more time to read and contemplate their future.

For those who relish the opportunity to read something substantial from a rich crop of recently published books on politics, history and war then here are a few suggestions.

Given the political leadership challenges facing both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn they might care to revisit Doris Kearns Goodwin Team of Rivals The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln published in 2005.

In analysing the political thinking behind those close to Theresa May Conservative MPs and journalists have turned to Nick Timothy her joint Chief of Staff, who is credited with crafting first her Birmingham speech and then her first speech as Prime Minister. He has been a regular contributor to ConHome and in 2012 wrote a sixty page pamphlet for the Conservative History Group Our Joe Joseph Chamberlain’s Conservative Legacy, in which he explored his political life as a Radical and a Unionist, outsider and Cabinet Minister and a fierce advocate of social reform. Of course Chamberlain’s advocacy of his political beliefs meant he split the old Liberal Party in the 1880s and joined the Conservatives whom he then divided in the 1900s.

Sadly, the distinguished historian David Cesarani did not live to see his last book published, Disraeli The Novel Politician (Yale £15) in which he considers Disraeli’s Jewishness and what if anything it meant to his life as a novelist and politician.

The socialist Victor Grayson was born in the slums of Liverpool, a non-conformist preacher, who won the Colne Valley by election as a socialist in 1907 which he lost in 1910. He went to New Zealand and served on the Western Front before being invalided out and returning to the UK. Suspected of working for both the Soviets and the IRA he accused Lloyd George of selling honours. In 1920 he disappeared and there has been speculation on what happened to him. David Clarke, former Labour Cabinet Minister has now updated with new evidence his 1985 biography Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery (Quartet Books £16.59).

Philip Sassoon was a member of the fabulously wealthy and exotic Sassoon family. He succeeded his father as MP for Hythe in 1912 and served as Private Secretary to Haig during the First World War and then as PPS to Lloyd George. After the war he served as an Air Minister and then First Commissioner of Works until his death in 1939. Our colleague Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe has now written his biography Glamour Boy The Phenomenal World of Philip Sassoon (William Collins £20) showing how he used his wealth and influence to further his political career, support the arts, and bring together politicians, writers, painters and journalists. Damian Collins skirts round Sassoon’s ambivalent sexuality.

For those members of the Labour Party, and especially the Parliamentary Party, plunged into gloom over the leadership, then taking Attlee as a leadership role model is a comfort. There have been several biographies and now John Bew, author of Castlereagh, and a frequent contributor to the New Statement has written what looks like a stimulating reassessment Citizen Clem A Biography of Attlee (Riverrun £30) published on 1 September.

Published to coincide with the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson and a reassessment of his political life is an edited volume by Kevin Hickson Harold Wilson The Unprincipled Prime Minister? (Biteback £20).

Also published to coincide with the centenary of his birth is Wilson’s Prime Ministerial rival Ted Heath – Michael McManus Edward Heath A Singular Life (Elliott & Thompson £25). The author was Heath’s political secretary and effectively wrote his autobiography. Using material from dozens of interviews with Heath’s contemporaries McManus does not write a conventional biography, but rather an assessment of Heath’s motivations and psychology.

Tony Blair has seen his reputation shredded since he stood down as Prime Minister, not least in connection with the Iraq War and the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry. Tom Bower, noted for his investigative journalism and demolition of important people’s reputations, such as Robert Maxwell, has written a no-holds barred case for the prosecution in Broken Vows Tony Blair : The Tragedy of Power (Faber & Faber £20). But he has some shrewd observations about what made Blair tick.

Bernard Donoughue served as an adviser to both Wilson and Callaghan and his earlier diaries are a fascinating insight into their premierships. A Peer and briefly a Blairite minister, his Westminster Diary A Reluctant Minister under Tony Blair (I B Tauris £25) has some merit but is not in the same class as their predecessors.

Malcolm Rifkind enjoyed a distinguished ministerial career under Thatcher and Major at the Scottish Office, Defence and then the FCO. More recently he was Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. In Power and Pragmatism The Memoirs of Malcolm Rifkind (Biteback £25) he recounts his political life but is, perhaps, a little too discreet.

The magnificent Ken Clarke has been an MP since 1970, and served as a Cabinet Minister under Thatcher, Major and Cameron. His leadership ambitions were thwarted by his outspoken support of the EU, but he has been, nevertheless, a great beast in government. Like Denis Healey he has had a large hinterland of interests besides politics, including jazz and bird watching. Published in October Ken Clarke Kind of Blue A Political Memoir (Macmillan £25) will be neither boring nor discreet.

Instant political biography can be superficial and a scissors and paste job, but Rosa Prince’s Comrade Corbyn A Very Unlikely Coup (Biteback £20) is well written and draws out Corbyn’s political beliefs and world view.

Who knows where he would be now if Ed Balls had not lost his seat in May 2015? A bruiser and not one to be backward in coming forward to sing his own praises, he is, nevertheless a big political beast, if now no longer active in front line politics. His Speaking Out Lessons in Life and Politics (Hutchinson £20) combines autobiographical details as well as reflections on the use and abuse of power and why politics matter. Published just in time for the Labour Party Conference.

Another casualty of the 2015 election was Nick Clegg, who survived the virtual wipe out of his Parliamentary Party. In his Politics Between the Extremes (Bodley head £20) he combines a political memoir with reflections on the changing nature of politics and life in the coalition, based partly on his diaries.

Gavin Barwell, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central won a marginal seat in 2010 and held it – just – in 2015. In his How to Win a Marginal Seat My Year Fighting for My Political Life (Biteback £12.99) he does just that by describing how much time and effort he put in day in and day out, the targeted communications with his constituents and emphasising his local roots. A must for every candidate.

Being a Parliamentary Whip is to belong to a Praetorian Guard, members of whom see themselves as a “broederbond” or by their critics as the Gestapo or Stasi. The Labour MP, Helen Jones, Warrington North, was a government whip for the final two years of the Brown government. Her How to Be a Government Whip (Biteback £12.99) is a warts and all account which describes some of the measures used by the whips to maintain a house and get through government business. An essential read for members of the “awkward squad” and newly appointed Government Whips.

Just as Parliament has to make a decision about the options for a complete renovation of the old Palace and whether to move out during the period completely or partially, Caroline Shenton, Parliamentary Archivist has written Mr Barry’s War: Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after the Great Fire of 1834 (OUP £25). This book takes up where the author’s The Day Parliament Burned Down concluded, and shows the fierce rivalries between architects and politicians and the staggering challenges of building on what was an area of unstable quicksand. I am sure not a precedent but it took Barry twenty-five years to complete the new Palace and only three times over budget.

Paul Bew, a Peer and father of historian John Bew, has written a short but absorbing book on Churchill and Ireland (OUP £16.99). Surprisingly, this is the first major study on a relationship which was literally central to Churchill’s family, life and political career.

There have been a number of books written on Churchill’s wartime coalition and Roger Hermiston’s All Behind You Winston Churchill’s Great Coalition 1940-45 (Aurum Press £20) is the latest very readable account.

For my parents’ generation rationing, the British restaurants and Woolton pies symbolised the wartime Home Front. A crucial figure in organising food production and distribution was the businessman Lord Woolton, who is one of the unsung heroes of Churchill’s Coalition. William Sitwell, one of Britain’s foremost food writers, has written Eggs or Anarchy! : The Remarkable story of the man tasked with the impossible task : to feed a nation at war (Simon & Schuster £20) which recounts the life and work of Lord Woolton, who later played an important role in Conservative politics after 1945.

There is a generalised assumption that between the wars the old English country houses went into terminal decline and many were demolished. In The Long Weekend Life in the English Country House (Jonathan Cape £25) Adrian Tinniswood challenges this generalisation. This was the experience of many country houses, but the majority survived being bought by wealthy British and American businessmen, whilst old families adapted. This is a wonderful book looking at architecture, gardens, farming and above all the social life with the eccentricities of both owners, visitors and staff.

Alcohol has always lubricated political life, as any student of ancient Greece and Rome will testify. Prodigious boozing in the world’s representative assemblies reflects the culture of the time and the enforced proximity of legislators who endure long periods of boredom. Ben Wright’s Order, Order! The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking (Gerald Duckworth and Co £16.99) is mainly about the British experience with examples of careers enhanced and destroyed by booze.

Asquith as a minister, and later Prime Minister, had a reputation for inebriation, not least at the despatch box, and hence his nickname “Squiff”. Also he had a reputation, like Lloyd George, for casting a discerning eye and wandering hand over young women. One of these young women who Asquith became besotted with was Venetia Stanley. His obsession was such that during the early part of the First World War he was writing to her two or three times a day during Cabinet and taking her for motor rides. Fortunately he was very indiscreet about political life and cabinet discussions. A large selection of his letters were published thirty years ago and now Stefan Buczaki has written My Darling Mr Asquith The Extraordinary Life and Times of Venetia Stanley (Cato & Clarke £30).

Without doubt the best book written to date by a minister inside the Conservative-LibDem Coalition is David Laws Coalition The Inside Story of the Conservative –Liberal Democrat Government (Biteback £25). Laws was determined to establish the achievements of his Party but, based upon notes he kept and those by Clegg, he has detailed accounts of many important decisions and shrewd pen portraits of his ministerial colleagues. We await a Conservative account.

Liam Byrne was the last Chief Secretary in the Brown Government and became infamous for the note he left his incoming successor, who he assumed, wrongly, would be a Conservative. He has now written Dragons 10 Entrepreneurs Who Built Britain (Head of Zeus £30) in which he argues that Britain’s rise to global dominance owed as much to the energy and creativity and ruthlessness of traders, industrialists and bankers, as it did to ministers, diplomats or military men.

Much of what is written about the British intelligence and security agencies suffers from either a lack of access to sources or a touch of the Ian Flemings. Richard J Aldrich and Rory Cormac are academics who have had access to some recently retired members of the intelligence establishment combined with an ability to discover gems in official papers that have escaped the weeders. The Black Door Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers (William Collins £30) explores the evolving relationship between successive British Prime Ministers and agencies, from Asquith’s Secret Service Bureau to Cameron’s National Security Council. A must read for parliamentarians and ministers, not least Boris Johnson and David Davis.

To many people, particularly school children, the Holy Roman Empire was a joke, summed up as neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire. Shades of scepticism about the European Union. But Peter H Wilson in his block buster of a book The Holy Roman Empire A Thousand Years of Europe’s History (Allen Lane £25) argues that to understand the developments in European history from Charlemagne to Napoleon it requires an understanding of the nature of the Holy Roman Empire.

Albert Speer cheated death at Nuremberg by appearing intelligent and civilised and accepting some responsibility for crimes of the Third Reich. He lived off this reputation after serving a sentence of twenty-five years. Now Martin Kitchen has demolished Speer’s carefully constructed reputation and in Speer: Hitler’s Architect (Yale £20) shows his central role in the Nazi state and use of concentration camp labour.

France is still haunted by the memories of wartime collaboration and resistance. Anna Sebba takes an unusual approach by looking at the experience of women in Paris during and after the occupation in Les Parisiennes How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20).

Simon Sebag Montefiore has written extensively on Russian and Soviet history and for those looking for a vigorous romp through the Imperial Russian royal family then his The Romanovs 1617-1918 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £25) is just the answer.

This year is the centenary of the East Rising in Dublin and Fearghal McGarry addressed the basic questions of why it happened and the experiences of ordinary people in The Rising Ireland : Easter 1916 (OUP £20) using recently discovered testimonies of over 1,700 witnesses.

Lawrence of Arabia continues to fascinate those who see him as the leading exponent of irregular warfare, his role in the so-called Arab Uprising and as the author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Neil Faulkner, a wonderfully unreconstructed Marxist historian places Lawrence in the wider political and military context of the British Empire and the war in the Middle East in Lawrence of Arabia’s War The Arabs, the British and the Remaking of the Middle East in WWI (Yale £25).

Since the Western military drawdown in Afghanistan the outpouring of books on the conflict has diminished and there has been relatively limited assessment. David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer and an adviser and guru to senior US military commanders has previously written The Accidental Guerrilla and Counterinsurgency. Now Kilcullen has written Blood Year Islamic Terror and the Failures of the War on Terror (C Hurst & Co £10) which combines mea culpa with warnings of new threats beyond ISIS.

In the continuing and brutal civil war in Syria the suffering of the people of Aleppo and the destruction of a marvellous city of history and culture stand out. Philip Mansel is an authority on the civilisation of the Levant and in using extracts form the letters and diaries of European traders and tourists as well as local people he has brought to life an amazing city home to so many religious and ethnic groups – Aleppo The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City (I B Tauris £18).

Elizabeth I sought allies everywhere to counter the threat form Catholic Spain, and encouraged commercial, diplomatic and military links with the Moslem powers of the Mediterranean and Levant which Jerry Bratton explores in his This Orient Isle Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (Allen Lane £20).

This autumn should have seen Boris Johnson’s Shakespeare The Riddle of a Genius (Hodder & Stoughton £25) or as the wags have it William Shakespeare’s Boris Johnson The Riddle of a Genius. Rumours round the Whitehall bazaars suggest that since his elevation to a reduced role as Foreign Secretary the great man is unlikely to finish the old magnus opus. Perhaps that duty could be transferred to his former campaign partner Michael Gove?

OUP has produced a series entitled “Great Battles” which include Waterloo. Short books they put the battle into a wider context than military history and examine how they have been interpreted and re-interpreted through history. Murray Pittock a distinguished historian and open supporter of Scottish independence has written an admirably balanced volume on Culloden (£19) which should be required reading for non Scottish MPs.

Rory Stewart, former army officer, diplomat, provincial governor and now Conservative MP and minister at international development and all round good egg, is a renowned author of books based on his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. As MP for Penrith and the Border, the nearest thing we have in Britain to the northwest frontier straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan, Rory Stewart has walked all over his constituency holding the equivalent of tribal jirgas with Parish Councils. This experience has been turned into The Marches A Borderland Journey Between Britain and Scotland (Houghton Mifflin) which it is hoped will be published this autumn.

India played a central role in the British Empire’s two World wars, not only supplying over a million men and women for the armed forces, but finance, supplies and weapons. Srinath Raghavan has now written about this from the Indian perspective in India’s War The Making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945 (Allen Lane £30).

Dan Todman’s Britain’s War Into Battle 1937-1941 (Allen Lane £30) is the first of two volumes of what is a narrative history that combines the political, military, industrial and social from the experiences of the governing class to ordinary people.

Ben McIntyre has specialised in excellent books about the intelligence war and special forces during the Second World War. This autumn his SAS Rogue Heroes: The Authorised Wartime History (Viking £20) should provide reading material for veterans such as the Secretary of State for Brexit as well as the general reader.

This year we commemorate the centenary of Jutland and the Somme. The reader might begin with the late Keith Jeffery’s magnificent overview 1916 A Global History (Bloomsbury £10).

For those who wish to visit the Somme battlefields on what the Army Staff College called “Bottlefield Tours” then the best guide is Tonie and Valmie Holt Major and Mrs Holt’s Definitive Guild to the Somme expanded, brought up to date, well illustrated and full of detailed information (Pen &Sword £15).

A recent excellent account of the battles of the Somme is Hugh Sebag Montefiore Somme Into the Breach (Viking £25). A book critical of the British generals and supportive of the politicians is Allan Mallinson Too Important for the Generals Losing and Winning the First World War (Bantam Press £25). A sophisticated defence of Douglas Haig is Gary Sheffield Douglas Haig From the Somme to Victory (Aurum Press £25).

The experience of regimental soldiers is addressed in great detail and sympathy by Randall Nicol in his two volumes on the Scots Guards on the Western Front Till the Trumpet Sounds Again (Helion).

Privately produced is Andrew Tatham’s magnificent A Group Photograph Before, Now and In-Between (Arvo Veritas). His grandfather, a pre-war regular officer was given command of a Kitchener Army battalion in 1914 and the group photograph is of the officers before the Battle of Loos. Tatham then follows their lives, and all too often deaths, of each officer.

Finally a novel written in 1961 by John Harris who was a journalist on the Sheffield Telegraph. He was fascinated by some of his seniors who had volunteered in 1914 and served in the Sheffield City Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment which suffered heavy casualties on the first day of the Somme. Covenant With Death (Sphere £10) is a novel about the men and women of the City of Sheffield and their experiences in 1914-1916. A moving tribute.

The Rt Hon Keith Simpson MP

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Iain Tells James O'Brien Why he's Wrong on the Tube Strike

Very wrong.

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Diary

Attitude Column: Why Good Sex Education is Needed

17 Jul 2016 at 00:38

The following paragraph contains possible too much information.

I must have been around 12 or 13, I suppose, when I got out of bed and crept into my parents’ bedroom. “Mum, I think I’ve wet the bed,” I whispered. She got out of bed, grabbed some new sheets and ripped the old one off the bed. She looked at me slightly quizzically and said, “Er, you haven’t wet the bed. Hasn’t your father talked to you about this?” I was totally mystified. She sat me down and explained that I’d just had a wet dream. I was, of course, mortified.

My father hadn’t discussed the birds and the bees with me, and nor had my mother. I’ve never asked them, but I have always wondered if my sisters found out about menstruation the hard way. And I say this as someone who had the most loving, and caring parents any son could wish for. They were just, well, of their generation.

It was little better at school. We had to wait until we were 14 to get any form of sex education, and to be honest it was a joke. Mr Maidment, head of Geography and Mrs Mathias, head of Needlework broached the subject in General Studies. Mrs Mathias would rather have been anywhere else than teaching sex education to a group of 100 giggly teenagers, while Mr Maidment rejoiced in telling us how he would “hump” Mrs M every Saturday night without fail. It was titivation rather than education at Saffron Walden County High in 1976. And God forbid the thought that anyone should mention homosexuality, which of course had only been legal for a decade at that point.

Forty years on, not a lot has changed in some families. Mothers and fathers up and down the land recoil from the embarrassment of discussing condoms and cunnilingus. Schools may be rather more enlightened than in the 1970s, but the standard of sex education is incredibly variable. Even in 2016 some parents even withdraw their kids from it, and they’re invariably the sheltered kids who most need it because they won’t be told it in the home environment.

Sex education guidelines haven’t been updated by the Department of Education since 2000, before the days of smartphones, sexting and online pornography. Both Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan have wanted to revise them but Downing Street have vetoed it for reasons best known to themselves.

It’s time that there was a complete review of sex education in this country. Children encounter sexual issues at an ever younger age. I was fourteen or fifteen before I even knew what the working ‘wanking’ met. My eight year old goddaughter learnt what a clitoris was in her sex education lessons a couple of years ago. Most eleven year olds have viewed pornography. It’s all a long way from ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’.

There are still teachers out there who are reluctant to talk about homosexuality for fear of contravening Section 28. They don’t even know the Blair government got rid of it.
And what of the parents, often ones with devout religious views, who refuse to allow their children to take part in what are now known as Sex & Relationships Education (SRE)? Should the state overrule their wishes in the interests of the children?

What age should SRE lessons start? I used to take the view that children’s innocence should be protected for as long as possible and these lessons shouldn’t start until children are at secondary school. Who am I, or was I, trying to kid. Many primary schools start teaching the subject in reception classes, and a good thing too. Obviously at that age it is more about relationships rather than the nuts and bolts of biological functions.

In the long term, we have to realise this subject can only be taught by professionals, rather than geography and maths teachers whose hearts aren’t in it and who aren’t experts in the subject. I’d like to see an army of SRE teachers recruited and trained, who would travel from school to school within their borough or county. Yes, there would be a cost to that, but if it helps children cope with the emotions and trials of puberty and adulthood, wouldn’t it be money well spent?

This article first appeared in Attitude Magazine

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Iain Interviews David Cameron

Full 16 minute interview with the PM, mainly on Brexit.

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Diary

ConHome Diary: Theresa May & DD - Starting As They Mean To Go On

15 Jul 2016 at 13:58

As I start writing this column, Theresa May is embarking on the second part of her reshuffle. She’s certainly hit the ground running and no one, can say, especially George Osborne, that she hasn’t been decisive in her initial choices. In her initial speech outside Number Ten I thought she was rather cursory in her comments about Brexit, but by picking the three Brexiteers – Johnson, Davis and Fox – she has dispelled any doubts about her intentions. I have severe doubts as to whether Boris will play any meaningful part in the Brexit negotiations. Indeed, with trade and Europe being taken out of the Foreign Office, you could argue that Theresa May has done what Margaret Thatcher never achieved, and neutered it. I imagine it will be David Davis who accompanies Theresa May to EU summits, with Boris only playing a peripheral role, but we’ll soon find out. There are bound to be one or two tensions between Liam Fox and David Davis too, I imagine, with Davis probably insisting on keeping EU trade negotiations to himself with Fox concentrating on building trade deals with non EU countries. I suspect it’s called ‘creative tension’.
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Theresa May is said to be naturally risk-averse. You wouldn’t know it from her initial cabinet appointments. Any one of the Three Brexiteers could, given their recent political histories, self-combust at any time. She’s trusted them not to do so, but I imagine there will be a fairly lively betting market on the first cabinet minister to quit. Boris will probably be favourite, given his previous forays into foreign affairs. Or affairs full stop.
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Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The lazarus like rise of David Davis has attracted much comment, given that David Cameron refused to bring him into government following his resignation in 2008 and his subsequent by-election. Cameron felt he couldn’t trust him not to do it again. A few weeks ago I suggested in this very column that he would be the ideal man to head up our Brexit negotiations in a separate government department. To be honest, it was more in hope than expectation, but others seemed to agree and there was quite a lot of press comment to that effect. Others were also in the frame – Peter Lilley, Chris Grayling and Liam Fox to name but a few.
In some ways Davis’s whole political career has led to this moment. He was Europe Minister in the Major government so knows his way around Brussels. He’s also great friends with Jonathan Hill, our outgoing EU Commissioner and is one of the few politicians on the Leave side to have a fairly clear idea of what Brexit looks like. He’s also a very experienced negotiator. He and Theresa May will make a very good negotiating team. It won’t be ‘nice cop, nasty cop’. Anyone who’s been the other side of the table to Theresa May knows that she usually comes out on top. She has a particular talent of fixing her opponents with a gimlet stare, and crucially for a negotiator, she is unembarrassable. She’s very unlikely to give way at the last minute in the spirit of compromise. It should make for some interesting exchanges.
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When you make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs. Theresa May hasn’t been afraid to crack eggs with George Osborne and Michael Gove being the two main yolks to have been disposed of. Both are incredibly talented, but a new prime minister has to make the appointments she wants to make, and given her apparent views on Osborne’s economic policies and their semi-public rows of recent years, his sacking (and that’s what it was) was almost inevitable. What really did for him was the so-called ‘punishment budget’ and his totally OTT dire warnings of economic collapse. There was no way back for him after that. Similarly, Michael Gove and Theresa May had some very public fallings out and even had he not defenestrated Boris Johnson in such a public way, his card was already marked, not least by Theresa May’s chief advisors Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. I have always been a huge fan of Michael Gove, and I genuinely hope we haven’t seen the last of him.
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Sacked cabinet ministers are always the very public casualties of a new government, but few people give a second’s though to their special advisors. They also lose their jobs with no notice at all. I know a lot of them and I’m truly sorry for them. They have invested a lot in their respective bosses and now have nothing to show for it, beyond the glories of working in the upper echelons of government. Take George Osborne. He had built a team of advisors around him who were all being prepared to take over in Number 10. James Chapman had a great job as political editor of the Daily Mail. He was recruited by the then Chancellor to beef up his press operations and was joined by Sur Beeby recently. Neil O’Brien left Policy Exchange. Thea Rodgers joined from the BBC. Gove’s two loyal lieutenants Henry Newman and Henry Cook are now left without roles. In Number Ten all of David Cameron’s advisors have left their roles. I’ve just heard that Nicky Morgan has been sacked, so her advisors including Luke Tryl will have to find new roles. It’s a cruel world.
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New cabinet ministers are never as powerful as on their first day. I’m told by a Whitehall source that David Davis’s first act as Brexit Secretary was to demand that Ivan Rogers, the head of UKREP, the UK’s Representative in Brussels, be summoned to meet him yesterday. An afternoon meeting was considered too tardy, so the poor man had to catch the first Eurostar out of Brussels heading for a mid-morning Cabinet Office meeting. I think it’s called starting as you mean to go on.
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One of the great ironies of the last few days is that David Davis will spend more time on the newly unveiled Cam Force One than David Cameron ever did. He won’t enjoy that at all. Not. At. All.
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Overall I think Theresa May has done an excellent forming her first Cabinet. There are, however, a few appointments that leave me scratching my head. Take Liz Truss, for instance. On what planet is putting her at Justice a good idea? No legal background, no interest in prison reform from what I can see and no record of any strong views on human rights issues. A totally bizarre appointment. I do, however, love the idea of Priti Patel at Dfid, a department I rather suspect she’d be delighted to abolish. Her civil servants will be appalled by the appointment.
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Patrick McLoughlin will be an excellent party chairman. There couldn’t be more of a contrast with his old Etonian predecessor. I think that combined with the message of Theresa May’s appeal to working class voters in Downing Street it shows that the new Prime Minister is intent on parking her tanks on Labour’s lawn. It’s a covert message to right wing Labour MPs too, that there’s a home for them in the Conservative Party if the going gets too tough under Jeremy Corbyn.
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Only 8 female cabinet ministers out of 25, two ethnic minority cabinet ministers and two gay ones. Enough? Could do better? Don’t give a toss?

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