TV/Film/Theatre

Film Review: The Iron Lady

11 Jan 2012 at 18:40

I am probably one of the worst possible people to review this film objectively. I know some of the main characters personally, and Margaret Thatcher is my political inspiration. But I am going to give it a go anyhow.

When I first heard about this film, the initial publicity suggested it would be a complete hatchet job. I had visions of me become so irate I’d walk out of the cinema. The idea that a film which highlighted Lady Thatcher’s state of mind was not something I thought could ever be done tastefully. And how on earth could Meryl Streep ever play her?

I came out of the cinema in Tunbridge Wells half an hour ago. It was full. A sign outside said that all showings of this film had sold out today. Wow. In fifteen years of going to that cinema I have never been in a full cinema. I was tonight. And half the audience was under the age of thirty. Wow.

To be honest, part of me was really looking forward to seeing this film, but part of me was dreading it. I half expected to be in tears for most of it, and half expected it to make me angry. In fact neither happened. I felt curiously unengaged emotionally. At no time did my eyes moisten, and let me tell you, I will cry at an episide of Emmerdale. I’m not saying that many of the scenes failed to move me, but it was the performance of Jim Broadbent, playing Denis Thatcher, which rather ruined many of the moments. Broadbent didn’t play Denis Thatcher, actually. He played his Private Eye caricature. Don’t get me wrong, Broadbent is a brilliant actor – one of Britain’s best, but his performance meant that a potentially Oscar winning film doesn’t actually deserve to get nominated. Some of the scenes involving him were just unimaginable. In one he storms out of the room, when Margaret tells him she is standing for Leader of the Party, shouting: “All you ever care about is your ambition”. It simply. Did. Not. Happen. Indeed, it was he who urged her on. I could go on.

The Iron Lady is not a Biopic. Yes, it contains important episodes from her life, but it leaves out so, so much. That is maybe inevitable, but some of her greatest moments were left out. Nothing about the Cold War. Very little about the miners’ strike. Nothing about her battles with European leaders. Again, I could go on.

And so to the dementia. If one good thing can come from this film it will be to widen the understanding of dementia and alzheimers. It was dealt with sympathetically, and although it dominated the film far too much, I can see why the director used it in the way she did – as a path back to episodes from Lady Thatcher’s life. Yes, you can question the appropriateness of doing it this way, but it never made me squirm me in my seat. And I thought it would.

Everyone has praised Meryl Streep’s performance, and rightly so. It was stupendous. And yes, it could be Oscar winning. She got her voice, she got her dress, she got her movement. The only slight error was that she didn’t quite get her gait. Margaret Thatcher walked quickly, in very small steps. Matthew Parris once described her walking like a pigeon. There were moments when you actually thought you were watching Margaret Thatcher herself.

The Falklands section was the strongest, without a doubt. Her “Iron Lady” image really shone through. It didn’t happen in Tunbridge Wells, but when she says “Sink It”, I gather some audiences have cheered. Her interaction with Al Haig was vintage Thatcher.

There were lots of little inaccuracies which jarred with a political geek like me. Both Francis Pym and John Nott appeared in 1990 scenes. Nott left Parliament in 1983 and Pym left Parliament in 1987. Margaret Thatcher did not wear a hat while making speeches in the House of Commons as Education Secretary. Margaret Thatcher did not run after Airey Neave’s car when it was bombed. She wasn’t there. Again, I could go on. Some of the scenes were exaggerated. The 1990 Cabinet meeting in which Thatcher was rude to Geoffrey Howe did indeed happen. But in this scene she comes across as a demented lunatic. I know enough people who were at that meeting to know it didn’t happen like that. Perhaps the dramatic licence was needed to make a point. This was, after all a movie, not a documentary.

But this is to carp. Overall, I enjoyed it immensely. Any neutral in the audience will have left the cinema thinking better of Margaret Thatcher than when they entered it, It was a very sympathetic portrait of her, and her aims in life. It enhances an understanding of her motivations and actions, so as a devoted Thatcher supporter, I suppose I couldn’t have asked for more.

I know many Conservatives are admirers of Margaret Thatcher are nervous about seeing this film. They think that by doing so they will somehow betray the woman they admire. They shouldn’t think like that and they need have no fears. This is a film which is far from perfect, but it is not a film to be avoided.

At the end of the film, the entire audience stayed sitting and waited till the credits had finished before leaving. That doesn’t happen very often. And it spoke volumes.

Go and see it and make up your own mind. I may have written some negative things in this review, but that’s what film reviews tend to be, don’t they? But let me tell you a secret. I really liked it, despite its imperfections.

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UK Politics

Is Parliament Becoming Relevant Again?

11 Jan 2012 at 18:36

I remember one day during the summer of 2003, while the Hutton Report was in full swing, appearing live on Sky News for a full half hour, live on College Green. Much as I like hearing the sound of my own voice, I did question why Sky had thought my pearls of wisdom were worth so much time, when surely a politician would have been more relevant. “No, you don’t get it,” said a friend of mine. “They think youre more likely to say something interesting nd not tow a party line.” That example showed how irrelevant parliament and politicians had become. That the media should consider the words of a then relatively unknown commentator to be more interesting that a parliamentarian was an indictment of the depths to which parliament’s reputation had sunk.

But I wonder whether things are starting to change and that Parliament is becoming relevant again. In the last year I think there have been a number of setpiece parliamentary debates which have gripped the country. Various select committee hearings have captured the imagination. Now you may think I am going slightly over the top here, and perhaps youre right, but I do think that the media in general are covering parliament as an institution in a way they weren’t five years ago.

Earlier today I went to a breakfast reception in Parliament, held by the BBC Political Unit, to mark the launch of the new Sunday Politics programme. BBC News head honcho Helen Boaden and Andrew Neil outlined the content of the new show, and also talked about the new hour long Daily Politics. It is quite clear that MPs will be front and centre of all these programmes, with the punditerati playing a sideshow role. The regional optouts will no longer have talking heads – they will be 15-20 minute interviews with two loccal MPs. The Daily Politics will have a Yesterday in Parliament feature followed by a live debate with two of the protagonists. Each Monday there will be an MPs’ panel looking at the week ahead.

OK, some of this will be driven by the need to cut costs, but I believe that another reason is that MPs have begun to make themselves relevant again. They are saying things of interest, which to be honest wasn’t always the case. Actually, it still isn’t to a large extent, but the media have identified a large number of MPs who are willing to stretch party loyalties and be themselves. I know, because I invite them on my LBC show too.

Some MPs have got to the point of appearing almost embarrassed to trot out the latest line given to them by the party spin doctors. Long may that continue. And in large part this is due to the 2010 intake who have quietly hallenged a lot of political and parliamentary conventions. They are a very talented intake and subconciously have taken on board the need for Parliament to restore its reputation. So far, I think they have made a good start in helping it do just that.

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UK Politics

Is Diane Right? Are Black Cabbies Racists

7 Jan 2012 at 18:43

Apart from Diane Abbott’s far left allies (yes, I mean you, Lee Jasper), most people think she made a big mistake with her apparently racist tweet on Wednesday night. I make no apology for admitting I was among the first to point out that if a white Tory MP had said the same about black people, there would have been hell to pay. All she had to do was issue a quick apology and say that she should have used the word ‘some’. But she didn’t do that until she was forced to by her less than pleased leader. So the lesson is – and it’s something I learned on Twitter the hard way – is that if you say something you know in your gut is wrong, just apologise quickly. It’s less painful that way.

Abbott is now under fire for another tweet in which she reckoned that it is difficult to get a black cab to stop for you if you’re black. The papers are in full cry this morning, as are London cabbies. Well, in this case, I have a little more sympathy for Diane Abbott. A few months ago we were discussing racism on my LBC show and a cabby came on and admitted he wouldn’t stop for a black youth. I was rather shocked by this, but then another cabby came on and said the same thing. They had both had bad experiences – one I think had had his passenger run off without paying and the other one had had a fare which had puked up. I pointed out that I was fairly sure they would have had the same issue with white youths too. Neither had an answer. Rather bizarrely a black lady then came on the phones and said that if she were a cabby she wouldn’t pick them up either.

What is perhaps more interesting is that Diane should automatically assume that cab with a yellow light on doesn’t pick her up because she is black. Let me let you into a little secret. I reckon on one in 10 occasions when I hail a black cab, the cab just sails on by and doesn’t stop. It could be my Loden coat which puts them off. It could be that they don’t like LBC presenters. Or more probably it’s because they don’t actually see me. I’ve lost count of the number of cabbies with tunnel vision, who don’t seem to notice anyone hailing them on the pavement. So think on Diane. It may look like racism to you. And in some cases it may well be. But it could be that the cabby is daydreaming and thinking of what he will do when he knocks off. Just a thought.

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Jeffrey Archer (again)

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Humour/Satire

A Look Back on 2012

31 Dec 2011 at 18:45

As we look back on 2012 it is with some trepidation that we look ahead to 2013. Who could have foreseen the momentous events which changed our world over the last twelve months? It’s not just Britain which has changed, but the whole world order. The collapse of the Euro led to the completely unforeseen destruction of the American economy following the hidden exposure of US banks to the European, in particular, the French, banks. The Chicago riots in September led to outbreaks of violence all over the US which mirrored those in Paris and Madrid earlier in the year in everything but the scale of wanton destruction. The rest of the world watched in horror as former French President Sarkozy was dragged from his retirement home by a lynch mob and kicked within an inch of his life. Ironically it was a passing off duty SAS member who stepped in to save his life. The British tabloids had a field day with headlines such as The Sun’s BRITAIN SAVES FRENCH PRESIDENT (AND IT’S NOT EVEN FROM A GERMAN).

Having looked set for a second term, US President Barack Obama went down to a humiliating defeat to President Sarah Palin, who had been a last minute draftee at the Republican Convention. She doesn’t take office for another three weeks, but already, her appointment of Secretary of State Schwarzenegger and Vice President Larry Hagman look set to mire her presidency in controversy.

At home, Britain’s £100 billion bailout of the Republic of Ireland was approved by the Dail, as was the Act of Union, under which Ireland reverted its currency back to the Pound and ceded foreign and defence policy to the United Kingdom Parliament after 90 years of full independence. In return the United Kingdom agreed to let Ireland represent it at the Eurovision Song Contest.

In domestic politics, Nick Clegg was overthrown as LibDem leader but allowed to remain in the Cabinet by the Prime Minister. The new LibDem leader, Chris Huhne, gave a moving acceptance speech from his cell in Wormwood Scrubs. Meanwhile the Labour leader David Miliband continued to make progress in rebuilding his party from the mess in which it had been left by his brother, Ed, whose decision to resign in February and take up the position of Lecturer in Quasi-Socialist Studies at the University of Luton was described at the time by the leading (sic) leftwing commentator Laurie Penny as “a body blow to the feminist agenda”. Indeed.

Yesterday’s release of the 1982 cabinet papers have understandably led today’s news agenda. The fact that Margaret Thatcher came within an inch of using nuclear weapons against Argentina during the Falklands War came as a shock not just to historians, but also surviving members of her cabinet. “I’d have resigned if I had known,” said Michael Heseltine. “It would have saved all that bother later.”

In sport, the 2012 Olympics went off without incident, but there was a disappointing medal haul from British participants, with only 72 year old Mrs Enid Rankin winning a bronze in the new Olympic sport of synchronised stairlift racing. Manchester City swept all before them to win the Premier League, the FA Cup, and the League Cup and ended the season selling Carlos Tevez to Scunthorpe United for £2.50 and a box of Tetley teabags. England again flattered to deceive at Euro 2012 in the Ukraine, going out in the group stages. Fabio Capello’ successor was named as Mr Sid Higginbottom, manager of non league side Neasdon United. But it wasn’t all gloom and doom in British sport. Andrew Flintoff came out of retirement to lead England to victory in the All England Beer Drinking Test series.

2012 was the year that publishers started to abandon hardback books with eBooks outselling hardbacks for the first time. The BBC pulled out of televising all live sport and announced that the money saved would be pumped into yet more reality TV shows – the latest being “The Jesus Factor”, hosted by Ann Widdecombe. But it was good news for the X Factor as Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole returned to rescue the show. “It were a reet laff the laast time and I’m looin fowod to getin’ stook in agen, way aye man,” commented Miss Cole. Meanwhile, Channel 5 was still reeling from the controversy caused by Sally Bercow’s second appearance in the Big Brother House, after it was discovered she had smuggled in her husband, the Speaker of the House of Commons, into the house in her suitcase. Conservative MP Keith Simpson described it as a “constitutional outrage” and demanded the return of Parliament.

And in Norfolk, defections to the Conservatives on the County Council continued apace with the entire LibDem group crossing the floor. “If we are going down, we might as well have a taste of power before we do,” said their group leader, having taken advice from local MP Simon Wright. The first Police Commissioner election in Norfolk was won by Mrs Doris Bonkers, the UKIP candidate from Watton. Her campaign slogan “Deport all criminals to Suffolk” proved remarkably effective.

And finally, Norwich City ended the season in a UEFA Cup spot after they won their last ten matches, including a remarkable 7-0 thrashing of champions elect Manchester City in which Grant Holt scored a double hat­-trick in 20 minutes. The celebrations were slightly marred by the sight of Delia Smith jumping into the team bath after the match while screaming ‘Let’s be ‘Avin youse’.

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UK Politics

Twelve Predictions For 2012

30 Dec 2011 at 18:48

OK, here’s the ten predictions I made last New Year’s Eve in my Eastern Daily Press column. Let’s see how many I got right…

Norwich City make the play-offs but fail to win promotion WRONG Norman Lamb becomes a Minister in a government reshuffle WRONG Several Norfolk councils enter talks to combine back office functions RIGHT The British people say no to AV – as does Norfolk RIGHT Two Norfolk MPs become government ministers RIGHT A Norfolk person wins a reality TV show WRONG (I THINK!) Nick Clegg survives a LibDem leadership coup WRONG David Laws wins back a Cabinet place WRONG Labour stage a massive comeback in the 2011 Norfolk council elections WRONG Bruce Forsyth finally gets a knighthood RIGHT

So, not a very good performance. In 2010 I got 7 out of 10 right. Let’s see if I can do better this year…

1. Boris Johnson will win the London mayoral election

2. Vince Cable will leave the Cabinet

3. At least one country will leave the euro

4. Simon Cowell returns to the X Factor and invites Cheryl Cole to join him

5. West Ham will be promoted

6. Sarkozy loses the French presidency

7. Obama beats Romney to win a second term

8. John Humphrys leaves the Today Programme

9. The Independent becomes Britain’s first free national newspaper

10. England fail to proceed beyond the group stages at Euro 2012

11. Sam Allardyce succeeds Fabio Capello as England manager

12. Britain wins fewer gold medals at the Olympics than it did in Beijing

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale looks at TWIGHLIGHT & Teenage Obsessions

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TV/Film/Theatre

The Fast Show Is Back. Which Is Nice

27 Dec 2011 at 18:50

I am a huge fan of the FAST SHOW. It was, in my humble opinion, one of the funniest sketch shows ever to grace our TV screens. So when I heard it was returning, I was very excited. That was until I heard it was only going to be online. ‘Bound to be rubbish’, I thought. Anyway, it was only yesterday that I remarked to my partner that I hadn’t seen anything about the FAST SHOW episodes on the internet. ‘Oh’, they’re all on the Fosters Youtube channel,’ he said. Which was nice. So I just watched them all. All six of them. Suits you, sir. And they didn’t disappoint. Many of the old characters are back, and they introduce a few new ones, including an ancient Jazz singer with dementia. Making fun of dementia is something which could easily go wrong, but this kind of works. I’ll get my coat.

Indeed, watching these six episodes was very much like making love to a beautiful woman.

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Video: Iain & Sally Bercow review the papers

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UK Politics

What Should I Do With My Money?

18 Dec 2011 at 18:51

Perhaps even by writing this blospost I will be accused of scaremongering, but I don’t think I am alone in wondering about the consequences of a banking collapse.

Back in 2005, when I was a parliamentary candidate, I remember walking down Cromer High Street on a Friday afternoon with 16 pence in my pocket. My credit cards were maxed out. My overdraft was at its limit and I had used up all my savings. In short, I wasn’t far way from hitting rock bottom. How on earth had I got myself into this position? One thing I did know, I would never allow it to happen again. After the election, I sold our cottage in Norfolk and used the profit (thank God there was a profit!) to pay off all my debts. I quickly got myself back on my feet and between then and now have built up some savings. Not a huge amount, but enough to make use of if a rainy day ever approached.

The banking crisis of 2008 shattered many people’s confidence in the whole financial system. Regulation had failed, and as far as I can see, little has changed to improve it. I don’t want more regulation, I want better regulation.

The euro crisis has brought back bitter memories of 2008. It seems to me that the sovereign debt crisis in the eurozone could indeed herald a second banking crisis, which in Europe could be far more badly hit than three years ago. Why? Because of a domino effect. It is argued that British banks are slightly insulated by this, but I wonder how many people really believe this. We may be located a few more dominos down the track than France or Germany, but does anyone seriously doubt our banks would esape unscathed?

Alistair Darling promised that anyone with savings of up to £85,000 would have their savings protected. But how firm would that guarantee be in the future? Can we rely on it? Of course, that only refers to savings in a deposit account – not a business account. If a major bank went under, businesses would be decimated.

I bank with Lloyds TSB. I don’t have any accounts with European banks. If I had, I would now be closing them and moving my money. I have no idea how many people are thinking in the same way, but if they’re not, ought they to be? It’s the great unspoken subject at the moment. It’s like the Fawlty Towers sketch – Don’t mention the war. I did, but I think I got away with it. We don’t talk about our money in polite society. It’s not the way we British do things. Well I do want to talk about it, because like most people, I suspect, I am beginning to get a little nervous.

There is a part of me that wonders if my money wouldn’t be safer under my mattress. Pauline Neville-Jones, when she was on the Murnaghan programme on Sky News this morning, reckons that it is entirely possible that if there was a collapse of several banks, the rest would just shup up shop – shut their doors and prevent people from withdrawing money. If you read Alistair Darling’s book, Back From the Brink, you’ll know how close we came to that point in 2008. The cashpoints were hours away from having the plug pulled. The government is said to be making contingency plans for civil unrest in the event of a banking collapse.

So I ask again. What should people do, who have a modest amount of savings? Trust the government guarantee? Or something else? Buy gold? Buy something else? Withdraw it and stick it in a safe?

Perhaps Martin Lewis, the Money Saving Expert, should dispense some wise advice on this subject. Because I am buggered if I know what to do.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale interviews Simon Weston

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Personal

A Tribute to Gary Speed & A Plea on Depression

27 Nov 2011 at 18:55

Yesterday I read a heartfelt article by Stan Collymore about his ongoing battle with depression. Last night I watched a documentary called ‘We Need to Talk About Dad’ about a family coming to terms with the fact that the father had hit the mother over the head with an axe – an apparent spontaneous act, which he can’t explain to this day.

About half an hour ago I heard about the death of Welsh team manager Gary Speed. Apparently he has taken his own life. I’ve never met Gary Speed and I therefore find my own reaction to the news a little strange. I feel absolutely devastated by it. Here is a man who, on the face of it, has everything. Just like Stan Collymore. Just like the father in the documentary. And yet behind closed doors none of us know what goes on. We don’t know what we are capable of. We don’t know what others are capable of. How could someone, no matter what pressures they are under, do what Gary Speed has done? How could he do it to his wife. To his two teenage sons? It’s too early to analyse. It’s too early to even understand. But it’s not too early to think. To mull. To try to come to terms with something that is so shocking it almost defies logic.

I am sure we all send our heartfelt condolences to Gary Speed’s family. We pay tribute to his wonderful record as a professional footballer, and we think of the fans of the clubs he played for, who will be shocked, appalled and devastated by his death at such a young age.

We don’t know exactly what caused Gary to take the ultimate step, but it may well be depression. Some people, to this day, not only think depression is something invented by people of weak minds, I hope they will think again. Think about German goalkeeper Robert Enke. Think about Stan Collymore’s ongoing battles. Read Alastair Campbell’s diaries. We all need to try to understand more about depression.

RIP Gary Speed. You were a hero to many. While the manner of your passing doesn’t befit the career you enjoyed, you leave with our respect, admiration and sympathy.

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Iain talks to Julie in Basildon about bad parenting

An emotional call.

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UK Politics

Sally's Vibrator & a Weeping Ed Balls

22 Nov 2011 at 18:57

Lord Justice Leveson could do worse than read the latest issue of Total Politics magazine. Well, I would say that, wouldn’t I, as I publish it, But I think the reaction to two interviews in the magazine demonstrates what is wrong with today’s media. Now in some ways, I shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds me, as we have had some great coverage in the last 24 hours. Who wouldn’t kill for so many mentions all over the media? But when you look at the subject of that coverage you do wonder about the priorities of some of today’s media – and I don’t just mean of the red top variety.

This month’s issue contains two long interviews, one with Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls and one (by me) with Sally Bercow. Both know how to g’give good interview’ and both did so in this case. But in Ed Balls’s case it was quite a meaty interview. lots of good stuff about his job, lots about economic policy, but what did all the press pick up on? Yup, the fact that he sometimes cries during an episode of Antiques roadshow. In a similar vein, the only thing reported from the Sally Bercow interview was her reply to my ‘quickfire round’ question as to what her favourtie gadget was. She informed me, giggling away, that it was her vibrator. I asked if that was on or off the record and she she told me it was on the record. Well you can’t blame a boy for keeping it in. So to speak.

Of course those two things were always going to be reported. But to the exclusion of everything else in the interviews? There was so much more.

It strikes me that we get the media we deserve, and I am not surprised that this happened. As an interviewer you kind of recognise the game. But that doesn’t mean that I have to like it. Oh for the day when newspapers actually report a new idea or policy rather than immediately leap on an ill judged joke or a gaffe. I can but dream.

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Sir Nicholas Barrington

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UK Politics

Complaints Over Labour PPC Selection in Thurrock

13 Nov 2011 at 19:01

It doesn’t matter what party you’re in, you like to see fair play in Parliamentary selections. Especially when there are two people you know in the contest. Over the last few weeks, candidates have been vying to be selected as the PPC for Thurrock. One of the candidates is Polly Billington, a close aide to Ed Miliband and someone who is a friend. Another of the potential candidates is Sarah Mackinlay, daughter of Andrew, the independent minded Labour MP, who retired as MP for Thurrock at the last election. Sarah worked for me as editor of Total Politics for a year, and I went to her wedding, so I know her well. Yesterday, the Constituency Labour Party met to shortlist three candidates to put forward to a general meeting.

Today I received an email from a Labour Party insider who was not at the meeting, but clearly knows Sarah well. This is what s(he) reports.

I am writing to let you know what has happened in the Thurrock Labour selection procedure in which you may have been aware Sarah Mackinlay was competing. The long and the short of it is that yesterday she was excluded from the Labour shortlist in Thurrock by a small cabal of bitter, twisted and supremely mediocre local party officials. The motivation for this is I believe twofold. Firstly, (given your experience this will not surprise you) some harbour a twenty-year old grudge against her father and secondly, it is an attempt to clear the path for Polly Billington (Ed Milliband advisor). Just two candidates have been shortlisted – Polly and a woman from Croydon – Ann Marie Walters (who set foot in the constituency for the first time yesterday appparently). In my relatively long experience this is without precedent – two candidates for a marginal seat like Thurrock! I have known Sarah Mackinlay for a long time. She has her faults but I could name several dozen Labour MPs who she is better than (you might be able to do the same from your side of the House). She is not a Stepford politician – of which there are a swarm. I know for a fact that whilst she didn’t give the performance of her life at the shortlisting meeting, she did easily enough to deserve to be put before the members. We’ve seen what happens when constituencies feel they have had someone imposed on them. Sarah had been working hard and had a body of support (yes part of it built on her father’s reputation – but a chunk directly for her). I think the Thurrock Labour Party is heading for a blood bath and the only beneficiary will be the incumbent. Of course I realise that in a Party political sense this is none of your concern – indeed you would be quite entitled to revel in it. But on a personal level I would hope you agree it is an outrage. I know that many complaints have already been made to the regional secretary of the Labour Party and people who have not supported Sarah are incensed by the unfairness of it. It threatens to render whichever of the two surviving candidates toxic unless there is some kind of intervention to rectify the injustice. This can’t be good for politics wherever you sit.

On the face of it there seems some very odd goings on here. As I say, I know both Polly and Sarah, but I am sure Polly would want to win fairly and not want any local party members to feel that they were being stitched up by the centre. Experience shows where that can lead.

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Iain interviews Donald Trump

Albeit in 2012...

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