Travel

North Norfolk Holiday Diary: Day 2

13 Jul 2012 at 18:44

That really was just about a perfect day. We woke to bright sunshine, and that’s how it stayed all day, and boy did we make the most of it.

Our dogs, Dude & Bubba are just one year old and have never been let of the lead. At home we have a lot of foxes on our land and the thought of them entering into a fight with a fox doesn’t bear thinking about. Anyway, we – or rather I – decided it was about time to give them a bit of freedom, so, feeling very nervous, we let them off the lead into the garden of our holiday home. It’s not all fenced in, so disaster could have struck, but actually, they behaved perfectly. Dude even learned to fetch a ball and drop it back at my feet. Progress indeed.

Later in the morning my LBC colleague Lucy (James O’Brien’s producer) and her husband Alistair came over with their dog Oscar. The three dogs spent some time sniffing each other out (a lovely image there for you) before we descended on Brancaster beach. Even though it was fabulous weather there weren’t that many holiday makers around, so we were soon able to let the dogs off the lead. The trouble with Dude & Bubba is that they think everybody is a new friend, so they immediately run up to every adult and child and expect to be made a fuss of, not realising that not everybody is a ‘doggy’ person. They had a fine old time playing with a boxer and both even went for a paddle. It really was a perfect hour.

Back at the house, preparations for my birthday party at the weekend proceed apace. The marquee people came and an erection was soon under way. Matron! Pepi and Keith Simpson arrived to deliver what seemed to be a massive amount of cheese and order vast amounts of glasses and alcohol. Keith and I decided to talk about books while all this was going on.

And the evening was spent slobbing with dogs asleep on laps. Now that’s what I call a perfect, do very little, holiday day.

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My Top 50 Favourite Tweeters

13 Jul 2012 at 18:43

I follow about 1,000 people on Twitter, an picking a Top 50 was almost impossible. In the end I decided that one of the main criteria would be to pick ones that made me smile, entertained me and informed me. I did think about not ranking them, but what’s the fun in that, and you know how I like my lists! You will see a lot of surprising choices in this list – people you would think I wouldn’t rate at all. But that’s the thing about Twitter. It challenges your preconceptions about people.

1. @TomHarrisMP

Tom Harris is the Labour MP for Glasgow South and the man who wrote one of the most brilliant blogs in the history of Christendom. He has a very dry and ironic sense of humour, which he deploys in most of his tweets. He’s not afraid to criticise his own party and challenges a lot of key orthodoxies. Consistently entertaining, he’s also the author of WHY I AM RIGHT & EVERYONE ELSE IS WRONG, a collection of his blogposts.

2. @Smithjj62

Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith has become a good friend of mine over the last couple of years. People seem to like our double act on Sky News and I have learned that Jacqui has a very well developed sense of humour, which from time to time descends into the gutter. She’s a great defender of the Blairite legacy and interacts which her followers in a way most politicos don’t.

3. @NadineDorriesMP

Nadine is the ultimate Marmite politician, but come what may she says what she thinks and that’s why she has such a following. She doesn’t seem to have a brake mechanism, which makes you want to read everything she tweets in case you miss something. She also displays a certain vulnerability which even those who detest her politics have come to respect.

4. @PeterWatt123

Peter Watt made the headlines when Gordon Brown sacked him as General Secretary of the Labour Party back in 2007. Since then he has become Labour’s voice of sweet reason. His articles are consistently brilliant and the warmth of his personality comes across in everything he tweets.

5. @TheJamesWhale

James Whale only joined Twitter around six months ago but he’s taken to it like a duck to water. Never knowingly undercontroversial he tells it how he sees it, no matter what the consequences. Hugely entertaining, just like LBC drivetime show.

6. @CampbellClaret

Another person you either love or hate. Personally, I have huge respect for him and love his diaries. He and I share a lot of personality traits and I see myself in a lot of what he tweets. I love his Burnley obsession and his openness about depression. And despite his blind Labour loyalty, he is also a superb observer of the political scene.

7. @PaulWaugh

Usually first with breaking political news, he can also be very cheeky in is political observations on Twitter. Has singlehandedly turned round the fortunes of PoliticsHome and the House Magazine. And a bloody nice bloke.

8. @Joey7Barton

Comes across on Twitter as a very different person to the one you see on a football field. Eloquent and with a good observational eye, he also delights in commenting on political and news events, often to good effect.

9. @StephenNolan

The best talk show host in the country, he love to interact with his followers. Not afraid to tell it like it is, Nolan is another radio personality who attracts loyalty and hatred in equal amounts.

10. @Brit_Battleaxe

I am responsible for getting Christine Hamilton on Twitter, so blame me. Lord i knew not what I did! Seriously, her personality shines through on Twitter and she had taken to the medium like a duck to water.

11. @KerriSackville

Kerri is the bestselling author of WHEN MY HUSBAND DOES THE DISHES & THE LITTLE BOOK OF ANXIETY. She’s Australian and has a brilliantly acerbic sense of humour.

12. @TobyHarnden

Toby is the Daily Mail’s Washington Correspondent and is one of my main sources for comment on foreign news. But he also tweets about personal things. He’s a best selling author too.

13. @GuidoFawkes

Politicians follow Guido for fear of not knowing what is being said about their colleagues – and them. Difficult to match what he does on his blog, but he’s a must follow for all Westminster watchers.

14. @ZoeqsWilliams

Zoe and I agree on very little, as is apparent from our Sky News paper reviews, but we get on very well together and her tweets are always filled with humour and mischief. She’s a fully paid up guardianista, but don’t let that put you off.

15. @50ShadesofShit

A spoof of 50 Shades of Grey and utterly hilarious. And filthy. Very filthy.

16. @JohnPrescott

I would never have believed that John Prescott would take to any form of social media, but how wrong I was. If you ignore the partisan Labour tweets, he shows a real human side and a warmth which never really came across when he was in frontline politics.

17. @SallyBercow

The Nadine Dorries of the left, Sally has no embarrassment threshhold and is totally cavalier in what she tweets. Consistently controversial and entertaining, she is much more vulnerable and sensitive than she lets on.

18. @PiersMorgan

Often unintentionally hilarious, Piers is undoubtedly owner of the largest ego on Twitter – and there’s a lot of competition for that accolade. But he’s fun and isn’t afraid of interacting with his followers.

19. @TheOllyMann

Half of the Answer Me This podcast team, he’s also a regular on my Sunday show on LBC. He has the kind of moonface which always seems to be smiling, and exudes goodwill to all people.

20. @TimMontgomerie

A must read if you want to keep up to date with goings on in the Conservative Party. Often controversial and always opinionated – exactly what you want on Twitter…

21. @JohnRentoul

Uber Blairite commentator of the Independent on Sunday. Always got something interesting to say and deserves a place in this list if only for his series of Questions to Which the Answer Is No.

22. @NickdeBois

Independent minded Tory MP for Enfield North. Not afraid to go against the grain and has a great senseof humour.

23. @ShippersUnbound

One of my favourite political journalists, always has a pithy comment to make and takes himself none too seriously.

24. @JuliaHB1

My LBC colleague only joined Twitter recently but has taken to it like the proverbial duck. Prone to gutter tweets, which endears her to me no end.

25. @KatyScholes

Who? She works for me at Biteback Publishing (or @Bitebackpub, as she would tell me). Uberlesbian, mind like a sewer and very, very funny. Her Indian Diary on this blog was one of the funniest things I have ever published.

26. @ReporterBoy

Giles Dilnot is a funny guy. Seriously funny. Looks like a geek, talks like a dream. You’ll know him from the Daily Politics and 5 Live Up All Night.

27. @Donal_Blaney

Donal is the nearest thing we have in this country to a Fox News commentator. Lover of all things American and hater of all things socialist.

28. @ShelaghFogarty

Lovely, nice, good natured and a good friend. And above all a classy broadcaster.

29. @AFNeil

One of the nicest broadcasters around, and so plugged in politically you want to devour every juciy nugget he offers on his Twitter feed.

30. @NickyAACampbell

His book on his adoption remains one of the best books I have ever read. I love his sense of humour on and off air.

31. @ChrisBryantMP

You might be surprised by me picking him in this list, but he knows how to keep his Twitter followers entertained and isn’t afraid to offend. Isn’t quite so keen to admit hwn he’s wrong, but who is?

32. @Tracey_Crouch

Another independent minded MP who tells it how it is onTwitter. She’s brilliant at the personal stuff too.

33. @Get_Mummy_A-Gin

Twitter feed of a very bad mother. Laugh out loud hilarious, she probably speaks for most mothers… What a terrible thought!

34. @Conor_BurnsMP

Loves to drop Margaret Thatcher’s name at every opportunity, which is alone a good enough reason to be included in this list. Good at avoiding his Twitter feed being just a political PR machine.

35. @MehdiRHasan

No one does Twitter spats like my old sparring partner and we love him for it. Just wind him up and let him go. It’s hugely entertaining, I promise.

36. @GabyHinsliff

The yummy mummy of political journalism, Gaby has thrived by going freelance and moving out of London. She can be acerbic and very humorous as well as entertaining us with anecdotes from her family life.

37. @StellaCreasey

Feisty Labour MP. A good example to other MPs as to how to use Twitter.

38. @SteveHiltonGuru

If you want political advice, the Guru is your man. And he’s always right. Always. Since he left, look what has happened to Dave!

39. @BigBigBen

Outspoken Northern born 6’6 hunk, former Tory, and now living in Spain. Hilarious tweets when he is pissed!

40. @NotBig_Sam

If Sam Allardyce tweeted, this is how it would be. Very funny spoof account. And filty with it.

41. @Corrie_Corfield

Radio 4 announcer who doesn’t tweet like one. Ever.

42. @DavidGoldWHU

The very polite and totally interactive joint chairman of the world’s greatest football team.

43. @TobyPerkinsMP

A newly elected Labour MP, he is one of the few politicians to offer a real personality on Twitter. Yes, he can be partisan but happily tweets about non political stuff too.

44. @TheJamesMax

Another of my LBC colleagues, James Max is at home defending bankers or talking about his dog Barney. Always happy to offer an opinion, he loves Twitter and is only marginally less prolific than Stan Collymore.

45. @MrJamesOB

James O’Brien and I agree on virtually nothing, so I like to read his tweets to know what I should disagree with. He is a fellow LBC presenter and does a fine line in humour too. Quite funny for a lefty.

46. @WMaryBeard

I first met Mary Beard on Any Questions and despite her leftist feminist stances I became a fan. A brilliant writer and historian she is an original, and she has a great personality which comes across well on Twitter.

47. @NotCardinalSeanBrady

Hilarious spoof account which pokes fun at the Irish Catholic church.

48. @OwenJones84

Highly entertaining cheeky chappy lefty who can rarely see any good in anyone on the right. Revels in the image he has created for himself, and always enjoyable in a Twitter spat with his many enemies.

49. @Tom_Watson

Murdoch’s nemesis has become someone impossible to ignore on social media. Possibly the most prolific political tweeter. Doesn’t just tweet politics and is willing to talk about all sorts of personal issues.

50. @StanCollymore

Prolific, and wiilling to stand up to those who racially abuse him. A complex character, but a brilliant football pundit.

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My Wonderful Day at Wembley

24 May 2012 at 18:45

Oh West Ham we love you. Despte you making us tear our hair out, despite you being the most wonderful but frustrating team, we still come back for more. And today showed both sides of West Ham, but who cares? We are Premier League, I say we are Premier League! And there were many times today when I thought that wasn’t going to to happen. And if were honest, we could so easily have lost today. You could say that class showed in the end, and you might have a point, but at times in this game, Blackpool were all over us, especially the middle period of the second half. At times they cut through our defence like butter, but we survived. Indeed, shortly after Carlton Cole’s opener, Vaz Te had a good chance to put us two up. His shot went slightly wide of the post. If that had gone in, I suspect we’d have chalked up another hatful. But credit to Blackpool, they fought and fought and they nearly did us over.

My day started at my parents’ home at Ashdon, near Saffron Walden. I got up and instantly felt nervous. Four of us were going – my Blackpool supporting Dad and another friend of his, Dennis Peach, who’s also a Blackpool supporter – and a Hammers supporting schoolfriend of mine, John Bidwell. We’d booked a car to pick us up at 10. It turned out to be a Skoda. Great. Just what I always wanted to travel to Wembley in. And the driver decided to go the scenic route. Even greater. We had arranged to meet some other friends under the Bobby Moore statue at 11.45. It soon became clear that would be an ambitious target. Not only had we got a driver whose familiarity with SatNav proved illusory, but he hadn’t got a clue where to go when we actually had the Wembley Arc in our sights. My Dad is 82 so I needed to get as close to the stadium as possible as he’s not so sharp on his pins. Eventually we got there, and my bloodpressure was racing. I managed not to quite tell the driver what I thought, sorely tempted though I was. Manners won out in the end.

We slowly made our way up to the statue, my Dad having to climb countless steps to do so. We then made our way up to the Club Wembley area- thankfully via escalators. My Dad hadn’t been to Wembley since 1948 and his eyes were on stalks. I had only been to a concert in the new Wembey. Before we went into the Arc restaurant to eat, we took a peek at tthe pitch. It looked perfect. I have to say the food wasn’t worth the price, but it was nice to be able to relax before going to our seats. We decided to forego the half time drinks and stay in our seats. We were about the only ones to do so! Most of the people near us weren’t even back for the Blackpool goal. But I am getting ahead of myself.

The first twenty minutes didn’t see a single free kick given. Blackpool probably had the better of that period, mainly because we weren’t getting stuck in. Indeed, I don’t recall a single West Ham shot, while Blackpool had a couple of good chances. I began to get nervous, mainly because we normally start so strongly. Nothing was happening in midfield and we just couldn’t get our passing game together. But we started to improve and had a succession of corners. Cole started to impose himself on the game and it was he who scored the opener after a wonderfully flighted ball into the box which Cole chested down and volleyed into the net. It reminded me a little of David Platt’s goal against Belgium in the 1990 World Cup. A few minutes later Vaz Te slid the ball wide when it looked easier to score. Half time. 10. We were feeling slightly lucky to be ahead.

By this time West Ham fans were in full voice. Even in the Blackpool end, where I was, there were loads of West Ham fans. What a shame (and a scandal) it was that there were so many empty seats in the Blackpool end. That should never happen again.

Only three minutes into the second half and Cole gave the ball on the half way line and Thomas Ince (so of Paul) ran into the penalty area and slotted the ball home diagonally past Rob Green. Terrible defending. Ince got loads of boos, which I thought was a bit off. It’s not justified to visit the sins of the father on his son, but there you go. This started a purple patch for Blackpool and they could easily have had a couple more goals. But they didn’t and that’s the main thing. We weathered a prolonged storm and it was only when we reached the 70th minute that we gradually got back into it. I looked at the clock.Eighty One minutes. “If we get one now, we’ll win this,” I thought to mysef, having previously been convinced that Blackpool were going to win through. Julien Faubert hit a screamer of a volley which hit the bar. Come on You Irons, And then he did it. Ricardo Vaz Te hit a rebound high into the net and that was it. Apart from a very marginal penalty appeal, Blackpool never looked like scoring. We did the professional thing and kept the ball well. Eventually, after a totally unjusified 4 minutes of injury time the whistle went, and the party started. Winning promotion via the playoffs probably means more than automatic promotion. Neither Reading nor Southampton had a party like ours in full view of a national TV audience, let alone in front of 78,000 people. It really did feel like winning the cup. Carlton Cole reacted like he won the lottery – and perhaps he has. It clearly meant a lot to him. After the presentations, he led the jollifications on the pitch. Onne slightly jarring note was the way Ricardo Vaz Te didn’t join in and headed straight down the tunnel on his own. I’m not quite sure what to read into that. The other players stayed on the pitch for a good 20 minutes after he disappeared.

By this stage I had shouted myself hoarse, which is not a good thing when you have to present a three hour radio show in the morning. Anyway, we went back to the resturant for a few drinks and a bit more food before I managed to have a very loud disagreement with a Jobsworh Wembley steward who wouldn’t let us eave the stadium on the same level as the Bobby Moore statue. I explained that I couldn’t expect my 82 year old Dad to walk up two lots of very long stairs again. He still wouldn’t open the door and let us out, so I am afraid the Dale temper was on full display. An unpleasant end to a fantastic Wembley experience. We eventually got to the waiting car and I waived off my Dad and his friends back to Essex, while I queued for the tube to get into central London.

And of course there are now so many questions. What effect will our promotion have on our planned Olympic Stadium move? Which players will leave? Who will Sam want to sign? How much are season tickets going to rise to? All those questions are for the next few weeks. For now, let’s bask in the glory of today and revel in the victory. But let’s also empathise with Blackpool. They have the makings of a really good team. They play great football and they gave us a real game today.

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Attorney Drops Hain & Biteback Contempt Prosecution

17 May 2012 at 18:47

HAIN AND DALE WELCOMEVICTORY FOR FREE SPEECH AS NORTHERN IRELAND ATTORNEY GENERAL DROPS PROSECUTION FOR ’SCANDALISING’ JUDGE

After the decision today of the Northern Ireland Attorney General to drop his pending prosecution of the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Peter Hain MP and the Managing Director of Biteback Publishing Iain Dale, they said in a joint statement:

’This is a victory for freedom of speech. In September we will be publishing the paperback edition of Outside In without changing in any way the section that gave offence to some in the Northern Ireland judiciary.

’We were fully prepared to take the case all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary and our lawyers were confident of the outcome. But, after the astonishing decision to bring the prosecution, we are delighted that common sense has prevailed and that taxpayers have been saved a great deal of money in legal fees. The Attorney General said in court today that “there is no public interest in pursuing this prosecution”. In our view there never has been and it should never have been brought.

’We have been deeply grateful for cross-party support from nearly 150 MPs and to David Davis MP and David Blunkett MP for leading on this. There is no doubt that the near unanimous condemnation of the planned prosecution demonstrates conclusively how preciously people guard individual liberty

‘We hope that this will mark the end of any ill-judged attempt in future to prosecute for the ancient offence of “scandalising a judge” and ask that the Government and the Supreme Court consider how it can be confined permanently to history.’

UPDATE

Following a report on today’s proceedings in the High Court in Belfast, in Herald.ie, which the following was said…

Mr Larkin said that having received the letter, he no longer believed there was a risk to public confidence in the administration of justice. The Attorney General told the court: “If the matter had been qualified or explained in the way it now has and only now has, these proceedings would not have been taken.”

Biteback Publishing Managing Director Iain Dale comments…

“Without wishing to get into a public slanging match with the Attorney General his comments, as reported, are wholly inconsistent with his decision to bring contempt proceedings. Peter Hain and I have repeatedly said at all times that we did not intend to, and do not believe we did, undermine the administration of justice in Northern Ireland. It is only after months of costs and public pressure to back down that the Attorney General has done so. All we have done today is to repeat the assurances that were given to the Attorney General right at the start of this unnecessary case. It is for him to answer for the tens of thousands of pounds he has wasted by bringing this case in the first place. In my opinion his actions have done far more to damage the reputation of the Northern Ireland justice system than anything Peter Hain says in his book OUTSIDE IN”

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Top Ten Things You'd Never Hear Theresa May Say

23 Apr 2012 at 18:49

10. I must get a new diary

9. . People say we’re the Nice Party

8. Oh, forget the ECHR, we’re an independent country, just put him on the plane (I presume I can’t say Sod)

7. I like a beard on a man

6. Brodie Clark is coming to dinner

5. Tonight Matthew, I’m going to sing What A Difference a Day Makes

4. Yes, you’re quite right, I should resign.

3. Stuff your Kitten heels, give me some hobnails

2. The Home Office is officially counting down the number of sleeps till Santa

1. Abu who?

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BNP Candidate Gives Second Preference To...

20 Apr 2012 at 18:53

On Thursday night I presented my radio programme from the 24th floor of the Heron Tower, right in the heart of the City of London. It was the venue for the Sky News London mayoral debate. Little of note emerged from the debate with Boris Johnson, Ken Livingstone and Brian Paddick seeming to go through the motions. After the main debate I had to interview the BNP candidate, Carlos Cortiglia. Mr Cortiglia has a very strong accent and hails from Uruguay. He is indeed a British citizen, but listening to him utter the phrase ‘British jobs for British workers’ inevitably raises a few eyebrows and sniggers.

In some ways he is clever choice by the BNP. He’s not the stereotypical BNP candidate by any means and has a good line in amiable banter. I asked him on air what his main policy was and he told me it was to improve the planning system. Er, right, that should get the voters flocking to the BNP.

Off air he tried to convince me that the BNP was a centrist party. He said some people think it’s extreme right, others say it is extreme left, so therefore it must be somewhere in the middle, making it is centrist party. “Good luck with that argument,” I said.

He then sought to convince me that he had some quite left wing views and quoted his devotion to public transport, and Ken Livingstone’s low fares policy as proof. “So who are you going to give your second preference to? I asked. Without blinking he said “Ken Livingstone.” Well knock me down with the proverbial feather. I suspect Ken wouldn’t welcome that particular endorsement.

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Saturday Diary: A Chance for Nick Clegg to Put His Foot Down

7 Apr 2012 at 18:55

  • The government has got itself into yet another unholy tangle this week over secret courts and surveillance powers. I have never quite understood why it is that when opposition politicians get into power, they almost immediately become authoritarian and fans of increasing government powers. Take David Blunkett. When he was a left of centre firebrand in the 1980s and an opposition Labour MP in the 1990s he was a devout defender of civil liberties. And yet he went on to become the most authoritarian Home Secretary in living memory. In opposition David Cameron firmly opposed Labour’s proposals on pre trial detension for Terror suspects. He opposed Jacqui Smith’s plans to create a giant database containing details of every phone call we make, every text message we send, every website we visit and every email we send. And yet this week he made clear he intends to introduce a virtually identical scheme. All in the interests of national security, naturally. I am sure the Police and the security services have put up many arguments for increasing their powers, but it is the job of politicians to resist them, not meekly accept everything they ever say. I am fully in favour of surveillance by whatever means of terror suspects, But I will never accept that the State has a right to know who I am texting, which websites I visit or who I call. It is frankly nobody’s business but mine. The government’s plans mean that they will have all this information, although to be fair there would need to be a warrant issued to access the content. If this legislation were introduced in a country like China or Iran we would be the first to denounce it, as a limit of the freedom of the individual.

For Nick Clegg, this offers him a unique chance to put his foot down. If the Liberal Democrats can’t resist this sort of authoritarian legislation you have to ask what on earth they are there for. As a Conservative civil libertarian I could not possibly vote for these proposals. I wonder if Liberal Democrat MPs will have the courage of their convictions and not just say the same, but vote against it. If they don’t they will have lost any semblance of credibility that they still have

  • Ken Livingstone may have lost the London mayoral election this week. His contortions on tax have lost him the support of many of his own party workers. Several Labour activists have said to me they cannot bring themselves to campaign for a man they regard as a tax dodger. Having challenged Boris Johnson and the other candidates to release their tax returns he has failed to do the same himself. Livingstone relied on his control of the London Labour machine to get selected again as Labour’s mayoral candidate and he has relied on his cheeky chappy image to court popularity with the electorate. But if he is to overcome this latest blast of adverse publicity he’ll need more than that. Labour Party officials are tearing their hair out – or going on holiday. It was revealed this week that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicholl, is taking a two week skiing holiday slap bang in the middle of the local election campaign. Labour staffers are in uproar. All this is hugely relevant, because if Labour loses in the mayoral election and does badly in the local elections, there could be dire consequences for Labour leader Ed Miliband. Unlike the Tories, Labour is never good at stabbing their leaders in the front, but this time may be different.
  • This week I received my author copies of my new history of Norwich City. Any authors among you will know that feel of excitement when you see your book for the first time. It’s not quite akin to giving birth, but you know what I mean. The book NORWICH CITY: WHEN FOOTBALL WAS FOOTBALL is an illustrated history of the club from its formation right through until the UEFA Cup run in the mid 1990s. You’ll be reading more about it in the EDP in the next fortnight, and Canaries supporter Ed Balls will be reviewing it. And I will be signing copies in Jarrold’s in Norwich on 12 May, the day before City’s last game of the season.
  • On my LBC show on Thursday night I covered the issue of carers and why we, as society, don’t seem to value them in the way we should. There are six million of us who care for loved ones and yet for many people, they feel utterly isolated and on their own. Some are too proud to ask for help. Some don’t even know there is help available. The voluntary sector does a fantastic job in helping provide respite care. I well remember the superb work done by BREAK which I saw first hand when I fought the North Norfolk seat. I talked to a lady on the programme last night whose husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour only six months after they had met. She has spent the last nine years as a full time carer. She doesn’t regret a single moment, and yet she only gets about three hours a week of “me time”. Could any of us honestly say we could cope with such a life. But she’s driven by love for her husband, all the time knowing that their lives will never be what they had once both hoped for. Carers are the unsung heroes of our society and we should all do more to acknowledge that.
  • This article appears in today’s Eastern Daily Press.

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Where's Andy Coulson When You Need Him?

1 Apr 2012 at 18:57

“Where’s Andy Coulson when you need him “ joked one Tory MP to me yesterday. At least I think he was joking. Yes, it’s got that bad. Downing Street has, at times, seemed rudderless over the last ten days, as it has been buffeted by various political squalls, which, added together have led political commentators to dub the post budget period as the worst political week of David Cameron’s life. Since the last one, I suppose. But Andy Coulson would know what to do. He’d know how to get a recalcitrant press back on side. Just as importantly, he would have also spotted the dangers of the Granny Tax and ‘Pastygate’.

On the face of it, the row over VAT on pasties is a ridiculous little spat over nothing very much. After all, fish and chips already attract VAT. Why didn’t people complain about the imposition of VAT on Rotisserie chickens? Answer: Because they’re seen as a bit posh.

We all know that reality isn’t as important as perception, especially in the grubby world of knockabout party politics. And the perception has grown that too many of the Tory frontbench are from another world – a world without pasties but a world full of foie gras. But there’s another row on the horizon, the imposition of VAT on static caravans. I am told it will raise £40 million but will result in losses to the exchequer of £45 million. Seriously.

It’s all very well clearing up tax anomalies, but if you’re going to annoy hundreds of thousands of people and take in less money, is it really worth the aggro? Would George Osborne even know what a static caravan was, and what it was for? The impression given this week by the Chancellor was of someone out of touch, flailing around and of someone who really thought this was all rather beneath him.

Add to this the shambles in communications over the tanker drivers’ strike and the backwash from the party funding scandal and you have a toxic cocktail of political battles.

I yield to few in my admiration of Francis Maude, a man who has been at the centre of the drive to modernise and detoxify the Tory Party, but I think even he would have to admit that this week hasn’t been his finest hour.

At the beginning of the week he argued that the PM need not reveal who he had entertained at Downing Street on the basis that his donor tete a tetes were “kitchen suppers”. In an instant he reinforced the image of incredible poshness. After all, who uses the word ‘supper’ nowadays, apart from the Downton classes? And the very phrase belies an assumption that you have a kitchen large enough to entertain in.

This impression of otherworldliness cannot be allowed to take hold and Tory backbenchers are well aware of it. To allege that they are in insurrection mode might be overstating the case, but even loyalist MPs are concerned. They worry that the prospect of an outright victory at the next election is slipping away. They had just about come to terms with the fact that most of them hadn’t got jobs in government. Now they are worrying that they won’t have a job in Parliament after 2015.

A rebellious parliamentary party is something any Tory leader must avoid at all costs. Ask Margaret Thatcher. Ask John Major. Ask IDS. The consequences can be calamitous.

Since 2005 George Osborne has built up a reputation as a formidable political strategist. Tory MPs are now beginning to question this accolade. They point to the fact that he was a key advisor to William Hague, he was one of the people who briefed Iain Duncan Smith for PMQs. They remind you that he was Michael Howard’s election strategist and then performed the same task for David Cameron. On neither occasion did his campaigns bring ultimate victory. It was he, it is said, who insisted that the European Referendum vote in the House of Commons was whipped. And it was he who failed to spot the political dangers in alienating Britain’s pensioners over the so-called ‘Granny Tax’. The fact that on this issue he has right on his side isn’t relevant. The last thing you want on the evening of your budget is the Director Saga on the airwaves denouncing your plans and accusing you of raiding pensions. If there were a share market in ‘Osbornes’, it would have lost half its value over the last ten days.

The one saving grace for Cameron is that Ed Miliband keeps missing open goals. This week he appeared at a branch of Greggs alongside Ed Balls, where they proceeded to buy 8 sausage rolls. Not pasties, we note. Miliband looked like he had never visited such an establishment before.

Many Tories believe that if Miliband has Alastair Campbell on his team, the Tories would be in real trouble. They think back to the latter years of the Major government when Campbell skilfully mixed a potion of sleaze out of Tory sex scandals and general fat-cattery. The charge stuck and Major ever recovered. Miliband’s team need to constantly ask: “What would Alastair do?” and then get on and do it.

All governments go through tough mid term patches and it was inevitable this one would too. It was also inevitable that at the same time the Liberal Democrats would run for cover. And true to form they have. Watching Sarah Teather on Question Time on Thursday twice protest that she couldn’t comment on much because “I am a government minister” left most of the audience incredulous. The LibDems are behaving as egoists fighting their own corner, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This has been historically true of a ‘factional’ party going right back to the days of the Whigs.

So, what should the Tories do? Firstly, they should acknowledge they have no one who seems to be able to deal newspapers in the way that Andy Coulson used to. His replacement, Craig Oliver, is adept at creating broadcasting opportunities, but many Tory MPs are frustrated that this ability doesn’t seem to transfer to the print media.

Secondly, the Prime Minister should bring forward his long awaited reshuffle. It is to Cameron’s credit that he doesn’t constantly chop and change his ministerial team, but it is self-evident that it needs freshening up. He needs to think very carefully who he promotes. People have had enough of the former special adviser clones. David Davis and Mark Pritchard were right this week when they called for the Tories to look more like the country which elects them – less of the posh gobs, more horny handed sons and daughters of toil. Expect to hear much more from the likes of Roads Minister, Mike Penning, Therese Coffey, Nick de Bois, Tracey Crouch, Alec Shelbrooke and Jessica Lee.

It is no coincidence that the very moment the PM’s closest strategic adviser Steve Hilton quits, is the very time things start to go wrong. Furthermore, David Cameron needs to clip the wings of Jeremy Heywood, who, it seems can do no wrong in his eyes. Heywood’s political antennae are not as acute as they could be but with the departure of Coulson and Hilton he reigns supreme in Downing Street. He now needs to be counterbalanced by a top level political appointment in the mould of Alastair Campbell – someone with a political brain who’s also a bit of a bruiser – and someone who won’t be afraid to say ‘No, Prime Minister’.

This government is at a turning point. It is crucial that the Prime Minister gets a grip. The next election can still be won, but the personnel decisions David Cameron makes in the next few months could well determine whether it will be.

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Iain Hosts a Phonein on Downs Syndrome

Very emotional discussion

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Radio

And in a Packed Programme This Morning...

1 Apr 2012 at 18:56

Starting a new radio show is always a bit daunting, even when you’ve been doing one for a year and a half. Doubly so when you are taking over a slot previously inhabited by two friends. This morning I broadcast my first show in the 10am-1pm slot on LBC 97.3, having taken over from Andrew Pierce and Kevin Maguire. When the LBC management asked me to do this show we both agreed on one main thing – that it would be different to my weekday evening show. It had to be or there was little point in me dropping Friday nights to do Sunday mornings. Bang goes the weekend!

Currently there is very little competition in the political field on the radio on Sunday mornings. Five Live has Double Take, but that finishes at 11. After Broadcasting House at 9, there’s little for current affairs fanatics on Sunday mornings on Radio 4. So I think there is a real opportunity to make my Sunday morning show a real destination for all the people who may watch Andrew Marr and Andrew Neil but have little to entertain them in between on the radio.

LBC is known for its phone-ins and we certainly want our audience to remain a big part of our show. But we also want to introduce a bit of humour and quirkiness into the format. Older readers may remember that I used to deputise for Andrew Pierce on 5 Live’s Sunday Service ten or so years ago – presented by Fi Glover, still the best female radio presenter in the UK in my opinion. That show managed to make politics accessible and entertaining, something which most radio productions have struggled with ever since. It’s too easy to fall for gimmickry and rudery and go for the lowest common denominator. I give you the 10 O’Clock Show on Channel 4 as evidence. OK, it’s TV, but you know what I mean.

We also want to use the LBC website to offer our listeners something extra. Today Julian Fellowes was our first guest. I pre-recorded the interview and we used about half of it on the programme but have made the whole thing on the net, HERE. So we didn’t use the stuff about the Titanic on air, but for those interested it is available online.

Similarly, our package on Ed Balls was 10 minutes long and included an interview with the charity he is running the London Marathon for. We couldn’t use it all on air, so we put it all online. Listeners are now getting used to listening to more online, and this enables them to get more value out of the parts of the programme they really like. Listen to the full Ed Balls package HERE.

Sunday morning radio and TV shows always want to get a bit of a scoop and make the odd headline or two. So when I saw Ed Staite’s blog on Friday about the sting operation I asked him if he’d like to come on to talk about the experience. He agreed to do so and decided to talk exclusively to us and turn down Sky and 5 Live. Bosses very pleased. And the interview provided a fascinating insight for listeners into how the media works. Or shouldn’t work. Listen to the Ed Staite interview HERE.

At 11 we talked to Adam Boulton about the politics of populism, which was really an excuse to look back on the week in politics before we then looked forward to the week ahead with LBC’s political correspondent Tom Cheal and Olly Mann, who will be playing a big role in the show in forthcoming weeks, I hope.

At 11.30 we introduced a feature which could have gone rather awry, but it seems to have gone very well. I’m a big fan of David Letterman style Top Ten Lists and wanted to think of a way of introducing them into the programme, so I hit on a format of offering advice to someone in the news. So this week’s victim was George Galloway. I’ll reproduce it here, but you have to imagine it being played out over the song ‘Respect Yourself’.

Top Ten Pieces of Advice from LBC 97.3 to George Galloway

Get the name of your constituency right. Not all northern towns begin with B Watch your twitter account for ‘hackers’ Stay away from foreign dictators. Especially ones with big moustaches Don’t get a cat. But if you do, be sure to call it Rula Don’t wear red lycra at PMQs Avoid words like indefatigable Don’t walk out of interviews. It ain’t clever and it ain’t funny Ditch the Scottish accent. Learn to speak West Yorkshire. Sit with the LibDems in the House of Commons. It will confuse them. Repeat after yourself: Respect is a two way thing

We then had a quick chat with David Cameron’s personal trainer, Matt Roberts, who almost succeeded in persuading me I really need to get more exercise or I’m going to die.

And at 11.45 we launched our bid to find Britain’s cleverest politician. Tom Harris came into the studio and did reasonably well (Listen HERE) to get 26 points out of a possible 50. We’ll be putting up a league table on the website in future weeks, not that we’re copying Jeremy Clarkson’s Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. Oh no. Never let it be said. I’m now thinking about who to get on next week. Ideas?

Our final hour, it has to be said, was very atypical of what we’ll be doing in subsequent weeks. We decided to do an hour on the Falklands. We had Sukey Cameron from the Falkland Islands Government Office in London in the studio, along with Michael Nicholson, one of the two TV reporters who sailed with the Task Force. We also talked to Major General Julian Thompson, Rick Jolly, Alan West, captain of HMS Ardent and then went live to Port Stanley to talk to fur Falkland Islanders. The hour flew by. In all honesty we had too many guests, but they were all very informative and entertaining. Listen HERE.

And so ended a very full three hours. Reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive but whenever there’s change there will be people who hanker after what they were used to.

And so the planning for next week begins!

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LBC 97.3: Tom Swarbrick with an Amusing Take on Obama's Inauguration

LBC reporter Tom Swarbrick wonders which US President sounds like the Thunderbirds narrator. Prepare to be amused.

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UK Politics

We Need an Apology, Transparency & Immediate Reform of Party Funding

25 Mar 2012 at 18:58

In this country we like to think of our political system as being relatively free from the sort of corruption you often read about elsewhere. But the truth is, where money is concerned, there will always be a perception of wrongdoing even if there is none. If you want to make two and two equal five when you see six figure sums donated to political parties it’s easy to do so. Surely, you think, if someone donates that sum of money, they must want something in return? And if so, what is it? There are three sorts of political donors – those who want access to politics to influence policy, those who just want to ‘starfuck’ and be seen in the company of powerful people, and then there are the genuine philanthropists. In my experience they are by far the largest group, but when scandals like this one break, they are the ones who are unfortunately caught in the backwash.

Let there be no mistake, the Cruddas resignation is a political scandal of the first degree. For the Tory Party treasurer to be caught on video offering access to the Prime Minister is something even the most accomplished Tory spin doctor will find difficult to explain their way out of. And nor should they try. A bit of humility is what is called for here, not bluster.

The words used by Peter Cruddas in the Sunday Times video indicate that the same kind of culture on fundraising operates in today’s Conservative Party that operated in New Labour when Lord Levy was chief fundraiser. I say that not to make a partisan political point, but as a statement of fact. We remember the transcripts of conversations between Lord Levy and potential Labour fundraisers, where he appeared to offer access and preferment. The same thing is happening here. You’d think they would learn, wouldn’t you?

Let’s not kid ourselves that this sort of thing hasn’t been going on for decades in one form or another. I remember nearly ten years ago when David Davis was sacked as Tory Party chairman by Iain Duncan Smith. Much of the reason was that he wouldn’t play ball over meeting potential donors who were ‘after something’. There were terrible rows between him and the party treasurers at the time and he paid the price with his job. I remember furious rows not that long ago when the Tories were in opposition when David Cameron instructed his Shadow Ministers to raise funds to pay for their research staff themselves. Many objected, but as far as I know only one refused. Why did they object? Because they felt that it smelt wrong. That they could be accused of offering access for funding. Whatever the facts of it were, it looked dodgy. Perception, as I say, is everything.

Possibly the most damaging allegation made in the Sunday Times article is this…

There was still one problem, however. The proposed donation was being paid from a Liechtenstein fund and belonged ultimately to Middle Eastern investors. It was a foreign donation. Cruddas was happy for the reporters to find a way around this and said he’d arrange a meeting with the party’s “compliance people” to check that it was legitimate. One option was to create a UK company to donate the money. He said: “Set up a company, employ some people to work here.” Later, though, the reporters’ lobbyist spoke to party officials and returned. As the reporters, posing as executives, were British, the money could be channelled through them. “[The company] would have to donate through an individual (perhaps a director of the company) who is registered on the UK electoral roll,” Southern wrote. She later claimed on the phone: “[The party] don’t pry as to where the money comes from, at all.”

This is Michael Brown territory and in my opinion is tantamount to encouraging someone to break the law. It would not surprise me at all if the Police didn’t look into this.

We can all point to examples in all parties and point out funding scandals. The LibDems and Michael Brown is the most infamous example, and they also have their Access to Clegg dinners, advertised in PR Week last April. The Labour Party is quite open about the fact that its policies are heavily influenced by the very trade unions which provide 90% of their funding. And just how much did the Labour Party get from Assem Allam to persuade Ed Miliband to back out of attending an NHS rally (pretending he was ill) in order to be driven in Allam’s Rolls Royce to attend a football match at the Allam owned KC Stadium in Hull? But all this is rather beside the point. We all know party funding stinks in this country but no one seems to be doing an awful lot about it.

As Andrew Pierce has just said on LBC, let’s not kid ourselves. There are dozens of members of the House of Lords who are there purely because of the amount of money that they have donated to political parties. Yes, they cite their business careers and contribution to charitable causes as the real reason for their elevation to the peerage, but we all know the truth. They come from all parties. It stinks, and always has done, and while there are fewer of them now than there used to be, there are still too many.

So let’s look to the future. What should happen now? Out of threats come opportunities for those farsighted enough to grasp them. Cameron did that in spades over MP expenses. He grasped the initiative and was the party leader who was seen by the public to ‘do something’. This scandal offers the same opportunity to Nick Clegg. Or at least it would do were he not heading for foreign climes for a summit on something or other in the Far East. The LibDems have a policy of introducing maximum political donations of £10,000. The Tories have a similar policy – but want to set the limit at £50,000. Labour agree on the £50,000 limit but are insistent that it must not apply to trade unions. What a surprise. And it is for that reason that cross party talks failed in 2009.

If Clegg or Cameron wish to take the high ground on this issue, all they have to do is unilaterally apply their own propose policy to their own parties. Now. They don’t need legislation to do so. They can just do it.

And they should. Now. And the electorate will then draw their own conclusions if Ed Miliband doesn’t follow suit.

David Cameron predicted this scandal. It is natural to therefore ask why, therefore, has he done nothing to prevent it occurring? It simply won’t wash to say that the appointment of Tory Party Treasurer was ‘nothing to do with me, guv’. Even if it were true, no one would believe it. And if it wasn’t anything to do with the Party leader, who ‘headhunted’ Mr Cruddas and who set out the parameters of what he was supposed to do? It can only have been Andrew Feldman or Sayeeda Warsi, I would have thought. It seems most likely to have been Feldman.

We now need transparency. After all, as someone once said, transparency is the best form of disinfectant, is it not? We need to know what marching orders Peter Cruddas was given and by whom. We need to know which major donors have met senior Ministers for dinner, or otherwise, and when, and what proposals have indeed been passed on to Downing Street from major donors by Conservative Central Office.

If we don’t get those details people will assume the worst.

Oh, and a fullsome apology from the Prime Minister wouldn’t go amiss, either.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale Challenges a Caller Who Thinks People Choose to be Gay

Mosad from Golders Green called Iain's programme to talk about gay marriage. He suggested that people choose to be gay. He got more than he bargained for in return...

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