My Any Questions Experience (3)

3 Sep 2011 at 20:45

Yesterday I made my third appearance on Any Questions. The old saying that once you have done something once it’s easer the second or third time doesn’t really apply to Any Questions, as there is so much scope to make a complete tit of yourself. One stupid answer to a question, one remark that you think is clever but which falls flat can ruin an otherwise reasonable performance. So it’s one of the few things I get nervous about doing. I get less nervous about being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman than I do about going on Any Questions. But maybe that’s a good thing.

I am a firm believer that too much preparation for a programme like this can be a very bad thing. If you are overprepared it can make you seem very flat and a little boring. But on the other hand, if you wing it, it’s also a rather dangerous thing to do. While it is true that the panel don’t know the questions in advance, you’d have to be a bit of a fool if you couldn’t guess at least half the subjects what will come up. Last night I got them all right, apart from one, so that wasn’t a bad strike rate. Last year I only guessed half. Indeed, the one which I didn’t guess (planning) last night, I felt was one of my stronger answers, so maybe there’s a lesson there.

My first mistake yesterday was to drive myself to Somerton. I had been up since 5am, as I have been presenting LBC’s breakfast show all week. I was already knackered having only had four hours sleep on Wednesday night. My own stupid fault, as I had forgotten to cancel my regular Wednesday night appearance on the Sky News paper review. So by mid morning on Friday I wasn’t exactly feeling my best -and a business meeting on Friday morning went on far longer than anticipated so my preparation time was cut to the bone. In the end I ended up leaving for Somerton an hour later than intended, and then it was the turn of the A303 to scupper my plans to have tea with some friends in nearby Langport. In the end I arrived at the pub in Somerton (the White Hart) where the panellists were to meet for dinner at 5.30. So, half an hour to prepare for the fifteen subjects I figured might well come up. Hey ho. David Davis rung. “What should I say about control orders,” I asked, wondering if his view (guess!) would coincide with what I intended to say if it came up. In the end it didn’t.

So, 6pm and I walk over to the White Hart. No one is expecting us. Surely to God I hadn’t got the wrong pub. I walk back to the car to check. No, this is the right one. Eventually, Polly, one of the AQ production team turns up, followed ten minutes later by my fellow panellists, Joan Bakewell, Norman Lamont and John Kampfner, and stand in presenter Martha Kearney. We ordered a meal and while Martha went off to talk to the producers we all tried to guess what the questions were likely to be. Jonathan Dimbleby always tries to put a stop to such discussions! We were all obsessed about not being able to answer the funny question.

Anyway, around 7.25 the driver came to get us to ferry us to the community centre, where the audience were already being warmed up. I hadn’t met Joan Bakewell before, but she seemed very nice. I hadn’t realised she was a Labour peer – I’d assumed she was a cross bencher. She certainly didn’t seem very party political. It’s quite difficult being on the same panel as a national treasure and I certainly knew I wouldn’t be able to launch any exocets at her as the audience would instantly be turned against me!

I knew John Kampfner quite well and had met Norman Lamont a few times. He’s a very entertaining individual and we all seemed to hit it off very well. In fact I’m not sure whether these dinners are necessarily a good thing. It’s quite hard to be confrontational with people you’ve got on quite well with over dinner.

At about ten to eight Marthe Kearney rejoined us and was about to tell us what the warm up question would be. I implored her not to as I always find it better not to know in advance. The others agreed. We were then introduced to the audience, walking on stage one at a time. The audience seemed a friendly bunch, and the hall was packed. So at about 7.54 Martha asked for the warm up question, which I have unfortunately now forgotten! But it all seemed to go off very well.

And then it began. First question on banking, second on planning, third on the Dale Farm travellers, followed by defence cuts and then one n school discipline. And then we came to the final question: What stupid things did the panel do in their youth. My mind went completely blank and I prayed Martha wouldn’t come to me first. She didn’t. I had thought I would talk abut driving a combine harvester, unsupervised, at the age of eight, but right at the last second I changed my mind and talked about being in the Making Your Mind Up Bucks Fizz video we made with Total Politics last year. Got a good laugh.

The only subject which I hadn’t really prepared for was on the government’s plans to relax planning regulations. I’m afraid I did resort to shameless populism by calling local planners “quasi dictators”. It got the biggest cheer of the night from the audience. I didn’t know it at the time but there are some big planning related controversies in Somerton!

I’ll leave it up to you, if you were listening, to judge how I did. Of the three times I’ve been on the programme I certainly felt more comfortable about how I’d done at the end of this one than the other two. That’s all I’ll say! There were no real spats and I guess some people felt we all agreed with each other a little too much. Joan and I had a bit of a contretemps over the travellers, but that was really the only bit of controversy. It was the same last year, when I was on with Deborah Mattinson, Matthew Taylor and a businessman called Adrian Fawcett. I’m just too consensual!



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How I Made a Twat of Myself on Twitter

22 Aug 2011 at 20:49

It’s never nice to have to acknowledge you’ve made a bit of a dick of yourself. But I did just that last night. And all over a stupid tweet. Yes, my rather idiotic words became the centre of a rather unattractive twitter storm. I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. I even ‘trended’ in Dublin, I’ll have you know. So, what caused this to happen. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Like most of you, I suspect, I was avidly following developments in Libya during the course of the evening. Sky News’s coverage was superb, with Steve Dixon anchoring it in London and the fearless Alex Crawford travelling with the rebels (a la John Simpson) into the centre of Tripoli. Gripping TV. And then I switched over to the BBC News Channel. Oh dear, oh dear. No sense of drama, no reporter embedded with the rebels and appearing totally behind the curve. Lots of people were saying the same thing on Twitter. No one could quite understand how the BBC coverage could be quite so bad. As I said in one tweet…

Sky News is whipping the BBC’s pale white ass at the moment

The BBC didn’t even carry Moussa Ibrahim’s press conference live, yet pretended to. Everyone seemed to agree about the awfulness of the BBC’s coverage, even those who normally have no problem in faulting Sky. A few minutes later, having watched an action packed five minutes with Alex Crawford I switched over to the BBC to find the presenter talking to a reporter in a flak jacket, who was in the Media Hotel in Tripoli. The contrast was stunning. I wondered why he was in the hotel rather than out on the streets like Alex Crawford. That was where I made my big mistake. This is what I the tweeted…

Who is this wimp of a reporter on the BBC wearing a flak jacket in the hotel! Bet he’s been told he can’t go out cos of Elf ’n Safety.

And then the wrath of twitter descended on me. I might as well have said I agreed with slaughtering the first born. But it wasn’t just the usual suspects who were having a right old go – it was journalists I respect.

You can do one of two things in these circumstances. Stick to your guns or issue a rapid apology. I have been in this situation before on my old blog, and I have always taken the view that if you’re in a hole, stop digging. And if you think you’ve gone over the top or just been plain wrong, say so. Acknowledge it. Apologise and put it behind you.

The latter is easier said than done in this case, I suspect, but I withdrew the tweet (although I didn’t delete it, as I would have been accused of hiding) and then issued a total apology and took up a twitter follower’s suggestion and made a donation to the Rory Peck Trust.

I got it very wrong. In short, I fucked up. I didn’t know the circumstances of the Media Hotel and the danger the reporters there were in. I reacted too quickly, and didn’t apply my normal twitter rules.

Many people quite rightly said that if I was so happy to call this reporter a wimp, perhaps I might like to draw their attention to my own war reporting record. Ouch. I have actually been in some very dangerous places – Beirut in 1991 was one, but I freely admit that nothing I have ever done would compare to what has happened in Libya over the last few weeks.

What I did tonight was give those who already think ill of me further ammunition. So be it. They lost no time in dubbing me a cunt, a bellend, a pompous snot, a fuckpiece, a knob head, a dick, a wanker and much worse. Nothing I am not used to every day on Twitter actually and why Duncan Barkes maybe has adopted the right approach.

The thing is, I love twitter. I love its spontaneity. I love that it can make you a hero one minute and a zero the next. And tonight’s experience won’t put me off using it in the future. In general, it is a force for good, but it does have is ugly side.

What have I learned tonight? You’re only ever one tweet away from making a complete twat of yourself.

Still, it could be worse. I could be in the Big Brother house…



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Wednesday Diary: Bullshit From Paddick & Queer Blue Water

17 Aug 2011 at 20:55

  • I wish Sally Bercow well in her quest to win Celebrity Big Brother, but I fear it will all end in tears. As is well know, I like Sally and get on well with her, but she has that self destruct button which makes her very vulnerable. Her decision to hire Max Clifford as her PR man is one she will come to regret. Already he has told journalists that her husband doesn’t approve of her going on that show. Well, that will be a big help. The trouble is, whatever Sally says, she does get invited on these shows because of who she is married to whether she likes to admit it or not. And therefore, surely Mr B, as she refers to him, is entitled to have a view on what his wife does. My partner wouldn’t dream of doing anything which would impact badly on my reputation or career, and the same goes for me in return. What a pity Sally doesn’t seem to factor in the effect of her activities on her husband.
  • Last week I tweeted that I had just read the best book I think Biteback will ever have published. You wouldn’t believe the number of authors who then emailed or texted me gently enquiring if it was their particular manuscript I had been reading. The truth is that it was a book by Michael McManus called TORY PRIDE & PREJUDICE: THE CONSERVATIVES AND HOMOSEXUAL LAW REFORM. It is a truly brilliant book, which is well written, holds the reader’s attention, educates and entertains. It is also quite revelatory. I might as well admit that we have had lots of toing and froing over the title of the book. All sorts of lurid titles were suggested by my more creative colleagues. My own particular favourite was QUEER BLUE WATER, but that was felt to be a little too, er, blue. I reckon this book could be a minor best seller. Let’s face it, if all gay members of the London Conservative Party were to buy it, it would shoot into the Non Fiction Top 10!
  • Oh what fun it is, to see West Ham win away. Two away wins in two games – that hasn’t been achieved for more than five years. Which is why West Ham find themselves outside the Premier League. I can hardly believe it but I am warming to Sam Allardyce. When he used to bring his Bolton and Blackburn teams to Upton Park, I’d usually turn to my neighbour and say “thank God we don’t have to watch that every week”. Well we do now. But so far he seems to have avoided the long ball game for which he is famed. His new signings, Matthew Taylor, Joey O’Brien and Kevin Nolan have all scored in the Hammers’ first three games, and all look quality players. The season is yet young, but there is a real air of optimism at Upton Park nowadays.
  • Today I am having lunch with one of my broadcasting role models, Mr Stephen Nolan of Radio 5 Live. I think he is probably the pre-eminent talk show host of his generation, but he certainly divides opinion. You either love his style or you don’t. I do. He’s loves being on the radio during a breaking news story and I have come to learn too, that this is the best time to be on the air. You’re tested in a way that a preplanned subject can never test you. Nolan is an enthusiast and it shows in every minute of his broadcasting. I have a very different style to him, but we both love what we do. There’s no ‘right style’ in radio. You just have to be yourself. The week after next I am sitting in for Nick Ferrari on his LBC breakfast show. The very worst thing I could ever do is to try to emulate his style. You have to be yourself, and if people don’t like it, then there’s little you can do.
  • As readers may remember, we lost our Jack Russell, Gio at the beginning of July. His death left a real void in our lives. We hadn’t intended to get a new dog for a long time, but the house seems very empty. Indeed, so empty that we’ve decided to get two dogs – a Mini Schnauzer who will arrive in early September, but we also want a Jack Russell too. I wanted to get a pup from Battersea, which is where we got Gio from, but they don’t have any. Last night John went to the south coast to see a JR pup he had seen advertised on the internet. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. It turned out to be a very dirty and disgusting puppy farm on a gypsy encampment. He made his excuses and left. Today he’s going to Bedford to look at a very cute pup. We wanted to get both pups on the same day so they could bond together in the house without one trying to rule the roost. But I suspect that is going to be a pipe dream and that we will have to get one before the other.
  • It’s party conference time in just a month’s time. And I am looking forward to it. Especially as again, none of the conferences are in Blackpool. Which means beds with real sheets, rather than rubber ones, as happened to me one year. Some people might pay a lot for that, but not me. I’ll be broadcasting my LBC show from all three conferences on the Monday and Tuesday nights. On the Tuesday night of the Tory conference I am hosting an hour long In Conversation with Boris Johnson with Policy Exchange, which will go out live on LBC. What could go wrong? And yes, I’ll also be doing an hour with Ken Livingstone at Labour and an hour with, well, who knows, at the LibDem Conference. Neutrality prevents me from wishing Lembit Opik well, but it’d a laugh wouldn’t it? Brian Paddick was on my show last week during the riots and bitterly complained that he had been kept waiting half an hour. When we pointed out that taking a live statement from Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin on the riots was the reason, he had a one word response: “bullshit”. It’s that sort of charm which should make him a shoo-in.



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Mr Dale's Diary: Houses in Norfolk, Touched by Nick Clegg & My Granny's 117th Birthday

14 Aug 2011 at 20:58

  • I’m back in Norfolk this weekend searching for a cottage to buy. It’s not easy, is it, even in this economic climate? We’d like to buy a cottage on the coast, but it’s not up for auction until mid September and we can’t afford to put all our eggs in that particular basket. So yesterday was spent viewing what, on the face of it, seemed to be very promising prospects in Hevingham and Reepham. But the estate agent’s details are often not quite what they seem from the pictures. We visited one house recently which looked as if it didn’t have any properties either side. In fact it was crammed into a Brookside style estate. The estate agent’s photographer was clearly very inventive. We did in fact discover our perfect house in Wymondham. I lived in Wymondham for a year back in the 1980s. No disrespect to Wymondham or South Norfolk, but we really want to be north of Norwich as that’s where all our friends are. If only you could lift a house out of one area and easily transport it into another! In the end we put in an offer on the Trimingham property, but it is supposed to be sold at auction, so I have very little hope it will be accepted.
  • On Friday my grandmother, Constance Dale, was 117. Well, she would have been, if she hadn’t died in 1979. She was a huge influence on my life and I always think of her on her birthday. She sparked my interest in politics in my early teens. She was a rather regal figure and was known to some as the Queen Mother. She was born in 1894 and was a bit of a feminist. Had she been a teenager today she would have undoubtedly gone to university and had a glittering career. In her younger days she worked for the Post Office and then in 1922 she went to work at Wembley Stadium for a short time. She then married my grandfather, a much older man, who hailed from Ayrshire in Scotland and came down to East Anglia in the early 1920s having grown fed up of life working in the Consett steelworks. I think of her today and remember he telling me that Michael Foot was a communist and that I shouldn’t trust Labour as they always spend more money than the country can afford. Well, she was right on one thing, wasn’t she?
  • Imagine being yelled at by the Prime Minister for being 15 minutes late. Well that’s what happened to Boris Johnson when he arrived late for a Cobra meeting this week. And it was all done in front of other politicians and officials. Boris spent the rest of the meeting seething. I interviewed Boris this week for around ten minutes live on LBC. My interviewing style is less than Paxmanesque it has to be said, but I think Boris was a little surprised that I was a little bit more aggressive than normal. I’m sure I heard him say off mic “has he turned into boody Ferrari too?” The fact is that an interviewer does sometimes need to reflect the mood of his or her audience, and this week many people felt let down by the mayor. So I told him so.
  • I read in today’s Sunday Times that Robert Kilroy-Silk has published an e-novel called Betrayed. This is no doubt because he couldn’t persaude anyone to publish it conventionally. I was sent the manuscript and I have never read anything so crass and badly written. It ostensibly traces parliamentary characters through from 1974 to the present day, using real names. Bizarre wasn’t the word for it. But I do think this is going to be a new phenomenon. It only costs £100 or so to get an e-book published and I suspect it’s going to lead to some right old rubbish coming onto the market. Well, it just has.
  • There’s been some rubbish written about the riots – and most of it in The Guardian, but today Dominic Lawson has written a brilliant column in the Sunday Times taking on the apologists for the riots. He writes…
It’s true that one looter told a reporter: “It’s the government’s fault. Conservatives or something like that, yeah.” But what she seemed to mean was that she and her mates deeply resented the fact that their welfare payments couldn’t meet the cost of every item of gear they coveted, and it was therefore justifiable for them to steal the stuff.

Quite. And he ends with this horrific little tale…

Unfortunately, I was not surprised by this crass equivalence between banking and burglary. A few years ago, I wrote an article about the murder of my wife’s cousin, John Monckton, who was head of Legal & General’s bond investments. He had been knifed to death in his home by a burglar who also attempted to kill his wife in the assault. I then received a letter from a Mr Simon Malloni, which began: “While I appreciate that the loss of a friend of yours to an appalling crime is tragic, how many lives are ruined by investment bankers?” The author of this letter, who attempted to draw moral equivalence between the handiwork of the man who stabbed John to death in front of his family, and the victim’s choice of career, was at the time of writing a member of the Devon and Cornwall police authority. If such an individual is in any way typical of the sort of person to whom policemen are expected to justify their actions, we should have even more sympathy for their predicament.

I have never been in favour of elected police chiefs, but if people like this are on police authorities it makes me wonder whether I am right.

  • As a Reagan Republican I look at the growing field of Republican presidential candidates with sense of despair. Of the ten leading contenders there’s not a single one that I could vote for. Just as well I don’t have one, I suppose. At the last presidential election I ended up supporting the Democratic candidate for the first time ever and it looks as though I will do so again. The Republicans have become a nasty, quasi religious sect. They’re more interested in their own vicious social agendas against gays than developing a narrative which appeals to the whole of America. If they got their act together and realised that like Ronald Reagan did they could build a big tent they could sweep Obama out of the White House. But today’s Republican Party has forgotten the lessons Ronald Reagan taught it. And they will again suffer the consequences.
  • I hadn’t realised how tactile Nick Clegg is. I interviewed him on LBC on Monday night and he constantly kept touching my arm. Quite disconcerting when you’re trying to think of the next killer question. I’ve always liked him. He’s a risk taking politician, and nowadays they aren’t many of those left. I put it to him that I didn’t think he was enjoying the role of Deputy PM as much as David Cameron enjoys his job. He rather lamely said it wasn’t about enjoying it, which indicated to me I had a point.



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Let's Understand Less & Condemn More

13 Aug 2011 at 20:59

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the whole country is in a state of shock following the riots of the last seven days. The scenes we saw on our TV screens were ones I never thought I would see in this country. They threatened the very fabric of our society and showed just how fragile our normal way of life can be. The looting demonstrated that these were not riots with an underlying political message, they were riots motivated by pure greed, malice and avarice. Much has been written about the causes, but I think we need to understand less and condemn more.

Frankly, there is very little to understand. Most of the people involved were not impoverished. They did not live in poverty. Many of them were from good families and were clearly out for a kick. They got a buzz out of what they were doing. It became a drug. The only think we need to understand is that a generation of children have grown up without any of the normal moral values we expect parents and teachers to inculcate into them. They have little respect for anyone and there is a complete absence of fear. They don’t recognise the normal institutions of society like the church, parliament, the media or commerce. And they think the police are a joke.

Many of them haven’t had a male influence in their lives, and I don’t care what anyone says, that is one the major reasons why many young kids go off the rails. They don’t have fathers and there is an absence of male teachers in their schools. In some parts of London, 85% of families are single parent families. Don’t get me wrong. Many single parents do a fantastic job and this is not an attack on them. But our family unit has been diminished over the last few decades and this has, in part, led to a generation of almost feral youths growing up without the normal barriers in behaviour, which the rest of us respect. It is frightening that many primary school teachers say they are able to identify kids, who, at the age of seven, will probably go off the rails in their teenage years. But of course by then it is too late. The damage has been done.

SureStart was a brave attempt to attack this phenomenon but the parents who it was aimed at refuse to use it. Instead – and I know this is a generalisation – SureStart is populated by many mothers and children who don’t actually need it.

One solution, would be this. Instead of raising the school leaving age to 18, why not raise it to 17, and use the final year to take those who are not doing A Levels into a sort of boot camp. Youngsters would get the choice of a form of military service or community service. During the year they would be taught the value of community, respect for society, discipline etc. Yes, it would an expensive thing to do, and it probably wouldn’t rescue everyone, but it would bring people together from different backgrounds and allow them to discover themselves and the joys of working for the benefit of others. The government announced a small-scale scheme of community service volunteers a year ago. I suggest they should now think about massively expanding it.

  • This is part of my fortnightly column in today’s Eastern Daily Press



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Miranda Hart

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Riot Response: Is This David Cameron's Katrina Moment?

10 Aug 2011 at 21:01

My honest view is that David Cameron’s initial response to the riots was rather pathetic. So far as I know no one, not even Denis MacShane, had called for the recall of Parliament. And yet that was the headline that came out of his Downing Street speech yesterday morning. I cannot see the point of it. All it will do is provide a platform for a lot of bluster and condemnation. If he wanted to amend the law, bring back the Riot Act, give the police emergency powers, I could understand it. But that’s not what’s being proposed. Announcing the recall of Parliament gave the impression of saying “Something must be done, but I am not sure what”.

He’s not quite there yet, but this threatens to be Cameron’s Katrina moment. The moment when the people decide that a politician doesn’t get it and is completely out of touch with their own views. It’s what both Cameron and Boris Johnson are being accused of. I interviewed Boris on LBC last night and deliberately gave him a hard time. Not because he didn’t come back until yesterday, but for not appearing to recognise that police tactics hadn’t worked and for failing to define (and he’s not alone in this) what a “robust response” means. Just increasing police numbers isn’t the solution. If you take away officers from other parts of the country, expect crime to soar there. No, it’s not quantity of policing which is the key, it’s the quality of the response. And we need to understand that it is the senior Met officers who are to blame for a complete failure to respond properly, not the politicians. Politicians don’t, and shouldn’t get involved in operational matters. But it can only have been orders from the top which ordered the softly softly response, and ordered police on the front line to stand back and watch people looting. In my book, if a crime is being committed it is the police’s job to intervene and stop it. Otherwise what’s the point of them being there at all? Scenes of police officers watching a crime scene rather than preventing it is why many people have lost confidence in the police. That’s what’s got to change.

A police officer texted my LBC show last night and tried to explain the tactic. He wrote “Property can be replaced”. Try telling that to the owner of the House of Reeves furniture store in Croydon – a family owned business which had served the people of Croydon for more than 120 years. Gone. Try telling that to the restaurant owners in West London whose businesses have been ruined. Try telling that to the butcher in Tottenham who told me last night that he has £25,000 of meat which has spoiled and isn’t covered by his insurance. Try telling that to the man who rang in to tell me that car insurance policies do not cover cars which have been burnt out.

That’s what Parliament could and should debate on Thursday – how the government can help those who through no fault of their own have had their lives ruined by the thuggery that has happened over the last few days. A compensation fund should be set up to help these people get back on their feet.

Margaret Thatcher’s first response after the Brixton (or was it Toxteth?) riots was “Those poor shopkeepers”. I wonder if David Cameron will think in the same way. He should. If not, he risks the public approbrium dished out to George W Bush after he failed to understand the scale of impact on New Orleans of Hurricane Katrina. You may think that is an exaggeration. I hope it is and that Cameron now responds to the crisis in the way I always expected him to.



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Bob Marshall-Andrews

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Tottenham Riots: The Shameful Comments of a Labour MP

7 Aug 2011 at 21:11

I’ve never heard of Derby North MP Chris Williamson. But tonight he’s made a dick of himself. Apparently the disturbances in Tottenham are the government’s fault. Yep, all David Cameron’s fault. Those wicked Tories are back, he says on Twitter.

Yep, the Tories are back alright. Why is it the Tories never take responsibility for the consequences of their party’s disastrous policies. #tottenham

This came minutes after he retweeted this comment from someone he follows…

Riots. Protests. Cuts. Unemployment. Disaffected Youth. Strikes. Recession.Police Brutality.

Is that really the best he can do? Does he really think that it is the Conservatives who caused these riots? Because his colleague David Lammy, the local MP, thinks rather differently. Tonight he has made a statement on his website…

“The scenes currently taking place in our community are not representative of the vast majority of people in Tottenham. Those who remember the destructive conflicts of the past will be determined not to go back to them. We already have one grieving family in our community and further violence will not heal that pain. True justice can only follow a thorough investigation of the facts. The Tottenham community and Mark Duggan’s family and friends need to understand what happened on Thursday evening when Mark lost his life. To understand those facts, we must have calm.”

I don’t know the circumstances of the shooting. But what I do know is that politics weren’t involved. It was a police operation in which Mr Duggan was shot and killed. Chris Williamson should take a good look in the mirror tonight. I doubt whether he will like what he sees.

A second aspect of tonight’s events was the insatiable appetite of the media for immediate reaction and comment. Here’s a tweet from Guardian journalist Dave Hill, who blogs about London.

@bbc5live still unsuccessfully seeking comment from Boris & from local MP @DavidLammy. Same here. Beeb also chasing Livingstone #tottenham

YeGods, do these people not think the local MP, the Mayor of London and maybe even poor old Ken might want to gather their thoughts before saying anything? Politicians have a responsibility in these situations to say nothing until facts are known.

People have every right to protest against anything they want to, but they must do it lawfully. This protest turned into an unlawful riot. Full of violence. Full of looting. There can be no excuse for that, and no explanation.



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Why I Am Warming to Sam Allardyce

6 Aug 2011 at 21:14

If you haven’t seen the feature on West Ham and Sam Allardyce in the Evening Standard yesterday, please do click HERE and have a read. Initially, I was deeply sceptical of his appointment as West Ham manager – indeed, I was half of a mind not to renew my season ticket – but I can’t help warming to him. Everything I hear coming out of the club relating to him is positive. He seems to understand how to motivate players. They seem to relate to him. I may change my mind after Sunday, but I feel quite optimistic and positive about things at the moment. I’d still like us to sign a goalscorer and a centre back, but to my mind he has done as well as he could so far. Doesn’t this make the hairs on the back of your neck stand up?

Big Sam fills a room and he has a personality to match. If you really want to know how much of an impression he has made at Upton Park, ask some of the people who see him at work every day at the club’s training ground. Ask Shirley, who has been helping to prepare the lunches for the players ever since Trevor Brooking was in his prime. “The other day Sam walked into the restaurant when the young players were queing for their food. He shook their hands, one by one, and talked to them. It reminded me of John Lyall,” she says. Ask Jimmy, who has been helping out with the coaching as long as anyone can remember. “Sam reminds me of John,” he says. “He’s a football person, he has football values and he treats people the right way.”

Allardyce has also spoken about his reasons for leaving Bolton. At least it shows he is ambitious. And he’s done a very long interview with Jeremy Wilson in tomorrow’s Telegraph. Fantastic stuff. I know, I know, I’m weakening… And there’s another long interview in the Daily Mail. Big Sam sure knows how to give good interview.

And finally, the club have posted a transcript of Allardyce’s pre match Friday press conference. Well worth a scaz. For me, this was the most revealing answer…

Where are you going to sit? Not quite sure yet. I will eventually always sit in the stand but whether I consider that to be the best place on Sunday I haven’t quite got my gut feeling yet. Probably on Saturday I will sit and think about it and should I go there right from the start or on the bench and get a feel for it. There is a better feel on the bench but there is no tactical awareness that you can see. We can all pretend we can as managers but realistically when you sit above you see the whole plan of the game very comfortably and of course your emotions don’t run as high.

I have never understood why managers always sit in the dugout. It’s impossble to get a full perspective of the game, so if he wants to sit in the stand for the first half, we ought to welcome that.

  • This is an edited version of an article which first appeared on West Ham Till I Die.



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Thursday Diary: Notes From Norfolk

4 Aug 2011 at 21:32


I am so looking forward to this week. We’re staying with friends, Keith & Pepi Simpson, in Reepham. It’s meant to be a bit of a holiday but seeing as we’re househunting in Norfolk and I also have to spend a day in the EDP archives researching my new book on Norwich City FC’s history, it will be more like a busman’s holiday. It will be fantastic to see lots of old friends and revisit some old North Norfolk haunts. Rarely does a week go by without me yearning for the day when I can move back to Norfolk permanently. You can take the boy out of Norfolk, but you can’t take Norfolk out of the boy.

Talking of which, we spent much of yesterday afternoon looking for properties in local estate agents in Cromer and North Walsham. To my utter delight and surprise we found a cottage for sale in the village of Swanton Abbott, the very same village I lived in from 2003-2005. And this cottage is only 100 yards away from my old one. I’d dearly love to buy back my old cottage but the new owners have ruined it by adding an extension on the back. Vandalism. We’re going to look at the new one on Tuesday. I just hope it lives up to expectations. The only drawback is the massive size of the garden. You won’t be surprised to know what my fingers are not very green.

Saturday night was spent in the Ostrich pub in Castle Acre with Gillian Shephard, her husband Tom, Lord & Lady Hennessy and my colleague from Biteback Publishing, Sean Magee. We were celebrating the publication of Gillian’s book, KNAPTON (which you can read more about HERE.). The evening ended in a rather bizarre way with Peter Hennessy and I serenading the pub with our rather out of tune version of I’M FOREVER BLOWING BUBBLES’. You see, Hennessy is a fellow West Ham sufferer, I mean supporter.


This afternoon we went to see our friends Bert and Sylvia in Overstrand, a small village a couple of miles along the coast from Cromer. They will always have a special place in my hearts as they were the ones who put me up for the first two months after I was selected as candidate in North Norfolk in 2003. They had a delightful house in Roughton (where I am told John Hurt now resides) and I loved living with them. Bert is suffering from bad health now, which is such a shame for such a wonderfully bombastic Texan. Sylvia is a real North Norfolk hero. She’s wonderfully vivacious, and has a very cheeky glint in her eye. John and I will always be in their debt for the wonderful support and friendship they gave us.

We then went to visit another old friend, Eve Collishaw, at her North Norfolk hideaway in Trimingham. She used to be both a Norfolk county councillor and a Norwich city councillor, but is now retired. She told us she’s selling up. The glint in Simmo’s eye had to be seen to be believed. It really is an amazing property. It’s a wooden structure, so totally unmortgageable, but its situation is astonishing, I reckon it has one of the best views in Norfolk. I wonder…


Well, we went to look at the Swanton Abbott house. Simmo loved it, I didn’t. The garden was huge, but the rooms were incredibly small. In any case, half an hour later we got a call from agent to tell us they had had four offers on it and it had no sold. And they say the housing market is static!

We really want to buy the place in Trimingham, but how can we finance it? We go back for another look. Eve wasn’t there but we have a mooch round the outbuildings and take some photos.

In the evening we went for a pub lunch at the Cross Keys in Smallburgh, near North Walsham, with James Carswell, my erstwhile campaign assistant inthe 2005 election. He’s now a county councillor and cabinet member for Culture, media and choirboys. At least, that’s what I think he said. Suffice to say we had a reet laff.


We decided to go into Norwich to pick up a painting I had bought several weeks ago, having seen it in the EDP. It’s by a North Norfolk artist called Cornelia Fitzroy. In a way, I was dreading it. What if I didn’t like it ‘in the flesh’? I needn’t have worried. THe colours are less vivid than they were in the paper, but maybe that’s a good thing. On the way back to Reepham, we called in to see Deborah & Mike Slattery at their home on the outskirts of north Norwich. Deborah used to be a Conservative Party agent and she was my campaign manager in 2005. That evening we had dinner at the Kings Arms pub in the market square in Reepham with Keith Simpson. We sat outside as it was so hot. Anyone who knows the market square will know what a wonderful place it is. You can imagine you’re back in the 1940s or 1950s.


I spent most of the day at the Eastern Daily Press researching my new book on Norwich City. I discovered some fabulous photos so it was time well spent. The book will appear next spring. We then paid a final visit to Eve to discuss the Trimingham house. It looks like she intends to put it in an auction, which will probably blow us out of the water. Oh well, it was a nice though while it lasted.

We decided to call in on my parents in Saffron Walden on the way home to Tunbridge Wells. My mum likes surprises. My father wasn’t hapy as his combine harvester had broken down. Again. And as soon as we arrived it poured with rain, along with some spectacular thunder and lightning.

We finally made it home around 11.30pm. To a very empty house, devoid of canine woofings. Not for much longer though.



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UK Politics

How Can You Be Pro Life & Be In Favour of the Death Penalty (Or Vice Versa)

4 Aug 2011 at 21:20

The death penalty is one of those rare issues I find it quite possibly to argue from either side. My conservative heart finds no problem in believing in ‘an eye for an eye’, but my more liberal head finds the barbarity of it repulsive. I do think it acts as a deterrent – just look at the murder figures in this country in the years either side of abolition. Unfortunately the category of ‘capital murder’ was abolished in the late 1960s so comparisons now are hard to make.

But the fact is, that occasionally, the wrong people are hung. Years later, it emerges that in fact the person who was hanged turned out to be innocent after all. But it’s too late. So I could never accept that the death penalty should be available to a judge for any murder, which is what many people seem to argue for. I can, however, see an argument for it being available for multiple murders, where the murderer’s DNA is used as proof that he or she is guilt on each occasion. I can also see an argument for the death penalty being used for terrorists or police murders.

But still I come back to the barbarity of it. And that’s why I couldn’t bring myself to vote for it.

I do find it slightly bizarre that as a general rule – and there are of course exceptions – that those who are most vociferous about the death penalty, tend to take the Right to Life side of the argument over abortion. And those who scream about the barbarity of the death penalty tend to be those who seem tto think little of terminating a 22 weeks old foetus.

Ironic, isn’t it? Either you believe in life or you don’t. It’s time people on either side of this argument looked at the consistency of their position.

This isn’t about left and right, as some people are trying to make it. I know plenty of people on the left who are pro life or in favour of the death penalty, just as there are plenty on the right who are pro choice or anti death penalty.

And I bet you do too.



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