Newsnight's Debate Was An Insult to Alex Crawford

16 Jan 2014 at 13:14

I didn’t see Newsnight last night but while I was at Sky News Anna Jones told me Alex Crawford was on the programme discussing the merits of foreign news. “I’ll watch that in the morning,” I thought to myself. I rather I wish I hadn’t. What an appalling piece of broadcasting, although Newsnight will no doubt be delighted that once again they are being talked about.

Newsnight under its new editor Ian Katz has come a long way in restoring its battered reputation. I like the fact they cover more stories with a lighter touch, but last night they disrespected one of the most respected foreign correspondents in British news, Alex Crawford. This week Alex celebrates 25 years at Sky, yet Newsnight invited her to take part in a discussion on the relevance of foreign news without even mentioning this fact. Or if they did, it’s certainly not in the clip above.

I was looking forward to a serious discussion on some research which purports to show that British people aren’t interested in foreign news. That’s not what the viewer got.

In many ways I am a huge fan of Kelvin Mackenzie. He brightens up any radio or TV slot and always provides entertainment. You never quite know what he’s going to come out with. But as a guest on a subject like this? What on earth were the producers thinking of? If all Newsnight wants out of a discussion is a bit of a bunfight, rather than illumination, then we can surely soon expect an appearance by Dappy during a discussion on sexual propriety. Perhaps they should leave such stunts to THIS WEEK!

Alex Crawford was on a live link from South Africa and there was a slight time delay. Anyone who has taken part in a discussion in those circumstances knows how difficult it can be. How Alex Crawford kept her temper, I do not know.

But the worst thing of all was that Jeremy Paxman continually pandered to Kelvin’s out and out trolling of the serious points Alex Crawford was trying to make. “Justify your existence,” he blurted out to her at one point. Alex Crawford doesn’t need to justify her existence to anyone, let alone a studio-bound presenter like Paxman. Her various awards speak eloquently on her behalf. She is a very brave woman who makes foreign stories accessible to the viewer. What more does one want from a foreign correspondent on a 24 hour news channel?

It seems I was not alone in reacting badly to what happened in this piece. Here are a couple of tweets from Sky Sports presenter Jeff Stelling.

I’d like to think that Newsnight editors might reflect on that discussion and debate whether they got it right. In the meantime, the rest of us can congratulate Alex Crawford on a wonderful career in foreign reporting, and express the hope that she continues doing what she does best for many years to come.



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Simple. I’d let this guy do it.



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The Wonderful Story of Christian the Lion

11 Jan 2014 at 20:12

Grab a Kleenex and watch this…

And this is the full story…

And this is a US TV interview with the owners of Christian.

And this is an interview I did yesterday on LBC with John Rendall ostensibly on the closure of the Harrod’s pet shop, but it was mostly about Christian the lion.



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11 Jan 2014 at 13:14

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Why I Have Quit My ConHome Diary Column

10 Jan 2014 at 10:04

Last year I didn’t have a two week holiday. Yes, I took time off, but only a few days at a time. By the end of the year I was completely exhausted. Knackered. It was mostly my own fault in that in addition to my two jobs at Biteback and LBC I would take on other work too, and found it very difficult to say no to people. There always seemed to be a good reason to say yes. One of my new year’s resolutions was to learn to say no. And when on holiday, not to do work.

Coming back to work after a 16 day break over Christmas was a bit of a revelation. Not only was I looking forward to it, I felt refreshed, envigorated and energised. Presenting my first show of the year on Monday showed me how tired I had become before Christmas and how my tiredness was affecting my work in general. It also meant that it took far longer than usual to recover from minor coughs and colds. It probably contributed to catching them in the first place.

I am afraid one decision I have made is to discontinue my weekly ConservativeHome diary column which I started writing last April. It’s a shame, as I enjoyed writing it and winding a few people up along the way, but anyone who has ever written a diary column will know that it’s not just a matter of sitting down for a few minutes and bashing it out – believe it or not it takes quite a lot of thought and creativity. I usually wrote well in excess of 1,000 words, and I did wonder about continuing but only writing two or three snippets a week. But when people have been used to something else I decided it would attract a lot of negative comment if I reduced the word count.

Anyway, I wanted to put on the record that Paul Goodman, the editor of ConHome and a friend for more years than either of us care to remember, has been very understanding and there has been no falling out between us. I may still write the odd piece, but he understands the reasons for me standing down and I am grateful to him for giving me the opportunity in the first place. ConHome is a great site and still knocks the socks off its competitor sites.

Paul has compiled what I suppose is a ‘greatest hits’ column as my final contribution, which you can read HERE.



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Remembering Simon Hoggart

6 Jan 2014 at 12:09

Simon Hoggart was one of the people who sparked my interest in politics back in the late 1970s. Along with Frank Johnson he was brilliant in poking fun at politics and politicians in his Punch sketches and I remember one of the first political books I ever bought was his collection of sketches ON THE HOUSE. I followed his career closely and when I met him in person it was like appearing at the feet of a parliamentary sketch God. He became a regular at Politico’s book launches and was a great supporter in the bookshop’s early years, losing few opportunities to feature us on his various Radio 4 programmes. He always had a mischievous look about him and reading his columns, you could see the joy he got out of satirising otherwise deadly boring politicians. No politician was grey to him, and he could find humour in any given situation. He was also a delight to interview as he had a whole host of hilarious anecdotes. Essentially, your role as interviewer was rather superfluous. You just had to let him go and he’d deliver a few minutes of marvelous entertainment.

His Saturday diary columns in The Guardian were also hugely entertaining, and a model of what a diary column should be like – full of personal anecdote, laced with humour and with a slight bite. Michael Fabricant became a target for Simon both in his diary column and sketches. Fabricant could easily have taken offence at the constant jokes about his hair, but he would probably now acknowledge that were it not for Simon Hoiggart he might have remained rather more anonymous than he became.

it’s surprising in some ways that parliamentary sketchwriting has survived the last few decades, seeing as parliamentary pages have largely disappeared from our national newspapers. Yet they not only survive but thrive in the hands of Michael Deacon on the Telegraph, Ann Treneman on The Times and Quentin Letts in the Mail. There is a big whole to fill on The Guardian now and it will be interesting to see who Alan Rusbridger appoints as Simon Hoggart’s successor – if anyone. I won’t deny I always fancied having a go at sketchwriting, but I know my limits and there is no way I could compete with Simon Hoggart’s turn of phrase, so I think i will stick to the day job.

We are all flawed individuals and Simon was no different. He always had an eye for the ladies, but he was mortified by the publicity generated over his affair with Spectator publisher Kimberley Quinn (who had also had an affair with David Blunkett) . I remember sending him a short ‘keep your chin up’ type note when it all appeared in the papers. He immediately rang to thank me for saying what I had, thereby proving, as if he needed to, what a genuinely nice man he was.

In February this year I interviewed Simon for 25 minutes about his new collection of sketches PLAYING TO THE GALLERY. It’s an interview full of hilarious anecdotes so do have a listen. Scroll in 24 minutes.

Listen HERE

UPDATE: Tribute by Michael Deacon and myself on LBC 97.3



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The Wonderful Country Paintings of Cornelia Fitzroy

4 Jan 2014 at 18:39

Original paintings never quite look as good on a computer screen as they do in real life, or perhaps it is my photography, but I wanted to introduce you to a wonderful Norfolk artist called Cornelia Fitzroy. A couple of years ago I bought a painting of hers called THE RED HOUSE, which is on the right.

I don’t pretend to know a lot about art, but I love the way she captures landscapes and the colours she uses. Well, I have always wanted to acquire more of her paintings and just before Christmas I finally tracked her down and we agreed I would visit her studio and a gallery where she displays some of her work. Well, Christmas went by and what with one thing or another I didn’t do anything about it. But today John asked me to pick him up from a garage in Attleborough where he wanted to take his new (and very ancient) Land Rover Discovery to be repaired.

Ah, I thought, that can’t be too far from Bungay! So off we trotted to a wonderful little gallery called the Cork Brick Gallery. Several of Cornelia’s works were on display but we decided on this piece (above) depicting a scene near the Norfolk village of Toftmonks. I’d never been to Bungay before, but it’s a delightful little town which reminded me a little of Saffron Walden, where I grew up in Essex.

We then drove another 12 miles to visit Cornelia Fitzroy at her studio. I just knew I wouldn’t be walking away empty handed, and sure enough I didn’t. In fact, quite the opposite. Luckily John loves Cornelia’s work as much as I do and it was difficult to decide what to buy and what not to. It would have been quite easy to spend several thousand pounds. In the end we picked three paintings, all of Burnham Overy Staithe.

So what was supposed to be a trip to a garage turned into a somewhat expensive journey round South Norfolk. All we have to do now is hang them on the wall.



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My Ten New Year's Resolutions Are...

31 Dec 2013 at 20:40

1. Continue to lose weight. Target 16 stone by June, 15 1/2 by end of the year.
2. To up my exercise. More golf, start running and a bit of rowing.
3. Try to resist getting involved in Twitter spats.
4. Think of a way of raising £5k for charity.
5. To be a better husband to Simmo.
6. To learn to say ‘no’ more often. (this has been a resolution for the last 2 years!).
7. To think of a proper book to write (rather than edit)
8. To finally go to Berlin.
9. To blog more often.
10. To be tougher in my political interviews.



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Ten Predictions For 2014

30 Dec 2013 at 09:34

1. UKIP will win the European elections
2. Nigel Farage will resign as UKIP leader in the second half of the year
3. Jeremy Paxman will leave Newsnight.
4. Eddie Mair or Nick Robinson will replace him.
5. Abba will reunite for a one-off concert.
6. Scotland will vote No.
7. Belgium will be in the semi-finals of the World Cup.
8. There will be another royal pregnancy.
9. Simon & Schuster and HarperCollins announce merger to compete with Penguin Random House.
10. I end the year weighing under 16 stones, for the first time in 20 years.

I’ll be very happy to get only 1 out of 10 right, but it has to be number 5!



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How Did My '10 Faces of 2013' Do?

29 Dec 2013 at 13:16

A year ago I rashly predicted that these ten people would all go to bigger and better things during 2013. So, was I right?


Griffin is a singer/songwriter who was behind the Olympics Gamesmakers song ‘I Wish For You The World’ and the Formula 1 theme ‘Just Drive’. His latest album ‘Albion Sky’ is just brilliant and I predict great things for him in 2013.

VERDICT: Finally got airplay on Radio 2, great gigs and new songs. Correct!


Olly Mann is one half of the Answer Me This podcast, the other being Helen Zaltzman. He’s a broadcaster with an all round talent, with an ability to handle any subject that’s thrown at him. He’s now a colleague on LBC where he covers the overnight show. 2013 will be a very successful year for him.

VERDICT: Ten days ago LBC announced Olly is the new permanent host of London’s most listened to overnight show.


Jessica Lee is Conservative MP for Erewash and PPS to the Attorney General, Dominic Grieve. She’s a regular on my LBC show and is a superb media former for the Tories, if only they recognised it. She walks that fine line between staying loyal but also saying something interesting. As an aside, she used to work for me in the Politico’s coffee shop before she trained as a barrister!

VERDICT: Upped her profile but wasn’t promoted in the reshuffle.


Is it rash to believe that Eddie Mair will be the new face of a revamped Newsnight? Not if there is any justice in this world. His cover slots towards the end of 2012 earned great plaudits from across the spectrum. But would it spell the end for Jeremy Paxman? My money is on Mr P heading to pastures anew in 2013 leaving the way open for Eddie Mair to make the show his own.

VERDICT: A steady year, but also a standstill one. I was a year too early.


James Wharton was the first soldier to adorn the front cover of Attitude Magazine. In June I am publishing his autobiography Out in the Army. My prediction is that the media will fall in love with him and his story and he will become quite a star in 2013.

VERDICT: The book did indeed do well, and the media loved him.


Never heard of Jane Collins? She was UKIP’s candidate in Rotherham and impressed all. As UKIP seek new national faces to take the weight off Nigel Farage, expect to see Ms Collins on our TV screens a lot in 2013. Part of UKIP’s test for success in 2013 is whether they can garner together a group of spokespeople who can all become well know names.

VERDICT: Never heard of her again, which is probably more down to Nigel Farage’s lack of willingness to let anyone take his limelight!


West Ham’s next big thing. A prolific young striker, currently out on loan to Birmingham, Rob Hall has been tipped for huge success ever since he broke into the youth team at the age of 15. Will he make the grade this year? Let’s hope so.

VERDICT: Now plying his trade at Bolton where he has scored 1 goal in 14 games. Not my best prediction…


Tommy Knight has just joined the cast of Waterloo Road, playing the character of Kevin Skelton. He’s a great young actor and even though he is only 19 has an impressive CV. He’s starred in the Sarah Jane Adventures and if he plays his cards right 2013 could be a real breakthrough year for him.

VERDICT: Still in Waterloo Road.


Heidi Alexander is one of those rare breed of MPs who speak ‘normal’ and have a well developed sense of humour. Her seat is as safe as they come, she is great on both radio and TV and Ed Miliband would do well to use her talents on his front bench team. But is she pushy enough?

VERDICT: Good year for her. Promoted to the front bench.


I met Kelly Evans a few weeks ago doing a Sky News paper review. She came to London a few months ago to be CNBC’s London Bureau Chief. Her range of knowledge on economic issues is hugely impressive and I expect she’ll be widely used to many UK news outlets in 2012.

VERDICT: Went back to CNBC in New Jersey in May 2013. Oh well. Can’t win ’em all.

So, I reckon I got 5 out of 10 right. Or nearly right. I’ll post my list for 2014 shortly.


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