Keith Simpson's Summer 2014 Reading List

13 Jul 2014 at 13:34

Another nine months before the General Election and, probably, barring accidents, no more ministerial reshuffles following this summer. Historically, July, August, September have been months of crisis in international affairs, and this summer we commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Parliamentary colleagues who are already yearning for sun and sand may seek escapism in bodice ripping novels, or what Lloyd George referred to as “shilling shockers”. But the more discerning of us, and I include husbands, wives and partners, often seek more substantial literary fare. As usual this selection is personal, and mainly consists of books published this year with an emphasis on history, military history and politics – a sound basis for any political career, and maybe, it would have benefited Tony Blair, if as it is alleged, Roy Jenkins had mused that it would have helped him as Prime Minister if he had read history rather than law at university. Maybe.

Mentioning Roy Jenkins highlights one of the very best political biographies this year. John Campbell has written biographies of F E Smith, Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher. Whilst Jenkins was still alive he wrote a short, rather uncritical biography. Given access to the Jenkins family papers and interviews with many contemporaries, his Roy Jenkins: A Well Rounded Life (Jonathan Cape £30) is a tour de force, and whilst a biography of admiration is not hagiography.

Attlee is always rated highly as a Prime Minister by British political scientists and has been well served by biographers including Kenneth Harris, Frances Beckett and Thomas-Symonds. So perhaps not much more to add? Well Michael Jago in Clement Attlee: The Inevitable Prime Minister (Biteback £25) has discovered some new sources and has admirably reworked old ones to show that that whilst Attlee was lucky, he has experience, determination and grit. One for Ed Miliband.

Christopher Sandford is a prolific biographer, whose books include the Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger, Imran Khan and Steve McQueen. Based upon official papers and private correspondence his Harold and Jack The Remarkable Friendship of Prime Minister Macmillan and President Kennedy (Prometheus Books £15) purports to cast new light on the many layered relationships between Macmillan and Kennedy. One for Obama and Cameron?

The Times journalist Ben Macintyre has written several well received books on spying and espionage in the Second World War. A Spy Among Friends Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal (Bloomsbury £20) is more than another biography of Philby, but a study of a man who betrayed his family and friends and lived a life of deceit which enabled him to operate at the centre of British and American intelligence.

It could be claimed that Eleanor, the daughter of Karl Marx, was the first modern feminist. Rachel Holmes has written a dazzling and intensely partisan biography Eleanor Marx A Life (Bloomsbury £25) of an exceptional woman, who was secretary and researcher to her father, but wrote and campaigned on political and social issues in her own right.

For those parliamentarians unfortunate enough to have fallen foul of the law and thus served Her Majesty under constraint, there is always the opportunity to keep a diary and write about those experiences – Jeffrey Archer and Jonathan Aitken being two examples. Now the former Labour MP Denis MacShane has followed that example and written Prison Diaries (Biteback £20).

Born into a relatively privileged background but at the shabby gentility end of the social spectrum, Jean Trumpington had a fairly basic education followed by the land army, Bletchley Park, commercial life in New York, wife of a public school headmaster, Cambridge City Councillor, then a life peer and a minister in Thatcher’s government. Jean Trumpington has lived life to the full which comes through with vim in her delightful book Coming Up Trumps A Memoir (Macmillan £16.99).

American politicians who write or have written for them, their autobiographies fall into two categories – those who are at the end of their careers and wish to establish a reputation and retaliate against those who have done them down, and those who use their autobiography as a manifesto for higher office. Hilary Rodham Clinton Hard Choices (Simon&Schuster £20) falls into the second category, but with some interesting, usually positive comments about American and world politicians. A must for Simon Burns.

Many of the books written about Parliament are scholarly but tedious to read. The Labour MP and gadfly Chris Bryant has decided to write about Parliament through its Members, and has published earlier this year Parliament The Biography Volume One (Doubleday) which covered the period from the early middle ages to the early nineteenth century. He has been keen to demolish many old myths about Parliament and its Members. His second volume of Parliament The Biography (Doubleday £25) covers the period of reform from the early nineteenth century to Thatcher. Entertaining, opinionated and partisan.

And yet more books on Churchill? Every form of Churchill’s life, interests, family, relationships and career are being steadily covered. I await with interest Churchill and His Dentists (joke). But to be fair several of the latest studies cover crucial areas of Churchill’s wide ranging interests. Vincent Orange has been an historian of the RAF and biographer of senior RAF officers and in Churchill and His Airmen Relationships, Intrigue and Policy Making 1914-1945 (Grub Street £25) shows Churchill’s fascination with flying and air power.

Churchill disliked conventional education but read and wrote widely, and enjoyed the company of authors, actors and film makers. This side of Churchill’s personality had a powerful impact on how he saw himself as a politician and a minister which Jonathan Rose examines in The Literary Churchill Author, Reader, Actor (Yale University Press £25).

Edward Thring was a well known nineteenth century headmaster and for thirty-four years was head of Uppingham School which he developed from a small grammar school to a significant public school. No establishment man he, as he fought prejudice and ignorance and developed a broad curriculum and child – centred teaching methods through two influential books. Later in life he became deeply interested in educational opportunities for women. Nigel Richardson has now written the first modern biography Thring of Uppingham Victorian Educator (The University of Buckingham Press £25). One for Michael Gove and Tristram Hunt.

Timothy Heppell has written several books on the modern Conservative Party, and now in The Tories From Winston Churchill to David Cameron (Bloomsbury £18.99) has written an accessible history and analysis.

Rob Wilson, Conservative MP and PPS to the Chancellor, wrote a very good study on the formation of the present Coalition. In The Eye of the Storm (Biteback £20) he considers how politicians and ministers deal with political and personal crises, including Charles Clarke, Jacqui Smith, William Hague, Jeremy Hunt and Vince Cable.

With the rise and success of UKIP, Revolt on the Right Support for the Radical Right in Britain (Routledge £14.99) by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin is the “must read” book of the year in British politics.

In their time, both David Davis and Gerald Kaufman have written “bluffer’s guides” on how to be a minister. Now former Labour Cabinet Minister John Hutton with Leigh Lewis, has brought their experiences up to date with his own How To Be a Minister (Biteback £18.99) A must for ambitious thrusters in the Conservative Parliamentary Party 2010 intake.

Throughout the twentieth century and before, hundreds of determined British women defied social conventions of the day in order to seek influence and adventure abroad , travellers, explorers, business women, advocates of reform and women’s suffrage, and as wives and partners of diplomats, soldiers and colonial officials. Yet until 1946, no British woman could officially represent her nation abroad, and the prejudices of Whitehall and the Foreign Office were reflected in many other countries. This is well documented in Helen McCarthy Women of the World The Rise of the Female Diplomat (Bloomsbury £25) One for the Foreign Secretary and the Permanent Secretary.

Famously, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians (1918) ridiculed the great ones of the nineteenth century. Now W Sydney Robinson, who recently wrote a well received biography of the Victorian investigative journalist W T Stead, has written The Last Victorians A Daring Reassessment of Four Twentieth Century Eccentrics (Robson Press £20). They are William Joynson-Hicks 1866-1932, the moralising Home Secretary; W R Inge (1860-1954), the gloomy Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral; John Reith, 1889-1971, the moralising and intemperate founder of the BBC, and Arthur Bryant (1899-1985), the ultra patriotic popular historian and journalist.

Kwasi Kwarteng, Conservative MP for Spelthorne is the author of Ghosts of Empire Britain’s Legacies in the Modern World (2012). He is fascinated by the historical pattern – at least from the sixteenth century – of war waging, financial debt and fluctuations between paper money and the gold standard which he explores in War and Gold A Five Hundred Year History of Empires, Adventures and Debt (Bloomsbury £25).

Another MP who is a distinguished historian is Tristram Hunt, Labour MP for Stoke-on-Trent Central and Shadow Secretary of State for Education, and sparring partner at the despatch box with Michael Gove. Biographer of Friedrich Engels and author of Building Jerusalem The Rise and Fall of the Victorian City (2005) he has now written a well researched, stimulating and original book Ten Cities That made an Empire (Allen Lane £25) in which he examines the history, culture and development of ten of the most significant cities of the British Empire – Boston, Bridgetown, Dublin, Cape Town, Calcutta, Hong Kong, Melbourne, New Delhi and Liverpool.

The role of a British settlers, entrepreneurs, businessmen, colonial governors and slaves, and the part they played in establishing a dominance in the West Indies and enriching the United Kingdom was graphically told by Matthew Parker in The Sugar Barons Family, Corruption, Empire and War (2012). Adopting a longer and wider historical perspective is Carrie Gibson’s Empire’s Crossroads A History of the Caribbean From Columbus to the Present Day (Macmillan £25).

Paddy Ashdown, Liberal Democrat Peer, former Party Leader, former Royal Marine Commando, former international diplomat, is author of A Brilliant Little Operation The Cockleshell Heroes and the Most Courageous Raid of World War 2 (2012). Published to coincide with the seventieth anniversary of D-Day he has now written The Cruel Victory The French Resistance, D-Day and the Battle for the Vercors 1944 (William Collins £25), which deals with the tragic circumstances of the allied special forces and the French resistance at Vercors who were successfully attacked and brutally crushed by the Germans in the summer of 1944.

The international conference held at Bretton Woods in July 1944 and hosted by the USA saw them establish a new financial order which lasted for over thirty years. The meeting was dominated by the personalities and intellectual arguments of the senior US delegate Harry Dexter White and the senior UK delegate John Maynard Keynes. This conference and its consequences is examined by Ed Conway in The Summit The Biggest Battle of the Second World War (Little, Brown £25). This is the second major book in just over a year on Bretton Woods, the earlier being by Benn Steil The Battle of Bretton Woods (2013).

Books on the Gestapo range from personal reminiscences, mainly of victims, general illustrated books recycling secondary sources and known as “military pornography”, and scholarly accounts. Translated form the German The Gestapo Power and Terror in the Third Reich (OUP £19.99) by Carsten Dams and Michael Stolle traces the history of the organisation, its personnel and how it was used as an instrument of coercion and terror in Germany and occupied Europe, and how many of its people escaped punishment after the war and were able to work for either the American, British, or Soviet intelligence services and the West German and East German political police.

High in the mountains of the southern Massif Central in France is the small, remote village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon. Along with other villages they sheltered and helped Jews, communists and resisters during the Nazi occupation. There were those who collaborated and supported Vichy but the majority did not. Caroline Moorehead has spoken to villagers and those they sheltered and searched the archives to write Village of Secrets Defying the Nazis in Vichy France (Chatto and Windus £20).

British foreign policy is haunted by the legacy of appeasement, and how its interpretation and implementation in the interwar period tainted it forever as a method of diplomacy. This is examined by R Gerald Hughes in The Postwar Legacy of Appeasement British Foreign Policy Since 1945 (Bloomsbury £22.99) and influences our current debates on the Ukraine and Syria.

British military operations since the end of the Cold war have spanned the full spectrum of military commitments from the limited ones such as Sierra Leone and Libya to intense and drawn out campaigns like Iraq and Afghanistan. The RUSI has produced an edited volume based on workshops and a conference edited by Adrian L Johnson Wars in Peace British Military Operations since 1991 (RUSI £20). The political and strategic aspects are addressed and should be one for the members of the Foreign Affairs and Defence Select Committees.

An Intimate War An Oral History of the Helmand Conflict 1978-2012 (C Hurst and Co £25) is an account of the last thirty-four years of conflict in Helmand Province seen through the eyes of the Helmandis. The author Mike Martin was a TA officer and a Pashto speaker who interviewed dozens of Helmandis to get a different perspective of the conflict in Afghanistan. Media reports and rumours around the Whitehall bazaars claimed the MOD was not best pleased with his account. Government, like many professions and businesses, is susceptible to kicking difficult problems into the long grass. The former Labour Cabinet Minister Charles Charke, experienced government under Blair and has been fascinated by the habit of Whitehall to prevaricate and avoid taking difficult decisions. In The Too Difficult Box The Big Issues Politicians Can’t Crack (Biteback £25) he has edited a series of lectures by former ministers and experts on all the big issues frequently avoided, from Europe, national security, climate change, pensions, banking regulation, immigration, Lords reform, to assisted dying, just to mention a few. Proactive and stimulating as an editor, Charles Clarke shows what a loss he is to the political world.

With the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War upon us the reader is spoilt for choice with an avalanche of books covering every aspect. This summer is a good time to catch up not least because of instability in so many areas of the world. A good overview can be found in Hew Strachan (ed) The Oxford Illustrated History of the First World War (OUP £25) which pulls together an international team and the latest research. Christopher Clark’s The Sleepwalkers How Europe Went to War in 1914 (Penguin £10.99) is less judgemental on Germany, whilst Max Hastings Catastrophe Europe Goes to War 1914 (William Collins £9.99) is an unapologetic case for the righteousness of the British decision to go to war, but scathing in criticism of the allied political and military leadership. The impact of the war and its legacies is superbly dealt with by David Reynolds The Long Shadow The Great War and the Twentieth Century (Simon & Schuster £25).

For those who have visited or are intending visiting one of the cemeteries of memorials maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission then the role of the first Director General Fabian Ware and the decision to establish these cemeteries is covered by David Crane Empires of the Dead How One Man’s Vision Led to the Creation of WWI’s War Graves (William Collins £8.99).

Former foreign secretary David Owen is fascinated by what he sees as a “mind frame” at the Foreign and War Offices before 1914 which locked Britain into political and military relationships with France and Russia and is developed in The Hidden Perspective The Military Conversations of 1908-1914 (Haus Publishing £21).

Tim Butcher is an author journalist and explorer and in The Trigger Hunting the Assassin Who Brought the World to War (Chatto & Windus £18.99) he examines the young Bosnian Serb nationalist Gavrilo Princip who assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand. The author literally retraces Princip’s childhood and youth across the Balkans and seeks to understand his background and motivation. It maybe inappropriate given the consequences of the assassination but I am reminded of Spike Milligan’s favourite fantasy newspaper headline “Archduke Franz Ferdinand Found Alive!” First World War a Mistake!”

Thomas Otte is a distinguished diplomatic historian who has written, The Foreign Office Mind The Making of British Foreign Policy 1865-1914 (Cambridge University Press £22.99) and has now published July Crisis The World’s Descent into War Summer 1914 (Cambridge University Press £22.99). In this magisterial account the author argues that to understand how and why Europe descended into world war one must recognise the near collective failure of statecraft and diplomacy by the political leaders and diplomats of Europe. One for the FCO and the Cabinet Office.

Although the overwhelming majority of British parliamentarians supported the Liberal government’s decision to go to war on 4 August 1914, there were voices who opposed it, including Arthur Ponsonby the Chair of the Liberal Foreign Affairs Committee. His role and views are examined by Duncan Marlor in Fatal Fortnight Arthur Ponsonby and the Fight for British Neutrality in 1914 (Frontline Books £25).

The role of the public schools in nurturing a cultural and military atmosphere of leadership provided a source of thousands of young men who served mainly as officers in the First World War. In Public Schools and the Great War (Pen & Sword £25) Anthony Seldon and David Walsh have attempted to correct the myths and caricatures whilst detailing the extensive casualties school by school. Alexandra Churchill has taken this further in Blood and Thunder The Boys of Eton College and First World War (The History Press £20).

A lot of popular history was written at the time and more recently looking at the casualties suffered by sportsmen. The annual Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack published during the war included a roll of honour, and by 1919 Wisden had carried almost 1,800 obituaries. Mistakes were made which have now been corrected by Andrew Renshaw (ed) in Wisden on the Great War The Lives of Cricket’s Fallen 1914-1918 (Wisden £40) which is a mine of information.

Max Egremont has written, amongst others, biographies of Siegfried Sassoon and Arthur Balfour. In Some Desperate Glory The First World War the Poets Knew (Picador £20) Egremont combines part group biography of eleven war poets, part history, part poetic anthology. He goes beyond the collective of “war poets” to examine them as individuals in all their complexities.

Thank goodness for political diaries and letters, especially in the period before there were official cabinet minutes. In the era of the First World War several members of the Liberal Cabinet kept diaries whilst Asquith who was infatuated with the young Venetia Stanley wrote her gushing letters, sometimes two or three times a day and in Cabinet meetings. During the war he mentioned political and military decisions and commented on leading personalities. Michael and Eleanor Brock edited these as H H Asquith Letters to Venetia Stanley (OUP £18) in 1982. Finally they have edited a part of Asquith’s wife Margot’s war time diary – Margot Asquith’s Great War Diary 1914-1916 The View From Downing Street (Oxford £30). This volume is valuable not least for the one hundred page introduction and commentary. Margot was vivacious, opinionated, extravagant and frequently wrong, but her diary entries can be both amusing and perceptive. She appears to have tolerated her husband’s infatuation with Venetia Stanley.

Jerry White is a historian of London with several books to his credit. In Zeppelin Nights London in the First World War (Bodley Head £25) he uses official papers, and letters and diaries to show how the war changed London. Everything from the size of the population, the internment of aliens, the growth of war industry, better wages and more work for the working class, the enlistment of men and casualties, wounded and hospitals, and on the zeppelin and gotha air raids.

Given the current situation in Iraq, the historical context is crucial and Ian Rutlege Enemy on the Euphrates The British Occupation of Iraq and the Great Arab Revolt 1914-1921 (Saqi Books) provides just such a basis from the Arab perspective and gets the reader beyond the Western front.

Imperial Germany made military and commercial investments in the Ottoman Empire and German archaeologists and historians were active in the Middle East and Central Asia frequently doubling as spies. During the First World War the Germans and Turks attempted to forment an Islamic revolt in British territories, particularly the Indian Empire as well as Afghanistan. Jules Stewart’s The Kaiser’s Mission to Kabul A Secret Expedition to Afghanistan in World War I (I B Tauris £20) considers the secret mission led by von Hentig and von Niedermayer to persuade the Emir of Afghanistan to attack British India. Britain saw this as a credible threat and moved to counter it. One for Rory Stewart.

The cataclysmic nature of the First World War and its impact on the old European order and its consequences is brilliantly addressed by Adam Tooze The Deluge The Great War and the Remaking of Global Order 1916-1931 (Allen Lane £30).

Finally, many of you will have visited the battlefields and cemeteries of the Western Front or plan to do so, maybe this summer or autumn. There are several excellent battlefield guides, but one about to be published written by a school teacher and aimed specifically at school trips is Gareth Hughes Visiting the Somme and Ypres Battlefields Made Easy A Helpful Guide Book for Groups and Individuals (Pen & Sword Military £12.99)

Speaker Bercow has always been a very keen, competitive tennis player and coach. He has written Tennis Maestros The Twenty Greatest Male Tennis Players of All Time (Biteback £20). Perhaps he will write a second volume on the twenty greatest female tennis players of all time?

Did the ancient Romans smile, laugh, tell jokes? According to the magnificent Professor Mary Beard, a national treasure, there was no word for smile, but they laughed and told jokes unburdened by any modern concept of political correctness. None of the double entendre of Frankie Howerd’s slave Lurcio in the wonderful TV series “Up Pompeii!” As Mary Beard shows in Laughter in Ancient Rome On Joking, Tickling and Cracking Up (University of California Press £19.95) Roman humour could be coarse, cruel and lacking in subtlety. It is thought that Enoch Powell, a classicist, was thinking of an old Roman joke when the talkative House of Commons barber asked him how he would like his haircut? “In silence”, was the reply. One for Boris Johnson I think.

Ann Treneman the Times parliamentary sketch writer has written a fascinating if at times macabre book Finding the Plot 100 Graves to Visit Before You Die (The Robson Press £12.99). She accepts it is a personal choice and is open to suggestions regarding omissions. I have suggested she includes the gravestone of Parson James Woodforde the eighteenth century diarist who was rector of Weston Longville in my Norfolk constituency.

Sandra Howard, a personality in her own right and a novelist is wife of the former Conservative leader Michael Howard. Her novels include A Matter of Loyalty, Ex-Wives and Glass House. Now her latest novel Tell the Girl (Simon & Schuster £12.99) must have some autobiographical basis as the main character is a successful career model who returns to the USA to relive weekends mixing with Frank Sinatra, Bob Hope, Marilyn Monroe and JFK and Jackie. Just the antidote to all those books on the First World War.

Keith Simpson MP
PPS to the Foreign Secretary



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Iain Dale talks to Mary Beard

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ConHome Diary: My Weird Dream About Bill Cash & Ann Widdecombe

11 Jul 2014 at 14:24

The reshuffle, it seems, is pencilled in for Monday, although if last year is anything to go by that could change at least three times before then. David Cameron is a reluctant reshuffler and hates the experience. He also conducts them very differently to other party leaders. I am reliably informed that the Chief Whip plays very little role in who goes where and it’s all done by Number 10. Well that should give us all confidence then… Not. Actually, I am not against that. Under Margaret Thatcher the whips had far too much influence over junior ministerial appointments and as a consequence when it came to it she didn’t have enough supporters in the junior ranks or indeed Cabinet when she needed them. When I say the reshuffle is conducted in Number 10, that is only true up to a point because in previous reshuffles it is Number 11 where many of the decisions are made. Watch out for the Osborne stamp on this particular reshuffle. I suspect it will be even more obvious than usual.
Talking of George Osborne, I am spending much of the day with him today down in the west country where he’s on a regional tour. He will then be coming on my LBC show for an in-depth interview at 5pm. He is one of only two cabinet ministers I have never interviewed – William Hague being the other. I’ve never understood why William Hague never seems to be interested in being heard on Britain’s biggest commercial radio group, when he will appear on Sky News at the drop of a hat. Labour politicians understand that if you appear on LBC, and you say something interesting, you then get clipped into the news bulletins on other Global Radio owned stations like Capital, Heart, Classic FM and Smooth. That’s a potential audience of 23 million and they’re all normal voters. What a shame the Foreign Secretary and his media advisers don’t seem to get that. I’m sure spending hours in the company of Angelina Jolie will attract more voters.

I am having some very bizarre dreams at the moment. On Tuesday night I dreamt that Bill Cash had introduced a bill into the House of Commons to make Ann Widdecombe a princess. Make of that what you will.
Like anyone else who watched the match, I was astonished by what happened when Germany walloped Brazil. Not by the score but by the pure crassness of the BBC commentator. On two occasions he told us the German supporters were singing ‘Deutschland Uber Alles”. Er, no they weren’t, because it’s banned in Germany as a cursory bit of research would have demonstrated. If you sing it you get arrested, simple as that. What they were singing was the new German national anthem, which is sung to the same tune but is called ‘Eingkeit und Recht und Freiheit” (Unity, Justice & Freedom). It’s the third verse of what is known as the Deutschlandlied. I do love to educate you, dear reader. Bitteschoen.

On Tuesday I reach the grand old age of 52. It’s a sobering thought that I’ll probably only ever see four or five more World Cups before I die. I’m cheerful like that.
One of the reasons I love doing Sky News paper reviews with Jacqui Smith is because we always have a reet laff. And this Wednesday was no exception. It was a bit different this week as the World Cup semi-final penalty shoot-out was happening while we were on air. So we persuaded them to put one of the studio TVs onto ITV so we could multitask and watch it while we were imparting our words of wisdom on air. I wonder if anyone noticed that we were slightly distracted. Probably not in Jacqui’s case. As she pointed out, she’s a woman so multitasking comes naturally. The biggest laugh of the evening came when the floor manager checked her microphone battery pack. “You do tend to drain a battery,” he said. We both roared, as I imagined Jacqui’s rampant rabbit nodding in agreement. Possibly best if you put that vision out of your mind right now, if you don’t mind.

I read that a 17 year old boy in America, who sent his 15 year old girlfriend a picture of his erect penis on his phone, is being accused of making child porn. Of himself. And the police are trying to make him get an erection so they can check the picture was actually of his own penis. The world has gone utterly mad.
Alistair Griffin’s got a new album out called FROM NOWHERE. It is pure brilliance. Promise you’ll love it if you download it.

I’m writing a book at the moment called THE NHS: THINGS THAT NEED TO BE SAID. I fully expect it to get terrible reviews as it against our national religion to make any criticism of the NHS, no matter how mild, or how justified. I’m already battening down the hatches.


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A Letter to Your Local School

10 Jul 2014 at 18:32

My friend Jonathan Sheppard has composed this rather hilarious letter for you to send to your local school!

Dear (insert name of head teacher),

Today some of your teachers took part in industrial action yet again. This is now the (insert number) time that my child has missed school due to the decision to take industrial action by your staff.

As parents we are told that taking unauthorised absence damages the education of our children, and that you are able to fine us £60.

Given that is the case, this industrial action must also be having a detrimental effect on my child’s eduction. I therefore would like to request £60 in compensation, which will obviously neither cover the day of school my child has missed, nor the inconvenience and last minute childcare costs I have incurred.

I am sure you will agree that if a school feels it reasonable to talk about educational damage due to unauthorised absence, along with the possibility of financial penalties, then parents can also legitimately raise this issue when teachers take industrial action.

I very much look forward to hearing from you once the school is fully open, and hopefully before the six week break the striking teachers will soon be enjoying.




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My Memory of 7/7

7 Jul 2014 at 20:26

I don’t know if you remember where you were on the morning of the 7th July 2005 when you heard the news of the terrorist bombings in London. I was sitting at my desk in the House of Commons (for the uninitiated, I was working for David Davis, the Shadow Home Secretary) and a colleague popped his head round the door to say there was something on the radio about a big bang in a tube station. Shortly afterwards Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson arrived to do a feature interview with David. Gradually news started coming in that there were several attacks. I kept interrupting his interview with news. I rang home and rang my parents to reassure them I was OK. I began to get calls from friends.

My work colleague began to get hysterical about her son, who she feared might have been on one of the trains. She rang his school and he had not arrived. As the morning wore on, and she couldn’t make contact with him, even I began to fear the worst. But I had to make a decision. I was trying to coordinate our response and ensure the office ran smoothly, yet my colleague (and very good friend) was becoming hysterical. Did I try to soothe her or did I do my job. I’m slightly ashamed to say I chose the latter and ‘delegated’ the former. Hard bastard, I thought to myself. Her son rang to say he was OK shortly afterwards.

None of us knew what it all meant. The thought ran through my mind that if this was a repeat of 9-11, our office wasn’t exactly the best place to be. It was located almost directly under Big Ben. But you just get on with your job. David Davis was the coolest man in London. If ever I doubted his leadership qualities, they were on full display that day. Alice Thomson and Rachel Sylvester would confirm that.

David then had to respond to Charles Clarke’s statement in the House of Commons. We were glued to the TV. He caught the mood of the House and gave a speech which even his enemies had to admit was striking.

The next day, I was walking along the Embankment to work with the sound of helicopters and Police sirens ringing through the air. I remember thinking to myself: “This is not the London I love.” I felt as if I was walking along a street in an alien city. I admit that a tear rolled down my face. Would life ever be the same?

Well, life did return to normal for most of us. But for the families of the people who died that day, normal would never exist again.

And to those bastards who defaced the 7/7 Memorial last night, you show us once again what evil people there are in our midst. We know that one day there will be another terrorist outrage in our capital city. But the terrorists can never win if we defy them. And defy them we will.


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UK Politics

UPDATED SEAT BY SEAT FORECAST: Why the LibDems Will Win Fewer Than 30 Seats At The Next Election

6 Jul 2014 at 18:32

A few months ago I posted a prediction that the LibDems would win 30-35 seats at the next election. I went through each LibDem seat and predicted what would happen to it. Click HERE to read the original predictions. Clearly any such exercise is fraught with difficulty, and I freely admitted that many would disagree with the conclusions. Reading through the comments of that blogpost, the consensus seemed to be that I had been too kind to the LibDems in Scotland but too hard on them in the South West. That was, of course, before the European and local elections, when the LibDems performed far worse than I think even their worst enemy had wished. They came fifth in the popular vote in the European Elections behind the Greens, polling only 6.87% of the popular vote. Six weeks on from that debacle they are still only polling 7-9% in the opinion polls.

Four months ago I predicted that of the 57 seats, 35 would remain LibDem, 14 would fall to the Conservatives and 8 to Labour. But of the 35 LibDem Holds, I reckoned only 13 were dead certs, 9 hot bets, 8 probable and 5 were rated as possible, but by no means definite.

My new prediction is that of the 57 seats, 28 will remain LibDem, 17 would fall to the Conservatives, 11 to Labour and 1 to the SNP.

I remain of the view that Labour will be the beneficiaries of most of the decline in LibDem votes across the country but that the Conservatives might benefit a little in the south and south west. The big unknown factor here is how the size of the UKIP vote might affect existing Conservative vote levels in many of these seats. I have tried not to make these predictions through blue tinted spectacles, but it maybe that I will have underestimated the impact of UKIP, especially bearing in mind their performance in the May elections. I have also assumed that the LibDems will not win a single one of their top 20 target seats. Even if that proves to be wrong, looking through the list it is hard to see more than a handful of even remotely possible gains based on the way things look at the moment.

Danny Alexander
Majority: 8,765 over Labour

Norman Baker
Maj: 7,647
If Labour takes enough votes from the LibDems it could let the Conservative in, and Lewes used to be a safe Tory seat. Baker’s local popularity should see him through but with a much smaller majority.

Sir Alan Beith (retiring – Julie Pörksen selected)
Maj: 2,690 over the Conservatives
The Conservative candidate Anne Marie Trevelyan stood in 2010 and if her vote holds up, she only needs Labour to take a small proportion of the LibDem vote. Beith’s incumbency will also disappear.

Gordon Birtwistle
Maj: 1,818 over Labour
Prediction: LABOUR GAIN
Birtwhistle is a straight talking northerner and speaks out against what he views as wishy washy Liberalism. He’s very popular but it would be a major shock if he held on to the seat he snatched from Labour in 2010.

Tom Brake
Maj: 5.260 over the Conservatives
Somewhat charismatically challenged Brake is nevertheless a very good constituency MP and this could seem him through, but the Labour vote here is bound to recover. However, I’d say this was a 50/50 prediction and could easily go the other way. This would be the sixth time Brake has fought the seat and that counts for a lot.

Annette Brooke (retiring – Vikki Slade selected)
Maj: 269
It was a shock this seat didn’t go Tory last time. With Annette Brooke standing down the LibDems will have to perform miracles to keep this seat.

Jeremy Browne
Maj: 3,993 over the Conservatives
Boundary changes last time increased Browne’s majority from just over 500. I don’t know how popular he is locally. Seen as a very good minister it was a shock when he was sacked by Clegg. Might he stand down? I’d say this was a 50/50 call.

Sir Malcolm Bruce (retiring – Christine Jardine selected)
Maj: 6,748 over the SNP

Paul Burstow
Maj: 1,608
The Labour vote has halved to 7.7% since 1997 and will inevitably rise in 2015. Paul Burstow is standing again and incumbency could play a vital role if he is to retain his seat, but if the Tory vote holds up, he may have a problem.

Lorely Burt
Maj: 175
Lorely Burt did very well to hang onto her seat last time (she won it in 2005 with a majority of 279) and confounded all expectations. The Labour vote has gone down from 25% to 8% and if Labour takes just a thousand votes from the LibDem the Conservatives will win a seat many think they should never have lost.

Vince Cable
Maj: 12,140

Sir Menzies Campbell (retiring)
Maj: 9.348
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
The Conservatives will be targeting this seat but it’s a remote hope for them. The new LibDem candidate may suffer a dent in their majority but unless Ming Campbell’s personal vote is more than the norm, this seat should stay Liberal Democrat.

Alistair Carmichael
Maj: 9,928
None of the other parties come close, with the LibDems winning 62% of the vote in 2010. Jo Grimond’s legacy is safe!

Nick Clegg
Maj: 15,284
This used to be a Tory seat, but it would take a political earthquake for them to take it off Nick Clegg. Interestingly the Labour vote has started to rise, but not enough to cause the LibDems to panic.

Michael Crockart
Maj: 3,803
This seat went LibDem in 1997 and although the LibDem majority plummeted by 10,000 last time it is difficult to see them losing. Prior to 1997 it was a Tory seat but last time Labour beat the Tories into second place. A Labour victory is not impossible to imagine, but still rather unlikely.

Edward Davey
Maj: 7,560
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
Ed Davey won this seat in 1997 with a wafer thin majority of 56, which rose to more than 15,000 in 2001. But since then the Conservative vote has been on the rise. Davey has only managed to win with such handsome majorities because he has squeezed the Labour vote from 23% down to 9%. If that trend reverses, the Conservatives could squeak it, but it’s highly unlikely.

Tim Farron
Maj: 12,264
Tim Farron has 60% of the vote and while the Conservatives held this seat as recently as 2001, they have zero chance of winning it back in 2015. Why? Because it’s a two horse race. In 1997 the Labour vote was more than 20%. In 2010 it was 2%.

Lynne Featherstone
Maj: 6,875
Since 1997 Lynne Featherstone has built up the LibDem vote from 5,000 to 25,000 so as a constituency campaigner she is hard to beat. Meanwhile the Labour vote has declined from 31,000 to 18,000. The Conservatives have gone down to 21,000 to 9,000. This is a difficult one to call, but I now think Labour are edging ahead.

Don Foster (retiring)
Maj: 11,883
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
The Conservatives have been desperate to win this seat back since Chris Patten lost it in 1992, but it’s extremely unlikely to revert to the fold despite the fact that Don Foster is standing down.

Andrew George
Maj: 1,719
The Tories got a 10.39% swing last time and took a huge chuck out of Andrew George’s 11,000 majority. This time George will be hoping UKIP’s vote reduces Tory potency. His incumbency and local popularity could see Andrew George home, but four months on from my last prediction, I now think the Tories may make it.

Stephen Gilbert
Maj: 1,312
This seat could go either way. Labour are nowhere with only 7% of the vote. If UKIP does well in the South West, the LibDems win here, if they don’t, they won’t.

Martin Horwood
Maj: 4.920
A Liberal Democrat seat since 1992, this is one which the Conservatives had expected to take back in both 2005 and 2010, but it wasn’t to be. The Labour vote has been squeezed to just 5%. Martin Horwood is extremely popular and will have built up a high personal vote. On a catastrophic night for the LibDems it’s easy to see Cheltenham falling, but not otherwise.

Mike Hancock (deselected)
Maj: 5.200
This seat has never had a huge LibDem majority since it was won by Mike Hancock in 1997. It’s always ranged between three and six thousand. It’s difficult to assess the impact of the groping scandal, but on top of their national woes, it could be that the Tories win back what was once for them a safe seat. Hancock has failed to squeeze the Labour vote as much as some of his colleagues, and not so long ago they managed a healthy 25%. If they return to those levels the Tories will win.

Nick Harvey
Maj: 5,821
Ever since this seat was wrested back from the Conservatives in 1992 pundits have predicted it would return to the Tories, but astute constituency campaigning by Nick Harvey has prevented this from happening. I don’t see this changing. This seat has a strong UKIP vote which inevitable depresses that of the Conservatives.

David Heath (retiring)
Maj: 1,817
LibDem HQ must have bee tearing their hair out when David Heath announced his retirement as he stood the best prospect of retaining this seat. His current majority is the larges he has ever enjoyed, but that is largely because at the last election the UKIP vote doubled to nearly 2,000. If they do the same in 2015 they could deny the Conservatives a gain they thought they had in the bag last time.

John Hemming
Maj: 3,002
Hemming is a maverick and I wouldn’t bet against him pulling off a surprise, but if Labour is to form a government it’s this kind of seat they need to take back.

Duncan Hames
Maj: 2,470
Although is majority isn’t big, Duncan Hames has dug himself in since winning the seat in 2010 and will be difficult to shift. But the Tory candidate Michelle Donelan is a good campaigner. Yet again, her success depends on warding off UKIP and encouraging LibDems to vote Labour.

Simon Hughes
Maj: 8,530
I had thought this would be a dead cert hold for Simon Hughes but increasingly I am wondering if I am right. Labour seem very confident they can take this.

Mike Thornton
Maj: 1,771
The Conservatives thought they would win this seat back at each of the last two general elections, but each time Chris Huhne pulled through. At the by-election they came third, with UKIP almost pipping the rather monochrome Mike Thornton. It’s highly unlikely UKIP’s vote will hold up so the outcome of this seat may depend on where UKIP’s voters put their cross. If enough of them return to the Conservative fold, it could be enough to see the Conservative home.

Mark Hunter
Maj: 3,272
Apart from a narrow majority in 1997 of 33, the LibDems have had a majority of three or four thousand in this seat ever since. As long as the slightly resurgent Labour vote doesn’t gain too much traction, I think Mark Hunter will be safe.

Julian Huppert
Maj: 6,792
If you look at the size of the LibDem majority here, Julian Huppert ought to be considered very safe, but this is a seat which swings with the wind, and if the wind is blowing towards Labour you can see it returning to them. It obviously has a high student vote and this may determine the outcome. However Huppert has been a strong performer both locally in Parliament and if anyone can hold this seat for the LibDems, he can. But bearing in mind the LibDems’ calamitous results in May I’ve now changed my mind and think Labour will win here.

Charles Kennedy
Maj: 13,070
Out on his own, and despite an invisible presence in this Parliament, there would need to be a miracle to shift Charles Kennedy.

Norman Lamb
Maj: 11,626
Lamb’s majority was even bigger than the one he had over me in 2005. Although I think it will reduce in 2010 due to the crumbling LibDem local organisation and the resurgent North Norfolk Labour Party, he will still win handsomely.

David Laws
Maj: 13,036

John Leech
Maj: 1,894
Prediction: LABOUR GAIN
Although John leech trebled his majority last time, I fear the bell tolls for him unless UKIP can take a lot of votes from Labour.

Stephen Lloyd
Maj: 3.435
Won in 2010 from Nigel Waterson, Stephen Lloyd may hang on, but I’d expect the Labour vote to at least double at the expense of the LibDems, so yet again, a lot depends on how many votes the Tories lose to UKIP.

Michael Moore
Maj: 5,675
David Steel’s old seat – never been 100% safe, but it would be a major shock for the Conservatives to take this seat.

Greg Mulholland
Maj: 9.103
A Labour seat as recently as 2005, Labour has now slipped to third place. With a classic split opposition situation it would be a brave man who would vote against a third term for Greg Mulholland.

Tessa Munt
Maj: 800
The former seat of David Heathcoat-Amory Tessa Munt won Wells in 2010. The Tories will make every effort to regain it and will be devastated if they don’t pull it off.

John Pugh
Maj: 6,024
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
It’s difficult to see this as anything other than a LibDem win.

Alan Reid
Maj: 3,431
A four way marginal, this could go to any of the main parties. If the LibDems lose my guess is that it would go to Labour, even though they were in third place in 2010.

Dan Rogerson
Maj: 2,981
A seat where the LibDem majority has been on the slide in every election since 1997’s highpoint of more than 13,000. If UKIP hadn’t existed, the Conservatives would have won this seat in 2010. So the key question is whether they will eat further into the Conservative vote in 2015. If so, the LibDems will hang on. Otherwise this is a pretty safe bet for the Tories.

Sir Bob Russell
Maj: 6,982
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
Difficult to see anything other than another home run for Sir Bob!

Adrian Sanders
Maj: 4,078
Regarded as a surefire Tory gain in 2010 it didn’t happen, and in all honesty Adrian Sanders has built up a string personal vote which may carry him through once again.

Sir Robert Smith
Maj: 3.684
The LibDem majority was halved last time, and it’s very possible to see how rises in the Labour and SNP votes could see this seat return to the Conservative fold.

Andrew Stunell (retiring – Lisa Smart selected)
Maj: 6,371
The LibDem majority has fallen in every election since 1997 but the Tories haven’t been able to capitalise. And I don’t see them bucking the trend in 2015.

Ian Swales
Maj: 5,214
Prediction: LABOUR GAIN
This was a very surprise result last time and was in large part to massive job losses on Teesside. On that basis the seat may return to its natural fold.

Jo Swinson
Maj: 2,184
Prediction: LABOUR GAIN
Jo Swinson is popular but all the political portents are against her. She will be a major loss to the LibDems.

Sarah Teather (retiring)
Maj: 1,345
If the LibDems retain this seat it will be miracle of all miracles.

John Thurso
Maj: 4,828
Prediction: LIBDEM HOLD
A small electorate, Thurso should hold the seat he won in 2001.

David Ward
Maj: 365
One of the nastier LibDem MPs, few will shed tears at his demise.

Steve Webb
Maj: 7,116

Simon Wright
Maj: 310
Student fees will do for Simon Wright due to the large university vote. Of all the seats the LibDems are slated to lose, this is the deadest certs of dead certs.

Mark Williams
Maj: 8,324

Roger Williams
Maj: 3,747
A Conservative gain here is possible but not definite. One of the tightest results in 2015, I’d think.

Stephen Williams
Maj: 11.336

Jenny Willott
Maj: 4,576
Labour have their sights in this one. Assuming no LibDem poll bounce, I now think they will take this.



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LBC 97.3: Iain finds Sajid Javid Unable to Answer a Question

Iain interviews Treasury Minister Sajid Javid

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ConHome Diary: Is The Telegraph Stark Staring Bonkers?

4 Jul 2014 at 16:10

My company, Biteback Publishing, is five years old this week. Happy birthday to us. For any small publisher to make it to five years is a minor miracle in today’s publishing environment, especially when you have companies like Amazon apparently about to tell us that we’re not allowed to sell books on our own website at a cheaper price than them. It’s only now that I realise what Ed Miliband meant by ‘predatory capitalism’. To be honest they can go fuck themselves. It’s about time the publishing industry grew some giant cojones and told Amazon just where they can stick their threats. Don’t get me wrong, in many ways they are brilliant. Their reliability and service are second to none from a customer’s viewpoint. They already get a 60% discount from us on our books. What more do they want? Blood?
The selection for Thanet South is underway with the final three candidates going through the trials and tribulations of the process this weekend. I know two of the three candidates so I won’t say who I think will win, but if I were on the selection committee I would cast my vote using one criteria: which of them is best placed to hold off the seemingly inevitable challenge from Nigel Farage? This seat doesn’t need a shrinking violet, it needs someone who will go out there and take the fight to Farage, rather than lay back and think of England.

So farewell, then, Graeme Archer, the latest writer to be let go by the Telegraph. Are they stark raving bonkers? He’s one of the most talented right of centre writers around and yet they now consider him surplus to requirements. Madness. Almost as mad as ditching James Kirkup’s excellent evening email and turning Ben Brogan’s (also late of that parish) into something totally unreadable. Why would you do that if your strategy was now giving primary importance to digital products? What on earth is going on at the Telegraph? Since Tony Gallagher and Ben Brogan left the building the paper has gone inexorably downhill to the point where I worry about its future. It is a shadow of its former self.
On Tuesday I got very excited during my radio show when my producer said in my ear “We’ve got Rahman coming on”. Ever since the May elections I have been trying to get to interview Tower Hamlets mayor Lutfur Rahman but he’s only willing to appear with his mate Ken Livingstone on LBC. He gives me a wide berth because he is afraid to answer the kind of direct questions he knows I would put to him. My excitement abated somewhat when I was told it wasn’t Lutfur but his deputy Olidaur Rahman who would be coming on to explain how his administration had been totally vindicated by the Electoral Commission. Except of course it hadn’t. I think after the interview he rather regretted coming on at all, as I gave him a bit of a going over. You can listen to it here.

Rahman and his cronies need to understand that I and others won’t let this rest until someone gets to the bottom of what went on at this crooked election in Tower Hamlets. The Electoral Commission are hopeless and their report didn’t even go into what happened prior to the count, so let’s hope the Police inquiries yield something, because the truth is that if nothing is done now, ordinary people in Tower Hamlets might as well not bother voting at the general election because their election will be stolen from them yet again.
The Tower Hamlets Returning Officer, John Williams, must have the hide of a rhino. Otherwise he’d have resigned in disgrace by now. His incompetence seems to know no bounds. If I had been criticised by the Electoral Commission in the way he has, I’d consider my position untenable.
So, still no reshuffle then…

Can it be long before Labour’s policy chief Jon Cruddas falls on his sword? He describes himself as a “romantic” and it’s clear he’s right. He is psychologically ill-fitted to holding any position of responsibility whatsoever, a fact he recognised himself when he turned down several posts in the Brown government. His outburst at the Compass conference last week in which he complained about the “dead hand” within his party strangling any innovative policy idea at birth was widely interpreted as an attack on Ed Miliband. Mary Riddell thinks he meant Labour’s electoral machine, rather than her hero, Mr Miliband, but then she would, wouldn’t she? From what I hear Cruddas would dearly love to return to the backbenches and join Frank Field in thinking the unthinkable. But he knows the embarrassment that this would heap on both the Labour leadership and himself.
Britain’s Andy Murray, eh? Has he gone back to being Scottish now?

So Labour are demanding the Conservatives release details of the guests at their summer ball at the Hurlingham Club. Apparently we all have a right to know who is whispering sweet nothings in the prime Minister’s ear. Funny that. I don’t remember Lord Levy releasing the guest list at all his fundraising events for Tony Blair. Of course they’ll never admit this but all politicians hate and loathe these money raising events. It’s pure purgatory having to make polite conversation with people they have little in common with and in many cases regard with utter contempt. But needs must. All politicians would secretly love to have state funding of political parties because they could tell their donors where to go. And they’d form a queue to do so, too.
So after conquering Baghdad, the new leader of the Caliphate, Mr Baghdadi, has his sights set on Rome. It seems he wants to party like its 999. AD, that is. Perhaps he’ll stop off in Constantinople on the way…


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LBC97.3 Iain Talks to Jason Beattie

The Mirror's political editor defends his story on George Osborne and the disabled parking bay.

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My LBC Book Interviews: The Best of 2014 So Far...

4 Jul 2014 at 11:43

Every Friday night at 7.30pm on LBC I interview an author about a book they have just published. Here are the interviews from the first half of 2014. Each is around 20 minutes long. I hope you enjoy them and would love to hear any feedback you may have. Remember, you can now listen to LBC anywhere in the country on digital radio.

Paddy Ashdown Click HERE

Norman Tebbit Click HERE

Baroness Trumpington Click HERE

Simon Heffer Click HERE

Hugh Pym Click HERE

Coleen Nolan Click HERE

Fern Britton Click HERE

Michelle Collins Click HERE

Kirsty Wark Click HERE

Jeffrey Archer Click HERE

Lucy Hughes-Hallett Click HERE

Germaine Greer Click HERE

Amanda Prowse Click HERE

Tom Bower Click HERE

Geoffrey Robertson Click HERE

Sir Nicholas Barrington Click HERE



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LBC: The Best of the Iain Dale Show 2012

Listen to some moving clips from a programme on rape, hosted by Iain in November.

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Attitude Column: The Perils of Stereotyping the Gays

3 Jul 2014 at 09:24

I don’t know about you but I find it incredibly frustrating that the old gay stereotypes still remain, and from what I can work out they probably always will. We’re all either incredibly camp, have lots of facial and stomach hair, and probably sleep with any other male that shows a vague interest. Oh, and we’re all incapable of being in a relationship without sleeping with other men, we have an unhealthy interest in Shirley Bassey, we all boogie away in nightclubs with our shirts off with white powder up our noses and spend our evenings engaging in orgies or feasting our eyes on gay porn.

Even today many people, who haven’t had the good fortune to get to know gay people, or gay couples, continue to believe that this the way we lead our lives. I wrote a couple of issues ago about the way we are portrayed on television and the media, and even though some of the sterotypes have disappeared, many unfortunately still remain.

The truth is that most of us live very ordinary lives and consider ourselves normal, law abiding members of society. We do the same things other people do. We live in perfectly ordinary houses without a sex dungeon (actually I did know someone who had one of those, but it ruins my thesis…), we drive the same cars, because believe it or not we don’t all like the open top Jeeps the bloke in Queer as Folk drove. With the notable exception of Attitude, we buy normal people’s magazines. For goodness sake, I even have subscriptions to STUFF, Four Four Two and GQ. How manly can you get?!

Society likes to box us into little homogenous groups and in a media driven age it suits a lot of agendas to pretend that somehow we are all the same. But we’re not. We’re individuals who each lead totally different lives with different tastes, habits and proclivities.

In many ways the internet age ought to have liberated us all from the stranglehold of stereotype, but in some ways the opposite has happened. Mainstream media narratives still dominate. Tories are still rich toffs. UKIP supporters are racist little Englanders. Liberal Democrats are basket weaving sandal wearers. Labour voters wear flat caps and own whippets. If a black man drives a BMW he has probably stolen it. Anyone wearing a hoodie is likely to mug you. Gay men will shag anything with a penis. You get the picture.

It is clear to me that one of the things which drives the promulgation of stereotypes is often fear of the unknown. Often it is a perfectly understandable fear. Animals fear what they don’t know, so why shouldn’t humans? Let me give you two examples. I took a call on my radio programme the other day during a discussion on street crime. An elderly white lady phoned in to tell me how she feared being mugged by the various groups of hooded kids on her estate. One day she was walking home and saw a group of them looking menacing on a street corner. She panicked and dropped a bag of shopping. Immediately one of the hoodies came over and instead of nicking the shopping, helped her put it back in her bag and even carried it home for her. She said she felt thoroughly ashamed for thinking the worst was about to happen. Another barrier broken down.

We bought a house in Norfolk recently. I suspect we’re the only gays in the village. I have to say that everyone has been incredibly friendly, but I had to laugh recently when one of the neighbours blurted out: “You’re both very normal, aren’t you?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Normal for Norfolk, as the saying goes.

Virtually every gay couple I know I consider to be ‘normal’. OK, one or two may be slightly more exotic than others, but that’s the same in the world of straightery too. Perhaps we are too defensive about gay stereotypes and instead of fighting them, we shouldn’t give two hoots about them. Because in the end, we know who we are. We don’t need to be told by society.

This article first appeared in the July edition of Attitude Magazine



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to the Danish Ambassador about Borgen & The Killing

Danish Ambassador Anne Hedensted Steffensen joins Iain to discuss why Danish TV dramas have become so popular.

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Biteback Publishing Is Five Years Old

2 Jul 2014 at 11:36

It has been five years since Biteback Publishing opened its doors. In that time we have consistently sought to publish books that have set the political agenda, and I truly believe we have established ourselves as one of the leading specialist independents in the country. We have published best-sellers by Anthony Seldon, Peter Sissons, Peter Hennessy, Ann Treneman, David Sainsbury, Damian McBride, Peter Hain and Andrew Adonis, among many others. We may be small but we are incredible noisy, exploiting excellent relations with the British press in order to secure often record serialisation deals and unparalleled media coverage. No lesser names than Charles Moore and Peter Oborne have proclaimed us Britain’s best political publisher, for which we are grateful and very proud, and it is a rare weekend you will open a Sunday newspaper and not find one of our books serialised, or reviewed, or providing inspiration for the cover splash. I have to say it has genuinely been a lot of fun, though hard work. We have made a lot of friends and put a few noises out of joint along the way (nobody who has worked with us would describe us a shrinking violets) but we have enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

The last five years has also been a time in which the face of publishing has changed almost beyond recognition. When I started the company in July 2009, I, along with everyone else in the world of publishing, could not have predicted how rapidly that change would take place. Since 2009 we have witnessed the dramatic shrinkage of the high street with Borders disappearing, Waterstones cutting their cloth and WHSmith pushing up marketing costs to create its own cottage industry of fleecing publishers. We have seen the inexorable rise of the Ebook, a sector that now comprises 20% of our business, and perhaps most importantly the irresistible consolidation of Amazon’s domination over the book trade (as, according to some noises-off, it seeks to tighten its Ming-the-Merciless like stranglehold on our sales, pricing and stock-control), more of which later.

Unsurprisingly, some independents have very publicly struggled. It has been sad to watch companies with fantastic lists having to refinance, seek investment, sell up or close their doors. But those of us looking for green shoots can, in my opinion, forget it. It will take a long time for recovery to trickle down to us, and besides, the economic downturn has just been the latest dramatic twist in a narrative that began with the abolition of the Net Book Agreement and will end, I believe, in a radical and wholesale restructuring of the industry business model. A change that will hopefully see an end to the farce of returns.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – the patient is not yet terminal, and the doomsayers can crawl back into their holes, for the time being at least. Challenging times also bring opportunities, something I banked on when I opened Biteback in the eye of the recession. The downturn allowed me access to suppliers and retailers who would not have looked at me twice in fatter times. More importantly, I was able to recruit some of the most talented people in publishing; some of whom are still with us, some have gone on to work for bigger houses, but all of whom I regard as friends, and a vital part of what Biteback has achieved in half decade.

I do believe that, in some regards, small publishers have the upper hand in this brave new world. Large publishers may have the resources but they are constrained by their unwieldiness and vassalage to the shareholder. They lack flexibility and are less able to manage their cost bases. It was this inflexibility that got me back into publishing. In 2009 I identified what I perceived as a gap in the market for, frankly, the kind of book I like. Even back then larger publishers were shying away from some areas of serious non-fiction; refusing to consider anything that was likely to sell less than 10,000 or 15,000 copies (anything selling that now would likely be considered a best-seller!). Consequently I was able to pick up a number of brilliant books that would not otherwise have seen the light of day. I may not have published a Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Grey or Da Vinci Code, but I have published a lot of books I’m terrifically proud of and that have more than washed their faces, which is imperative at this level of publishing.

In tough times the truth of the maxim ‘adapt or die’ becomes starkly clear. In 2011,realising that we were effectively competing against ourselves in our own niche, I invited Jeremy Robson to form our imprint, The Robson Press, and help us broaden our trade appeal and our sales horizons both domestically and overseas. Cue books by a plethora of household names, including Michael Winner, Andrew Sachs, Esther Rantzen, Sandi Toksvig, Barry Cryer and London 2012 multi-gold medal winning Paralympian, David Weir.

The days of sky-high author advances are long gone and there are no longer any free lunches in this industry. The publisher/author relationship is now, more than ever, a strategic business partnership, with the author having to adjust his or her expectations to the realities of the current trading environment and the publisher having to work at least twice as hard to identify and supply alternative sales channels (every one of my staff at Biteback is an enthusiastic hand-seller, often selflessly giving up their evenings). The truth is that none of us are likely to become millionaires so trust is more important than ever, and graft is the name of the game.

Interestingly, I think the role of the literary agent has become the most precarious in these lean times, with agents having to work that much harder for their 15%.

So it’s not all doom and gloom. With a smaller pot from which to draw on times are challenging but the rewards are out there if you are brave and prepared to work harder than the other guy. Any blueprint for successful independent publishing in the current environment must include a renewed understanding between author and publisher, a healthy spirit of do-it-yourself, a keen eye on the bottom line and a willingness to cover all the channels, not to mention having a killer online offer and a desire to exploit new media to the hilt.

Some of what I read about Amazon’s alleged proposed new terms in the trade press doesn’t sit well with me. As you may have guessed by now, I am not a man who likes being told what to do. If true, the idea of signing a new contract which guarantees my books cannot be sold for a lower price than Amazon’s anywhere, including on our own website,is anathema to me. Every publisher, indeed every company in any industry, should have the right to market its wares directly to its customer base, at whatever price it deems appropriate. Taking control of pricing away from the publisher is, I would suggest, bad for all of us. Similarly, I don’t much like the idea of allowing Amazon to sell print-on-demand editions to customers if books are out of supply. Any company has the right to maintain its own stock and its own cost base, otherwise there is simply no point being in business. Besides which, no matter how much people try to persuade me otherwise, I think POD still looks crap.

In Amazon’s favour, I would say this, however. Everything Amazon do is geared towards presenting the customer with the best deal and the best service. As a principle of business it is irresistible, and all independents could do worse than adopt it as a guiding virtue in a marketplace unrestricted by the need to shop outside your living room.

Five years ago, Biteback did what any successful publisher has to do: we began a conversation with our customers. That’s a conversation we are still having today, underpinned by the conviction that if we concentrate on publishing the right books and marketing them to the right readers, we will prevail. Roll on the next five years.


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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale's talks to Julian Fellowes

Julian Fellowes talks about Titanic, Downton Abbey and an elected House of Lords.

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ConHome Diary: I Stand By What I Said - Andy Coulson Was Good At His Job

27 Jun 2014 at 13:54

I won’t be joining those who want to dance on Andy Coulson’s grave. Back in September 2010 I wrote a blogpost for which I have since been widely ridiculed. It was headlined ‘COULSON’S ACCUSERS CAN GO TO HELL’. It started:

“Andy Coulson is bloody good at his job. That’s why the likes of The Guardian, Alastair Campbell, Prescott and Johnson are doing their best to jump on the back of the New York Times story about an ex News of the World journalist who was sacked by the paper for persistent drug and alcohol problems. You don’t think he might have a grudge, do you? They all want Coulson’s scalp. Well, sod ’em.”

It ended…

“Whatever people thought of Andy Coulson’s appointment back in 2006, over the last four years he has proved himself in the job. He’s bloody good at it. His accusers are political opportunists who were part of a government which did far worse things than anything Coulson is accused of. As far as I am concerned they can go to hell. Coulson is innocent until proven guilty.”

Well, he’s now been found guilty of conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages. I don’t question the jury’s verdict but I stand by my comments in 2010. The fact is that Coulson was incredibly good at the job Cameron employed him to do. Just look at what has happened to government communications since then and you see how good Coulson actually was. But the question remains, should he have ever been in the job in the first place? Cameron’s explanation of wanting to give him a second chance is all very well, but the fact is that upon entering Number Ten Coulson should have undergone the normal vetting procedures for someone in that position. He didn’t, for reasons no one has adequately explained. Damian McBride points out that there is no way he could have come through that procedure unscathed. And he should know.

Interestingly it was George Osborne who persuaded David Cameron to appoint Coulson in the first place, over the rival candidate, Guto Harri. And irony of ironies, Harri is now Director of Communications at, wait for it, News International. It’s a funny old world.
It seems that David Cameron’s campaign to junk Jean Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission will end in ignominy today in Brussels. But the fact is he has right on his side and it is to his credit he has fought till the bitter end. Unfortunately, it gives UKIP the chance to say that if he can’t win this particular skirmish, how on earth will he be able to win the war of membership renegotiation? And they’d have a point, wouldn’t they? Perhaps it is best to junk renegotiation altogether. What’s the point if there is no chance of persuading the powers that be in Brussels that they need to change. Juncker’s appointment rather proves that there is little point in even trying. So maybe instead the PM should just offer an in/out referendum with no renegotiation caveat at all. Just a thought.

Luis Suarez. ****. That is all.
Barack Obama, are you Jimmy Carter in disguise? Jimmy Carter’s presidency ended when Iran took US citizens hostage in Tehran. Obama’s presidency may end with Iran taking control of a large part of Iraq. Way to go.

At some point over the next few months we are going to find out what Boris Johnson is made of. His popularity ratings in London are at an all-time high. Half way through his second term he has approval ratings of 64%. Almost North Korean levels. But at the LBC State of London debate this week there was some disquiet about all the rumours about him being a lame duck and part time mayor. If he does indeed fight a seat at the next election he’s going to have to put up with a hell of a lot of flak for serving with a dual mandate. I still wouldn’t rule out him changing his mind altogether and standing for a third term. If you look at the seven dwarves who are considering standing for Labour I suspect he’d be in with a very good chance of winning again. Tessa Jowell is the only Labour candidate who could make me revise that opinion.
Many political pundits watching Neil Kinnock fail to kick the ball into the back of the net during the Westland debate in early 1986, reckon that was the moment when they realised he was all wind and no cut-through. I wonder if Ed Miliband’s similar performance at PMQs this week on phone hacking will have a similar result.



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