Tribute

In Memory of Bert Rose - 1928-2017

6 Feb 2018 at 09:22

Last Friday I attended the funeral of Bert Rose at St Martin’s Church, Overstrand, near Cromer. Bert was a dear friend, and a key ally of mine when I stood for the Conservatives in North Norfolk. I gave the second eulogy. His good friend Paul Cater took us through his whole life, and you can read his eulogy after mine, but I concentrated on a few personal memories.

I think it was Richard Nixon who said the biggest compliment he could be paid was if the words ‘he made a difference’ were etched onto his gravestone. There are people who enter this world and leave it without making a mark. No one could say that about our dear friend Bert Rose.

He made a difference to all our lives. Everyone here, celebrating his life, will know what a difference he made to theirs. Paul has said more or less everything that could be said about Bert and he captured him brilliantly. I just want to tell you about the Bert John and I knew.

Back in September 2003 North Norfolk Conservatives selected me as their parliamentary candidate for the 2005 general election. They lived to regret it – well, many of them did – but I remember Bert taking me aside before the second round of interviews to wish me luck and give me some good advice.

He introduced me to Sylvia at the Conservative Club and when I won, they immediately invited me to stay at their wonderful house in Roughton, until I found somewhere of my own. I never did find out if he’d consulted Sylvia first. Bert was nothing if not impetuous – make a decision and worry about the consequences later.

So, for three months I’d spend two or three nights a week with them, being totally pampered. When I eventually moved into our cottage in Swanton Abbott, it was a real wrench to leave.

I remember in my first week with them I was getting dressed and sat on the bed to put my socks on – I had reached that age – and the whole bed collapsed underneath me. I sat there for what seemed like an age thinking, how on earth do I tell them I have broken their bed?

So I went downstairs and imparted the bad news. Bert screamed with laughter and Sylvia wasn’t far behind. An awkward moment was turned into one of absolute hilarity and that was Bert all over.

Yes, he was loud, yes he could be brash, but he was one of the kindest people I have ever known. He was also good at reading your mood – leaving you alone if you were in a bad one, but able to coax you out of moments of melancholy.

For someone with strong views, and never nervous about expressing them, Bert was also a great conciliator. If you were having a dispute with someone, he’d always encourage you to see the other person’s point of view. Helen, the conservative party agent, and a close friend of Bert, won’t mind me saying that from time to time she and I would have a spectacular falling out.

Bert never took sides but would always try to make sure we repaired relations as quickly as possible. It’s a rare talent to have.

Bert was a proud man and took delight in the achievement of others close to him. He was especially proud to have been given the Freedom of the City of London in the 1990s. I never did find out if he took advantage of the freedom it gave him to drive a herd of goats over London Bridge. Bert was also very proud of his home in Roughton and especially his garden, which he and Sylvia tended so lovingly.

The Conservative Party meant a lot to Bert. He had the same frustrations as the rest of us, but he loved the local party. He absolutely loved the Conservative Club in Louden Road and did everything in his power to make it a success.

He made so many friends through the party and the club, some of them here today, with some having already joined his great heroine Margaret Thatcher above.

Bert was a good judge of character, but he rarely judged. He was also fiercely protective and fiercely loyal. Often I would get to hear of how Bert had rallied to my defence when someone made a slightly off colour comment about me, or me and my partner John.

When I lost the election and lost it badly, a lot of people who I had thought of as friends, dropped me like a stone. Fair enough, that’s politics I suppose, but Bert and Sylvia remained true, loyal and the best of friends and it was a delight and privilege to attend their wedding in 2007.

Bert was quick to praise but didn’t stint in his critique if he disagreed with you. I wrote a weekly column in the EDP for seven years and Bert would email me after reading either telling me it was the most brilliant column in the history of column writing, or that I had no clue what I was talking about and I should be ashamed of my views. No shades of grey with Bert!
Bert made a difference to everyone he met. He was usually the life and soul of the party, but he also had a quieter reflective side. Sylvia brought out the best in him and his love for her was there for all of us to observe. And her love for him has been there for all of us to see, especially in these last few difficult years as Bert’s health declined.

We will all miss Bert. Our lives were enriched by him. I know I speak for everyone here when I say we will never forget him.

PAUL CATER’S EULOGY

For over 30 years my wife and I have known Bert as a friend, a close family friend, and as “Uncle Bertie” to our children.

Today we are all here as friends of Bert Rose, not only to mourn the loss of Bert, but also to recall and celebrate his life.

Iain Dale and I have been asked to speak about how we remember our friend Bert, and to turn open some of the chapters in his life.

To be asked to give testimony in this way is an important privilege. Bert has had a long life, and now in this very short space of time today we try our best to give what is a final roll call to his life and to some of the things that he has done.

Bert’s life is a large canvas on which I can fill out only a partial and more recent sketch. It covers both the years and the continents – USA, continental Europe and, of course, the UK.

This is painting by numbers, but I only have some of the colours to fill in some of the canvas. Large parts of it remain unknown to me so please forgive omissions or indeed, help us fill them in today yourselves if you are able to.

Bert was born on 20th November 1928 in the USA in Connecticut, although we have always thought of him as a Texan.

Bert’s father was Samuel Rose and we believe he was a rancher.

We know that Bert was not an only child – he had siblings – and, with his wife Anne, whom he married in Texas on the 15 June 1955, he had a family. Anne sadly died many years ago.

He worked for the leading New York construction company Lehrer McGovern, which merged with the UK’s P&O/Bovis in 1988. This brought him to Europe – Poland first of all, then Paris (for EuroDisney) and then London (for Canary Wharf).

At work you can be sure that Bert always made demands on himself to perform and he was always full of stories,

I remember his telling me that when he was in Poland building an abattoir, the ground work plans came in to him unexpectedly, well before the Christmas freeze, so Bert seized the opportunity to push on and get the foundations in before the snow.

When Lehrer McGovern then informed him in the New Year that the ground work plans would shortly be with him, Bert was able to tell them that the programme was ahead of schedule and that that phase of the work had been completed.

So they asked to see the plans.

We don’t know where on earth you got that set of drawing from, but they are for the new Chicago penitentiary. They said: That’s a pity (well, probably something somewhat stronger). We’ll have to redesign.

Bert was always a very much larger than life person, but in dealing with the fairer sex, always the perfect gentleman. He became entranced by Judy Ablewhite when he met her. If she was the English rose, then Bert was certainly the American Rose.

Judy had left British Airways in 1977, where she had worked for a number of years. She then had a spell of trans-Atlantic commuting when she joined, firstly, Hilton Hotels and then Penta Hotels, and it was in New York that she and Bert first met.

They were married in December 1983 in a quiet service in Hampton, attended by Judy’s parents, and Bert came to stay with us before his wedding day.

Some here today will remember their first of all living in a small but pretty house near the Thames in Hampton.

And then a larger house in Weybridge.

Whilst they were living in Weybridge, Bert was injured by taking a bad on-site fall, whilst working on his Canary Wharf construction project. This was a painful back injury and retirement became necessary.

The story now becomes much more local – because, when Judy’s father retired from Lloyds Bank some years earlier, he and his wife moved to a bungalow in Overstrand – so Bert and Judy bought Hill Farm up here in Roughton, to be near Judy’s widowed mother.

Bert, in his earlier life had had his horses, and in later life in the UK his dogs, although I can only recall those here in Norfolk – Tizzie and Pepper and, of course Hamish, the West Highland terrier.

And between times, Bert continued to be an avid reader and kept a good cellar of wines, which he had brought up to Norfolk with him.

However, those of you who may have sampled his home-brewed Rumtoff will recall this as a memorable experience,

Following a family visit we made to Hill Farm, I and my American son-in-law can attest that an evening of Bert’s Rumtoff hospitality after dinner was both a demanding and long-lasting trial of the human body, although we now believe that all supplies, and indeed the distilling and fermentation recipe for this pungent inebriant, are fortunately lost to mankind.

We know those very familiar lines Ecclesiastes:

“To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted ……
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent, and a time to speak…….”

Bert in his long life has done all those things, across the globe, except the last…. I have never known him keep silent. Forthright and wholly outspoken in his views – red-carded on a number of occasions for his “Bertrocities”, – his email address you may recall was: BertRose@bertrocity.com – but always warm, welcoming and very genuine and, Bertrocities aside, as I have already said, always the perfect host and gentleman.

Here in Norfolk, Bert, now a British citizen, was active in local politics, Roughton Village Hall and Roughton Village Council, DIY and, of course, an extensive amount of time in the large garden at Hill Farm. Judy died here in 2002.

This garden and the house eventually became rather too much of a demanding task every day of the week, so relocation was called for and this was to the Overstand bungalow, with a much more manageable garden but still plenty of opportunity for DIY within.

From the bungalow, Bert was a regular visitor to Judy’s mother who was by then resident in a care home. Although she also had dementia, she was always happy to see Bert.

Bert kept his long-established friendships in the USA. He liked his trips to Texas and particularly to San Antonio where the late Stan Coughran and his wife Nancy lived.

He kept contact with our daughter Sophie, who was in the USA, and took his god-daughters, Nickie and Camilla, over there with him to see what Texas was really like, and to stay with Nancy and Stan, and to visit Florida.

Bert was so fortunate as to meet Sylvia in Overstrand in 2004. He asked her to dinner – again, you could say politics – because the venue for their first meeting was the Overstand Conservative Club, and Bert used to be there at the end of an evening for his coffee and rum.

They celebrated their growing and loving relationship when they married here in this church on the 20 April 2007.

Bert and Sylvia came to the wedding of our son Jonathan a couple of years later in August 2009, and Bert made a very nice speech to the assembled guests.

This was before the onset of his dementia was starting to become apparent. He was looking very well. We have a lovely photo of Bert and Sylvia taken there. The wedding reception was in the open air – you all know Bert – no problem for anyone at the various tables hearing what he had to say.

His address was sincere and heartfelt. That was Bert’s style and it is what we all loved about him. It reminded us that he was always very kind and supportive of all the young he knew, particularly those who were starting to make their way in life. He was a person with a very big heart.

Bertie and Sylvia looked after each other, and certainly Sylvia has latterly looked after Bert with undivided attention – with help from friends and Sylvia’s daughter Tina, who also has some words for us in this service – both at home and then when Bert had to be away in care.

In his latter years, Bert was burdened with increasing dementia. He had intermittent flashes of recognition and coherence – and his often sudden and completely unexpected responses could on occasion be quite amusing – and they were in their way reassuring, because they showed that he was making past connections with times past – but sadly these faded as the dementia so tragically overtook him in his last years.

These have been five and a half very difficult years, and I think we have all appreciated and been grateful for the constant and loving care that Sylvia has given to Bert, with long and frequent day trips to Norwich to the Julian Hospital for a year and a half, where Bert was resident in the excellent new Dementia Intensive Care Unit which opened in 2011. After that there were daily visits to him over 4 years in North Walsham where he was in the very good care of the staff at Halvergate Nursing Home.

For Bert, a very full and packed life of some 89 years.

He was a very special and irreplaceable friend, whom we have had great pleasure knowing over the years, and from whom we have all in certain ways, I am sure, learned something, and whom we shall remember with lasting affection.

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ConHome Diary: Vote for Widders, The Mancock App & Collective Responsibility

2 Feb 2018 at 13:06

Ann Widdecombe needs your vote. For those of you who don’t watch Celebrity Big Brother, she’s in the final and voting finishes this evening. It would be great to see her win it, and confound her critics. If you want to vote for her dial 090 20 44 24 03.
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I keep trying to put myself in Philip Lee’s brain and imagine what he was thinking of when he sent three tweets out on Wednesday evening questioning how the government could legitimately continue in office if any part of the Treasury Brexit forecasts were true. He’s not a commentator, or even a backbench MP. He’s a government minister. Too many MPs seem to believe they are not active participants in the process of politics or government. Instead they seem to think they are detached from it, and are free to commentate on it. If you can’t bring yourself to accept the concept of collective responsibility you resign. Simple as that. You don’t have a public battle with yourself and your party’s demons on social media. You write to the Prime Minister letter and explain why you can no longer support government policy. I understand the Chief Whip called Philip in for an interview without coffee. I imagine he used some fairly colourful language to explain that any repetition would lead to a very short future in government.
The thing is, Philip is a very nice and honourable man. He, Rory Stewart and I contested the final three for Bracknell back in the autumn of 2009. He was the local GP and I suppose both Rory and I knew he had an inbuilt advantage. When the result was announced we both felt genuinely pleased for him and knew he would go on to be a great constituency representative. We were right. But of the three of us I’d have thought he was the least likely to go ‘off message’. Shows how wrong you can be!
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As I write this, I have just emerged from two hours – yes, two hours – of dental treatment. Last Friday half of my lower back tooth fell off. It didn’t hurt, but I knew instantly it was going to cost. A lot. So I got an emergency appointment first thing on Monday and sure enough was told I needed a crown. The left-hand side of my face is totally numb. I just hope the anaesthetic wears off by 4pm. Doing a live radio show with a numb face is probably not a good idea. Especially as I have to do a half hour live interview with David Miliband. Insert your own joke here.
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What’s the first thing you do when you come out of the dentist? Obvious. Look at your phone. This is the text that greeted me:
“Have you seen the new Mancock App?”
No, not a reference to a new version of Grindr or Gaydar, but after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing the text referred to a new App from the Secretary of State for Culture Media and of course Sport. Oh, and Digital. Matt Hancock is nothing if not an innovator, and rather than sneer at this initiative, some in the Conservative Party ought to take their lead from him. The social media offering from Conservative politicians is generally pretty lamentable. You can count on the fingers of two hands the number of MPs that have a proper social media and digital presence and actually know how to use it. There was a time when the right was streets ahead of the left in this area. No longer. A key test for the new party chairman, Brandon Lewis, will be how quickly he can put this right.
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I was so looking forward to reading Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’. It’s been an incredible disappointment. I didn’t even read the newspaper serialisation of it, but still feel I am not really discovering anything I didn’t know before. I’m three quarters of the way through it, but unusually for me, I can’t wait for the book to end. Mind you, next up is Gordon Brown’s autobiography, so I suppose I should be careful what I wish for.

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ConHome Diary: Doing God's Work with the Devil's Money & Why Life's a Bitch

26 Jan 2018 at 13:41

The Cybernats really are the most vicious trolls on the internet. On Wednesday I highlighted a story which had appeared in most of the day’s newspapers that Nicola Sturgeon had ordered that the Union Jack could only be flown from Scottish Government buildings on Remembrance Sunday, and not at other times. Instead, the Saltire was to take precedence. This was a front page story in the Telegraph, and appeared also in The Times. Sturgeon immediately replied to my tweet saying she had done no such thing. I replied with screenshots of the protocols issued in both 2017 and 2018, and the difference was clear. Her defence seemed to be that she had not issued it personally. Maybe not, but it was issued in the name of the Scottish Government and in the end the buck surely stops with her. Or was she throwing her civil servants under a bus? She would be the first to criticise Tory or Labour politicians who did that. And she’d be quite right to. It turns out that it was Alex Salmond who had ordered it and it had been kept secret for eight years. It is still a disgrace, whoever was behind it.

The irony of the Cybernat attacks on my is that I actually have a lot of sympathy for the idea of Scottish independence. I’m a quarter Scottish myself, and had I been able to vote in the 2014 referendum there’s a fair chance I’d have supported Scotland going its own way. The behaviour of the Cybernats only serves to make me question that view.

UPDATE: See the blogpost below


The brass neck of UKIP’s current leader Henry Bolton has to be admired. To think that you can continue to lead a party when its whole ruling national executive votes to express a lack of confidence, and when you lose at least 16 out of 24 policy spokespeople could only happen in the world of the utterly delusional. I don’t know Mr Bolton, and for all I know he may have some utterly spellbinding personal virtues, but in his three months as UKIP leader we are yet to see any of them. UKIP’s problem is that if he is ousted at their EGM in late February, as he surely must be, who will be ready to try to revive a once great party? Patrick O’Flynn has ruled himself out, as he is not in sympathy with a lot of UKIP’s more socially reactionary policies. The party wouldn’t wear Suzanne Evans, so who else? The smart money may be on Margot Parker MEP – one of the few sensible voices remaining at the top of the party.
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I am seriously beginning to believe Ann Widdecombe could win Celebrity Big Brother. Vote Ann!
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So, have I got this right? Millionaire politician goes to charity dinner, presumably intending to donate money to a good cause. Said politician stays ninety minutes and then leaves when he feels uncomfortable about what is happening. Said politician then called on to resign for attending event and failing to report his ‘uncomfortableness’. Nadhim Zahawi could be forgiven for thinking people have lost a bit of perspective here. However, that’s nothing compared to the ridiculous reaction of Great Ormond Street and the Eveline Children’s Trust, both of whom have said they will return ALL donations received from the Presidents Trust over the years – the amount totals more than £1 million. As Isabel Oakeshott put it: “I don’t think Great Ormond Street should sacrifice children’s health at the altar of political correctness. No need to return the money.” She said she also knew of one charity that would be forced to axe three staff if they were forced to return the £100k that they have received in donations over the years. Zoe Williams suggested that it’s OK to take the devil’s money to do the Lord’s work. I entirely concur. And quite who they return the money to is anybody’s guess, seeing as the Presidents Club has now been shut down.
I’ve never been to a dinner like this and nor would I wish to, but let’s not pretend that the behaviour here was any worse than is seen in bars and clubs on a Friday night up and down the country. Or, dare I say it at women only events (Butlers in the Buff, anyone?) where the male waiters don’t just get pawed and leered at – they often have to protect their ‘crown jewels’ with their lives.
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Boris Johnson must have a death wish. Any fool would have known that to brief in advance of a cabinet meeting that you thought the NHS should get an extra £100 million would blow up in your face. OK, I’m sure Boris didn’t do it himself, but is it really believable that he was totally unaware what his allies were doing it? He endured a very uncomfortable hour at Cabinet when even people who would normally have been his allies let him know their views in no uncertain terms. Many observers now doubt that if there were a leadership election he’d make it to the final two. If the Foreign Secretary wishes to remain in government, he’d do very well to stick to his job and make a success of it, rather than try to trample over other people’s area of responsibility. Coming up with visionary ideas like a cross channel bridge is one thing. Leaking what you’re intending to say in Cabinet is quite another.
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I don’t know how many of you saw Tessa Jowell’s moving interview with Nick Robinson, where she talked about her brain cancer. A braver woman you will never meet. I’ve got to know her quite well over the years and I remember the morning she phoned me some months ago to tell me about the tumour the doctors had found. It was 8am and I saw her name on the phone and couldn’t work out why she would be phoning me at such an unearthly hour. The words poured out at such a rate that I didn’t understand at first what she was trying to tell me. And then I did. It’s difficult to know what to say in those circumstances. ‘Be strong’, doesn’t really cut it. I remember putting down the phone and bursting into tears. Life can be such a bitch.

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Nicola Sturgeon: An Apology

26 Jan 2018 at 10:27

On Wednesday I read a story in The Times about the Scottish Government ordering a change in its flag flying policy, meaning that the only occasion the Union Flag could be flown on Scottish Parliament buildings was on Remembrance Sunday. Previously there were 14 other occasions when it could be flown. Instead, it would now be replaced by the Saltire.

I then tweeted:

“So @NicolaSturgeon has ordered the union flag to be removed from government buildings. Perhaps the UK government should remove the funding which enables her to spend £1500 more per head of population than is spent in England.”

Nicola Sturgeon then tweeted me to say that it was not her decision and nothing had changed since 2010. At the same time Ruth Davidson’s spokesman tweeted screenshots of the change in policy between 2017 and 2018’s guidance notes. It seemed to me that this was fairly convincing.

However, it is now clear that the decision on the flags was taken in 2010 when Alex Salmond was First Minister, but the civil service policy guidance had not been updated in the ensuing seven years.

I still believe that it was wrong for this decision a) to have been taken and b) that it was not made public until now. Obviously as First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has to take responsibility for what happens in her government’s name, even if the actual decision was not hers. But I have this morning been in touch with her directly and apologised for tweeting that it was her decision. It is clear now that it was not.

In these circumstances, I am going to delete the original tweet.

One final thing, though. The abuse I have received over the last two days has been something to behold. Luckily I have th skin of a rhino. You might say that since I tweeted something that was wrong I deserved it. All I will say is that it is possible to disagree and call someone out in ways which don’t involve the kind of language and violent abuse that has been freely used by the so-called ‘Cybernats’. I’m sure a lot of it will be repeated in response to this blogpost, but it’s a sad indictment of our public discourse when people who disagree politically can’t have a reasonable exchange. All I would say to them is that if Nicola Sturgeon can have the grace to accept my apology – and she has – then I’d hope that her more vocal supporters can bring themselves to do so as well. I can always live in hope…!

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The 'Irish Times' London Editor Owes London's Black Cabbies An Apology

21 Jan 2018 at 18:38

I got an email from a listener on Friday, which I thought I’d share with you.

I’m a long-time listener of your show via the internet here in Ireland. As an Englishman living here I’ve become increasingly concerned at some aspects of the anti-English coverage of Brexit, most notably in the so-called paper of record the Irish Times. Hardly a day has gone by since the Referendum result when the paper hasn’t carried warnings of doom and gloom about Brexit. Portraying it entirely as the result of racist English people/swivel-eyed loons/white van man etc harking back to the Empire is a common theme. This following piece today though really has taken my breath away. It’s by the paper’s London editor Denis Staunton and describes his outrage at being called mate by a London cabbie.

It can’t be that bad, I thought. So I click on the link and read the following…

“We were at the bottom of St James’s when the cab jolted and hissed to a halt, as a black SUV stopped in front, right in the middle of the street. A side door slid open and Prince Harry stepped out, wearing the same blue suit he announced his engagement in and with a close protection officer by his side as he bounded across to the pavement.

“Was that Prince Harry?” the driver said.

I told him it was.

“Did he just get out of an Uber?”

I said it seemed unlikely.

“Prince Harry. In a bleeding Uber,” he said.

To pass the Knowledge, a series of tests to qualify them for a licence, London cabbies must memorise 20,000 landmarks, 25,000 streets and 320 routes. And just three topics of conversation: Uber, cycle lanes and Brexit.

Once they alight on one of these subjects, the wisest course is to stop listening, look out the window and sink deep into your own thoughts. I had almost forgotten about the driver altogether when I noticed that he was calling me “mate”.

I felt the blood rushing up through my chest and into my head as my eyes flashed and stung. Mate. It’s not the insolence or the cheerless familiarity of it, so much as the hint of laddish menace. It’s the sound of getting taken down a peg or two, of home truths being delivered, it’s the bouncer on the door, the hooligan on the terrace, it’s a pint glass smashing in the street at midnight. It’s the Black and Tans burning down Cork. He was calling me ‘mate’. I felt the blood rush up through my chest."

And so it goes on.

I’ve never met Mr Staunton and I have no idea how long he has lived in London for, but however long it has been, he doesn’t seem to have learnt that cabbies call everyone ‘mate’. It’s a sign of friendliness, not some sort weird bigotry. The patronising condescension in this article towards people who do an honest day’s work (but clearly aren’t clever enough to write for the Irish Times, obvs.) is palpable. It’s the sort of language which if I, as an Englishmen, were to write Dublin cabbies, I’d be drummed out of Ireland for. And deservedly so.

As my listener from County Cork wrote in his email…

“This is risible and dangerous nonsense by a national newspaper designed to do nothing else but stir up hostility towards the English amongst its readers.”

England and Ireland have a chequered history. Our relations today are probably better at any time in our history. London welcomes tens of thousands of young Irish people each year and very welcome they are too. And we will continue to welcome them after Brexit, despite the best attempts of people like Denis Staunton who like to play into old, chauvenistic stereotypes about what we English are really like.

Words have consequences. Newspaper columns have consequences. It’s so easy to write a sneering column about other nationalities. Let’s face it, enough British columnists have done it about the Irish over the years. But two wrongs don’t make a right. If I were a London black cab driver I’d be incredibly insulted by the tone of this column, and rightly so. Anti Irish sentiment in this country has largely disappeared – at least, I hope it has. Mr Staunton may have another point of view.

Irish politics fascinates me at the moment. They’ve got a new, young Taoiseach in Leo Varadkar (I’m publishing a biography of him in July by two young Irish journalists, Philip Ryan and Niall O’Connor – details HERE and how they navigate Brexit is going to be interesting to watch. I think Brexit is actually going to prove an opportunity for our two countries to become even closer than we have become over the last two decades. But articles like Mr Staunton’s do not help in that process. Do they?

Alright? Mate.

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A rather thoughtful discussion….!

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ConHome Diary: Conservatives Are Failing to Make the Case for Capitalism

19 Jan 2018 at 15:40

The collapse of a company like Carillion was always going to result in Jeremy Corbyn attacking the whole concept of ‘contracting out’ – or ‘privatisation’ as he would say. He conveniently ignores the inconvenient fact that it wasn’t Carillion’s public sector contracts which caused the company to go bust, but instead they had overreached themselves on their private sector contracts which made up 60% of their business. Corbyn also questioned why contracts had been awarded contracts even after July’s profit warning. This shows how little Corbyn understands of the private sector and how businesses work. A profit warning means just that – that profits are likely to lower than previously indicated. It does not mean that a company is in imminent danger of going bust. You can’t blame Corbyn for not understanding the private sector. He’s never had a job in it. Come to think of it, I don’t think he’s had a public sector job either, unless you count being an MP. His only job before becoming an MP was as a trade union organiser. His Shadow Cabinet fares little better. I don’t think any of them have ever actually run a business themselves. Owen Smith worked for Pfizer (insert own joke here) and Rebecca Long-Bailey was a lawyer, but apart from those two there is little private sector experience to be found.
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I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again. The case for capitalism is not being made. The case for privatisation is not being made. The case for contracting out is not being made. Corbyn’s populist approach is making headway among young voters who, by definition, have no memory of what state control did to the economy in the 1970s. Having reached the ripe old age of 55 it’s becoming clear to me that all politics is cyclical. And we’re now entering a period of time where people genuinely think that the state is much better at running things than the private sector. People even seem to think the railways were better under state ownership. Politicians on the right have failed to counter this type of propaganda and until they do, the danger of a Corbyn government will grow by the day.
Of course, the trouble is that the private sector is often the worst possible advert for itself. The behaviour of some company directors is appalling and allows the narrative to develop that all directors are just in it for themselves. One rotten apple spoils the barrel. The way some industries were privatised means that lack of competition and soft regulation has allowed some companies – especially in the energy and water sectors – to treat their customers with the same contempt that the public sector has often displayed. It shouldn’t be like that. It doesn’t have to be like that.
*

On Wednesday a colleague told me of a crowdfunding initiative launched by two of the victims of the black cab driver John Worboys, who is about to be let out of prison on parole. They want to launch a legal challenge to stop that happening, or at the very least make sure that the Parole Board followed correct procedures. They wanted to raise £10,000. I tweeted about it and Guido Fawkes blogged. I then decided to do an hour-long phone-in on the issue. At the start of the phone-in people had donated £2,000. An hour later the total was more than £13,000. If that doesn’t demonstrate the power of radio, I don’t know what does. The total was boosted by a £5,000 donation from the Licensed Taxi Drivers Association. As I write the total is more than £15,000. If you’d like to donate, click HERE [insert link https://www.crowdjustice.com/donation/d2p5VV69vDMl6d6D5xxQnYBGvNDk/?style=new ]. The target is now £50,000. Worboys’ victims deserve justice and they need to feel safe. It’s a scandal that this money even has to be raised. The system has failed these women and there are a lot of questions that need to be answered about the way the Parole system needs to be reformed and made more transparent.
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Nicola Sturgeon has been uncharacteristically quiet of late, hasn’t she? Perhaps the reason is the plummeting support for Scottish independence. Only 37% of Scots now want Scotland to be a fully independent country, according to a YouGov poll this week. Another part of Project Fear which hasn’t come true – the warning made in the Brexit referendum that Brexit would make the break-up of the United Kingdom more likely.
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If you’ve got Netflix, check out a Norwegian political thriller series called OCCUPIED. It centres around a green Norwegian Prime Minister who stops all oil and gas production. Without giving too much away, it then centres around how the EU persuades Russia to invade and ensure oil and gas production continues. It’s absolutely gripping. No need to thank me!

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Tom Bower

Tom Bower discusses his biography of Simon Cowell and his other books.

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UK Politics

The Government Needs to Reverse a Thirty Year Policy and Start Increasing the Number of Hospital Beds

13 Jan 2018 at 20:15

A lot has been written and said about the crisis in hospitals this January. Much of it repeats what was written last January. And yet it shouldn’t have been like this. The Health Secretary and the Prime Minister and various NHS managers continue to insist that planning for the annual ‘winter crisis’ was better than ever. You just wonder how bad things would be if it hadn’t been…

Simon Stevens is nothing if not a clever political operator. By demanding in public that the NHS got an extra £4 billion (knowing full well he wouldn’t get it) he covered his back. If things went tits up, he could blame ministers rather than put the blame where it really ought to lie – at his own door. This was supposed to be a man with a plan. Indeed he did have a plan – a five year plan. He put it to ministers and they accepted every word of it and agreed to fund it down to the last penny. It turned out that Simon Stevens became Oliver Twist and kept asking for ‘more’.

In 1997 Stevens became a special advier to the then Health Secretary Frank Dobson. If ever there was a health secretary in need of advice it was him. He held the same position with Alan Milburn and then in 2001 became health policy adviser to Tony Blair. He was closely associated with the development of the NHS Plan 2000. This plan promised to reverse 30 years of hospital bed cuts, and provide and extra 7,500 hospital beds over the ensuing five years. In actual fact the number of beds fell by 3,000, continuing a seemingly irreversible trend.

It was the Blair government that promoted the theory that people much preferred to be treated in their own homes, and therefore fewer hospital beds were needed. In addition, new technology and faster treatments also meant that whereas in the 1980s someone might need a five day hospital stay, nowadays that might be reduced to one or two, or even none if the treatment could be done in a day. Jacqui Smith (who was a Health Minister at the time) and I spoke about this on this week’s FOR THE MANY PODCAST. She admitted the policy had been a mistake. But it’s a policy which has continued since that time under all shades of government. Small hospitals in rural areas in particular have been hit, with many being closed altogether. The very concept of a convalescent hospital has virtually disappeared.

There has been a perfect storm. Although the number of doctors and nurses has increased, and brand news hospitals have been built (often funded on the never-never) the population has also increased exponentially. This seems to have come as a bit of a surprise to NHS executives. On top of that, instead of the population becoming healthier, we’ve become more obese, prone to be diabetic and more generally more ill, more often. Again, this seems to have taken the NHS by surprise. Demands on mental, as well as physical health have increased hugely in recent years, yet the number of mental health beds has declined sharply. Not only that but non-residential mental healthcare funding hasn’t kept pace with demands in any shape or form. As I say, in short a perfect storm.

So why do politicians still refuse to acknowledge the reality that more beds are needed? One explanation is that the advice from NHS England remains that the policy shouldn’t change. But isn’t it the job of politicians to challenge that advice? Let’s look at the evidence…

Well the trend couldn’t be clearer, could it? Under all governments in the last thirty years the total number of hospital beds has been cut – or slashed depending on your viewpoint. These figures come from the King’s Fund. Click on THIS LINK and you can see the exact numbers by running your mouse over the graph. It’s very telling.

The total number of beds in the NHS has declined by more than half, from around 300,000 in 1987 to around 148,000 now. In 1987 the UK population was 56.8 million. The population now is around 66.2 million. The population has increased by 17%, yet the number of hospital beds has declined by more than 50%. Medical advances have certainly been made, but surely not to that extent.

If we look at the number of General & Acute beds, which is the biggest category, the numbers are startling…

1987-88 180,889
1997-98 138,047
2010-11 108,958
2016-17 102,369

The average decline in beds per year during the Blair/Brown government was 2,909. During the Coalition/Conservative years the figure is 1,098.

The figures for mental health beds are even starker.

1987-88 67,122
1997-98 36,601
2010-11 23,448
2016-17 18,730

The biggest cuts in mental health beds came when Care in the Community was launched. However, it’s continued ever since. In the last thirty years bed numbers have been cut by 72%. Astonishing.

The average decline in mental health beds per year during the Blair/Brown government was 1,315. During the Coalition/Conservative years the figure is 786.

Given that the population has increased and the birthrate has increased from 1.64 to 1.81 per woman between 2000 and 2015 (Source: World Bank) you might expect the number of maternity beds to have stabilised or even increased. But no…

1987-88 15,932
1997-98 10,781
2010-11 7,874
2016-17 7,792

The average decline in maternity beds per year during the Blair/Brown government was 291. During the Coalition/Conservative years the figure is 14. Now let’s be clear, maternity care has changed beyond recognition during this period. More women like to give birth at home, and even those that have their babies in hospital are now often in and out within twenty four hours. Back in 1962 when my mother gave birth to me, she was in a nursing home for two weeks, even though it was an easy birth – albeit I was the longest baby any mother had given birth to in that particular establishment!

The only section in that graph that bucks the trend is the number of day beds. This is to be expected given that medical science has advanced and so many more treatments can now be conducted without the need for an overnight stay.

1987-88 2,000
1997-98 7,125
2010-11 11,254
2016-17 12,463

The average increase in day beds per year during the Blair/Brown government was 413. During the Coalition/Conservative years the figure is 218.

A narrative has grown up that it’s the ‘wicked Tories’ who have cut beds and they’re determined to cut the NHS to the bone. These figures demonstrate that hospitla bed cuts are part of a long term strategy that governments of all colours have implemented. And they’ve done this at the behest of the medical establishment.

And when you compare the number of beds per thousand people in Britain and other countries… well, it doesn’t look good.

Admittedly these figures are from 2010, but it’s almost certain that things haven’t changed an awful lot, comparatively, since then. UPDATE: I’m told the UK figure is now 2.6/1000.

And this leads us on to the real issue here – and that’s social care. NHS professionals and administrators have been very keen to cut bed numbers on the premise that once patients have been discharged it’s up to the social care system to take over – especially with geriatric patients. The trouble is that side of the healthcare equation has been largely ignored despite politicians constantly telling us that it’s a policy which needs solving.

I know from personal experience how elderly people take up beds in hospitals even though they shouldn’t be there. They should be in care homes, but the places just don’t exist. Since 2002 an average of 7,000 new care home beds have opened in the UK every year, but by 2026 there will be an additional 14,000 people needing residential care home places per year. (Source: Radio 4 You & Yours). How will these beds be financed? There’s little doubt, that along with housing provision, social care one of the two biggest social challenges facing government.

Chris Hopson, the publicity hungry head of NHS Providers, said this week that 10-15,000 new hospital beds are needed if we are to avoid the kind of crisis we’re seeing at the moment in hospitals up and down the country. That’s between 60 and 90 per acute trust. Bear in mind that some acute trusts have more than one hospital.

Each hospital bed costs the NHS around £150,000 per year. The annual cost of increasing bed numbers by 15,000 would be around £2.25 billion, plus all the infrastructure and staffing costs.

It’s all very well for Simon Stevens to call for an extra £4 billion of funding. Jeremy Corbyn has called for an extra £6 billion. But what would it be spent on? We all remember the huge amounts of extra money that went into the NHS in the early Blair years, but the overwhelming amount of it went on salaries, not into directly improving healthcare.

If we are going to spend a higher per centage of our national income on the NHS then we surely need to decide our priorities. I would suggest that reversing the decline in hospital beds ought to be fairly near the top of that list.

Three years ago I wrote a book called THE NHS: THINGS THAT NEED TO BE SAID. You can buy it from Amazon HERE

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Iain Hosts a Phone-In on Female on Male Domestic Violence

Breaking another taboo, Iain takes some moving calls on domestic violence.

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WATCH: CNN Talk - Is Donald Trump a Racist For Calling Some Countries 'Shitholes'?

12 Jan 2018 at 21:55

Watch out for a sparky row between me and Ayesha a few minutes in… And watch how I can’t bring myself to say ‘shitholes’ on live TV!

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Video: Iain on why politicians don't answer questions

Daily Politics, BBC2

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