Guest Post

Football Mad: The Story of Mental Illness & Suicide in the Beautiful Game

30 Mar 2015 at 09:20

NOTE FROM IAIN: This is an article written for my West Ham Till I Die blog by one its readers whose pen name is ‘Iron Liddy’. She has written several articles for the site before, but none which has attracted the level of interest or comment that this one has. When you have finished reading the piece below, click HERE and read through the more than 300 comments. By dint of her writing this article ‘Iron Liddy’ has allowed other West Ham fans to open up about their own experiences of depression. She should be very proud. By copying the article here, I hope to bring it to a wider audience.

Guest Post by Iron Liddy

When I look back at the past two seasons as a West Ham fan in years to come sadly the word that will define them for me will be ‘abuse.’ I feel as though my senses have been battered by an incessant stream of vitriol aimed at our owners; our manager; some of our players, one in particular; and at fellow fans.

I looked at Carlton Cole’s face as he sat on the sofa on Goals on Sunday last weekend and I saw a very unhappy man. His mouth was smiling but his eyes weren’t; his time at West Ham has extinguished some of the spark in of one of the sweetest, funniest men in the game. Football’s Mr Nice Guy was forced to sit there and admit that he has been fined £40,000 for losing his temper and retaliating in kind to an abusive tweet from an opposition fan. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Although he is a favourite among many West Ham fans he has also had to endure constant criticism and abuse from other factions of our fan base and beyond. You really hope that the love that he receives from his supporters helps to cushion the pain of the virtual blows that he’s subjected to on social media; a subject which brings me on to our most vilified player in the past couple of years, Kevin Nolan.

In his recent interview with Dave Evans in the Newham Recorder Kevin said:

“It has been a tough couple of months ….. people talking about me and saying things about me, it has been hard, I am not going to deny it, but the only thing I have ever known is playing football. That is the only thing I can do now. I have got nothing to prove to anyone. I have done a lot in my career and a lot of what has been said has been unfair, but that’s life I suppose.”

Anybody who regularly follows West Ham’s fortunes will know that Kevin Nolan’s response to the vicious and personal abuse he has been subjected to for months on end is an understatement. For somebody not in the public eye it’s difficult to comprehend what it must be like to be exposed to a daily barrage of abusive and crass criticism. As a woman I also feel for his wife and try to imagine how upset I would be at having to watch my husband endure such hatred and venom simply for trying to do his job; not to mention the stress of trying to ensure that it didn’t reach the ears and eyes of my children.

Nolan went on to say:

“I’ve come to the stage in my career with all the negativity surrounding me and I have just taken it on the chin. It’s water off a duck’s back for me. Sometimes it hurts of course, but I’ve got a fantastic family, fantastic support system and not just with family and friends but also within the club.”

So Kevin is still smiling and still coping, at least he seems to be. Anyway, isn’t he fair game for all the critics and abusers given his dream job and huge salary? Maybe, maybe not. A popular consensus seems to be that professional footballers, as well as other people in the public eye, are exempt from the consideration afforded to ‘regular’ people. It’s as if a proportion of society considers that their wealth and celebrity makes them somehow immune from the frailties of the human condition and that they can either just absorb or repel any abuse without it affecting their mental and physical wellbeing.

As the cruelty and contempt that they have had to tolerate reaches its height both Carlton Cole and Kevin Nolan have also arrived at a stage in their careers as professional footballers where they need to take stock and ask themselves the question “what next?” It sounds like a lovely problem to have doesn’t it? All that money in the bank, not too many medals granted, but scrapbooks filled with memories of a job that most people can only dream of, what have they got to worry about? In fact they are probably at a very vulnerable stage of their lives and you can only hope that they have the mental strength and support networks that will enable them to navigate it successfully as they continue to deflect the scorn and bile that is heaped upon them every day.

For the majority of these relatively still young men football has been the only way of life that they’ve known since they were children; it defines them as human beings and shapes their self-worth and self-identity. When they come to the end of their footballing career they are in danger of losing so much more than a big income and the chance to play football in front of thousands of people. Unfortunately no amount of money, fame or privilege can protect mentally vulnerable people from the irrationality and despair of depression and mental illness; conditions which are exacerbated by external circumstances and the stresses of abuse and criticism.

A few weeks ago Clarke Carlisle, the former Burnley and QPR defender and one-time Chairman of the Professional Footballers’ Association, left hospital following his second suicide attempt.

He told The Sun newspaper that he had been left severely depressed by the end of his football career, financial problems and the loss of a TV punditry role. Seeing death as the only escape from his despair Carlisle stepped in front of a lorry on the A64 on the 22nd of December and hoped for oblivion. As it turned out he survived the impact and was airlifted to Leeds General Infirmary suffering from cuts, bruises, internal bleeding, a broken rib and shattered left knee. On Christmas Day 2014 he was admitted as an in-patient to a psychiatric unit in Harrogate before his release in January this year.

Carlisle’s battle with depression has been well documented in the media and in 2013 he made a poignant semi-autobiographical documentary for BBC3 called ‘Football’s Suicide Secret’; which told the story of his final season before retirement – a season which, like much of his playing career, was marked by periodic bouts of depression. His first suicide attempt came at the age of 21, just as his team Queens Park Rangers had been promoted to the Premier League. Here was a young professional footballer apparently approaching the zenith of his career and about to enjoy the prestige, accolades and wealth that entails, when he decided to take his own life with a handful of pills on a shabby park bench. In an article that Carlisle wrote for the BBC in 2013 he said:

“Everyone else thought I’d made it, that I had the dream life. And I did. I was a 21-year-old professional footballer for QPR and the England Under-21s. I had a nice flat, a nice car and a loving family. My irrational mind had made me think suicide was a rational action though. So I went to a park near my home in Acton armed with lots of painkillers and thought “I’m going to take all these pills and kill myself, because I’m no use to anyone”. I’d just suffered a severe knee injury and had convinced myself that without football people would see me for what I really was, which was nothing. I sat on a bench in that park, washed the pills down with a can of beer, and waited for it to happen. In the end I was incredibly lucky, because my girlfriend found me and I was rushed to hospital in time to have my stomach pumped. I survived and didn’t tell another soul about the incident for years and didn’t ask for any help. I just locked this suicide attempt away in Pandora’s Box.”

The film also highlighted the tragic and shocking death of former Premier League and Welsh international player Gary Speed. Despite his glittering playing career and his recent appointment as Manager of the Wales team Speed’s wife Louise found his lifeless body hanging in the garage of their luxury home in November 2011. At the inquest into his death the coroner reached a narrative verdict but stated that cause of death was by “self suspension.”

On the morning of his death he had appeared full of smiles as a guest on the BBC One TV programme Football Focus, with presenter Dan Walker later describing 42 year old Speed as being in "fine form.” After the programme finished Speed joined former Newcastle United team-mate and friend Alan Shearer to watch their old club play against Manchester United at Old Trafford. Although he never discussed any possible mental health issues with anyone, he had told Shearer that the pressure of management had put some strain on his marriage and that he and Louise had argued the night before his death. Four days before he hanged himself he had also texted Louise about the possibility of suicide, but he dismissed such an action because of the importance of his wife and two children. At the inquest his mother Carole Speed described him as a “glass half-empty person.”

During his documentary Clarke Carlisle spoke to Speed’s sister Lesley and she said that if somebody had asked her whether Gary was suffering from depression before that, she would have said absolutely not. She went on to say:

“He hid it from us and it stopped him asking for help ….. we were just so sad that we couldn’t help him through….. that’s a huge regret that I didn’t get him to one side and say ‘is everything alright?’”

Carlisle commented:

“I know only too well that most depressives are great actors who can put on a different persona, a facade. What you need to be able to do is open up, yet the cruelty of the illness is that it won’t let you.”

Speed’s sister Lesley also made the telling point that now that she knows more about the condition she knows that people suffering from depression are not just fighting an illness but also dealing with the stigma that comes with it. During a short interview for the film, Aidy Boothroyd, Carlisle’s manager at Northampton, reinforced the view that depression and mental illness are not something that you admit to in professional football. He said that he had tried to protect his player by telling the team and the press that Carlisle was suffering from flu when depression had forced him to miss work.

Carlisle spoke to other young footballers about their experiences with depression, including Simon Jordan, Lee Hendrie and Leon McKenzie and he tried to show that depression, just like a physical illness, can strike even those who have found their dream jobs and adulation. While it may not always be helpful to view depression as something triggered by circumstances, there is no doubt that a footballer’s career cycle contains plenty of triggers. Carlisle investigated the effect of that first rejection with a visit to an academy full of young players who hadn’t begun to consider that they might not hit the big time; and also looked at how injuries and defeats can drag a player down and what awaits them after retirement.

As my research continued I was shocked at the prevalence of suicide and attempted suicide within the professional game. No doubt most football fans are aware of the tragic case of Justin Fashanu, Britain’s first million pound black footballer and the first professional footballer in Britain to openly ‘come out’ and admit he was gay. His courage drew many admirers among the wider audience, but some observers said it was less appreciated in parts of the football world. He suffered both homophobic and racist abuse during his time as a player, with even his own manager, Brian Clough, labelling him “a bloody poof” His personal torment took its toll professionally and his promising football career had already nose-dived by the time he came out in 1990. Fashanu embarked on a new career coaching the US football team Maryland Mania but in 1998 he fled back to England amid allegations of sexual abuse by a 17 year old youth. On the morning of 3rd May he was found hanged in a deserted lock-up garage he had broken into in Shoreditch, London, he was 37. Fashanu’s suicide note denied the charges, claiming that the act was consensual and that he was being blackmailed by his accuser.

Whatever the truth of those allegations, Justin’s suicide was a culmination of a lifetime of rejection. That rejection began when he was given up by his parents as a child and placed in a Barnardo’s Children’s Home. It was compounded by the racist jibes he suffered on the football pitch, and by the homophobic abuse inflicted on him at Nottingham Forest by his manager Brian Clough.

A more recent high profile case is that of the former national German goalkeeper Robert Enke. On 10th November 2009 32 year old Enke committed suicide when he stood in front of a regional express train at a level crossing. In this highly emotive video Robert’s widow Teresa Enke describes how the pressure of being a professional footballer contributed to Robert’s depression and death. She says:

“Sport will always be important but you should always see the human being behind the sports person, you shouldn’t just reduce them to a performance. It’s nice if he performs well but you should respect that people make mistakes. I wish there was more understanding of [being] a professional sports person.”

Sadly self-awareness is no guarantee of protection from the effects of mental illness. Another former German professional footballer committed suicide in July 2014 after a long battle with depression. Andreas Biermann, who started his career at Hertha Berlin, took his own life after struggling against the illness for five years. The 33-year-old last played for FSV Spandauer Kickers, based in Berlin and he had published a book called ‘Depression: Red Card’ where he discussed his struggle. Biermann had initially revealed that he was suffering from the illness after the death of Robert Enke and he had previously tried to take his own life on three occasions.

You might be forgiven for thinking that suicide within professional football is a relatively modern phenomenon due to media pressure and the added stress from the abuse inflicted by fans via social media. You may also think that suicide has never touched West Ham. Sadly neither is true.

This list of professional and ex-professional footballers and managers who felt driven to take their own lives makes very sad and shocking reading. Footballers who committed suicide

Among them you will find Syd King, Thames Ironworks’ and West Ham’s star full back from 1899 – 1903; who went on to become West Ham’s manager, a position he held for 30 years from 1902 until 1932.

Syd King was considered one of the best full backs in the Southern League and he recorded 16 appearances in Thames Ironworks’ first season in the Southern League Division One in 1899, also making seven appearances in the FA Cup that year, an impressive run that ended in a 1-2 home defeat against arch-rivals Millwall Athletic. In 1900 he was retained as a member of the squad after the club’s transition to West Ham United, and continued to play for them until 1903, recording 59 league and 7 FA Cup appearances in total.

At the start of his last season as a player he was appointed club secretary, although he was already considered to be a ‘manager’ of the club. His tenure at West Ham included our election to the football league in 1919 and in 1923 he took West Ham to the FA Cup Final for the first time, losing to Bolton Wanderers but also assuring our place in the top division finishing as Division Two runners up. An edition of the local newspaper East Ham Echo proclaimed in 1923 that:

“Syd King is West Ham and West Ham is Syd King.”

Following promotion King implemented a period of consolidation for West Ham in the First Division, the highlight of which was the 1926-1927 season when West Ham finished in 6th place in Division One. This performance was not equalled by the Hammers until the 1958-1959 season during Ted Fenton’s tenure. This consistency was partly made possible when King signed players who went on to become West Ham legends and record holders, as well as England internationals, including Jimmy Ruffell, Ted Hufton and Vic Watson.

Syd King was appointed a shareholder of West Ham United in 1931 but the team was relegated in the 1931-32 season back to Division Two. On 5th November 1932 West Ham lost their ninth game of the next season, against Bradford Park Avenue, and at the same day’s board meeting, according to one board member, during the discussion of the team King was “drunk and insubordinate.” It was no secret that King ‘liked a drink’ but he had already appeased the board many times over the issue. On the following day they announced that:

“It was unanimously decided that until further notice C. Paynter be given sole control of players and that E. S. King be notified accordingly.”

It was also suggested by the board, but never confirmed, that King had been syphoning off West Ham funds for himself. He was suspended for three months without pay and also banned from entering the Boleyn Ground. Following a board meeting on 3rd January 1933 his contract was terminated permanently, and he was given an ex-gratia payment of £3 a week.

Although comparatively rich for an ex-player working in football, King’s reputation and career were in tatters. Within a month of the sacking he sadly committed suicide by drinking alcohol mixed with a corrosive liquid. The inquest into his death declared that he had taken his life ‘while of unsound mind’, and had been suffering from persecution delusions. According to his son his depression had begun when West Ham were relegated in the summer of 1932, and that his paranoia had followed on from that.

In his book ‘At Home With The Hammers’ (1960) Ted Fenton, West Ham United player (1932-46) and manager (1950-61) wrote:

“The boss at West Ham was Syd King, an outsize, larger-than-life character with close-cropped grey hair and a flowing moustache. He was a personality plus man, a man with flair. Awe struck, I would tip-toe past his office but invariably he would spot me. “Boy,” he would shout. “Get me two bottles of Bass.” Down to the Boleyn pub on the corner I would go on my errand and when I got back to the office Syd King would flip me a two-shilling piece for my trouble."

Isn’t it sad and unthinkable that a man with such a big personality and who had achieved so much at West Ham felt compelled to take his own life when he lost the support of the board and consequently his position? It really highlights the fact that nobody is immune from depression, even those with long and successful careers.

Given the stigma that often comes with mental illness, it’s perhaps no surprise that footballers and managers who suffer from depression often do their utmost to hide it instead of asking for help; and there are undoubtedly current and former professional players and managers still suffering in silence today.

In 2013 Football Association chairman David Bernstein admitted that the issue of mental illness in the sport has been “badly neglected in the past.” He said:

“This is not something that’s been high on my agenda – maybe it should have been higher.”

A spokesman insisted that the FA regards the issue as "vitally important” and Scott Field, the FA’s head of media relations, said:

“The mental well-being of players, managers and indeed all participants in football is vitally important to the FA, from grassroots to the professional game.”

He said that the FA had helped to produce a handbook for professional players tackling the subject of mental illness, as well as organising awareness workshops for coaches in 2011. The FA has also provided financial backing to the Sporting Chance Clinic, which treats sportsmen with behavioural problems.

Let’s hope that they’re taking it as seriously as they say. The latest suicide statistics reveal a disproportionate rise in the number of male suicides. In the UK, the male suicide rate is approximately three and a half times higher than the female suicide rate and the highest rate of male suicide in the UK is in the 40-44 age group.

The circumstances behind the depression and suicides of these professional footballers and managers are as varied as their careers but the one thing they all have in common is that their status within the professional game didn’t protect them from their mental torment; they were just human beings with the same vulnerabilities as the man on the street. In fact they may be more vulnerable than the average man on the street. FIFPro, the World Footballers’ Association, conducted an international study into the extent of Mental Illness in Professional Football More than 300 current and former professional players and six national unions participated. The first paragraph of the report’s conclusion states:

“The results of our study show that mental illness seems to occur among former professional footballers more often than in current players and more often than in other populations. Consequently, mental illness among former professional footballers cannot be underestimated and should be a subject of interest for all stakeholders in football. Attention to career planning in an early stage of a football career might significantly help to prepare the post-sport life period and to avoid potential problems after retirement (Alfermann 2007).”

If you’ve reached the end of this article then you’re obviously a thinking West Ham fan and probably not prone to outbursts of personal abuse where only professional criticism is required. You’re probably also already cognisant of the issues surrounding depression and mental illness and understand the fragilities of all human beings, including professional footballers, and how unwarranted and spiteful personal attacks on a player or manager could contribute into pushing a vulnerable person over the edge. The point I’m trying to make probably won’t reach those who could benefit from it the most. Those who won’t read have no advantage over those who can’t; so there’s little hope of educating either.

I’m not suggesting that professional footballers and managers should be wrapped in cotton wool and that they shouldn’t have to bear professional criticism but I wish all football fans would stop to think of the words of German goalkeeper Robert Enke’s widow the next time that they feel compelled to write an abusive comment and ask themselves if it’s really necessary or fair and to consider the impact it could have on a mentally vulnerable person struggling to cope with a barrage of abuse.

“Sport will always be important but you should always see the human being behind the sports person, you shouldn’t just reduce them to a performance. It’s nice if he performs well but you should respect that people make mistakes. I wish there was more understanding of [being] a professional sports person.”



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UK Politics

Tales from an Edinburgh Taxi

29 Mar 2015 at 22:51

I was in a taxi in Edinburgh this morning, and got talking to the driver, as you do. “Who are you going to vote for,” I asked after a while.

“I’ve always voted Labour, but I don’t think I’m going to this time,” he replied.

“I imagine it’ll be the SNP then,” I suggested.

“Never, ever. No, I think Cameron has done a good job in turning round the economy, so I might go for him.”

“Well I wasn’t expecting that,” I said. “Which constituency do you live in?”

“Gordon Brown’s.”



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Michael Fassio

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Should I Go To A&E For Something That Is Neither an Accident Nor an Emergency?

28 Mar 2015 at 11:54

I’m in Edinburgh this weekend to attend a wedding. I’m in a very nice hotel and they let me check in early. So far so good.

You may recall that a couple of weeks ago I had to have an unexpected operation. It all went well, but every day I have to go to my doctors to have the wound dressed. I will spare you further detail. But it’s a very simple two minute procedure, but it’s important it’s done every day to keep it clean, allow it to heal properly and avoid any risk of infection.

Obviously I can’t go to a doctor’s surgery in Edinburgh on a weekend, I mean God forbid they should open when people want to use them. So I just googled “NHS walk-in centres” and couldn’t really find anything. Odd, I thought. Anyway, I eventually located a minor injuries unit at the Western General Hospital. On their website they say “Clinic staff treat adults and children over one-year-old for a wide range of injuries, including minor cuts and burns, infections and stings, suspected sprains and small bone breaks (from shoulder to fingers and knee to toes).” Excellent, I thought, that’ll do. So I called them and told them what I needed done. “No, we don’t do that. You’ll have to go to A&E”. I protested that this was neither an accident, nor an emergency, that any nurse could do the procedure, that I had even brought the dressing with me, but they were having none of it. “We don’t have any walk in centres, you’ll have to go to A&E”. And there’s only one A&E in Edinburgh, the Royal Infirmary.

So this is my dilemma. I’m not sure I can face A&E two days running and potentially having to wait four hours and then miss the wedding, but on the other hand, if I don’t go I risk the wound getting infected. And for the (English) NHS that would involve more treatment over a longer period of time.

So far I have praised the NHS to the hilt for the hospital treatment I have had and the care provided my both GP surgeries I go to in London and in Tunbridge Wells. But today, I feel frustrated.

It’s so clear what the answer is, as well.

UPDATE: So, an hour later, I’ve phoned NHS 24, which is the equivalent to 111 in Scotland. Very nice, helpful lady. She suggested I go to the minor injuries unit at the Western General (see above). I explained I had already phoned them and they wouldn’t see me. She then phoned them and they said they would see me, but they couldn’t pack the wound because they don’t have any dressings. This is a hospital we’re talking about here.

I then phoned three private GP clinics, none of whom could help either. They either didn’t have the staff on to do this sort of thing, or they refused to see me without a formal GP referral, despite me explaining quite clearly what needed to be done.

If I go to A&E now, I miss the wedding, which I have come all this way for. If I don’t I risk infection. Thank you NHS. Thank you very much.



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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 23: The Power of Talk Radio

27 Mar 2015 at 22:54

This morning, I got a call from a journalist asking me to explain the power and influence of Talk Radio for an article he was writing. I explained that people’s stereotypical views of people who phone in are just wrong. It’s not just white van men or cabbies who phone in. Depending how you set up a subject, you get the calls you deserve.

Well, today on my show we discussed a survey which shows for the first time in history under 50% of the British public support the death penalty. In 1986 the figure was 74%. I expected some pretty vitriolic calls seeing as I asked my audience if the findings of this survey demonstrated that Britain was becoming a much more civilised, liberal nation. We had some great calls, and then I took this one from Stephanie Slater, who phoned in to tell us what happened to her at the hands of Michael Sams. You may remember the case. A few minutes later, Shirley came on the line who told me about her brother who murdered her other brother.

These two calls demonstrate the power of talk radio in a way that I never could.



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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 22: When A Caller Turns the Question Back onto the Presenter

27 Mar 2015 at 22:47

Today on my LBC show I tackled quite a difficult subject – why 100,000 students are funding their degree by going on the game or selling various ‘services’ in the sex industry.
This is a call I took from Dave, who shall we say, did very well in turning my questions back on me. It’s one of the funniest calls of my career on LBC and it ends with him offering me a modelling contract.

So have a listen!


1 comment

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ConHome Diary: When Answering a Straight Question Can Work

27 Mar 2015 at 14:34

Those of you of a certain vintage will remember Sir Anthony Garner, the formidable Director of Campaigning in Central Office in the 1980s. I am very sad to tell you that he has died. I remember attending a Saturday campaigning seminar at CCO in Smith Square back in 1986. Sir Anthony has invited me to give a presentation about how Norwich North, where I was working, was pioneering the use of targeted Direct Mail. So there I was, in front of all the party’s leading agents and campaigning bigwigs, essentially telling them how to do their job. Direct Mail seems a bit old hat nowadays, but, believe me, in those days it was cutting edge stuff. Sir Anthony was genuinely feared and respected in equal quantity. In those days I suppose I had ambitions of working in the campaigns department at CCO and when Sir Anthony told me I had done very well and “done myself a lot of good” it genuinely meant a lot. Thirty years on the professional side of the party has become a husk of what it used to be. The number of professionally trained agents is pitiful. Their decline since 1992 has been shameful. It also coincides with the period when the Conservative Party has failed to win a single election. Funny that. Sir Anthony’s son Chris tells me there will be a Memorial Service for the great man after the election. I will let you know details when I have them.
Simon Jenkins is an archetypal member of the establishment. He is a former editor of The Times. As a prime example of ‘the great and the good’ he moves smoothly from one public appointment to another with graceless ease. He pops up on our TV screens to impart his wisdom on whatever subject he has a view on, even when he has apparently very little expertise on it. He’s eloquent and oftentimes very interesting, but I’m afraid I found his appearance on Newsnight, up against Admiral Lord West of Spithead excruciating. He was there to talk about increased funding for the defence of the Falkland Islands. To be honest, his views were all over the place and Alan West wiped the floor with his Guardianista views on defence spending. When Jenkins said “Frankly I’d spend next to nothing on defence,” my jaw almost hit the floor. What a cock. Surely maintaining the nation’s defences is the first priority of any government, whatever colour? A lot is talked about the NATO recommended defence spending level of 2% of GDP. It is frankly astonishing that we have a Conservative government which can’t even commit to this, despite it being agreed at the recent NATO summit in Wales. In 2016 our spending will fall below that level. It’s a cause for national shame and embarrassment. We’re happy to commit to 0.7% of GDP being spent on international aid, something I should say I fully agree with, but we can’t make that kind of commitment to defence spending. No wonder we won’t have an operational aircraft carrier until 2020. If the Argentinians did decide to launch an attack on the Falklands an aircraft carrier would be necessary to retake the islands. I know that. You know that. And so, no doubt does the Argentinian military.

This week I was introduced to the delights of by the man himself, Liam Fox. I was having a gossip with him in his Commons office (which is massive, by the way!) when I noticed some business cards with the website address written on the front. It turns out to be a Youtube Channel here Liam records one minute videos on any subject which takes his fancy – local to his constituency or of national importance. I picked up on the business cards and said “I’m not sure if I were you I’d want to be known as One Minute Fox,” raising a double entendre-tastic eyebrow. “No, indeed,” he replied without blinking. “My wife says I’m boasting.” B’dum tish.
Enough has been written about the Prime Minister’s blurt-out this week, so I won’t detain you long. There are some people, believe it or not, who genuinely think it was all part of a cunning plan and that James Landale was encouraged to ask the question. What utter bollocks. Landale got himself a first class scoop and that’s all there is to it. He asked a question and the PM answered it rather more directly than Landale expected him to, and then compounded it by speculating about his successor. Unprecedented. When I heard about it I thought Cameron had taken leave of his senses. My LBC listeners took a rather different view. “He was asked a question and he answered it. Isn’t that what we want of politicians?” seemed to be the general consensus. Lucky generals win wars. Perhaps lucky politicians win elections, and you have to say that Cameron is a politician who sometimes rides his luck. What I think he should do now, though, is to make very clear that he will serve a completely full term and stay as Prime Minister until the day of the 2020 election, rather than hand over mid- term to someone else. The party could still hold a leadership election, maybe in the autumn of 2019 and the winner would become party leader designate. This would mirror the American system in some ways. There might, however, be a constitutional reason as to why this would be impossible. If a new leader was elected, even as a designate, wouldn’t the Queen have to immediately invite that person to immediately become prime minister. Perhaps greater constitutional brains than mine might give some thought to that.

Nice kitchen, by the way, Prime Minister.
Nigel Farage’s book, THE PURPLE REVOLUTION is threatening to become a bestseller and my company, Biteback, is about to press the button on a second reprint. Twelve thousand copies of it have flown out of our warehouse near Oxford and thousands more have been downloaded as an eBook. Could it overtake Damian McBride’s book as our best ever seller? I wouldn’t bet against it. Like Damian’s book, it benefits from being a bloody good read.

I see overtly aspirant LibDem leadership wannabe Vince Cable has fraternally been laying into overtly aspirant LibDem leadership Tim Farron. Vince has never been one for self-awareness. The thing is, neither of them realise that out there in the wider world, no one gives a monkey’s arse about either of them and their ambitions. One thing I will say for Farron, though, is that he is a very likeable chap, even if the “I’m a blunt northerner who tells it like it is” act wears a bit thin from time to time. By way of contract, Vince Cable is the most disliked member of the whole cabinet, including by his own side. He’s not as cheerful as he looks, you know.



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UK Politics

Labour Triumph Over Channel 4/Sky Debate Format

27 Mar 2015 at 13:51

In the post below I mused as to why Ed Miliband didn’t face Jeremy Paxman first and answer audience questions second, like David Cameron did. It seemed very odd that the format was different for both leaders.

I’ve now found out the reason. According to a souce close to the event negotiations it was very simple. The reason Milibandi went last with Paxo is because he won the toss and apparently his people insisted he went last with Paxo so audience wouldn’t watch him being interviewed and then quiz him on whatever transpired. It was a Labour deal breaker apparently. In addition they were keen that any potential Miliband Paxoing wouldn’t be shown in any of the News at Ten bulletins. Channel 4 and Sky weren’t in any mood to argue, as it would have risked the entire event. It makes you wonder why on earth Craig Oliver at Number Ten agreed to that, though.


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Miliband v Cameron Live: Miliband Shaded it But Will It Change Anything?

26 Mar 2015 at 22:56

In some ways that was a prime example of how not to produce a programme. The format didn’t work, the selection of audience questions was lax in the extreme and the whole thing was clunky. Why on earth did Sky and Channel 4 not ditch their adverts? The programme wasn’t 90 minutes long, it was 72 minutes long. We’d have learned far more about the two men if Paxman had been able to quiz them each for 45 minutes or even an hour. Trying to cover so much ground in 18 minutes was never going to be highly illuminating, so Paxman did as well as he could in the time he had. Seeing Paxman again made us realise what we lost when he left Newsnight. Surely he needs to be found a proper interviewing perch again. Taking over Question Time from David Dimbleby might be a good start. Anyway, I digress.

I missed Cameron’s interview with Paxman because of a late running train, so I watched that after the whole thing had finished. It was very odd that Miliband took audience questions first and then was interviewed by Paxman, yet Cameron did it the opposite. I suppose there must have been a reason for that but I am buggered if I can think what it was.

Neither of the two protagonists made a gaffe. Miliband had the more memorable lines, especially in the Paxman interview, but will it mean anything in the long run? What will floating voters have made of it? I suspect those who were veering away from Miliband will have had cause to pause for thought, and in a sense that’s probably all Labour’s strategy team can have asked for.

Expectations of Ed Miliband before tonight were low. He surpassed them, but there were enough uncomfortable moments for Ed Miliband for the Tories to believe that their man more than held his own.

The instant poll for The Guardian called the debate 54-46 for David Cameron. I would call it the other way. I thought Ed Miliband shaded it, but not in any decisive or election result-changing way.



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My Twenty Pieces of Advice to General Election Candidates

22 Mar 2015 at 20:42

This is a rehash of a blog I wrote at the beginning of the 2010 election campaign, having just re-read my blogposts from the 2005 election, when I was Conservative candidate in North Norfolk. The experience brought back lots of memories – not all of them bad! But it did make me think about the pitfalls of being a candidate and how to get through an election campaign intact. For what it’s worth, here’s my advice to first time candidates…

1. You can’t do everything yourself. Let others take the strain. You are the leader of the campaign. Act like it.
2. Keep your cool. There will be moments in the campaign when you want to scream your head off. Resist the temptation. Count to ten. Then count to twenty. Ignore the temptation to hit your agent when he/she calls you a “legal necessity”.
3. Your campaign workers are volunteers. They don’t have to turn out to help you. They do it because they want to. Motivate them. Treat them well. Make sure you stop for lunch and that they don’t do too much. It’s a long campaign. Don’t wear them out after the first week.
4. Make sure all your literature is proof read. Three times. And not by you.
5. If you have a campaign blog, never write a spontaneous blogpost. Always run it by someone else first. Be incredibly careful what you tweet. Imagine your name in bold print in the Daily Mirror. If you hesitate before pressing SEND, it probably means you shouldn’t.
6. Make sure you keep to your normal sleep patterns. You may think you are Superman/Superwoman, but you’re not. You need your sleep. Make sure you get it.
7. You don’t need to hold a long campaign meeting every morning. Three times a week is usually enough. Make sure that the only people who attend are those who really should. Restrict meetings to half an hour.
8. Posters do not gain extra votes. But they make your local party feel good and give your campaign the appearance of momentum. Do not put them up too early. And do not put them up all at once. And if they get ripped down, make sure your campaign team has a strategy for replacing them within 24 hours.

9. Personalise your Sorry You Were Out Cards. Include your ten campaign pledges on them. And include an apparently handwritten message and signature.
10. Do not drive anywhere yourself. Especially, do not drive your campaign vehicle. Appoint a PA who will drive you everywhere. Think of the bad publicity if you are involved in an accident, or even a broken down car or flat tyre. The last thing your campaign needs is for you to be involved in a public argument with another irate driver. If someone else is driving, you can walk away when another car is arranged for you.
11. Make sure you eat properly, and regularly. McCoys, Coke and Mars Bars do not a healthy diet make. Do not drink any alcohol during the day. Never buy anyone a drink. It’s against electoral law and counts as treating
12. If Party HQ offer you the chance of a visit from a politician even you have barely heard of, turn them down. Even if you have heard of them, consider turning them down. Visits from national politicians use up too many resources and rarely attract a single extra vote.
13. Don’t canvas before 10am or after 8.30pm. It looks desperate and annoys people. And be very careful about canvassing on Sundays. People don’t like it. Use Sundays to catch up on deliveries in areas with no deliverers.

14. Resist the temptation to strangle the next person who asks “How’s it going?” or “Are you going to win?”. They’re only being polite.
15. If you’re in a high profile marginal seat which the media find interesting, avoid spending half your day giving them interviews. Your only media focus is local. Ignore Michael Crick. He’s not there to help you.
16. Avoid the natural desire to believe what voters tell you on the doorstep. Most of them will tell you what you want to hear in order to get you off the doorstep. If they say “I’ll see how I feel on the day” you can safely put them down as a Liberal Democrat.
17. Your Get Out The Vote operation is more important than anything else you do during the campaign. Satisfy yourself that your Agent and Campaign Manager have it in hand and they know what they are doing.
18. Ignore those who tell you not to appear at your count until it is well underway. It’s your moment. Relish it. Prepare your speech. If you lose unexpectedly, you will be remembered for how you react. Act graciously towards your opponents during the counting and in your speech.
19. If you lose, you will be tempted to blame someone. Your party leader. Your local party. Anyone but yourself. Don’t. Whatever your personal thoughts, no one likes a bad loser. Be dignified and take it on the chin. If you win, hubris may take over. It really wasn’t all down to you, you know. And make sure others know you know that.
20. Make sure you write a personal thank you letter – and I mean write, not type – to all those who helped on your campaign. Do it within a week of polling day. You really could not have done it without them.

Good luck, and try to enjoy it!



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Who Would Be in a Cameron Cabinet After 7 May?

22 Mar 2015 at 13:53

Over the next couple of weeks I’m going to look at a few post-election scenarios in terms of possible cabinet line-ups and who might stand in any of the various leadership contests the election result might throw up.

Let’s start by looking at a possible Cameron Cabinet. I’m going to compile it on the premise that Cameron is running either a majority or minority administration, with no coalition partner. The first thing to say is that Cameron has little room for manoeuvre in the top jobs. George Osborne made very clear to me in my interview with him on Friday that he wants and expects to stay at the Treasury. Philip Hammond is a relatively new Foreign Secretary and would not expect to be switched. But if he stays put, would Theresa May really expect to start another five year stint at the Home Office? She’s done a remarkably good job, and I reckon she would be moved to the Foreign Office with Philip Hammond maybe moving the other way or moving to Business.

It’s striking how David Cameron has stuffed his Minister of State and Parliamentary Under Secretary jobs with a succession of mediocrities. There are a few brighter lights but by aand large they are people who will never get into the Cabinet. It’s a major mistake. All Minister of States should be people who ought at some stage to be in the Cabinet.

Chancellor of the Exchequer: George Osborne
Foreign Secretary: Theresa May
Home Secretary: Michael Gove
Business Secretary: Philip Hammond
Education Secretary: Sajid Javid
Chief Secretary to the Treasury: Liz Truss
Work & Pensions Secretary: Mark Harper
Transport Secretary: Matthew Hancock
Leader of the House of Commons: Grant Shapps
Defence Secretary: Michael Fallon
Justice Secretary: Nicky Morgan
Energy & Climate Change Secretary: Andrea Leadsom
Culture Secretary: Priti Patel
Health Secretary: Jeremy Hunt
Local Government & Communities Secretary: Nick Boles
International Development: Jo Johnson
Leader of the House of Lords: Baroness Stowell
Chief Whip: Greg Hands
Chariman of the Conservative Party: Claire Perry
Defra Secretary: Greg Clark
Scottish Secretary: David Mundell
Welsh Secretary: Stephen Crabb
Northern Ireland Secretary: Mike Penning
Minister without Portfolio: Boris Johnson

This means that Chris Grayling, Eric Pickles, William Hague, Justine Greening, Patrick McLoughlin, Iain Duncan Smith and Theresa Villiers would all leave the Cabinet. Seven out of 25 Cabinet Ministers would be women. If Esther McVey wins her seat, she would definitely be in a Cameron cabinet, but as I have projected her to lose her seat, as has Lord Ashcroft, I haven’t included her here.

I have to say this isn’t the Cabinet lineup I’d necessarily pick myself, but I think most of the people I have included are ones which David Cameron is likely to, even if they’re not necessarily in the right jobs! I did get more right than other commentators in the last reshuffle, but in this game you’re only as good as your last prediction. If I had the choice I’d keep Grayling and Pickles in the cabinet, but I suspect they will be sacrificed for more women. As for IDS, I don’t think he’d want a different job and I suspect he will think five years of welfare reform is more than enough for anyone.

COMING NEXT: Who would be in a Labour cabinet?



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