Diary

ConHome Diary: Terror in Westminster & Dreaming About Tim Shipman

24 Mar 2017 at 13:36

Steve Uncles is a name you probably won’t be familiar with. He has been a leading light in the English Democrats for a number of years, particularly in the south east, and has stood in a number of elections, including for Kent Police & Crime Commissioner and in the European Elections. He appeared on the late-lamented 18 Doughty Street several times and I always found him an amiable cove. Last week he was sentenced at Maidstone Court to 7 months in prison. His crime? To submit bogus election papers for elections in Kent in 2013. He put in papers for candidates called Rachel Stevens (who was lead singer for S Club 7) and Anna Cleves and other real people who had never agreed to stand. I do not diminish the importance of the crime, but seven months in prison? Really? What on earth is the point of sending someone to prison for that kind of offence? This is why our prisons are so full. Surely to God there are other ways of punishing people? OK, in all probability he’ll only serve three months, but what possible good can come of sending him to prison? No one can use the argument, well, he won’t do it again if he’s in prison, will he? Yet another example of how our sentencing guidelines need massive reform.
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‘Prime Suspect 1973’. Not exactly ‘Life on Mars’, is it?
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Presenting a radio show when a terror incident has just happened is like walking a tightrope. One word out of place and you could lose your job. And so it was that on Wednesday afternoon Shelagh Fogarty and I negotiated our way through the appalling events that took place just outside the Palace of Westminster. To be fair, we quickly had quite a few details almost from the start. That’s something unusual in these cases. Several times I have had to do a three hour radio broadcast of rolling news when we knew very few details at all. Keeping an audience engaged in those circumstances is one of the most difficult things you have to cope with as a live broadcaster. I remember when flight MH17 went down in Ukraine. Those were the only details we had. Speculate too much and it’s inappropriate. Say too little and repeat ad nauseum and you lose your audience. It’s in these situations, though, when a station like LBC comes into its own. We don’t have zillions of reporters, but we do have an increasing number of listeners who are only too willing to tell us what they have seen. It was heartbreaking to find out that the police officer guarding the mother of parliaments had lost his battle for life. The pictures of Tobias Ellwood administering CPR to the police officer will stay with me for a long while. Two heroes of our time.
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Some people never know when to quit. Well, Jacqui Smith and I have quit the Sky News paper review. Hold the front page! I hear you say. For us both it was quite wrench as we have, we think, developed quite a good on-screen rapport, but sometimes you just have to do what you think is right, and we figured our time was rapidly coming to an end. Sky seem to want to shake up the people who are guests on their paper reviews and we could see the writing on the wall. Apparently there’s a new broom who thinks their viewers want to see more Corbynistas and Americans, and fewer Westminster and media insiders. Well, it’s a point of view, I suppose. One thing I have learned in observing and participating in these paper reviews is that you shouldn’t go on them if you have no personality and very little to say. Some of their more recent recruits appear afraid to articulate a coherent opinion on anything and stay firmly rooted to the fence. I’ll leave you to judge whether that makes better TV than the kind of good humoured, and yes, spiky, banter Jacqui and I indulge in. But I make no complaint. It’s Sky’s prerogative to change their guest personnel whenever they want to. I’ve enjoyed doing these paper reviews for 17 years but all good things come to an end. I know both Jacqui and I are going to miss Anna Botting, who I continue to regard as one of the great stars of British news TV. And what’s more, she’s as nice in person as she appears on screen.
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I had a very strange dream the other night. It featured Tim Shipman (Sunday Times Political Editor) and I fighting off Chinese spies. What can it all mean?
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I finish writing this diary on Thursday morning. I’ve just read Paul Waugh’s HuffPo morning email and I am not ashamed to say it moved me to tears. Journalism in this country gets a pounding sometimes but yesterday we saw it at its best – reporting the facts and sticking to them. Refusing the indulge in the mindless speculation perpetrated by the likes of Arron Banks and others on Twitter. We also saw the very best of the British people. People rushing to help their fellow citizens. An MP rushing towards danger in order to help the fallen policeman. I could go on. But there are five families grieving this morning. I cannot imagine what they are going through, and yes, I include the family of the terrorist attacker in that. How on earth can they come to terms with what he did? But most of all we think of the family of PC Keith Palmer. In their pain and grief, I hope will come to know that a whole nation is grieving with them for a man who will be remembered as a true British hero.

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