UK Politics

Saturday Diary: A Chance for Nick Clegg to Put His Foot Down

7 Apr 2012 at 18:55

  • The government has got itself into yet another unholy tangle this week over secret courts and surveillance powers. I have never quite understood why it is that when opposition politicians get into power, they almost immediately become authoritarian and fans of increasing government powers. Take David Blunkett. When he was a left of centre firebrand in the 1980s and an opposition Labour MP in the 1990s he was a devout defender of civil liberties. And yet he went on to become the most authoritarian Home Secretary in living memory. In opposition David Cameron firmly opposed Labour’s proposals on pre trial detension for Terror suspects. He opposed Jacqui Smith’s plans to create a giant database containing details of every phone call we make, every text message we send, every website we visit and every email we send. And yet this week he made clear he intends to introduce a virtually identical scheme. All in the interests of national security, naturally. I am sure the Police and the security services have put up many arguments for increasing their powers, but it is the job of politicians to resist them, not meekly accept everything they ever say. I am fully in favour of surveillance by whatever means of terror suspects, But I will never accept that the State has a right to know who I am texting, which websites I visit or who I call. It is frankly nobody’s business but mine. The government’s plans mean that they will have all this information, although to be fair there would need to be a warrant issued to access the content. If this legislation were introduced in a country like China or Iran we would be the first to denounce it, as a limit of the freedom of the individual.

For Nick Clegg, this offers him a unique chance to put his foot down. If the Liberal Democrats can’t resist this sort of authoritarian legislation you have to ask what on earth they are there for. As a Conservative civil libertarian I could not possibly vote for these proposals. I wonder if Liberal Democrat MPs will have the courage of their convictions and not just say the same, but vote against it. If they don’t they will have lost any semblance of credibility that they still have

  • Ken Livingstone may have lost the London mayoral election this week. His contortions on tax have lost him the support of many of his own party workers. Several Labour activists have said to me they cannot bring themselves to campaign for a man they regard as a tax dodger. Having challenged Boris Johnson and the other candidates to release their tax returns he has failed to do the same himself. Livingstone relied on his control of the London Labour machine to get selected again as Labour’s mayoral candidate and he has relied on his cheeky chappy image to court popularity with the electorate. But if he is to overcome this latest blast of adverse publicity he’ll need more than that. Labour Party officials are tearing their hair out – or going on holiday. It was revealed this week that Labour’s general secretary, Iain McNicholl, is taking a two week skiing holiday slap bang in the middle of the local election campaign. Labour staffers are in uproar. All this is hugely relevant, because if Labour loses in the mayoral election and does badly in the local elections, there could be dire consequences for Labour leader Ed Miliband. Unlike the Tories, Labour is never good at stabbing their leaders in the front, but this time may be different.
  • This week I received my author copies of my new history of Norwich City. Any authors among you will know that feel of excitement when you see your book for the first time. It’s not quite akin to giving birth, but you know what I mean. The book NORWICH CITY: WHEN FOOTBALL WAS FOOTBALL is an illustrated history of the club from its formation right through until the UEFA Cup run in the mid 1990s. You’ll be reading more about it in the EDP in the next fortnight, and Canaries supporter Ed Balls will be reviewing it. And I will be signing copies in Jarrold’s in Norwich on 12 May, the day before City’s last game of the season.
  • On my LBC show on Thursday night I covered the issue of carers and why we, as society, don’t seem to value them in the way we should. There are six million of us who care for loved ones and yet for many people, they feel utterly isolated and on their own. Some are too proud to ask for help. Some don’t even know there is help available. The voluntary sector does a fantastic job in helping provide respite care. I well remember the superb work done by BREAK which I saw first hand when I fought the North Norfolk seat. I talked to a lady on the programme last night whose husband was diagnosed with a brain tumour only six months after they had met. She has spent the last nine years as a full time carer. She doesn’t regret a single moment, and yet she only gets about three hours a week of “me time”. Could any of us honestly say we could cope with such a life. But she’s driven by love for her husband, all the time knowing that their lives will never be what they had once both hoped for. Carers are the unsung heroes of our society and we should all do more to acknowledge that.
  • This article appears in today’s Eastern Daily Press.

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LBC Book Club: Pam Ayres

Pam Ayres discusses her autobiography THE NECESSARY APTITUDE

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UK Politics

Where's Andy Coulson When You Need Him?

1 Apr 2012 at 18:57

“Where’s Andy Coulson when you need him “ joked one Tory MP to me yesterday. At least I think he was joking. Yes, it’s got that bad. Downing Street has, at times, seemed rudderless over the last ten days, as it has been buffeted by various political squalls, which, added together have led political commentators to dub the post budget period as the worst political week of David Cameron’s life. Since the last one, I suppose. But Andy Coulson would know what to do. He’d know how to get a recalcitrant press back on side. Just as importantly, he would have also spotted the dangers of the Granny Tax and ‘Pastygate’.

On the face of it, the row over VAT on pasties is a ridiculous little spat over nothing very much. After all, fish and chips already attract VAT. Why didn’t people complain about the imposition of VAT on Rotisserie chickens? Answer: Because they’re seen as a bit posh.

We all know that reality isn’t as important as perception, especially in the grubby world of knockabout party politics. And the perception has grown that too many of the Tory frontbench are from another world – a world without pasties but a world full of foie gras. But there’s another row on the horizon, the imposition of VAT on static caravans. I am told it will raise £40 million but will result in losses to the exchequer of £45 million. Seriously.

It’s all very well clearing up tax anomalies, but if you’re going to annoy hundreds of thousands of people and take in less money, is it really worth the aggro? Would George Osborne even know what a static caravan was, and what it was for? The impression given this week by the Chancellor was of someone out of touch, flailing around and of someone who really thought this was all rather beneath him.

Add to this the shambles in communications over the tanker drivers’ strike and the backwash from the party funding scandal and you have a toxic cocktail of political battles.

I yield to few in my admiration of Francis Maude, a man who has been at the centre of the drive to modernise and detoxify the Tory Party, but I think even he would have to admit that this week hasn’t been his finest hour.

At the beginning of the week he argued that the PM need not reveal who he had entertained at Downing Street on the basis that his donor tete a tetes were “kitchen suppers”. In an instant he reinforced the image of incredible poshness. After all, who uses the word ‘supper’ nowadays, apart from the Downton classes? And the very phrase belies an assumption that you have a kitchen large enough to entertain in.

This impression of otherworldliness cannot be allowed to take hold and Tory backbenchers are well aware of it. To allege that they are in insurrection mode might be overstating the case, but even loyalist MPs are concerned. They worry that the prospect of an outright victory at the next election is slipping away. They had just about come to terms with the fact that most of them hadn’t got jobs in government. Now they are worrying that they won’t have a job in Parliament after 2015.

A rebellious parliamentary party is something any Tory leader must avoid at all costs. Ask Margaret Thatcher. Ask John Major. Ask IDS. The consequences can be calamitous.

Since 2005 George Osborne has built up a reputation as a formidable political strategist. Tory MPs are now beginning to question this accolade. They point to the fact that he was a key advisor to William Hague, he was one of the people who briefed Iain Duncan Smith for PMQs. They remind you that he was Michael Howard’s election strategist and then performed the same task for David Cameron. On neither occasion did his campaigns bring ultimate victory. It was he, it is said, who insisted that the European Referendum vote in the House of Commons was whipped. And it was he who failed to spot the political dangers in alienating Britain’s pensioners over the so-called ‘Granny Tax’. The fact that on this issue he has right on his side isn’t relevant. The last thing you want on the evening of your budget is the Director Saga on the airwaves denouncing your plans and accusing you of raiding pensions. If there were a share market in ‘Osbornes’, it would have lost half its value over the last ten days.

The one saving grace for Cameron is that Ed Miliband keeps missing open goals. This week he appeared at a branch of Greggs alongside Ed Balls, where they proceeded to buy 8 sausage rolls. Not pasties, we note. Miliband looked like he had never visited such an establishment before.

Many Tories believe that if Miliband has Alastair Campbell on his team, the Tories would be in real trouble. They think back to the latter years of the Major government when Campbell skilfully mixed a potion of sleaze out of Tory sex scandals and general fat-cattery. The charge stuck and Major ever recovered. Miliband’s team need to constantly ask: “What would Alastair do?” and then get on and do it.

All governments go through tough mid term patches and it was inevitable this one would too. It was also inevitable that at the same time the Liberal Democrats would run for cover. And true to form they have. Watching Sarah Teather on Question Time on Thursday twice protest that she couldn’t comment on much because “I am a government minister” left most of the audience incredulous. The LibDems are behaving as egoists fighting their own corner, but perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. This has been historically true of a ‘factional’ party going right back to the days of the Whigs.

So, what should the Tories do? Firstly, they should acknowledge they have no one who seems to be able to deal newspapers in the way that Andy Coulson used to. His replacement, Craig Oliver, is adept at creating broadcasting opportunities, but many Tory MPs are frustrated that this ability doesn’t seem to transfer to the print media.

Secondly, the Prime Minister should bring forward his long awaited reshuffle. It is to Cameron’s credit that he doesn’t constantly chop and change his ministerial team, but it is self-evident that it needs freshening up. He needs to think very carefully who he promotes. People have had enough of the former special adviser clones. David Davis and Mark Pritchard were right this week when they called for the Tories to look more like the country which elects them – less of the posh gobs, more horny handed sons and daughters of toil. Expect to hear much more from the likes of Roads Minister, Mike Penning, Therese Coffey, Nick de Bois, Tracey Crouch, Alec Shelbrooke and Jessica Lee.

It is no coincidence that the very moment the PM’s closest strategic adviser Steve Hilton quits, is the very time things start to go wrong. Furthermore, David Cameron needs to clip the wings of Jeremy Heywood, who, it seems can do no wrong in his eyes. Heywood’s political antennae are not as acute as they could be but with the departure of Coulson and Hilton he reigns supreme in Downing Street. He now needs to be counterbalanced by a top level political appointment in the mould of Alastair Campbell – someone with a political brain who’s also a bit of a bruiser – and someone who won’t be afraid to say ‘No, Prime Minister’.

This government is at a turning point. It is crucial that the Prime Minister gets a grip. The next election can still be won, but the personnel decisions David Cameron makes in the next few months could well determine whether it will be.

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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Joan Collins

Joan Collins discusses her book THE WORLD ACCORDING TO JOAN.

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And in a Packed Programme This Morning...

1 Apr 2012 at 18:56

Starting a new radio show is always a bit daunting, even when you’ve been doing one for a year and a half. Doubly so when you are taking over a slot previously inhabited by two friends. This morning I broadcast my first show in the 10am-1pm slot on LBC 97.3, having taken over from Andrew Pierce and Kevin Maguire. When the LBC management asked me to do this show we both agreed on one main thing – that it would be different to my weekday evening show. It had to be or there was little point in me dropping Friday nights to do Sunday mornings. Bang goes the weekend!

Currently there is very little competition in the political field on the radio on Sunday mornings. Five Live has Double Take, but that finishes at 11. After Broadcasting House at 9, there’s little for current affairs fanatics on Sunday mornings on Radio 4. So I think there is a real opportunity to make my Sunday morning show a real destination for all the people who may watch Andrew Marr and Andrew Neil but have little to entertain them in between on the radio.

LBC is known for its phone-ins and we certainly want our audience to remain a big part of our show. But we also want to introduce a bit of humour and quirkiness into the format. Older readers may remember that I used to deputise for Andrew Pierce on 5 Live’s Sunday Service ten or so years ago – presented by Fi Glover, still the best female radio presenter in the UK in my opinion. That show managed to make politics accessible and entertaining, something which most radio productions have struggled with ever since. It’s too easy to fall for gimmickry and rudery and go for the lowest common denominator. I give you the 10 O’Clock Show on Channel 4 as evidence. OK, it’s TV, but you know what I mean.

We also want to use the LBC website to offer our listeners something extra. Today Julian Fellowes was our first guest. I pre-recorded the interview and we used about half of it on the programme but have made the whole thing on the net, HERE. So we didn’t use the stuff about the Titanic on air, but for those interested it is available online.

Similarly, our package on Ed Balls was 10 minutes long and included an interview with the charity he is running the London Marathon for. We couldn’t use it all on air, so we put it all online. Listeners are now getting used to listening to more online, and this enables them to get more value out of the parts of the programme they really like. Listen to the full Ed Balls package HERE.

Sunday morning radio and TV shows always want to get a bit of a scoop and make the odd headline or two. So when I saw Ed Staite’s blog on Friday about the sting operation I asked him if he’d like to come on to talk about the experience. He agreed to do so and decided to talk exclusively to us and turn down Sky and 5 Live. Bosses very pleased. And the interview provided a fascinating insight for listeners into how the media works. Or shouldn’t work. Listen to the Ed Staite interview HERE.

At 11 we talked to Adam Boulton about the politics of populism, which was really an excuse to look back on the week in politics before we then looked forward to the week ahead with LBC’s political correspondent Tom Cheal and Olly Mann, who will be playing a big role in the show in forthcoming weeks, I hope.

At 11.30 we introduced a feature which could have gone rather awry, but it seems to have gone very well. I’m a big fan of David Letterman style Top Ten Lists and wanted to think of a way of introducing them into the programme, so I hit on a format of offering advice to someone in the news. So this week’s victim was George Galloway. I’ll reproduce it here, but you have to imagine it being played out over the song ‘Respect Yourself’.

Top Ten Pieces of Advice from LBC 97.3 to George Galloway

Get the name of your constituency right. Not all northern towns begin with B Watch your twitter account for ‘hackers’ Stay away from foreign dictators. Especially ones with big moustaches Don’t get a cat. But if you do, be sure to call it Rula Don’t wear red lycra at PMQs Avoid words like indefatigable Don’t walk out of interviews. It ain’t clever and it ain’t funny Ditch the Scottish accent. Learn to speak West Yorkshire. Sit with the LibDems in the House of Commons. It will confuse them. Repeat after yourself: Respect is a two way thing

We then had a quick chat with David Cameron’s personal trainer, Matt Roberts, who almost succeeded in persuading me I really need to get more exercise or I’m going to die.

And at 11.45 we launched our bid to find Britain’s cleverest politician. Tom Harris came into the studio and did reasonably well (Listen HERE) to get 26 points out of a possible 50. We’ll be putting up a league table on the website in future weeks, not that we’re copying Jeremy Clarkson’s Star in a Reasonably Priced Car. Oh no. Never let it be said. I’m now thinking about who to get on next week. Ideas?

Our final hour, it has to be said, was very atypical of what we’ll be doing in subsequent weeks. We decided to do an hour on the Falklands. We had Sukey Cameron from the Falkland Islands Government Office in London in the studio, along with Michael Nicholson, one of the two TV reporters who sailed with the Task Force. We also talked to Major General Julian Thompson, Rick Jolly, Alan West, captain of HMS Ardent and then went live to Port Stanley to talk to fur Falkland Islanders. The hour flew by. In all honesty we had too many guests, but they were all very informative and entertaining. Listen HERE.

And so ended a very full three hours. Reaction so far has been overwhelmingly positive but whenever there’s change there will be people who hanker after what they were used to.

And so the planning for next week begins!

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Video: Iain & Yasmin Alibhai Brown debate new media

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UK Politics

We Need an Apology, Transparency & Immediate Reform of Party Funding

25 Mar 2012 at 18:58

In this country we like to think of our political system as being relatively free from the sort of corruption you often read about elsewhere. But the truth is, where money is concerned, there will always be a perception of wrongdoing even if there is none. If you want to make two and two equal five when you see six figure sums donated to political parties it’s easy to do so. Surely, you think, if someone donates that sum of money, they must want something in return? And if so, what is it? There are three sorts of political donors – those who want access to politics to influence policy, those who just want to ‘starfuck’ and be seen in the company of powerful people, and then there are the genuine philanthropists. In my experience they are by far the largest group, but when scandals like this one break, they are the ones who are unfortunately caught in the backwash.

Let there be no mistake, the Cruddas resignation is a political scandal of the first degree. For the Tory Party treasurer to be caught on video offering access to the Prime Minister is something even the most accomplished Tory spin doctor will find difficult to explain their way out of. And nor should they try. A bit of humility is what is called for here, not bluster.

The words used by Peter Cruddas in the Sunday Times video indicate that the same kind of culture on fundraising operates in today’s Conservative Party that operated in New Labour when Lord Levy was chief fundraiser. I say that not to make a partisan political point, but as a statement of fact. We remember the transcripts of conversations between Lord Levy and potential Labour fundraisers, where he appeared to offer access and preferment. The same thing is happening here. You’d think they would learn, wouldn’t you?

Let’s not kid ourselves that this sort of thing hasn’t been going on for decades in one form or another. I remember nearly ten years ago when David Davis was sacked as Tory Party chairman by Iain Duncan Smith. Much of the reason was that he wouldn’t play ball over meeting potential donors who were ‘after something’. There were terrible rows between him and the party treasurers at the time and he paid the price with his job. I remember furious rows not that long ago when the Tories were in opposition when David Cameron instructed his Shadow Ministers to raise funds to pay for their research staff themselves. Many objected, but as far as I know only one refused. Why did they object? Because they felt that it smelt wrong. That they could be accused of offering access for funding. Whatever the facts of it were, it looked dodgy. Perception, as I say, is everything.

Possibly the most damaging allegation made in the Sunday Times article is this…

There was still one problem, however. The proposed donation was being paid from a Liechtenstein fund and belonged ultimately to Middle Eastern investors. It was a foreign donation. Cruddas was happy for the reporters to find a way around this and said he’d arrange a meeting with the party’s “compliance people” to check that it was legitimate. One option was to create a UK company to donate the money. He said: “Set up a company, employ some people to work here.” Later, though, the reporters’ lobbyist spoke to party officials and returned. As the reporters, posing as executives, were British, the money could be channelled through them. “[The company] would have to donate through an individual (perhaps a director of the company) who is registered on the UK electoral roll,” Southern wrote. She later claimed on the phone: “[The party] don’t pry as to where the money comes from, at all.”

This is Michael Brown territory and in my opinion is tantamount to encouraging someone to break the law. It would not surprise me at all if the Police didn’t look into this.

We can all point to examples in all parties and point out funding scandals. The LibDems and Michael Brown is the most infamous example, and they also have their Access to Clegg dinners, advertised in PR Week last April. The Labour Party is quite open about the fact that its policies are heavily influenced by the very trade unions which provide 90% of their funding. And just how much did the Labour Party get from Assem Allam to persuade Ed Miliband to back out of attending an NHS rally (pretending he was ill) in order to be driven in Allam’s Rolls Royce to attend a football match at the Allam owned KC Stadium in Hull? But all this is rather beside the point. We all know party funding stinks in this country but no one seems to be doing an awful lot about it.

As Andrew Pierce has just said on LBC, let’s not kid ourselves. There are dozens of members of the House of Lords who are there purely because of the amount of money that they have donated to political parties. Yes, they cite their business careers and contribution to charitable causes as the real reason for their elevation to the peerage, but we all know the truth. They come from all parties. It stinks, and always has done, and while there are fewer of them now than there used to be, there are still too many.

So let’s look to the future. What should happen now? Out of threats come opportunities for those farsighted enough to grasp them. Cameron did that in spades over MP expenses. He grasped the initiative and was the party leader who was seen by the public to ‘do something’. This scandal offers the same opportunity to Nick Clegg. Or at least it would do were he not heading for foreign climes for a summit on something or other in the Far East. The LibDems have a policy of introducing maximum political donations of £10,000. The Tories have a similar policy – but want to set the limit at £50,000. Labour agree on the £50,000 limit but are insistent that it must not apply to trade unions. What a surprise. And it is for that reason that cross party talks failed in 2009.

If Clegg or Cameron wish to take the high ground on this issue, all they have to do is unilaterally apply their own propose policy to their own parties. Now. They don’t need legislation to do so. They can just do it.

And they should. Now. And the electorate will then draw their own conclusions if Ed Miliband doesn’t follow suit.

David Cameron predicted this scandal. It is natural to therefore ask why, therefore, has he done nothing to prevent it occurring? It simply won’t wash to say that the appointment of Tory Party Treasurer was ‘nothing to do with me, guv’. Even if it were true, no one would believe it. And if it wasn’t anything to do with the Party leader, who ‘headhunted’ Mr Cruddas and who set out the parameters of what he was supposed to do? It can only have been Andrew Feldman or Sayeeda Warsi, I would have thought. It seems most likely to have been Feldman.

We now need transparency. After all, as someone once said, transparency is the best form of disinfectant, is it not? We need to know what marching orders Peter Cruddas was given and by whom. We need to know which major donors have met senior Ministers for dinner, or otherwise, and when, and what proposals have indeed been passed on to Downing Street from major donors by Conservative Central Office.

If we don’t get those details people will assume the worst.

Oh, and a fullsome apology from the Prime Minister wouldn’t go amiss, either.

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Iain Says No to a Second Referendum

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UK Politics

A Very Political Budget From a Very Political Chancellor

21 Mar 2012 at 17:59

Well, no one can say that wasn’t an eye catching budget, no matter what you think of what was announced. It was a deeply political budget, from a deeply political Chancellor. It reminded me of a Nigel Lawson budget, and I mean that in a good way. And it was a budget from a Chancellor with one eye on the next election and the other eye on the Liberal Democrats.

There are so many headlines from this budget (unlike his last two) that it is very difficult to know where to start. It was a political risky budget and in some ways its short term impact rests on whether Labour is able to kick the ball into the net on the 50p tax rate. Osborne has economics on his side in his argument that the 50p rate was not pulling in the money, but just being right economically does not necessarily win a political argument. Mention 10p tax to Gordon Brown. The fact that pulling in 5 times more money from the rich than the 50p tax rate did may get obscured by the axing the 50p headline. It’s up to George Osborne and his colleagues to get out there on the airwaves and put the case very loudly and very clearly.

The other big headline from this budget is the rise in personal allowances. The LibDems will trumpet this as their major victory in the budget, and the Chancellor will no doubt let them. The rise to £9205 next year means that a rise the following year to £10,000 is an inevitability. Two million people have been taken out of tax altogether. Will the coalition get the credit for that? I wonder. In fact, I don’t wonder at all. I think the bulk of the people who will give the Chancellor credit will be people unaffected by the measure.

The Corporation Tax cut was a welcome measure and will no doubt attract many businesses to this country. We now have some of the lowest business taxes in the G20. I was, however, disappointed not to see further measures on encouraging small businesses to take on more new employees, and in particular apprentices.

The Chancellor has also sought to ameliorate the effects of the Child Benefit cut on people earning more than £44,000. There was an innate unfairness in the original proposal and this has now been addressed, although in a needlessly complicated way. But surely we can all agree that no one on more than £60k should get this benefit. It needs to be targeted at those who really need it.

As I thought, there was little room for the Chancellor to do much on fuel duty and sure enough, he didn’t postpone the next 3p rise, planned for August. He tried to assert that he had saved the motorist £4 billion by removing the fuel duty escalator and stopping Labour’s plans, but he needn’t expect any thanks for it.

A final word about the response from the Leader of the Opposition. Kinnockesque is the kindest word I can ascribe to it. Full of waffle, bluster and buttock clenching amateurishness. Just shouting “Same old Tories” repeatedly isn’t going to get you very far. His advisers must have been holding their heads in their hands.

So where does this leave George Osborne? Well, among Tory MPs and Tory members his reputation will be at an all time high. In very difficult financial circumstances he pulled off a budget which cut taxes for virtually everyone in one way or another. He should have convinced the international markets that he is sticking to his deficit reduction plans. And he has kept the Liberal Democrats happy. I’m not sure what else he could have achieved.

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Iain Presents 'Counting Chickens' on Radio 5 Live

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UK Politics

This Government Has a Quasi-Socialist Approach to Business

3 Mar 2012 at 18:01

What is it with politicians? Why do they think they can run businesses better than those of us who do? Thebest thing government can do is leave businesses to innovate, create jobs and make profits. Yes, profit. That’s what pays the tax that funds all the services government wishes to provide. The trouble is that successive governments seem to think that the more regulation they impose on businesses, the more successful those business will be. It’s a remarkable delusion. Vince Cable has to be the most business-unfriendly Business Secretary in living memory. I won’t recite here all the things he has done to impose more regulation and costs onto business in the last 18 months, but it is quite a list. But today he really has topped them all.

It appears that the Business Secretary now wishes to … and I can’t believe I am writing this … he now wishes to tell employers that workers who become ill while on holiday will be legally entitled to extra time off work*. Yup, you read that right. Every time, it’s the poor sodding employer who has to pay up. Of course employees have rights, but what about employers? This rule is expected to apply to every size of company.

The government reckons this will cost companies £100 million a year, so you can rest assured it will be a multiple of that.I employ around 20 people. Every time the government puts extra regulation on my company it just makes me wonder why I bother. And you know, if it carries on much longer, one day I won’t. Because it won’t be worth the candle. A climate is being created in this country where people who risk everything to start a new business are being villified and penalised. Risk means reward, and if entrepreneurs come to believe that the rewards are just not worth the risk, they won’t start new businesses at all. It is small and medium size enterprises who are the key to our economic recovery. The government should be telling them they will do anything to help them get off the ground and if they’re successful, keep as much of the profit as possible. Very few small business owners earn £150,000 and qualify for the 50p tax rate, but they aspire to do so – earn the money, that is, not pay a marginal rate of more than 60%. If you snuff our aspiration and ambition you, as a government, deserve all you get. And that’s what is happening at the moment. And this new measure of extra time off for people who fall ill on holiday is just the latest manifestation of an attitude in government that is deeply demotivational to any business owner.

This government came into power promising to cut red tape and to deregulate. It has done nothing of the sort. Hardly a surprise when you put a quasi-socialist in charge of an economic department. When the reshuffle comes, let’s put a free market Conservative in charge of the Business Department and put Vince Cable somewhere he can do little harm. The back benches.

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to James Cracknell & Beverley Turner

James Cracknell and his wife Beverley Turner talk about their new book.

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Books

RIP David Rathband

1 Mar 2012 at 18:02

At about 1.20am this morning, I was giving final approval to the new Biteback Publishing website when I happened to look at Twitter. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. David Rathband had taken his own life. It was as if Raoul Moat had risen from his grave and taken his final victim. Why did it affect me? Because Biteback published his book, Tango 190 last July. Since that time David has gone through various traumas. It was clear from his tweets that he was in a bad place. He was arrested over a domestic incident with his wife Kath. He ended up going to Australia to spend time with his brother, and had only just returned to this country. We’ll never know what went through his mind, but the whole country will be mourning the loss of a very brave man, who didn’t deserve what life dealt out to him.

I know Tony Horne, who wrote the book with David, is devastated by the news, and how his wife and children will cope, it is impossible to imagine.

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So What If Vicky Pryce Pleads Guilty?

23 Feb 2012 at 18:05

So, Chris Huhne takes over from Mr Frederick Goodwin as the nation’s whipping boy. But like Fred, Chris Huhne has yet to be convicted of any criminal offence. If I were a Liberal Democrat activist (what an awful thought) I would no doubt be arguing that his political career should not suffer until he is convicted – innocent until proven guilty and all that. And in theory it’s a perfectly fair point to make. The laws of natural justice should dictate just such a thing. But we suspend the laws of natural justice for politicians, and now bankers.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not arguing the LibDem activist case, because like the rest of the world, I think it is politically naive to think that any politician can cling onto office when charged with an offence like this. Would a banker have to resign, though? Would a doctor? No. I guess the difference is that Chris Huhne is a lawmaker. But here we enter difficult territory, because you could equally argue, using that logic, that not only must he leave government, but he should be suspended from Parliament too, until his name is cleared. I’m not advocating it, I am just saying that will be where ‘’mobthink’ heads next, no doubt.

Another issue to ponder on. What if Vicky Pryce pleads guilty and Chris Huhne doesn’t? Where does that leave him? It would make his defence very difficult indeed. His statement makes clear his intention, but it is surely Pryce’s plea which is key to this.

And will Vince Cable and Miriam Clegg be called to give evidence?

Despite the fact that I disagree with many of his policies, there is no doubt that Chris Huhne has performed impressively as a Cabinet Minister. Putting their party political hats on one side, most Tory Ministers will privately admit that. I’d say he is the LibDem who has performed best in Cabinet. One Cabinet Minister said to me: “If you get Chris Huhne to agree to do something, he delivers. He’s a powerful ally in cabinet.” He’s also one of the few LibDem heavy hitters. For Nick Clegg to have lost David Laws and Chris Huhne from the Cabinet table within 18 months, it will be a bitter blow indeed. Ed Davey is no Chris Huhne. If I were Clegg, I’d give the post to Norman Lamb, a much better media performer than Ed Davey, and more popular within the party.

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LBC: The Best of the Iain Dale Show 2012

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

Listen now

Sport

In Conversation With David Sullivan

22 Feb 2012 at 18:03

ID: David, you’ve had two years at the club now. If you knew then, what you know now, would you still have done it?
DS: Just. Just, I think. It’s been a harder time than we imagined. Both from a financial point of view and a football point of view. We shouldn’t have got relegated last year with the team we had. That was a major setback from a financial and a football point of view. We never came in thinking we would be relegated, but there was a lot of dissent in the camp, a lot of infighting, and we picked a bad manager [Avram Grant]. Simple as that. On paper you could make a very strong case for him, but I don’t want to say any more because I think it’s wrong to keep hitting somebody over the head. We are as much to blame as the manager.

ID: How near was he to going in the January 2010 transfer window?
DS: It’s very hard to talk about third parties, but we were very close to having another manager come, who I can’t name for obvious reasons. We had 25 hours of meetings with that manager. Twenty-five hours! At every meeting, that manager said to us: “I will be the next manager of West Ham United”. And we kept saying: “When?” Had he come, we would have changed manager. The problem came when he finally said he wasn’t going to come until the summer, and only if we stayed up. At that point, we thought, probably wrongly, it was too late to bring somebody else in. The obvious alternative was Sam at the point, but I think that would have been unacceptable to the supporters last January. Whilst it was acceptable in May, Sam wasn’t the first choice in January. He was the backup choice. David [Gold] would have changed for the first choice manager, but he was unhappy to change for the second choice manager, and I didn’t feel strong enough to have a row about it. It was a very marginal decision. Whether Sam would have kept us up, who knows? To me there were enough good players to keep us up. Just with Demba Ba and Scott Parker – those two alone should have kept us up.

ID: But Avram didn’t even play Demba Ba all the time, did he? A lot of us couldn’t understand that.
DS: He wasn’t fit when he arrived. He came on against Birmingham and hit the post in his first 20 minutes. But then Scott got injured at a vital time. With 8 games to go, I think we had 32 points off 30 games. We got 1 point from the last 8 games. And that’s when Scott got injured.

ID: When did it dawn on you that it wasn’t going to work and that we would be relegated?
DS: Before the Wigan game. And then at half time, I thought, wow, maybe I’m wrong. Because I thought we could beat Sunderland the next week and that could be enough. But we couldn’t defend, you see. Under Avram, we couldn’t defend, and that was our problem. It wasn’t a problem scoring any, we just couldn’t defend. But I suppose in all honesty I thought we were going down over the last 5 or 6 games. In January we had a little run, and that made us think perhaps we should hang on to the summer. Whatever happened we would have changed manager in the summer. We got lucky at Fulham. We got annihilated and went in 2-0 up at half time. It was like a real fluke performance. We won that game and picked up points here and there.

ID: You talked about dissent. Was that between the players and the manager or within the squad.
DS: I’m on the outside looking in, so I really don’t know, but I think there was a foreign group and an English group. I think the English group were plotting against the manager. Everything was wrong at the club last year and by way of contrast, everything is right this year. Everyone’s together.

ID: Is that Sam Allardyce’s influence pure and simple, or are there other factors?
DS: Several disruptive players have left and I think Sam is a different breed of manager. He wouldn’t have stood for it. Had he come in last January I’m not saying we would have stayed up, but I think there’s a greater likelihood we would have stayed up. But as I say, I don’t think it would have been acceptable to the supporters then. It’s been very costly from a football and a financial point of view being relegated and we have lost key players. Scott Parker just didn’t want to stay. Demba Ba had a get out if we were relegated.

ID: How did that work? Did we pay money to Hoffenheim?
DS: I’ll tell you exactly what happened. We wanted to loan him, but Hoffenheim said they wouldn’t loan him as they could get 6 million euros for him from Stoke. He then failed the medical at Stoke. I went back and asked to loan him again. Again they said no, but they would sell him to us. So we paid 500,000 euros down, which was almost like a loan fee, and then we’d pay 5 ½ million euros starting the next season depending on how many games he played – one level of payment in the Championship, one level of payment on the Premier League. I’ll have to make the figures up because I can’t remember, but something like 25,000 euros a game in the Premier League and 10,000 euros in the Championship. Demba Ba signed a three and a half year contract with us. We had a deal where his salary would be halved if we were relegated. He said, “Well on that basis, I have got to be allowed to walk if we get relegated”. What we should have said in retrospect – but none of us thought he would score so many goals – is that we’d be happy to give him £40 grand a week in the Championship. In the end I offered him £45 grand a week to stay but he wouldn’t take it. What we should have said was that if we don’t halve your salary, you haven’t got a get-out. The failure to put that one line in the contract cost us very, very dearly. As I say, he was on £35 grand a week and I offered him £45 grand a week to stay, but he went to Newcastle. His agent got £2 million to take him to Newcastle.

ID: So do Newcastle now have to pay to Hoffenheim the money you would have had to pay?
DS: No. That’s why Newcastle could always outbid us. It was our deal with Hoffenheim.

ID: So Hoffenheim got stuffed, then.
DS: Yup, they got half a million for him. This didn’t work for anyone except Demba Ba… and Newcastle. I’m told he’s got a £7 million get-out at Newcastle and he gets half the money over that. They keep denying it but I think you’ll see in the summer he will leave Newcastle or he’ll get a monstrous rise to stay there. If they get about four million, half will go to him, so if they sell him for £7 million they’ll only net about three because they paid his agent £2 million to get him out of here. Getting £3 million is not bad, but for a player of his quality it’s not fantastic. It’s one of those mistakes that happen, but it’s probably one of the worst mistakes I have ever made in my life. It just didn’t enter our heads. it didn’t enter anybody’s head that he’d score enough goals that we’d want to give him £40k a week and his old club £15/20k an appearance and we’d still be relegated. In reality that’s exactly what happened. The agent just threw it in at the last minute. He said “Obviously if his salary is cut by 50% you’ve got to let him walk”. We thought, OK, if we get relegated, do we really want a £40k a week striker in the Championship? Well, we would have because he was devastating. If he was with us now and his knee had held up, because remember, he did have a very very bad knee, I think we’d be 15 points clear, I really do. He’d be cutting through those defences. You live and you learn.

ID: You can say that again.

ID: Who’s the best player you’ve signed? The deal you’ve done and thought, yup, we did well there.
DS: I can’t think of one [roars with laughter]. I think Taylor is a very good signing from Bolton. But again we’ve been unfortunate. He’s had an injury he has never had in his life and then he gets sent off the other night. He’s the most educated and articulate fellow you could ever come across and he does something like that! I can’t understand it. I’m hoping it’s Ravel Morrison, but time will tell.

ID: How did that come about? It seemed to come completely out of the blue. There was no gossip about it at all.
DS: It had been going on for a few weeks. His contract was up with Man United, and under European rules he could go to a foreign club for half a million pounds we took the gamble of offering Man U a package which comes to a couple of million quid to take him now and we offered the player a fantastic deal that builds on Premier League games, so if he is a very successful Premier League player, he becomes exceptionally highly paid. It was through contacts. There were five Premier League clubs in for him but we persuaded his people to bring him to us. He could be the worst signing we’ve made or the best signing we’ve made. Time will tell.

ID: When I first heard about this deal I was convinced Harry Redknapp would hijack it, as he specialises in rescuing difficult players. But I suppose he was in court at the time and couldn’t pick up the phone to Sir Alex!
DS: Ravel is a young man. It might be that Man U let him go because we weren’t in the Premier League. We have always got on well with Man United. Newcastle were in strongly for him, we were told. I really think he will be in our first team before the end of the season. He wants first team football so that appealed to him. I met him, and I think he had never met the owners of Man United. Maybe that persuaded him to come. Time will tell if it was a good signing or a bad signing. But I can’t say any signing we’ve done up to now is a fantastic signing. Actually, to get James Tomkins to renew was a good development – not a new signing, but nevertheless.

ID: Were there clubs on for him?
DS: Newcastle bid £4 million for him.

ID: Because that’s the trouble at West Ham – just when you get the nucleus of a good side we get relegated or two or three of the leading players go. If we get back into the Premier League you’ve got the spine of a top class side. Green in goal, Tomkins, Noble in the middle…
DS: But as contracts run down you have a problem. Green’s contract is up this summer. We have made him a fantastic offer, subject to us staying in the Premier League. But if we don’t stay in the Premier League a) we won’t be able to afford him and b) he won’t want to stay. So we have to go up.

ID: So if we go up, he will stay…
DS: It’s his decision, but I think we have made him a great offer. I think he likes the club, he likes the manager, but it’s his decision.

ID: He’s been in great form this season.
DS: Yes, he has been in brilliant form, but it’s like with all players, as they move towards the end of their contracts. But there is a wind of change coming through in football, and it’s a cold wind. Some players are not getting quite what they want. I’ll give you an example. Sunderland, a year last summer, wanted Matthew Upson, and they offered us £6 million for him. I accepted it because there was a year left on his contract. He was the second highest paid player at the club. It would be wrong to say what he was on, but he was the second highest paid player at the club. Sunderland offered him a four year contract on the same money and a little bit more. He said: “I’m too good for Sunderland”. [ID laughs]. A year later he’s got a two year contract off Stoke on under half the money that Sunderland offered him, so perhaps he should have gone to Sunderland It would have definitely helped the club, because I don’t think his contribution in our relegation season was fantastic. And it would have got us £6 million pounds in.

ID: I think that’s what’s called choosing your words carefully. [laughs]
DS: Yeah, you know of all the players, I think he let the club down. He let me down personally, because I fell out terribly with the manager when I was at Birmingham when I let him come to West Ham in the first place. I thought he wasn’t doing it at Birmingham. It was a fantastic offer from West Ham – it amounted to a package of 8 ½ million, all of which we got. He rung me up on holiday and begged me to allow him to come to West Ham. He was on £12k a week at Birmingham and he was offered more than quadruple that to come to West Ham. He begged me to let him go and I went against the manager to let him go, which I had never done before. We needed the money and I don’t think he was trying at Birmingham. That’s my opinion. I think his mind was elsewhere. He didn’t want to risk injury… But despite selling Upson to West Ham in the January window, Birmingham still got automatic promotion that year, so selling him didn’t actually damage Birmingham.

ID: Do you find that a lot? There’s all sorts of paper speculation, and if a player makes up his mind he wants out, there’s nothing you can do?
DS: This might not please many people, but if you look at Scott Parker’s performance in the first five games of this season. To me, it didn’t look like he was doing the tackling you’d normally expect him to do. He was running about, he was doing OK but he wasn’t doing the tackling we know he can do do, because he knew that the one thing that would stop a move for him would be an injury. To me it looked like he didn’t want to be there. He told us he didn’t want to be there. He didn’t want to play for the club. In the nicest possible way, he said “I’ve given you my all for the last 3, 4, 5 years, you owe it to me to let me go”. Now there is an argument that he’s right. There’s no player who has given more for the club in recent years, so to make him stay against his wishes… He was protecting himself either consciously or subconsciously. If you want to be kind, it was subconscious. If you want to be unkind, he was consciously protecting himself. His performances in those games were not the Scott Parker we know and I think most supporters could see that. He’s gone to Spurs and he is back to his old self. That’s football, unfortunately. I’ll be honest with you, in his defence he didn’t go to Spurs for any more money. He was the highest paid player at West Ham. All they did was add a year to his contract, so it wasn’t a financial thing with him, it was a football thing.

ID: You said the last transfer window was the most difficult you’ve ever been through. Take us through from the start to the finish. What was it like for you as the chairman, trying to find a player, then you’d see it in the papers…
DS: We chased about 20 players. At the end, I think we bought very well. Only time will tell. Take Vaz Te. We got him for what we wanted to pay, but at the start of January they wanted double. Even though his contract was up this summer, they were gung ho, but by the end of the transfer window it’s either getting money off us or getting nothing in the summer. Maynard was exactly the same. They’d have got 6 ½ million from Leicester last summer, but he wouldn’t go to Leicester.

ID: You tried to get him last summer, didn’t you?
DS: Yes. We offered £4 miillion. We’ve ended up getting him for what will amount to a couple of million quid, which is not a lot of money for a payer who… I mean the other night against Southampton he could have won the game for us with one touch. He smashed one in and the guy made a great save. He’s a decent player. I think we bought well at the end.

ID: What happened with Jordan Rhodes?
DS: We bid £4 million. They said he’s not for sale at any price in this transfer window and in fact it turned out to be the case. We were buying a young talent who may not have made the jump. It’s not guaranteed, but he’s a prolific goalscorer. To get 27 in 25 or something was incredible, and he’s an improving talent because each year he’s getting more.

ID: And then they sack the manager instead! Bizarre. There must be more to that than meets the eye.
DS: Strange.

ID: What about Jelavic from Rangers?
DS: Jelavic we weren’t sure about. We thought it was an awful lots of money, five or six million pounds and he wanted double the wages he was on at Rangers. We thought the whole package was…

ID: So you didn’t actually make a formal bid?
DS: Yes we did. We made two or three formal bids for him. We bid £5 million, but they wanted six or seven. They wanted more on knock ons. They wanted quick payment, and we now know why. I wasn’t prepared, and Sam wasn’t prepared, to bid a penny more than £5 million. And we both had reservations about it. It is a real gamble when you sign any player. What you are trying to do is buy value for money. Maynard was £1,650,000 and £350,000 based on promotion or staying up. They get nothing for promotion this year, but next year if we stay up or get promotion it gets £2 million. So that’s better value. Also his wages are high but not as high as we would have had to pay the Rangers player. So we think that was better value for the club than the Rangers deal. Whether it turns out to be, only time will tell.

ID: Was there ever anything in the Tevez rumours?
DS: Three times we asked. Three times they said “no chance”. And how that Twitter thing got going on the Saturday afternoon… You’d have thought he was on the plane back from Buenos Aires. He’s also very unfit. He was in a Marbella hotel sunning himself for a couple of weeks, so I think he’d need a month to get fit anyway. I’ve got to say I’d have taken him because he’d have got the whole crowd going and I think perhaps within a month he’d have been fit anyway. Demba Ba wasn’t fit for a month but he had a fantastic impact. I’d love Tevez to be coming out for us Tuesday night at Blackpool. I’d just love it. But each time we went back they said ‘no chance whatsoever’. So we did try three times but each time it was a no. I’m not sure Tevez would have come. We spoke to his agent but the dispute with Man City was so nasty he maybe didn’t want to give them an escape route, who knows? It was never really a runner.

ID: How damaging is it when rumours appear in papers or on Twitter or on the internet generally? Have they ever scuppered a deal?
DS: Yeah… They scuppered the manager coming to West Ham a year ago. When that got out in the press… Bearing in mind we’d been having meetings for a month… I won’t say who the manger was, because I think it would be unfair…

ID: I think we all know…
DS: It only got out when he appointed two agents to negotiate his contract with us.

ID: How can you do that? How can two different people negotiate?
DS: I don’t know. Then overnight his betting went down to 6-4 on to come, and you have to think one of those two agents has told somebody. We kept it secret for a month, then Bingo, it’s in the press, and he says “Oh, it’s all in the press now, I won’t come”. We didn’t particularly want the guy from Rangers [Jelavic] but we made our bid. Everton only came on the scene because they then knew he was available. They might not have known that before us. We didn’t go in for Maynard early. We went in overnight on the transfer deadline. We did it very quickly. Wolves were desperately trying to get him as well. Had they known of our interest they might have ramped their bid up a bit more.

ID: There was a rumour that Wigan had signed him for 2.5 million at one point.
DS: All these deals were close but we just snuck in and took him. The more you can keep it quiet the better. I mean, we tried to get Torres from Chelsea.

ID: Get out of here! Did you really?
DS: Well if he couldn’t score in the Premier League, come along with us for a month. We might fire him up!

ID: And how many words did their response consist of?
DS: They just said: “Not at this moment in time”. The best one was Blackpool. We went in for Phillips there, a very good young player. Blackpool came back and said we made £30 million last year, because they didn’t spend any money, we’ve got £40 million in the bank, I think your’e approaching the wrong club to buy a player off [laughs]. It was a very nice reply!

ID: What happened with the bloke from Watford, Sordell?
DS: We watched him, and we thought he was a rising star, maybe one for the future, but we’re not sure about now. And we wanted somebody for now. He ended up at Bolton, didn’t he? If he gets 8 goals for Bolton this season we made a bad decision, if he gets two, we made the right decision. He doesn’t score that many goals when you analyse it. Martin, our head of recruitment, went to watch him several times and really liked him, but said if you want somebody for now, he may not be it, And his personal demands were pretty high – Premier League wages. We talked to Watford about him. We could have lived with the fee Watford wanted, although Bolton paid more than we could have got him for. The player wanted plenty of money and we thought the overall package for what he was going to deliver, short term was too much. Long term, who knows?

ID: Is it important to plan for the future and make sure that any player you sign now is capable of hacking it in the Premier League?
DS: Yes, absolutely. We did look at another striker, but decided he might not make it in the Premier League. He wanted to come. We could have had him for £1.75 million but Sam just thought he might not make the jump. I didn’t have an opinion to be honest. Let me tell you something, I believe in coincidence. Get this. Carlos Tevez. Born, 5 February. Cristiano Ronaldo. Born 5 February. Neymar. Born 5 February. All born on the same day as me. Jordan Rhodes, also born 5 February. And you know what, this other player that we didn’t sign, also born 5 February. When I saw the Huddersfield guy was the same date as me and the same date as those players, I thought it was written in the stars. Just incredible. An incredible coincidence, isn’t it?

ID: I reckon we should get the Rothmans Yearbook out and look up every footballer born on 5 February.
DS: There aren’t many. If you take the best ten strikers in the world, there’s three of them born on 5 February.

ID: Did you tell Sam Allardyce?
DS: Yes!

ID: What did he say?
DS: He didn’t think much of it [laughs].

ID: I can imagine him now. “Typical bloody chairman”. [laughs].

ID: If England came knocking for Sam Allardyce, what would your reaction be?
DS: I don’t think England are going to come knocking. He has a specific clause in his contract which says he can leave for England. It’s the one job he can leave for. This time next year maybe, but I think they will stick with their manager . In three or four years’ time if we have had a good run in the Premier league he would be an obvious candidate.

ID: How do you think the fans have taken to him? I can remember when you were looking to appoint a manager and we had an exchange of emails and I said ‘whatever you, don’t appoint Allardyce.’ You replied that he had a great record and that I should look it up on Google. I admit I was wrong.
DS: He’s actually a very nice person. The mistake we probably all made, was that we had never met him. We imagine he’s a gruff, thick northerner [laughs], do you know what I mean? But that’s the image he’s got! He is the most thinking, intelligent man. He analyses everything. He’s into stats, which I am too. Very experienced, and if you look at his track record he hasn’t had a failure anywhere. When Newcastle sacked him, they were half way up the table and he was only three months into the job. I think he’s done a decent job. I’ve got to tell you, the other night against Southampton, we were playing fantastic football, we were attacking, we should have scored a couple, at least one of them should have gone in. We were looking good, playing really attractive stuff, just what the supporters wanted. Then a disaster, and a player does something stupid. And then of course, ten against eleven, you’ve got to change the whole formation. You’ve only got two in midfield, both your wingers are having to defend, and it’s been tough again. There have been games where we’ve played football and games where we haven’t, but I have got to tell you, under Zola and Avram I was surprised how little football we played. Under Zola we didn’t play attractive football the last six months of the year. When we took over there was nothing attractive about the football.

ID: Do you think in retrospect you should have given Zola another chance?
DS: Possibly. Possibly.

ID: I was gutted when he went. He was the one manager who got the best out of Carlton Cole.
DS: Maybe, but the one player he wanted was Benni McCarthy.

ID: I take back everything I just said… [laughs].
DS: Seriously, he said “You get me Benni McCarthy and I will keep you up.” He would have loved a more expensive player, but if we had two or three million to spend he said get McCarthy and he’ll keep us up. Well, he should have taken one look at him when he arrived and saw that he was two stone overweight and not signed him. Benni McCarthy probably cost us four or five million quid. We had to pay him off. We wrote off a £2 1/4 million transfer fee. And I thought, well if that’s his judgement on transfers, I’m seriously worried. If you include the transfer fee, wages, NI, payoff, agents’ fees and everything, McCarthy cost us £7 million! But yes, half of me says yes, we should have given him more time, but really, we should have been relegated under him because 34 or 35 points doesn’t keep you up most seasons. It was a bad year with Portsmouth, Burnley and I can’t remember the other one. There were some bad teams in that division who shouldn’t have been in the Premier League. We stayed up by default really. Against that, he didn’t have much ammunition. He had to sell his side. It’s also very difficult when people aren’t fluent in English, but then we picked another one [Avram Grant] who also wasn’t fluent in English. I really do like English managers and I really don’t think I would ever appoint a non English manager ever again. I find Scottish people hard enough to understand to be honest! I keep having to ask Alex [McLeish] to slow down a bit. I can’t follow what you’re saying!

ID: Would you have looked at bringing Alan Pardew back? He has always said he has got unfinished business at West Ham, hasn’t he?
DS: We thought about it. But remember, at the time he had failed to get Southampton promotion for two or three seasons despite spending a pile of money. He had flopped at Charlton, so it was hard to make a case. I liked Pardew. The press all liked him.

ID: I did. He seemed to kick every ball. I loved his emotion on the touchline. He really built up quite a rapport with the fan.
DS: It was, just to me… We looked at Avram. With a team that’s been ripped to pieces he got them to the FA Cup Final. He got Chelsea to within a kick of winning the Champions League, albeit he had inherited the team, although it wasn’t doing well when he took over. At Portsmouth they just sold everybody, and if you put the 10 points back, they almost wouldn’t have been relegated. On paper, that looked better than Mr Pardew. So he couldn’t get Southampton promoted, flopped at Charlton, but he’s now done a fantastic job at Newcastle. You have to make a decision based on what you know. It’s like Chris Hughton. He’s done a wonderful job at Birmingham, but at Newcastle, big question marks. Did he just inherit a team with which anyone could have got promoted with, with Andy Carroll and all of them. But he was one of a number of names we looked at. We were looking for someone with a better proven record.

ID: Let’s move on to the Olympic Stadium.
DS: Before you ask anything, I can’t go into too much detail on this, for reasons you will appreciate. This is a very sensitive time, so please accept that there’s not actually an awful lot I can say.

ID: OK, I do understand that. Where are we at in the process?
DS: Well, we are going through the new tender process to ascertain the differences between ownership and lease. It will be a complicated process and no decisions have yet been made with regard to bidding. A bid has to be submitted by 23 March.

ID: What is your top priority in deciding whether to bid?
DS: We would need to ensure that the atmosphere at the stadium is right for football. Whatever shape or form that takes is still under discussion. We reckon we can make the stadium work from a legacy point of view, to provide a heart in the stadium, to create the jobs, the usage, to give the stadium a national and international stage, but we have to be sure it is right for football. If it is a truly multi-purpose stadium then that is a fantastic legacy and vision for everyone.

ID: But the terms of the bid seem to be more disadvantageous in this process than before. They’ve taken away naming and catering rights, for instance.
DS: Under the previous tender process, as owners of the stadium, we could adapt it, with enhancements such as demountable seats, covered seats with the roof, world class corporate facilities. We have to see what we will be able to achieve as a tenant. We also have to be very careful about who we share with.

ID: Who would you rule out?
DS: We are not too keen on rugby or sharing with another football club, as we have to ensure the stadium is a home for West Ham, not just a venue to play our matches.

ID: Amen to that. A lot of fans who used to support a move to Stratford are now having second thoughts and wonder whether we shouldn’t just stay put and redevelop our existing ground.
DS: We have a stadium that could have a 45,000 capacity. We have a hotel. We have 3,000 corporate hospitality guests, a stadium we own. We say how/when and who, so to give that up we have to be 100% sure the deal is right for the club.

ID: I can see you’ve got to tread carefully, given the timing of this interview, so let’s imagine a scenario where for whatever reason the Olympic Stadium doesn’t go ahead, what would you preference be then – to redevelop or find a new site for a new ground?
DS: I think it makes more sense to redevelop Upton Park.

ID: You wouldn’t look for another site elsewhere?
DS: Economically I don’t think it would work. Maybe long term, but short term you’d want to fill up the ground consistently and have a waiting list of season ticket holders, then you’d build the East Stand bigger and better. There’s a big part of us that wants to stay at Upton Park. It’s a very difficult decision.

ID: Have you been surprised at the reaction of fans to the Olympic Stadium? It is quite split, but you might have expected it to be 90-10 against, but it has been more like 50-50, but I think opinion is now shifting away from it.
DS: When we did an opinion poll we got 87% in favour. But it’s the one area… I’m going to have another look at it myself and see what can be done, but I think I have said all I can say for now.

ID: Just one more thing, there have been various fans group say they want you to hold a proper referendum of fans, maybe get the Electoral Reform Society to oversee it. Is that a possibility?
DS: No, because who would vote? Would you just let season ticket holders vote? All the fans who say they are supporters but don’t come to games? We’re not a democracy. Where you’ve got fans running clubs they usually go bust. I don’t think you could even give fans the true… In a perfect world you’d love to keep Upton Park, play one year at the Olympic Stadium, and then ask people which they prefer. But it’s not viable. We wouldn’t get a lease for 12 months. I tell you, none of us know the answer. None of us know the answer. And I really can’t go any further than that. I hope your readers will understand.

ID: Let’s move onto the ownership of the club. How much do you and David Gold actually own? And how has that changed since the beginning?
DS: I think we own about 32% each. The bank owns 35%, the Harrises own 1% and Terry Brown owns a tiny little bit. He put half a million pounds in. I know the fans hate Terry, but you couldn’t have a guy that loves the club more than Terry. He may have run the club like an accountant, but he goes to every home and away game and he loves the club. When we asked for half a million quid he put it in. You could say well it’s nothing, but it isn’t nothing, it’s a substantial sum of money. The Harris’s put a couple of million pounds in. One of them is on the board. They are lifelong supporters. John has been a supporter since 1946. His son Daniel loves the club. They put some money in when we did. I’ve still got an option till 2013 to buy the rest of the shares but unfortunately we are putting so much money in to keep the club afloat and to pay down the debt, I don’t particularly want to put up another pile of money to buy the remainder of the shares, when I have an option over them anyway. And I have got to tell you that Straumar are supportive. They can’t give us any more money, but they did actually loan us another million quid at one stage, which was incredible really. They are very lovely people, nothing to do with the old lot. This season David and I have put in £32 million. There’s approximately a £17 million trading loss this year, which we are not proud of. We had to make a decision whether to run it like an Administrator, get rid of all the players and be fighting relegation, or to have one go at giving it our all to get promoted. The other £15 million is being used to pay down debt. We have to pay down the banks on a schedule. We have to pay down Sheffield United. The whole Tevez deal cost the club over £30 million. We inherited 70 or 80% of that. It finishes in 2013. The trouble is, the payments get bigger in the later years. I can’t name the figures because it’s confidential but it is ratcheted. The previous owners would do any deal as long they didn’t have to pay in the current year. It was always ‘pay later’. And two years’ season ticket money was taken in advance, which we rolled over for a year. This year, because we were relegated, they wouldn’t roll it over, so we had to pay down £7 million advance on season tickets and there’s a £7.7 million advance next year so all the season ticket money is gone.

ID: How close were we to going out of business?
DS: Well, if we hadn’t put money in we’d been out of business. And that’s what people fail to understand. If you owed the money to the Inland Revenue you could go into administration, give them 20p in the Pound, which Rangers will do on the drip and then come back. The problem with West Ham is that the money is owed to Sheffield United and other football clubs, so they are football debts and administration doesn’t get you out of those. The banks have a charge over the ground, the training ground, over everything. So even if you go into administration that isn’t lost. So administration wouldn’t clear the debts of the club. Even if it was for the benefit of the club, even if we lost our shares, if we could get out of all that debt, we would go into administration. But you’d only get rid of 20% of your debts, not the 80% which are football debts, or debts charged against the football club, the ground – every asset of the club they’re charged against.

ID: When you took over you will have obviously done your due diligence, but were you really aware of all of the mess at that point?
DS: We knew it was a hell of a mess. There might have been five or ten million we didn’t know about, but we knew about £100 million of it. We said right from the start that if this wasn’t West Ham, we wouldn’t be doing this. This is not a good deal.

ID: Two years on, do you think people really appreciate how bad the situation was, and what you both have done to rectify it?
DS: Some do, but unless you know the real figures you don’t. I think there’s a belief in football that whatever happens, the club survives. There will soon be a club that won’t survive. It might be Portsmouth. The only clubs that cease to survive are tiny ones. It has not happened to a big club yet. West Ham was probably the most insolvent club in the country due to the excesses of the Icelandic owners. If, for example, Roman Abramovich died tomorrow and his widow didn’t want to support Chelsea, the debts and the players’ wages would put Chelsea out of business. Same at Man City.

ID: So there are some clubs that are run as playthings and others have to be run as businesses. In the end, something will happen to those clubs that are run as playthings.
DS: If the owner loses interest, they’re buggered. It’s like a rich man who buys a yacht and then loses interest in it. Although we have not been good businessmen in what we’ve done this season, we cannot do that year after year. In a weird sort of way, we can’t let the debts keep increasing. We will have lost £15-17 million pursuing the dream. In fact next year, or the year after, or whenever it comes in, even if you want to, you can’t, because of the Fair Play Rules.

ID: What effect will that have?
DS: In the Championship it will be ferocious. Wages will come down. You won’t be able to renew players, you’ll have to let good players walk away because you can’t afford to pay them the wages they are on let alone an increase if their contract is coming to an end.

ID: Have you found that a difficulty already? I know you can’t name individual players but have there been players who you’d like to sell on but they won’t take a cut and the club that might be interested in them won’t meet their demands?
DS: Some players, because of their wages, are worthless. We then have to pay the player off. We have had one where if he had been on £2-3 grand a week, there would have been a queue of clubs to take him. We might even have got a £100,000 fee for him. But because he was on a very large multiple of that we’ve had to give him a huge sum of money.

ID: How do you and David Gold divide your duties?
DS: I do all the transfers, bringing the players in, things like that. David does all the PR, goes to the training ground. If I’m unsure about something, or it’s a substantial amount of money I’ll ring David just to check he’s OK with it. For example, the Jelavic bid was quite a big bid and he’d have had to stick in half the money. He gives me his opinions on it, you know? When we appointed Sam we both met him together, same with Avram. In the main, we think alike. We’ve been in football together for nearly 20 years

ID: Are you tempted to follow his lead and join Twitter yourself?
DS: No, my son is on Twitter and he loves it. He’s a bit dyslexic so anything that encourages him to write, I am very pleased about. I know when we signed players on the transfer deadline, I was ringing him up – by the way, that was the worst night of the season – and he was tweeting we had signed players but he hadn’t put the ‘ed’ on the end of sign.

ID: David Gold clearly loves it, though.
DS: Yeah, he loves it. I just haven’t got the time. I can’t handle my emails. Sometimes I get 2,000 a day. The thought of trying to do Twitter as well would be too much.

ID: You are very quick at replying to emails.
DS: It’s because I am here. David can’t reply to every tweet he gets but he does his best. He tries to keep the supporters informed about what’s going on. He’s very open and honest, as I am too. We believe in open and honest management. You hope that if you are honest with the supporters they can see you’re trying your best. At this moment in time we have to accept that there are many clubs we can’t compete with. We hope that over time we can compete with all but the Man Citys, Chelsea and Man Uniteds of this world. Maybe one year a few players will come through. You get lucky. It can happen. You sign a couple of young players, a couple of youth team players make it. We’ve still got ambition.

ID: Who are the young players you’re most impressed with? Danny Potts has done well, hasn’t he? He was brilliant in his first game
DS: Yes, but he was brought in too soon. It was a good experience for him. But with any young player, they can have a brilliant debut but it’s asking too much for them to do it in three or four quick games. Had Sam had a choice, he wouldn’t have done that. It was done by necessity. All the players who got a yellow card at Birmingham were suspended against Derby. Rob Hall is a good player but his knee’s gone and he’s out for the rest of the season. But I don’t think he’d be in the first team now with the players we’ve signed. He’s a player for next season. Elliot Lee, George Moncur. There are two or three. If you’re in the Championship they’re going to get more chances.

ID: We need to be 15 points ahead at the beginning of April so Sam can try a couple.
DS: Yes, absolutely. That’s the dream. It’s a bit unlikely, but anything’s possible.

ID: It’s interesting that we are at the top, and yet you’d be hard pressed to name a game where we’ve played brilliantly and played a team off the park – maybe Blackpool at home.
DS: We all think there is another gear in the team. In a weird sort of way we saw it against Southampton the other night but there are a lot of nerves out there. There are nerves in the crowd too. They were really up for it against Southampton though, and that helped the team. I agree with you, it’s been a struggle, but it was always going to be. Norwich last year, it wasn’t a pushover, they would grind out result after result. They scored a lot of late goals, and that’s what we have got to start doing. We haven’t won a single game in the last quarter of an hour. We’ve scored a lot of early goals and then win 1-0. I am hoping in the last 18 games we can get some points in the last ten minutes.

ID: What happened with Tony Fernandes?
DS: He was trying to buy the club when we were trying to buy the club. He’s very tricky, Tony. I won’t say any more than that. He told a few pork pies to us. What he said this year, his offer was ridiculous. He wanted to put a little bit of money into the club – and I mean ‘a little bit’ – to take 51% of the club. We didn’t have 51% to sell really, as it would have left us with 13% between us. We’d have been giving him our shares. It was a ludicrous offer. But he’s certainly pumped some money into Queen’s Park Rangers. Or run up some debt, time will tell. It will be interesting to see if they stay up or go down. Tony is a charming, charismatic man, a fantastic salesman, very good at talking.

ID: What’s the most memorable West Ham game you have ever seen?
DS: I went to the cup finals as a kid. When I was 15 and living in Hornchurch I went to the 1964 cup final. Ronnie Boyce. Beating Man U 4-0 in the snow the other year was memorable. I know it was a semi reserve side, but even so, that was quite a good experience. Even beating Stoke in injury time. We were so much more up for those cup games, but then there was that abysmal performance at Birmingham where we just capitulated. I never went. I thought, I just can’t face it if we get beaten up there. Funny how fickle some supporters are. The first time we went back we got jostled and booed. The last time we got applauded. So perhaps after 12 months they realise we didn’t do such a bad job. Birmingham are having a fantastic year. Undefeated at home and a major threat to us. It will be a very big game when we play them at Upton Park.

ID: Have we had the money for Diamanti yet?
DS: No. It’s gone to the European Court of Arbitration. I fear Brescia might go bust on us. But even if this court tells them to pay, it doesn’t mean they will. Say they owe us £1.7 million. They are trying to get £500,000 knocked off for a technical reason. Well why not pay us £1.2 million in the meantime? I don’t understand it. It doesn’t make any sense.

ID: Why was Fabio Daprela let go? He looked a real prospect.
DS: The manager took the view he was just OK. We got 750,00 euros from Brescia and we actually got paid that money. It was a one off payment and we thought it was reasonable business.

ID: What’s the situation with Marek Stech?
DS: If he starts in two more games we have to give £700,000 to Sparta Prague. It’s very hard. We have tried to renegotiate with them, but they’re having none of it. It’s a bad, bad situation.

ID: Karren Brady’s column in The Sun doesn’t go down well with many fans. Have you been concerned by some of the things she writes?
DS: She’s always done it. If I stop her doing it, the club would have to give her the money. And it’s a substantial amount of money, so I prefer for her to do it and the club not to give her the money if that makes sense! I’m confident that Karren will never write anything detrimental to our great club and she hasn’t this season.

ID: Sam’s column in the Standard is quite a good read. He doesn’t get into trouble over that. Yet.
DS: He doesn’t earn any money from it either! [laughs]. He does it for nothing. Just to get PR for the club.

ID: Do you think racism has been eradicated from Upton Park? I’ve only experienced it twice in my twenty years as a season ticket holder, but once at the end of last season I witnessed some really extreme anti-semitic stuff against David Gold after we’d lost a game in the last minute. It’s still there, isn’t it?
DS: If you lose in the last minute we all say and do things… That’s why I never speak to the manager until the Monday. I don’t speak to him after the game. If it’s a midweek game, I’ll speak to him the next day. I think things can be said on both sides that you might live to regret. I think some people, through ignorance, lack of education, they come out with the racist thing. I’m short, so I have the hightism thing against me, which hurts just as much [Iain laughs]. I was born short. I wish I had been like Brad Pitt, but I am what I am. I may not be black, I may not be Jewish, but I’m little.

ID: At least you’re not ginger!
DS: I like ginger women, actually. I like redheads. [both in fits of laughter]. Perhaps I would prefer to be a black Jewish man than a small white man. So I get hightism remarks against me. You’ve just got to take it on the chin. It’s not very nice and yes, we did get a bit of grief at the end of last season – “You’ve wrecked the club, and done this and that”, but we have done our best and we are not going to get it right all the time. Hand on heart, we picked the wrong manager, but I don’t want to keep whacking Avram. He was a lovely person but he wasn’t right for West Ham. Another club, he might have been wonderful for. We made a mistake, but if you look at managers, they sign players and make mistakes all the time. Unfortunately as an owner, you make a decision every couple of years, or every five years , you hope you get it right.

ID: Have you ever had a manager who wanted to sign a player, you’ve seen that player and you say ‘absolutely not’?
DS: Only when the manager has been there a few years. You’ve got to give support in the early years. But after a few bad buys I have written emails to managers where I have said “I’m supporting you buying this player, but I am telling you now that this is a bad, bad player and you shouldn’t be signing him”. I think I have been right on virtually every occasion. I have only vetoed about two players in a long period of time. In the main you support a manager. I’ve signed a couple who I would not have signed but the manager wanted them so you support him. All you can do is give your opinion. Sometimes you say to a manager “think about it, have a long, hard think about it” and sometimes they do and change their minds and sometimes they don’t. You support the manager, or you become the manager. I have signed a couple over the years where I have taken a longshot gamble and said to the manager “are you Ok with it, you don’t have to play them but don’t boycott them”. I have only signed them with their approval. I have only said to a manager, say every 50 players, I don’t want them to sign someone, and I might pick one out of 50, subject to finances.

ID: Is there one that you have picked that has then gone on to do really well?
DS: I signed Mauro Zarate at Birmingham on loan and he almost kept us up an he went on to do well at Lazio. I think he’s at Inter Milan now. We signed a little Equadorian who did very well and is now the top scorer in Mexico. Zarate we signed on loan with an option of buying. I wouldn’t buy a player like that on a long term contract. Everyone’s got to be in agreement. Every player we have signed this year, the manager has picked and I have supported him. They all made sense on paper. I also signed Ilan at West Ham. I saw the state of Benni McCarthy when he arrived and had my doubts about him, though he was the manager’s first choice. I had the opportunity to take Ilan for half a season, with an option in our favour for the next season. I signed him as I thought we needed more firepower. He wasn’t a great player, but his five vital goals kept us up. He had an uncanny knack of sticking his right foot out and scoring. Whilst he didn’t do enough for us to offer him a long term contract, I think he did the job he was brought in to do. Zola agreed to take him, though he knew nothing about him, and thankfully he played an important part in our first season survival. I’ve never signed a player without the agreement of the manager in 20 years in football. On the very rare occasions (eg Ilan) I have taken the initiative they have supported my judgement.

ID: The FA have launched a campaign on homophobia in football. If a player came to you and told you he was gay and wanted to come out, what would your reaction be?
DS: I’d say ‘Good luck to you’. I think we’ve had a couple of gay players at West Ham. I’m pleased that we have signed up to the FA and Government campaign on homophobia in football. In fact, I think we signed up yesterday. It’s the right thing to do. We have a lot of gay fans and they would expect us to do nothing less.

ID: Why do you think no gay player has ever come out, apart from Justin Fashanu, and we all know what happened to him?
DS: I think it’s because they’re nude in the dressing room, they’re in the shower, I think they feel a little bit threatened. If they knew one of their teammates was gay…

ID: Oh come on, that’s rubbish. Surely nowadays no one really believes that gay men fancy any other man they might meet?
DS: Well they probably do think like that, some of them, but it doesn’t mean they are going to try it on. I don’t know what to say, maybe some footballers feel threatened by gay footballers. To me it’s nothing. If you’re that way inclined, good luck to you. I’ve always jokingly said that I wish every man in the world was gay. There would just be me and the whole female population. So the more men that are gay the better as far as I am concerned.

ID: You’d be bloody knackered though… Just to finish off, have you started planning for if we go up?
DS: Well yes and no. It’s difficult. The players we signed this January, we all think can perform in the Premier League.

ID: Presumably a key aim has to be that we don’t become a yo-yo club like West Brom.
DS: Yes. Sam never got relegated with Bolton. He had a tough first year but he never got relegated in about nine seasons. He got them up to fifth or sixth in the table. I think he won the Carling Cup with them. Despite the debt, we’re a bigger club than Bolton. If we add a bit more finance, maybe we can be a top six club.

ID: What’s the deal with Sam? If we get up would you expect to extend his contract?
DS: He’s got a two year contract. We’d have a look at it. I’ve always thought if someone’s got a contract, you speak to them at the end of it. Everyone’s happy. At the end of that you see where you are. I think it is wrong to negotiate a long way in advance. Wait till the end of the period, he decides what he wants to do, we do the same.

ID: What do you make of Mr Di Canio’s start in management?
DS: Good! Very impressed!

ID: Did you ever consider him seriously?
DS: I met him, and I said in the nicest possible way, while my heart would… you cannot have a rookie manager. I actually said, you’ve got to take a lower league club. He’s had a little bit of financial support at Swindon and that does make a big difference in that division. I’m not belittling what he has done at all. If he does it next year in a higher division you start to think perhaps he’s very very good at it. It’s like the Huddersfield manager. He did well, but he had money to spend and he had layers on high wages. The counter argument is that he got Jordan Rhodes for two bob from Ipswich so he’s a good judge of players. I do watch for the Swindon results every week. He’s got passion, theres’ no doubt about that. And he loves West Ham. I’d like nothing better than in five years’ time to be in the Champion’s League, Sam’s got the England job, Di Canio’s just got Swindon promotion to the Premier League, and we pinch him! But that’s five years down the line. I feel he’s got to do two or three years of establishing himself and his credentials. Ron Noades won Division 2 with Brentford, but he couldn’t do it in League 1. Just because you can win League 2 doesn’t necessarily mean… But it’s a great start.

ID: Whenever you read an interview with Paolo, all he wants to talk about is West Ham.
DS: He loves West Ham and West Ham loves him. He’s on a par with Tevez with the supporters but last summer we had to go for safety. We looked at lots of managers and two of them are now doing very, very well. We looked at the Watford manager [Malky Mackay] who’s now at Cardiff, we looked at Chris Hughton, who’s at Birmingham and they’ve both done fantastic jobs. We went for Sam because we wanted experience. Having made one mistake, we wanted to play as safe as we possibly could. With Paolo, if we’d brought him in then, had he done badly we’d have looked so stupid. Also, it’s a bit like Paul Ince, if you fail at high level you find it difficult to start again lower down, not that I am making a case for Paul Ince! [Iain laughs]. He did an OK job at Milton Keynes, he bombed out at Blackburn, you really want to see someone earn their apprenticeship as a manager. You get some top class footballer who wants to come straight in as a Premier League manager, well not many do it.

ID: Have you looked back at the 10 Point Plan you issued in May 2010 and checked how you’ve done?
DS: [laughs]. No! I daren’t! What did we say?

ID: Number 1 – appoint the right manager. Tick?
DS: We may have eventually. Second attempt.

ID: Signed new players.
DS: Sort of.

ID: Made more investment in the Academy.
DS: That’s probably neutral, but we have sustained it despite relegation.

ID: Continued to clear the debt.
DS: Sort of

ID: Freeze season ticket prices for renewals.
DS: Well, we’ve done that.

ID: Build the status and image of the club.
DS: I think we’ve done that, with the crowds we’ve been getting, we really are promoting the brand hard with advertisements, with mailshots. We mailed two million people in Essex and East London with leaflets on West Ham. We’ve just taken 50 pages in the Evening Standard and the Metro on a deal for the next year

ID: You should be advertising on LBC!
DS: We do that as well. No, it’s talkSport.

ID: Disgrace! You should sponsor my evening show! 400,000 people!
DS: Is that what you get?! That’s incredible. But they’d have to do it very cheap!

ID: Next one, make it enjoyable to come and watch.
DS: Well, we’re starting to win games, and that’s the most important thing, you win games.

ID: Get closer to the community.
DS: We really do put a lot of effort into that and spend a lot of money

ID: Go for the Olympic Stadium.
DS: Er…. [Iain laughs]

ID: Get closer to supporters
DS: We’ve for the Supporters Advisory Panel and they come up with some very good ideas. I correspond with about 50 fans on the email and they give me their opinions.

ID: But you still enjoy it?
DS: If it wasn’t for the financial drain, I’d say I was loving it, but it is at a level which is a bit frightening. I think David has aged five years in two! I can still laugh about, but I really don’t know why! We’re 4-1 on to go up, and you just pray it happens. But you see Blackpool coming with a run, Birmingham coming with a run, Hull, Reading.

ID: I think Southampton will drop to the playoffs.
DS: Reading are a good side, you know. Even before we had the sending offs, they were at us. When it was 0-0, there was nothing in it.

ID: They’ve always been a bit of a bogey side for us. I remember the 6-0!
DS: We’ll beat them when they come here. Our home form is really improving and I think you’ll see that continue for the rest of the season. The crowds are getting bigger. We’ve got Palace on TV but that will be sold out because of Kids for a Quid. To get a sellout at 12.45 on a Saturday is fantastic. You can’t beat Kids for a Quid when you talk about getting the community involved. It allows people who haven’t got much money to bring their kids. I met a guy the other day who brought 19 kids to a game with his pal. Nineteen! In addition to doing transfers and wage negotiations, I’m very involved in the marketing of the club at a micro level. I have organised most of our expansionary advertising campaigns including the 2.5m leaflets we’ve distributed since the stat of the season and the 50 pages we’ve recently contracted to book in the Standard & Metro. Myself & Karren invented Kids for a Quid at Birmingham 20 years ago and its something we really believe is important for the long term future of the club. We regularly use it regularly at West Ham for games we think are not going to sell out.

ID: You’ve got to catch them young.
DS: Yes, because in 20 or 30 years’ time, they will be our supporters. It’s called investing in the future.

ID: I think that’s a good, positive note to end on. I want to really thank you for doing this. I know the readers of West Ham Till I Die will appreciate it and also appreciate the fact that you have been so open and transparent.

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Public Drunkenness Can Never Be a Social Norm

21 Jan 2012 at 18:06

Last night I apparently trended worldwide on Twitter. It was quite an experience being at the centre of a Twitter storm. Twitter is a very spontaneous medium. Many have come a cropper by posting something in haste and then repenting at leisure. It’s certainly happened to me in the past. And when I think I have got it wrong I usually step forward and immediately apologise. This time I didn’t. And won’t, so what follows is not an apology. It’s not even a defence or explanation. It’s putting a 140 tweet into context.

Every Friday night when I leave the LBC studios to walk down to Charing Cross Station, it’s like walking through a warzone. Drunken people tottering around, hurling abuse at each other and passers by. It’s Britain at its worst. It’s ugly and repellant.

I don’t drink, but it doesn’t mean I criticise those who do. But I will indeed criticise those whose only purpose is to go out on a Friday night with the specific purpose of getting legless. What kind of person does that? Inevitably it means that others get caught up as a result of their drunken antics. Most of the time these antics are fairly harmless and merely cause minor embarrassment and inconvenience to the general public. In some cases, though, things go too far. I find drunks of either sex embarrassing and repellent. Last night in the four minutes it takes to walk from Leicester Square to Charing Cross I was accosted by two people who were obviously the worse for wear, one female and one male. I brushed them aside without comment and walked on.

Just after the train left London Bridge a drunken woman got on my carriage and asked me to move the bag off the seat next to me. I asked her politely to sit in the seat opposite as I had no wish to sit next to a drunk in case she puked on me. An entirely reasonable thing to do in the circumstances. She then continued to act in a drunken manner, albeit not so legless that she wasn’t aware what she was doing. I started tweeting about the experience. Again, she then tried to sit next to me. I’m afraid I told her in no uncertain terms to ‘piss off’. She went back to the other seat. Someone then said: “Take a picture of her”. And this is where it started. Perhaps unwisely I did so and posted the picture on twitter along with the comment that I found her to be a “disgusting slapper”. Not very nice, and certainly not very chivalrous, but it was what I felt at the time. And then the heavens opened.

I do find people who are drunk in public absolutely disgusting and find it appalling that most people on Twitter last night seemed to think it was perfectly normal and acceptable. Well it isn’t. It’s a classic example of anti social behaviour.

And now to the use of the word ‘slapper’. Where I come from in Essex it’s not a word which by definition means a woman of loose sexual morals. Indeed it can mean that, but most people I know also use it in a different sense too. According to the Oxford English Dictionary its roots lie in the East End and derive from the Yiddish word Shlepper. According to the OED it means unkempt, scruffy person; gossipy, dowdy. And anyone looking at the picture would have to agree that she confirmed to that description. I pointed this out but my detractors preferred the definition from the Urban Dictionary (whatever that is) which equates it to slut and slag. Clearly the Oxford English Dictionary isn’t good enough for them. It’s a word I use quite a lot in various contexts. I even greeted a male MP with the phrase “hello you old slapper”, the other day.

In short the language police were out on full patrol. They reckoned I wouldn’t have done the same if it had been a man. How would they know (I would actually)? In was an attempt to portray me as some sort of misogynist. One ever reckoned I was a potential rapist. Another suggested I should stick to cruising for little boys on Clapham Common. Nice.

They also complained that I had taken a picture of someone without their permission. If she was identifiable, they might have had a point. But she wasn’t.

I can wholly accept that many people found what I did wrong, and impolite. And I have no problem with them saying so. But the majority then found it necessary to accompany their criticism with the most foul and abusive language. Again, their prerogative, but they didn’t seem to see the irony of what they were doing.

And my biggest offence of all, it seems, was to cause offence. As if it were crime. It isn’t. Yet.

Around 90% or possibly more of the tweets slagged me off in a fairly vicious way. One even tweeted Biteback suggesting I be sacked, conveninetly forgetting it would be me who had to sack myself. They’re also furiously contacting LBC to suggest they sack me too. Good luck with that.

But none of them want to address the real point – is being blind drunk in public, on public transport an acceptable way to behave? It isn’t and I won’t hesitate to keep pointing it out.

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