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Gay Marriage, 'Bigoted' Tories & Irresponsible Journalism

17 Jan 2012 at 18:09

There is nothing the media and the Labour Party love better than trying to make out the Conservative Party is still the ‘nasty party’. Not just seen as the ‘nasty party’, but IS the ‘nasty party’. And their means of doing it is to imply that the Tories are institutionally homophobic. And they are at it again over the issue of gay marriage. Today Andrew Grice, the political editor of The Independent leads the charge in THIS front page lead article.

TORY MPs GO TO WAR OVER GAY MARRIAGE

According to Grice…

“Conservative MPs are trying to sabotage David Cameron’s plan to legalise gay marriage, threatening a rebellion bigger than the one in which 81 voted against the Government on Europe.”

Indeed, Grice says…

“Opponents claim more than 100 Tory backbenchers could vote against gay marriage… Feelings are running high,” one senior party source said yesterday."

And what or who does he cite as evidence? The comments of one – yes, one – socially Conservative MP, David Burrowes. You couldn’t make it up. He doesn’t even pretend to have a second source or make any attempt to question the assertion by “opponents” of gay marriage. The fact of the matter is that I don’t know how many Conservative MPs would vote against legalising gay marriage, nor does Andy Grice, nor does David Burrowes. Perhaps they might ask how many Labour or LibDem MPs would vote against it too, as you can be sure there are some that would. And more than just a handful, too.

But let’s say Burrowes and Grice are right, and 100 Tory MPs voted against legalising gay marriage. That would leave two thirds who voted in favour – something unthinkable even ten years ago. And does it make the 100 homophobic? In some cases, probably yes, but in most cases no. I still can’t defend them doing it, but it doesn’t necessarily imply homophobia on their part, as some will no doubt claim. This whole issue is predicated on a spurious view that somehow churches will be forced to conduct gay marriages. As Detta O’Cathain found out in the Lords debate, that view is wrong headed and totally misunderstands the legislation. Churches won’t be forced to do anything they don’t want to do, as their own legal advisers have made clear. So this really is a stooshie about nothing. But before I go, let’s look at David Burrowes’ comments, as quoted by Andrew Grice. To say they are delusional and wrong-headed is an understatement.

“Many colleagues are worried that it would fundamentally affect how marriage between a man and woman has historically been viewed in this country”

Er, why? Why does gay marriage have any effect on how marriage between men and women are viewed? Perhaps David Burrowes needs to have a word with his friend and co-founder of the Conservative Christian Fellowship, colleague, Tim Montgomerie, who is fully in favour of allowing gay people to marry. He clearly doesn’t see the problems envisaged by David Burrowes. Let’s continue…

“There are strong doubts that we need to go down this path. It would open up a can of worms and a legal minefield about freedom, religion and equalities legislation.”

No, it really wouldn’t. Perhaps David Burrowes should meet with the Church of England’s legal advisers, who say the direct opposite. Who should we believe? The Church of England’s legal advisers or an MP who clearly hasn’t briefed himself properly?

“Gay marriage is a debate we don’t need to have at this stage.”

Really? When is a good time. At what stage should we have the debate? Perhaps Mr Burrowes might inform us.

“It is not an issue people are hammering us on the doorstep to do something about.”

Maybe not, but I suspect Mr Burrowes has a number of constituents who might benefit from the legislation but none who would be damaged by it. He might like to think about that. Does he get consituents hammering on his door saying “Mr Burrowes, what we really need to do is act on social justice.”

“It is important that there is a reasoned debate around how we view marriage rather than about homosexual rights. It may open up old wounds and put people into the trenches; no one wants that.”

Ah, the argument of someone with no argument. And with a vague threat to boot. Nice. If that is the level of debate which will be deployed by David Burrowes and whatever colleagues he can muster up (and we could probably all name the six most likely candidates now – yes, I mean you Edward Leigh!) then I suspect their opposition will easily be defeated.

David Burrowes and his supporters should think about what David Cameron said at the Conservative Party Conference last October.

“I don’t support gay marriage despite being a Conservative. I support gay marriage because I’m a Conservative.”

Opponents of gay marriage seem to think there is something fundamentally un-Conservative in it. To my mind they are completely wrong. Conservatives believe in the institution of marriage and all that flows from it. And that should apply to marriages between people of the opposite sex or the same sex.

Finally, a plea to journalists. Andy Grice is a journalist I respect, but I do not think he covered himself with glory today. It was an ‘easy’ hit. The sort of thing you might expect to read in, dare I say it, the Daily Mail. This is not a subject to play silly buggers with (see what I did there?). And I hope that the usual Labour suspects (Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant) will try to resist temptation. OK, I know, I know, but one can but hope, eh? They might like to acknowledge that it is a Conservative Prime Minister who is taking the initiative on gay marriage. If I can give Tony Blair credit for civil partnerships, surely Labour MPs can also give credit where it is due.

Perhaps Andy Grice would like to balance his report of one MP with this text I received from another Tory MP (on the right of the party) who had seen my overnight tweets on the subject of gay marriage. Here’s part of the text…

I totally agree with your tweet on the Grice article. I wrote to my local bishop before Christmas basically saying ‘f off you bigoted twat’ (albeit in parliamentary language!) on gay marriage. You can be a Christian and liberally minded at the same time.

Quite.

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Labour Can't Afford to Lose the Likes of Harris & Bozier

16 Jan 2012 at 18:19

Tom Harris’s sacking as Labour’s new media tsar illustrates exactly what’s wrong with modern politics. Basically, anyone who displays a sense of humour has to be got rid of.

Yesterday, Tom posted a Downfall spoof poking fun at Alex Salmond and one of his advisers, Joan McAlpine. Downfall spoofs are two a penny and it wasn’t the first one Tom had created. And it was quite funny. But Tom has enemies in the Scottish Labour Party and they saw an opportunity to do him in and took it.

So we now have the ludicrous situation where a senior Labour frontbencher (Diane Abbott) kept her job for making a racist comment about white people, while Tom Harris loses his for making a jokey video. The hypocrisy of it should amaze me, but it doesn’t. Some are pointing out that Tom Harris was a prominent supporter of David Miliband, and maybe that didn’t help him. Who knows.

All I know is that the Labour Party can’t afford to lose people like Tom Harris. Or Luke Bozier for that matter.The reaction from Labour supporters last night on Twitter to the defection of their former E Campaigns Director to the Tories was astonishing. “He’s no one”, they trilled. “Good riddance,” shrieked others. The bile and venom displayed towards someone who apparently didn’t matter had to be seen to be believed.

How bizarre that it is the Conservatives who were once dubbed the ‘nasty party’. I think that accolade deserves to go elsewhere now.

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TV Review: The Sunday Politics

15 Jan 2012 at 18:20

The main question from a viewer’s perspective on any new TV show is this: Is it better than what went before? On the basis of the first ever Sunday Politics I would say the answer is a cautious yes. Andrew Neil is now without a doubt the best political interviewer on British TV, and this programme brings out the best in him. In the show he conducted one studio interview (with Michael Gove), a double header on Scottish independence, and a shorter interview with Alistair Darling, also down the line. The viewer learnt something from each. There were no histrionics and no attempt by Andrew Neil to dominate. He’s a class act. He’s a multi approach interviewer, by which I mean that unlike some, he hasn’t got a default mode. If he needs to turn up the aggression he will, but only if necessary.

There was also a film report from Giles Dilnot, a political reporter who is carving out his own niche. I love his sardonic style and he has a great ability to explain a complicated subject in an accessible way. Ah, there’s that word – accessibility, so beloved of today’s BBC. To must of us it means dumbing down. But I am delighted to say that the Sunday Politics is not a dumbed down programme. If anything it has ‘dumbed’ up, if you see what I mean.It respects its viewers and doesn’t feel the need to go for the lowest common denominator.

The regional opt out concentrates more on discussions with two MPs, which is probably more reflective of the need to cut costs, and in my area, the South East, there was a slightly dated discussion on rail fares and a film about a new grammar school being opened.

The programme concludes with a panel discussion with three “new generation” political commentators. Except, that’s not quite true. If Rowenna Davis is a political commentator, I am a Dutchman. She’s a Labour councillor and totally signed up to the Miliband project. That doesn’t mean that what she said wasn’t interesting, but she’s not a commentator in the sense that Ann McElvoy or Peter Oborne are. Most people who comment on politics have their own viewpoint, but I’d suggest that if you are an elected representative for a political party, you don’t quite qualify, no matter how interesting your writing might be. I thought Isabel Oakshott was the most interesting of the three (declaration of interest: she’s a Biteback author – but then again, so is Janan Ganesh – he’s writing a biography of George Osborne) and made some prescient points. Janan Ganesh was calm and reflective and I suspect will become the star of the panel. He just needs to let himself go a bit.

Is it a good idea to have the same three people on a panel each week? Well, it worked for Newsnight, with Danny Finkelstein, Olly Grender and Peter Hyman, but those three gelled personally and all had worked for political parties. I wonder whether these three will gel in the same way or bring the same level of experience and insight. Time will tell.

So overall I liked it, and I also like the revamped Daily Politics. The only think to carp about? The awful title music. Yuk.

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Why I Cried On the Radio Last Night

13 Jan 2012 at 18:25

Yesterday evening on LBC I achieved two firsts. I spoke to one caller for a whole half hour, and fifteen minutes later I wept. Live on radio. Really.

Like Alastair Campbell, I have always been a little lachrymose. I have even been known to shed a tear watching Emmerdale. Perhaps it was the after effects of a rather emotional conversation with a work colleague earlier in the day, I don’t know. But yes, I really did break down. And then felt rather embarrassed about what had happened. But as I write this some hours later, I no longer do. Because I was only reflecting what much of the audience must have been feeling.

If I tell you it was Caroline Flint’s fault, you’ll probably think I am making a political point. But you’d be wrong. Caroline gave an interview to the Evening Standard yesterday, in which she spoke movingly of her upbringing. Her mother was an alcoholic. Reading it, and thinking back to my own rather idyllic and perfect childhood, I wondered what on earth it must be like to live with an alcoholic. And of such thoughts are radio phone ins born.

It didn’t get off to a good start. The guest we had booked didn’t pick up the phone. Bugger. So I went straight to a caller called Sue in Twickenham. It wasn’t her real name. Sue had had an alcoholic stepmother. She had run away from home at the age of 15. This was back in 1975. And so started a call that was to last around 25 minutes. Sue’s story was graphic, moving, and also inspirational. We got to 8.15. ’I’ve got to hear more from her,’ I thought to myself. Almost at the same time my producer Rebekka said in my ear ‘take her past the travel’, so I did just that. It’s not really the done thing, but she clearly had a lot more to say and wanted to say it. And so we went on. And on. Indeed, I was sorely tempted to take her beyond 8.30, but when it came to it, I decided that we had to let others on. Sue had provoked quite a reaction. I reluctantly let her go. She had told me some very personal stories, but she had a message which needed to be heard. As soon as I handed over to the newsreader I ran into the gallery and grabbed the phone receiver off the Assisant Producer, Will, and quickly thanked Sue personally for contributing so wonderfully to the programme in a way none of us could have anticipated. Needless to say the emails, texts and tweets were flooding in from people who had been affected by Sue’s words. Little did I realise what was to come.

Next up was Darren in Walthamstow, a 29 year old, who confessed to drinking a bottle of brandy a night. Both his parents had been alcoholics. His girlfriend wouldn’t move in with him because of his drinking, yet they were to be married next year. They had been together 12 years. ‘What does that tell you, Darren?’ I asked. ‘What does that tell you?’ I asked in an almost Nolan-esque manner. ‘That she loves me,’ he replied. I love this job at times like this.

The texts were piling up, and the 8.45 travel was beckoning. I read out a couple, and then came another one. I rarely read texts before I read them out loud. I’m assuming my production team have vetted them for suitability. This was the next text.

Today, I came home and saw on our fridge. “Please don’t drink anymore, I’m really worried about your health” written by my seven year old daughter. I figured she wouldn’t ever find out, so I opened the fridge. But I found another note on a can that said: “So you’re going to drink anyway?”

I can’t explain it, but as I read the text I could feel the tears welling in my eyes and my voice cracked. I had to stop after the word ‘daughter’ to collect myself. I ploughed on, but could feel myself going again. I stopped again. I was now worried about breaking down completely. Not good. This had happened once before during a phone call about dementia, but I had someone else in the studio to keep it going while I gathered myself. This was different. But it was a text for God’s sake! So I went slightly early to the travel. When we came back I reintroduced the subject again and merely commented that I hadn’t expected to be quite so affected. After all, I know nothing about alcoholism and don’t know any alcoholics. I don’t even drink.

In retrospect I think it was Sue’s phone call that did it. As a presenter when you take a call like that you can feel emotionally drained by the end of it and you know that in radio terms, you’re slightly living on the edge.

At the time, I felt a bit embarrassed by my reaction, but as I type this at 2am I no longer am. All I did was reflect what much of my audience were feeling. It’s not weak to weep. It’s not an unmanly thing to show emotion. And if it happens again, I won’t go to the travel early! Rebekka was very keen to reassure me I shouldn’t feel I had reacted overemotionally. ‘Cracking bit of radio,’ she said. I’ll take her word for it.

I had joked to Rebekka before the programme that we should retitle our 8 o’clock hour, the Misery Hour. Because so far this week we have covered shoplifting, miscarriages, hospital food, and today living with alcoholics. Quite what we’ll do on Friday night, I dread to think! But I suspect many of those who tuned in tonight will be making an appointment to tune in to find out. At least, I hope so.

Anyway, you can listen to Sue’s phone call on our new Bitesize Podcast feature. At the end (about 25 minutes in) there’s also the bit of me reading out the text.

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TV/Film/Theatre

Film Review: The Iron Lady

11 Jan 2012 at 18:40

I am probably one of the worst possible people to review this film objectively. I know some of the main characters personally, and Margaret Thatcher is my political inspiration. But I am going to give it a go anyhow.

When I first heard about this film, the initial publicity suggested it would be a complete hatchet job. I had visions of me become so irate I’d walk out of the cinema. The idea that a film which highlighted Lady Thatcher’s state of mind was not something I thought could ever be done tastefully. And how on earth could Meryl Streep ever play her?

I came out of the cinema in Tunbridge Wells half an hour ago. It was full. A sign outside said that all showings of this film had sold out today. Wow. In fifteen years of going to that cinema I have never been in a full cinema. I was tonight. And half the audience was under the age of thirty. Wow.

To be honest, part of me was really looking forward to seeing this film, but part of me was dreading it. I half expected to be in tears for most of it, and half expected it to make me angry. In fact neither happened. I felt curiously unengaged emotionally. At no time did my eyes moisten, and let me tell you, I will cry at an episide of Emmerdale. I’m not saying that many of the scenes failed to move me, but it was the performance of Jim Broadbent, playing Denis Thatcher, which rather ruined many of the moments. Broadbent didn’t play Denis Thatcher, actually. He played his Private Eye caricature. Don’t get me wrong, Broadbent is a brilliant actor – one of Britain’s best, but his performance meant that a potentially Oscar winning film doesn’t actually deserve to get nominated. Some of the scenes involving him were just unimaginable. In one he storms out of the room, when Margaret tells him she is standing for Leader of the Party, shouting: “All you ever care about is your ambition”. It simply. Did. Not. Happen. Indeed, it was he who urged her on. I could go on.

The Iron Lady is not a Biopic. Yes, it contains important episodes from her life, but it leaves out so, so much. That is maybe inevitable, but some of her greatest moments were left out. Nothing about the Cold War. Very little about the miners’ strike. Nothing about her battles with European leaders. Again, I could go on.

And so to the dementia. If one good thing can come from this film it will be to widen the understanding of dementia and alzheimers. It was dealt with sympathetically, and although it dominated the film far too much, I can see why the director used it in the way she did – as a path back to episodes from Lady Thatcher’s life. Yes, you can question the appropriateness of doing it this way, but it never made me squirm me in my seat. And I thought it would.

Everyone has praised Meryl Streep’s performance, and rightly so. It was stupendous. And yes, it could be Oscar winning. She got her voice, she got her dress, she got her movement. The only slight error was that she didn’t quite get her gait. Margaret Thatcher walked quickly, in very small steps. Matthew Parris once described her walking like a pigeon. There were moments when you actually thought you were watching Margaret Thatcher herself.

The Falklands section was the strongest, without a doubt. Her “Iron Lady” image really shone through. It didn’t happen in Tunbridge Wells, but when she says “Sink It”, I gather some audiences have cheered. Her interaction with Al Haig was vintage Thatcher.

There were lots of little inaccuracies which jarred with a political geek like me. Both Francis Pym and John Nott appeared in 1990 scenes. Nott left Parliament in 1983 and Pym left Parliament in 1987. Margaret Thatcher did not wear a hat while making speeches in the House of Commons as Education Secretary. Margaret Thatcher did not run after Airey Neave’s car when it was bombed. She wasn’t there. Again, I could go on. Some of the scenes were exaggerated. The 1990 Cabinet meeting in which Thatcher was rude to Geoffrey Howe did indeed happen. But in this scene she comes across as a demented lunatic. I know enough people who were at that meeting to know it didn’t happen like that. Perhaps the dramatic licence was needed to make a point. This was, after all a movie, not a documentary.

But this is to carp. Overall, I enjoyed it immensely. Any neutral in the audience will have left the cinema thinking better of Margaret Thatcher than when they entered it, It was a very sympathetic portrait of her, and her aims in life. It enhances an understanding of her motivations and actions, so as a devoted Thatcher supporter, I suppose I couldn’t have asked for more.

I know many Conservatives are admirers of Margaret Thatcher are nervous about seeing this film. They think that by doing so they will somehow betray the woman they admire. They shouldn’t think like that and they need have no fears. This is a film which is far from perfect, but it is not a film to be avoided.

At the end of the film, the entire audience stayed sitting and waited till the credits had finished before leaving. That doesn’t happen very often. And it spoke volumes.

Go and see it and make up your own mind. I may have written some negative things in this review, but that’s what film reviews tend to be, don’t they? But let me tell you a secret. I really liked it, despite its imperfections.

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Is Parliament Becoming Relevant Again?

11 Jan 2012 at 18:36

I remember one day during the summer of 2003, while the Hutton Report was in full swing, appearing live on Sky News for a full half hour, live on College Green. Much as I like hearing the sound of my own voice, I did question why Sky had thought my pearls of wisdom were worth so much time, when surely a politician would have been more relevant. “No, you don’t get it,” said a friend of mine. “They think youre more likely to say something interesting nd not tow a party line.” That example showed how irrelevant parliament and politicians had become. That the media should consider the words of a then relatively unknown commentator to be more interesting that a parliamentarian was an indictment of the depths to which parliament’s reputation had sunk.

But I wonder whether things are starting to change and that Parliament is becoming relevant again. In the last year I think there have been a number of setpiece parliamentary debates which have gripped the country. Various select committee hearings have captured the imagination. Now you may think I am going slightly over the top here, and perhaps youre right, but I do think that the media in general are covering parliament as an institution in a way they weren’t five years ago.

Earlier today I went to a breakfast reception in Parliament, held by the BBC Political Unit, to mark the launch of the new Sunday Politics programme. BBC News head honcho Helen Boaden and Andrew Neil outlined the content of the new show, and also talked about the new hour long Daily Politics. It is quite clear that MPs will be front and centre of all these programmes, with the punditerati playing a sideshow role. The regional optouts will no longer have talking heads – they will be 15-20 minute interviews with two loccal MPs. The Daily Politics will have a Yesterday in Parliament feature followed by a live debate with two of the protagonists. Each Monday there will be an MPs’ panel looking at the week ahead.

OK, some of this will be driven by the need to cut costs, but I believe that another reason is that MPs have begun to make themselves relevant again. They are saying things of interest, which to be honest wasn’t always the case. Actually, it still isn’t to a large extent, but the media have identified a large number of MPs who are willing to stretch party loyalties and be themselves. I know, because I invite them on my LBC show too.

Some MPs have got to the point of appearing almost embarrassed to trot out the latest line given to them by the party spin doctors. Long may that continue. And in large part this is due to the 2010 intake who have quietly hallenged a lot of political and parliamentary conventions. They are a very talented intake and subconciously have taken on board the need for Parliament to restore its reputation. So far, I think they have made a good start in helping it do just that.

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Is Diane Right? Are Black Cabbies Racists

7 Jan 2012 at 18:43

Apart from Diane Abbott’s far left allies (yes, I mean you, Lee Jasper), most people think she made a big mistake with her apparently racist tweet on Wednesday night. I make no apology for admitting I was among the first to point out that if a white Tory MP had said the same about black people, there would have been hell to pay. All she had to do was issue a quick apology and say that she should have used the word ‘some’. But she didn’t do that until she was forced to by her less than pleased leader. So the lesson is – and it’s something I learned on Twitter the hard way – is that if you say something you know in your gut is wrong, just apologise quickly. It’s less painful that way.

Abbott is now under fire for another tweet in which she reckoned that it is difficult to get a black cab to stop for you if you’re black. The papers are in full cry this morning, as are London cabbies. Well, in this case, I have a little more sympathy for Diane Abbott. A few months ago we were discussing racism on my LBC show and a cabby came on and admitted he wouldn’t stop for a black youth. I was rather shocked by this, but then another cabby came on and said the same thing. They had both had bad experiences – one I think had had his passenger run off without paying and the other one had had a fare which had puked up. I pointed out that I was fairly sure they would have had the same issue with white youths too. Neither had an answer. Rather bizarrely a black lady then came on the phones and said that if she were a cabby she wouldn’t pick them up either.

What is perhaps more interesting is that Diane should automatically assume that cab with a yellow light on doesn’t pick her up because she is black. Let me let you into a little secret. I reckon on one in 10 occasions when I hail a black cab, the cab just sails on by and doesn’t stop. It could be my Loden coat which puts them off. It could be that they don’t like LBC presenters. Or more probably it’s because they don’t actually see me. I’ve lost count of the number of cabbies with tunnel vision, who don’t seem to notice anyone hailing them on the pavement. So think on Diane. It may look like racism to you. And in some cases it may well be. But it could be that the cabby is daydreaming and thinking of what he will do when he knocks off. Just a thought.

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A Look Back on 2012

31 Dec 2011 at 18:45

As we look back on 2012 it is with some trepidation that we look ahead to 2013. Who could have foreseen the momentous events which changed our world over the last twelve months? It’s not just Britain which has changed, but the whole world order. The collapse of the Euro led to the completely unforeseen destruction of the American economy following the hidden exposure of US banks to the European, in particular, the French, banks. The Chicago riots in September led to outbreaks of violence all over the US which mirrored those in Paris and Madrid earlier in the year in everything but the scale of wanton destruction. The rest of the world watched in horror as former French President Sarkozy was dragged from his retirement home by a lynch mob and kicked within an inch of his life. Ironically it was a passing off duty SAS member who stepped in to save his life. The British tabloids had a field day with headlines such as The Sun’s BRITAIN SAVES FRENCH PRESIDENT (AND IT’S NOT EVEN FROM A GERMAN).

Having looked set for a second term, US President Barack Obama went down to a humiliating defeat to President Sarah Palin, who had been a last minute draftee at the Republican Convention. She doesn’t take office for another three weeks, but already, her appointment of Secretary of State Schwarzenegger and Vice President Larry Hagman look set to mire her presidency in controversy.

At home, Britain’s £100 billion bailout of the Republic of Ireland was approved by the Dail, as was the Act of Union, under which Ireland reverted its currency back to the Pound and ceded foreign and defence policy to the United Kingdom Parliament after 90 years of full independence. In return the United Kingdom agreed to let Ireland represent it at the Eurovision Song Contest.

In domestic politics, Nick Clegg was overthrown as LibDem leader but allowed to remain in the Cabinet by the Prime Minister. The new LibDem leader, Chris Huhne, gave a moving acceptance speech from his cell in Wormwood Scrubs. Meanwhile the Labour leader David Miliband continued to make progress in rebuilding his party from the mess in which it had been left by his brother, Ed, whose decision to resign in February and take up the position of Lecturer in Quasi-Socialist Studies at the University of Luton was described at the time by the leading (sic) leftwing commentator Laurie Penny as “a body blow to the feminist agenda”. Indeed.

Yesterday’s release of the 1982 cabinet papers have understandably led today’s news agenda. The fact that Margaret Thatcher came within an inch of using nuclear weapons against Argentina during the Falklands War came as a shock not just to historians, but also surviving members of her cabinet. “I’d have resigned if I had known,” said Michael Heseltine. “It would have saved all that bother later.”

In sport, the 2012 Olympics went off without incident, but there was a disappointing medal haul from British participants, with only 72 year old Mrs Enid Rankin winning a bronze in the new Olympic sport of synchronised stairlift racing. Manchester City swept all before them to win the Premier League, the FA Cup, and the League Cup and ended the season selling Carlos Tevez to Scunthorpe United for £2.50 and a box of Tetley teabags. England again flattered to deceive at Euro 2012 in the Ukraine, going out in the group stages. Fabio Capello’ successor was named as Mr Sid Higginbottom, manager of non league side Neasdon United. But it wasn’t all gloom and doom in British sport. Andrew Flintoff came out of retirement to lead England to victory in the All England Beer Drinking Test series.

2012 was the year that publishers started to abandon hardback books with eBooks outselling hardbacks for the first time. The BBC pulled out of televising all live sport and announced that the money saved would be pumped into yet more reality TV shows – the latest being “The Jesus Factor”, hosted by Ann Widdecombe. But it was good news for the X Factor as Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole returned to rescue the show. “It were a reet laff the laast time and I’m looin fowod to getin’ stook in agen, way aye man,” commented Miss Cole. Meanwhile, Channel 5 was still reeling from the controversy caused by Sally Bercow’s second appearance in the Big Brother House, after it was discovered she had smuggled in her husband, the Speaker of the House of Commons, into the house in her suitcase. Conservative MP Keith Simpson described it as a “constitutional outrage” and demanded the return of Parliament.

And in Norfolk, defections to the Conservatives on the County Council continued apace with the entire LibDem group crossing the floor. “If we are going down, we might as well have a taste of power before we do,” said their group leader, having taken advice from local MP Simon Wright. The first Police Commissioner election in Norfolk was won by Mrs Doris Bonkers, the UKIP candidate from Watton. Her campaign slogan “Deport all criminals to Suffolk” proved remarkably effective.

And finally, Norwich City ended the season in a UEFA Cup spot after they won their last ten matches, including a remarkable 7-0 thrashing of champions elect Manchester City in which Grant Holt scored a double hat­-trick in 20 minutes. The celebrations were slightly marred by the sight of Delia Smith jumping into the team bath after the match while screaming ‘Let’s be ‘Avin youse’.

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Twelve Predictions For 2012

30 Dec 2011 at 18:48

OK, here’s the ten predictions I made last New Year’s Eve in my Eastern Daily Press column. Let’s see how many I got right…

Norwich City make the play-offs but fail to win promotion WRONG Norman Lamb becomes a Minister in a government reshuffle WRONG Several Norfolk councils enter talks to combine back office functions RIGHT The British people say no to AV – as does Norfolk RIGHT Two Norfolk MPs become government ministers RIGHT A Norfolk person wins a reality TV show WRONG (I THINK!) Nick Clegg survives a LibDem leadership coup WRONG David Laws wins back a Cabinet place WRONG Labour stage a massive comeback in the 2011 Norfolk council elections WRONG Bruce Forsyth finally gets a knighthood RIGHT

So, not a very good performance. In 2010 I got 7 out of 10 right. Let’s see if I can do better this year…

1. Boris Johnson will win the London mayoral election

2. Vince Cable will leave the Cabinet

3. At least one country will leave the euro

4. Simon Cowell returns to the X Factor and invites Cheryl Cole to join him

5. West Ham will be promoted

6. Sarkozy loses the French presidency

7. Obama beats Romney to win a second term

8. John Humphrys leaves the Today Programme

9. The Independent becomes Britain’s first free national newspaper

10. England fail to proceed beyond the group stages at Euro 2012

11. Sam Allardyce succeeds Fabio Capello as England manager

12. Britain wins fewer gold medals at the Olympics than it did in Beijing

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TV/Film/Theatre

The Fast Show Is Back. Which Is Nice

27 Dec 2011 at 18:50

I am a huge fan of the FAST SHOW. It was, in my humble opinion, one of the funniest sketch shows ever to grace our TV screens. So when I heard it was returning, I was very excited. That was until I heard it was only going to be online. ‘Bound to be rubbish’, I thought. Anyway, it was only yesterday that I remarked to my partner that I hadn’t seen anything about the FAST SHOW episodes on the internet. ‘Oh’, they’re all on the Fosters Youtube channel,’ he said. Which was nice. So I just watched them all. All six of them. Suits you, sir. And they didn’t disappoint. Many of the old characters are back, and they introduce a few new ones, including an ancient Jazz singer with dementia. Making fun of dementia is something which could easily go wrong, but this kind of works. I’ll get my coat.

Indeed, watching these six episodes was very much like making love to a beautiful woman.

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