Poll: In/Out European Referendum - How Would You Vote?

23 Jan 2013 at 13:48

We just took a snap In-Out Referendum poll in the Biteback office and we voted 6-5 to stay in! So I thought I would test the opinions of my blog readers and Twitter followers. So, take this two question poll and I will publish the result later.

Click HERE to register your vote.



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UK Politics

Will Labour's Eurosceptics Persuade Ed Miliband to Change His Referendum Stance?

23 Jan 2013 at 12:30

Watching Caroline Flint on the Daily Politics earlier, you can see one thing David Cameron has achieved with his Europe speech. He has put Labour on the back foot. Despite having known what was in the speech for several days, they clearly haven’t worked out a line to take. If I was a Labour MP I’d find that pretty unforgivable. Flint was left to hang out to dry and had nothing to say. She ducked the “are you in favour of an In-Out referendum question”, indicating that it hadn’t been discussed in Shadow Cabinet. Bearing what came later in PMQs one has to ask if Ed Miliband was making policy on the hoof.

The initial reaction to the speech within the Conservative Party appears to have been fairly positive, with even the usual suspects supporting what he has said. Admittedly I haven’t heard from the likes of Ken Clarke and Michael Heseltine, but they represent a very small minority of thinking within the modern day Conservative Party.

But before we all get carried away, let’s look at what David Cameron has actually promised. The two headline promises are to negotiate the deletion of the ‘Ever Closer Union’ provision from European treaties and to promise an In-Out referendum by the end of 2017, after having renegotiated various terms of our membership. All that is contingent on the Conservatives winning an outright victory at the next election. And I wonder how many of us would put money on them actually doing that. The question I have to ask is this: why wait until after the election to legislate for a referendum. Why not do it before the election, because not to do so plays right into UKIP’s hands. Nigel Farage will spend the next few years sowing seeds of doubt in the minds of the electorate as to whether the PM will actually deliver on his promise. He will cite Cameron’s apparent ratting on a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty (he didn’t, of course, but the nuances in this debate are too subtle) as evidence that no one can be sure that the PM will keep his promise. I am surprised that the likes of Bill Cash and Mark Pritchard haven’t made more of this.

Last week I thought Ed Miliband wiped the floor with David Cameron at PMQs. This week I am afraid it was very different. Ed Miliband was all over the place. He asked the same question four times and David Cameron answered it clearly. Yet Miliband kept on bowling at the same losing wicket. And by the end of his questions we had no clue as to what Miliband’s own position actually is. He did have the good grace to say “No, we don’t want an In-Out referendum,” I suppose. He may live to regret that. Labour MPs seemed to gasp when he said that. But Miliband gave no clue as to whether he wanted any sort of renegotiation at all. This is something that will allow the Conservatives to paint him as a Brussels lackey. In terms of marks out of ten I would give Cameron 7 and Miliband 5. (Last week it was Cameron 4 and Miliband 8).

It will be very interesting now to watch the reaction of Labour’s Eurosceptics, because, believe it or not, there are quite a lot of them. Jack Straw is one example. I suspect he will be horrified by Miliband’s performance today. I wonder whether Straw and other Labour MPs will make their views heard and try to change Miliband’s mind on a referendum.

I don’t know whether Cameron will live to regret the events of today. It’s probably put paid to any leadership chatter, so as a short term fix it has done its job. But what if the other 26 EU Countries are resolute in resisting any form of renegotiation. The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, has already said Germany will not allow Britain to “cherry pick” and Laurent Fabius, the French Foreign Minister has been banging on about obeying the rules of the club. Cameron’s tactics are clearly designed to say to them “Come on, help me out here guys, I’ve got to go back with something.” The trouble is, I doubt whether it is possible to give Cameron enough to satisfy the Bill Cash tendency.

The big question is whether the electorate can really get excited about this issue. It’s possible that over the next four years voters will get very bored and wonder why Conservative politicians are banging on about an issue that they regard as on the fringe. The challenge for David Cameron is to ensure that doesn’t happen and explain why qa lot of time and effort should be expended on this issue rather than the economy, jobs and public services.

UPDATE: Interesting commentary from Lord Ashcroft HERE

For most voters, including those who will need to vote Conservative for the first time if we are to have any hope of a majority, Europe barely registers on their list of concerns. The principal benefit of our referendum policy is not that it gives our campaign a headline; it is that it allows us to put the issue to rest and move the conversation on to what the voters want to discuss. Europe is important and we have a clear view about it. That does not mean we should allow it to top our agenda, or look as though it does. Few things would please Ed Miliband more. Tories must remember that we can only get what we want once we win an election. The more we talk about changing our relationship with Europe, the less likely it is to happen.



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Michael Winner - Rude, Insufferable & Totally Magnificent

21 Jan 2013 at 23:28

Michael Winner, I think we can all agree, was a real character. I first met him a couple of years ago when he came into LBC to do an hour long interview with me about his latest book. As he shuffled into the studio looking as if he was about to kark it, I had this feeling of dread that this might be the most difficult hour I’d ever experience on radio. But as soon as the red light went on, the old showman turned on the magic and we had an absolutely fascinating chat about his life in films, food and literature.

My second encounter was less pleasurable. You see Michael was a bully. I’m not insulting a dead man by saying that. He would happily admit it himself. He rang up a young female member of my staff one day berating her for something he felt she should have done to publicise his book but hadn’t. He topped it off by calling her a c**t. She was naturally very upset so I banned him from speaking to any female member of staff. In fact I got so angry about I sent him one of my infamous ‘special’ emails. The gist of it was that I had met bullies like him before and in me he had met his match. His response was to ring me up and invite me to lunch. He was possibly the most unpredictable person I ever met. We were going to have lunch at my favourite restaurant, The Delaunay but sadly before we could he was taken ill, and never really recovered.

Michael would like to be remembered for his film work or as a pre-eminent restaurant critic. I suspect, however, that it will be two other things he will be remembered for. Firstly his work with the Police Memorial Trust which he started after the death of WPC Yvonne Fletcher. He raised huge amounts of money and deserves huge credit for raising the profile of the issue of police officers who die in service. And the second thing? For the phrase ‘Calm down dear’, possibly one of the most annoying, yet effective, slogans ever coined in the world of TV advertising.

At LBC we shall remember him fondly for his firm policy of putting down the phone if he wasn’t put on air within 20 seconds of being called for a pre-arranged interview.

He truly was a one off.



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Who Do You Think You are Kidding, Mrs Merkel?

21 Jan 2013 at 12:13

Someone told me a good yarn yesterday (I have no idea how true it is) about our beloved Prime Minister and his relationship with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Apparently the two of them aren’t beyond taking the piss out of each other. It all started, apparently, while they were watching a live England v Germany football match together. Anyway, the two were taking a walk in the Chequers countryside one Sunday afternoon and came to the top of a hill overlooking the Buckinghamshire countryside. They stared silently in wonderment at the scene before them. “To think, Angela,” said Cameron. “If things had turned out differently, this could have all been yours.” Merkel’s immediate reply isn’t recorded. But on her return to Germany, she apparently sent her friend Dave a box set of ’Dad’s Army’ DVDs. I’m told Merkel herself is a huge fan of Midsomer Murders, and last Christmas Cameron sent her the complete series box set for her enjoyment. What a shame the DVDs didn’t contain German subtitles.

I read on Twitter yesterday that Merkel things Cameron is very charming, but has a tendency to behave like a naughty nephew. Just as well she doesn’t have pigtails.

  • If this has appeared before, apologies, but it was new to me!


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If The Tories Ditch Dave They're Finished for 2015

20 Jan 2013 at 21:21

So if Isabel Oakeshott is right, and she very often is, there are 55 Tory MPs who are quite seriously considering the possibility of deposing David Cameron. As young people on Twitter might say – WTF? Are they stark staring mad? Because, let’s face it, deposing a sitting Prime Minister worked so well in 1990, didn’t it? It took the Tory Party fifteen years to recover from committing regicide, and now they want to do it again.

Someone once called the Tories the ‘Stupid Party’. It’s easy to understand why. It was also once said that loyalty was the Tory Party’s secret weapon. Clearly whoever said that had never met some of the boneheads who think this is a good idea. The amusing thing is that a high proportion of those who want rid of Cameron voted for him back in 2005. Yes Nadine, I mean you. And you Stewart, Chris etc etc. I could go on. But before I do, let’s read what Isabel Oakshott writes in today’s Sunday Times.

An increasing number of backbenchers are privately discussing the possibility of attempting to unseat the prime minister before the poll in 2015 if the party continues to trail in the polls. While there is no immediate threat to his position, a well-placed source said that up to 17 MPs had now written letters of “no confidence”, and there are rumours that at least one list of MPs willing to back a coup is being gathered. One source claimed a “rebel reserve” was being gathered, comprised of MPs ready to write simultaneously to Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 backbench committee, if the position of the party in the polls looks so desperate that a change of leader becomes urgent. The group, said to number about 55, would also act if Cameron refused to go after a general election defeat. Their names are said to be held by a co-ordinating MP who has obtained firm pledges from them to act at the same time. The tactic of sending the letters simultaneously would enable the target of 46 needed to trigger a ballot to be reached straightaway.

I could probably name most of these MPs but perhaps I’d better not. Although it might be fun to see the fallout. The simple truth is that the Conservative Party and David Cameron will live or die together. Any talk of a leadership challenge is self indulgent political wankery. And it must stop. If they ditch Cameron they will deserve the electoral oblivion which would no doubt await. I mean, who do they think would come to the rescue? Boris? Dream on. George Osborne. Oh please. Michael Gove? No way. And who else is there? Just go through the Cabinet and imagine each one of them on the doorstep of Number Ten doing their ‘Where there is discord speech’. See what I mean? And if supporters of Liam Fox or anyone else think their man is capable of a mother of all political comebacks they need to take a reality pill.

David Davis said back in October that any talk of a leadership contest was “plain daft”. He continued…

“We are in the middle of a national crisis in economic terms. It is not a time for introspection.”

Cameron wasn’t just for 2010. He was for 2015 too. If he loses, fine, don’t waste time in getting rid of him. But that moment can’t come until May 2015. And if they try it before, let’s just relish the wrath the electoral Gods will rain down on them.



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UK Politics

Lord Oakeshott Is Strangely Quiet on Peerage For LibDem Donor

20 Jan 2013 at 17:42

I see from the Sunday Times that Nick Clegg is intending to submit the name of Rumi Verjee as a new LibDem Peer. Mr Verjee is a very successful businessman, so successful that he has been generous enough to donate £770,000 to the Liberal Democrats over the years. Good on him. They need it.

Strangely the Sunday Times carried no quote from Lord Oakeshott, who has in the past been very vocal about peerages for people who have donated money to a political party. All Tories, natch. I await his wholehearted condemnation of a peerage for Mr Verjee. But I suspect I might be waiting some time.


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Teasing Gooners - Mourinho to the Emirates?

20 Jan 2013 at 16:15

Oh dear. Arsenal fans really are sensitive little flowers, are they not? Indeed, not only that, the majority of Gooners on Twitter seem to have both a sense of humour failure and a massive inferiority complex. Let me explain.

Yesterday lunchtime I was driving to West Ham listening to 5 Live Sport (apols to Ken and David). Someone made the point that Jose Mourinho has told friends he intends to return to England in the summer. Curiously they didn’t speculate about which club he might end up at, so I started thinking about it myself. Here’s how my thought process went…

Manchester United – Unlikely as Fergie has a couple of seasons left in him
Manchester City – Possibly, but not if he ever wants the United job
Chelsea – Just can’t see it.
Spurs – I suspect Spurs will need a new manager, given the identity of their current one
Liverpool – Not when Brendan Rogers comes good. And he will

And then I started thinking about Arsenal. Arsene Wenger has been a legend at Arsenal but there are real signs that he might be entering his last period as manager of the Gunners. Speculation links him with Paris St Germain and some Arsenal supporters (and I don’t just mean Piers Morgan) are losing patience with him. I think there is more than a chance that this season will be his last at The Emirates. And if so, who better to replace him than Jose Mourinho? So last night I tweeted this…

And then the floodgates opened. Now to me, that tweet was quite clear. It was a prediction. It implied no inside knowledge. It was like me saying I think Eddie Mair will be the next presenter of Newsnight. It’s my opinion, nothing more. But the torrent of abuse I received from Gooners was astonishing. It was as if I had no right to have an opinion, or even make an educated (or even uneducated) guess. I was called every four letter word under the sun. I must be drunk, said many. Or on drugs said others. Look, everyone has a right to disagree, to make fun of me, but the abuse really crossed a line. And it’s still going on! Others reckoned I must be desperate for new followers. Well, I can think of many better ways to attract new followers than tweet about Arsenal, although having said that, 250 Arsenal fans have now started following me. What really fascinated me though is that the majority of Arsenal fans who responded seemed to think that their little club wouldn’t be big enough for the Special One. How bizarre. Not that long ago Arsenal were one of the two biggest clubs in the country. It was they who fought it out with Man U for the title most years. If I were Mourinho I might fancy the challenge of restoring Arsenal to their former glories.

Mind you, I’d probably also emulate Robin Van Persie, with Arsenal being a mere stepping stone to my ultimate destination – Old Trafford.

Oh dear. I’ve done it again.

Just as well I won’t be able to go to The Emirates on Wednesday to see Maroune Chamakh score the winner. Actually, strike that. I imagine he’s ineligible. For any Gunners reading this, Chamakh played quite well against QPR yesterday. Rather encouraging actually.



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They're Not Militants, They're Terrorists

19 Jan 2013 at 21:41

Why is it that the BBC calls terrorists militants? They may well be militants, but people who kill others for political aims and cause terror are also, without doubt, terrorists. I’ve never heard a convincing argument from the BBC as to why they insist of using a word most of their viewers would never use, and avoid using one that they would. The trouble is, this tendency has now filtered down to news agencies.

On my programme on Thursday we were covering the situation in Algeria as a breaking news story and at one point one of my tea brought in some Associated Press copy, which I then read out. It mentioned the word ‘militants’ three times in four paragraphs. I substituted it for ‘terrorists’ and then told my listeners what I had done. And I’ll continue doing it. I’d love to see some BBC News Channel presenters having the balls to do it too. But I’m not holding my breath.



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Tomorrow on my Sunday Morning LBC Politics Show

19 Jan 2013 at 18:17

This is what we have lined up for you tomorrow morning between 10am and 1pm on my LBC Sunday Politics Show.

10am Algeria/Mali. Guests include former Foreign Secretary Lord Owen.

11am Adoptions are lower than ever despite attempts to make adoption easier. Guest from Barnardos

1130 Siobhan Benita names her Communicator of the Week and looks ahead to the events of the next seven days

1145 Tom Swarbrick looks at what makes a goo inauguration speech, plus Sharon Manitta from Democrats Abroad looks ahead to Obama’s second term.

1200 Sunday Debate: Who will be the main winners in Tuesday’s Israeli election and what are its implications? Guests include Donald Macintyre, Dermot Kehoe and Richard harrington

1230 Comedian Dominic Holland talks about his new book in which he describes what it’s like when your son’s success eclipses your own. His son Tom is one of the stars of the film IMPOSSIBLE, about the Tsunami.

1245 Richard Harrington MP reveals his secret life!



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UK Politics

We Mustn't Send Troops to Mali

19 Jan 2013 at 09:03

Events in Algeria are truly worrying. But it is perhaps the situation in Mali which is of even greater concern. On Thursday former French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner seriously suggested that Britain should send ground troops to Mali to support his country’s efforts. Up to now, British support has been restricted to two supply planes. Mr Kouchner regarded that help as rather pathetic, which was rather ungrateful of him. His argument was that because Britain and France had a lot of shared defence interests, we should support each other in times of crisis. A fair point as far as it goes, but one wonders if the boot were on the other foot what might happen.

It is at times like this that the prime ministerial mettle is truly tested. David Cameron may well have to make a very difficult decision indeed. If the French make an official request for British ground troops, what would his response be? He will know that voters would be dead against any sort of military intervention and if he agreed to it would cost him dear in terms of political popularity. But I know of no prime minister who has ever made a military decision on those grounds. A true prime minister would do what’s right even if he knew it would cost him the next election.

So we have to look at the national security arguments on a possible British intervention in Mali. The argument goes that if these Al Qaeda cells are not dealt with, they could intervene in Britain. Well, it’s a possibility. But the counter argument is that if we intervene, it would make an attack even more likely. There’s little doubt that we, by which I mean the international community, would be well advised to try to eliminate Al Qaeda wherever they exist. But surely the sensible thing to do it to let African nations and pan-nation organisations take care of the Al Qaeda cells in Mali. And are we really to believe that France, a nation with 230,000 people in its military – double the number of this country – can’t take care of this situation on its own? Arguments about European solidarity just will not wash.

But perhaps the most decisive argument against a British intervention in Mali is the fact that our armed forces are totally overstretched as it is. We simply cannot get involved in yet another foreign escapade.



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