TV/Film/Theatre

'The New Normal' - Best US Sitcom Since 'Scrubs'

18 Feb 2013 at 22:25

Nowadays I very rarely watch any TV programme when it is actually shown. Sky Plus is my friend. Anyway, last night I was wondering what to watch and I remembered I had been recording a new American sitcom called The New Normal. It’s been hailed as the new Will & Grace, and is being shown on E4. I didn’t know any more than that. Frankly, I wasn’t expecting a lot as I just don’t find many US sitcoms that funny. Boy was I wrong. If you’ve never seen it, do yourself a favour and give it a try, and don’t be put off by the fact that the plot is all about a thirty-something gay couple who want to have a child, a pay a woman to have one for them. It’s not as yukky as it sounds, believe me.

The undoubted star of the show is Ellen Barkin, who plays the glamorous grandmother of Goldie, the woman who is the surrogate mother. She has the looks of Krystal Carrington twenty years on, and the mouth of Joan Rivers. She has some laugh out loud lines that literally have you in paroxysms. She is so politically incorrect that she makes Jim Davidson look PC. Indeed, I doubt many of her lines would be allowed in a BBC sitcom script.

The two gay guys, Brian and David, play their roles well. Bryan is a little stereotypical in that he’s very camp, but quite lovable, whereas David is the sensible, straight looking one. David has a very Jewish mother who doesn’t get on with Brian, and who also delivers some fantastic lines.

I ended up watching all five episodes one after the other. I lost count of the times it made me laugh out loud, and there aren’t many programmes that do that. Unfortunately the first two episodes are no longer available on 4OD, but do try the others. Click HERE. The next new episode is on Thursday on E4 at 9pm

Enjoy.

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Policy

Why The Right Needs To Spread the Gospel of Low Taxes

18 Feb 2013 at 14:10

I have always believed that a low tax economy is always going to be more successful than a high tax one. We now seem to be in a period where all three main political parties seem quite happy to be entering a competition to see who can come up with the whackiest ideas for imposing new taxes on a population which is heartily sick of ever higher, more complicated taxes. Some have even bought the case for higher taxes, which, when you think about it, is hardly surprising. Why? Because there is virtually no one putting the case for simpler, lower taxes.

Even ConservativeHome’s Tim Montgomerie has today come out in favour a Mansion Tax. To say I am shocked is an understatement. Apparently imposing a Mansion Tax would demonstrate that the Conservative Party has moved on. Toby Young has defenestrated Tim’s arguments in a very strongly argued (and worded) blogpost HERE.

But this goes wider than whether you support a mansion tax or not. We now hear that the LibDems want a Mansion Tax Plus, which would levy a tax on anyone who owns multiple properties with a cumulative value of £2 million. Great idea. Let’s kill off the Buy to Let market in one stroke. Remarkably the LibDems now also believe that one’s cumulative wealth should also be taxed annually. Jewellery, cars, book collections, art. The taxman would be given the right to enter your home to see if you were on the fiddle. How very liberal.

Stamp duty is licensed robbery. Air Passenger Transport duty is a tax on the aspirational poor. Council tax has become totally unreasonable. Business rates are threatening the viability of all sorts of businesses. Inheritance tax is a tax on death and a pernicious form of double taxation and success. It acts as a punishment for not spending all your money while you are alive and disincentivises people from handing it down to their children.

Green taxes, fizzy drink taxes, obesity taxes. Will it never end? One day we really will wake up and find that it is just not worth getting out of bed. We already have high marginal tax rates. Let’s not kid ourselves, National Insurance is a tax in all but name. We now tax people who earn £34,370 or more at 40%, with NI being charged at 13% up to a £40,070 limit. So if you are earning between those two figures you are paying 53% of your income to the taxman. It was never meant to be like this.

Far from simplifying income tax, this government has overly complicated it. Few people could tell you how the system works. Gordon Brown’s tax code amounted to 10,000 pages. Great for accountants who make huge amounts of money out of those of us who simply can’t get to grips with it ourselves. Has it been reduced much over the last two and a half years? I’m not so sure, but I am sure someone will tell me.

Rich people should indeed be taxed fairly. I would happily see a reform of council tax with the bands adapted to reflect modern day property values, but if you tax the rich until the pips squeak, as Denis Healey delighted in doing, you suddenly find that the goose has flown away to lay the golden eggs elsewhere. I do not want to live in a society which thinks that the taxman can have my grandmother’s jewellery in his sights. How much tax do we actually think the rich should pay? More than 7% stamp duty on house purchases? Really? And then we expect a further £30,000 a year? This is madness. The top 1% of earners now pay nearly 26% of the total income tax take – that’s more than double what it was when Margaret Thatcher came to power. When will the left be satisfied? When it is over 30%? 40%? Higher?

I regard it as deeply immoral for the state to take more than 50% of anyone’s income. We are getting to a point where that will be seen as the norm.

On the plus side, It is a great thing that by 2015 anyone earning £10,000 or less will be taken out of the income tax system altogether, but what isn’t generally known is that anyone earning above £7605 will still be paying National Insurance. Wouldn’t it be better to rectify that anomaly rather than create a rather cumbersome 10p tax rate which will, according to Mr Miliband, only cover a £1,000 band. It may not be politically sexy, but it would be the right thing to do if we want to help the low paid.

People on the right need to start evangelising about the benefits of lower, simpler, flatter taxes, because we are in a political period where those arguments are largely going by the board. I’m not a tax flat earther who believes in no tax, but I am certainly of the view that individual tax payers are better at making informed spending decisions than the man in Whitehall is.

UPDATE 4.50pm: And as if on cue, the New Statesman now suggests a Land Value Tax.

Any others, while we’re at it?

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Radio

Meeting Sir David Attenborough

18 Feb 2013 at 11:23

One of the great things about doing my job at LBC is that I get to meet and interview some of my all time heros. Today was one such day. Of course the challenge when interviewing them is not to go all gooey and just indulge in half an hour of fan worship. I always try to remember why I am there and to try to ask what I think the audience would ask, if they had the opportunity.

So this morning I interviewed Sir David Attenborough, predominantly about his series AFRICA, which is released this week as a DVD box set, I had half an hour with him, which was double what was originally on offer. This gave me the chance to ask about other things too. I don’t mind admitting I was quite nervous about the prospect of interviewing one of the greatest broadcasters of the last century. But we had 15 minutes together before the interview, which was a great ice-breaker. He was fascinated by the fact that I have two jobs and we both bemoaned the state of the publishing industry. Whenever I interview very famous people others seem to delight in telling me how difficult they can be, or that they speak in three word sentences. Well, I can honestly say that Sir David was a delight and I hope anyone listening to the interview will be as riveted as I was.

* Iain’s interview with Sir David Attenborough will be broadcast this Sunday at 11am on LBC 97.3. LBC is available on DAB, Sky Channel 0112, Virgin 973 or you can stream via lbc.co.uk

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An Encounter with Anjem Choudary

17 Feb 2013 at 16:22

This morning The Sun did what the News of the World used to do. It had a front page piece of proper investigative journalism. which exposed the radical cleric Anjem Choudary as a thoroughly nasty piece of work. They taped a three hour lecture in which he called Cameron and Obama ‘devils’ and said they should be killed. He said all Muslims should have “hate in their hearts” and that they should forego work and claim what he called the “Jihad Seekers Allowance”. You can read the Sun story HERE

When I saw the story last night, I emailed my producer, Carl, and said “that’s our ten o’clock. Let’s get him on.” Normally we have a Minister or a Labour politician in the studio for the first hour of my Sunday show on LBC, but none were available today (recess, by-election) so the story was kind of manna from heaven. I interviewed Mr Choudary some time ago, and it was a pretty unedifying experience. He’s a very tricky customer and is well versed in shouting down any question he doesn’t want to answer. It must be his lawyer’s training.

On the drive to the studio I heard Radio 5 Live’s Phil Williams interview him. Phil is a very good interviewer and his top line was about how he hates homosexuals. I decided to try something different. I tried to lure him into the studio for the whole hour and get him to take calls from listeners. It would risk getting a lot of flak if it didn’t work, but in the event he was having none of it, and would only talk on the phone. Better than nothing.

I try not to shout at interviewees or lose my temper, but I knew if I adopted my usual ‘softly-softly catchee monkey’ approach it wouldn’t work with Mr Choudary and I would have to discover my Inner Ferrari. We went at it for ten minutes, and you can listen to the interview HERE

Several people on Twitter questioned whether by giving Choudary a media platform we just play into his hands. I understand the point, but I a a firm believer in exposing extremists for what they are. In addition, I think it is a great chance for the 99.9% of muslims who don’t support Choudary’s obnoxious views to ring in and say so. And they did in their hundreds. This is important because I am sure there are plenty of people out there who firmly believe that Choudary and his ilk carry a lot of support. They just don’t, and we should never lose an opportunity to point that out.

My colleague Petrie Hosken told me afterwards that she was interviewing Choudary once when she took him to task for having been found reading a pornographic magazine. He then accused her of being a prostitute when she was an undergraduate. She terminated the interview but not before telling him: “Mr Choudary, I take great exception to that. I have NEVER been an undergraduate!” At a girl.

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UK Politics

Eastleigh By-Election Gets Dirty

16 Feb 2013 at 15:48

By-elections bring out the worst in normally quite sane people. It’s all “my party right or wrong”. And today we have seen the Eastleigh by-election descend to the depths, courtesy of the Liberal Democrats. I don’t know why I am surprised. However, I am surprised by Stephen Tall, editor of LibDem Voice, who is normally one of the saner LibDems. Here is his contribution to the campaign today

Perhaps Stephen is unaware that three of Maria Hutchings’ children are autistic and I suspect the comment in the speech bubble above related to one of them. He might now feel rather ashamed of himself. But let’s just imagine that he isn’t. Following Nick Clegg’s comments about possibly sending his own son to a fee paying school, aren’t the LibDems making a rod for their own back in attacking Hutchings in this way? Nick Clegg has every right to make his own decision, and so does Maria Hutchings.

Autistic children are often very gifted, but they can also be very difficult, withdrawn and lack sociability. They have special needs, and very often the system cannot provide the education the child needs, if they are to make the most of themselves. Therefore parents have little choice but to look outside the state sector. That does not imply criticism of state schools, it is just a fact that the state system is ill equipped to be able to cope with every sort of special needs.

A child’s education, let alone one with special needs, ought not to be a matter for political controversy.

UPDATE: LibDem Blogger Mark Thompson takes a similar view to me HERE

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Jerry Hayes

16 Feb 2013 at 09:50

Sometimes it is very hard to be a Conservative. But like David Cameron I struggle on.

Jerry Hayes, 16 Feb 2013

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Why Rachel Frosh Is Right - Fascism IS Intrinsically Left Wing

15 Feb 2013 at 20:11

Over the last few weeks I have had several people ask if I intend to stand for Parliament again. No matter how often I say ‘no’ the message never quite seems to get through. I can use phrases like ’I’d rather stick needles in my eyes’ or ’I’d rather eat my own sick’, but still people don’t quite believe me. Well let me kill off any further speculation by repeating something I said in 2008. I believe Nazisim and Fascism to have far more in common with socialism than conservatism. I believe them to be intrinsically left wing ideologies.

The clue is the phrase ‘National Socialism’.

This is not an uncommon belief on the right, but it has cost Rachel Frosh (nee Joyce) both her job as Deputy Police Commissioner for Hertfordshire and her place on the Conservative Party Approved Candidates List. She retweeted someone who made the same point, and using the above graphic [You can see the offending tweet at The Commentator], and then her world fell apart. She mounted a spirited defence, invoking my blogpost from 2008 but the Conservative thought police were out in force and determined to do her in. Strangely they haven’t yet disciplined a Cabinet Minister who has said something far more offensive, but that’s another story. Can anyone seriously disagree with this, from my 2008 blogpost?

I can understand why those on the left don’t wish to be branded in the same political mindset as the BNP. Now they know how those of us on the right feel. But the fact remains that BNP beliefs DO have more in common with Socialism than with Conservatism – centralised command control, trade tariffs, state owned businesses … I could go on. I struggle to think of a single issue which joins the BNP and mainstream conservatism. The Nazis were called National Socialists for a reason. Fascism is invariably described as a creed of the right. It isn’t. As with the BNP, fascism has far more in common with the left, at least in political theoretical terms.

Rachel commented today…

“I was simply retweeting something in line with a widely held opinion about the roots of Nazism. Of course I was not calling all socialists Nazis. That a retweet should be allowed to be misrepresented and used against me such a way is a something that all right-headed individuals should openly reject.”

I feel incredibly sorry for Rachel. She has devoted many hours to working for the Tories and at the first hint of trouble, they suspend her from the Candidates List. I thank God that I resigned from it in June 2010 and can enjoy total freedom of speech without ever wondering if it will ruin my political career. Rachel Frosh deserves better. I don’t even know who the Vice Chairman in charge of Candidates is nowadays, but whoever made this appallingly intolerant decision should be hauled in by Grant Shapps for a dressing down.

Are you listening Grant?

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Who Will Next Face the Horse Heat?

15 Feb 2013 at 17:11

I was talking to a friend earlier, who has a loose association with the Contract Catering Industry. These are the people who supply schools, hospitals and the armed forces. We both agreed that those sectors might well be the next sectors to come under the scrutiny of the media over the horsemeat scandal. They are all under pressure to supply food at the cheapest cost possible and we all now know where that can lead. If it came out that ‘our boys’ were being given horsemeat to eat, well, you can imagine the reaction of the tabloids. This has now gone way beyond apportioning blame to either the manufacturers or the retailers.

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Books

Book Review: A Kick Against the Pricks by David Norris

15 Feb 2013 at 14:02

Let me from outset say that this is one of the best autobiographies I have read in recent years. It’s entertaining, witty, thought provoking, moving and well written. You can’t ask for much more than that.

Senator David Norris is an independent member of the Upper House of the Irish Parliament. He’s never held government office, but he has been a constant thorn in the side of successive Irish governments. I almost hesitate to say it, but for British readers, he is the Peter Tatchell of the Irish Republic. He, more than anyone, has been crucial to the struggle for gay equality in Ireland. Without his bravery and courage Ireland may have languished in the dark ages in this area. It hasn’t been an easy path. He details in the book some of the disgusting things which have been said to him, and the terrible things that some people have done to him over the years. But this is not a gay memoir. It is so much more than that. Norris, an Anglican, and someone with a great affection for this country, has been a campaigner for all sorts of issues related to more general human rights. He also takes us on a journey through an Ireland which we in Britain have lost sight of – the rural communities, the characters, the nooks and crannies of Old Dublin.

Until last year I had never heard of David Norris. It was only when a Northern Irish colleague at LBC, Declan Harvey, and I started discussing the Irish presidential election that he crossed my radar. At that moment Norris was ahead in the polls and was widely expected to win, and succeed Mary McAleese. But then the vicious Irish media intervened and printed details of a letter Norris had written to an Israeli court asking them to be lenient in sentencing his long time friend and love, Ezra, who stood accused of an offence involving sex with a minor. His campaign team largely deserted him and he felt he had no choice other than to leave the race. It was a decision he was later to regret and in his book he says he should never have made such a rash decision. He later reentered the race, but it was too late. He got 110,000 first preference votes, but the media had done their work. He is clearly very bitter about what they did to him and the book is littered with references to Leveson and the fact that Ireland needs something similar. The race ruined him financially.

Norris’s relationship with his Israel friend Ezra is certainly odd. They met 30 years ago and while Norris clearly fell in love, he was treated appallingly by his younger lover. Norris worshipped him, but all he got in return was hassle. His tale is one that many of us can relate to, but in the end you end up wanting to shake him out of it. After giving some very unhelpful media interviews which finally finished Norris’s campaign off, Ezra and Norris no longer speak. It was a sad end to what for one of them had been something very meaningful. Such are the vagaries of love.

A KICK AGAINST THE PRICKS was shortlisted for Political Biography of the Year at last week’s Political Book Awards. It didn’t win, but the judges rated it highly. David Norris was at the event but nobody told me. It is my only regret of the evening that I never got to meet him. I hope one day to rectify that, so I can tell him face to face that his book is one of the best I have read in recent years.

* A Kick Against The Pricks is published by Transworld Ireland in hardback at £20

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Irish Senator David Norris

15 Feb 2013 at 07:53

It is ironic that those very persons and groups who used to decry people for being promiscuous now attack them for wanting to have recognised stable relationships.

Irish Senator David Norris, From his book A KICK AGAINST THE PRICKS

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