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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Video: Iain & Sally Bercow review the papers

Sky News, August 21 2010

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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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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Coleen Nolan

Coleen Nolan discusses her autobiography UPFRONT AND PERSONAL.

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UK Politics

Stand Up Mehdi Hasan, Future Leader of the Labour Party?

15 Feb 2013 at 06:51

I’ve never quite worked out how the Huffington Post survives in the UK. Millions of pounds have been chucked at it, and yet it’s a vanilla site with little ‘must-read’ element to it. Most of its comment pieces are PR puff and little else. Its news stories are ones that you can get elsewhere and it has now been reduced to running stories every day with the words ‘penis’, ‘breasts’ or ‘bum’ or other such titilating words in the headlines, seemingly merely to drive traffic. How desperate can you get? Here’s another one

I just noticed a link in my Twitter feed to an article with the headline.‘From Huhne to Eternity’ by Charmian Hughes, whoever she is. She’s written a whole article about how Chris Huhne kissed her when he was 14. Once. He then ‘got off’ with her best friend. Clearlry a bad ‘un then. This is the sort of rubbish we’re served up with day after day.

Since Chris Wimpress left any pretence at any form of balanced political coverage seems to have gone out the window. Mehdi Hasan, love him dearly as I do, has free reign to rampage with his interesting, but deeply unbalanced opinions. There is little counterbalance to his views at all apart from puff pieces from party politicians which no one apparently bothers to read. Mehdi’s latest article ‘On Iraq, the Hawks Were Wrong About Everything’ is a good example of the pieces he writes on HuffPo. Everyone else is wrong about everything. Mehdi is right about everything. Things aren’t generally as black and white as that. Take this extract…

It isn’t the size of our demonstration that those of us against the war should be proud of, it is our judgement. Our arguments and predictions turned out to be correct and those of our belligerent opponents were discredited.

Those aren’t the words of a commentator. They are the words of a player. The words of a politician. I make no complaint about that. Indeed I would love to see Mehdi in the House of Commons He’d shake the place up a bit and shake up the Labour Party. I have no idea if he has political ambitions, but I hope he does. He would be the Michael Gove of his age.

I remember in 2003 appearing on a platform with Michael Gove at the Tory conference. I had a go at him for always sniping from the sidelines in his Times columns. “Come on, Michael,” I said, “Get your hands dirty and stand for Parliament.” He smiled broadly and told me and the audience he wouldn’t be doing that as he couldn’t afford the pay cut. Within a year he was selected for the safe seat of Surrey Heath. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Mehdi was thinking of doing something similar. He might have to give up an income north of £200k to do it, but at least he might then have some power to wield, rather than having some influence at the margins. He’d probably be leader of the Labour Party within two parliaments. Now there’s a thought.

Five years ago no one outside Sky News and Channel 4 had heard of him. When he was appointed as Political Editor of the New Statesman back in 2009, most of us said Mehdi who? Within three years he had eclipsed most left of centre commentators and become the media go-to person for a left wing gob on a stick. Polly must have been seething.

Back in 2003, before he got into Parliament I predicted Nick Clegg would be LibDem leader. In 2008 I was the first to write that Ed Miliband would succeed Gordon Brown as Labour leader. I’m not predicting Mehdi Hasan will be leader of the Labour Party, but it wouldn’t surprise me if by 2025 he had done just that. If he sets his mind to it, he can certainly get near to the top. And I suspect when Mehdi sets himself a goal, he is relentless in achieving it.

Your temptation may be to send the headline of the this article to John Rentoul for his Question to Which the Answer is No series. I wouldn’t be in such a hurry to do that.

[cue the email from Mehdi saying "I can’t believe you’ve written that! It’s not in my mind at all!]



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Iain Dale interviews LBC legend Brian Hayes

On LBC's 40th birthday

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Listen: Rachel Reeves Repeats the Same Point 8 times in 80 Seconds

14 Feb 2013 at 23:28

I rather like Rachel Reeves. She’s got some original ideas and is clearly very clever. You don’t get to work at the Bank of England if you’re not. But tonight on my LBC show she gave a car crash of an interview on the 10p tax rate and the mansion tax. It bore all the hallmarks of someone defending a policy they had been told they must go out and defend, using a cribsheet from Party HQ saying "repeat after me, this is the point you must concentrate on. The interview lasted about 7 minutes, but she kept saying the same thing over and over again. I picked her up on it three times.

Have a listen to THIS. It’s 80 seconds long and she repeats the same point 8 times. I seem to remember Ed Miliband doing the same thing once. Just because your leader does it, it doesn’t mean you have to. It certainly didn’t go down well with my listeners.



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Photjournalist Paul Conroy

Paul Conroy talks about his terrible injuries from Syria and his work with Marie Colvin.

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Quote of the Day

Quote of the day: Anonymous Trade Unionist

14 Feb 2013 at 16:49

If he swallowed a sixpence, he would shit a corkscrew

Anonymous Trade Unionist, on Harold Wilson



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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to Nadine Dorries

Nadine accuses female Tory MPs who criticise her for her jungle exploits of 'jealousy'.

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UK Politics

Ed Miliband on the 10p Tax Rate: Then & Now

14 Feb 2013 at 11:54

This is Ed Miliband making the case for abolishing the 10p tax rate in 2008.

“When you make a big set of changes in the tax system, some people do lose out. That is a matter of regret. Of course it is. But overall these changes make the tax system fairer.” (Source: IFS)

And this is what he has said this morning…

“We would tax houses worth over £2 million. And we would use the money to cut taxes for working people. We would put right a mistake made by Gordon Brown and the last Labour government. We would use the money raised by a mansion tax to reintroduce a lower 10 pence starting rate of tax, with the size of the band depending on the amount raised.

So in 2008 he reckons it made the tax system fairer when the 10p tax rate was abolished. Does that mean he’s proposing to make in more unfair now?

I am all in favour of a 10p tax band, which I reckon ought to apply for all earnings between £10,000 and £20,000 in an ideal world. But I have no idea how much that would cost, but it would undoubtedly be several billion pounds.[Update: Putting it up to £12,500 would cost £6.2 billion]. There are all sorts of ways this could be funded, but Ed Miliband has yet again decided on a soak the rich policy. All well and good, but in parts of London and the South East many people who own a £2 million house are not cash rich at all, and only live in such a house because it has been in their family for decades, and it is only down to the vagaries of property prices which have put them in that bracket.

Finally, I rather liked this tweet from Tom Harris MP, which tries to justify Ed Miliband’s change of heart…

BREAKING: Ed Miliband honoured collective cabinet responsibility in last govt. We’ll bring you more as this story develops five years ago.”



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Bob Marshall-Andrews

Former Labour MP Bob Marshall-Andrews discusses his autobiography.

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BBC Parliament Tonight: Harold Wilson Evening Starts at 6pm

14 Feb 2013 at 10:44

I was two years old when Harold Wilson first became Prime Minister, and 13 when he left office. But I do remember him. I remember telling my parents in one of the 1974 election why they should vote for him. Even then I was a Eurosceptic and held it against Ted Heath that he had taken us into the Common Market. Wilson was in many ways the first Prime Minister of the age of spin. His press officer, Joe Haines, was a tabloid journalist and was really the first Downing Street Communications Director to use the dark arts of spin to any great extent. And he had a willing accomplice in Harold Wilson. His biggest affectation was the use of his pipe to burnish his man of the people credentials. He apparently never used it when off camera. For inverse snobbery reasons he seemed embarrassed by his past as an Oxford Don. Wilson will never go down in history as a great Prime Minister, and in a league table would feature somewhere in the middle. His greatest achievement was probably holding the Labour Party together and managing the big personalities and egos around his cabinet table. But he failed to tackle the country’s economic challenges, largely because he was unable to tame the unions.

Anyway, the point of this post is to alert you to a veritable orgy of Harold Wilson memories which will be shown on BBC Parliament this evening from 6pm. Be sure and set your Sky Plus. Unbelievably the BBC Parliament website makes no mention of if, but here’s the schedule…

6.00 Peter Snow introduces the evening
6.05 Interview following election as leader 1963
6.15 Panorma: Profile of Harold Wilson and Alec Douglas-Home on the election trail from 19 October 1964.
6.45 Interview with Wilson’s son Robin
7.00 1966 General Election
7.10 The Pound in Your Pocket Broadcast
7.20 1970 General Election
7.30 Yesterday’s Men
8.10 The Making of Yesterday’s Men
8.25 1975 Referendum
8.35 1975 Party Conference speech
9.05 Resignation interview
9.20 David Holmes interview, the then BBC Political Editor
9.30 Panel discussion on Wilson chaired by Peter Snow
10.00 Friday Night, Saturday morning talk show presented by Wilson

I’d love BBC Parliament to do much more of this sort of thing. Political geeks deserve a bit of TV pampering once in a while!



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Video: Iain Reports on Life in Rwanda

18 Doughty Street

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Valentine's Special: The Talk Radio Top Totty List 2013

13 Feb 2013 at 18:35

Every Valentine’s Day, Adam Boulton and his Sky News colleagues reveal their Top 20 Most Fanciable MPs. Some years ago I caused a bit of a stir by turning the tables and compiling the Top 20 Most Fanciable Political Journalists. To be honest it was a struggle to get to 20. So, this year, I thought I would do something different and take a look at my new profession, talk radio. There are some fine figures in the talk radio field. Indeed, some of the figures are so fine, they are magnificent. Clearly ALL my colleagues at LBC deserve to be in this list, but we have decided only to include a representative sample, so as to be fair to all our competitors. Obviously I take full responsibility for any offence caused, but the ranking has been decided by a secret committee of LBC producers whose identity must, for security reasons, remain confidential. Anyway, here we go. Get ready to feast your eyes, control your moistness and above all, keep your hands where we can see them.

1. Anita Anand
BBC Radios 4 & Five Live

There’s a saying that certain presenters have an ideal face for radio. The inventor of that phrase never met Anita Anand, who possesses quite possibly the most beautiful visage ever to sit in front of a six inch black tube with some wire on the end.

2. Nick Conrad
BBC Radio Norfolk

Known as the ‘gayest’ straight man in radio, he has everyone swooning. Whether he’s being naughty in Norfolk, feisty on 5 Live or whacky on BBC WM, he knows just how to touch a listener’s G spot. Ahaaaaa!!!!!!!!!!!

3. Nikki Bedi
BBC Radio London

A lovely voice to go to bed to, need we say more? But we don’t want to go to sleep because that would mean we would stop imagining the face behind the voice.

4. Ian Collins
LBC 97.3

The man with the sleekest haircut in radio. Ladies, imagine running your sticky fingers through those auburn locks. This jock is hot to shock.

5. Emma Barnett
LBC 97.3

The ultimate ‘not just a pretty face’ Emma is a woman of many talents, not least administering the brightest pink lipstick in Christendom and telling us about ‘Wimmins’ things in the Telegraph. Probably best she’s never given an overnight slot on the radio, though. Think of the consequences.

6. Richard Bacon
BBC 5 Live

RIchard’s catchphrase is ‘Help’! Woman of Britain, sorry, but he would spurn your offers of help. This radio hunk’s wild child days are over, we tell you. Over! Down girls!

7. Petrie Hosken
LBC 97.3

Petrie is a real dish, and she’d like nothing more than to experiment on you. Bring your injection equipment.

8. Ian Payne
LBC 97.3 & BBC 5 Live

Ladies, Ian Payne will happily deliver you the news or show you some sport. But he’s a bit busy at weekends, so if you could clear your weekday diaries, please, he’d appreciate it. And he knows how to show his appreciation. And he even likes labradors.

9. Joanne Good
BBC Radio London

Boy is she good. Good by name, good by nature. Some of us remember her as a will o’ the wisp actress in Crossroads, But in radio she has found her real metier. The way she handles a microphone has to be seen to be believed. Swoon.

10. James O’Brien
LBC 97.3

The hostest with the mostest, whatever James may lack in the six pack department he makes up for with his massive brain. If you want to spend an hour of mystery with a top jock, James is undoubtedly your man. Especially on Thursdays. At 12.

11. Julia Hartley-Brewer
LBC 97.3

Be still our beating hearts. Julia H-B is such a fine figure of a woman, it’s difficult to know where to start without dribbling over her voluptuousness. And many have. We don’t know why it is, but her very name conjours up an image of her with a whip. [better stop there – ed].

12. Jeremy Vine
BBC Radio 2

He’s got the biggest one in talk radio, and he’s proud of it. His audience that is. He’ll even wear a cowboy hat if you ask nicely

13. Anne Diamond
BBC Radio Berkshire

Some women get better looking as they get older, and we think Anne’s a perfect example. The original face of Breakfast telly, she has that go to bed voice on the radio that instantly keeps you awake. Yes, we know she’s on in the mornings… She really is the original morning glory.

14. Graham Torrington
BBC Local Radio

Mr Smoothychops himself has all you ladies cooing with delight as he tells his late night love stories. The silver fox may appear to be snogging the microphone, but really, ladies, his lip are puckering for you, and you alone.

15. Shelagh Fogarty
BBC Radio 5 Live

The only radio presenter, so far as we know, to dive head first into the Serpentine wearing very little to cover her blushes. She does an excellent line in talking ‘dirty scouse’, a talent which she has sadly not felt able to bring to the airwaves. You can take the girl out of Liverpool…

16. Tony Horne
Wire, Wish & Tower FM

His twitter handle, @horneymedia, doesn’t lie. His smouldering looks have had an effect on the ladies across the north of England. He’s recently broken out of his Newcastle habitat and he’s laying waste to the whole of the north you lucky ladies.

17. Victoria Derbyshire
BBC Radio 5 Live

Vicky D gets better looking as she gets older. The cheeky little minx enjoys flirting with politicians of all colours and clearly has a thing for Ed Balls. Well, who hasn’t?

18. Julia George
BBC Radio Kent

Definitely the thinking man’s crumpet, Julia George entertains Kent each morning. She soothes, she coos, she ought to be the voiceover artist for the Flake adverts. I think we can all agree on that…

19. James Whale
LBC 97.3

His fan club doesn’t just consist of women of a certain age or the clinically unsighted. His velvet voice has women across London swooning as they drive home to the clutches of their rampant rabbits. Allegedly.

20. Rachel Burden
BBC Radio 5 Live

The thinking woman’s Rod Stewart, Rachel’s mellifluous tones wakes us up each morning, as she attempts to put Nicky Campbell (Oh no, Nicky, you’re not on the list. Maybe next year!) in his place. One almost imagines her as a school teacher. When we say ‘almost’….

Now, remember, this is all a bit of fun. Not to be taken seriously Not to have a sense of humour failure over. Especially if you are not on the list. Ok?!



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Michael Dobbs

Michael Dobbs discusses his writing career.

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UK Politics

For Labour in Eastleigh Things Just Got Better

12 Feb 2013 at 23:36

This was always going to be a fascinating by-election but tonight’s selection of John O’Farrell as the Labour candidate could make it even more interesting. My suspicion is that he could well attract not just LibDem votes but also a few Tory ones too. He’s a bit of a name, but is the sort of Labour candidate that doesn’t frighten the horses. He looks a bit like a Tory and can sound like one. If he runs an insurgent campaign he could do very well indeed. The LibDems will be more concerned tonight than they will admit.

They will also be monitoring the amount of media attention devoted to O’Farrell. There will be a temptation for much of the media to give him far more attention than Labour’s 13% poll rating deserves. There will also be many editors who would like nothing better to cultivate O’Farrell and promote a surprise Labour win. Not because they are biased towards Labour but because it would be a great political story. The tectonic plates would have shifted.

This by-election is very difficult to call. My instinct tells me the Conservatives have most to lose here. If they don’t win there will be any who see it as a sign that the next election will be out of reach. If the LibDems don’t win, some will take it as a sign of their impending implosion, but they would try to downplay it and blame it on Chris Huhne. Unlike others I’m happy to put my neck on the block and predict a narrow Tory win. That’ scuppered their chances!

More worryingly for David Cameron will be today’s ICM poll which shows that 51% of women intend voting Labour and only 25% Conservative. It really is unthinkable that the Tories could win if those figures stay unchanged. For whatever reason – and we can all think of some – women seem to have fallen out of love with the Prime Minister. He’d better start addressing this problem urgently. But how?



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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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My Interview on Why I Returned to Blogging With the Mars Hill Blog

11 Feb 2013 at 21:37

This is an interview I did at the weekend with Paul Burgin (pictured) of the Mars Hill blog. I hope it may be of interest to my readers

PB: In 2010 you seemed to land a blow in the political blogosphere by deciding to quit. Remind us why you made that decision and do you feel you made the right decision for that time in hindsight?
ID: I absolutely made the right decision at the time. I had fallen out of love with blogging, I wasn’t doing it properly and something had to give. I was working at Biteback during the day and doing LBC at night and to be honest I was floundering. I had made a rod for my own back as I was doing 5-10 posts a day. I knew if I reduced it to one or two I would just get moans, so I decided to finish altogether. I never said it would be forever, though, and always intended to start again when the time was right.

What made you decide to start blogging again?
In July 2011 I launched Dale & Co, a group blog, but to be honest I was never happy with it. It started well enough but I only wrote occasionally and that was the only time the traffic spiked. It’s not that it didn’t have readers, it did, but the quality and frequency of contributions was erratic and there wasn’t a newsy element to it. It did make stars out of one or two people, but I never enjoyed it. It needed someone to grip it. So in about August last year I decided to scrap it and start a new blog. I talked to my web guy and he started on a new design and eventually we launched again just after Christmas. I decided very early on not to try to replicate the old blog. I’d blog when I wanted to and not when others seemed to demand it. After a two year gap, people would by and large have forgotten the prolificness of the old site. I decided not to make a big announcement, or make a big thing of it, just to start and see how it went. I do want people to read the blog, but I am not going to chase traffic for the sake of it.

Would you say blogging has changed over the past seven or eight years?
A lot of my old contemporaries have disappeared, which make it slightly less fun. I miss Tom Harris especially. I think blogging has also been usurped by Twitter. I love Twitter and find it very useful in so many ways but there is only so much you can say in 140 characters. I’m ashamed to say that I more or less stopped reading blogs. Even Guido and ConservativeHome lost their appeal. I’d look at those sites several times a week as opposed to several times a day. I got out of the habit of looking at my Google Feed Reader. I’m now back in the habit but to be honest most of what I see is a load of old tat. I have a rolling Daley Dozen on my new blog but it is rare that I can find 12 entries to fill it.

Many well known political bloggers have hung up their keyboard over the last four years or so, at one point there was a flurry of them; Tom Harris, Alex Hilton, Sadie Smith, Donal Blaney among others! What would you say is the secret of survival and how should bloggers adapt to the current changing scene?
I don’t think there is a secret of survival. Some of us quit when we don’t really have anything more interesting to say. Dizzy, possibly my favourite blogger, is quite happy to go through fallow periods and the start up again. That seems to be happening to a lot of people. I think every blogger is unique and must decide what is right for them. No amount of pressure from anyone can force someone into doing something they don’t want to do. If you’ve got nothing further to say, and you’re boring even yourself, it’s probably time for a break or even stop altogether.

As one reviewer of your book The Blogfather put it, you have moved on from a blogger who was trying to enter Parliament to being somewhat politically semi-detached, how comfortable do you feel with that?
I got the LBC job. The radio provides me with the adrenaline fix which politics used to provide and I am totally comfortable. Yes, I would love to have been an MP, but since I made the decision not to try for a seat again, I feel almost liberated. I never did really hold back too much, which may be one reason why I never made it (!), but now I am beholden to no one and can say what I like. I did think I might regret the decision, but two and a half years later I haven’t at all. Indeed, I am positively pleased I made it. I sometimes wonder what I would feel like if I hadn’t .

Would you say, depending on how things look at this moment, your return is short or long term?
It’s difficult to say. I don’t really think of things like that. I may well go through fallow periods, but I hope I will be around for a long time to come. Six weeks on I really enjoy being back. I seem to have caused a stir with a few things I have written and while the new blog is not quite the same as the old one, it has attracted a much higher audience than I expected it to. I don’t expect ever to get back to the heights of 150,000 absolute uniques a month and I shan’t attempt to. For some reason I am writing much longer blogposts than I used to. Many of my old blogs were only three or four lines long. On the new blog I seem to write mini essays. I used to do a lot of lists. So far I haven’t done many of those. Some people will no doubt be relieved!



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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Sir Nicholas Barrington

Iain talks to Sir Nicholas Barrington about his book on his time in the Foreign Office.

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