UK Politics

LibDem Conference Diary: Day 1

18 Sep 2011 at 20:20

  • Listening to many of the speeches both on the platform and on the fringe at this conference, you could be forgiven for forgetting that the LibDems are in government. Their whole attitude indicates an oppositionalist attitude which may make them feel better, but won’t go down well with the electorate which knows full well that they have been part and parcel of every government decision.
  • I didn’t go to the LibDem conference last year and I had wondered if this conference would be any different to the others I had been to in recent years. In a sense, I am rather relieved that it isn’t. It’s still the usual mix of the weird and wonderful. I know I have said this before, but the LibDems really do have more than their fair share of very odd looking supporters. I saw a woman yesterday, who was about 5’ 1, weighed about 18 stone and worse shorts and a T shirt which failed to cover her amply proportioned midriff. I am afraid you could not help but stare. And what about the man whose whole body seems to be covered in tattoos. And… No, I must stop. But it’s why these conferences are a fascinating study in social anthropology. At least, I think that’s what they are.
  • The constant attacks on the rich at this conference are a little odd and totally populist. It’s all you hear. Vince Cable wants to curb bankers’ pay. Danny Alexander is recruiting 2,000 more tax inspectors to make sure the rich pay their tax. All well and good, and I am sure it will go down well with the readers of the Daily Mirror. But have we heard a peep about how the LibDems want to create economic growth or create jobs? Well, if we have, I must have missed it. At the next election people will cast their votes based on who they think is best equipped to run the economy – not who can utter the most extreme insults to the rich. They forget that most people aspire to be rich.
  • Let Them Eat Carbon is a most unlikely book to find on sale at the LibDem conference, but there it was on the LibDem Image stand. I was rather pleased, especially as I published it, but it’s hardly a book Chris Huhne would approve of. I was even more pleased t discover that they had sold several copies of it. Just as it is possible to find the odd LibDem Eurosceptic, it seems there are a few LibDem climate change sceptics too.
  • Talking of Chris Huhne, he addressed the Total Politics Nuclear Power v Sustainability fringe last night. I can’t say I agreed with all that he said, but if ever there is a cabinet minister on top of his brief, Chris Huhne is it. Rather against my instincts I found him enormously impressive. Conservative friends in the cabinet also think highly of him. Initially they had been very suspicious of his reputation as a bit of a slippery customer, but what they tell me now is that he is the one LibDem they feel they can really trust. If he promises something he delivers on it.
  • Vince Cable has every right to give his views on private sector pay. He has every right to criticise the bonuses bankers receive. But he can’t pretend that he is actually going to do anything about it, because we all know he isn’t. Unless he’s going to introduce some sort of 1970s pay restraint type law (and we all know how effective that was) all he can do is play to the gallery and bluster. Having worked in the private sector, you’d think Vince would know that the people who can do something about excessive pay and bonuses are shareholders. Perhaps he ought to look at giving them more powers of oversight. One thing I would do is legislate to restrict the number of non executive directorships any one individual can have. Some people have 8, 10 or a dozen. Sorry, but there is no way a non executive director with a dozen of them can do his or her job properly and monitor exactly what is going on. There are too many quid pro quo non execs too – people who sit on each other’s boards. That’s where Mr Cable should be directing his fire.
  • This evening from 7pm I am broadcasting my LBC show from the press centre here in Birmingham. I suspect it is going to be an “experience”. Everything that can go wrong, no doubt will. But that’s the joy of live OBs. So I am told. I’m hoping we will be able to keep the whole show conference related, but I suspect Dale Farm (no relation) might upset my plans. Anyway, do tune in from 7 if you can for a LibDem-tastic show.

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Top Ten Things To Be Overheard At The LibDem Conference

17 Sep 2011 at 20:21

1. Don’t you think Danny Alexander’s a bit of a Tory?

2. Isn’t it terrible all this new security? I’d rather risk being bombed.

3. Well I don’t care what anyone says, I’d happily take Chris Huhne’s speeding points.

4. Don’t mention the AV referendum. I did, but I think I got away with it.

5. I know I’m probably alone in this, but don’t you think Evan Harris is an absolute dish?

6. What kind of People Carrier do you think the party will order to transport all our MPs after the next election?

7. Isn’t Birmingham an absolutely ghastly place to hold a conference?

8. No, Lembit, go away.

9. I’m so looking forward to Vince’s speech. He’s bound to slag off the Tories.

10. Did you know that Iain Dale’s broadcasting his LBC show live from the conference?

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Cameron Intervenes On Gay Marriage

16 Sep 2011 at 20:37

I well remember David Cameron’s first speech as party leader back in 2006. I remember the frisson that went round the conference hall when he said these words…

“There’s something special about marriage. It’s not about religion. It’s not about morality. It’s about commitment. When you stand up there, in front of your friends and your family, in front of the world, whether it’s in a church or anywhere else, what you’re doing really means something. Pledging yourself to another means doing something brave and important. You are making a commitment. You are publicly saying: it’s not just about “me, me, me” anymore. It is about we: together, the two of us, through thick and thin. That really matters. And by the way, it means something whether you’re a man and a woman, a woman and a woman or a man and another man."

Well, five years on he has lived up to his words. In a few hours time he will announce that gay people will, for the first time, be able to enter a proper civil marriage. Not just a civil partnership. A marriage. The Home Office is about to launch a consultation on the best way to do this, but done it will be, and before the 2015 election. Now, I’d have thought that this would be welcomed by everyone of a liberal persuasion and who has supported the various moves under Labour towards equalisation of the law for gay people. But no. This was the response to the news on Twitter by Chris Bryant.

The Government is spinning it’s going to consult next March on full gay marriage. Why not just introduce a Bill now and Parlt can vote?

It’s a typically churlish response. He can’t bear the fact that a Conservative led coalition will introduce legislation his own government failed to do. This may be announced by LibDem Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone at the LibDem conference. At midnight the Home Office issued this statement…

A public consultation to consider how to make civil marriage available to same-sex couples will begin in March 2012, the government announced today. As part of its commitment to advancing equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals the government announced in February this year its intention to look at how legislation could develop on equal civil marriage. Minister for Equalities Lynne Featherstone said: “I am delighted to confirm that early next year, this government will begin a formal consultation on equal civil marriage for same-sex couples. This would allow us to make any legislative changes before the end of this Parliament. We will be working closely with all those who have an interest in the area to understand their views ahead of the formal consultation.” The consultation will only cover civil marriage for same sex couples – not religious marriage. NOTES TO EDITORS 1. Currently, civil marriages are only open to opposite sex couples and civil partnerships are only open to same sex couples. 2. The consultation will look at civil marriage of same sex couples but it will not include consultation on civil partnerships for opposite sex couples. 3. Earlier this year, the government announced that religious buildings will be allowed to host civil partnership registrations. The change, which will be entirely voluntary and will not force any religious group to host civil partnership registrations if they do not wish to do so, is being introduced as part of the Equality Act 2010. It will give same-sex couples, who are currently prevented from registering their civil partnership in a religious setting, the chance to do so. 4. The government will be laying the necessary regulations by the end of this year in order to allow the first civil partnership on religious premises to take place as soon as possible in the new year. This is a separate piece of work to the consultation being announced today.

I happen to know that this was going nowhere until the Prime Minister himself intervened. A source close to No10 told me last night:

“The Prime Minister personally intervened to give same-sex civil marriage his enthusiastic support, so that it would be introduced in this parliament. When David Cameron was elected Leader of the Conservative Party he spoke of the importance of commitment and how special marriage is, so this is entirely consistent.This move doesn’t down-grade civil partnerships, what it does is recognise there’s been a demand for equality”.

Note the bit in bold. This is not a consultation on WHETHER to introduce gay marriage, it’s a consultation on HOW to do it.

Remember also, that soon, gay couples will be able to have their civil partnerships if the churches are happy to perform the ceremonies. I suspect most won’t, but at least the law will allow them the option.

My own view is this. I have never been bothered that the traditional marriage ceremony hasn’t been available to gay couples. To me, a civil partnership is quite good enough. It’s a bespoke piece of legislation for gay couples. I have never bought into the idea, promulgated by Peter Tatchell, that straight people should be able to have civil partnerships and gay people necessarily need the same marriage facilities as straight people. As long as the legal consequences are similar all that is different is the name. But others feel that if there isn’t full equality between gay and straight people, then it’s just not fair, and frankly I am happy to go along with that.

The government has made clear that it will not legislate to allow straight people to have civil partnerships, and I quite see their point. Surely that is what registry office weddings are anyway?

I welcome this move and I hope most reasonable thinking people will do too. Let’s leave the last word to Clint Eastwood…

“I don’t give a [expletive] about who wants to get married to anybody else! Why not?! We’re making a big deal out of things we shouldn’t be making a deal out of … Just give everybody the chance to have the life they want."

Quite.

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'Oh My God, It's Going To Hit The Other Tower'

11 Sep 2011 at 04:38

I was sitting at my desk on the balcony at Politico’s talking to my bookkeeper when I suddenly noticed that Sky News had switched to Fox and were showing smoke coming from a tall tower. As the situation became clearer I remember seeing a spec on the skyline coming closer to the tower. I assumed a small light aircraft had hit it. In the corner of the screen I noticed a spec moving across the screen. ‘Jesus, there’s another plane’, I remember saying. ‘Oh my God, it’s going to hit the other tower’. Crash. Fire. Carnage. But it wasn’t until the first tower collapsed that the true horror hit me. People down below in the shop stood watching the bigger screen in silence. Someone rushed out the door saying her sister worked at the World Trade Centre and she had to phone her.

At that moment I thought of my friend Daniel Forrester who I knew worked there from time to time. Indeed his father had a corner office in one of the towers. I tried to ring him. The number didn’t work. I remember helping a customer ring her boyfriend in China to tell him what was happening. His father worked in one of the towers. I kept trying to call Daniel, becoming increasingly frantic. Eventually he called me. The emotion of the day caught up with me and I can remember speaking to him with tears running down my face, trying to keep my voice from breaking up completely.

I remember thinking how brilliantly Sky had coped with the coverage. I think Kay Burley was broadcasting at the time. She had come a long way from her first job on TVAM. That day she came of age. It wasn’t until much later in the day that I started to think about the political implications. I could not understand why President Bush hadn’t sought to immediately reassure his weeping nation. It was not his finest hour.

September 11th 2001 was a day that changed the world. It robbed a generation of its innocence and its consequences will be felt for decades to come. But there is one thing it did not shake – and that is the alliance between the two greatest free nations on earth – the United States and the United Kingdom. Some of the most evil regimes in the world have tried to defeat the cause of freedom which our two nations exemplify. They failed in the first world war, they failed in the second and they are failing now. As long as the cherished flame of freedom burns in the hearts of true democrats we’ll never give ground to those who seek to destroy us. Indeed, we must destroy them.

This is no normal conflict and it is a conflict which will endure for many years to come. It is a conflict which demands extraordinary leadership from extraordinary people, which demands courage and bravery from those who defend us. We are fortunate that there is no shortage of that. We should salute them.

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http://www.iaindale.com/posts/why-i-would-vote-for-murdo-fraser

6 Sep 2011 at 20:44

Regular readers of my old blog will know critical I have been of Scottish Conservatives and their poor leadership over the last few decades. Back in April 2007 I wrote…

If reports are true the Scottish Conservative Party is to be given its freedom to go its own way. It is likely to be called the Unionist Party. With devolution now irreversible I see little alternative and it offers the Scottish Tories the best chance of reviving after two decades in the doldrums. However, and it is a big however, I have to say I have not yet seen anyone north of the border who is likely to provide the ideas and inspiration for such a revival. As a group of politicians, Welsh AMs are far superior to their Scottish MSP counterparts and in Wales they are about to reap the rewards. Those of who don’t live in Scotland do not realise the extent to which the UK Parliament has already become an irrelevance to the Scottish media. In some ways Scotland already is a separate country. The Scottish Tories have got to not only live with that but develop an identity which recognises it and to some extent embraces it. They cannot achieve that if their every move is second guessed by a London based party which doesn’t understand the new Scottish politics. Let’s hope that someone in Scotland emerges after the May elections who can kickstart a right of centre revival in a country that so desperately needs one.

Well, four years on, there seems to be hope in the form of Murdo Fraser. The key to winning an election is to fight it on your own terms. I am very impressed with the manner in which Murdo has set the agenda for this election campaign. Scottish Conservatives need a radical new approach. Yes, it’s a risk, but most things in life are and there is little doubt that just carrying on the failed campaigns of the past won’t be good enough. Scotland needs bright, fresh radical thinking and from what I have seen, Murdo Fraser is in a good position to provide it.

I am afraid that for all her undoubted qualities, Annabel Goldie outstayed her welcome. I remember seeing a Scottish Conservatves PEB in the last Scottish election campaign in which she talked to camera for five minutes. It was nothing short of an embarrassment. A new Scottish leader needs to do something radical. The Tory brand in Scotland is tarnished beyond repair. They should now adopt a CDU/CSU type relationship with London, embrace devolution and aim to displace the Labour Party as the main opposition to the SNP. It won’t be done overnight, but they’ve got to believe it is achieveable. Otherwise, why bother?

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Abortion Counselling: Case Unproven

6 Sep 2011 at 20:43

It is indeed risible that Nadine Dorries comes under attack from the pro-Choice lobby (whose attack on her is largely based on ther contention that she is mad) and also the pro-Life lobby, who reckon she’s selling out by not wanting to ban abortion altogether. The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children must indeed get an award for cutting off their nose to spite their face. I interviewed their spokesman last Monday on my LBC show and could hardly believe what I was hearing.

So, tomorrow the Commons gets to vote on Nadine’s amendment, which seeks to ban abortion clinics from giving abortion counselling, and instead allowing GPs to recommend “independent” counsellors. So far, Nadine has been unable to define just who these new counsellors would be. She has specifically denied she would want religious organisations or charities to be involved in abortion counselling, but if not them, then who?

In theory she has a point, that abortion clinics have a vested interest in providing counselling which in the end which results in abortion. In theory. But where’s the proof? There has been a distinct lack of women coming forward telling media organisations that they felt they got terrible advice from the British Pregnancy Advisory Service or Marie Stopes. I’ve covered this subject for three separate hours on my LBC programme and desite repeated entreaties to women to call in if they felt they had received dubious advice, not a single one did. But we did get quuite a few calls from women who felt the advice they had been given was both impartial and good. And they were from women who had gone ahead with abortions and some who hadn’t.

Nadine and others have used an analogy with the pensions industry, where pension providers are prevented by law from giving impartial advice to clients. I’ve always thought this was a rather desperate argument. In the pensions situation there is a financial gain to be had. Abortion clinics are charities. They do not exist to make money, so far as I am aware. Ah, but the chief executive of BPAS, Ann Furedi won’t tell us how much she earns, and their executives all drive expensive cars we are told by Nadine and her allies. Er, so what? Is that really supposed to persuade us that their staff are instructed to “up” the abortion rate in order to keep them in the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed. Well, if so, where’s the proof?

Don’t get me wrong. In my heart I am completely pro life. I hate the idea of abortion, and especially late term abortion. But you cannot allow your heart to rule your head on issues like abortion. Much as I would love to ban it, realities dictate you have to be pragmatic and try to base the law on practicalities. So we can have debates on the point at which abortions should stop – currently 24 weeks (I would vote to reduce it to 20). And we can debate what kind of counselling women considering having an abortion should get, and there may well be a case for opening it up beyond BPAS and Marie Stopes, but that case, for me, has not yet been made properly.

Instead, what we have heard from people who maybe should have known better is that Nadine’s proposed amendment would reduce the number of abortions by one third. I don’t necessarily believe that this is the prime motivating factor for her, but that’s how it looks to the outside world, and it has meant that the argument has shifted away from her original territory.

Even discussing abortion is something which, as I am, I am uncomfortable with. But too many men shy away from this debate.

The debate shouldn’t be about counselling. It should be about the reasons why British women have far more abortions than in virtually very other European countries. It should be about the number of repeat abortions. It should be about sex education and what we teach girls and boys at school about countraception and the consequences of a moment of madness. But instead, we’re spending countless time and column inches on counselling.

If there is a problem with the counselling given by BPAS and Marie Stopes, wouldn’t we have heard more about it by now? Wouldn’t we have been regaled by countless horror stories? Unless the entire media has silenced these women who have received such awful advice it seems me that it remains ‘case unproven’.

And unless a case has been proven, there can be no case for changing the law.

One other argument that the pro Life lobby have latched onto this week is the research in the US that seemms to prove that women who have abortions are twice as likely to have mental problems later in life. Even pro choice people have had to admit this research is valid. Very worrying. Until you ask yourself this. What about women who continue with a pregnancy and have an unwanted child. I wonder if any study has ever been done into their mental problems. Probably not.

One final point. Can people who disagree with Nadine on this stop branding her as ‘mad’? Just as it is unacceptable for pro life people to bran those who believe in abortion as child killers, isn’t it equally as unacceptable to call Nadine ‘mad’? Surely to goodness we can have a debate on this subject without resorting to idiotic namecalling which gets us nowhere. Yes Suzanne Moore, I mean you.

I don’t imagine my next conversation with Nadine will be an especially comfortable one. But while I admire her in many ways, and count her as a friend, on this I just don’t think she has proved her case. So while I do think that people other than BPAS and Marie Stopes should be able to provide abortion counselling, I certainly don’t want religious fundamentalists to be able to, and no one has yet been able to tell me who else is clamouring to provide this advice.

Unless you know different.

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My Any Questions Experience (3)

3 Sep 2011 at 20:45

Yesterday I made my third appearance on Any Questions. The old saying that once you have done something once it’s easer the second or third time doesn’t really apply to Any Questions, as there is so much scope to make a complete tit of yourself. One stupid answer to a question, one remark that you think is clever but which falls flat can ruin an otherwise reasonable performance. So it’s one of the few things I get nervous about doing. I get less nervous about being interviewed by Jeremy Paxman than I do about going on Any Questions. But maybe that’s a good thing.

I am a firm believer that too much preparation for a programme like this can be a very bad thing. If you are overprepared it can make you seem very flat and a little boring. But on the other hand, if you wing it, it’s also a rather dangerous thing to do. While it is true that the panel don’t know the questions in advance, you’d have to be a bit of a fool if you couldn’t guess at least half the subjects what will come up. Last night I got them all right, apart from one, so that wasn’t a bad strike rate. Last year I only guessed half. Indeed, the one which I didn’t guess (planning) last night, I felt was one of my stronger answers, so maybe there’s a lesson there.

My first mistake yesterday was to drive myself to Somerton. I had been up since 5am, as I have been presenting LBC’s breakfast show all week. I was already knackered having only had four hours sleep on Wednesday night. My own stupid fault, as I had forgotten to cancel my regular Wednesday night appearance on the Sky News paper review. So by mid morning on Friday I wasn’t exactly feeling my best -and a business meeting on Friday morning went on far longer than anticipated so my preparation time was cut to the bone. In the end I ended up leaving for Somerton an hour later than intended, and then it was the turn of the A303 to scupper my plans to have tea with some friends in nearby Langport. In the end I arrived at the pub in Somerton (the White Hart) where the panellists were to meet for dinner at 5.30. So, half an hour to prepare for the fifteen subjects I figured might well come up. Hey ho. David Davis rung. “What should I say about control orders,” I asked, wondering if his view (guess!) would coincide with what I intended to say if it came up. In the end it didn’t.

So, 6pm and I walk over to the White Hart. No one is expecting us. Surely to God I hadn’t got the wrong pub. I walk back to the car to check. No, this is the right one. Eventually, Polly, one of the AQ production team turns up, followed ten minutes later by my fellow panellists, Joan Bakewell, Norman Lamont and John Kampfner, and stand in presenter Martha Kearney. We ordered a meal and while Martha went off to talk to the producers we all tried to guess what the questions were likely to be. Jonathan Dimbleby always tries to put a stop to such discussions! We were all obsessed about not being able to answer the funny question.

Anyway, around 7.25 the driver came to get us to ferry us to the community centre, where the audience were already being warmed up. I hadn’t met Joan Bakewell before, but she seemed very nice. I hadn’t realised she was a Labour peer – I’d assumed she was a cross bencher. She certainly didn’t seem very party political. It’s quite difficult being on the same panel as a national treasure and I certainly knew I wouldn’t be able to launch any exocets at her as the audience would instantly be turned against me!

I knew John Kampfner quite well and had met Norman Lamont a few times. He’s a very entertaining individual and we all seemed to hit it off very well. In fact I’m not sure whether these dinners are necessarily a good thing. It’s quite hard to be confrontational with people you’ve got on quite well with over dinner.

At about ten to eight Marthe Kearney rejoined us and was about to tell us what the warm up question would be. I implored her not to as I always find it better not to know in advance. The others agreed. We were then introduced to the audience, walking on stage one at a time. The audience seemed a friendly bunch, and the hall was packed. So at about 7.54 Martha asked for the warm up question, which I have unfortunately now forgotten! But it all seemed to go off very well.

And then it began. First question on banking, second on planning, third on the Dale Farm travellers, followed by defence cuts and then one n school discipline. And then we came to the final question: What stupid things did the panel do in their youth. My mind went completely blank and I prayed Martha wouldn’t come to me first. She didn’t. I had thought I would talk abut driving a combine harvester, unsupervised, at the age of eight, but right at the last second I changed my mind and talked about being in the Making Your Mind Up Bucks Fizz video we made with Total Politics last year. Got a good laugh.

The only subject which I hadn’t really prepared for was on the government’s plans to relax planning regulations. I’m afraid I did resort to shameless populism by calling local planners “quasi dictators”. It got the biggest cheer of the night from the audience. I didn’t know it at the time but there are some big planning related controversies in Somerton!

I’ll leave it up to you, if you were listening, to judge how I did. Of the three times I’ve been on the programme I certainly felt more comfortable about how I’d done at the end of this one than the other two. That’s all I’ll say! There were no real spats and I guess some people felt we all agreed with each other a little too much. Joan and I had a bit of a contretemps over the travellers, but that was really the only bit of controversy. It was the same last year, when I was on with Deborah Mattinson, Matthew Taylor and a businessman called Adrian Fawcett. I’m just too consensual!

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How I Made a Twat of Myself on Twitter

22 Aug 2011 at 20:49

It’s never nice to have to acknowledge you’ve made a bit of a dick of yourself. But I did just that last night. And all over a stupid tweet. Yes, my rather idiotic words became the centre of a rather unattractive twitter storm. I suppose it had to happen sooner or later. I even ‘trended’ in Dublin, I’ll have you know. So, what caused this to happen. Are you sitting comfortably? Then I’ll begin…

Like most of you, I suspect, I was avidly following developments in Libya during the course of the evening. Sky News’s coverage was superb, with Steve Dixon anchoring it in London and the fearless Alex Crawford travelling with the rebels (a la John Simpson) into the centre of Tripoli. Gripping TV. And then I switched over to the BBC News Channel. Oh dear, oh dear. No sense of drama, no reporter embedded with the rebels and appearing totally behind the curve. Lots of people were saying the same thing on Twitter. No one could quite understand how the BBC coverage could be quite so bad. As I said in one tweet…

Sky News is whipping the BBC’s pale white ass at the moment

The BBC didn’t even carry Moussa Ibrahim’s press conference live, yet pretended to. Everyone seemed to agree about the awfulness of the BBC’s coverage, even those who normally have no problem in faulting Sky. A few minutes later, having watched an action packed five minutes with Alex Crawford I switched over to the BBC to find the presenter talking to a reporter in a flak jacket, who was in the Media Hotel in Tripoli. The contrast was stunning. I wondered why he was in the hotel rather than out on the streets like Alex Crawford. That was where I made my big mistake. This is what I the tweeted…

Who is this wimp of a reporter on the BBC wearing a flak jacket in the hotel! Bet he’s been told he can’t go out cos of Elf ’n Safety.

And then the wrath of twitter descended on me. I might as well have said I agreed with slaughtering the first born. But it wasn’t just the usual suspects who were having a right old go – it was journalists I respect.

You can do one of two things in these circumstances. Stick to your guns or issue a rapid apology. I have been in this situation before on my old blog, and I have always taken the view that if you’re in a hole, stop digging. And if you think you’ve gone over the top or just been plain wrong, say so. Acknowledge it. Apologise and put it behind you.

The latter is easier said than done in this case, I suspect, but I withdrew the tweet (although I didn’t delete it, as I would have been accused of hiding) and then issued a total apology and took up a twitter follower’s suggestion and made a donation to the Rory Peck Trust.

I got it very wrong. In short, I fucked up. I didn’t know the circumstances of the Media Hotel and the danger the reporters there were in. I reacted too quickly, and didn’t apply my normal twitter rules.

Many people quite rightly said that if I was so happy to call this reporter a wimp, perhaps I might like to draw their attention to my own war reporting record. Ouch. I have actually been in some very dangerous places – Beirut in 1991 was one, but I freely admit that nothing I have ever done would compare to what has happened in Libya over the last few weeks.

What I did tonight was give those who already think ill of me further ammunition. So be it. They lost no time in dubbing me a cunt, a bellend, a pompous snot, a fuckpiece, a knob head, a dick, a wanker and much worse. Nothing I am not used to every day on Twitter actually and why Duncan Barkes maybe has adopted the right approach.

The thing is, I love twitter. I love its spontaneity. I love that it can make you a hero one minute and a zero the next. And tonight’s experience won’t put me off using it in the future. In general, it is a force for good, but it does have is ugly side.

What have I learned tonight? You’re only ever one tweet away from making a complete twat of yourself.

Still, it could be worse. I could be in the Big Brother house…

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Wednesday Diary: Bullshit From Paddick & Queer Blue Water

17 Aug 2011 at 20:55

  • I wish Sally Bercow well in her quest to win Celebrity Big Brother, but I fear it will all end in tears. As is well know, I like Sally and get on well with her, but she has that self destruct button which makes her very vulnerable. Her decision to hire Max Clifford as her PR man is one she will come to regret. Already he has told journalists that her husband doesn’t approve of her going on that show. Well, that will be a big help. The trouble is, whatever Sally says, she does get invited on these shows because of who she is married to whether she likes to admit it or not. And therefore, surely Mr B, as she refers to him, is entitled to have a view on what his wife does. My partner wouldn’t dream of doing anything which would impact badly on my reputation or career, and the same goes for me in return. What a pity Sally doesn’t seem to factor in the effect of her activities on her husband.
  • Last week I tweeted that I had just read the best book I think Biteback will ever have published. You wouldn’t believe the number of authors who then emailed or texted me gently enquiring if it was their particular manuscript I had been reading. The truth is that it was a book by Michael McManus called TORY PRIDE & PREJUDICE: THE CONSERVATIVES AND HOMOSEXUAL LAW REFORM. It is a truly brilliant book, which is well written, holds the reader’s attention, educates and entertains. It is also quite revelatory. I might as well admit that we have had lots of toing and froing over the title of the book. All sorts of lurid titles were suggested by my more creative colleagues. My own particular favourite was QUEER BLUE WATER, but that was felt to be a little too, er, blue. I reckon this book could be a minor best seller. Let’s face it, if all gay members of the London Conservative Party were to buy it, it would shoot into the Non Fiction Top 10!
  • Oh what fun it is, to see West Ham win away. Two away wins in two games – that hasn’t been achieved for more than five years. Which is why West Ham find themselves outside the Premier League. I can hardly believe it but I am warming to Sam Allardyce. When he used to bring his Bolton and Blackburn teams to Upton Park, I’d usually turn to my neighbour and say “thank God we don’t have to watch that every week”. Well we do now. But so far he seems to have avoided the long ball game for which he is famed. His new signings, Matthew Taylor, Joey O’Brien and Kevin Nolan have all scored in the Hammers’ first three games, and all look quality players. The season is yet young, but there is a real air of optimism at Upton Park nowadays.
  • Today I am having lunch with one of my broadcasting role models, Mr Stephen Nolan of Radio 5 Live. I think he is probably the pre-eminent talk show host of his generation, but he certainly divides opinion. You either love his style or you don’t. I do. He’s loves being on the radio during a breaking news story and I have come to learn too, that this is the best time to be on the air. You’re tested in a way that a preplanned subject can never test you. Nolan is an enthusiast and it shows in every minute of his broadcasting. I have a very different style to him, but we both love what we do. There’s no ‘right style’ in radio. You just have to be yourself. The week after next I am sitting in for Nick Ferrari on his LBC breakfast show. The very worst thing I could ever do is to try to emulate his style. You have to be yourself, and if people don’t like it, then there’s little you can do.
  • As readers may remember, we lost our Jack Russell, Gio at the beginning of July. His death left a real void in our lives. We hadn’t intended to get a new dog for a long time, but the house seems very empty. Indeed, so empty that we’ve decided to get two dogs – a Mini Schnauzer who will arrive in early September, but we also want a Jack Russell too. I wanted to get a pup from Battersea, which is where we got Gio from, but they don’t have any. Last night John went to the south coast to see a JR pup he had seen advertised on the internet. It wasn’t a pleasant experience. It turned out to be a very dirty and disgusting puppy farm on a gypsy encampment. He made his excuses and left. Today he’s going to Bedford to look at a very cute pup. We wanted to get both pups on the same day so they could bond together in the house without one trying to rule the roost. But I suspect that is going to be a pipe dream and that we will have to get one before the other.
  • It’s party conference time in just a month’s time. And I am looking forward to it. Especially as again, none of the conferences are in Blackpool. Which means beds with real sheets, rather than rubber ones, as happened to me one year. Some people might pay a lot for that, but not me. I’ll be broadcasting my LBC show from all three conferences on the Monday and Tuesday nights. On the Tuesday night of the Tory conference I am hosting an hour long In Conversation with Boris Johnson with Policy Exchange, which will go out live on LBC. What could go wrong? And yes, I’ll also be doing an hour with Ken Livingstone at Labour and an hour with, well, who knows, at the LibDem Conference. Neutrality prevents me from wishing Lembit Opik well, but it’d a laugh wouldn’t it? Brian Paddick was on my show last week during the riots and bitterly complained that he had been kept waiting half an hour. When we pointed out that taking a live statement from Acting Commissioner Tim Godwin on the riots was the reason, he had a one word response: “bullshit”. It’s that sort of charm which should make him a shoo-in.

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Mr Dale's Diary: Houses in Norfolk, Touched by Nick Clegg & My Granny's 117th Birthday

14 Aug 2011 at 20:58

  • I’m back in Norfolk this weekend searching for a cottage to buy. It’s not easy, is it, even in this economic climate? We’d like to buy a cottage on the coast, but it’s not up for auction until mid September and we can’t afford to put all our eggs in that particular basket. So yesterday was spent viewing what, on the face of it, seemed to be very promising prospects in Hevingham and Reepham. But the estate agent’s details are often not quite what they seem from the pictures. We visited one house recently which looked as if it didn’t have any properties either side. In fact it was crammed into a Brookside style estate. The estate agent’s photographer was clearly very inventive. We did in fact discover our perfect house in Wymondham. I lived in Wymondham for a year back in the 1980s. No disrespect to Wymondham or South Norfolk, but we really want to be north of Norwich as that’s where all our friends are. If only you could lift a house out of one area and easily transport it into another! In the end we put in an offer on the Trimingham property, but it is supposed to be sold at auction, so I have very little hope it will be accepted.
  • On Friday my grandmother, Constance Dale, was 117. Well, she would have been, if she hadn’t died in 1979. She was a huge influence on my life and I always think of her on her birthday. She sparked my interest in politics in my early teens. She was a rather regal figure and was known to some as the Queen Mother. She was born in 1894 and was a bit of a feminist. Had she been a teenager today she would have undoubtedly gone to university and had a glittering career. In her younger days she worked for the Post Office and then in 1922 she went to work at Wembley Stadium for a short time. She then married my grandfather, a much older man, who hailed from Ayrshire in Scotland and came down to East Anglia in the early 1920s having grown fed up of life working in the Consett steelworks. I think of her today and remember he telling me that Michael Foot was a communist and that I shouldn’t trust Labour as they always spend more money than the country can afford. Well, she was right on one thing, wasn’t she?
  • Imagine being yelled at by the Prime Minister for being 15 minutes late. Well that’s what happened to Boris Johnson when he arrived late for a Cobra meeting this week. And it was all done in front of other politicians and officials. Boris spent the rest of the meeting seething. I interviewed Boris this week for around ten minutes live on LBC. My interviewing style is less than Paxmanesque it has to be said, but I think Boris was a little surprised that I was a little bit more aggressive than normal. I’m sure I heard him say off mic “has he turned into boody Ferrari too?” The fact is that an interviewer does sometimes need to reflect the mood of his or her audience, and this week many people felt let down by the mayor. So I told him so.
  • I read in today’s Sunday Times that Robert Kilroy-Silk has published an e-novel called Betrayed. This is no doubt because he couldn’t persaude anyone to publish it conventionally. I was sent the manuscript and I have never read anything so crass and badly written. It ostensibly traces parliamentary characters through from 1974 to the present day, using real names. Bizarre wasn’t the word for it. But I do think this is going to be a new phenomenon. It only costs £100 or so to get an e-book published and I suspect it’s going to lead to some right old rubbish coming onto the market. Well, it just has.
  • There’s been some rubbish written about the riots – and most of it in The Guardian, but today Dominic Lawson has written a brilliant column in the Sunday Times taking on the apologists for the riots. He writes…
It’s true that one looter told a reporter: “It’s the government’s fault. Conservatives or something like that, yeah.” But what she seemed to mean was that she and her mates deeply resented the fact that their welfare payments couldn’t meet the cost of every item of gear they coveted, and it was therefore justifiable for them to steal the stuff.

Quite. And he ends with this horrific little tale…

Unfortunately, I was not surprised by this crass equivalence between banking and burglary. A few years ago, I wrote an article about the murder of my wife’s cousin, John Monckton, who was head of Legal & General’s bond investments. He had been knifed to death in his home by a burglar who also attempted to kill his wife in the assault. I then received a letter from a Mr Simon Malloni, which began: “While I appreciate that the loss of a friend of yours to an appalling crime is tragic, how many lives are ruined by investment bankers?” The author of this letter, who attempted to draw moral equivalence between the handiwork of the man who stabbed John to death in front of his family, and the victim’s choice of career, was at the time of writing a member of the Devon and Cornwall police authority. If such an individual is in any way typical of the sort of person to whom policemen are expected to justify their actions, we should have even more sympathy for their predicament.

I have never been in favour of elected police chiefs, but if people like this are on police authorities it makes me wonder whether I am right.

  • As a Reagan Republican I look at the growing field of Republican presidential candidates with sense of despair. Of the ten leading contenders there’s not a single one that I could vote for. Just as well I don’t have one, I suppose. At the last presidential election I ended up supporting the Democratic candidate for the first time ever and it looks as though I will do so again. The Republicans have become a nasty, quasi religious sect. They’re more interested in their own vicious social agendas against gays than developing a narrative which appeals to the whole of America. If they got their act together and realised that like Ronald Reagan did they could build a big tent they could sweep Obama out of the White House. But today’s Republican Party has forgotten the lessons Ronald Reagan taught it. And they will again suffer the consequences.
  • I hadn’t realised how tactile Nick Clegg is. I interviewed him on LBC on Monday night and he constantly kept touching my arm. Quite disconcerting when you’re trying to think of the next killer question. I’ve always liked him. He’s a risk taking politician, and nowadays they aren’t many of those left. I put it to him that I didn’t think he was enjoying the role of Deputy PM as much as David Cameron enjoys his job. He rather lamely said it wasn’t about enjoying it, which indicated to me I had a point.

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