Radio

My LBC Book Interviews: The Best of 2014 So Far...

4 Jul 2014 at 11:43

Every Friday night at 7.30pm on LBC I interview an author about a book they have just published. Here are the interviews from the first half of 2014. Each is around 20 minutes long. I hope you enjoy them and would love to hear any feedback you may have. Remember, you can now listen to LBC anywhere in the country on digital radio.

Paddy Ashdown Click HERE

Norman Tebbit Click HERE

Baroness Trumpington Click HERE

Simon Heffer Click HERE

Hugh Pym Click HERE

Coleen Nolan Click HERE

Fern Britton Click HERE

Michelle Collins Click HERE

Kirsty Wark Click HERE

Jeffrey Archer Click HERE

Lucy Hughes-Hallett Click HERE

Germaine Greer Click HERE

Amanda Prowse Click HERE

Tom Bower Click HERE

Geoffrey Robertson Click HERE

Sir Nicholas Barrington Click HERE

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Geoffrey Robertson QC

Geoffrey Robertson talks about his new book on Stephen Ward.

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Personal

Attitude Column: The Perils of Stereotyping the Gays

3 Jul 2014 at 09:24

I don’t know about you but I find it incredibly frustrating that the old gay stereotypes still remain, and from what I can work out they probably always will. We’re all either incredibly camp, have lots of facial and stomach hair, and probably sleep with any other male that shows a vague interest. Oh, and we’re all incapable of being in a relationship without sleeping with other men, we have an unhealthy interest in Shirley Bassey, we all boogie away in nightclubs with our shirts off with white powder up our noses and spend our evenings engaging in orgies or feasting our eyes on gay porn.

Even today many people, who haven’t had the good fortune to get to know gay people, or gay couples, continue to believe that this the way we lead our lives. I wrote a couple of issues ago about the way we are portrayed on television and the media, and even though some of the sterotypes have disappeared, many unfortunately still remain.

The truth is that most of us live very ordinary lives and consider ourselves normal, law abiding members of society. We do the same things other people do. We live in perfectly ordinary houses without a sex dungeon (actually I did know someone who had one of those, but it ruins my thesis…), we drive the same cars, because believe it or not we don’t all like the open top Jeeps the bloke in Queer as Folk drove. With the notable exception of Attitude, we buy normal people’s magazines. For goodness sake, I even have subscriptions to STUFF, Four Four Two and GQ. How manly can you get?!

Society likes to box us into little homogenous groups and in a media driven age it suits a lot of agendas to pretend that somehow we are all the same. But we’re not. We’re individuals who each lead totally different lives with different tastes, habits and proclivities.

In many ways the internet age ought to have liberated us all from the stranglehold of stereotype, but in some ways the opposite has happened. Mainstream media narratives still dominate. Tories are still rich toffs. UKIP supporters are racist little Englanders. Liberal Democrats are basket weaving sandal wearers. Labour voters wear flat caps and own whippets. If a black man drives a BMW he has probably stolen it. Anyone wearing a hoodie is likely to mug you. Gay men will shag anything with a penis. You get the picture.

It is clear to me that one of the things which drives the promulgation of stereotypes is often fear of the unknown. Often it is a perfectly understandable fear. Animals fear what they don’t know, so why shouldn’t humans? Let me give you two examples. I took a call on my radio programme the other day during a discussion on street crime. An elderly white lady phoned in to tell me how she feared being mugged by the various groups of hooded kids on her estate. One day she was walking home and saw a group of them looking menacing on a street corner. She panicked and dropped a bag of shopping. Immediately one of the hoodies came over and instead of nicking the shopping, helped her put it back in her bag and even carried it home for her. She said she felt thoroughly ashamed for thinking the worst was about to happen. Another barrier broken down.

We bought a house in Norfolk recently. I suspect we’re the only gays in the village. I have to say that everyone has been incredibly friendly, but I had to laugh recently when one of the neighbours blurted out: “You’re both very normal, aren’t you?” I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Normal for Norfolk, as the saying goes.

Virtually every gay couple I know I consider to be ‘normal’. OK, one or two may be slightly more exotic than others, but that’s the same in the world of straightery too. Perhaps we are too defensive about gay stereotypes and instead of fighting them, we shouldn’t give two hoots about them. Because in the end, we know who we are. We don’t need to be told by society.

This article first appeared in the July edition of Attitude Magazine

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Books

Biteback Publishing Is Five Years Old

2 Jul 2014 at 11:36

It has been five years since Biteback Publishing opened its doors. In that time we have consistently sought to publish books that have set the political agenda, and I truly believe we have established ourselves as one of the leading specialist independents in the country. We have published best-sellers by Anthony Seldon, Peter Sissons, Peter Hennessy, Ann Treneman, David Sainsbury, Damian McBride, Peter Hain and Andrew Adonis, among many others. We may be small but we are incredible noisy, exploiting excellent relations with the British press in order to secure often record serialisation deals and unparalleled media coverage. No lesser names than Charles Moore and Peter Oborne have proclaimed us Britain’s best political publisher, for which we are grateful and very proud, and it is a rare weekend you will open a Sunday newspaper and not find one of our books serialised, or reviewed, or providing inspiration for the cover splash. I have to say it has genuinely been a lot of fun, though hard work. We have made a lot of friends and put a few noises out of joint along the way (nobody who has worked with us would describe us a shrinking violets) but we have enjoyed ourselves tremendously.

The last five years has also been a time in which the face of publishing has changed almost beyond recognition. When I started the company in July 2009, I, along with everyone else in the world of publishing, could not have predicted how rapidly that change would take place. Since 2009 we have witnessed the dramatic shrinkage of the high street with Borders disappearing, Waterstones cutting their cloth and WHSmith pushing up marketing costs to create its own cottage industry of fleecing publishers. We have seen the inexorable rise of the Ebook, a sector that now comprises 20% of our business, and perhaps most importantly the irresistible consolidation of Amazon’s domination over the book trade (as, according to some noises-off, it seeks to tighten its Ming-the-Merciless like stranglehold on our sales, pricing and stock-control), more of which later.

Unsurprisingly, some independents have very publicly struggled. It has been sad to watch companies with fantastic lists having to refinance, seek investment, sell up or close their doors. But those of us looking for green shoots can, in my opinion, forget it. It will take a long time for recovery to trickle down to us, and besides, the economic downturn has just been the latest dramatic twist in a narrative that began with the abolition of the Net Book Agreement and will end, I believe, in a radical and wholesale restructuring of the industry business model. A change that will hopefully see an end to the farce of returns.

But let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater – the patient is not yet terminal, and the doomsayers can crawl back into their holes, for the time being at least. Challenging times also bring opportunities, something I banked on when I opened Biteback in the eye of the recession. The downturn allowed me access to suppliers and retailers who would not have looked at me twice in fatter times. More importantly, I was able to recruit some of the most talented people in publishing; some of whom are still with us, some have gone on to work for bigger houses, but all of whom I regard as friends, and a vital part of what Biteback has achieved in half decade.

I do believe that, in some regards, small publishers have the upper hand in this brave new world. Large publishers may have the resources but they are constrained by their unwieldiness and vassalage to the shareholder. They lack flexibility and are less able to manage their cost bases. It was this inflexibility that got me back into publishing. In 2009 I identified what I perceived as a gap in the market for, frankly, the kind of book I like. Even back then larger publishers were shying away from some areas of serious non-fiction; refusing to consider anything that was likely to sell less than 10,000 or 15,000 copies (anything selling that now would likely be considered a best-seller!). Consequently I was able to pick up a number of brilliant books that would not otherwise have seen the light of day. I may not have published a Harry Potter, 50 Shades of Grey or Da Vinci Code, but I have published a lot of books I’m terrifically proud of and that have more than washed their faces, which is imperative at this level of publishing.

In tough times the truth of the maxim ‘adapt or die’ becomes starkly clear. In 2011,realising that we were effectively competing against ourselves in our own niche, I invited Jeremy Robson to form our imprint, The Robson Press, and help us broaden our trade appeal and our sales horizons both domestically and overseas. Cue books by a plethora of household names, including Michael Winner, Andrew Sachs, Esther Rantzen, Sandi Toksvig, Barry Cryer and London 2012 multi-gold medal winning Paralympian, David Weir.

The days of sky-high author advances are long gone and there are no longer any free lunches in this industry. The publisher/author relationship is now, more than ever, a strategic business partnership, with the author having to adjust his or her expectations to the realities of the current trading environment and the publisher having to work at least twice as hard to identify and supply alternative sales channels (every one of my staff at Biteback is an enthusiastic hand-seller, often selflessly giving up their evenings). The truth is that none of us are likely to become millionaires so trust is more important than ever, and graft is the name of the game.

Interestingly, I think the role of the literary agent has become the most precarious in these lean times, with agents having to work that much harder for their 15%.

So it’s not all doom and gloom. With a smaller pot from which to draw on times are challenging but the rewards are out there if you are brave and prepared to work harder than the other guy. Any blueprint for successful independent publishing in the current environment must include a renewed understanding between author and publisher, a healthy spirit of do-it-yourself, a keen eye on the bottom line and a willingness to cover all the channels, not to mention having a killer online offer and a desire to exploit new media to the hilt.

Some of what I read about Amazon’s alleged proposed new terms in the trade press doesn’t sit well with me. As you may have guessed by now, I am not a man who likes being told what to do. If true, the idea of signing a new contract which guarantees my books cannot be sold for a lower price than Amazon’s anywhere, including on our own website,is anathema to me. Every publisher, indeed every company in any industry, should have the right to market its wares directly to its customer base, at whatever price it deems appropriate. Taking control of pricing away from the publisher is, I would suggest, bad for all of us. Similarly, I don’t much like the idea of allowing Amazon to sell print-on-demand editions to customers if books are out of supply. Any company has the right to maintain its own stock and its own cost base, otherwise there is simply no point being in business. Besides which, no matter how much people try to persuade me otherwise, I think POD still looks crap.

In Amazon’s favour, I would say this, however. Everything Amazon do is geared towards presenting the customer with the best deal and the best service. As a principle of business it is irresistible, and all independents could do worse than adopt it as a guiding virtue in a marketplace unrestricted by the need to shop outside your living room.

Five years ago, Biteback did what any successful publisher has to do: we began a conversation with our customers. That’s a conversation we are still having today, underpinned by the conviction that if we concentrate on publishing the right books and marketing them to the right readers, we will prevail. Roll on the next five years.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale's Mental Health Special

This was Iain Dale's nomination for Speech Radio Programme of the Year in the MIND media awards 2012

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ConHome Diary: I Stand By What I Said - Andy Coulson Was Good At His Job

27 Jun 2014 at 13:54

I won’t be joining those who want to dance on Andy Coulson’s grave. Back in September 2010 I wrote a blogpost for which I have since been widely ridiculed. It was headlined ‘COULSON’S ACCUSERS CAN GO TO HELL’. It started:

“Andy Coulson is bloody good at his job. That’s why the likes of The Guardian, Alastair Campbell, Prescott and Johnson are doing their best to jump on the back of the New York Times story about an ex News of the World journalist who was sacked by the paper for persistent drug and alcohol problems. You don’t think he might have a grudge, do you? They all want Coulson’s scalp. Well, sod ’em.”

It ended…

“Whatever people thought of Andy Coulson’s appointment back in 2006, over the last four years he has proved himself in the job. He’s bloody good at it. His accusers are political opportunists who were part of a government which did far worse things than anything Coulson is accused of. As far as I am concerned they can go to hell. Coulson is innocent until proven guilty.”

Well, he’s now been found guilty of conspiracy to intercept voicemail messages. I don’t question the jury’s verdict but I stand by my comments in 2010. The fact is that Coulson was incredibly good at the job Cameron employed him to do. Just look at what has happened to government communications since then and you see how good Coulson actually was. But the question remains, should he have ever been in the job in the first place? Cameron’s explanation of wanting to give him a second chance is all very well, but the fact is that upon entering Number Ten Coulson should have undergone the normal vetting procedures for someone in that position. He didn’t, for reasons no one has adequately explained. Damian McBride points out that there is no way he could have come through that procedure unscathed. And he should know.

Interestingly it was George Osborne who persuaded David Cameron to appoint Coulson in the first place, over the rival candidate, Guto Harri. And irony of ironies, Harri is now Director of Communications at, wait for it, News International. It’s a funny old world.
*
It seems that David Cameron’s campaign to junk Jean Claude Juncker as President of the European Commission will end in ignominy today in Brussels. But the fact is he has right on his side and it is to his credit he has fought till the bitter end. Unfortunately, it gives UKIP the chance to say that if he can’t win this particular skirmish, how on earth will he be able to win the war of membership renegotiation? And they’d have a point, wouldn’t they? Perhaps it is best to junk renegotiation altogether. What’s the point if there is no chance of persuading the powers that be in Brussels that they need to change. Juncker’s appointment rather proves that there is little point in even trying. So maybe instead the PM should just offer an in/out referendum with no renegotiation caveat at all. Just a thought.
*

Luis Suarez. ****. That is all.
*
Barack Obama, are you Jimmy Carter in disguise? Jimmy Carter’s presidency ended when Iran took US citizens hostage in Tehran. Obama’s presidency may end with Iran taking control of a large part of Iraq. Way to go.
*

At some point over the next few months we are going to find out what Boris Johnson is made of. His popularity ratings in London are at an all-time high. Half way through his second term he has approval ratings of 64%. Almost North Korean levels. But at the LBC State of London debate this week there was some disquiet about all the rumours about him being a lame duck and part time mayor. If he does indeed fight a seat at the next election he’s going to have to put up with a hell of a lot of flak for serving with a dual mandate. I still wouldn’t rule out him changing his mind altogether and standing for a third term. If you look at the seven dwarves who are considering standing for Labour I suspect he’d be in with a very good chance of winning again. Tessa Jowell is the only Labour candidate who could make me revise that opinion.
*
Many political pundits watching Neil Kinnock fail to kick the ball into the back of the net during the Westland debate in early 1986, reckon that was the moment when they realised he was all wind and no cut-through. I wonder if Ed Miliband’s similar performance at PMQs this week on phone hacking will have a similar result.

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Personal

A Mother's Love

25 Jun 2014 at 08:30

Two years ago today we buried our mother and I gave the eulogy at her funeral. It was an awful day, yet there was also something fantastic about it. The fact that two hundred or so people gathered to honour her and the way she lived her life was something to behold. It was a beautiful day, and although she herself hated funerals, I like to think that she might have even slightly enjoyed her own. The service was perfect, the sun was shining through the church windows and in the end we all got through it. But two years on, the pain is still there. They say time heals, but there is still that huge hole in my life, in our lives, that can never again be filled. I still can’t quite believe I will never see her again. So the point of this little piece is to say to you, make the most of your Mum while you still have time. One day you won’t be able to and you won’t want to look back and think ‘if only I had…’. As a son I had my mother’s unconditional love and I hope I repaid it. I know she was incredibly proud of me, but there is still a part of me that thinks I failed her, even though I can’t articulate why. All I do know, is that I still miss her terribly and think of her every single day. And I hope I always will.

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Interview

INTERVIEW: If Want to Understand What Drives Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Read On...

21 Jun 2014 at 18:18

Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and I agree on very little. Where she’s left-wing, I’m right, and vice versa. But we’ve always got on. We’ve done numerous sparky, late-night paper reviews together, and have had some furious arguments on air. If it weren’t for Yasmin, I wouldn’t have got the LBC job. She’s now editing a series of books for Biteback called PROVOCATIONS. I say all this because I count her as a friend. I’ve been to her house to dinner and she came to my civil partnership. Some people call us ‘the odd couple’. So when I saw what Michael Fabricant had tweeted I knew how upset she’d be. Because that’s what friends do – they instinctively know. Yasmin has had many threats to her over the years, including someone shoving a lit, petrol soaked rag through her door, so she might be more sensitive than some to threats, no matter how mild they may seem to others. And of course what followed the Fabricant tweet was a succession of people telling her not to be so sensitive, or somehow trying to defend what Fabricant had done. Frankly, they should have saved their breath. Anyway, it took my mind back to an interview I did with Yasmin for Total Politics back in 2011, which I thought I’d share with you again here. It’s sometimes strange to interview a friend, but I wanted to try to get underneath the public persona that Yasmin revels in. Did I succeed? Read on…

ID: Do you enjoy the reputation you’ve acquired over the years?
YA-B: A few years back, I think they thought I… spoke with fury. I was uppity. But the deal is that every country expects an immigrant to come, work very hard and be grateful. I am grateful, but not that grateful. There aren’t many of us out in the public space. Once upon a time, you had Darcus Howe or Bernie Grant. Now there’s me and Diane Abbott, and the two of us are ‘the big mouths’. But, over the last five years, the cries of ‘why doesn’t she go back where she came from?’ [have faded]. There’s much more respect. It’s as if you’ve ‘survived’.

Have you mellowed?
I’m less wary of the consequences. When you’re younger, you worry, ‘Will I get another job?’, ‘Will they stop asking me on the BBC?’. Where once my main work was about race and white racism, now it’s very complex. One week I’m fighting that, another I’m fighting Muslim madmen, and another corruption in the third world. I’m not a one-trick pony. I also see what this country gives us; the values I thought were remarkable – freedom and political rights – are now a part of me.

Do you think you have to be considered a ‘loudmouth’ to get noticed nowadays if you’re not a white, middle-class male?
I’ve never done anything for effect. If you try and provoke a hot response from someone, eventually it has no effect. With someone like Mehdi Hasan, there’s an expectation – that’s who he is… I can’t say that many people out there love me deeply, but I think there is respect, even from people I’ve been vicious about. I was given an award in February that was engineered by Keith Vaz, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve attacked Keith. I’m really pleased that when I die there’ll be a few people at the funeral who didn’t like who I was and what I said.

When you’re invited to speak, are people expecting a certain act from you?
They expect me to say that all Muslims are downtrodden, or that I hate everything about this country. And I don’t! I admire so much about it. I make a lot of mistakes, but I admit them. I passionately believe that there are templates for fundamental human rights and equality for everybody, and they include gender, race, everything. I judge everybody by them, including myself.

Do you consider yourself English?
No, and I don’t want to be. I feel British, very deeply British. I’ve had job offers from Canada, from America, but I couldn’t not live in London. London is my first homeland. My daughter is half-English, and my husband is very English.

What’s the difference between being British and English?
The English have a particular history. There’s an ancestral connection to places and feelings. The South Downs don’t affect me, but I can see that they stir my husband’s heart. I love Shakespeare, completely, but I don’t get emotional when I hear John of Gaunt’s speech. The English are particularly stirred by all of that. My next book will be about why I feel England is being unfairly treated; the surge in an English longing for identity, recognition or respect, is either feared or derided. Just look at the treatment of the St George’s Cross – it takes the English to find a foreign saint, I’ll tell you that. I love the English because they’re so promiscuous.

I thoroughly enjoyed your one-woman show. How did that come about?
The cover of my book Who Do We Think We Are? depicted a half-Maori, half-British Queen. That got me into a lot of trouble with the Telegraph. I talked about how this country has changed remarkably, and yet the mirrors in which it sees itself never change, so the arts, education and politics don’t reflect the country it’s become. I said that black and Asian people were virtually missing from the arts at that time. Somebody, the then-artistic director of the Royal Court, rang and asked me to come and talk to his young playwrights. As I was talking, [he said]: “You know, I think you could do a one-woman show.” He went to the Royal Shakespeare Company, who offered me one. It’s a terrifying thing to do, actually. I had to work very hard for six months. We don’t talk nearly enough about Asian racism against black people. If you think British people are angry with me, it’s nothing compared to how East African Asians hate me, including half my family.

Were audiences angry with you for what you said in the show?
Yes, but it was such a good story. We were the hard-working little shopworkers coming to the nation of shopworkers. And we were thrown out partly because we were so nasty to black people. We didn’t think about how we were behaving, and we didn’t change. Okay, the British in Uganda set us up as a buffer between themselves and the black people, but we had a responsibility… when you say that, you’ve taken away this very convenient narrative, and it made people angry. They still denounce me, saying: “She’s betraying [us]. She’s lying.” Well, I’m not. You should go back to Rwanda or Kenya and see – it’s still there.

Were you expecting that reaction?
I was. My father didn’t speak to me from when I was a young teenager until the day he died because I played Juliet in a school production, and the [boy playing] Romeo was black.

A lot of people accuse you of writing only about race, that you bring race into any discussion. What do you say to them?
They’re probably right. Peter Tatchell finds any reason to [talk about gay issues]. If you feel passionately about a cause…

Do you ever want to break out?
I do break out. I often write about fashion, about sex, about the arts a lot, about food. It’s beginning to happen, but not nearly enough. I’d love to be asked onto BBC arts programmes, but not to talk about being a Muslim. But it’s important to think about how race affects us all. I went to an Italian restaurant the other day with a friend. Somebody at the next table was going on and on, saying – I don’t know if he recognised me or not – in a very loud voice: “Look at the Italian immigrants. They came, settled. They didn’t make a fuss like those Pakis.” And I’m thinking: “I’m really enjoying this meal, and this man isn’t really bugging me, but why does he have to do this?” I decided it wouldn’t be fair to my host to say anything. Sometimes you have to leave it, otherwise you become a crazy. I’m not a crazy.

But you attract a lot of crazies. You’ve had multiple death threats. What attracts this kind of vitriol?
I don’t know. I may speak in the wrong way. Sometimes I get overexcited. Some react to my writing, which is actually very sober.

There are people who’ll think you’re selling out.
I write what I truly believe. If I said: ‘Aren’t the roses nice in my garden?’ there’d be madmen saying: ‘Who does she think she is, saying our roses are lovely? Why doesn’t she effing go back to where she came from?’ In fact, they do it every week. A lot of people, across the board, value what I do. I was speaking in Amersham, in a church full of quite conservative, white Christian people – who did look, I have to say, petrified, as if I was going to set the place on fire. But it was one of the nicest evenings I’ve ever spent. I realised that I get very down about [what people say about me].

What does your family think of all this? Do they ask you to stop?
Absolutely. I nearly did. When the ‘tweet’ thing happened – somebody said wouldn’t it be a good idea if somebody stoned Yasmin Alibhai-Brown to death – I did genuinely think I must stop. It was affecting my teenage daughter. He must have thought he was joking, but it isn’t funny. Had he said he wished a ‘bus would run her over’, it wouldn’t have got to me as much, but he used a very Muslim [punishment] – stoning. My mother was, at one point, very scared that we’d be deported. But then she became proud that I survived. It’s been very hard for my family. Part of what you and I do, surely, is about courting attention? We have to maintain a public profile. If you don’t say something controversial, no one in the media takes any notice. Someone like Andrew Marr, who is a god to many people, does it, and nobody says he’s courting attention.

He’s not a columnist.
That’s true, but name me a columnist who doesn’t get this kind of stick. Somebody said recently that people think I’m on Radio 4 and Question Time all the time “because they don’t forget you”, and that’s a good thing. But I’m not deliberately controversial. I’m stopping myself saying or writing anything about the Royal family, although I’m a republican.

You’ve publicly admitted you voted for the Liberal Democrats in the last general election. On a scale of one to ten, how much do you regret that decision?
Quite a lot. I still like Nick Clegg. I was reading about his feelings. But I didn’t think they’d told us what they were going to do in this situation.

To be fair, I don’t think they had a clue they would be in this situation.
After that first debate, certain people in the party could have issued papers on the implications of being tied to the Tories, and of a properly hung Parliament. Why didn’t that happen? David Cameron was one of the few leaders to say, genuinely, that ‘our policies in the past have done some great wrongs’. I’m furious about what the coalition is doing to the NHS. But even listening to Cameron talk about the NHS, I thought: “He sounds as if he really means this.” So, I’m trying not to be unfair to the coalition. Nick Clegg and Vince Cable, those whom I really admire – they can never recover. I feel sorry for them, but I’m disappointed, and I probably wouldn’t vote for them in the next election.

Politically, where I’m right-wing, you’re left-wing, where I’m left-wing, you’re right-wing. You’ve got some quite conservative social views.
I believe profoundly in sustained families. The economic liberalism of the Thatcher era and the social liberalism of the left have created a fractured society. Too many children have been caught up in unnecessary divorces, which may not have happened if the ‘me, me, me’ culture hadn’t penetrated every level of British life. So I’m very tough on that. I have a strong sense of duty towards my family and towards society. If that’s what big society means, I’d be with it.

Do you think it’s possible to believe in ‘compassionate conservatism’, or are the two things mutually exclusive?
I remember reading Disraeli’s book when I was quite young, and thinking: “Gosh, he’s a Conservative.” Yet he was one of the first to have a conscience during those days of Victorian capitalism. So, it’s not impossible.

What about Iain Duncan Smith’s agenda?
He visited the housing estates in Glasgow and saw things that should have made him think, but he’s no John Profumo. Most of the policies he’s coming up with are terrifying, because he had these experiences, but seems to have lost his compassion. This will sound ‘Tory’ – I’m going to lose a lot of friends over this! – but some children are born to parents who have deficient parenting skills, and those kids are going to repeat the cycle. You see them, on tubes, buses – nobody’s talking to them. The mum’s on the mobile phone for one-and-a-half hours. I’ve seen this – and this child of three hardly has any language skills because nobody’s talking to it. It doesn’t even know what a nursery rhyme is. We should do something about this. We need early, hard intervention.

But what?
We should bring back the tough, professional health visitors who told you how to do things, and would make sure you were doing them. My brother-in-law was the head social worker on one of the worst housing estates in Wales. He could tell you – and he was brought into the Home Office for this work – which two-year-olds had already entered the corridor that was going to lead to a prison. I couldn’t believe that we weren’t taking children away from parents like these. So, I would have invested heavily in interventionist health visitors. Sod the freedom bit. We need to take care of our children. But I’m not saying I’m the perfect parent; I make mistakes. Parenting is tough.

Especially for a single parent. Yet, Britain has the highest teenage pregnancy rates and more single parents than any other country in Europe. What do we do about that?
Thanks to the sexualised culture in which we live, young people understand nothing about love, but everything about sex, including stuff they really shouldn’t know yet. In families where parenting deficits are high, the sex becomes an affirmation, something to play with. Having a health visitor intervene there would be very good.

How much do you think the use of the words like ‘Muslim’, ‘Islam’ and ‘Islamist’ affects the way that Muslims are seen in this country?
A lot of racism – I won’t use ‘Islamophobia’ – is directed at British Muslims, but a young black man is much less likely to get a job and a life chance than is a young Muslim man. So, we should keep our heads. What’s more serious is the way Saudi Arabia is investing huge amounts of money here, building mosques, schools, and changing the Islam that I grew up with. Leicester was the nicest city, and the Islam practised there was really open. Everybody got on. The Saudis went in there five years ago. The last time I went there to publicise my book I was told people were scared to attend my event, scared for my life, scared of how much the Saudis controlled everything in Leicester. Why aren’t we doing anything about this? Within a year after the King Fahad Academy down the road opened, you noticed little girls in the nearby playground, aged three and four, wearing headscarves and cumbersome clothes. They couldn’t go on to slides or seesaws. The entire area is like tent-bloody-city. There are all these women in tents.

So what? Everyone has a right to dress how they wish. I’m being deliberately provocative.
Muslim women, even if they say they choose it, are being segregated, which has implications for their rights and education. What it means is that ‘women are evil presences in the public space’.

When I see somebody coming towards me on the street, pretty much covered head to toe, a part of me that thinks – and I wonder if I’m being racist in this – “Why are you dressed like that in England?” But I don’t have the same reaction to orthodox Jews.
I do, but at least you can see their faces. The ultimate degrading message behind it is that ‘women are evil and men are rapists’. The Qur’an says that both men and women have to dress modestly, but the two or three passages about the veil have been interpreted in different ways. For some, ‘Lower your veil’ means, ‘Take down your veil’. For others, ‘Cover yourself’. For one group it means, ‘Cover your whole face except for one eye’. I don’t know where that came from. On websites, British Muslim women are asking the most insane questions: “Am I allowed to clap if I go to a show? Am I allowed to wear perfume? Can I go to my tailor, or is it haram?” They’re becoming infantilised, disenfranchised. We should get into professional jobs, become middle-class, more independent, but it’s not happening, even with the third generations. When people say, ‘It’s their freedom’, I want to ask, if your daughter came home and said: ‘I’m going to wear a complete burka and I’m not going to work’, would you say: ‘Of course. It’s your choice’? No, you’d go crazy. I’m going crazy.

But if we went down the same route as France, wouldn’t that play into the hands of the fundamentalists who want to foment trouble between us all?
There are two arguments. One, that you’re encouraging racists. The other, that fundamentalists would have something to say about it. But it’s so important that we don’t let this form of Islam control our lives. It instinctively feels wrong to ban [the burka], but it’s reasonable to say that anyone in public must show their face; Muslims, hoodies, bikers.

What do you think of what we’re doing in Libya?
I thought those early pleas were heartbreaking. Now I’m not sure. We went from a no-fly zone to… well, William Hague said one thing, Cameron another, Obama said something different. Now it’s changed to ‘arming the rebels’. As Rory Stewart MP said, people are beginning to question if we know whom we’re arming. Do we really want a civil war? Western politicians aren’t the bad guys – though they did go there for the oil. The oil is a lazy argument. I just don’t believe it. Then why aren’t we doing anything in Saudi Arabia? We went into Kuwait, and we allowed Saudis to go into Bahrain. How far should we go? Is public opinion with a war?

In ten years time, what would you like to have achieved?
I’d like people to think I’d been a good voice to have in the public domain. So much of what I wrote about multiculturalism years ago has become part of mainstream conversation. I’d like the day to come when people understand that treating people less equally, based on their colour or culture, was wrong. There’s still racism and inequality here, but there’s such resistance to listening to what I have to say. I don’t mean to be trouble, but I feel very strongly about this country. It’s where I want to be.

Quick Fire

What’s your favourite view?
I can see Ealing Common from my desk.

Favourite holiday destination?
Cuba.

Political villain?
Tony Blair.

Political hero?
Ted Heath, because he was good enough to let us come in.

What music gets you onto the dancefloor?
Motown.

What book are you currently reading?
Philip Hensher’s The Northern Clemency.

One thing that nobody knows about you…
I’m a very good cook. I cook every evening. I’m a complete domestic goddess/slave.

Can you think of a quote that has affected you?
Only connect. If only we connected. With each other. The past with the future.

Who’s your favourite interviewer?
Ritula Shah on Radio 4’s The World Tonight.

Favourite columnist?
The Independent’s Christina Patterson.

If you weren’t a Muslim…
I’d be a Baha’i.

Guilty pleasure?
Chocolate and sex.

Have you been back to Uganda?
I went back once several years ago. I couldn’t stay there for longer than two days. It’s just too painful. They were emerging from this long war.

How old were you when you left?
Twenty-three. But I’d like to go back, probably next year. It’s difficult to go back to places that you have a difficult relationship with. I have a lot of Ugandan friends who are all exiles as well. It’s completely different now, of course.

But is it still home?
I did my first degree there, and my second at Oxford, but London is my home. We’re very lucky to live here. Many immigrants come here because this is a very special place, and the English are more open than they think they are.

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LBC 97.3: Tom Swarbrick with an Amusing Take on Obama's Inauguration

LBC reporter Tom Swarbrick wonders which US President sounds like the Thunderbirds narrator. Prepare to be amused.

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Diary

Con Home Diary: Tebbit Names His Preferred Successor to Cameron

20 Jun 2014 at 14:06

The Prime Minister’s pledge to have a third of his government replete with female ministers by the time of the next election is looking rather unlikely to be met. Seven government departments still have no female ministers whatsoever. He may well put that right in the forthcoming reshuffle, but are there really enough women on the Tory benches to put straight into government? Well, here’s a list of lady Tory backbenchers who I’d say would make excellent ministers, and these are off the top of my head without consulting a list, so apologies if I have missed any out…
Nicola Blackwood, Margot James, Charlotte Leslie, Sarah Newton, Caroline Nokes, Tracey Crouch, Caroline Dinenage, Penny Mordaunt & Priti Patel. I would have included Sarah Wollaston but she secured the Health Select Committee chairmanship this week.
Actually, I have now consulted the whole list of Tory MPs, and even if you include the ones I have missed out, there aren’t many more once you take into account that several are standing down (Jessica Lee, Laura Sandys, Lorraine Fulbrooke).
There’s Angie Bray, Fiona Bruce, Therese Coffee, Jackie Doyle-Price, Pauline Latham, Rebecca Harris, Mary Macleod, Anne-Marie Morris, Heather Wheeler and Sheryll Murray.
All these are from the 2010 intake. I have to say that there are only a couple of female Tory MPs who I wouldn’t let near Ministerial office, and you’d be hard pushed to say the same about the male 2010 entrants.
Of the pre 2010 women, one suspects that if they haven’t made it now they never will. Sorry Nadine.
It seems to me the PM has an almost impossible task if he is to keep all parts of the party happy. He will make yet more enemies by sacking maybe 15-20 junior ministers. So will be for the chop? When you actually look through the list department by department it’s not easy to come up with a list of automatic dead meat. I hesitate to put the black spot on anyone, mainly because I know a lot of them, but I think anyone who has been in the same department in a junior position is likely to be in trouble. Cameron allies Greg Barker and Ed Vaizey fall into that category, as do Alan Duncan, Damian Green and James Brokenshire .
I can’t see much case for Cameron retaining the services of the old warhorse John Hayes, who was reportedly saved from the axe by his mentor IDS at the time of the last reshuffle.
And you know what? The more I look down the list I reckon virtually every junior minister has cause to be nervous with the exception of those who were appointed at the last reshuffle. Even the likes of Greg Clark, Hugh Robertson and Nick Hurd – all perfectly good and competent ministers – may get the odd nervous twitch on reshuffle day. It’s a cruel game.
*
Imagine the outcry in The Sun or Mail if David Cameron had toddled off to Rio to watch all of England’s World Cup group games. He would be accused of abandoning ship, ignoring the crisis in Iraq and much more besides. But that’s exactly what Angela Merkel has done. She’s even gallivanting in the German team’s dressing room, having selfies taken with half naked German footballers. Lucky her. Just goes to show how supine the German press is. Given the choice, I think I’d have ours.
*

Rising Tory star and Women’s Minister Nicky Morgan came into my studio this week to do a phone-in with my listeners. She may be new at facing the media but she didn’t put a foot wrong. I led her into temptation but she was having none of it. I wonder if she had listened to Harriet Harman who was in the day before telling us that Ed Miliband ‘was right to pose with The Sun and right to apologise for it.’ I accused her of getting into a “contortion”, but she seemed impervious to the thought that she was effectively advocating having your cake and eating it. The following day, while I was presenting DRIVE, I was told on Twitter that our Harman phone-in was the subject of a serious debate on the PM programme on Radio 4. So, one drivetime show discussing another. One day the media will truly eat itself.
*
You may want to switch your radios on today at 7.30pm and tune them into LBC (we on DAB all over the country now). We will be playing out an interview I did with Lord Tebbit a couple of weeks ago in which he gives his tip for the next leader of the Conservative Party. Without giving the game away, I suspect this nugget will feature as a major news story in Saturday’s newspapers. (That’s a hint to lobby journalists. You may want to listen!).
*

Loving the World Cup, although I am getting fed up with 5 Live’s constant advertising of itself. If I hear “5 Live, Home of the World Cup” or “5 Live, the World Cup Station” again I won’t be responsible for my actions. It’s not just the station promos – you expect those, it’s the presenters and commentators uttering the words every three minutes that is so unutterably irritating. They’ve clearly been ordered to mention those phrases every time they mention the World Cup, but for the listener it just makes you want to switch off. OK, we all have slogans we use – on LBC we describe ourselves as ‘leading Britain’s conversation’ but most of us say it a couple of times an hour, which I’d have thought is acceptable. I haven’t counted but “Home of the World Cup” is something you hear at least every 5 minutes on 5 Live. It is also factually incorrect.
*
So farewell then Jeremy Paxman. You will be missed.
*

And a fond farewell to Ben Brogan, late of the Telegraph. He was axed yesterday along with a dozen or so other Telegraph journos in a day of the long knives at Telegraph Towers. Frankly I am mystified by what is going on at the newspaper. They seem to be axing anyone with journalistic experience and bringing in a load of cheaper kids. And you know what they say, you can’t win a newspaper circulation war with kids. Ben Brogan is one of the best political commentators around and they are frankly barking mad to part with him. I suspect it will only be a matter of hours before he has a new job. Tell you what, though. I’m going to miss his early morning email.

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Personal

There Are No Words

17 Jun 2014 at 21:39

I’ve felt very sad today. A friend of mine, Joe Pike, moved to Scotland not that long ago. I was sad to see him go, but it was the right move for him. I saw him a couple of months ago when he was in London on a flying visit. He’d met someone who he hoped to build a future with. Yesterday I heard via a mutual friend that his life had been turned upside down as his new partner had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease, and it’s terminal. I texted him to send a massive virtual hug. It was all I could offer. What on earth does one say in these circumstances?

Joe texted me back a link to an article his partner had written for a Scottish newspaper. I read it on the train to London this morning and couldn’t hold back the tears. Goodness knows what my fellow passengers on the 8.04 to Charing Cross were thinking. You can read Gordon Aikman’s article HERE but here’s an extract…

I cut to the chase: “What is the prognosis? How long will I live?”

Hesitant, he prefixes his answer with “everybody is different” and “it is difficult to predict”. He then wells up before admitting that we are talking “just a few years”.

My head is a mess. I stand up, walk across to the window, run my hands through my hair and stare out into the middle distance. My mind goes blank. I don’t know what do. I’m 29 years old and I have just been given a death sentence.

…Now I have a new outlook on life. I’ve reassessed my priorities. While I am powerless to the disease that is taking over my body, I am now more in control of how I spend my days than ever before. I don’t do anything that I do not value or enjoy. That is exciting, liberating, empowering.

When a clock is ticking down above your head, every moment becomes precious. I now live from day to day, week to week. I don’t get too far ahead of myself: who knows how long I will be able to walk, feed myself and breathe unaided?

In many ways I am lucky. I at least have time to spend with those I love; to do some of the things that I’d always planned. Trying to pack a lifetime of dreams and aspirations into a few months is far from easy, but it’s a chance most people don’t get. I’m catching up with old friends, travelling, and spending time with my family in Fife, especially my baby nephew Murray.

Of course, there’s much I won’t be able to do. I would have loved to have got married and start a family of my own. But to dwell on the impossible brings no joy, best focus on the possible.

The hardest thing of all is knowing that not only will this journey be tough for me, but also for those I love and care about the most. Seeing their tears and hearing their voices crack is painful, and it’s all because of me.

I have been told I am likely to be in a wheelchair by Christmas.

I’m brutally honest about what’s happened to me not because I want pity or to be treated differently. I just want to do my bit while I still can. Yes, MND has changed my life, but I refuse to let it become my life. Even in adversity, you can find positivity. After all, MND is neither cruel nor unfair, but a question to which there is as yet no answer. A disease for which there is as yet no cure. We can and we must find it.

If Gordon’s story has affected you like it has me and thousands of others, please do make a donation on his JustGiving page HERE He’s raised an unbelievable £28,000 so far.

Life really can be a bitch.

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ConHome Diary: My Tips For The Cabinet Reshuffle & Lots Of Other Lovely Diarytastic Stuff

13 Jun 2014 at 13:56

It’s a pretty safe bet that if the European and local elections, and of course Newark, had been disasters for the Conservatives the reshuffle would have happened by now. The fact that is hasn’t says a lot. It was rumoured that it might take place next week, although James Landale thinks it may be delayed until July until the next EU Commission president has been sorted out. Why is that relevant? Because it might have an impact on whom we appoint to be our next European Commissioner. More on that in a moment.

Whenever the reshuffle comes it needs to be radical. There is no point in tinkering. Cameron needs to make some eye-catching promotions, and maybe also some eye-catching sackings. This is his team for the election and he needs to promote some new, energetic, media friendly faces to what is starting to look like a slightly jaded cabinet. I’d say Esther McVey, Mike Penning, Nicky Morgan (who already attends cabinet as Minister for Women), Michael Fallon and Greg Hands were the most likely tips for promotion to the top table. Hands seems destined to replace Sir George Young, at least if you listen to supporters of George Osborne. I don’t imagine Andrew Mitchell can come back due to his impending libel case, but Liam Fox will hope that the time is ripe.

The black spot seems to have already been put on Andrew Lansley, but the identity of the other three casualties is less certain. Both Patrick McLoughlin and Eric Pickles are rumoured to be sitting slightly nervously by their phones, but surely the Prime Minister couldn’t get rid of both his ‘bits of rough’, could he? He’d be mad to do so as both are not only competent but also thoroughly nice. Niceness is not a prerequisite to be a minister, but it helps. We’re told that Chris Grayling and Owen Paterson are out of favour, but there would be a revolution on the right if either of those two were dispatched to political Siberia. Justine Greening is the one I would throw overboard, purely for her complete disinterest in the department she runs, but can Cameron afford to lose another woman from the Cabinet, even if he replaces her with another. Of the Ministers who attend Cabinet who aren’t full members, David Willetts are Francis Maude could be dropped without too much backdraft, although both have done perfectly good jobs. They are long enough in the political tooth to realise that it would be nothing personal and these things happen. I think.

Until the events of the last week I would have said you were mad if you thought Michael Gove would leave the Department of Education. I’m less sure now, although quite where he would go, I’m not sure. Leader of the House? I can’t see it personally, but stranger things have happened. Ask Geoffrey Howe.

Could William Hague retire? If he doesn’t it will mean that the top three jobs in the main offices of state will have had the same incumbents for the full five year term. I doubt whether this has ever happened before in our political history.

So all in all, David Cameron has a nightmare ahead of him. And he knows it. Very few reshuffles please everyone and this one certainly won’t. Assuming it hasn’t happened by this time next week I might look at some of the lower ranks.
*
There is still much speculation about the identity of our next European Commissioner. Whoever it is is unlikely to be named until the identity of the new European Commission President is known. The British government is very keen that whoever we choose as our commissioner should get one of the top economic portfolios. I am told by someone who knows about these things that this is far more likely to happen if we send another woman to Brussels. Here’s an idea… Why not think about nominating Theresa Villiers for the role? She was an MEP for a number of years and knows the Brussels machine. She’s solid on reform and dry as dust on economic issues. Just a thought.
*

Many moons ago I worked in the ports industry. It seems the PM has made an enemy of the entire British ports industry, apart from the Port of Liverpool. On a visit there this week he said this in a speech: “I think there’s some major investments going on in Liverpool that will make a big difference. I’ve just seen for myself at the Port of Liverpool the new container terminal and also what’s happening in terms of passenger ships. Those two things together are really important in terms of re-balancing the economy. On the passenger ships it means that cruises can start here in Liverpool with all the iconic brilliance of the city on show to people who want to go on a cruise ship. “Much more importantly the expansion of the Port of Liverpool being able to take the biggest container ships in the world, the ones that go through the widened Panama Canal – this is a massive re-balancing of the economy because instead of goods being imported in Southampton or Tilbury and then shipped on road and rail up to the North West, you know the North West will be the hub.” This has gone down like a whore in a nunnery with executive at Southampton, Tilbury and Felixstowe, as you can imagine. In fact they are spitting blood. They can hardly believe the PM is so badly informed and has effectively put in jeopardy some of the huge amounts of inward investment that is being placed on the east and south coasts. Bearing in mind Thurrock and Southampton are marginals, it’s a crass mistake to make. Possibly not on the scale of Ed Miliband in Swindon, but not far off. If I were still a ports lobbyist I think I’d have just picked up two or three new clients. Of course this is mostly down to the interfering, meddling hands of Michael Heseltine. It was he who got the government to put £15 million into improving port facilities in Liverpool. After the hundreds of millions wasted on that port in the 1960s, 70s and 80s you’d have thought Heseltine might not want to pour good money after bad. But then he’s always been profligate with public money. A lion never changes its spots. Or something like that. I’ve never understood why Tory governments pour millions into Liverpool. Maybe it’s a guilt thing. It can’t be for political gain, can it?
*
Gordon Brown has risen from the political grave this week. For some unfathomable reason he chose to accept an invitation to make an address to the Parliamentary Press Gallery. He scowled his way through questions after making a speech on Scottish independence in which he managed to annoy both David Cameron and Alistair Darling. He also made a similar speech at the LSE. So what’s he up to? The Sun’s Kevin Schofield suggested he wanted to be Scotland’s first Labour Prime Minister. Frankly, if the Scots are mad enough to go their own way, they and Gordon Brown will deserve each other.

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Tribute

A Tribute to Andy Wilson

11 Jun 2014 at 08:42

I don’t know who it was who said that ‘only the good die young’, but they certainly had a point. Only two months ago I wrote about my friend Corinne de Souza, who died from cancer at the age of 58. Well yesterday I attended the funeral of another friend who also fell victim to that same dreaded disease at the age of 54.

Andy Wilson is not someone many of you will know, but to me and many others he was a total inspiration. I first met Andy back in 2006 when I had the idea of launching Total Politics magazine. I went to see Michael Ashcroft to see if he would back it. He was very enthusiastic and suggested I took the idea further with the man who handled many of his investments. His name was Andy Wilson. Right from the off, Andy became a confidant and a business guru, but also quickly became a friend. But more than anything else he was an enthusiast. He didn’t come from the world of politics or publishing but was fascinated by both. He was a man of ideas and positivity. He understood a company balance sheet like no one else I have ever met, and was able to explain basic accounting issues in a way that even an accounting ignoramus like me could easily understand.

Above all, Andy was a people person. He understood the power of motivation and certainly knew what motivated me. He had the power to make you feel good about what you were doing, even in difficult times. And believe me, when you launch a political magazine at the beginning of a recession, there are difficult times to go through. Even when I had difficult news to impart to him, I would always leave the room feeling much better than when I went in, and there aren’t many people I can say that about.

We didn’t always agree – that would have been odd, but in eight years of a business relationship we never had a cross word. We could be totally straight with each other without either of us taking exception to what the other was saying. He taught me more about running a business than anyone else in my career and I will always remain profoundly grateful for his guidance and inspiration.

His brother in law Damian Thornton gave the most fantastic eulogy yesterday and nothing I can say can improve on what he said. Andy bore his illness with the most tremendous courage and fortitude. He worked for as long as he could., but when he didn’t come to the Political Book Awards in March I knew things must be bad. I never talked to him about what he was going through as I decided that he probably had enough people asking how he was. And I knew if I did ask him and he told me the truth I would become too emotional, and he could do without that.

I mentioned the Political Book Awards. Everyone thinks that event was my brainchild. It wasn’t. It was Andy’s. And next year I want to name an award after him. He was a lover of books and in his eulogy yesterday we learned that on a family holiday at the age of 14. Andy polished off 15 books in 14 days. I would always send him every single book published by Biteback. Every so often he’d send me an email saying “loved that book” or “mystified as to why you took that one on”, and he’d also come up with ideas as to authors we might approach. But it was always done in a spirit of helpfulness. He was always optimistic and positive.

It is largely thanks to Andy that Biteback is now a profitable company. It took us longer than I would have liked to get there, but I do know that without Andy we wouldn’t have got there at all. I’m just so sorry that he didn’t live to see us achieve what he was always confident we could. In my moments of doubt he would take me aside and tell me how well we were doing and success would come.

He also knew how important my broadcasting is to me. I remember telling him LBC had offered me a permanent show, back in August 2010. I explained to him that I had had two dreams in life. One to be an MP and another to have my own radio show. Well the first dream had been extinguished and I really wanted to see if I could live the second. I felt I needed Andy’s and Michael’s blessing as it would effectively mean taking on the equivalent of two full time jobs. They didn’t hesitate to give their approval and I shall remain forever grateful to them both, as it would have been perfectly understandable if they felt that it would have been too much.

This tribute has already become far longer than I had intended, but that’s because there is so much I wanted to say about Andy. I can’t begin to understand how his wife Emma and their three children are coping. But they know from the turnout at the funeral yesterday the level of love and admiration there was for Andy. He was just the most kind, generous, most empathetic man you’re ever likely to meet. As an illustration of that, three years ago John and I were thinking of buying a house in Norfolk, but we couldn’t get a mortgage on it because of the fact it was of non standard construction. We didn’t need a massive mortgage so it was incredibly frustrating to see it slipping through our hands. I was sounding off about this to Andy one day and he immediately offered to lend us the money himself, personally. I was totally bowled over. In the end we didn’t win the auction so it didn’t happen, but I will never forget what he was prepared to do.

I still can’t believe that I won’t see him again. But when I think of him, I will always think of him with his infectious grin. Andy, what a very special man you were. Are. I don’t think you could have possibly comprehended what a massive hole you would leave in the lives of all who knew you. Rest easy, my friend.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale Interviews Lord Owen, Col Richard Kemp and Lord Malloch Brown about Mali & Algeria

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