TV/Film/Theatre

Chess: I Know It So Well

1 Mar 2013 at 11:04

Tonight I am going to see the musical CHESS again. It’s the tenth time I will have been to see it since it first opened in the West End in the 1980s. It’s a cold war story, with music by the men from Abba and lyrics by Tim Rice. To be honest I am not a great fan of musicals, but CHESS is different to the rest. I know virtually every song off by heart, but will do my best not to sing along.

It’s being performed in a theatre (the Union Theatre in Southwark) which only has a capacity of 50 people, so that will make it very different. I once saw it at a dinner theatre in Boulder, Colorado, where the cast serve a meal before the performance. It was a very strange experience in some ways, but extremely enjoyable. This new production has had rave reviews, so I am looking forward to it very much,

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UK Politics

Fifteen Things We Learned From Eastleigh

1 Mar 2013 at 09:27

I’ll write a more considered piece on Eastleigh later, but here’s something to think about… Fifteen things we learned from Eastleigh.

1. Voters will sometimes forgive a political party anything.
2. Once the LibDems get in, it’s almost impossible to get them out
3. Grant Shapps is a man of many talents, but running by-elections is not one of them
4. David Cameron’s Euro Speech was a waste of his breath.
5. Voters don’t like candidates who revel in Margaret Thatcher’s possible death
6. If you pick a joke candidate, the electorate treat you as a joke
7. Ed Miliband’s strategy of winning in the south of England is going really well
8. Nigel Farage is spending the day self-flagellating
9. People no longer feel embarrassed about voting UKIP
10. If you gag a candidate, you get what you deserve
11. You can’t out-UKIP UKIP
12. The Tories should use Lynton Crosby to run this sort of by-election in future
13. Don’t flood a constituency with MPs. It puts off voters
14. To win ensure the outgoing MP has perverted the course of justice. Just saying…
15. The Tories need to take a collective neurofen pill.

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Rant

The Idea That This Government Believes in Deregulation Is a Joke

28 Feb 2013 at 13:30

Yesterday I got an email from our accountants telling us this…

From April this year, HMRC are changing the way in which employers have to report payroll information. Previously, employers had to file a return at the end of each tax year with details of all employees, their pay and the associated PAYE and National Insurance. Now, all this information – and more – has to be submitted electronically to HMRC every month. HMRC call this system ‘Real Time Information’, or RTI. This will make sure that HMRC know exactly how much in PAYE, NI and student loan deductions are due to be paid to them for every pay period. The software we use for your payroll has been updated to be compliant with HMRC requirements. However, it is essential that all information submitted is correct. This means that we need you to confirm now that all the details we hold for your employees are correct and up to date. We enclose copies of the records currently held on the payroll system for each of your employees. Please check these carefully, and make any amendments necessary. There is also some additional information that HMRC now require. This includes the number of hours each employee normally works. We have summarised on the attached spreadsheet the information we have [if any]. Please could you fill in the blanks here. The new HMRC requirements will add additional processes to the payroll that we run for you, with a consequential increase in the time needed each month, though we will of course work to minimise any impact on costs.

So great. More time to spend on needless bureaucracy. And more cost. Something we had to once a year now has to be done every month, no doubt on pain of death. And naturally no Treasury Minister has bothered to question HMRC on why they are doing this and what extra costs it is imposing on businesses which are already struggling under the burden of red tape. It’s this sort of thing that puts people off starting new businesses, let alone expanding existing ones.

Perhaps that nice Mr Cable might like to intervene!

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Radio

It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter: No 4 - Reacting to a Guest Faux Pas

27 Feb 2013 at 22:45

This afternoon I recorded an interview with best selling author Barbara Taylor-Bradford, which we’ll be putting out on next Thursday’s LBC Book Club programme. So as a well trained radio presenter, I thought I would trail it at the end of my programme tonight. With me in the studio were three MPs, including the Conservative MP Mark Field. We had all been in quite a jolly mood. Anyway, this is how the programme ended…

ME: And next Thursday on the LBC Book Club I’ll be talking to Barbara Taylor-Bradford…
MARK FIELD: … I thought she was dead…
[slight pause]
ME: No she most certainly isn’t! She’s alive and well, thank you Mark. Coming up next, the much better mannered Anthony Davis!

There’s not much you can say when someone does that, especially when there is only 3 seconds left on the programme!

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Books

Telling Gary McKinnon's Story

27 Feb 2013 at 13:25

We made an exciting announcement today. Biteback Publishing has bought world rights to a book from Janis Sharp, the mother of hacker Gary McKinnon. The book, Saving Gary McKinnon: A Mother’s Story, will be published in September.

I am thrilled to be publishing Janis Sharp’s book, which tells of the difficult and courageous campaign that she waged for ten years to save her son, Gary, from being deported to the US. She is a truly remarkable woman. I’ve interviewed her on my LBC show and the passion she has shown in various interviews over the last few years is on full display in the text of the book. It is a very personal account of a ten-year struggle to save Gary McKinnon and free him from a decade of fear of extradition.

McKinnon, who has Asperger’s Syndrome, was accused by the USA of hacking into military computers. McKinnon claimed he was looking for evidence of UFO cover-ups, and after ten years of legal action, Theresa May took the decision in October 2012 not to extradite him.

The book will be published in September, accompanied by an extensive marketing and PR campaign.

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UK Politics

The Implications of Eastleigh - Crunchtime for Cameron and Clegg as Miliband Escapes Scrutiny

27 Feb 2013 at 10:23

I can’t remember a by-election which was so hard fought and was more difficult to call than this one, apart, possibly from Crewe & Nantwich. However, in that one there was no national overhang on a particular party, and there was a definite feeling of Tory momentum. There isn’t in Eastleigh, despite the constituency being flooded with Tory activists and MPs. With the background of the Chris Huhne/Vicky Pryce court case and the media scrum over Lord Rennard, and only a 4,000 majority to overcome. the Tories should be walking this by-election. But they’re not. Question marks over the candidate and the rise of UKIP have both influenced a stalling of the Tory campaign, with the latter proving particularly significant. It would be ironic indeed if UKIP were to be largely responsible for the election of a europhile Liberal Democrat. If that happens, the consequences for David Cameron could be seismic. The media would interpret it as further proof that Cameron can’t win an overall majority in 2015. What will be the reaction of Tory backbenchers and the wider Tory Party? They will be like a dog with a Peter Bone…

For the Liberal Democrats the result is no less important. If they win they will be encouraged to think they can avoid the wipeout most of thing they will suffer in 2015. It will indeed have been a triumph to win in these circumstances, although they would have UKIP to thank, rather than their own very mediocre candidate. But they have fought a good ground war and may yet reap the reward. If they don’t win, the vultures could well start circling around Nick Clegg. Party activists are already horrified by his handling of the Rennard affair. A loss in Eastleigh could provoke open calls for Clegg to go – and not just from Lembit Opik.

Labour has escaped the spotlight in the by-election, which is very odd. They used to have a solid vote in Eastleigh and the demographics indicate that they could have done a lot better here. When John O’Farrell was selected, I wondered if it had been a masterstroke, but in reality he has been a bit of a disaster. Playing the fool does not win votes. The LibDems have squeezed the Labour vote since 1992 to a point where it is only 10%, and it is unlikely they will improve on that tomorrow. Labour need to do much better to break through in the south of England to win in 2015. They will never win a seat like this, but their vote ought to be going up by quite a lot. Miliband will probably escape much scrutiny whatever happens on Thursday, but unfairly.

UKIP will be kicking themselves. John Rentoul thinks they will come second, which is a very brave prediction. If they do, they will wonder what if. What would have happened if Nigel Farage had stood himself? He might as well have done as he seems to be permanently in the constituency. It seems certain they will poll well over 20%, which almost certainly will cost the Tories a much needed win.

So far as I can see, very few people have made a prediction about the result tomorrow, so let me break ranks and call it for the LibDems on the basis that UKIP’s performance has made a Tory victory all the more difficult. A portent of things to come, maybe, with massive possible consequences for David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party.

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Dogs

Grooming a Schnauzer

26 Feb 2013 at 22:30

Every six weeks or so our Miniature Schnauzer, Bubba, has to go to a dog groomer in Heathfield to have his hair cut. It’s a bit of a trauma for the poor little lad. For one thing he always throws up on the journey, although never on the return He’s otherwise very well behaved, but he doesn’t like travelling very much. I don’t know what lotions they put on him while they are grooming him, but whatever it is acts as canine viagra to Dude, our Jack Russell. He usually spends the rest of the day trying to shag Bubba senseless. It’s quite comical to watch, as Bubba isn’t having any of it. He clearly takes after his father…

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Radio

A Good News Story About Care Homes

26 Feb 2013 at 22:16

We talked about care homes on my programme tonight, Figures from the Alzheimers Society show that 80% of people in care homes are suffering from dementia. That really is a quite incredible statistic. Many people are scared of going into a care home and in some ways you can understand why. We are fed a diet of stories in our newspapers about lack of care, lack of cleanliness, bullying and total neglect. Never do we hear of all those who actually have good experiences of care homes. Well we put that right tonight on the show and we have loads of calls from people whose parents or grandparents had had excellent experiences. There are some very good care homes out there and Carers UK have some excellent advice on how to tell the good from the bad.

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UK Politics

Assuming Guilt

25 Feb 2013 at 13:12

We live in a society where we automatically assume guilt. Yes, we hear the caveat “innocent until proven guilty”, but how many of us really believe it? We all assume that Cardinal Keith O’Brien is guilty of acting inappropriately with four young men because our overall impression is that they’re all at it in the Catholic Church. Most people no doubt take it for granted that despite his denials Chris Rennard is guilty as charged. There’s more than one woman so it must be true. But the fact is that in both cases, we don’t actually know. But all the talking heads speak with a certainty which is misplaced. Rennard’s denials are repeated by media commentators in a tone of voice which implies “well he would say that, wouldn’t he”.

It may well be that both men are guilty as charged, but don’t they both deserve a fair hearing? Believe me, the nastier part of me hopes that O’Brien gets all that’s coming to him after his terrible comments about homosexuality, and latterly gay marriage. That’s my heart speaking. But my head tells me things may not be as simple as they seem. In the Rennard case, because I know him, and because I like him, my heart wants him to be innocent of the charges laid against him. My head says the facts, as they have been presented to us, look pretty damning.

I think back to the Cash for Peerages scandal a few years ago. That was another case where many of us assumed that there was no smoke without fire and that Lord Levy, Ruth (can’t remember her surname) and various others must be guilty. We assumed guilt without knowing the facts. The trouble was that the facts, in the end, didn’t stack up and no charges were laid. But even so, many still believed those who weren’t charged to be guilty. Nothing will dissuade them that there was an establishment stitch-up.

So I am not going to assume Cardinal O’Brien is guilty, any more than I automatically assume Lord Rennard actually did what he is alleged to have done. So if I tweet anything that indicates the opposite, feel free to call me a hypocrite. Let’s see what the facts tell us.

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Clegg Statement Just Makes Things Worse

24 Feb 2013 at 19:58

Nick Clegg has just made things a whole lot worse for himself and his party. It’s all very well being indignant, but it’s quite difficult when you haven’t actually got much to be indignant about. Fraser Nelson rightly questions why on earth he has brought Danny Alexander into the whole farrago.

Clegg needed only have said that Rennard was formally confronted, and denied the allegations (as he does now). This is an odd form of crisis management. And it gives the Rennard imbroglio the air of a fast-spreading scandal. There’s nothing that Fleet St likes more.

And Sir Christopher Meyer makes perhaps the most important point of all.

Indeed.

Nick Clegg’s full statement is on LibDem Voice

UPDATE: Lembit Opik has just been on Sky News, no doubt to a collective groan from the LibDem fraternity. He as putting on his serious face and trying to be statesmanlike. He did in fact make a very valid point, which I would challenge any LibDem reading this to answer.

I don’t want to hear all the emotion from Clegg, I don’t want to hear how angry he is. Why did he say at the beginning of the week that he knew nothing about it? If he did know all about it, why were we told that he didn’t?

UPDATE 2: Two tweets from Another Angry Woman…

UPDATE 3: And in this continuing car crash, Danny Alexander add his twopennyworth and muddies these murky waters even further.

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