Attitude Column: If I Want to Watch People 'Fisting' Each Other, Why Shouldn't I Be Able To? (I Don't, By The Way)

23 Jul 2016 at 09:42

Imagine you are a member of a private WhatsApp group of friends. One day one of your friends sends a picture of an extreme pornographic act – let’s say fisting. You send a reply making a jokey remark about it but think little more about it. Some months later your phone is seized by the Police as part of a criminal investigation concerning your workplace. Nothing comes of it, but while they’ve got your phone they find this pornographic image, and they charge you with possessing an ‘extreme pornographic image’ as a so-called consolation prize offence. You go to court. You’re cleared, but your life lies in ruins.

In short, even though ‘fisting’ is a perfectly legal act it’s now against the law to use an image of it in a pornographic film or an image in this country. It’s not an act I have ever wished to experience or perpetrate, or even fantasise about, but I’ve long come to realise that in the sexual world, we all have very different tastes. But if an act is perfectly legal to act out, why on earth should the depiction of it be illegal?

Back in 2008 the then Labour government banned the possession of what it called ‘extreme pornography’. To you and me, that might mean that anything to do with bestiality, child sex or the like would be banned, although I’m pretty sure it already was.

Last year the Conservative government amended and expanded the remit of this law. The images must be a) intended for sexual arousal, b) be realistic and c) grossly obscene. All of those are incredibly subjective. In addition, the images must include at least one of the following: a) acts of non-consensual penetration, b) an act which threatens a person’s life, c) an act which causes harm to a person’s breasts, genitals or anus, d) bestiality e) necrophilia. Again, what constitutes ‘harm’?

In 2014 there were more than 1600 prosecutions under this law. It should be said that the majority involved bestiality, although one failed prosecution involved a man having sex while wearing a tiger costume. And who said the law is an ass? According to the Adam Smith Institute, which has recently published a paper calling for this law to be abolished, or at least amended, these cases involved spending £15 million of public money.

According to a survey of 19,000 adults in the United Kingdom 86% of men and 56% of women had viewed pornography; 29% fantasise about playing a dominant or “aggressive” role during sex; 33% fantasise about playing a submissive or “passive” role during sex; 4% fantasise about being “violent” towards someone else; and 6% fantasise about violence being inflicted on them by another person. So more than two million men and women have violent sexual fantasies of some kind, and nearly a third of all British adults fantasise about sexual domination and submission.

Crucially, these fantasies seem to be shared by a large number of women. Arguments in favour of restricting the circulation of pornography usually revolve around the need to protect women from violent men, who might try to act out their fantasies. As the ASI study says: “The argument in favour of criminalising extreme pornography has been characterised as a means of protecting women and supporting women’s interests and standing in society. Unfortunately, these claims discount the potential impact of criminalisation on female viewers of pornography.”

There is no such thing as absolute freedom of expression. I do not advocate a complete free for all. I accept that there is a need to regulate things like pornography, but surely if an act depicted in an image on film is a legal act in itself, or clearly meant as fantasy, then I cannot for the life of me what good is done by criminalising someone who possess it.

In the United States, if you possess films or images depicting consensual events or obviously fictional performances you are constitutionally protected under the First Amendment. We clearly need a First Amendment type protection in the UK, which would protect us against interfering, albeit often well-intentioned but ill-informed, politicians and civils servants.

The trouble is, the few politicians who are at all interested in this issue are understandably afraid to put their heads above the parapet. Or put their fists…. [That’s enough, Ed].

This article first appeared in Attitude Magazine – indeed, it was my final column for them!


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ConHome Diary: From a Spanish Poolside, Cecil Parkinson's Purple Head & Theresa May's Enemies

22 Jul 2016 at 14:07

Not that I intend to inspire any jealousy with this column, but I’m writing it beside a swimming pool in the Spanish mountains overlooking a lake. I normally write four of five ‘chunks’ in my columns so I am deciding to reward myself with a swim after each chunk is finished. This must be the most decadent way to write a column ever invented.
I’ve been here since Sunday and am going back today (Friday). From all I can gather the temperature in London hasn’t been far off that which we have experienced here – it’s 37-39 degrees during the day and 30 degrees at 10pm, ideal for a late night swim.
We’re staying with our friends Deborah and Mike Slattery. Deborah was a Conservative Party agent in the late 1980s and 1990s in Norwich, so we have spent many happy hours reminiscing about our nefarious political activities aimed at retaining Norwich North as a Conservative seat at the 1992 general election. It was a very different political era, and in many ways much more fun. It was a lot more innocent. Even our black arts would now be considered a pale shade of grey. Deborah reminds me of a visit Cecil Parkinson paid to Norwich in the 1992 election campaign. He still retained the ability to make Tory ladies go weak at the knees. I well remember him presenting a bunch of purple flowers to the head of the Norwich North Ladies. Without batting an eyelid she exclaimed to Cecil, “just look at the purple head on that.” Which can’t have been the first time a woman said that to him. Or probably the last.
I really have tried to switch off this week. Up until now I’ve had a grand total of two days off work this year, so I was in much need of some R&R. I even thought about not taking my laptop with me but of course that was never going to happen. How would I write this column? And our esteemed editor doesn’t like it if I take a week off. I did go through almost an entire day without tweeting, which was a minor miracle in itself. And of course with modern technology as it is, even in Spain you can get all the main UK TV channels. So, yes I admit it. I watched Theresa May’s first Prime Minister’s Questions. And what a joy it was. David Cameron took to it like a duck to water back in December 2005 (“you were future once”) but whatever the exaggerated version of that phrase is, it certainly applies to Mrs May, as everyone seems to have taken to calling her. Who will ever forget the look on her face when she leaned over the Despatch Box and spluttered to Corbyn “Remiiiiind you of anyone?” Do you remember back in November 1990 when Mrs T had declared “I’m enjoying this!”? And then a Tory backbencher called Michael Carttiss shouted out “You can wipe the floor with these people!” Well many of us had a similar thought after Theresa May had wiped her feet on Jeremy Corbyn. Luckily for him he doesn’t have to face her again until September.
Right. Time for a swim. I will spare you the pics.

Now, where was I? I’ve only ever been to Spain twice before, once to Madrid and once to Barcelona, but both were work trips, advising the Spanish government and port employers on port labour reform. We’re staying near Iznajar (pronounced Iznacker), which is a very rural area. Every single acre is rammed full of olive trees, each one receiving a nice little subsidy from the EU. I cannot believe how cheap it is to eat out. And it’s authentic Spanish too. Unlike most British expats my friends are making every effort to learn the language and the locals seem to really appreciate it. It’s a very different lifestyle to the one they had in Norwich but they seem to absolutely love it. They have completely renovated their property. It’s taken them a year but they now say they could never contemplate returning to England given the lifestyle they are now able to enjoy in Spain. I’ve been here for four days and I have to say I know what they mean. Having said that, I’m not sure I would want to cope with ‘Scorchio’ temperatures every day. I like heat, but every day? I rather like the variety the English climate offers.
Have you noticed that TM is the reverse of MT. Just saying…

So the final list of government ministers has been revealed. Although the Cabinet looks very different it is very much as you were in the lower ranks. An opportunity was lost to promote bright new talent into the government, while a lot of the same old faces inexplicably held onto their jobs or were moved to different departments. Love the old rogue as I do, I and many others were left scratching our heads to observe that John Hayes survived yet another reshuffle. Better to have him pissing out than in? What other reason can there be? And he’s gone back to a job in the Department of Transport where he was universally loathed in his previous stint there. Patrick McLoughlin, I am reliably informed, moved heaven and earth to get him moved out, so I do wonder how he and Chris Grayling will get on.
All Prime Ministers accumulate enemies, but few have embarked on their Premiership with so many. The Cameroons en bloc and a whole host of ex Ministers like Anna Soubry and Dominic Raab who were offered jobs which the powers that be must have known they could not accept. In Anna Soubry’s case she could reasonably have expected a Cabinet role, yet she was offered a job as number two to Liz Truss. She quite reasonably told Mrs M where she could stuff her job, seeing as she was far more qualified for the job than The Trussette herself. With a majority of only 12, the new PM should be careful how many more enemies she makes. She has won herself many admirers (me included), but we all know how dangerous it can be for too many backbenchers to have idle hands.

Sorry, but I can only resist that pool for so long. Laters.



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Keith Simpson MP's Summer Reading List

18 Jul 2016 at 17:25

Guest Post by Keith Simpson MP

After the recent political roller coaster of the EU referendum, the resignation of Prime Minister Cameron, the Conservative leadership contest and the triumph of Theresa May who became the Conservative leader and then Prime Minister, the continuing agonies of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the challenge to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, politicians and journalists will escape on holiday with “chic-lit” and “old lag lit” packed for a relaxing recess break.

Of course, in forming her government Prime Minister May has purged a whole raft of ministers, reshuffled others and promoted or recalled to the colours some who have lingered on the back benches. Those who have been given their ministerial P45s or failed to catch the selector’s eye have more time to read and contemplate their future.

For those who relish the opportunity to read something substantial from a rich crop of recently published books on politics, history and war then here are a few suggestions.

Given the political leadership challenges facing both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn they might care to revisit Doris Kearns Goodwin Team of Rivals The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln published in 2005.

In analysing the political thinking behind those close to Theresa May Conservative MPs and journalists have turned to Nick Timothy her joint Chief of Staff, who is credited with crafting first her Birmingham speech and then her first speech as Prime Minister. He has been a regular contributor to ConHome and in 2012 wrote a sixty page pamphlet for the Conservative History Group Our Joe Joseph Chamberlain’s Conservative Legacy, in which he explored his political life as a Radical and a Unionist, outsider and Cabinet Minister and a fierce advocate of social reform. Of course Chamberlain’s advocacy of his political beliefs meant he split the old Liberal Party in the 1880s and joined the Conservatives whom he then divided in the 1900s.

Sadly, the distinguished historian David Cesarani did not live to see his last book published, Disraeli The Novel Politician (Yale £15) in which he considers Disraeli’s Jewishness and what if anything it meant to his life as a novelist and politician.

The socialist Victor Grayson was born in the slums of Liverpool, a non-conformist preacher, who won the Colne Valley by election as a socialist in 1907 which he lost in 1910. He went to New Zealand and served on the Western Front before being invalided out and returning to the UK. Suspected of working for both the Soviets and the IRA he accused Lloyd George of selling honours. In 1920 he disappeared and there has been speculation on what happened to him. David Clarke, former Labour Cabinet Minister has now updated with new evidence his 1985 biography Victor Grayson The Man and the Mystery (Quartet Books £16.59).

Philip Sassoon was a member of the fabulously wealthy and exotic Sassoon family. He succeeded his father as MP for Hythe in 1912 and served as Private Secretary to Haig during the First World War and then as PPS to Lloyd George. After the war he served as an Air Minister and then First Commissioner of Works until his death in 1939. Our colleague Damian Collins, MP for Folkestone and Hythe has now written his biography Glamour Boy The Phenomenal World of Philip Sassoon (William Collins £20) showing how he used his wealth and influence to further his political career, support the arts, and bring together politicians, writers, painters and journalists. Damian Collins skirts round Sassoon’s ambivalent sexuality.

For those members of the Labour Party, and especially the Parliamentary Party, plunged into gloom over the leadership, then taking Attlee as a leadership role model is a comfort. There have been several biographies and now John Bew, author of Castlereagh, and a frequent contributor to the New Statement has written what looks like a stimulating reassessment Citizen Clem A Biography of Attlee (Riverrun £30) published on 1 September.

Published to coincide with the centenary of the birth of Harold Wilson and a reassessment of his political life is an edited volume by Kevin Hickson Harold Wilson The Unprincipled Prime Minister? (Biteback £20).

Also published to coincide with the centenary of his birth is Wilson’s Prime Ministerial rival Ted Heath – Michael McManus Edward Heath A Singular Life (Elliott & Thompson £25). The author was Heath’s political secretary and effectively wrote his autobiography. Using material from dozens of interviews with Heath’s contemporaries McManus does not write a conventional biography, but rather an assessment of Heath’s motivations and psychology.

Tony Blair has seen his reputation shredded since he stood down as Prime Minister, not least in connection with the Iraq War and the findings of the Chilcot Inquiry. Tom Bower, noted for his investigative journalism and demolition of important people’s reputations, such as Robert Maxwell, has written a no-holds barred case for the prosecution in Broken Vows Tony Blair : The Tragedy of Power (Faber & Faber £20). But he has some shrewd observations about what made Blair tick.

Bernard Donoughue served as an adviser to both Wilson and Callaghan and his earlier diaries are a fascinating insight into their premierships. A Peer and briefly a Blairite minister, his Westminster Diary A Reluctant Minister under Tony Blair (I B Tauris £25) has some merit but is not in the same class as their predecessors.

Malcolm Rifkind enjoyed a distinguished ministerial career under Thatcher and Major at the Scottish Office, Defence and then the FCO. More recently he was Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. In Power and Pragmatism The Memoirs of Malcolm Rifkind (Biteback £25) he recounts his political life but is, perhaps, a little too discreet.

The magnificent Ken Clarke has been an MP since 1970, and served as a Cabinet Minister under Thatcher, Major and Cameron. His leadership ambitions were thwarted by his outspoken support of the EU, but he has been, nevertheless, a great beast in government. Like Denis Healey he has had a large hinterland of interests besides politics, including jazz and bird watching. Published in October Ken Clarke Kind of Blue A Political Memoir (Macmillan £25) will be neither boring nor discreet.

Instant political biography can be superficial and a scissors and paste job, but Rosa Prince’s Comrade Corbyn A Very Unlikely Coup (Biteback £20) is well written and draws out Corbyn’s political beliefs and world view.

Who knows where he would be now if Ed Balls had not lost his seat in May 2015? A bruiser and not one to be backward in coming forward to sing his own praises, he is, nevertheless a big political beast, if now no longer active in front line politics. His Speaking Out Lessons in Life and Politics (Hutchinson £20) combines autobiographical details as well as reflections on the use and abuse of power and why politics matter. Published just in time for the Labour Party Conference.

Another casualty of the 2015 election was Nick Clegg, who survived the virtual wipe out of his Parliamentary Party. In his Politics Between the Extremes (Bodley head £20) he combines a political memoir with reflections on the changing nature of politics and life in the coalition, based partly on his diaries.

Gavin Barwell, the Conservative MP for Croydon Central won a marginal seat in 2010 and held it – just – in 2015. In his How to Win a Marginal Seat My Year Fighting for My Political Life (Biteback £12.99) he does just that by describing how much time and effort he put in day in and day out, the targeted communications with his constituents and emphasising his local roots. A must for every candidate.

Being a Parliamentary Whip is to belong to a Praetorian Guard, members of whom see themselves as a “broederbond” or by their critics as the Gestapo or Stasi. The Labour MP, Helen Jones, Warrington North, was a government whip for the final two years of the Brown government. Her How to Be a Government Whip (Biteback £12.99) is a warts and all account which describes some of the measures used by the whips to maintain a house and get through government business. An essential read for members of the “awkward squad” and newly appointed Government Whips.

Just as Parliament has to make a decision about the options for a complete renovation of the old Palace and whether to move out during the period completely or partially, Caroline Shenton, Parliamentary Archivist has written Mr Barry’s War: Rebuilding the Houses of Parliament after the Great Fire of 1834 (OUP £25). This book takes up where the author’s The Day Parliament Burned Down concluded, and shows the fierce rivalries between architects and politicians and the staggering challenges of building on what was an area of unstable quicksand. I am sure not a precedent but it took Barry twenty-five years to complete the new Palace and only three times over budget.

Paul Bew, a Peer and father of historian John Bew, has written a short but absorbing book on Churchill and Ireland (OUP £16.99). Surprisingly, this is the first major study on a relationship which was literally central to Churchill’s family, life and political career.

There have been a number of books written on Churchill’s wartime coalition and Roger Hermiston’s All Behind You Winston Churchill’s Great Coalition 1940-45 (Aurum Press £20) is the latest very readable account.

For my parents’ generation rationing, the British restaurants and Woolton pies symbolised the wartime Home Front. A crucial figure in organising food production and distribution was the businessman Lord Woolton, who is one of the unsung heroes of Churchill’s Coalition. William Sitwell, one of Britain’s foremost food writers, has written Eggs or Anarchy! : The Remarkable story of the man tasked with the impossible task : to feed a nation at war (Simon & Schuster £20) which recounts the life and work of Lord Woolton, who later played an important role in Conservative politics after 1945.

There is a generalised assumption that between the wars the old English country houses went into terminal decline and many were demolished. In The Long Weekend Life in the English Country House (Jonathan Cape £25) Adrian Tinniswood challenges this generalisation. This was the experience of many country houses, but the majority survived being bought by wealthy British and American businessmen, whilst old families adapted. This is a wonderful book looking at architecture, gardens, farming and above all the social life with the eccentricities of both owners, visitors and staff.

Alcohol has always lubricated political life, as any student of ancient Greece and Rome will testify. Prodigious boozing in the world’s representative assemblies reflects the culture of the time and the enforced proximity of legislators who endure long periods of boredom. Ben Wright’s Order, Order! The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking (Gerald Duckworth and Co £16.99) is mainly about the British experience with examples of careers enhanced and destroyed by booze.

Asquith as a minister, and later Prime Minister, had a reputation for inebriation, not least at the despatch box, and hence his nickname “Squiff”. Also he had a reputation, like Lloyd George, for casting a discerning eye and wandering hand over young women. One of these young women who Asquith became besotted with was Venetia Stanley. His obsession was such that during the early part of the First World War he was writing to her two or three times a day during Cabinet and taking her for motor rides. Fortunately he was very indiscreet about political life and cabinet discussions. A large selection of his letters were published thirty years ago and now Stefan Buczaki has written My Darling Mr Asquith The Extraordinary Life and Times of Venetia Stanley (Cato & Clarke £30).

Without doubt the best book written to date by a minister inside the Conservative-LibDem Coalition is David Laws Coalition The Inside Story of the Conservative –Liberal Democrat Government (Biteback £25). Laws was determined to establish the achievements of his Party but, based upon notes he kept and those by Clegg, he has detailed accounts of many important decisions and shrewd pen portraits of his ministerial colleagues. We await a Conservative account.

Liam Byrne was the last Chief Secretary in the Brown Government and became infamous for the note he left his incoming successor, who he assumed, wrongly, would be a Conservative. He has now written Dragons 10 Entrepreneurs Who Built Britain (Head of Zeus £30) in which he argues that Britain’s rise to global dominance owed as much to the energy and creativity and ruthlessness of traders, industrialists and bankers, as it did to ministers, diplomats or military men.

Much of what is written about the British intelligence and security agencies suffers from either a lack of access to sources or a touch of the Ian Flemings. Richard J Aldrich and Rory Cormac are academics who have had access to some recently retired members of the intelligence establishment combined with an ability to discover gems in official papers that have escaped the weeders. The Black Door Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers (William Collins £30) explores the evolving relationship between successive British Prime Ministers and agencies, from Asquith’s Secret Service Bureau to Cameron’s National Security Council. A must read for parliamentarians and ministers, not least Boris Johnson and David Davis.

To many people, particularly school children, the Holy Roman Empire was a joke, summed up as neither Holy, Roman nor an Empire. Shades of scepticism about the European Union. But Peter H Wilson in his block buster of a book The Holy Roman Empire A Thousand Years of Europe’s History (Allen Lane £25) argues that to understand the developments in European history from Charlemagne to Napoleon it requires an understanding of the nature of the Holy Roman Empire.

Albert Speer cheated death at Nuremberg by appearing intelligent and civilised and accepting some responsibility for crimes of the Third Reich. He lived off this reputation after serving a sentence of twenty-five years. Now Martin Kitchen has demolished Speer’s carefully constructed reputation and in Speer: Hitler’s Architect (Yale £20) shows his central role in the Nazi state and use of concentration camp labour.

France is still haunted by the memories of wartime collaboration and resistance. Anna Sebba takes an unusual approach by looking at the experience of women in Paris during and after the occupation in Les Parisiennes How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved and Died in the 1940s (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £20).

Simon Sebag Montefiore has written extensively on Russian and Soviet history and for those looking for a vigorous romp through the Imperial Russian royal family then his The Romanovs 1617-1918 (Weidenfeld & Nicolson £25) is just the answer.

This year is the centenary of the East Rising in Dublin and Fearghal McGarry addressed the basic questions of why it happened and the experiences of ordinary people in The Rising Ireland : Easter 1916 (OUP £20) using recently discovered testimonies of over 1,700 witnesses.

Lawrence of Arabia continues to fascinate those who see him as the leading exponent of irregular warfare, his role in the so-called Arab Uprising and as the author of Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Neil Faulkner, a wonderfully unreconstructed Marxist historian places Lawrence in the wider political and military context of the British Empire and the war in the Middle East in Lawrence of Arabia’s War The Arabs, the British and the Remaking of the Middle East in WWI (Yale £25).

Since the Western military drawdown in Afghanistan the outpouring of books on the conflict has diminished and there has been relatively limited assessment. David Kilcullen, a former Australian Army officer and an adviser and guru to senior US military commanders has previously written The Accidental Guerrilla and Counterinsurgency. Now Kilcullen has written Blood Year Islamic Terror and the Failures of the War on Terror (C Hurst & Co £10) which combines mea culpa with warnings of new threats beyond ISIS.

In the continuing and brutal civil war in Syria the suffering of the people of Aleppo and the destruction of a marvellous city of history and culture stand out. Philip Mansel is an authority on the civilisation of the Levant and in using extracts form the letters and diaries of European traders and tourists as well as local people he has brought to life an amazing city home to so many religious and ethnic groups – Aleppo The Rise and Fall of Syria’s Great Merchant City (I B Tauris £18).

Elizabeth I sought allies everywhere to counter the threat form Catholic Spain, and encouraged commercial, diplomatic and military links with the Moslem powers of the Mediterranean and Levant which Jerry Bratton explores in his This Orient Isle Elizabethan England and the Islamic World (Allen Lane £20).

This autumn should have seen Boris Johnson’s Shakespeare The Riddle of a Genius (Hodder & Stoughton £25) or as the wags have it William Shakespeare’s Boris Johnson The Riddle of a Genius. Rumours round the Whitehall bazaars suggest that since his elevation to a reduced role as Foreign Secretary the great man is unlikely to finish the old magnus opus. Perhaps that duty could be transferred to his former campaign partner Michael Gove?

OUP has produced a series entitled “Great Battles” which include Waterloo. Short books they put the battle into a wider context than military history and examine how they have been interpreted and re-interpreted through history. Murray Pittock a distinguished historian and open supporter of Scottish independence has written an admirably balanced volume on Culloden (£19) which should be required reading for non Scottish MPs.

Rory Stewart, former army officer, diplomat, provincial governor and now Conservative MP and minister at international development and all round good egg, is a renowned author of books based on his experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan. As MP for Penrith and the Border, the nearest thing we have in Britain to the northwest frontier straddling Pakistan and Afghanistan, Rory Stewart has walked all over his constituency holding the equivalent of tribal jirgas with Parish Councils. This experience has been turned into The Marches A Borderland Journey Between Britain and Scotland (Houghton Mifflin) which it is hoped will be published this autumn.

India played a central role in the British Empire’s two World wars, not only supplying over a million men and women for the armed forces, but finance, supplies and weapons. Srinath Raghavan has now written about this from the Indian perspective in India’s War The Making of Modern South Asia 1939-1945 (Allen Lane £30).

Dan Todman’s Britain’s War Into Battle 1937-1941 (Allen Lane £30) is the first of two volumes of what is a narrative history that combines the political, military, industrial and social from the experiences of the governing class to ordinary people.

Ben McIntyre has specialised in excellent books about the intelligence war and special forces during the Second World War. This autumn his SAS Rogue Heroes: The Authorised Wartime History (Viking £20) should provide reading material for veterans such as the Secretary of State for Brexit as well as the general reader.

This year we commemorate the centenary of Jutland and the Somme. The reader might begin with the late Keith Jeffery’s magnificent overview 1916 A Global History (Bloomsbury £10).

For those who wish to visit the Somme battlefields on what the Army Staff College called “Bottlefield Tours” then the best guide is Tonie and Valmie Holt Major and Mrs Holt’s Definitive Guild to the Somme expanded, brought up to date, well illustrated and full of detailed information (Pen &Sword £15).

A recent excellent account of the battles of the Somme is Hugh Sebag Montefiore Somme Into the Breach (Viking £25). A book critical of the British generals and supportive of the politicians is Allan Mallinson Too Important for the Generals Losing and Winning the First World War (Bantam Press £25). A sophisticated defence of Douglas Haig is Gary Sheffield Douglas Haig From the Somme to Victory (Aurum Press £25).

The experience of regimental soldiers is addressed in great detail and sympathy by Randall Nicol in his two volumes on the Scots Guards on the Western Front Till the Trumpet Sounds Again (Helion).

Privately produced is Andrew Tatham’s magnificent A Group Photograph Before, Now and In-Between (Arvo Veritas). His grandfather, a pre-war regular officer was given command of a Kitchener Army battalion in 1914 and the group photograph is of the officers before the Battle of Loos. Tatham then follows their lives, and all too often deaths, of each officer.

Finally a novel written in 1961 by John Harris who was a journalist on the Sheffield Telegraph. He was fascinated by some of his seniors who had volunteered in 1914 and served in the Sheffield City Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment which suffered heavy casualties on the first day of the Somme. Covenant With Death (Sphere £10) is a novel about the men and women of the City of Sheffield and their experiences in 1914-1916. A moving tribute.

The Rt Hon Keith Simpson MP



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Iain interviews Ken Clarke on Brexit, Boris & By-Elections

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Attitude Column: Why Good Sex Education is Needed

17 Jul 2016 at 00:38

The following paragraph contains possible too much information.

I must have been around 12 or 13, I suppose, when I got out of bed and crept into my parents’ bedroom. “Mum, I think I’ve wet the bed,” I whispered. She got out of bed, grabbed some new sheets and ripped the old one off the bed. She looked at me slightly quizzically and said, “Er, you haven’t wet the bed. Hasn’t your father talked to you about this?” I was totally mystified. She sat me down and explained that I’d just had a wet dream. I was, of course, mortified.

My father hadn’t discussed the birds and the bees with me, and nor had my mother. I’ve never asked them, but I have always wondered if my sisters found out about menstruation the hard way. And I say this as someone who had the most loving, and caring parents any son could wish for. They were just, well, of their generation.

It was little better at school. We had to wait until we were 14 to get any form of sex education, and to be honest it was a joke. Mr Maidment, head of Geography and Mrs Mathias, head of Needlework broached the subject in General Studies. Mrs Mathias would rather have been anywhere else than teaching sex education to a group of 100 giggly teenagers, while Mr Maidment rejoiced in telling us how he would “hump” Mrs M every Saturday night without fail. It was titivation rather than education at Saffron Walden County High in 1976. And God forbid the thought that anyone should mention homosexuality, which of course had only been legal for a decade at that point.

Forty years on, not a lot has changed in some families. Mothers and fathers up and down the land recoil from the embarrassment of discussing condoms and cunnilingus. Schools may be rather more enlightened than in the 1970s, but the standard of sex education is incredibly variable. Even in 2016 some parents even withdraw their kids from it, and they’re invariably the sheltered kids who most need it because they won’t be told it in the home environment.

Sex education guidelines haven’t been updated by the Department of Education since 2000, before the days of smartphones, sexting and online pornography. Both Michael Gove and Nicky Morgan have wanted to revise them but Downing Street have vetoed it for reasons best known to themselves.

It’s time that there was a complete review of sex education in this country. Children encounter sexual issues at an ever younger age. I was fourteen or fifteen before I even knew what the working ‘wanking’ met. My eight year old goddaughter learnt what a clitoris was in her sex education lessons a couple of years ago. Most eleven year olds have viewed pornography. It’s all a long way from ‘I’ll show you mine if you show me yours’.

There are still teachers out there who are reluctant to talk about homosexuality for fear of contravening Section 28. They don’t even know the Blair government got rid of it.
And what of the parents, often ones with devout religious views, who refuse to allow their children to take part in what are now known as Sex & Relationships Education (SRE)? Should the state overrule their wishes in the interests of the children?

What age should SRE lessons start? I used to take the view that children’s innocence should be protected for as long as possible and these lessons shouldn’t start until children are at secondary school. Who am I, or was I, trying to kid. Many primary schools start teaching the subject in reception classes, and a good thing too. Obviously at that age it is more about relationships rather than the nuts and bolts of biological functions.

In the long term, we have to realise this subject can only be taught by professionals, rather than geography and maths teachers whose hearts aren’t in it and who aren’t experts in the subject. I’d like to see an army of SRE teachers recruited and trained, who would travel from school to school within their borough or county. Yes, there would be a cost to that, but if it helps children cope with the emotions and trials of puberty and adulthood, wouldn’t it be money well spent?

This article first appeared in Attitude Magazine



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LBC Book Club: Iain Dale talks to Jonathan Powell

Tony Blair's Chief of Staff discusses his book on power.

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ConHome Diary: Theresa May & DD - Starting As They Mean To Go On

15 Jul 2016 at 13:58

As I start writing this column, Theresa May is embarking on the second part of her reshuffle. She’s certainly hit the ground running and no one, can say, especially George Osborne, that she hasn’t been decisive in her initial choices. In her initial speech outside Number Ten I thought she was rather cursory in her comments about Brexit, but by picking the three Brexiteers – Johnson, Davis and Fox – she has dispelled any doubts about her intentions. I have severe doubts as to whether Boris will play any meaningful part in the Brexit negotiations. Indeed, with trade and Europe being taken out of the Foreign Office, you could argue that Theresa May has done what Margaret Thatcher never achieved, and neutered it. I imagine it will be David Davis who accompanies Theresa May to EU summits, with Boris only playing a peripheral role, but we’ll soon find out. There are bound to be one or two tensions between Liam Fox and David Davis too, I imagine, with Davis probably insisting on keeping EU trade negotiations to himself with Fox concentrating on building trade deals with non EU countries. I suspect it’s called ‘creative tension’.
Theresa May is said to be naturally risk-averse. You wouldn’t know it from her initial cabinet appointments. Any one of the Three Brexiteers could, given their recent political histories, self-combust at any time. She’s trusted them not to do so, but I imagine there will be a fairly lively betting market on the first cabinet minister to quit. Boris will probably be favourite, given his previous forays into foreign affairs. Or affairs full stop.

Cometh the hour, cometh the man. The lazarus like rise of David Davis has attracted much comment, given that David Cameron refused to bring him into government following his resignation in 2008 and his subsequent by-election. Cameron felt he couldn’t trust him not to do it again. A few weeks ago I suggested in this very column that he would be the ideal man to head up our Brexit negotiations in a separate government department. To be honest, it was more in hope than expectation, but others seemed to agree and there was quite a lot of press comment to that effect. Others were also in the frame – Peter Lilley, Chris Grayling and Liam Fox to name but a few.
In some ways Davis’s whole political career has led to this moment. He was Europe Minister in the Major government so knows his way around Brussels. He’s also great friends with Jonathan Hill, our outgoing EU Commissioner and is one of the few politicians on the Leave side to have a fairly clear idea of what Brexit looks like. He’s also a very experienced negotiator. He and Theresa May will make a very good negotiating team. It won’t be ‘nice cop, nasty cop’. Anyone who’s been the other side of the table to Theresa May knows that she usually comes out on top. She has a particular talent of fixing her opponents with a gimlet stare, and crucially for a negotiator, she is unembarrassable. She’s very unlikely to give way at the last minute in the spirit of compromise. It should make for some interesting exchanges.
When you make an omelette you have to crack a few eggs. Theresa May hasn’t been afraid to crack eggs with George Osborne and Michael Gove being the two main yolks to have been disposed of. Both are incredibly talented, but a new prime minister has to make the appointments she wants to make, and given her apparent views on Osborne’s economic policies and their semi-public rows of recent years, his sacking (and that’s what it was) was almost inevitable. What really did for him was the so-called ‘punishment budget’ and his totally OTT dire warnings of economic collapse. There was no way back for him after that. Similarly, Michael Gove and Theresa May had some very public fallings out and even had he not defenestrated Boris Johnson in such a public way, his card was already marked, not least by Theresa May’s chief advisors Fiona Hill and Nick Timothy. I have always been a huge fan of Michael Gove, and I genuinely hope we haven’t seen the last of him.

Sacked cabinet ministers are always the very public casualties of a new government, but few people give a second’s though to their special advisors. They also lose their jobs with no notice at all. I know a lot of them and I’m truly sorry for them. They have invested a lot in their respective bosses and now have nothing to show for it, beyond the glories of working in the upper echelons of government. Take George Osborne. He had built a team of advisors around him who were all being prepared to take over in Number 10. James Chapman had a great job as political editor of the Daily Mail. He was recruited by the then Chancellor to beef up his press operations and was joined by Sur Beeby recently. Neil O’Brien left Policy Exchange. Thea Rodgers joined from the BBC. Gove’s two loyal lieutenants Henry Newman and Henry Cook are now left without roles. In Number Ten all of David Cameron’s advisors have left their roles. I’ve just heard that Nicky Morgan has been sacked, so her advisors including Luke Tryl will have to find new roles. It’s a cruel world.
New cabinet ministers are never as powerful as on their first day. I’m told by a Whitehall source that David Davis’s first act as Brexit Secretary was to demand that Ivan Rogers, the head of UKREP, the UK’s Representative in Brussels, be summoned to meet him yesterday. An afternoon meeting was considered too tardy, so the poor man had to catch the first Eurostar out of Brussels heading for a mid-morning Cabinet Office meeting. I think it’s called starting as you mean to go on.

One of the great ironies of the last few days is that David Davis will spend more time on the newly unveiled Cam Force One than David Cameron ever did. He won’t enjoy that at all. Not. At. All.
Overall I think Theresa May has done an excellent forming her first Cabinet. There are, however, a few appointments that leave me scratching my head. Take Liz Truss, for instance. On what planet is putting her at Justice a good idea? No legal background, no interest in prison reform from what I can see and no record of any strong views on human rights issues. A totally bizarre appointment. I do, however, love the idea of Priti Patel at Dfid, a department I rather suspect she’d be delighted to abolish. Her civil servants will be appalled by the appointment.

Patrick McLoughlin will be an excellent party chairman. There couldn’t be more of a contrast with his old Etonian predecessor. I think that combined with the message of Theresa May’s appeal to working class voters in Downing Street it shows that the new Prime Minister is intent on parking her tanks on Labour’s lawn. It’s a covert message to right wing Labour MPs too, that there’s a home for them in the Conservative Party if the going gets too tough under Jeremy Corbyn.
Only 8 female cabinet ministers out of 25, two ethnic minority cabinet ministers and two gay ones. Enough? Could do better? Don’t give a toss?



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Iain interviews Lucy Hughes-Hallett

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LISTEN: My 'Media Masters' Interview - My Career in Radio, Books & What Really Happened on Brighton Seafront!

14 Jul 2016 at 21:29

You can download the Podcast through iTunes HERE or stream it HERE

One of the podcasts I subscribe to is the Media Masters Podcast hosted by Paul Blanchard. He interviews people in the media who, according to him, are “at the top of their game”. He spends 45-60 minutes with them, talking about their careers and experience. I’ve become addicted to it as he really draws things out of people. Recent interviewees have included Alastair Campbell, Sir Trevor McDonald, Jacqui Smith, Nick Ross, Sir Martin Sorrell, Katie Hopkins, Lynton Crosby and Jeremy Vine.

So when Paul asked me to do an interview I was thrilled. Anyway, the interview was published today. We cover quite a lot of ground including starting out in financial journalism, Politico’s, Total Politics, Biteback, standing for Parliament, my work at LBC and much else besides. I talk for the first time about what really happened on Brighton seafront too! Here’s how Paul promotes it…

Iain Dale is a political commentator, writer and publisher; presenter of LBC’s drivetime show, and MD of current affairs publisher Biteback. In this in-depth interview, he talks candidly about his career highs and lows; reveals he partly blames himself for David Davis losing the Conservative leadership election; explains how he prepares for his daily LBC show; reminisces about founding Total Politics magazine, and criticises Dods for “running it into the ground”; and discusses in detail the legal issues surrounding his televised ‘seaside scuffle’ with a nuclear campaigner.

You can download the Podcast through iTunes HERE or stream it HERE


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It Shouldn't Happen to a Radio Presenter 48: When to Kill With Kindness, Rather Than Lose Your Temper

12 Jul 2016 at 22:29

This evening I spent an hour on my LBC show discussing David Cameron’s legacy. I have to admit I wasn’t prepared for David in Croydon. He said Cameron had converted him from Labour and thought he was a great leader, apart from one thing – gay marriage. I don’t think he knew who he was talking to. He described it as a stain on his Premiership.

As a presenter who is paid to be opinionated you have a choice in these circumstances. You can do one of two things. Lose your temper and get angry, or remain calm and smother the caller with kindness and logic. I chose the latter course. Listen and judge for yourself if I was right to do so.

If you don’t want to listen to the whole 4 minute conversation above, here’s the key minute on video.



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Mrs May's Cabinet Dilemmas - Whoever She Appoints, the Balance Will Be Heavily In Favour of Remain

12 Jul 2016 at 10:00

Theresa May didn’t expect to have to appoint her Cabinet until after September 9th. Instead, she has to start the process on Wednesday afternoon. It won’t be an easy task. All prime ministers seek to appoint a balanced Cabinet, but previous Prime Ministers didn’t have the Leave v Remain dilemma. She knows if she doesn’t get this right, she will get off to a very dodgy start. But in reality, her Cabinet is unlikely to have a 50-50 split of Leavers and Remainers. The numbers just do not add up. All eyes will be on who she appoints to the main roles, by which I mean Chancellor, Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary and Chief EU Negotiator.

I hope and expect that Theresa May will get rid of all the Cabinet hangers on, by which I mean that myriad of ministers who are not full members of the Cabinet, but have the right to attend. Tony Blair started to appoint ministers in this way in order to placate their ambitions. David Cameron sadly continued to do so. Theresa May will get plaudits if she ends the practice.

In the current Cabinet I’d expect several ministers to either voluntarily lay down their portfolios or be asked to do so. Some, like Patrick McLoughlin, may well think they’ve had a good innings, while others such as Michael Gove may be required to depart the scene. It all depends how radical a carve-up Theresa May wants to have. She should remember that prime ministers are never more powerful than in their first hundred days. Stamp your own mark on your government as you may not get the chance to do so again.

So let’s look at the current Cabinet and speculate as to who might stay, will definitely stay or who might go…

Will Definitely Stay in the Cabinet
Stephen Crabb
Chris Grayling
Sajid Javid
Baroness Stowell
Alun Cairns
Amber Rudd
David Mundell
Mark Harper

Might Well Stay
Philip Hammond
Jeremy Hunt
Justine Greening
Nicky Morgan
Theresa Villiers
Liz Truss
Greg Clark
Oliver Letwin

Might Well Leave the Cabinet
George Osborne
Michael Gove
Michael Fallon
Patrick McLoughlin
John Whittingdale

There are six other Ministers of State who have the right to attend Cabinet. They are Baroness Anelay, Robert Halfon, Anna Soubry, Priti Patel, Greg Hands, Matthew Hancock and the Attorney General Jeremy Wright. I expect Priti Patel to be the only one of this bunch to be promoted to the full Cabinet. I also think that Jeremy Wright might be replaced by Dominic Grieve.

It is likely that Theresa May will wish to reward some of her campaign team, Damian Green being the most obvious example. She is said to think highly of Immigration Minister James Brokenshire. He is even being tipped to replace her as Home Secretary. His main downside is that he is yet another Remainer.

And then there’s the Boris issue. This is perhaps her most difficult call. What job do you give the man who only ten days ago assumed he’d be the one doling out the jobs himself? Too junior a job and he may say no, and yet surely he needs to prove himself in a middle ranking job before he can expect to be promoted to one of the major offices of state. Local Government & Communities might seem a good fit.

The other issue is who to put in charge of the EU negotiations. At the moment it would be a Cabinet Office job, but I hope Theresa May decides to split out trade from Business, Innovation & Skills, and also puts universities back where it belongs, under the remit of the Education Secretary. It’s possible she might even abolish Culture, Media & Sport and put it all into Business. Chris Grayling is spoken of as the front runner for the EU Negotiation position, but don’t rule out Peter Lilley, Liam Fox or David Davis. Indeed, I think one if not both of them may well be in her Cabinet assuming she thinks she can trust either of them.

I also wonder whether she might promote Tracey Crouch to the Cabinet at DCMS (wishful thinking on my part, maybe) and possibly also bring back Maria Miller and/or Caroline Spelman. If she did all three she’d get very close to a 50-50 men/women split!

So, how about this for Theresa May’s first Cabinet?

Prime Minister: Theresa May
Chancellor: Philip Hammond
Foreign Secretary: David Davis or Liam Fox
Chief Secretary: Andrea Leadsom
Home Secretary: Jeremy Hunt
Cabinet Office/EU: Chris Grayling
Party Chairman: Justine Greening
Business: Sajid Javid
Justice: Greg Clark
Transport: Brandon Lewis
Education: Nicky Morgan
Health: Mark Harper
Scotland: David Mundell
Wales: Alun Cairns
Northern Ireland: Theresa Villiers
Chief Whip Damian Green
Defence: Boris Johnson
Work & Pensions: Stephen Crabb
Leader of the House of Commons Sir Alan Duncan
International Development Priti Patel
Culture, Media & Sport: James Brokenshire
Local Government & Communities: Maria Miller
Attorney General: Dominic Grieve
DECC: Amber Rudd
DEFRA: Liz Truss
Leader of the House of Lords: Baroness Stowell

That’s 26 people around the Cabinet table but only 6 of them Leavers. Even if Michael Gove is retained and both David Davis and Liam Fox are included that would only give a balance of 18-8. Hardly a balance. The problem is that if you look down the list of Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under Secretary of State there are very few Leave supporters, and of them, there are not many you’d put into the Cabinet.

Last time there was a Cabinet reshuffle I got 14 out of 20 appointments right, rather better than anyone else. Lightning doesn’t strike twice, so I suspect I won’t repeat that. But you can see how difficult it will be for Theresa May to balance her government right from the off.



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The Challenges Facing Theresa May

11 Jul 2016 at 14:13

I tweeted this earlier…

And no, I wasn’t referring to the fact that within six minutes Labour had sent out two press releases, one calling for an immediate general election and the second announcing a Labour Party leadership contest.

As of now, we effectively have a new Prime Minister. With Andrea Leadsom quitting the race Theresa May is about to be crowned leader of the Conservative Party and Prime Minister. While I feel that Andrea Leadsom has been treated appallingly by a blood-thirsty media I do think she has done the right thing by quitting the race. Yes there will be siren voices among the Conservative Party membership who cannot reconcile themselves to the fact they won’t have been ale to vote in a proper contest, but in the end it’s surely in the national interest to have this settled now.

As I write this, Sky News are speculating that Theresa May could be in Number Ten by the end of the day. It’s possible but unlikely, I’d have thought. Surely it makes sense for her to have a few days to gather her thoughts and plan her administration. I doubt whether she’s thought very deeply about that up to now. Also, it means David Cameron would do a final PMQs on Wednesday as his prime ministerial swansong. So I suspect Theresa May will take over the reins on Thursday or Friday.

So what kind of Prime Minister will Theresa May be, and will she be tempted or pressured into calling an early general election. Let’s deal with that one first. In these circumstances all opposition parties call for an election. Labour did in 1963. The Tories did in 1976. Labour did in 1990. The Tories did in 2007. There is no constitutional precedent for it at all. We all know Gordon Brown nearly called an election in 2007 but chickened out. With the state the Labour Party is in, Theresa May wouldn’t be human if she wasn’t tempted, but there is the small matter of the Fixed Term Parliament Act which slightly gets in the way. There would need to be a 66% vote of MPs for a general election – that is 429 MPs. Would all Labour MPs act like turkeys voting for Christmas? Difficult to say. I’m not sure the SNP would like one, and the LibDems couldn’t afford one. Having said that, Tim Farron has called for one and it’s possible the LibDems could see a mini-revival.

Theresa May will be a very different kind of Prime Minister to David Cameron. While she bought into much of his modernising agenda, she is actually much more of a traditional Conservative than most people think. She is conservative rather than a Conservative, by which I mean she is wary of dramatic change rather than holding socially conservative views. She’s a Baldwin rather than a Thatcher, and I don’t mean that as in insult. She will test a case to destruction before embarking on radical change. Her premiership will be dominated by Brexit and she knows it is what she will be judged upon. This is why her Cabinet appointments are so important, especially the four main roles – Chancellor, Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and the person who will head up the Brexit negotiations and new trade talks.

As of now I doubt Theresa May has decided herself who she wants to appoint to these roles, and that’s the reason she shouldn’t take over as Prime Minister until later in the week. Appoint in haste, repent at leisure. Predicting what she will do is a mug’s game, but I will make the following observations. I cannot see how either George Osborne or Philip Hammond can be appointed to any of these roles, with the possible exception of Home Secretary. The Sunday newspapers suggested she might offer that role to Michael Gove, but I find that difficult to believe given their history. If Gove remains in the Cabinet at all, it would surely be in his current role as Justice Secretary, where he is doing good work on prison reform. Speculation is rife that both David Davis and Liam Fox might be offered roles in her government. Fox covets the job of Foreign Secretary, while Davis was tipped by several Sunday papers to head up the Brexit negotiations. It seems to me that these three roles – Chancellor, Foreign Secretary & Brexit negotiator – have to be held by Brexiteers. The only exception I would make to that would be if David Cameron would agree to serve as Foreign Secretary. As I wrote on Friday in my ConHome Diary, there is some historical precedent for this, although I don’t think it is at all likely.

Some new Prime Ministers bloom in office, others wither. Gordon Brown had a spectacular first three months and then it all got on top of him. Theresa May needs to learn the art of delegation. It’s something she has never been good at. Ask any minister who has served under her. She’s always been on top of her brief, but has looked less certain when answering questions which are off it. We saw a little of that earlier this morning when she took questions from journalists after her campaign launch in Birmingham. She really does need to become Theresa of all trades rather than mistress of one.

Theresa May has a good team surrounding her. She’s brought back her three former special advisers, Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill. They are all deeply loyal to her (read Norman Baker’s book AGAINST THE GRAIN for the proof) and all highly capable. Expect them all to take on senior roles in Number Ten.

Who knows where we will be by the end of the day. For Theresa May it’s the most exciting day of her life. It’s probably also the most frightening. Whenever we step up to a big job we all have moments of self-doubt, and Theresa May will be no different to anyone else. Whatever our political views, everyone should be wishing her all the luck in the world.



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21 Things I'd Like to Do, But (Almost Certainly) Never Will

9 Jul 2016 at 16:00

I have very few regrets in my life. I don’t really believe in ‘what ifs’ or looking back with a degree of wistfulness, but this ‘bucket list’ with a difference gives a clue to what some of my regrets might be, as well as list a few things that were always going to unfulfilled dreams. I suppose fifteen of them are still theoretically possible, but I’ll leave it to you to work out which they are!

  • Present my own TV Political Chat Show
  • Play for West Ham
  • Work in Washington DC
  • Live in Switzerland
  • Appear on Desert Island Discs
  • Spend a month skiing
  • Attend the White House Correspondents Dinner
  • To make documentaries like Michael Cockerell’s
  • Learn to speak Dutch
  • Write a novel
  • Be Secretary of State for Transport
  • Get a single figure golf handicap
  • Become a director of West Ham United
  • Write a multi-volume biography of a leading politician
  • Spend a month touring all the US Presidential Libraries
  • Buy holiday homes in Germany, Switzerland, France, Florida and Italy
  • Visit the Falkland Islands
  • Perform at the Edinburgh Fringe
  • Have a weekly multi-story column in a national newspaper
  • Host my own own music radio show
  • Play Augusta



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