UK Politics

I voted Leave, but Brexit Doesn’t Mean we Lose Everything European - Including Our Identity

15 Feb 2018 at 20:42

This is the text of an article I have written for the ‘i’ newspaper today…

In some respects, life in the limbo between the UK voting to leave the European Union and Brexit itself has engendered some unfortunate habits in discourse. As a radio host, I’ve done my best to ask questions that challenge prominent figures from all parties who hold all sorts of viewpoints, at a time where the balance and nuance of political interview is victim to either point scoring or delivering softball topics.

The divide itself also seemingly has the effect of harming our ability to listen to one another’s views, as the red mist falls faster than thought processes engage – and not just on Twitter.

It’s understandable to see with a topic that is so key to our country’s future role on the world stage. Another habit, which is a regular occurrence, is presuming that those who voted Leave are less than keen on our neighbours across The Channel. The urge to conflate the cultural with the political is something that can be seen on both sides of the debate. I voted to leave the EU. But my decision was by no means made due to any sense of not feeling like I have any kind of European identity, nor was it down to being closed to the cultural impact that Europe has had on me – and on the country more generally.

Just over 30 years ago, I graduated from the University of East Anglia with a degree in German, and ended up thoroughly fluent, having spent two years living, working and teaching in Germany. I fully intended to become a German teacher, being rather in love with the country, but life often has different plans.

I still speak the language – though with a slight coating of rust – and visit as often as work and life allows. Beyond culture, I also have genetic links to the continent. My grandmother’s maiden name was ‘French’, so I strongly suspect I have French blood in me somewhere too – I’m actually in the process of finding out more about my genetic heritage, as it’s fascinating to know where our ancestors’ movements have led us. So in short, while I’m no fan of the political entity that is the EU, I feel that although I identify primarily as English, and secondarily as British, being European is also part of my identity – and what a mercifully multi-faceted range of options and configurations that word covers. #EuroPartOfMe That’s why I’ve chosen to share my views in a new film, alongside a number of people from both sides of the debate that you might not expect (Alastair Campbell anyone?).

It’s the starting point of the #EuroPartOfMe ad campaign with AncestryDNA that encourages us all to find common ground in our cultural and genetic links to Europe – however we voted in the referendum.

It’s not just politicos and outspoken famous figures that are extending the olive branch though – members of the public have been sharing video contributions via an interactive video screen on the South Bank throughout Thursday and people can still record a message celebrating their links with Europe and share it on social media via #EuroPartOfMe on Twitter. Of course, not everyone will react in a spirit of reconciliation, and certainly nobody is likely to abandon pursuing their course of choice when it comes to either pushing through or preventing Brexit, but I hope by being involved I can do one small thing towards improving the understanding between the two camps and changing the way those who voted Leave might be perceived too.

After all, Europe will still be there across the water – and in our DNA – come 29 March next year.

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Australian blogger Sligherrian interviews Iain

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My Interview with Morgan Tsvangirai

14 Feb 2018 at 22:20

Ten years ago I interviewed the Zimbabwean Opposition Leader, Morgan Tsvangirai. It was the cover interview of the second ever edition of Total Politics magazine Tonight it was announced he had died, at the age of 65. Here’s the i

You won the election in March. Do you now feel you have been cheated out of the Presidency?

This is not about me. This is not about the MDC. My concern, and that of our party, is that the people’s will has not been respected. It has been ignored. Betrayed. Violently punished. During our March 29 Presidential, parliamentary and local elections, people voted for change at all levels. MDC won resoundingly. We became the majority party in parliament for the first time in Zimbabwe’s history. I won a majority of votes. We took control of all town councils. The issue is not feeling cheated, the real issue is betrayal of the people’s will. The people’s voices have been silenced once again, in some cases forever. The post-election violence is unprecedented in our country.

Will the MDC MPs take their seats after the violence they have suffered?

We are the democratically elected Government having won a majority of seats in March. Despite many of my MPs being attacked and, in some cases, such as that of the Hon Naisson Nemadziva MP for Buhera South, abducted from central Harare this week, we must and will take up our seats in Parliament. My only real concern is that Mugabe’s thugs may actually take even more brutal steps against our MPs to deprive us of our Parliamentary majority. This would seem farfetched in most other countries, but sadly not here.

You have control of the Zimbabwean Parliament. Can you not use your parliamentary power to contain Mugabe?

Robert Mugabe is an illegitimately elected leader who in recent years has paid little regard to the will of Zimbabwean people and the democratic principles in our constitution. This is why the MDC has called for a transitional government to be installed in order that we can form an inclusive government to begin the processes of stabilization and national healing without any interference.

If the MDC comes into power will Zimbabwe still be a governable country?

Never before has Zimbabwe faced a crisis of this magnitude. Never before has Zimbabwe faced the prospect of two starkly contrasting futures. On the one hand, we face the prospect of progress towards a real democracy that offers hope and economic prosperity. On the other hand, Zimbabwe faces a future filled with violent instability and poverty that could infect the whole African continent.

Although we face a crisis today, I am confident that with the continued adherence to peaceful democratic change exhibited by the people of Zimbabwe and the growing alliance of African and other countries, we will be able to heal the currents rifts and steer the country towards a peaceful, stable and prosperous future.

Would you institute your own version of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission?

We have always said we are about healing and restorative justice rather than retribution, but a nation cannot move forward without acknowledging the mistakes of the past. MDC intends to institute a mechanism that allows the many thousands of people who have suffered under this regime the opportunity to forgive, but not necessarily to forget. The nature of the mechanism we choose can only be decided after consultation with the people.

The country has inflation rates of 8 million percent, with 80 percent unemployment. Does MDC have a plan to stabilise and reconstruct the economy?

Yes. Though Zimbabwe currently has the highest inflation rate in the world, there are numerous precedents on how to resolve hyperinflation in the world today. We understand that inflation is a price signal symptomatic of huge imbalances between the usage and availability of products and resources within the country. In that sense, inflation merely signals how much Zimbabwe has been impoverished by the profligacy of the previous government and the acute contraction of the Zimbabwean economy.

There’s not time to go into details here, but MDC policies will seek to reverse both these maladies by significantly reducing government’s claim on resources as well as goods and services. We intend to constitute a government with a smaller number of ministries. Our fiscal policies are deliberately biased towards assistance to the poor and economically vulnerable while at the same time ensuring adequate resources to resuscitate our all economic sectors. Economic empowerment of our black majority remains a high priority to build sustainable prosperity and stability.

Besides money, we will require the skills and ingenuity of our people as well as well-meaning foreign investment partners. Even with the greatest incentives possible, it will not be possible to mobilize our entrepreneurs and attract foreign ones without the restoration of the rule of law and the establishment of a credible government that is trusted by the people. For this reason the MDC has always considered its struggle for political freedom and civil liberties as part and parcel of the struggle for economic prosperity in Zimbabwe.

What kind of international help will be needed to reconstruct Zimbabwe?

It is first important to note that Zimbabwe has no desire to be dependent on foreign aid in any way. To help us out of this crisis, however, we will need four forms of financial assistance from the international community.

Firstly, immediately after forming our government, we will give priority to addressing the humanitarian crisis visited upon our people by the previous government through the mobilization of international aid to feed the hungry, as well as relocate and repatriate the geographically displaced. We will also require aid for the provision of basic infrastructure such the construction and rehabilitation of roads, the provision of primary education and healthcare, as well as to provide adequate inputs, infrastructure and water to agriculture in a bid to restore food security. Such assistance will go a long way towards restoring normalcy of life for the ordinary Zimbabwean citizen.

Secondly, we intend to convene a land commission to deal with the land problem once and for all. Since its inception, the MDC has had an unwavering commitment to a land reform programme that is not only non- partisan, equitable, just and lawful, but also does not dislocate agricultural production and productivity. For a variety of unfortunate reasons, Zimbabwe is still to have such a land reform programme. MDC’s urgent programme will require significant international assistance to provide compensation, rebuild the necessary infrastructure, agricultural finance, inputs as well as extension services.

Thirdly, we will require bilateral and multilateral soft loans to assist with the rehabilitation of key forms of infrastructure such as power generation, our railway system as well as aviation and also for the rehabilitation and retooling of the private sector. This financial assistance will be critical in creating an enabling environment for the recovery of the productive capacity of our economy.

Fourthly, we will need domestic and foreign private investment to foster the growth of the productive sector.

How did the violent attack you suffered in the last year affect you as a politician?

I am just one person amongst thousands who have been attacked by the regime for wanting change. Because of who I am though, my attack brought international attention to the similar or worse plight of thousands of voiceless people. One thing this attack did is make me realise how far this regime is prepared to go to hang on to power.

Do you consider you are now leader of a liberation movement?

Robert Mugabe was a liberation hero. He and others in ZANU and ZAPU liberated us from minority rule, and from colonial oppression. Now, however, we are in the tragic and ironic situation of having to liberate ourselves from the liberator. The people need to be freed again. To that extent, yes, we are a liberation movement, but a peaceful and democratic liberation movement. Different from the Mugabe regime, we will liberate ourselves with ballots, not bullets.

What message would you like to send to African leaders who have given Mugabe their support?

We all used to see Mugabe as a liberation hero, so naturally it is difficult for some to acknowledge the grave mistakes he has made since 1980. Still, the truth is, Mugabe is a liberator who has become an oppressor of his own people. Whilst respecting his contribution to our nation’s history, we know that a majority of African leaders want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Zimbabwe, not a starving, unstable, inflation-ridden one with millions of citizens fleeing into their own countries.

Where does the MDC go from here?

I have been asked this question many times in the last few days as if the MDC has stopped and is deciding what to do next. Nothing could be further from the truth. From here we keep heading in the same direction that we always have, towards a democratic Zimbabwe. Since the people gave us this mandate when the party was first formed in September 1999, we have never altered course or lost site of the goal.

In parliament and town councils we will launch our Restore Hope Campaign to help rebuild the country. This legislative agenda has five components: 1) healing our nation; 2) restoring the people’s freedoms; 3) restoring the people’s dignity; 4) restoring basic services; and 5) restoring Zimbabwe to the family of nations.

Some of our political structures have been decimated by violence. We currently have 1,573 leaders and members shivering in Zimbabwe jails as political prisoners. One of our first priorities as a party is to free our political prisoners.

Why have you rejected calls to join a Government of National Unity – would you ever consider power sharing?

I and the MDC remain committed to negotiations to end the country’s crisis but these must be based on the March 29 result and must move towards a transitional agreement that would lead to a new constitution and fresh elections. Our commitment to a negotiated settlement is not about power-sharing or power deals but about democracy, justice, fairness and healing the divisions in our country. As we’ve stated before, these urgent talks must be brokered by an expanded AU-SADC mediation team.

Before dialogue is initiated, certain very basic conditions must be in place: Firstly, ZANU-PF must stop the violence against the people of Zimbabwe. The militia base camps must be disbanded. Political persecution must end, with all parties able to move freely, hold meetings and travel in and outside of Zimbabwe without hindrance or intimidation.
What is your message to the people of Zimbabwe and your supporters?

The victory of the people may be delayed but not denied. The will of the people shall prevail. These are not just political slogans. These are solemn commitments. The people of Zimbabwe have shown great courage, resolve and resilience. Millions are silent heroes. Thousands of others are less silent – bold Zimbabweans in civil society, the church and the business community – both within Zimbabwe and in the diaspora – who do not necessarily all support our party but who have bravely spoken out against violence and for the will of the people to be respected. Their selfless commitment to change must be acknowledged. Even facing personal threat, the Zimbabwean people keep believing in peaceful democratic change, yes, even as they are beaten by bicycle chains, iron rods and sticks. My message to these heroes is – your suffering is not in vain. We will finish it. We shall restore hope to our land.

What makes you most proud of being a Zimbabwean?

Despite the terrible atrocities inflicted upon them hundreds of thousands of Zimbabweans refused to be cowed. Knowing that Mugabe would declare himself the winner of a sham election they made their protest by either marking the ballot in my favour or by spoiling their ballot paper. This form of silent protest when it is literally putting their life at risk says much about what is so great about the Zimbabwean people.

This magazine is sent to every elected Politician in Britain. Sum up your message to them.

My message to British politicians is the same as I would give to anyone in the world. The Zimbabwean crisis is not a complex one. It is not caused by decades of religious, ethnic or tribal hatred. It is caused by a small group of people that refuse to acknowledge that they have lost the support of the people and are hanging on to power. The Zimbabwean crisis can be solved and it can be solved soon. In the past decade we have been through some terrible times but the next two months are the most crucial in Zimbabwe’s recent history. When we launch our Restore Hope agenda in parliament, you will see the emergence of a New Zimbabwe – a post liberation democratic Zimbabwe.

What would you like to say to the rest of Africa?

The people of Zimbabwe will never forget the debt of gratitude that we owe to our African brothers and sisters who are standing by us in our time of need. Whilst our concern about President Mbeki is well known, we are heartened by the 2 July African Union resolution regarding expansion of the SADC mediation efforts to include the AU. We deeply appreciate the work of the Pan African Parliament, SADC and AU observer missions which each independently determined that the violent conditions of the 27 June one-man Presidential runoff made it impossible for the will of the Zimbabwean people to be expressed credibly, freely or fairly. Related to this, we appreciate that the AU thereafter took cognizance of the African observer missions’ conclusion that the last legitimate election held in Zimbabwe was therefore on 29 March. This is an example where African solutions are being found to African problems by courageous Africans who represent the great future of our continent.

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Iain talks to Charles Moore about Vol 2 of his Margaret Thatcher biography

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WATCH: CNN Talk - The Oxfam Scandal

12 Feb 2018 at 21:04

We debate the Oxfam scandal and ask if it undermines the case for international aid. Clue: No it doesn’t…

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Iain Interviews Donal Blaney About the Tory Bullying Scandal

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WATCH: Interview with Alastair Campbell on the State of Brexit Negotiations - It gets feisty!

9 Feb 2018 at 20:38

This afternoon I did a two hour phone-in on the seemingly deteriorating relations between Michel Barnier and David Davis. My guest was Alastair Campbell. It developed into, well, quite a feisty encounter. I always enjoy interviewing Alastair. In this twelve minute interview he basically admitted that Jacob Rees-Mogg was right when he said that Britain faced becoming a ‘vassal state’ in a transition period.

Enjoy!

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Iain interviews Paddy Ashdown

Paddy Ashdown's new book is a World War 2 military history book

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WATCH: CNN Talk - The Winter Olympics & the two Koreas

9 Feb 2018 at 20:34

In Friday’s CNN Talk we discussed how the Winter Olympics might affect future relations between North and South Korea, and also North Korea’s relations with the United States.

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BBC Radio Berkshire: Andrew Peach interviews Iain about Bracknell

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ConHome Diary: Pardons, Apologies, Soubers & Corbyn on Crime

9 Feb 2018 at 13:22

I’ve always liked Anna Soubry and I completely respect the fact that she holds very strong views on the European issue, which are in contract to my own. However, as an elected Conservative MP, you are a participant on politics, not a commentator on it. Her outburst on Newsnight, calling for so-called Hard Brexiteers like Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson to be slung out of the party was outrageous. Given that they are in tune with official party policy and the party membership, it was a ridiculous thing to say. Successful political parties are big-tent coalition, not narrow sects. Jacob Rees-Mogg, whatever you think of him or some of his views is just as much a Conservative as Anna Soubry. If the Labour Party can contain both John McDonnell and Chuka Umunna, I fail to see why both Anna and Jacob can’t belong in the Conservative Party. Given what she said to Newsnight and the next day on Good Morning Britain, I’d say it’s highly likely we will see Anna leaving the party at some point this year. It would be a crying shame given her talents and her ability to communicate on the media. I for one would regret her going, and so should even the most devout Eurosceptic. Openly divided parties do not win elections.
*
The language used by both sides on the Brexit debate seems to be hardening and coarsening. As a Brexiteer I have been described as “swivel-eyed”, “mad”, “a Eurosceptic wanker” and far worse. I have tried not to respond in kind and have a deliberate policy of not using the word ‘Remoaner’. But on Twitter, you’re wading through a terrible sewer at times. Just by retweeting and linking to an article on Brexit Central attracts all sorts of abuse. Three friends have told me this week that they have left Twitter because of the abuse. I may not be far behind them. If it weren’t for the fact that I need it for my job, and to market stuff I do, I would have probably jacked it in some time ago.
*

“I’d like to confirm I think crime is wrong.” Jeremy Corbyn at PMQs on Wednesday. We are grateful.
*
I’m not a great fan of historical apologies or posthumous pardons, and I think it is a fundamental misunderstanding of the cause of the suffragettes to even imagine that they would even want a pardon from the state for what they did. The fact that they achieved their aims and no one would want to turn the clock back is testament to their actions. Why would they want to be ‘forgiven’? On my radio show on Tuesday, when we spent an hour marking the hundredth anniversary of women’s suffrage I took some flak for saying that some people would describe some of the things the suffragettes did as terrorism. Many of their actions wouldn’t be classed as that, but surely some would, I suggested. After the show I got an email from a listener whose grandfather had been a judge in the Emmeline Pankhurst trial. This is what he wrote…

“I was interested to hear the refs to ‘terrorism’ on your show tonight especially since my ancestral cousin Sir Charles Montague Lush was the last judge to send Mrs E.Pankhurst down on the 3rd April, 1913 at London’s Central Criminal Court.

Mrs P. may not have lit the fuse herself when Lloyd-George’s residence was bombed in Feb. of that year but she was arrested for having ‘counselled and procured’ the perpetrators of the crime, a charge she denied. Mr Bodkin, acting for The Crown, then read out a letter written in her own hand saying that ‘if we don’t get what we want…the Government and the public will be bullied into giving us what we want…’

After receiving a verdict of guilty with a strong recommendation to mercy, ‘Montie’, in his summing up, declared that her crime was indeed ‘wicked because it not only leads to the destruction of property…but it may also expose other people to the danger of being maimed or even killed.’ But paying due regard to the jury’s recommendation, Montie, who had championed many causes celebres on behalf of women as a leading counsel, passed the minimum sentence of three years’ penal servitude as opposed to the maximum of fourteen years’ imprisonment.

Damage to property in this and other circumstances had certainly been carried out by an element of the suffragettes described by one of Mrs P’s biographers as ‘guerilla warfare’. I therefore refute any suggestion that there wasn’t an element of ‘terrorism’ present in the group’s activities.

Consequently, I would suggest that any notion of a pardon granted to those who, as you rightly pointed out, were long since dead and were sentenced according to the law of the land at that time in order to keep the public safe utterly absurd.

Yours sincerely, Charlie Lush


In amongst all the totally justified celebration of 100 years of women’s suffrage, we seem to have forgotten that it is also 100 years since working class men got the vote too. Isn’t it odd that the Labour Party in particular has made nothing of that?


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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale Hosts a Phone in on Psychics & Mediums

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WATCH: CNNTalk on South African political turbulence & Media censorship in Kenya

6 Feb 2018 at 11:05

On our latest CNN Talk we discussed the political upheavals in South Africa and the closedown of TV stations in Kenya.

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Video: Iain Hosts an 18 Doughty Street Fallands Special

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In Memory of Bert Rose - 1928-2017

6 Feb 2018 at 09:22

Last Friday I attended the funeral of Bert Rose at St Martin’s Church, Overstrand, near Cromer. Bert was a dear friend, and a key ally of mine when I stood for the Conservatives in North Norfolk. I gave the second eulogy. His good friend Paul Cater took us through his whole life, and you can read his eulogy after mine, but I concentrated on a few personal memories.

I think it was Richard Nixon who said the biggest compliment he could be paid was if the words ‘he made a difference’ were etched onto his gravestone. There are people who enter this world and leave it without making a mark. No one could say that about our dear friend Bert Rose.

He made a difference to all our lives. Everyone here, celebrating his life, will know what a difference he made to theirs. Paul has said more or less everything that could be said about Bert and he captured him brilliantly. I just want to tell you about the Bert John and I knew.

Back in September 2003 North Norfolk Conservatives selected me as their parliamentary candidate for the 2005 general election. They lived to regret it – well, many of them did – but I remember Bert taking me aside before the second round of interviews to wish me luck and give me some good advice.

He introduced me to Sylvia at the Conservative Club and when I won, they immediately invited me to stay at their wonderful house in Roughton, until I found somewhere of my own. I never did find out if he’d consulted Sylvia first. Bert was nothing if not impetuous – make a decision and worry about the consequences later.

So, for three months I’d spend two or three nights a week with them, being totally pampered. When I eventually moved into our cottage in Swanton Abbott, it was a real wrench to leave.

I remember in my first week with them I was getting dressed and sat on the bed to put my socks on – I had reached that age – and the whole bed collapsed underneath me. I sat there for what seemed like an age thinking, how on earth do I tell them I have broken their bed?

So I went downstairs and imparted the bad news. Bert screamed with laughter and Sylvia wasn’t far behind. An awkward moment was turned into one of absolute hilarity and that was Bert all over.

Yes, he was loud, yes he could be brash, but he was one of the kindest people I have ever known. He was also good at reading your mood – leaving you alone if you were in a bad one, but able to coax you out of moments of melancholy.

For someone with strong views, and never nervous about expressing them, Bert was also a great conciliator. If you were having a dispute with someone, he’d always encourage you to see the other person’s point of view. Helen, the conservative party agent, and a close friend of Bert, won’t mind me saying that from time to time she and I would have a spectacular falling out.

Bert never took sides but would always try to make sure we repaired relations as quickly as possible. It’s a rare talent to have.

Bert was a proud man and took delight in the achievement of others close to him. He was especially proud to have been given the Freedom of the City of London in the 1990s. I never did find out if he took advantage of the freedom it gave him to drive a herd of goats over London Bridge. Bert was also very proud of his home in Roughton and especially his garden, which he and Sylvia tended so lovingly.

The Conservative Party meant a lot to Bert. He had the same frustrations as the rest of us, but he loved the local party. He absolutely loved the Conservative Club in Louden Road and did everything in his power to make it a success.

He made so many friends through the party and the club, some of them here today, with some having already joined his great heroine Margaret Thatcher above.

Bert was a good judge of character, but he rarely judged. He was also fiercely protective and fiercely loyal. Often I would get to hear of how Bert had rallied to my defence when someone made a slightly off colour comment about me, or me and my partner John.

When I lost the election and lost it badly, a lot of people who I had thought of as friends, dropped me like a stone. Fair enough, that’s politics I suppose, but Bert and Sylvia remained true, loyal and the best of friends and it was a delight and privilege to attend their wedding in 2007.

Bert was quick to praise but didn’t stint in his critique if he disagreed with you. I wrote a weekly column in the EDP for seven years and Bert would email me after reading either telling me it was the most brilliant column in the history of column writing, or that I had no clue what I was talking about and I should be ashamed of my views. No shades of grey with Bert!
Bert made a difference to everyone he met. He was usually the life and soul of the party, but he also had a quieter reflective side. Sylvia brought out the best in him and his love for her was there for all of us to observe. And her love for him has been there for all of us to see, especially in these last few difficult years as Bert’s health declined.

We will all miss Bert. Our lives were enriched by him. I know I speak for everyone here when I say we will never forget him.

PAUL CATER’S EULOGY

For over 30 years my wife and I have known Bert as a friend, a close family friend, and as “Uncle Bertie” to our children.

Today we are all here as friends of Bert Rose, not only to mourn the loss of Bert, but also to recall and celebrate his life.

Iain Dale and I have been asked to speak about how we remember our friend Bert, and to turn open some of the chapters in his life.

To be asked to give testimony in this way is an important privilege. Bert has had a long life, and now in this very short space of time today we try our best to give what is a final roll call to his life and to some of the things that he has done.

Bert’s life is a large canvas on which I can fill out only a partial and more recent sketch. It covers both the years and the continents – USA, continental Europe and, of course, the UK.

This is painting by numbers, but I only have some of the colours to fill in some of the canvas. Large parts of it remain unknown to me so please forgive omissions or indeed, help us fill them in today yourselves if you are able to.

Bert was born on 20th November 1928 in the USA in Connecticut, although we have always thought of him as a Texan.

Bert’s father was Samuel Rose and we believe he was a rancher.

We know that Bert was not an only child – he had siblings – and, with his wife Anne, whom he married in Texas on the 15 June 1955, he had a family. Anne sadly died many years ago.

He worked for the leading New York construction company Lehrer McGovern, which merged with the UK’s P&O/Bovis in 1988. This brought him to Europe – Poland first of all, then Paris (for EuroDisney) and then London (for Canary Wharf).

At work you can be sure that Bert always made demands on himself to perform and he was always full of stories,

I remember his telling me that when he was in Poland building an abattoir, the ground work plans came in to him unexpectedly, well before the Christmas freeze, so Bert seized the opportunity to push on and get the foundations in before the snow.

When Lehrer McGovern then informed him in the New Year that the ground work plans would shortly be with him, Bert was able to tell them that the programme was ahead of schedule and that that phase of the work had been completed.

So they asked to see the plans.

We don’t know where on earth you got that set of drawing from, but they are for the new Chicago penitentiary. They said: That’s a pity (well, probably something somewhat stronger). We’ll have to redesign.

Bert was always a very much larger than life person, but in dealing with the fairer sex, always the perfect gentleman. He became entranced by Judy Ablewhite when he met her. If she was the English rose, then Bert was certainly the American Rose.

Judy had left British Airways in 1977, where she had worked for a number of years. She then had a spell of trans-Atlantic commuting when she joined, firstly, Hilton Hotels and then Penta Hotels, and it was in New York that she and Bert first met.

They were married in December 1983 in a quiet service in Hampton, attended by Judy’s parents, and Bert came to stay with us before his wedding day.

Some here today will remember their first of all living in a small but pretty house near the Thames in Hampton.

And then a larger house in Weybridge.

Whilst they were living in Weybridge, Bert was injured by taking a bad on-site fall, whilst working on his Canary Wharf construction project. This was a painful back injury and retirement became necessary.

The story now becomes much more local – because, when Judy’s father retired from Lloyds Bank some years earlier, he and his wife moved to a bungalow in Overstrand – so Bert and Judy bought Hill Farm up here in Roughton, to be near Judy’s widowed mother.

Bert, in his earlier life had had his horses, and in later life in the UK his dogs, although I can only recall those here in Norfolk – Tizzie and Pepper and, of course Hamish, the West Highland terrier.

And between times, Bert continued to be an avid reader and kept a good cellar of wines, which he had brought up to Norfolk with him.

However, those of you who may have sampled his home-brewed Rumtoff will recall this as a memorable experience,

Following a family visit we made to Hill Farm, I and my American son-in-law can attest that an evening of Bert’s Rumtoff hospitality after dinner was both a demanding and long-lasting trial of the human body, although we now believe that all supplies, and indeed the distilling and fermentation recipe for this pungent inebriant, are fortunately lost to mankind.

We know those very familiar lines Ecclesiastes:

“To every thing there is a season,
and a time to every purpose under the heaven:
A time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted ……
A time to rend, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silent, and a time to speak…….”

Bert in his long life has done all those things, across the globe, except the last…. I have never known him keep silent. Forthright and wholly outspoken in his views – red-carded on a number of occasions for his “Bertrocities”, – his email address you may recall was: BertRose@bertrocity.com – but always warm, welcoming and very genuine and, Bertrocities aside, as I have already said, always the perfect host and gentleman.

Here in Norfolk, Bert, now a British citizen, was active in local politics, Roughton Village Hall and Roughton Village Council, DIY and, of course, an extensive amount of time in the large garden at Hill Farm. Judy died here in 2002.

This garden and the house eventually became rather too much of a demanding task every day of the week, so relocation was called for and this was to the Overstand bungalow, with a much more manageable garden but still plenty of opportunity for DIY within.

From the bungalow, Bert was a regular visitor to Judy’s mother who was by then resident in a care home. Although she also had dementia, she was always happy to see Bert.

Bert kept his long-established friendships in the USA. He liked his trips to Texas and particularly to San Antonio where the late Stan Coughran and his wife Nancy lived.

He kept contact with our daughter Sophie, who was in the USA, and took his god-daughters, Nickie and Camilla, over there with him to see what Texas was really like, and to stay with Nancy and Stan, and to visit Florida.

Bert was so fortunate as to meet Sylvia in Overstrand in 2004. He asked her to dinner – again, you could say politics – because the venue for their first meeting was the Overstand Conservative Club, and Bert used to be there at the end of an evening for his coffee and rum.

They celebrated their growing and loving relationship when they married here in this church on the 20 April 2007.

Bert and Sylvia came to the wedding of our son Jonathan a couple of years later in August 2009, and Bert made a very nice speech to the assembled guests.

This was before the onset of his dementia was starting to become apparent. He was looking very well. We have a lovely photo of Bert and Sylvia taken there. The wedding reception was in the open air – you all know Bert – no problem for anyone at the various tables hearing what he had to say.

His address was sincere and heartfelt. That was Bert’s style and it is what we all loved about him. It reminded us that he was always very kind and supportive of all the young he knew, particularly those who were starting to make their way in life. He was a person with a very big heart.

Bertie and Sylvia looked after each other, and certainly Sylvia has latterly looked after Bert with undivided attention – with help from friends and Sylvia’s daughter Tina, who also has some words for us in this service – both at home and then when Bert had to be away in care.

In his latter years, Bert was burdened with increasing dementia. He had intermittent flashes of recognition and coherence – and his often sudden and completely unexpected responses could on occasion be quite amusing – and they were in their way reassuring, because they showed that he was making past connections with times past – but sadly these faded as the dementia so tragically overtook him in his last years.

These have been five and a half very difficult years, and I think we have all appreciated and been grateful for the constant and loving care that Sylvia has given to Bert, with long and frequent day trips to Norwich to the Julian Hospital for a year and a half, where Bert was resident in the excellent new Dementia Intensive Care Unit which opened in 2011. After that there were daily visits to him over 4 years in North Walsham where he was in the very good care of the staff at Halvergate Nursing Home.

For Bert, a very full and packed life of some 89 years.

He was a very special and irreplaceable friend, whom we have had great pleasure knowing over the years, and from whom we have all in certain ways, I am sure, learned something, and whom we shall remember with lasting affection.

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2 Feb 2018 at 13:06

Ann Widdecombe needs your vote. For those of you who don’t watch Celebrity Big Brother, she’s in the final and voting finishes this evening. It would be great to see her win it, and confound her critics. If you want to vote for her dial 090 20 44 24 03.
*
I keep trying to put myself in Philip Lee’s brain and imagine what he was thinking of when he sent three tweets out on Wednesday evening questioning how the government could legitimately continue in office if any part of the Treasury Brexit forecasts were true. He’s not a commentator, or even a backbench MP. He’s a government minister. Too many MPs seem to believe they are not active participants in the process of politics or government. Instead they seem to think they are detached from it, and are free to commentate on it. If you can’t bring yourself to accept the concept of collective responsibility you resign. Simple as that. You don’t have a public battle with yourself and your party’s demons on social media. You write to the Prime Minister letter and explain why you can no longer support government policy. I understand the Chief Whip called Philip in for an interview without coffee. I imagine he used some fairly colourful language to explain that any repetition would lead to a very short future in government.
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*

As I write this, I have just emerged from two hours – yes, two hours – of dental treatment. Last Friday half of my lower back tooth fell off. It didn’t hurt, but I knew instantly it was going to cost. A lot. So I got an emergency appointment first thing on Monday and sure enough was told I needed a crown. The left-hand side of my face is totally numb. I just hope the anaesthetic wears off by 4pm. Doing a live radio show with a numb face is probably not a good idea. Especially as I have to do a half hour live interview with David Miliband. Insert your own joke here.
*
What’s the first thing you do when you come out of the dentist? Obvious. Look at your phone. This is the text that greeted me:
“Have you seen the new Mancock App?”
No, not a reference to a new version of Grindr or Gaydar, but after a bit of to-ing and fro-ing the text referred to a new App from the Secretary of State for Culture Media and of course Sport. Oh, and Digital. Matt Hancock is nothing if not an innovator, and rather than sneer at this initiative, some in the Conservative Party ought to take their lead from him. The social media offering from Conservative politicians is generally pretty lamentable. You can count on the fingers of two hands the number of MPs that have a proper social media and digital presence and actually know how to use it. There was a time when the right was streets ahead of the left in this area. No longer. A key test for the new party chairman, Brandon Lewis, will be how quickly he can put this right.
*

I was so looking forward to reading Michael Wolff’s ‘Fire and Fury’. It’s been an incredible disappointment. I didn’t even read the newspaper serialisation of it, but still feel I am not really discovering anything I didn’t know before. I’m three quarters of the way through it, but unusually for me, I can’t wait for the book to end. Mind you, next up is Gordon Brown’s autobiography, so I suppose I should be careful what I wish for.

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