Books

Memories of Margaret Thatcher: Michael Cockerell

10 May 2013 at 09:00

This is an extract from my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER, which is published this week. A new extract will appear at 9am every day this week. The book contains 215 such essays by people from all walks of life who encountered the Iron Lady. You can order a signed copy of the book HERE

By Michael Cockerell

The death of Britain’s first woman prime minister received what might be called Thatcheration coverage across all media – print, digital and electronic. But relatively little attention focused on how she learned to use television to become the country’s first and most formidable small-screen premier.

In the early days as leader it was not like that at all. According to ‘The Times’, she came over on TV ‘with all the charisma of a privet hedge’. I interviewed her on the night in 1975 when she won the leadership and she seemed as fragile as porcelain as she said: ‘It is like a dream – to follow in the footsteps of the great Winston, of Harold Macmillan and of Ted Heath. I almost wept when they told me – in fact I did weep’. She bit her lip and her eyes glistened.

From the outset Mrs Thatcher was concerned not to become a casualty of the cameras. She knew that her predecessor Ted Heath’s unappealing TV manner had helped bring him down. And the new leader would react to the sight of a TV crew almost in the manner of a primitive tribesman faced with a white man’s camera – it was as if she thought it might somehow take her soul away.

But she appointed as her television adviser advice a colourful character called Gordon Reece. He was a diminutive former TV producer, who looked rather like Ronnie Corbett. He ran on champagne and smoked huge Havana cigars. Mrs T later knighted him for services to her TV image.

Under his tutelage, she underwent a complete makeover in her appearance for television.
At the time she played down Reece’s contribution. When I asked Mrs T in 1979 how important he was to her, she responded wide-eyed: ‘Gordon Reece? Do you know I think he comes to me for advice not the other way round. And it’s always been that way’.

Mrs T was being economical with the actualite. After she left office, Lady Thatcher was more candid: ‘Gordon was absolutely terrific. He said my hair and my clothes had to be changed and we would have to do something about my voice. It was quite an education, because I hadn’t thought about these things before. He was a real professional’.
And she quoted specific advise Reece had given her about what she should wear for TV: ‘Avoid lots of jewellery near the face. Edges look good on television. Watch out for background colours which clash with your outfit.’
But Reece’s focus group findings told him that while many voters welcomed the strength of her free-market convictions, on television she often came over as shrill, domineering and uncaring. Specifically Mrs Thatcher’s voice put people off – it was perceived as too high pitched.

Reece arranged for a voice coach from the National Theatre to teach her techniques to lower her pitch. One was to practise humming; the other was to keep repeating the word ‘ngakokka’. When I asked about her new voice, she said: ‘when you ask me a question, I say to myself think low’. I wasn’t sure whether or not that was a comment on my interview technique.

Reece also taught her was to stop worrying and love the boom microphone. He told her that recorded snippets of her conversation could make her sound more down-to-earth and in touch with voters. In later years she could never see a microphone without offering some seemingly spontaneous comments to people she met -whether it was another political leader or someone in a factory or hospital – knowing that TV people cannot resist ‘natural sound’.

But there were some things Mrs Thatcher would never say on camera. I filmed her when she visited the British Embassy in the States in the late seventies. Peter Jay who was then our man in Washington asked: ‘what would you like to drink?’ She made no reply but out of sight of the camera wrote a brief note to the Ambassador. Later I discovered it read: ‘Whisky and soda’. She was certainly not going to be filmed asking for one still less drinking it.

Reece also arranged for Mrs Thatcher to appear on TV programmes that were outside the political leader’s usual round of current affairs and news – like ‘Jim’ll Fix It’, starring the late and unlamented Jimmy Savile. When Tory critics claimed her appearance on the programme was demeaning, Reece responded: ‘Rubbish. I simply encourage her to appear everywhere she can to the best advantage. It’s the most ludicrous intellectual snobbery to say that a politician shouldn’t appear on general interest programmes because the viewers are supposed to be on a lower level of humanity than the people who watch ‘Panorama’. They have votes too and if she talked down to them they would soon rumble her.’

Mrs T had become very media savvy as I saw when I filmed behind the scenes during her 1979 general election campaign. Reece had introduced the photo opportunity, beloved of American presidential hopefuls, into British elections. Until 1979 no previous aspirant to Number 1O had given an election campaign press conference clutching a two-day old calf in a meadow.

When I asked her about it at the time, she said: ‘The press said they did not want a picture of me with a load of bullocks. There was this tiny calf. The photographers have their job to do and I am very conscious of that.’

In the campaign Mrs Thatcher was determined to counter Labour’s charges that she was dogmatic and uncaring. In an interview with me, she assumed a kittenish persona. I put it to her that there sometimes seemed to be two Mrs Thatchers: one toured supermarkets and factory floors, exhibiting endless fascination about the minutiae of people’s lives and jobs. The other was the platform politician – full of zealous conviction.

‘How many Mrs Thatchers are there?’ I asked. She smiled and replied confidingly: ‘Oh, there are three at least. There is the intellectual one, the intuitive one and there’s the one at home.’

Her voice was so low and breathy, her manner so intimate – even coquettish – that the late Sir Robin Day, watching in the studio when the filmed interview went out, joked: ‘the untold story of the election campaign: Margaret Thatcher is having an affair with Michael Cockerell’.

As a schoolgirl, Margaret Thatcher has wanted to become an actress. And as Prime Minister she was to play many different roles on television: Iron Lady, tearful mother, simple housewife, world statesman and war leader.

A favoured method of getting herself across was the big set-piece TV interview. The PM had different ways of dealing with interviewers. Some she coated with honey – while she would bite the heads of others. As she put it: ‘this animal if attacked defends itself. So when I come up against somebody who is out to do a very belligerent interview, I say to myself: By God, anything you can do I can do better — and I’m belligerent back’.

By her own admission she would become very nervous before a high-profile TV appearance – and the tension inside Number 10 was palpable. When I asked Mrs Thatcher what she thought about big set-piece TV interviews, she replied: ‘I hate them, I hate them, I hate them.’

The PM would rehearse for interviews with her blunt Yorkshire press secretary Bernard Ingham, who pulled no punches in playing the part of the interviewer. One time, as Sir Robin Day set off for one of his major Panorama interviews with Mrs T in Downing Street, he said to me : ‘why don’t I start the interview “Prime Minister, what’s your answer to my first question?”’ Sir Robin felt he knew that whatever he asked her she would come up with the soundbites she had prepared earlier. But sadly, despite my prompting, he never did begin an interview in that way.

In 1984 Margaret Thatcher became the first prime minister to agree to appear on a chat show. The timing was no coincidence. The miners’ strike was at its height. Although the opinion polls showed that a large majority of people blamed Arthur Scargill for the violent confrontations with police that dominated the TV screens, the attacks on Mrs Thatcher as dictatorial and callous were getting through. She and her advisers calculated that she would benefit from appearing on a programme that showed her human face.

Michael Aspel asked whether both living and working at Number 10, she ever got the chance to relax. The grocer’s daughter replied: ‘I started life living above the shop. Do I ever relax? No, I am always on the job’. The studio audience fell about with laughter. Mrs Thatcher beamed with pleasure at the audience response without ever seeming to have understood what she had said.

Some time later I reminded the PM that when I had first filmed her as leader the TV cameras seemed to fill her with dread and she wished they would go away. ‘Over the years’, she replied, ‘I’ve learned that what you people want is a positive answer and that is what I always give you’. And in a way she always did – even when she was saying ‘no, no, no”.

The last time I interviewed Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister was when she was celebrating her tenth anniversary in Number Ten. It was a pretty surreal experience. She talked to me looking into the middle distance almost as if she were Joan of Arc, hearing voices.

I had earlier asked Willie Whitelaw, her recently retired deputy PM, how long he felt Mrs Thatcher would continue in office: ‘Oh, she is very fit, very strong. I hope she’ll go on for a very long time’, he replied. ‘But she is not immortal’, I’d ventured to suggest. ‘No she is not immortal’, responded Whitelaw, then added, ‘but perhaps she is’. In Number Ten, I recounted this exchange on camera to Mrs T. Reviewing the tape today is revealing.

On freezing the frame at exactly the moment she hears my intimation of her mortality, a remarkable look comes over her face for an instant: an apparent mix of alarm and blinding revelation. Within a few frames it is gone and she recovers her composure when I tell her that Whitelaw has said perhaps she was immortal: ‘What a sweet thing of Willie to say – no, I am not immortal and I don’t know how long I will go on – and no-one does.’

The next year she was gone from Number 10. Her departure left a huge hole for political journalists. Once you had Margaret Thatcher in your viewfinder she rarely failed to produce riveting images and powerful quotes. The modern media which in any case tends to magnify personalities had for the fifteen years of her Tory leadership been faced with a giant-sized one. Disraeli, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill became Prime Ministers before the age of television. Happily the late Lady Thatcher did not.

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LBC 97.3: Iain takes James Purnell to Task

James Purnell is the former cabinet minister and now the Director of Strategy and Digital at the BBC. He is very uncomfortable talking about his £295,000 salary (more than twice what Maria Miller gets as Culture Secretary) and is unable to tell us how much the BBC’s move to Salford cost. Well, at that salary you wouldn’t expect him to be a details man, would you?

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Books

Memories of Margaret Thatcher: Dame Ann Leslie

9 May 2013 at 09:00

This is an extract from my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER, which is published this week. A new extract will appear at 9am every day this week. The book contains 215 such essays by people from all walks of life who encountered the Iron Lady. You can order a signed copy of the book HERE

By Dame Ann Leslie

My note at a 1973 Tory Party Conference read: ‘Met a frightful woman called Margaret Hilda Thatcher’. I made copious notes about the assorted Grand Old Gents who then wielded power in the party – along with their old school ties, champagne flutes and brandy balloons – but about that ‘frightful woman’? Nothing further, because I assumed that she’d never get anywhere.

Indeed, it was not until February 1977, standing with her on the Great Wall of China, that I first grasped the fact that Mrs. Thatcher was more than an over-elocuted bottle blonde who had, improbably and (many believed) temporarily, managed to become Tory Leader. In that role she was making an official visit to China.

It wasn’t just the Grand Old Gents who didn’t take her very seriously. Even Fleet Street editors thought of her as a bit of a suburban housewife joke. It might have been only four months since the death of Chairman Mao, and two months after the arrest of the Gang of Four – seminal geopolitical events – but the press party on the trip were mostly chosen from the fluffy end of journalism: female columnists who could be relied upon to indulge in girl-talk about Carmen rollers with her, sniggering gossip columnists, plus two or three earnest China specialists. I still thought of her as ‘that frightful woman’, but now that the Cultural Revolution was over I could at last visit the enclosed land where my father was born and where my grandparents got married.

I knew that the Chinese routinely subjected their visiting ‘Distinguished Foreign Friends’ to what I called the Great Wall Stakes. I warned Mrs T. that I’d learned the section of the Wall we would be visiting at Badaling was extremely steep and slithery and, er, her high heeled court shoes were wholly unsuitable for the challenge. She blithely assured me: ‘Oh, I don’t intend to be athletic, my dear!’

But then the Chinese, doubtless secretly tittering at her forthcoming humiliation, told her: ‘Chairman Mao said “he who does not reach the top of the Great Wall is no great man.”’ Big mistake. She retorted briskly: ‘That should be changed to: no great leader!’ And off she shot up along the Wall like a Blue Streak rocket and, in no time at all, she and her Rotary-wife suit, carefully coiffed helmet of hair and those ‘unsuitable’ shoes were mere specks on the Badaling horizon.

Her insatiable gluttony for facts – dreary-swot stuff which the grand old gents tended to believe was somewhat beneath them – soon became exhaustingly evident.

Time and again on that Chinese trip, her then 23 year old daughter Carol would moan ‘Oh, Mum, come on!’ when it looked as if Mum had fastened on yet another hapless Chinese official and was about to grill him about the exact make-up of Revolutionary Committees, and could he please explain exactly what happened to surplus grain profits, if there were any, and was the Basic Unit accounting method really the most efficient method of running an agricultural commune? While the eyes of the ‘Gang of Nineteen’ (as we in the press party dubbed ourselves) were glazing over at yet another baffling recitation of the mus and catties of Chinese rice production, Mrs T’s were shining like stars.

At the end of yet another gruelling day touring communes and eating jellyfish, tree fungus and ducks’ feet at yet another banquet in the Great Hall of The People, the entire Thatcher party and our ‘Gang of Nineteen’ were hollow-eyed with jet-lag and lack of sleep. She on the other hand was fresh as a daisy and, turning to me, said brightly: ‘Oh dear, these evening do’s end so early. I wish we could go round the factories that are open all night’.

In her heart of hearts, she still belonged to the thrifty suburbs of her youth: on glimpsing cheap but neatly bundled vegetables in a Beijing market stall she cried happily: ‘How wonderful – they’re just like Sainsbury’s stewpacks!’

Two years later I found myself once again scuttling in her blue-suited wake during the ’79 Election which brought her to power – and once again marvelled at her stamina and her capacity for absorbing facts and regurgitating them with stunning accuracy. There seemed nothing on which she was not, by now, an expert – from false kneecaps to chocolate making to types of ironing board covers. Interrupting a woman ironing a garment in a factory she enthused: ‘Oh, those ironing board covers are marvellous! Do you know, they come in two sizes, a big one and a little one, I have one of the little ones at home and you know compared to…’ ‘Is your wife good at ironing?’ I asked Denis. ‘My wife is good at everything she does!’ he harrumphed.

Including (as he did not say) flirting. She liked men – preferably tall, young and handsome ones, like Cecil Parkinson and Michael Portillo. Frankly she did not much like most other women, especially not beady-eyed women journalists like me. I think she thought we were a bunch of wimps.

On that ’79 campaign, tour buses were not routinely fitted with onboard loos, and having given birth the previous year my bladder was not entirely stoic about having to spend hours out of reach of a public lavatory. I pleaded with her: ‘Mrs Thatcher, please can we have more potty stops? I sometimes wonder whether you vaporise the stuff, like astronauts. But I can’t.’ The iron-bladdered Iron Lady looked at me witheringly: ‘No one needs to go more than twice a day. I go first thing in the morning and last thing at night – and that’s quite enough!’

She would always, over the years, comment on my not very remarkable clothes – ‘what a lovely colour your jacket is, I’ve got one just like that!’ – but she never wasted her high octane flirtatious charms on the likes of me, perhaps not least because she suspected that we women knew her little tricks.

Especially her use of hand-on-the-elbow body language. One victim of the latter told me how it worked. ‘First she plays the role of the tough, terrifying warrior queen and then, when you are truly intimidated, she suddenly cups your elbow, gazes up at you with those china-blue eyes and breathes “my dear”… and makes you feel you’re the one man in the room who can bring out the feminine “little woman” in her. Believe me, it works!’

Indeed it did. Over the years I’d watched her deploy her hand-on-the-elbow weapon on dozens of initially recalcitrant men, ranging from the Zambian President Kenneth Kaunda, to Mikhail Gorbachev, to my own husband (who heartily disliked her public image but who, at a party at No.10, received the hand-on-the-elbow treatment and was almost instantly seduced).

She was a nightmare to interview (as I once told her: ‘you are the worst interviewee I’ve ever had, bar perhaps Imelda Marcos: asking Imelda or you a question is like chucking a pebble into Niagara – it’s instantly swept away.’). On one occasion she said: ‘My dear, please don’t cut in until I’ve explained the whole situation to you!’. Fine – except I’d asked her about the poll tax, and its unenforceability, and she insisted on explaining the whole situation about Toronto’s rubbish collection system instead.

No wonder her feeble Cabinet colleagues couldn’t stand it anymore. But, despite myself, I adored her – and knew that the Tory Party had committed hari-kiri by turfing her out so cruelly. The Tories are still paying for that matricide today.

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Iain hosts a Women Leaders' Debate during the General election campaign

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Books

Memories of Margaret Thatcher: Dr Liam Fox

8 May 2013 at 09:00

This is an extract from my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER, which is published today. A new extract will appear at 9am every day this week. The book contains 215 such essays by people from all walks of life who encountered the Iron Lady. You can order a signed copy of the book HERE

By Dr Liam Fox MP

The first time I remember physically seeing Margaret Thatcher was at a speech she gave in Scotland while still Leader of the Opposition. As a Young Conservative it was not only the first time that I had ever seen a major politician speak live but it was particularly exciting as it was Margaret Thatcher who had drawn me into the Conservative party. Coming from a very ordinary background in the West of Scotland, you didn’t join the Conservative party because you were a political careerist! It was the stark differences between the language and imagery of Margaret Thatcher and other politicians of the day which first grabbed my attention. Up till that point, in gloomy and failing Britain, there was still too much of a feeling that whatever pigeonhole you had been born into was where you should stay. It was Margaret Thatcher’s liberating views on social mobility that made me a Conservative and I remember, to this day, that it was the conviction and energy that she brought to her arguments that impressed me just as much as the political messages themselves.

Almost a decade later, when I was the Prospective Conservative candidate in the constituency of Roxburgh and Berwickshire, I had the first opportunity to have a one-to-one conversation with a woman who was now at the height of her political power. She had just had surgery on her hand for a Dupuytren’s contracture and as trainee GP I made sure I had swotted up on all the details in case it came up in conversation. As it turned out, it would be the cause of me receiving the Thatcher grip on the wrist, so beautifully described by the Bishop of London at her funeral service. I explained to her that there was some belief that the Papal blessing, with the last two fingers drawn into the palm, was the result of a mediaeval Pope having the same medical condition and being unable to extend his fingers as had traditionally been done up to that point. She looked at me and said “really?”. Not understanding the significance of the question I simply nodded back. She turned the full Thatcher –ray straight at me and said “really”. At this point the prime ministerial grip was brought into full force as she put down my cutlery and asked me – more of a command than a question – for the third time “really?”. Realising that she was either genuinely interested or suspected me of pulling a fast one, I said with all the sincerity I could muster “yes prime minister – really”.

Momentous political and personal events were already dissolving into history when I spent an evening with Margaret Thatcher in New York in the new millennium. We were attending a reception for the Anglo-American group, the Atlantic bridge where the guests included both Michael Ancram and Michael Howard. It was a very special occasion because we all knew it might be the last time she would speak to an audience in America, particularly poignant as she had such a high regard for the United States, believing it to be a flagship in the battle for liberty and the rule of law. It was difficult for her as she had recently lost Denis and had suffered a number of minor strokes. I had the pleasure of introducing her and said “for most of us we get to hear about history or to read about history. Seldom, do any of us have the honour of meeting with history”.

Those who have never known Margaret Thatcher well might be surprised at the humility she genuinely possessed and she want quite misty eyed, saying “no, no, not at all – that is just too kind”. She had a short prepared text to read and we wondered if she would be able to deliver it yet within minutes not only had she recovered her full Thatcher poise but had gone off the text to give us a short, impromptu lecture on the importance of the relationship between Britain and the United States. It was the last time that I was to see the echoes that I had heard as a young conservative in Glasgow – and it was magnificent. An hour or so later, we were sitting together in the back of her official car as we waited to go off to the dinner we were attending. She suddenly turned and asked me “remind me, dear, of the name of our host”. I replied his name is Mr Mallory Factor. Inexplicably, she then added “is he related to Max Factor?. “Why on earth would you ask a question like that?” I replied. “I just wondered” she said with a smile “if he might have any free samples for an old lady”. I didn’t know what to say. One of her long serving bodyguards sitting at the front looked in the rear-view mirror and said, in what can only be described as astonishment “she told a joke!”. We all laughed, perhaps all for different reasons.

The last time I had the pleasure of spending any time with her was when she did me the honour of attending my 50th birthday party in Admiralty House in London in September 2011. Being in poor health by this time, it was suggested that she should only attend for 20 to 30 minutes as she would be too tired. She was having none of it. Surrounded by many people that she had known well and many more who simply wanted to have the chance of a fleeting encounter with her, and bolstered by more glasses of white wine than those accompanying her would have liked, she played the room like the old trooper she was. To his great credit, Prime Minister David Cameron who was also present, simply melted into the background leaving the field clear as she swept all before her. The last conversation about politics that I had with her was as we walked through the room. “You must be feeling quite vindicated about the euro” I said. “Why so” she replied. “Well, it’s looking pretty shaky”. She stopped. “Is it really?” “Well, it’s not looking too healthy” I suggested. Slowly moving off, she added “well dear, we’ll not be too sad, shall we?”

As I sat, like so many, in the crypt Chapel of the House of Commons where her coffin was resting and again at her funeral in St Paul’s I couldn’t help think about all the politicians, commentators and pundits who constantly ask “who will be the next Thatcher?”. Their search is in vain. They will not find one.

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Iain takes on Katie Hopkins

He accuses her of stirring up dark emotions

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Books

My New Book on Margaret Thatcher is Published Tomorrow

7 May 2013 at 22:01

If you’ve ever had a book published you’ll know what it feels like to finally get your hands on a finished copy. Today I got my first copy of my new book MEMORIES OF MARGARET THATCHER – A PORTRAIT BY THOSE WHO KNEW HER BEST. Thirteen years ago I published Memories of Maggie. This is a vastly expanded version of that book. There are 215 essays of varying length by a variety of people – world leaders, politicians, political opponents, journalists, activists and friends of the Iron Lady. It’s a bit of a doorstep of a book, running to nearly 600 pages. It’s not meant to be read in one go, but it’s a treasure trove of fascinating anecdotes which I think give a really unique insight into what Margaret Thatcher was like as a human being, as well as a politician.

It’s the ideal complement to Charles Moore’s authorised biography,which I have just started reading, and if you know an ardent Thatcher fan, they will love it!

You can order a signed copy (by me, not her!) from Politicos.co.uk HERE

Or an unsigned one from Amazon HERE

And yes, it will be available as an eBook in the next ten days.

Over the course of the next week, I’m going to post an essay from the book each morning on the blog. The first one will appear tomorrow morning at 9am.

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LBC 97.3: Iain Dale talks to George Galloway

George Galloway says Julian Assange's sexual behaviour does not amount to rape.

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TV/Film/Theatre

'Vicious' It May Be, Funny It Ain't

7 May 2013 at 20:27

I have never been a great fan of Brian Sewell, but his review of ‘Vicious’ in today’s Evening Standard is spot on. I have only watched around 15 minutes of this abortion of a comedy, but it probably the unfunniest so-called ‘comedy’ to reach our TV screens this century. And there has been a lot of competition. How actors like Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen can bring themselves to appear in it is quite beyond me. It plays up to every gay stereotype that has ever been invented and listening to the dire repartee almost turned me into a homophobe. As Brian Sewell points out most older gay men spend their dotage living quite ordinary lives devoid of the kind of homo-cattery so prevalent in ‘Vicious’.

How did this programme get commissioned in the first place? How on earth did it get past the ITV commissioning editors? Were they so desperate to prove their pro-gay credentials that they just took the first thing that was offered them? It seems like it.

They should have looked across the Atlantic to America if they want to show a gay comedy that is both genuinely funny and imparts a subliminal message – that hey, gay people are really just like straight people. Same emotions, same hangups, same dilemmas, same needs. I refer, of course to E4’ brilliant sitcom The New Normal, which I have written about before. It’s about two gay guys who want to have a child. There’s no buttock clenchingly ebarassing moments. There’s no ‘yuckiness’. It’s a programme you can watch with your mother and not be embarrassed. Whereas with ‘Vicious’ the only place to watch it is alone in a darkened room (No, not THAT sort of dark room!). Brian Sewell writes…

Throughout that half-century decent heterosexuals, politicians, lawyers and clerics among them, have supported homosexuals arguing for unashamed equality. To some extent this is now in place, but in society as a whole it is far from secure, and Vicious, in reviving all the old exaggerated jokes, the posturing, the determination to be heard, may well revive the pernicious prejudices against the faggot and the poof so long familiar to men of my generation. Remember the three teenagers who kicked a man to death in Trafalgar Square.

At such happenings men of my generation can shake our heads — we have seen it all before — but for any adolescent or young man troubled by what he sees as his unorthodox sexuality, keeping it undisclosed, Vicious may seem a terrible revelation of the distant future when the beauty of youth has perished. Imagine that boy, sitting with his family to watch this excessively publicised programme. What can his reaction be, other than horror — “Is this what I too shall become?” is the question he will ask.

Imagine another who, having recently come out only to find that his father not only disapproves but is disgusted, has to accept the contemptuous “Is that what you really want to be?” — for these are fathers for whom Vicious encapsulates something of the truth. I see Vicious as embodying an older meaning of the word — morally reprehensive, injurious.

Read Brian Sewell’s review HERE

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Iain hosts a Women Leaders' Debate during the General election campaign

Harriet Harman, Nicky Morgan, Diane James & Lynne Featherstone

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UK Politics

Clegg's Argument on EU Dependent Jobs is Total Bollocks

7 May 2013 at 10:57

So Nigel Lawson writes a rational and well argued letter to The Times suggesting that now is the time for Britain to withdraw from the EU. Those of us who remember his shadowing of the D-Mark and his obsession with the ERM might have a wry smile on our faces, but that’s politics. The reaction to his letter from the Europhile side of the debate demonstrates what an appalling debate we will have, should we ever get an in-out referendum.

Nick Clegg has trotted out the tired old canard that 3 million British jobs are at risk if we leave. It was a bollocks argument fifteen years ago and it’s a bollocks argument now. We were told by the likes of Heseltine, Clarke and Kennedy in 1997 that if we didn’t join the euro 3 million British jobs would be at risk because the Eurozone wouldn’t want to trade with us. Our unemployment rate since then has been lower, on average, than virtually every Eurozone country. Does Nick Clegg seriously believe that we wouldn’t be able to export to or import from EU countries? Of course we would.

I say this as someone who is very pro-European and in 1983 used to argue against Labour politicians that we should stay in the EU. I haven’t got an anti-European bone in my body, but like those on the Eurosceptic side of the debate I tire of the way Brussels continue to erode our national sovereignty in all sorts of areas. For the first time in my adult life I can envisage circumstances where we should indeed withdraw from the EU. But not yet. I think we have to have one more canter around the reform course. Once the Eurozone decides what it wants to do, that is the moment for us to tell the EU how we see our future membership. If they tell us where we can stick our reform plans, then I think the game may well be up.

The challenge for Eurosceptics is not to allow us/them to be portrayed as anti-European. We’re not foaming at the mouth nationalistic xenophobes – well, most of us aren’t. We speak european languages. We have good friends in all sorts of european countries. We’re quite happy to have cross-european agreements on all sorts of things. But we’re tired of the way Brussels does its business. We are tired of unelected bureaucrats appearing to dictate what we do. We’re tired of national sovereignty being given away in areas where it should be retained. The EU has been its own worst enemy, and it shouldn’t be surprised that it has become incredibly unpopular, not just in this country but across Europe.

Unlike Nigel Lawson, I am not yet totally certain which way I would vote in an In/Out referendum. I know which way I am leaning, but I am persuadable. Just.

UPDATE: Channel 4’s ‘Factcheck’ comprehensively demolished Nick Clegg’s argument HERE

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Iain interviews historian Phillipa Gregory

Phillipa Gregory talks about her new book

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List

Top Ten Ways 'Ten O'Clock Live' Could be Made More Watchable

5 May 2013 at 20:43

10. Teach Jimmy Carr the meaning of the word ‘funny’
9. Give Charlie Brooker a skinhead
8. Put it on Channel 4 + 5456
7. Dub it into German
6. For someone to explain what the point of Lauren Laverne actually is
5. Replace the audience with a group of clapping chimps
4. Put gaffer tape over Jimmy Carr’s mouth
3. Send David Mitchell on an interviewing course or three
2. Occasionally have a right wing guest on who isn’t clinically insane
1. By switching off your TV or changing channel

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LBC Book Club: Iain talks to Tony Benn

Iain talks to Tony Benn about his final volume of diaries.

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UK Politics

The UKIP Labour Phenomenon

5 May 2013 at 10:08

I was wandering down Green Street, E13, (outside West Ham’s stadium) when someone came up to me and said: “You’re Iain Dale, aren’t you?” After telling me he was an LBC listener he then told me he was a Labour voter, but liked my show. He then proceeded to tell me why, as a habitual Labour voter he was now supporting UKIP. There was nothing unusual in his reasoning, but he ended up by saying…

I’m UKIP Labour. There’s a lot of us about.

It was the first time I had heard anyone describe themselves as ‘UKIP Labour’ before, but I think it is, and will be, a growing phenomenon. Thursday demonstrated that UKIP are attracting votes from not only Labour but also the Liberal Democrats. In West Sussex the LibDems lost eight seats to UKIP. Believe it or not there are quite a few Eurosceptic LibDems. I remember that from my time in North Norfolk.

Ed Miliband has reasons to be rather disappointed by Labour’s performance on Thursday. UKIP cost Labour dozens of gains, especially in the south. Miliband will now need to work out a strategy to prevent that happening in a general election. Expect Labour to support an In-Out referendum and to toughen up its immigration rhetoric.

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ConservativeHome Diary Week 4: Some Well Meant Advice for John Hayes & Justine Greening

3 May 2013 at 22:41

So, with county council elections only five days away, it was good to see Croydon Conservatives spending last Saturday campaigning in neighbouring Surrey and helping their neighbouring Conservatives do as well as they possibly could. What’s that I hear you saying? They weren’t campaigning at all? They were sitting on their fat arses holding a one day conference at a hotel five miles from the Surrey border? Surely not. But it gets better. Not only that, but one of the party’s vice chairmen, Alok Sharma MP, was one of the speakers, alongside local MP Gavin Barwell, MEP Charles Tannock and Tim Montgomerie, late of this parish. The conference was all about Britain’s relationship with Europe and how to defeat the UKIP threat. May I respectfully suggest that this conference, vital, though I am sure it is, might have been better timed if it had taken place a few weeks later? One thing is for sure, it would never have happened when Sir Anthony Garner was running the party organisation. You may remember that period. It was when the Conservative Party used to win elections.


Are there no depths to which some people won’t lower themselves? Yesterday I was alerted to the fact that somebody had put a Thatcher funeral Order of Service on eBay. They had put a reserve of £77 on it. Simply appalling.


Mr Matthew Bellend, the Independent on Sunday’s rather useless diarist, is becoming a tad tiresome. You may recall from last week’s diary that he seemed bemused by the fact that I had paid my respects to Lady Thatcher while her coffin lay in St Mary’s Undercroft in the Palace of Westminster. It’s taken him three works to work out that I have a parliamentary pass. Apparently he now thinks that is a big scandal, and is set to reveal all on Sunday. Had he actually done what any credible journalist would do and picked up the phone and asked me, I’d have happily told him. For like many people in politics I help an MP out from time to time by doing bits of research and contribute ideas for the odd speech. It’s something I have done for many years and it’s set out for all to see in the Register of Interests. I don’t get paid. I don’t cost the taxpayer anything. There’s nothing in it for me. I’d like to describe it as a bit of public service, but clearly, as I didn’t go to Eton, that wouldn’t be right, would it? So go on Mr Bellend, do your worst. I’d find it all rather amusing if it wasn’t so pathetic.

Update: Mr Bellend has finally found my number and phoned me. He now thinks that because I have bought a house in Keith Simpson’s constituency that I have ambitions to stand there. What a joke of journalist this man is. Had he bothered to do any research at all, he would know I have said I will never, ever, stand for Parliament again.


I had Sadiq Khan on my LBC Drivetime show the other day talking about Governor Grayling’s new spartan prison regime. Khan was all in favour of it. Quite right, he said. Tough on crime etc. Now there’s one politician who’s not going to be outdone on the right. I ended the interview by asking him how he thought Labour would do in the local elections. Much sucking of teeth followed. ‘It’s going to be very difficult for us, Iain’. ‘Why so?’ I gently enquired. ‘Well, do you know, I didn’t realise this but if you put all those county councils together, it covers the area of more than 250 MPs?’ I thought for a second and replied ‘ Yes, Sadiq, it’s many of them in the south of England that you’re going to need to beat at the next election, if you’re to win the next election.’ The thought hadn’t really occurred to him. It seems to me that Labour campaigners are going to need to familiarise themselves with the likes of Kent, Essex and Hertfordshire rather than spend their time in the northern strongholds. I’ve never understood why it’s so criminal for the Tories to have so few seats in north, yet Labour get a free pass on their almost total lack of seat south of line between the Wash and Bristol.


I am most amused by the suggestions in any of the newspapers that David Cameron is being dragged to the right, as if legislating for a European referendum as if in some way a right wing thing. A majority of LibDems support the idea of such a referendum and in my book it’s a politically mainstream thing to do. Which is why I am astonished Nick Clegg has already said he won’t support such legislation. He’s fallen into a very big trap indeed. And it’s one only Ed Miliband can spring him from. If the LibDems want to be painted as not supporting a referendum, that’s their affair, but if I were Ed Miliband I wouldn’t want to go into the election campaign while having scuppered such legislation.


As well as the papers suggesting that Cameron is being dragged to the right (Europe, cancelling aid to South Africa, taking away TVs from prisoners etc) the papers all seem to mention John Hayes as the architect of this trend. Naturally I cannot possibly bring myself to believe that Mr Hayes himself has briefed such newspapers, because that would be rather improper for a senior parliamentary adviser to the prime minister, wouldn’t it? But if he has, he wouldn’t be doing anything different to any other member of a political court. There’s nothing like telling people, especially journalists, how important you are. The thing is, you can indeed become important, but only when others have worked it out for themselves rather than constantly being reminded of it. David Cameron is said to be amused by John Hayes. I can understand why. He’s good company and an arch parliamentary gossip. He tells a good yarn. But anyone at the Downing Street court who is suspected of opening their gobs to the papers too often will do well to remind themselves that what the Prime Minister giveth, the Prime Minister can easily take away.


One Conservative MP, who for these purposes had better remain nameless (yes, I know, I know, I am wimping out) – let’s call him Rupert – was spied in Portcullis House on Wednesday. “Ah, Rupert,” said a colleague. “Not out on the county council election election trail?” “No,” said Rupert, I am giving my county council candidates exactly the same level of support that they gave me in the general election – which is none at all.” Strangely, Portcullis House was rather well populated with Tory MPs on Wednesday.


Is Justine Greening still alive? It’s just that she seems to have disappeared from the face of the earth in much the same way as Oliver Letwin did in 2001. She’s becoming the scarlet pimpernel of the Tory Party. They seek her here, they seek her there, they seek her everybloodywhere. She seems to be indulging in a year long flounce, having been moved from Transport to International Development last year. This week she decided, quite rightly, to end aid our £19 million a year to South Africa. For some reasons our fellow G20 member (yes, we give aid to a fellow G20 country – unbelievable) got the arseache and accused Greening of being rude by not giving them advance warning. But instead of coming out fighting and giving her side of the story she retreated to her bunker and left it to someone to issue off the record briefings. Much more of this kind of amateur-night behaviour and Miss Greening may find herself replaced yet again. I wonder if it has yet occurred to her that if the PM had left her at Transport she would have had to resign over the West Coast rail franchise debacle. What a pity we now have an International Development Secretary who clearly hates the job, while her predecessor, who was very good at it and thoroughly enjoyed it, languishes on the backbenches. I wonder if I am alone in thinking that at the next reshuffle the PM might do very well to restore Andrew Mitchell to his old job.

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