Take Me To Your Leader Writer

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...has written more leaders (newspaper editorials) than anyone alive or dead, an honour still to be recognised by the Guiness Book of Records or the Nobel judges. I have produced them for the Daily Mirror, Daily Mail, Sunday Mirror, Today, the Sunday People, the Evening Post (Hemel Hempstead), the Caithness Courier and the Student (Edinburgh). My creed is: Have opinions, Will travel.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Three disasters in a day but still May walks on water

What a terrible day that was for the Government. The Foreign Secretary announced that the UK would join an attack on Syria if asked to by Donald Trump, without consulting Parliament - and then the Prime Minister refused to support him.
A judge ridiculed the attempt to avoid implementing anti-pollution laws by citing purdah before an election. And Angela Merkel could not have been blunter when spelling out the problems that will be faced by the UK's Brexit negotiators, even going as far as saying "some in Britain still have illusions" - and we know who they are.
This would be bad for any government at any time but coming at the start of a general election campaign it should be devastating. That it isn't is due to the weakness of the opposition, the fantasy picture of Theresa May many voters have and the failure of the media to properly bring together the stories which show the utter incompetence of today's Tories.
A YouGov poll in The Times yesterday showed that more people now think it is wrong to leave the EU than to stay - though this, you will recall, is supposed to be the nation which is now united behind Brexit according to the Prime Minister. No wonder the same poll also reveals a significant drop in support for the Conservatives, though they are still way ahead of Labour.
Voters are under no illusion about Jeremy Corbyn but they are about Theresa May. They have little confidence in Labour's shadow cabinet - if they know who any of them are - but still have faith in the Government, despite the buffoon Johnson and the other idiotic and incompetent Brexit fantasists.
Being in power is hard and complicated work, as even Trump now admits (as if the realisation has come as a surprise to him).  The least we can expect is that those who seek to rule us should apply themselves with intelligence and diligence.
People don't trust Corbyn and his motley crew to do that and understandably so. But the fact that so many continue to believe in Theresa May and her gang, despite so much evidence to the contrary, is very frightening.

Footnote: The report finding that the £1.2 billion spent on the special cancer fund was a scandalous waste of taxpayers' money is another triumph for David Cameron, who introduced it, and the Daily Mail, which demanded it.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Who is the real mugwump?

When Michael Foot was leader of the Labour Party, Private Eye used to call him Worzel Gummidge after the scruffy scarecrow on children's television. But none of the Thatcher Cabinet would have dreamt of calling him that.
In today's dysfunctional political landscape, the Foreign Secretary thinks nothing of calling the leader of the opposition "a mutton-headed old mugwump". John Healey, Labour's housing spokesman and one of the current party's few class acts, dealt well with this pathetic and shabby smear on the Today programme, dismissing it as the sort of thing Eton boys said.
This isn't enough to explain why Boris Johnson should think he could say it and get away with it, though. The Tory Party has always had more than its share of Eton and other public-school boys but what they brought to political life was dignity.
Their upbringing had been privileged, they may have behaved at school and university like the upper-class louts seen in the recent TV series Decline and Fall, but maturity and a sense of responsibility took over when they went into public life.
So what has happened to this country? Is a side effect of the death of deference - which is a good thing - the acceptance of nastiness and abuse? We don't just see it on social media but in parts of the media and now in politics.
Eton and other leading public schools didn't just provide the nation's rulers but much of the rest of the establishments. Now a "good" education is no barrier to some of those who go into politics behaving as crudely and mindlessly as the worst segments of the soccer terraces. Including to the rest of the establishment, such as judges.
Far from the vile ones being isolated and rejected, they are elevated to media sainthood - witness how hard it is to turn on the TV or radio without having Nigel Farage forced on you.
It isn't only in the UK, of course. Donald Trump didn't go to Eton (or any school, you might think) but he is as crude as they come, demeaning the long line of dignified US presidents. Even George W. Bush tried to look distinguished.
Where this takes politics in the future is impossible to forecast and too worrying to contemplate. What starts as a nasty smear or a rejection of treasured national structures and organisations is going to end badly. And remember, it was the sainted Theresa May who appointed Boris Johnson as foreign secretary.

Monday, 24 April 2017

Truth and lies

How was your weekend? Pretty bad for most of us, I suspect. The presumed eventual victory of Emmanuel Macron is a bright point but that shouldn't obscure the success of a neo-fascist candidate in running second, which means she still has a chance of becoming France's president, with all the horrific consequences that would bring.
As for the state of the so-called general election... Was there ever a more fatuous and irrelevant "policy" than Labour promising four new bank holidays to mark the saint days of the four UK nations?
However, as I don't want this blog to be an unremitting whinge, let me tell you about what cheered my weekend. I listened to the 1990 broadcast of Pravda, the play by David Hare and Howard Brenton, which is currently on iPlayer. It is a wonderfully funny but frightening tale of the takeover of a great British newspaper by a boorish, menacing South African, played magnificently by Anthony Hopkins on radio as he was when I saw the play on stage in the mid-1980s.
His character is clearly based on Rupert Murdoch, who had bought The Sun in 1969 and begun the process of dragging journalism downhill. Although Hopkins on-stage gave a performance which chillingly mirrored the voice and looming physical presence of Robert Maxwell, for whom `I then worked.
I don't suppose any of us at the time when Pravda was first performed (scooping up the Play of the Year award) would have thought what the next 30 years of `Murdoch's domination of the `British press would mean or bring. We are now about to suffer the ultimate effect - the withdrawal of this country from the European Union with the consequent catastrophic impact on our economy.
When Murdoch was giving evidence to the `Leveson inquiry he denied that he interfered in the editorial policy of his newspapers - a laughable claim (Pravda accurately portrays the behaviour of Murdoch, particularly in his early years in the UK).
There were two exceptions to his non-interference, though, he told Leveson. One was the decision on which party The Sun would support at general elections. The other was Europe.
So much of Fleet Street has been virulently anti-EU in recent years that it has been forgotten that for a long time it was The Sun which carried the banner to get us out, remorselessly and unremittingly, even when membership of the European Union was widely accepted and opposition the preserve of a lunatic fringe.
David Hare and Howard Brenton created a great piece of theatre more than 30 years ago graphically showing how Murdoch operated. Yet even they could not have foreseen what the consequences would be of leaving his power unchecked.

Footnote: If you want to know how phone hacking was encouraged and able to flourish at Murdoch titles, listen to Pravda.  It is available on iPlayer for another 22 days.

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Welcome back. After a long break it is time for this blog to return. So much has happened since it took early retirement that the alternatives for it were either to doze forever in a bungalow on the south coast or to rise up and take arms against the sea of troubles which beset this country and the world.
Writing a blog may not be much in the great scheme of things but this is no time to stay silent. The seismic events of the last few years will be recorded in history by bemused academics who won't be able to understand how such absurdities could have been inflicted on themselves by the most educated, knowledgeable generations the planet has seen. Cave men would have had more sense.
Now the British people are embarking on a general election which will inevitably lead to a government which will dismantle many of the gains of the past 70 years.
In the coming days and weeks, Follow My Leaders will have an abundance of riches to comment on. For today, let us start with something which goes to the core of why so much is going wrong. The quality of politicians, not just in this country, is so abysmally low that it is hardly surprising that we are governed so badly. Of course there are noble exceptions. Barack Obama, for one. But, without even considering the man who is trying to fill his shoes, look at the ministers and shadow ministers here who are entrusted with guiding us through the most difficult period in peace-time.
Theresa May is out of her depth and almost all her Cabinet are unintelligent, lazy and/or mindlessly dogmatic. Jeremy Corbyn's heart may be in the right place much of the time but his head is on another planet. He is so bad it is embarrassing and a delight to ruthless Tories who want to rule unchallenged forever.
I should here offer an apology to Sam Coates, the deputy political editor of The Times. Much as I respect his judgment, I was dismissive last year when he said there would be a snap general election. It couldn't happen, I insisted. At least, it could only happen under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act if Labour MPs voted to destroy their party. And they couldn't possible be that stupid, could they?
Well, they could, because their leader is a bear of little brain and huge ego. So now, even though I think Theresa May won't achieve the enormous majority she thinks she will, Labour is done for. Which means there will be no opposition as our treasured institutions are undermined and sold off to rapacious, mainly foreign, companies and the UK is driven off the proverbial cliff to slow destruction.
Of course, that is only if World War III doesn't break out first.

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Sad what too much French food did to Nigel

WHAT a stir Nigel Lawson caused when he came out in The Times today declaring that he would vote in a referendum for Britain to get out of the EU. Not only did it lead that paper but the BBC news.
Obviously such a shock to the political system, with a leading Tory (leading? Anyone under the age of 60 ever heard of him?) advocating something so sensational making it a big story.
Not to me it wasn't. Nigel Lawson has been an outer for a long time. At least ten years ago at a Conservative conference fringe meeting he was the star speaker, saying he was just back from his home in France, loved French food but still thought we should leave the EU. Naturally no other journalists were there and, even if they had been, the meanderings of a has-been politician wouldn't have made a paragraph in any paper.
But times have changed. Now the big story is the pressure for an in-out referendum and the push to get this country out of Europe. So any little thing adds fuel to that media fire.
Almost everyone calling for a referendum has no interest in "giving the British people a say". What they want is to see Britain withdraw from the EU and to hell with the consequences. They aren't bothered about having the proper debate they declare they are in favour of, because a proper debate would expose their lies, inconsistencies and deceit. And finally explain the positive effects of being in the Union.
Nigel Lawson has been nothing but a pimple on the backside of politics since he left the Treasury a quarter of a century ago. There is no better answer to his latest nonsense than these wise words:
"I have been a committed supporter of closer European unity, with Britain playing a leading part in it, since I was president of the Strasbourg Club as an Oxford undergraduate. Although far from perfect in practice - nothing ever is - I saw the European Community as an inspired constitutional innovation; providing as it did for the most intimate form of co-operation between the various nation states of Europe...It got the balance right between the need for the closest possible co-operation and the retention of nation states.
"It is the height of folly to seek to destroy this unique and careful balance between international co-operation and national sovereignty."
Who said that? Why, it was Nigel Lawson in his autobiography The view from No. 11.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

When will he ever learn.....

Unfortunately, an awful lot of people in this country don't know the difference between education and passing exams. Even more tragically, one of them is the Education Secretary.
Like many very clever people, Michael Gove doesn't understand that not everyone is as brilliant as he is. In his rarefied world, every young person can do intricate maths, have no problem grasping Greek and Latin, and sail through whatever examination paper is put before them.
He has no insight into how people function because he has no insight into himself. Which is why he is like he is.
I know a bit about exams because I am one of those fortunate people who could pass them without breaking into a sweat. My mother used to half laugh about it - only half because she didn't really like my lack of application.
There are some people - my two youngest daughters, for example - who can't pass exams however hard they work. And work hard they do.
Once you understand this, you realise that passing exams does little more than get you a certificate which you put at the back of a cupboard and forget to take with you when you move.
What is the point of most traditional exams? What do students learn from taking them? What good do they do the individual, the employers who will hopefully hire them, and society? Very little.
GCSEs are far from perfect but by making pupils do course work and by introducing them to a wide range of subjects, some of which they might actually be interested in, they may achieve something really important. And that is to educate the child.
Michael Gove isn't interested in doing that, though. His only concern is to ensure that children lower down the social and intellectual scales are kept firmly in their place. And to establish his own credentials for becoming leader of the Conservative Party.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Yes, it is the worst government ever

In her Guardian column today, Polly Toynbee says this is the worst government of her political life. An exaggerated claim? I don't think so.
Some months ago, a long-time friend who has been at Westminster for 40 years told me the coalition was the most incompetent government he had known. Yet what it has done since then makes its first year in office look ordered by comparison.
The one thing that might be said about the Tories in the past was that they could at least run things vaguely well. Not this lot. They are utterly, totally hopeless. Wherever you look, they have created chaos.
Some of it is because they don't have any real beliefs but it is their absurd over-reaction to avoid (at least, they hope to avoid) criticism from the Mail and similar papers that shows them at their most ridiculous.
The queues at passport control have been caused by hysteria at the accusation they are soft on immigration. Ditto the block on foreign students coming to the UK, which is proving disastrous for many universities.
Not bending away from complete reliance on austerity, as just about every other European country is now considering doing, is due to fear of being thought of as  weak - always a sign of weakness.
The most sickening aspect of Cameron's defence of Jeremy Hunt yesterday wasn't his disgraceful aggressive bullying attacks on Labour but the braying masses of Tory backbenchers behind him. Can it really be that everyone in the country knows Hunt has a case to answer, to put it mildly, except for Conservative MPs?
At the core of the problem for the Government is not its coalition with the LibDems - most of whom aren't much better -  but ministers' total lack of understanding about what governing is or, indeed, what management is. It is the nature of the party now that it chooses such inadequate representatives.
As it happens, there are a few rather good new Tory MPs but they won't get anywhere purely because they are rather good.
Meanwhile, the country sinks ever deeper into economic woes, structures and organisations that have been the backbone of our civilised society are being dismembered, voters are understandably becoming ever more disenchanted and the Right continues its remorseless rise.
We are in heavy seas on a rudderless ship with a crew of hopeless incompetents at the wheel.