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.

Wednesday 31 May 2017

The skilled art of negotiation (and it isn't Corbyn who hasn't got it)

When I was a trade union official, many years ago, I worked out that there were two ways to negotiate. One was to thump the table, shout, bluster, threaten to walk out and, indeed, sometimes walk out. The other was to try to find some common ground, behave with civility, never lose your temper and treat the other side with respect. It should be no surprise that I adopted the latter tactic, having taken over from a Father of the Chapel who had done the opposite. And I won the biggest pay rises for journalists that there had ever been on Fleet Street. So naturally it amuses and horrifies me to see Theresa May in effect taking the attitude towards the European Union negotiations that you would expect from the most rabid, hardline trade unionist. If Bob Crow were still alive, he would surely approve (he was very anti-EU anyway). The idea that the leaders of the 27 other countries will politely listen to her demands and then nod approvingly as she lectures them while playing to the image of being a bloody difficult woman is laughable. For a start, anyone who has ever been involved in negotiations and isn't completely stupid knows that the side which has the power has an advantage. And thinking that in a contest of 27 against 1, the 1 has the advantage is, frankly, breathtakingly moronic. That doesn't mean I think Jeremy Corbyn would be a great negotiator. I don't think he has done any since he was a junior public-service union official in the 1970s and the European team will be a lot different from management in a cottage hospital. That is irrelevant, though, as despite the interesting - yet clearly meaningless - latest poll, Theresa May will be the one leading the UK's negotiators. It is her who will be wandering naked into the negotiating chamber.

Tuesday 30 May 2017

This time it was May who missed the open goals

The sole way in what is left of the Lobby continues to operate is that political journalists agree on “the line”. A process which seems at times to work through osmosis but is nowadays helped by social media. Which is undoubtedly how the general view of last night’s non-debate between May and Corbyn came to be widely described as “a score draw”. This is utter nonsense. Even though they weren’t in a face-to-face scrap, Corbyn clearly did well and the prime minister did not, as any neutral person would have appreciated. And not just neutrals – people like me who abhor Corbyn were won over. Even Douglas Carswell and Nigel Farage thought he was impressive. By contrast, Theresa May was exposed as the posturing cliché-ridden zombie some of us had already realised she is. Her performance on the Channel 4/Sky News programme couldn’t have been a score draw as she patently failed to score. Even her parroting of “Brexit means Brexit” only got applause because the people who applauded her would have cheered whatever she said about getting out of the EU. The Tory campaign will now spend the next nine days simply saying “Brexit Brexit Brexit Brexit” and “Jeremy Corbyn is a terrorist lover”. The former will continue to reverberate with a large number of the voters who were duped into backing Leave and don’t yet realise how it is going to hurt them. The Corbyn slogan won’t resonate, though, as it says more about the Tories than it does about him. It is Lynton Crosby at his worst. He is one immigrant I would be happy to see put on the next slow boat back to where he came from It’s a pity that the Australian Points System so beloved of Ukip doesn’t mean one Australian in particular could be kept out of British life.

Thursday 18 May 2017

The lemmings dash blindly to May's cliff-edge

Why is no one saying what this country will be like in 2022 when the next general election is held after five years under Theresa May? Partly because the opposition is bloody hopeless and partly because all seem incapable of looking beyond June 8. The Tory manifesto sets out a series of policies which are going to hit millions - not just the elderly but their relatives. The effects of leaving the European Union will by 2022 be growing obvious, with lower living standards and reduced public services as the tax-take falls. And public services are already on a downward spiral. Anyone who thinks the NHS can survive if it continues to be treated as it is at the moment is really living in a fool's paradise. The government won't listen to the people who know how serious things are - those who work in the health service. Just as they won't listen to the teachers and police who know what is happening to schools and law and order. At least Michael Fallow was honest when he admitted on Newsnight that curbing immigration would have a cost to this country and that the government hadn't a clue how great that cost would be. But that doesn't stop the Tories and the Ukip idiots lunging recklessly down the path of keeping out immigrants. The one thing all parties agree on is that this is the most important election of modern times. But none of them seem to understand why it is so important. It genuinely is about the future of the United Kingdom yet there is no real debate about the real issues and the real consequences of where we are heading. The cliff-edge lies ahead and the lemmings are blindly, madly rushing towards it.

Wednesday 17 May 2017

How Rhodri Morgan beat the Blair machine (eventually)

The death of Rhodri Morgan brings back to me my shameful involvement in the Blair machine's attempts to prevent him becoming the first First Secretary of the Welsh Assembly. When in the early years of the 1997 New Labour government the assembly was established, the contest to become its first leader was between Rhodri and Ron Davies, who as a member of the cabinet had been responsible for steering the Bill through Parliament. My view was that although Davies was described as the architect of the assembly, he was much more focussed on being part of the Westminster team whereas Morgan was a proper Welsh-focussed politician. But the Campbell-Mandelson axis got in touch with Piers Morgan and told him the Mirror should be supporting Ron Davies, which Piers readily agreed to (he always did in those days). So the Mirror backed Ron Davies (in other words, I wrote the leader saying he should be First Secretary). And he won. He never took up the post, though. I well remember the moment when I heard he had been caught in a "moment of madness" on Clapham Common. I was waiting to get on a ferry back to the mainland from the Isle of Wight. I wrote a leader when on the ferry but had to change it a bit when we landed as by then Davies had resigned. It seemed like fate had intervened and the right man was going to get the job after all. But no, that wasn't acceptable to the Blairites. They insisted on putting up Alun Michael, another of their acceptable ministers, against Rhodri when, of course he should just have got the job unchallenged. But he wasn't a politician No. 10 could control. I think I managed to keep the Mirror out of this election but, even so, once again Rhodri lost out. And once again the machinating Blair operation showed it was too clever, and too controlling, by half. Michael didn't last and finally Rhodri Morgan got the job he really wanted (his predecessors didn't seem too interested - it was just a career move for them) and to which he was perfectly suited. Rhodri Morgan never forgave the Mirror and rightly so. But at least he did lead the Welsh Assembly and proved how right he was for the role. It also proved what I had always believed, that if you were going to devolve power, you had to let the people of the devolved regions get on and make their own decisions, not continue to try to control things from London.

Tuesday 16 May 2017

It really is a mad, mad, mad, mad world

I can never remember how many "mads" there are in the title of the film It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World but, whatever the number, it is not enough for the world we currently inhabit. All the old certainties have been turned on their heads in the topsy-turvy lunacy in which we live. In the United Kingdom the Conservative Party, which had always been non-ideological and blindly supportive of all branches of the Establishment, is now fervently ideological, whatever the cost to the country. The party of capital and the bosses throws its weight behind the workers (at least, it says it will). The young, who were supposed to be frivolous and not care about the future, now adopt an air of concern about housing, jobs and debt. While the elderly, whose experience of life used to make them masters (and mistresses) of good sense, throw caution and everything else to the wind, blow their money on frivolous living and don't give a fig for what happens to the country they profess to love. Then there is America. For the whole of my life, the Russians (or Soviets or Russkies as they were variously called) were The Enemy, with China not far behind in the hatred stakes. What the Americans could rely on was being defended by the branches of their security services, especially the legendary FBI, and their magnificent tradition of judicial independence and strength. But in today's mad, mad, etc. etc. the president and administration of the United States cling to the Russians as their best friends, with China hugged to the bosom, too. While the FBI and CIA are vilified, their leaders undermined and kicked out, and judges treated like simpletons and minions. The lessons which were assumed to have been learnt from the first half of the 20th century and implemented through the second half are casually jettisoned. The USA and UK were believed to have the strongest political systems and constitutions in the world. They were monuments to civilisation. Who can seriously still believe that in the age of Trump and Brexit?

Friday 12 May 2017

Things can only get worse

On May 2, 1997, I was among the hordes at the South Bank who heard Tony Blair declare: "A new dawn has broken, has it not?" Of course it hadn't, though in the immediate aftermath of his landslide election victory, with the strains of D-reams Things Can Only Get Better pounding in our ears, it seemed like it. Over the course of the next decade there certainly were changes but the idea that there would be instantly a New Britain thanks to New Labour was a mirage. Yet it is a natural and consistent human trait to believe that things do change instantly, as if by the waving of a wand. Politicians and journalists play to this, pretending that something can happen immediately. Though even dawn doesn't break in a micro-second. One of the most fatuous parts of the Remain campaign during the referendum was George Osborne's claim that if the country voted to leave the EU, the economy would fall off a cliff, there would need to be an emergency Budget and every family would be £4,300 a year worse off. It was total nonsense designed to panic voters - as it had done in the Scottish referendum - but was so ridiculous it wasn't going to fool anyone. At least ten years earlier, when I spoke at various schools putting the case for Europe, I used to say that if we left the EU, there wasn't a plug somewhere in the middle of the UK, possibly around West Bromwich, which would be pulled up and Britain would slowly sink under the waves. There would certainly be a serious decline but it would take place over years, not days. And so it is proving. Yet there are still Leavers - not only among the masses - who believe that we should just get out of the EU NOW and that the lack of an impact on our economy since the referendum shows that nothing is going to happen. Even the drastic fall in the value of sterling hasn't immediately hit living standards. But it is coming, as the Governor of the Bank of England warned yesterday. Theresa May is worried that it will hit in the next two years, which is why she has called this snap election. It may not even occur in that time scale. It may be closer to the following election in 2022. It could be even after that, with decline gradual as investment falls, firms move out, jobs are lost and tax revenues slip away leading to even worse public services. And who will the voters blame then?

Thursday 11 May 2017

Someone heard an opinion that was voiced, On the radio

When the lists are produced of the great innovations of the past 50 years, the radio phone-in should be high up on it. Nothing better exposes the worst and best of the British people. Included in this should be vox pops, which are even more random but are just as illustrative. Last night's World Tonight, which canvassed the views of people in Wrexham, perfectly illustrated the thoughtful, intelligent side of the electorate as well as its mindless idiocy. One woman's opinion that Labour didn't need and shouldn't go into minute detail about its policies was a brilliantly basic critique which came shortly before the leak of the party's manifesto. Gerald Kaufman's wonderful description of the 1983 manifesto as "The longest suicide note in history" was as important for the word "long" as it was for "suicide". The leaked manifesto falls into the same trap. But in case listeners became complacent about the quality of the electorate, this woman was balanced by a bloke whose views didn't extend beyond "Get Out, and Get Out NOW". Of Europe, naturally, though he probably also meant immigrants. This morning's Today was equally illustrative when Nick Robinson got the views of a sort of focus group over an Indian takeaway in Leeds. While there were some who were concerned about what leaving the EU would mean and its consequences, there was the usual "Get Out, and Get Out NOW" (hitherto to be known as GOaGON) guy who wanted to rid ourselves of those ghastly meddling foreigners so we could worship the Queen once again (I paraphrase, but only slightly). What is most disturbing about the GOaGEN bunch is that they can't ever listen to the growing number of business leaders, farmers, scientists, academics, the Irish government and so on - none with a political axe to grind - who warn of the enormous dangers Brexit will bring. Their utter lack of understanding of the incredibly complex inter-weaving of this country with the European Union and the difficulties and consequences of trying to break those tens of thousands of links is as upsetting as it is tragic. Far from acknowledging that, come what may, Theresa May is going to drive the UK out of the union into whatever uncertain, impoverished future lies ahead, they complain that she has wasted eight months and is dragging her feet. If it wasn't for the radio exposing us to real people who think like that, we might believe such absurd views were the exclusive property of the MailSunExpressTelegraph. Sooner or later they will discover that ignorance isn't bliss. It is disastrous. Footnote: There is only one thing to say about the sacking of the head of the FBI: Lock him up! And I don't mean James Comey.

Tuesday 9 May 2017

Roll on Jexit

Of all the reasons not to vote for Jeremy Corbyn, none better demonstrates his lack of understudying of what this country faces than his insistence that there must be no challenge to the drive to get the UK out of the EU. He has never asked questions about the result of the referendum despite the obvious use of fraud and lies to achieve it. Even more critically, there is ever-growing evidence that it is going to be a catastrophe for this country and its people. He has said nothing about the sharply rising inflation caused by the steep fall in the value of sterling which was a direct consequence of the referendum result. He blindly accepts the bizarre view that Brexit will bring all sorts of opportunities when there is no evidence of that - on the contrary, informed opinion is that it will do the opposite. He never warns that the inevitable economic slump which will come is going to badly hit public finances, leading to public services suffering. Much as Labour’s leader despises the banks, you might think he would at least be concerned that thousands of City jobs will move out of the UK. London’s loss will be a gain for Frankfurt, Dublin and Paris. Corbyn’s reaction to Emmanuel Macron’s presidential victory was no more than a surly welcome of le Pen’s defeat, with no mention of the man who thrashed her. He has failed to comment on the new French president’s statement that Brexit means “…submission to the US. What is going to happen is not ‘taking back control’, it is servitude.’ Loopy anti-Europeans have always dismissed such statements as coming from people who don’t know what they are talking about, even when they are national leaders or major businessmen. Knowledge and experience count for nothing compared to swivel-eyed hatred of the EU and the unwavering belief that Britain can be great again standing alone against the world. What an opportunity there is for the leader of the opposition to make an intelligent, passionate case for doing something positive with the terrible situation the nation has been plunged into. But that is outside Corbyn’s comfort zone which doesn’t stretch beyond a small group of adoring, naive lefties. His grasp of real life is tenuous. He has never really believed in the EU, pigeon-holing it as a capitalist conspiracy. So he plunges into this election pretty well supporting Theresa May on the single biggest issue. Which makes complete nonsense of her claim that she only called it because there was division and undermining of her position on Brexit at Westminster. What frauds they both are.

Monday 8 May 2017

Why isn't the right question about immigrants ever asked?

The news at 6am this morning reported that the Tories are once again going to make a manifesto pledge to reduce immigration to the tens of thousands. About half an hour later there was an interview with the head of NHS Providers who is deeply concerned with, among other things, the drastic fall-off since the referendum in the number of EU nationals coming to work in our health service. Some contradiction here? Not in the minds of the Conservatives, obviously, or of Ukip, which promises zero immigration in the xenophobic electoral escalation against “foreigners”. It is an inescapable truth that a great number of people in this country - and many others - are concerned about immigration. Politicians are accused of not talking about the subject when the reality is that it is never far from the top of their agenda. What particularly angers me is that not a single one of them makes the pro-immigration argument by asking the simple question about who the immigrants are. What they do ask (or blindly accept) is: Are there too many (or, in its even nastier version, Are we being swamped)? Instead, why don’t they ask these questions: Do you want to stop doctors coming here? And nurses. When there is such a shortage of both. Do you want to prevent people coming who will care for our elderly? And if you do, who will look after your grandparents/parents/you in old age? Do you want to ban the people who pick our fruit and work on the land? Or will you go and do this back-breaking work yourself for a pittance? If not, are you happy to see the end of the great British agriculture industry? How about keeping out foreign students, who bring in huge amounts of much-needed funding for our universities? As well as the many non-UK academics who contribute so much as well as providing the academic diversity essential to higher education. Do you want to stop the bankers and other City high-fliers moving here, attracted by London’s (current) pre-eminence as the world’s financial centre, and who pay massive sums in UK tax, helping to fund our public services? And how would you propose plugging the gap that would be left in paying for the NHS, education, defence, law and order, and social services? And so the list and the questions go on. There is hardly a business above corner-shop size which is not dependent on labour from other countries. They need immigrants which means our economy and prosperity depend on them. But when do you hear that argument? Rarely, and never from politicians. Instead we are fed prejudiced nonsense in a race to the bottom.

Friday 5 May 2017

The pits and the pendulum

After the all-night dramas of the European referendum and the US presidential, there was nothing surprising listening through the night to the results of the local elections come in. Depressing, but not surprising. Turning the fortunes of a political party is a slow business, even in this age of rapid swings. The electorate tends to fall out of love with a party over the course of several elections while taking a similar time to consummate its flirtation with an alternative. The huge success of Labour under Blair in 1997 and 2001 has taken 20 years to evaporate and reduce the party to its present parlous state. Jeremy Corbyn's leadership is just the icing on the cake - or should that be the shit on the sandwich? The change in the Tories' fortunes has taken even longer. From the heights of Thatcher's triumph in 1983 in the wake of the Falklands War, the decline was remorseless. We must never forget what a state the party was in under William Hague, Iain Duncan Smith and Michael Howard. David Cameron began the task of turning around the tanker but he still couldn't win the 2010 election, which is why he had to go into a shotgun coalition with Nick Clegg. Even though he got an overall majority in 2015, that wasn't so much because he was trusted and accepted but due to the near-absolute collapse in support for the Liberal Democrats. It has taken the result of the referendum, which led to Cameron going to be replaced by a tunnel-visioned, hysterical Theresa May completely swallowing the Ukip agenda and the consequent collapse of that party, to once again put the Conservatives into an overwhelming position. Helped, of course, by Jeremy Corbyn. That is what the results of the local elections confirm with next month's national poll sure to do the same. The pendulum will swing once again, though how long that will take and, more importantly, in what direction, are the big questions. In any case, by the time that happens, there won't be much to save of this country - or what is left of it.

Wednesday 3 May 2017

Two bloody hopeless women

If I had to choose whether I would rather be stuck on a desert island with Theresa May or Diane Abbott, I think my preference would be to eat myself rather than be condemned to suffer either of them. Both had their day in the spotlight yesterday - well, as prime minister, May is never far away from it, but she did another big BBC interview, this one against a backdrop of Portsmouth Harbour (no one pushed her in), and was naturally the star, and only, turn on the Tories' first election broadcast. Diane Abbott, despite the belief in the Corbyn camp that she is a great broadcast performer, gave the most excruciating exhibition on Nick Ferrari's LBC show. Not for the first time, she came over as a politician who never reads a brief, doesn't know the facts, only thinks about things superficially and is convinced she can bullshit her way through anything because she is so witty, clever and charming. The thought that she would be home secretary in a Corbyn government is both terrifying and laughable. At least she wouldn't be heckled or booed when she spoke at the Police Federation conference - delegates would be unable to as they would be guffawing so much. Her being in charge of this country's complex Home Office organisation would be as ludicrous as Theresa May being in charge of it. Oh, hang on - she was - for a record six years. And now she is prime minister. Every day Mrs May is bombarded by Brexit realities that should bury her, her government and her party. Yet on she ploughs robotically, parroting ridiculous lines that are an embarrassment to this country. By singling out the May/Abbott duopoly I don't want to imply that women can't do what men can. On the contrary, women are on the whole better than men in politics at all levels. It is just these two women who have, for different reasons, risen to positions which they shouldn't be allowed near. The same can be said about some men - stand up David Cameron and Jeremy Corbyn, to name but two - but it is the prime minister and shadow home secretary who thrust themselves to the foreground yesterday. And succeeded in doing nothing except confirming what a mess this country and its politics are in.

Tuesday 2 May 2017

Unwelcome in the hillsides

I am sitting in a rather nice cafe on the outskirts of Cardiff and wondering where the great Tory surge that is supposed to be sweeping across Wales is taking place. There are an impressive number of election signs and posters up but they are all for Plaid Cymru or Wales Labour. I suppose they are for the local elections rather than the Big One a month later, but they do give an indication of the way support runs. Perhaps, you might think, it is in the rural areas where admiration for Theresa May is to be found. Yet where I am is rural by most standards. So here I sit, musing and toying with the idea that in Wales it must be the former industrial areas which are moving to the Tories. That was the story in the US presidential, where the rust-belt voters put Trump into power, and apparently in France, too, where that same type of electorate is now widely supportive of Marine le Pen. These people - in all countries - share a disappointment in the usual politicians, a fall in living standards and an understandable anger. But they kick out at the wrong targets by giving their support to the very people who will do them even more damage. I have just looked at today’s South Wales Echo which has on its front page: "Revealed - The hidden poverty in our valleys - Shocking tales of deprivation blighting the towns and villages of South Wales". Those tales, recounted by a charity, are indeed shocking. Some families are even living without beds or light bulbs. Turn to page five of the Echo, though, and you will see that the latest Sunday Times Rich List revealed that two Welsh “power couples” have seen their wealth increase by more then £700 million in the past year and are now worth £2.6 billion and £1.6 billion respectively. So, weighing these two stories against each other, we have on one hand families living in desperate poverty unable to even afford light bulbs and on the other people worth billions who can afford anything and everything they want. Is there something to be learnt from that? Apparently not for the Welsh voters who are jumping into bed with the Tories, the party of the rich and the one which destroyed their coal industry. In the European referendum, Wales, unlike Scotland and Northern Ireland, voted to leave. Partly, in common with Leavers everywhere, because of the influx of immigrants. The full top ten of wealthy couples in the Rich List is reproduced in the Echo. These are some of their family names: Bertarelli, de Carvalho, Santo Domingo, Pinault, Moritz, Zabludowicz and von Opel. I don’t know about you, but I can’t help feeling that none of those names sound particularly British. As far as I am concerned, they are welcome here. But you never hear those voters who so vociferously and aggressively demand massive curbs on immigration insisting that this sort of incomer should be blocked. Instead they want to stop those like Polish builders and Romanian agricultural workers who come here to work hard, doing jobs the indigenous population won’t, for low incomes Brits sniff at, as well as desperate refugees fleeing terrible persecution. I don't blame most of those who hold such perverted views. The ones I do blame are the disgusting politicians and newspaper editors/proprietors who take advantage of their ignorance, stoke their prejudices and are leading the country and the world down a very dangerous path.

Monday 1 May 2017

Baldrick would be proud of this plan

So this is Theresa May's cunning plan.
She calls an election, knowing she will win with a bigger majority than she has now and possibly by a landslide.
Then she goes into negotiations with the EU about the UK's exit, realising she is going to get absolutely zilch of what she has been proclaiming she will achieve. So out she walks.
Out of the negotiations and straight out of the European Union.
This theory is predicated on the assumption that the penny has dropped for the prime minister and she grasps how impossible it will be for her to get any of the things she has been trumpeting that she will get.
Leaked reports of her Downing Street meeting last week with EU leaders which led them to the conclusion that she lived on another galaxy show the absolute absence of a meeting of minds. When the barking Brexiteers, the ignoramuses who blindly follow them and the mugwumps who run the Tory press say "We told you so", there are only two routes she could follow. One is to admit that the attempt to leave the EU is absurd and will result in devastation for the UK. This is not going to happen, even though it is the only sensible, logical course.
The other is to flounce out, insisting that the other 27 nations are unreasonable and impossible to deal with. So here we go, leaping into our own brave future alone. Over the cliff edge, brothers and sisters, let us boldly go where only lemmings have gone before!
As a plan, this is so ridiculous that it would have been rejected from a Blackadder script as being too insane. If there was any serious thinking going on in the Government, they would work out that, if it would take at least 10 years to negotiate our EU exit, the time it would take to deal with the aftermath of a walkout would be even longer. Not five minutes but to infinity and beyond. For the legal and commercial implications are as vast as the Milky Way.
The latest poll suggests Theresa May is the most popular prime minister for 40 years. It will be interesting to see what the figure is in a year, let alone five, when the consequences of what she is doing hit home.