Wednesday, August 30, 2006

A new chapter opens for Politicos...and Iain Dale.

My pictures above show Iain Dale pictured outside his shop with Jeremy Thorpe, the former leader of the Liberals and inside with some of his stock. Pictures copyright

I received an email from Iain Dale last night saying that he had sold politicos website ending his ten year association with the 'Politicos' brand that he created with his business partner John Simmons. Although it is the website that is the last to go, it is probably the bookshop that was Iain's biggest success. To open a highly specialized bookshop in the heart of Westminster with an absolutely first class stock and great retailing standards and to succeed at making money at it without any previous experience of either retailing generally or the book trade was a real achievement. The clientele was pretty amazing too; I saw Diane Abbot, Peter Oborne and (I think) a wind-swept Simon Jenkins doing their shopping at different times on visits to the shop. After hearing Iain on a Radio Four program, I invited him to speak at a Southampton Test Conservative function and like the true gent he is, he came along and spoke brilliantly.

Another huge achievement was the establishing of the Politicos Publishing imprint. While there are a few publishers who had seen a gap in the market for relatively small run political books (I'm thinking of Robson and Continiuum as two fairly good examples), the big boys by virtue of a mixture of inertia and incompetence were missing all sorts of opportunities. Iain went on to re-publish some classics of the genre (Bernard Ingham 'Kill the Messenger...again', Sir Rex Hunt 'My Falkland Days') as well as some excellent new biographies (Sir John Nott 'Here Today Gone Tomorrow - Recollections of an errant politician', Jeremy Thorpe 'In My Own Time') to name but four. Politicos went on to sent up a web-site design business for the political community and an on-line book ordering business that went on to be quite successful. In the last few years the decision was taken to close the shop and concentrate on e-sales and sell the publishing business to Methuen. Eyebrows were raised when Methuen re-opened the premises in Artillery Row but things have never been the same since Iain ended his involvement there. It is a souless place now.

Iain has achieved great success with his blog and is one of the Conservative Party 'A-listers'. He wrote yesterday that he now going to concentrate on writing, broadcasting and an exciting new TV venture. Like everything else Iain does in business, I have no doubt that the TV in particular will be both innovative and fun. Good luck to him.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Alan Whitehead -In office but not in power

My picture shows Mr Whitehead hands raised on election night 2001. The Lib Dem candidate who was heavily defeated is pictured on the left of the photo, John Denham is ironically pictured on the far right! Two Labour stalwarts of the voluntary party are pictured in the back ground.

I don't know who Labour MP Alan Whitehead thinks put in the Lib-Dem administration that runs Southampton City Council in but in case he is not aware, I will tell him.
It was his Labour councillors on the Council; The Lib-Dems govern with Labour's support. Despite that, he has urged the city's Lib-Dem run council to do more to crack down on anti-social behaviour.

He is my reply to the local press;

Dear Letters Editor,

Labour MP Alan Whitehead latest attempt to win a headline by asking the Council to do more to tackle anti-social behaviour would be laughable if the issue he addresses was not so serious. Does he not realise that it is his Labour government who let out hundreds of thousands of offenders early, his government that lost control of illegal immigration and his government who has starved the police of resources in Hampshire? It is his government who has a Home Secretary who describes his department as ‘inadequate in terms of its scope, it's inadequate in terms of its information technology, leadership, management systems and processes’.
In a recent Home Affairs Select Committee meeting fellow Labour Southampton MP John Denham put it rather well when he said "Our report highlights many ways in which the administration and decision-making in the system could be improved, but the biggest single change must be a far more focused effort on enforcement.”
Mr Whitehead seems very out of touch so my advice would be to suggest his government recruites more police- lots of them.
Yours truly,
Matthew Dean
Southampton Test Conservatives.

Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw

Charles Kennedy: A Tragic Flaw

Charles Kennedy achieved incredible things for the Lib-Dems. Despite being cast as the lightweight 'Chatshow Charlie' of programmes like 'Have I got News for You', he often seemed far more in touch with the public mood than either of the leader of the governing party or for that matter the official opposition. The Lib-Dems with their 'We Oppose..., We Propose...' poster campaign at the last general election featured Mr Kennedy prominently and in no small measure the public seemed to like what they saw. Against all the odds, the Lib-Dems held Romsey, Winchester, Eastleigh and Portsmouth and significantly increased their vote in Southampton Test just to look at the seats in the vicinity of where I live.
Now former Southampton Daily Echo reporter Greg Hurst has written a book about Charles Kennedy sub-titled A Tragic Flaw revealing not just the desperate state Mr Kennedy's alcoholism left him in but also revealing how senior Lib-Dems suppressed the illness from the electorate.
(Buy the book at )
Funnily enough I had heard of Kennedy's problems back in 2003 from a Tory Councillor who had a relative who worked in Westminster. This was about the same time Hurst says that Kennedy planned a press conference where he planned to go public with his alcoholism before abandoning the plan at the last moment. I remember thinking at the time that based on his TV performances, it was very unlikely Kennedy was an alcoholic and I dismissed it as just another piece of untrue Westminster gossip- how wrong I was!
Unlike the public at large, I confess that I never much liked Kennedy, I found his manner irritating and some of his policies objectionable but I do feel sorry for him now. With the full glare of the media spotlight upon him, raking over every aspect of his personal life, he is in for a tough few weeks. The pressure on what seems to be a decent enough man fighting the illness of alcoholism and his family will be immense.
The book will also inevitably call into question the judgment of Sir Menzies Campbell and other senior Lib-Dems who not only suppressed the illness from the electorate but also lied directly when asked about Kennedy's ability to be leader. In Hampshire locally, Sandra Gidley and Chris Huhne were only too keen to be seen with Kennedy during the election before dumping him unceremoniously after. A number of my friends have drawn parallels between Kennedy's behaviour and the problems of Mark Oaten but I can't see the connection. I would arge that alcoholism is a disease while the use of prostitutes, albeit male ones to commit acts that are frankly revolting is surely both a lifestyle and a moral choice.
Politics itself is a rough game but on the evidence provided by Greg Hurst, it is a sadness that Mr Kennedy has been failed by both some of his friends and his party. They failed the country and the electorate too.
24 hours on, the press seem to have reached a similar conclusion. Today's Sun was particularly scathing;

Charles Kennedy was offering himself up to the country as a potential Prime Minister.
He was also a secret alcoholic.
While Kennedy drank like a fish, senior Lib Dem figures conspired to hide their leader’s crippling hangovers from the public. Among those who helped con voters at the last General Election was current party leader Sir Menzies “Ming” Campbell. His decision was a terrible error of judgment. Ming and his stooges dreamed up excuses for Kennedy’s absences after nights on the sauce. Now they claim they were protecting his right to privacy. But what about the rights of voters to know a candidate for PM was an alcoholic? Leadership often means making difficult decisions about people close to you. Campbell’s failure to disclose Kennedy’s problem in 2003 raises serious questions about his ability to lead. And confirms what we’ve known for years . . .
The Lib Dems couldn’t organise a drink-up in a brewery.
Or words to that effect.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Enoch Powell

One of the great things about owning a fairly busy pub is meeting such a wide array of different people as customers – from all different walks of life. However if you are not in the mood it can occasionally be a bit wearing- especially if the local bore is repeating one of his well worn anecdotes for the umpteenth time…
I am reminded of the story about the controversial former Conservative MP Enoch Powell who one day went to the House of Commons Barber for a short back and sides.
“How would you like your hair cut today ?”, said the Hairdresser cheerily.
“In silence”, replied Mr Powell...

By the way I got the photo from a vaguely amusing website which may make readers smile

Monday, August 21, 2006

Selsdon Man

Over the weekend I stayed at the Selsdon Park Hotel to celebrate my parent's 60th birthdays. I wonder if they recalled the part in political history the hotel played in the 1970s when they suggested we all stayed there? *

At the beginning of February 19701, however, it was back to serious
politics. The Shadow Cabinet met at Selsdon Park Hotel, near Croydon,to co-ordinate the results of our policy reviews and discuss an early draft of our manifesto.

Edward Heath, The Course of My Life (1988)

By January 1970, the Labour Party had been in government for almost six years, but having won with a large majority in the 1966 General Election they had consistently been trailing behind in the opinion polls ever since. Towards the end of 1969 however the polls were beginning to show Labour back in the lead and the pundits expected that Harold Wilson would call an early election to capitalize on this new found popularity.
As Leader of the Opposition Conservative Party, Heath arranged for a meeting of the shadow cabinet, supposedly a brainstorming session where it was intended that they would knock into shape the platform for the coming General Election at the Selsdon Park Hotel.
Despite considerable media interest, the meeting was largely inconclusive. Apparently, the only truly radical idea floated at the meeting was made by Maurice Macmillan, who suggested that the National Health Service should only meet 80% of treatment costs, with individuals taking our insurance to meet the other 20%. This idea was rejected by Ian Macleod as being too expensive for the ordinary working man. Nothing much else was decided and everyone might simply have gone home were it not for the fact that most of Fleet Street had turned up expecting some exciting developments.
As a result Macleod persuaded those present that even though they hadn't decided anything, they should at least give the impression of being decisive and he therefore drafted a statement that expressed general support for law and order, trade union reform, tougher immigration controls and the free market.
Since it proved to be a slack week for news and most of the Reporters staying had to justify their no doubt considerable ex's and hotel bills, the Selsdon Park conference turned out to be a big public relations success as the press devoted substantial column inches to the meeting which they chose to interpret as evidence that the Conservative Party had swung to the right.
As it happens this was a view that Harold Wilson was only too willing to endorse for his own purposes. He came up with the term 'Selsdon Man', with its allusion to some kind of Paleolithic discovery, to describe what he chose to portray as the Conservative Party as wishing to take the country back to a less civilized age, and announced that;

Selsdon Man is not just a lurch to the right. It is an atavistic desire to
reverse the course of twenty-five years of social revolution. What they are
planning is a wanton, calculated and deliberate return to greater

With his dislike of ideology, it seems unlikely that Heath himself regarded the meeting at Selsdon as signifying the adoption of any kind of new political philosophy. The truth was that Heath had little time for political philosophies in the first place and took the view that policy considerations were entirely secondary to overall economic goals and that if one set of policies failed they could simply replaced by another without too much trouble.

On the other hand he did little to contradict the impression given since it served his purposes at the time to be seen to offering something new to the British electorate.
Thus the Conservative Party fought and won the 1970 General Election on a manifesto that promised cuts in both public expenditure and taxation, as well as an absolute rejection of any notions of statutory wage control or any further nationalisation. But Selsdon Man, if he ever existed, died an early death when Heath performed his infamous U-turn, abandoned his manifesto commitments and proceeded to adopt policies that were the exact opposite to those on which he had been elected.

Irrespective of what Heath thought and felt on the matter there were many in the Conservative Party whose views were not that dissimilar to those of the mythical Selsdon Man. Both the Institute of Economic Affairs and Enoch Powell had been banging the drum in favour of the free market for many years, and whilst not many had listened, those that had were passionate in their commitment and saw Selsdon Man as a promise betrayed.

One group of backbench MPs led by Nicholas Ridley returned to the Selsdon Park Hotel in September 1973 and symbolically issued the Selsdon Declaration, announcing their intention to uphold and promote the free market policies that they believed had won the Conservative Party the 1970 General Election, but had later been cravenly abandoned. Naturally known as the Selsdon Group were to form the nucleus of the support that mustered behind the figure of Margaret Thatcher when she emerged as the somewhat unlikely candidate to supplant Edward Heath.

Do my friends and opponents alike consider me to be the embodiment of Selsdon Man? I hope so!

(* Actually I think the proximately to my grandparents and the hotel golf course laid out by golfing legend JH Taylor in 1929 had more to do with our booking!!!)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Preparing for a Civil Emergency and other thoughts

My picures above show the front of Prof. Hennessy's book, a map of tunnels of Gibraltar (copyright unknown), burning of cattle during the foot and mouth outbreak and Box Tunnel

Last night there was an excellent documentary on BBC Radio 4 called "Watching the doomwatchers" which was produced by Martin Rosenbaum and Max Cotton. A write up on it can be found on the official site at

Anyway I didn't twig that it was the same Martin Rosenbaum who is the BBC's man who specializes in Freedom of Information issues until I saw the link on Iain Dale's blog. He has exposed the scandal that most of the Cabinet Committees that our much diminished Deputy Prime Minister supposedly chair either never meet or meet so infrequently as to be irrelevant.

Well worth a visit.
The documentary reminded me of a book written by the incomparable (but left-wing) Peter Henesey.

that dealt mainly with the plans for outbreak of a third world war called, "The Secret State: Whitehall and the Cold War" (2002). I found it fascinating, especially the account of how the final train would leave London containing key civil servants and the great and the good for Box in Wiltshire, just up the road from my parents at Avoncliff .

I thought as I read Hennesey's book how futile it was really to try and run government after a nuclear war in the same way that one had prior to it; the key was the deterrent effect of the weapons and for the enemy to understand that if the circumstances demanded it, we would use such wepons in our own national self-interest. Oddly as I listened to the Radio documentary, I couldn't help feeling that government and the business of government now was as unprepared for national emergency now as it was in the 1950s.

As I had seen the mines at Westwood above my parents village where national treasures were stored in the Second World War and even more amazingly visited the so called 'secret' underground tunnels below the rock in Gibraltar as a guest of the RAF, complete with the underground hospital and power station, I found the book particularly interesting. An on-line review can be found at and the book can be purchased alongside another review at

David Cameron may be on to something when he says this government is failing to be robust enough in the fight against Islamic terrorisism and extremism; I doubt they are doing enough to prepare for any civil emergency.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

UKIP Southampton

My picture shows UKIP MEP Nigel Farage pictured in a tank outside the last Conservative Spring conference with, presumably,a typical UKIP member. Earlier that week David Cameron had called UKIP members "fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly."
Tory Party Chairman Francis Maude added some UKIP members had "unsavoury connections" with the far-right.

Personally, I have never disliked people for being members of other political parties. Some of them, such as Bill Kearns, Nigel Gould and Jon Walters (who have all been active in their respective political parties), I can count upon as amongst my best friends.
I don't fall either into the minority view within the Conservative Party that people who joined UKIP are traitors who are natural Conservatives, a view that is both naive and arrogant.
While I admit it galls me that in seats like Eastleigh, the arch Euro-federalist, Chris Huhne was elected over the sceptic Conservative, Conor Burns with most people who said they would vote UKIP expressing a second preference for the Conservatives, thats life.
The result in Eastleigh was as follows last time:

Liberal Democrats- Chris Huhne 19,216 votes 38.6 share −2.1 swing Elected.
Conservative- Conor Burns 18,648 votes 37.5 share +3.2 swing
Labour- Chris Watt 10,238 votes 20.6 share −1.3 swing
UKIP - Chris Murphy 1,669 votes 3.4 share +1.6 swing
Lib Dem Majority 568

Turnout 49,771 votes 64.8% +1.0%
Swing −2.6 from Lib-Dems to Conservative.

So assuming Conservative canvass returns were correct regarding second preferences on UKIP voters, it seems fairly cut and dried that UKIP cost the Conservatives the seat in Eastleigh and let in a very pro-European.
However, I am sure their response would probably be that as all the other candidates were in favour of staying in the EU, they were all as bad as each other and that in a democracy the UKIP activists had a right (indeed a duty) to stand and state the case for withdrawal. After all politics is all about debate, and if people feel strongly about an issue, they have every right in a democracy to campaign upon it.
Which brings me to some of the weird things that have been going on in Southampton...
Their candidate for Southampton, Peter Day has been writing letters to the national press posing as an non-aligned individual when he is a party candidate! ,
UKIP have also been frantically writing to local Conservative candidates urging them to defect when they have never shown the slightest inclination of doing so and then publishing variations on discussion forums that Tories are on the verge of leaving the Conservatives/defecting to UKIP etc., etc. As one exasperated Conservative put it to me, " I don't agree with them, I am happy with my party yet I know that if I even ask them to stop contacting me than it will only encourage them". If they do reply, UKIP will probably say they are then in discussions with senior Conservatives!!! If when reads the UKIP discussion thread, one could really begin to believe there was something in all of it when actually Stephen Phillips, the Press Secretary for UKIP Southampton answer at the end of the discussion thread is a fabrication. He does his party no service at all...
Meanwhile something I applaud is that UKIP have even published a blog locally
However some of the claims on it are so fantastic as to be extroadinary.
I would invite readers to visit it to see what I mean.
I also note that it is written anonymously- is it really an 'official' blog that really represents UKIP in Southampton I wonder ?

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Red faces at the Red brickworks

Bursledon Brickworks
I heard a very funny story last week about the hapless Chris Huhne, one-time Lib-Dem Leadership contender and Eastleigh MP.
Long-time Huhne watchers will recall how he was teased during for his absurd claim that he was local during and prior to the general election as he divided his time between Brussels and London (See previous posts).
To add to Mr. Huhne’s discomfort, it later emerged that he bought a house in the constituency but that it was left empty and unfurnished for some time as Mr. Huhne continued to live in London! Now Dear reader, read on…

Last week Mr. Huhne, as a good constituency MP, went to Bursledon Brickworks. Doubtless remembering the convention where visiting MPs inform the local member of parliament, he could barely conceal his irritation as he saw the Conservative Member for nearby Fareham, Mark Hoban at the same function.
Mr Huhne went on to ask Mark Hoban what he was doing there, pointing out that Bursledon was a lovely village located in the Eastleigh constituency.

Rolling his eyes Mr Hoban replied, “ Yes, Bursledon really is a charming place, indeed I have visited it for luncheon on a number of occasions. On a different matter Chris, as the local MP, I would like to welcome you to Bursledon Brickworks in Swanwick which is located in the heart of my Fareham constituency.

The reaction of Mr Huhne who’s faced had turned a most attractive shade of brick red not entirely dissimilar to the buildings in which they were situated, is not recorded.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Nuclear subs and party politics

HMS Tireless pictured last Monday in Southampton water.
copyright BBC.

For the first time since the year 2000, a Royal Navy submarine, HMS Tireless made a week long official visit to the city of Southampton. Operating from Devonport Naval Base in Plymouth, Tireless has recently completed a revalidation maintenance period and is now in the midst of final preparations for a return to the fleet after 21 years of service. With 130 Officers and men, the recent refit made her one of the most modern and capable in the Royal Navy, able to fire Tomahawk cruise missiles and other conventional wepons. HMS Tireless's Commander, Iain Breckenridge was quoted as saying that the visit "will show the city and the Royal Navy working together to achieve common goals". Sadly, that has not been the case. Despite being a member of a government that has deployed and used submaines extensively and most recently fireing missles in anger during the Iraq war, Southampton Labour MP Alan Whitehead opposed the visit. On Sunday, a Labour Councillor, Dennis Harryman was the guest speaker at a CND rally at Riverside Park, near Cobden Bridge. He was candid in his opposition to all forms of nuclear power and defence and defiantly spoke out against his party. One observer said to me that he was more militant than new Labour. Shockingly, arriving in his official car and wearing his symbols of office, the Mayor of Southampton, Liberal Democrat Cllr John Slade was also present.
Messrs Whitehead, Slade and Harryman are free to attend any political meetings they so wish as private individuals. They may say what they like, even if most people profoundly disagree with them. If they choose, they may oppose the policies of the national parties on whose platform they were elected, although one might question why they continue to seek re-election on such party-political tickets.
However it can not be right for the Mayor to attend such controversial events in an official capacity at tax-payer's expence. Nor for Mr Harryman to parade his position as an elected Labour Councillor to attack the defence policies of this country and his party. Nor for Mr Whitehead to support his government on a peacemeal basis. If they wish to expound such views
let them resign the whip from their respective parties. Let them campaign as individuals. They may then do as they wish but not in the name of their constituents, nor in my name or the name of the City in which I live.

My Preciouss!

Well everyone is getting very excited at Southampton Test Conservative Association over who will be the speaker at their annual dinner on October 25th. Who will it be?
All will be revealed in due course my Preciouss!
Some of my more inprobable guests are pictured above.
Wildly speculative posts with the name of the speaker in the interim are, of course, most welcome!