Thursday, December 28, 2006

Macmillan unearthed !

'Supermac' by Vicky.

OK, owning up time! I wasn't born when he was in even front-line politics but I do have a sneaking admiration for Harold Macmillan, Conservative Prime Minister from 1957 to (I think) 1963. His fabled speech to the Tory Reform Group at the Carlton Club in November 1985 has been archived and can now been heard in its entirety here.
The speeches contents have to my mind largely been repudiated by events but for sheer style of delivery (after a faltering start) and an alternative critique of Thatcherism from the Conservative centre right, it takes some beating.

Readers may be interested to know that David Profomo has accepted my invitation to come and speak in the new year in Southampton on the affair that rocked Macmillan's government. Details to follow!

Christmas Reading 1- Andrew Gimson, 'The Rise of Boris Johnson'.

Has Andrew Gimson Got News for You?
pic Copyright BBC.

One bit of light reading that I did enjoy over Christmas was Andrew Gimson's biography of his friend Boris Johnson. In a generally sympathetic portrait, the book nonetheless reveals how Johnson despite being bright and charming has made some serious errors that have cost him at times his job, his first and nearly his second marriage. I remember his work as European correspondent on The Daily Telegraph well; he had an engaging way of styling his prose in a way that few journalists could muster. What I did find a little surprising was rather than the accepted wisdom that Johnson had got more Eurosceptic the longer he was in post, actually a fair bit of his material was just playing to the Eurosceptic gallery of The Telegraph and (I write as something of a Eurosceptic myself) rather prone to over-exaggeration and when the occasion demanded it either for reasons of political expediency or time, factual inaccuracy.
On the only occasion I have met him, Boris was actually a little awkward posing for photos and talking to the press. Despite then being an MP there was little of the warm bonhomie and confident buffoon about him but more the air of something of an academic. Nonetheless both in the book and in person, Boris conveys the impression of being a likable, passionate and individualistic politician in an age dominated by grey party hacks.

Andrew Gimson; The Rise of Boris Johnson Published by Simon & Schuster, 2006.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all my blog's readers!

1966 and all that ; Harold Wilson pictured with supporters at his Huyton constituency on polling day
(NF out of camera shot- I hope!)

My apologies for my lack of postings over the last month- December is a busy time for me business wise and I have also had a few pressing family issues.
Anyway as I write this we are over Christmas with just the New Year festivities to go so may I take this opportunity to thank everyone who reads my blog and wish them all a Happy New Year?
As usual I seem to have a capacity to meet the strangest of people in the most unlikely of places. Out for a drink in Bradford on Avon on Boxing Day (a town in the West Country near my parents house), I got talking to a Welsh man who had stood in the 1960s against Harold Wilson in the National Front candidate! I am delighted to report that age had mellowed him. Instead of grappling with the vexed issues of nationhood and immigration, he was instead in the throws of trying to save Bradford on Avon Town Club! I got the impression he was rather embarrassed at ever having stood...

Thursday, December 14, 2006


Reproduced from Mr Fawkes website.

As I posted the last entry, I heard the Radio Four news lead story about Blair being interviewed at last following months of speculation. At interesting sub-text is that today is what industry insiders call a 'busy news day' as we have the awful events in Ipswitch unfolding, the post office closures consultation being launched and Steven's pointless investigation into the late Princess Diana being published (cost £3.6million). Perhaps that is why Downing Street wanted the PM to be questioned if at all then today? They deny that allegation absolutely of course. Interesting too that he wasn't interviewed under caution and apparently he had no legal representation present. Perhaps the yard plan another visit?
Some analysis from the BBC that broke the story can be read at
while the characters involved can be viewed at
Still with the BBC, Nick Robinson provides some good commentary on his blog at
but I am not sure that I agree with him that Blair is out of the woods yet.
So much for a legacy!

Whitesnake return as ageing blogger relives his youth!

Top Marsden and fan, middle Marsden and Murray and bottom Whitesnake circa 1978.

Re-living my youth, last night I saw "M3 Classic Whitesnake" at The Brook in Southampton and very good they were too!

The band consisted of original Whitesnake guitarists Bernie Marsden and Micky Moody and bass player Neil Murray (who also played with Black Sabbath and Brian May amoung many others.) The line up was completed by Jimmy Copley on drums (ex-Jeff Beck, Tears for Fears), Mark Stanway on keyboards (ex-Magnum) and Stefan Berggren on vocals. The set list included Don't Break My Heart Again, Fool for your lovin', Here I Go again, Crying in the Rain, Slow and Easy, Hit and Run, Lonely Days and Walking in the Shadow of the Blues. In between songs there was much banter from Marsden and the quality of the music was excellent despite the band having no time to reherse as the singer had only flown across from his home in Sweden that morning!
Afterwards I heard Bernie comment how pleased he was at how the show had gone; they are playing a few more dates which can be viewed at
For those that are interested Micky Moody also has just published his biography (which is very funny in parts) at
Thanks for a great night!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

The Romsey Red Head strikes again!

Sandra in Anne Robinson type pose
Like Anne, Sandra knows all the answers!

Anyone who knows Sandra Gidley will be far from surprised on her attacks on organised sport

(Read about them and The Echo's Sports Editor response to them at

I must say that Mrs Gidley does have one capacity that is notable as far as I am concerned. That is to hold opposing views to my own on just about every conceivable issue!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Save the postage boys!

The offending article...
The Sunday Express 10 Dec 06.

Enjoying an excellent Sunday lunch at Radley's yesterday, I happened to pick up a copy of The Sunday Express ('the world's greatest newspaper' ?) off the bar. It contained the above article on how UKIP were going to recruit loads of members who were disaffected Tories. Fair enough but actually when you read into it it transpires that about the best they have done so far is recruit a 70-odd year old buffer who was once William Hague's constituency chairman! All this despite sending out 17,000 letters of invitation and also illegally using an European Commission email account to send out a further amount of spam! In Southampton, UKIP members were telling everyone last Spring that loads of Conservative councillors were to defect to everyone's general amusement but why on earth would they? As the local election results show over the last thirty years, they would have no chance of holding their seats, the Conservative Party is increasing its lead in the polls while UKIPs share is declining. Doubtless there are a number of people who don't like 'Call me Dave' Camerons approach but it doesn't follow that they would want to join UKIP or come to that any other political party. In fact a few Conservatives have been written to twice locally by UKIP but I have to confess that I have yet to recieve my letter!
Other green ink three underlinings letters who have written inviting Conservatives to join them locally include the English Democrats, Campaign for an English Parliament and the New Party.
While it is always nice to be wanted, my advice is to save the postage boys; I think you are wasting your time.

Best wishes to Andrew Turner

Andrew pictured with Sausage (left) and Bert (right).

I was very sorry to hear that Andrew Turner, the MP for the Isle of Wight, had suffered a serious stroke on Friday. Apparently he fell ill on Friday afternoon and was admitted to Newport hospital on the Island before being taken to Southampton General on Saturday.
Andrew is an incredibly hard-working and assiduous MP with the largest constituency in the UK- I do hope the punishing work load he sets himself was not a contributing factor to his illness. I remember when I was a Rep regularly visiting the Island at being amazed at how active he was in the community and what an effective campaigner he was. He has spoken at a couple of functions in Southampton and is always well-briefed, charming and courteous.
Best wishes for a speedy recovery Andrew.

Candidates Conference meets.

Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth
pic Friends of the Earth

On Saturday the Conservative Party had a candidates conference for people who had been on both the approved list and the now fabled 'A-list'. About 200 candidates attended and listened to presentations from (amongst others), John Maples MP the new Vice-Chairman in charge of candidates and Shireen Ritchie (step-mother of Guy and mother-in-law of Madonna!), the 60 year old founder of Women2Win and head of the Conservative's candidates department. The conference was organised by David Senior who has stood in Shipley and Mary Macleod who was recently selected for the ultra-marginal seat of Brentford and Isleworth.
It was all quite good natured but apparently Maples aside that CVs might need a 'bit of polishing' if candidates were not getting interviews with constituency associations went down like a lead balloon with the 75% of people in the room who because they were not on the 'a-list', hadn't yet even been able to apply for a seat!
Another classic from Mr Maples was his comment that candidates often appeared too stiff and formal, always in suits which didn't go down too well with the 20% or so that had turned up in suits! More seriously he claimed to be ignorant of the practise where local candidates had been vetoed by the Candidates Department of the Conservative Party and where CVs had not been forwarded on by the Party to local associations despite Candidates requesting that they were.
For some reason the audience was also addressed by the Vice-Chairman of Friends of the Earth Tony Juniper. Apparently he was applauded by about 20% of the audience for saying that the money spent on Trident should instead be used on providing solar panels and other environmentally friendly items for Iraq. History doesn't record what the reaction was with the other 80%...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

State funding for political parties is wrong.

I participate in that tiniest of minority sports, fundraising for a political party.
From a money-making point of view, it is an activity that will become increasingly less important in future years if MPs like Southampton MP Alan Whitehead get their way. The reason for this is that he, like a number of our political elites, is in favour of state funding of political parties. In his pamphlet "Anti-Politics and Political Parties: The Case for State Funding" written before Labour got embroiled in the "loans for peerages" row, he summarises the state of British polity and identifies how he thinks the media and public policy conjoin to create a culture which assumes that party politics is a nasty business and that those involved in it are to be mistrusted and denigrated. It is a picture that I do not recognise.

Over the last few years I have raised money at a variety of events in Southampton. I am now an amateur expert in organising literary dinners, speaker meetings, tea parties, business breakfast receptions, quizzes, curry nights and afternoon teas. Along with the usual contacts, my mobile phone boasts the numbers of the odd ex-Chief Whip and Foreign Secretary, publisher, famous historian, diplomat among its contact list. It can be hard work and expensive as one covers the marketing costs or expenses of guest speakers at such events.

Why do it then? Because it can be fascinating to hear public figures reminisce about their experiences or provide a unique insight into today’s problems. Such events can be enormous fun as well as being informative and instructive. Guests at such events often develop their interests to then themselves campaign or even stand in local elections; vital for a healthy democracy. The money from fundraising allows candidates with no independent means of their own to contest local and national elections and to fight vigorous campaigns and debate. The whole process develops an interest in policy and politics.

Controversially, Mr Whitehead argues that parties have attempted to hide from their problems at a local level by relying on large donations and loans to the central party, distancing them still further from the local electorate and added to perceptions of corruption and sleaze. The answer Mr. Whitehead believes is that a system of regulated state funding for political parties, targeted to reward activism and participation at a local level. He explains it would not only help to restore trust in parties; it may also create a deeper understanding of the role that parties play in maintaining our democracy. In fact his solution would have precisely the opposite effect.

I am not surprised that Mr. Whitehead is a fan of state funding, after all, the apparatus of public funding creates a lucrative career structure. A graduate can work for his local party branch, then put in a couple of years at the attached state-funded think-tank or charity, a run as a Councillor with the attendant generous expenses and allowances and then stand for parliament. Throughout his life, he has been dependent on the largesse of the taxpayer. So it is hardly surprising that, when he becomes a minister, he is comfortable with the idea of higher taxes. It's not just that they have to keep finding state sector posts for their supporters as some Conservatives allege; they simply can't imagine a world in which most activity is independent of the government.

Mr Whitehead does not recognise the central fact that, it is just wrong in principle to force people to pay through taxation for parties they may not support. Why on earth should one of Whitehead’s constituents, say an elderly resident in a council estate surviving on just a state pension, contribute towards say the design of a new Labour party website or for a man in chicken to follow round the Prime minister?

The majority of the parties' central campaign spending goes on billboards, political consultants and telephone canvassing - more state funding would increase this type of expenditure at the expense of local activism. Even more taxpayer money would make the parties even more insulated from the public

Another consequence of public funding would tend to entrench existing major parties at the expense of newcomers. Last May saw the formation of the ‘Lowe Out’ campaign in Southampton. I happened not to agree with either their aims or methods but they were free to compete on an equal footing with the other parties.

Mr Whitehead maybe forgets that there is already existing, generous taxpayer provision for the political parties. Since 1975, opposition parties in Parliament have received public funds under a scheme known as 'Short money' (named after the then Leader of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon Edward Short). The purpose of Short money is to assist opposition parties in carrying out their parliamentary duties, in particular that of holding the government of the day to account. The money is used to provide research assistance for Front Bench spokesmen, assistance in the Opposition Whips' office and office staff for the Leader of the Opposition. Likewise 'Cranborne money', has existed in the House of Lords since 1996. These schemes are not subject to any statutory provision; each House of Parliament votes the necessary funds directly. The amounts were increased nearly three-fold following a recommendation of the Neil Committee. It is highly debatable if democracy has improved as a result. It seems likely that greater public funding is just likely to lead to bigger, more entrenched party bureaucracies.
In the past, political parties boasted huge memberships - they should be seeking to win these people back voluntarily rather than taking their money compulsorily. Mr Whitehead might reflect that having to go out and raise money from the public on a voluntary basis might just make the parties more responsive and responsible - after all, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds manages to raise more than £50m a year from the voluntary subscriptions of its one million members, more than all of the political parties combined.

Perhaps on reason that members have been leaving Labour in their droves is because the membership treats the rank and file so badly. We can all remember the 82-year-old activist Walter Wolfgang thrown out of the Labour party conference for heckling Jack Straw and then detained under the Terrorism Act. But Blair’s refusal to listen to members over Iraq, pensions, council tax and the conduct of John Prescott are other current examples. The real reason why people feel disengaged from politics is the failure of political leaders to listen to events such as these. Taking taxpayers’ money and spending in on political funding would just make matters worse.