I never underestimate the political canniness of Alex Salmond, but his 670 page White Paper on Scottish Independence was a right old dog’s breakfast. Instead of answering 600 odd questions, it provoked yet more of them. I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised, but the SNP clearly want to have their cake and eat it. They want to keep the pound, they want to keep the Queen, they want to keep the BBC, they don’t want border controls. It’s a ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’ sort of independence. Unionists should comfort themselves with the thought that the most recent purveyors of ‘Pick ‘n’ Mix’, Woolworth’s, went out of business.
You can tell from the spelling of my Christian name that I have Scottish roots. My middle name is Campbell, and you don’t get much more Scottish than that. And yet I am constantly accused of being anti-Scottish when I even deign to comment on independence. If you point out the subsidy that Scotland gets through the munificence of the English taxpayer, you’re then told by the SNP it’s a load of old hogwash and that because of North Sea oil it’s the other way around. They must take us for idiots.
Of course Scotland could exist as an independent nation, just in the same way that Greece does, to take a random example. My heart tells me that if I had a vote in this referendum I would vote for independence, purely out of national pride. The thing is, though. My head would tell me something completely different, and that is why Alex Salmond will be appealing to people’s emotions rather than their sense of reason.
Not long ago, I was approached by an LBC listener, who had a really good idea which he wanted to share with the Government as it could help a lot of people. I won’t go into the detail of which department it was but, at every step, he had been obstructed by civil servants who would never return calls. He patiently explained to me where he was coming from and what he could do. I was appalled that he wasn’t able to get his point across in the corridors of power, so I contacted the relevant minister. Within an hour, the minister had called the man, spent quite some time on the phone talking to him, and had arranged for civil servants to take the matter forward. Great. Well done, Minister. But it really shouldn’t have been like that. Why should someone have to go through someone like me who, just because I know someone, was able to get the whole thing in gear? The listener thinks I am a hero for what I have done, but there’s part of me that is deeply ashamed that, in 2013, our government system still operates on the basis of “who you know”.
I don’t do a lot of TV nowadays. Four hours broadcasting on the radio every weekday is quite sufficient, but one programme I never say no to is the Andrew Marr show. I first did the paper review on the show – then presented by Sir David Frost – ten years ago, just as we were about to go to war with Iraq. My fellow paper reviewers were Polly Toynbee and, somewhat bizarrely ,Trigger from Only Fools and Horses. Ever since then I usually get to go on the show about once a year, usually with Helena Kennedy or the redoubtable Polly. Debating with Polly is an interesting experience. There is very little we agree on, and yet somehow we always manage to have quite a civilised debate. The Andrew Marr Show is certainly not one where it seems appropriate to have a shouting match, which is probably why I never get paired with George Galloway.
I got sacked this week from my weekly column on the Eastern Daily Press. It had been running seven years so I guess I had had a good innings, but it’s never nice to be relieved of one’s duties (ConHome editors please note*). I totally understand a newspaper’s need to keep things fresh, though, even though it’s ironic that I got the column just as I moved out of Norfolk, and have lost it four months after I moved back. Normal for Norfolk?!?
Andrew Mitchell and his family have gone through hell over the last fourteen months. And their particular version of purgatory doesn’t look like ending soon. Due to the incompetence of his lawyers failing to register some court papers in time, he faces a legal bill of half a million pounds. It really brings home the fact that justice in this country is often available only to those who can afford it. You or I, in a similar position, wouldn’t have been able to do what he has done. I don’t know what the solution is, but it is clear that just like bankers, lawyers are out of control. The fees they charge are so outrageous that only the rich can now afford to take serious cases to court. I am far from rich, and know full well that whatever my principles told me to do, I just wouldn’t be able to undertake most sorts of legal action even if I knew I was 100 per cent in the right. I have to use the services of libel lawyers in my publishing business. The fees that libel lawyers charge are simply out of this world. I could tell you a lot more, but I am afraid I can’t. I could tell you about the libel lawyers who act for celebrities who specialise in making vexatious complaints purely, it seems, to up their fees to their clients. I have lost count of the number of libel letters I have had to engage lawyers to reply to, only then to hear nothing more. But they have been able to charge their clients a couple of grand for the pleasure, and I’m also a couple of grand out of pocket. They are leeches, and are a very good example of why the libel laws need to be changed.
Boris Johnson made one of the more bizarre speeches of the year when he gave the third Margaret Thatcher lecture to the Centre for Policy Studies on Wednesday. Its aim was clear – to claim the Thatcherite mantle. But having read the speech, it had more than a touch of the Keith Josephs about it. Older readers may remember that Keith Joseph’s Tory leadership ambitions collapsed in 1974 when he made a speech in Preston (I think) referring to the unfortunate breeding habits of classes C and D. Boris used similar inappropriate language referring to the low IQ of 16 per cent of the population and apparently idolising Gordon Gekko, leading to headlines in both the Guardian (which you would expect and the Daily Mail (which you wouldn’t) declaring GREED IS GOOD! Is this really the message he wants to get over? Having read the whole speech I have to say it was intellectually deficient, full of bizarre conclusions and lacking heft. It wasn’t so much a lecture as a haranguing by the political equivalent of Dame Edna Everage.
I did like his idea of naming Boris Island the Margaret Thatcher International Airport. It didn’t win much favour with my fellow Sky News paper reviewer Jacqui Smith though. She acidly commented that it was highly appropriate since they were “cold, distant and out of touch”. I’m afraid my usual gentlemanly spirit deserted me and found myself responding by asking if she had looked in the mirror lately. Saucer of milk for Mr Dale?
My favourite joke of the week, coined by my LBC presenter colleague James O’Brien’s small daughter…
Maybe it works better if you say it out loud! Ideally with someone else…
Ed Miliband got a lot of flak from the pretentious, snobbish luvvies who think that Desert Island Discs should be the preserve of classical music and opera. Anyone who has the guts to choose Aha’s “Take on Me” as one of his eight songs, and then to follow it up with “Angels” by Robbie Williams is OK by me. I loved the fact that by choosing these songs (and no one can accuse him of being persuaded by a spin doctor to choose them) he sent a subliminal message of “I couldn’t give a rat’s what you think. This my choice of music and I like it”. Maybe he should take that attitude to his next shadow cabinet reshuffle. If he does, Ed Balls will be kacking himself. [Not quite sure that’s how you sell kacking, but there you go].
* You’re not fired – Ed.