Saturday, 29 October 2011

What a very strange man he was

In memory of the late Jimmy Savile, here's a picture of him taken by Harry Goodwin and taken from My Generation: The Glory Years of British Rock (V&A, 2010):

Further to my last post...

The Dimbleby-hosted Any Questions on BBC radio lives these days somewhat in the shadow of the Dimbleby-hosted Question Time on BBC television. It's an impression that's hardly dispelled by the way they seem to share the same booking policy.

So last night's programme featured a panel comprising a Tory MP, an ex-Tory MP turned journalist and a Lib Dem MP. Oh, and there was a Labour MP as well.

Again there's that feeling that political debate in the country is concentrated almost exclusively within the coalition and their fellow-travellers. The Labour Party continues to look marginal at best.

And perhaps there's a pattern emerging with Labour's choice of panellists. On Question Time it was the 39-year-old Gloria de Piero, already a member of Ed Miliband's shadow team barely a year after her election. On Any Questions it was the 32-year-old Rachel Reeves, already a member of Ed Miliband's shadow team barely a year after her election.

Neither has any political weight or status at this stage, but maybe that's the point. These are the potential stars of the next parliament being given a chance to get a bit of exposure and experience. The unmistakable impression, however, is that Labour's given up on the idea of opposition for the immediate future and is building for the world after the next election.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

The Man Who Wasn't There

As I was going up the stairs
I saw a man who wasn’t there;
He wasn’t there again today...

While the usual suspects on the Eurosceptic right (Simon Heffer, Norman Tebbit et al) continued to demonstrate that they haven't quite got the hang of this coalition business, and as the government took its collective sledgehammer to some backbench nuts, there was a missing voice in the coverage of this week's debate about a possible EU referendum.

It happened again on the BBC's Question Time this evening. The panel comprised a Tory cabinet minister, a Tory peer, a Lib Dem and the leader of the UKIP. Oh, and there was a Labour MP as well. But she had nothing to say.

Where exactly is the Labour Party these days? I know that it had problems after the election, when Gordon Brown disappeared in a puff of sulk and the media decided that the coalition was a much more interesting story, but that was last year. It really should be making a bit more of the running by now.

Admittedly Labour is ahead in the opinion polls. But not by much. And the gap was wider during the summer (six to eight percentage points) than it has been over the last month or so (three to five points). Or to put it another way, the party was doing better when all the politicians were on holiday and there was an absence of debate.

Which does seem to be the problem. It feels as though Labour has a lead in the polls simply because they exist and aren't in the government. And as long as no one listens to a word they say, they'll stumble along as a protest option. But while the government is obviously unpopular - how could it not be? - that's not going to be enough.

Around this stage of the first government of Margaret Thatcher, when she was also pursuing unpopular economic policies, the Labour Party was touching 50 per cent in the polls, not the 40 to 42 per cent that it's stuck on now. Even in the early days of Michael Foot's leadership, the party had a massive lead in the polls.

The truth is that polls at this point aren't of any significance. What's important is trying to seize some kind of control of the agenda. And Ed Miliband's Labour Party is doing nothing of the kind.

Saturday, 22 October 2011

The late Muammar Gaddafi

It's not been very edifying. Even TalkSport radio's Drive Time show, not hitherto noted as a hotbed of liberalism, was thundering against the lack of taste displayed by television news programmes which showed footage of the last moments of Colonel Gaddafi's life.

The worst, though, passed them by: the closing credits to BBC1's This Week showed the footage accompanied by the Adam and the Ants classic Dog Eat Dog. They did manage to find the apposite lyric ('What's a warrior without his pride?'), and there was the excuse that Adam was in the studio on other business, but it was unpleasant to say the least. It really shouldn't be the BBC's role to glory quite so openly in someone's death.

Elsewhere the Corporation's Kevin Connolly wondered whether Gaddafi is the last of the buffoon dictators. And he, quite rightly, points out that amongst Gaddafi's absurdities was his fondness for dressing as 'a white-suited comic-operetta Latin American admiral, dripping with braid':
Heaven forfend that such self-indulgence might be seen in the mature democracy that is today's Britain:

Saturday, 15 October 2011


I spent a couple of days this week in Leeds at the Morley Literature Festival, where I was appearing with Pauline Black and Ian Clayton to discuss political pop music in the 1980s, and then doing a talk about Terry Nation.

And very agreeable it all was. Friendly atmosphere, great setting (one of those fabulous mid-Victorian town halls), and organised with an unintrusive efficiency. This latter came courtesy of the festival director, Jenny Harris, to whom I'm grateful for the invitation.

It was the first time I'd dared venture into such an event since a disastrous appearance at the Oxford Literary Festival back in 2005 or so. I think I've got that one out of my system now.

Friday, 14 October 2011

Quote for the Week 7

'Ooh, la, la, la, la, hey banana!
Don't you slip on the skin.
Ooh, la, la, la, la, hey banana!
Womble up the litter and put it in the bin.'

- The Wombles, 'Banana Rock' (1975)

Some wise Mike Batt lyrics chosen in honour of what's starting to look like an increasingly accident-prone government. And here's one of the Wombles of Westminster yesterday:

Friday, 7 October 2011

And so we say farewell to conference season

The second half of September and into the start of October used to be one of my favoutite times of the year. This was party conference season and I could, and did, happily watch every minute on television. Even the Conservative conference had political debates that would occasionally sprawl off in odd and unpredictable directions and embarrass the leadership.

But this was thirty years ago. Hard to care so much these days, when all the conferences are little more than a succession of identikit politicians trying to slip a speech - honed and buffed beyond individuality - in between the video presentations.

So what did we learn from this year's conference? Well, nothing. Obviously.

But what will we take away from them, what will linger in the memory? Precious little. Maybe the fact that a section of the Labour conference booed the name of the party's former leader Tony Blair, leaving Ed Miliband looking bewildered and unable to think of a response. Maybe the fact that David Cameron's speech didn't even manage to attract enough people to fill the hall.

But if we're honest, the only thing that's going to be truly difficult to forget is Sarah Teather's stand-up comedy routine at the Lib dem conference, of which this is but a brief glimpse. A mercifully brief glimpse.

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Visiting Chichester

I've been this week to the University of Chichester, where I was giving a couple of talks, one on the early days of Doctor Who and the other on the 1970s. And I had a hugely entertaining time. I like the atmosphere of the university a great deal, and indeed of Chichester itself (apart from anything else, there are some great Peter Blake works in the gallery there).

Above all, I like the faculty. And I'm particularly grateful to Dr Hugo Frey, the head of the history department, who extended the invitation to me and whose unstinting hospitality is much appreciated.

Saturday, 1 October 2011


I don't often go to the theatre, but today I went to the Print Room in Westbourne Grove to see a production of two short pieces by Harold Pinter: Victoria Station and One for the Road. And a very fine production it is too, moving seamlessly from the comedy of the former into the political menace and suppressed sexual violence of the latter.

The reason for this rare venture into theatre was that a few weeks ago the director, Jeff James, was kind enough to invite me along to an early rehearsal to talk with the cast about the 1980s (when the two pieces were written and originally performed). I don't think I had anything to add, but I enjoyed the experience, and I was hugely impressed by the production.

It transfers to the Young Vic for a run from 6 to 15 October.