When General Election campaigns go wrong… (1945-1983)

1945: Churchill’s “Gestapo” speech

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It was not his finest hour.

In the summer of 1945, the wartime coalition broke up and the parties campaigned in the first General Election campaign in nearly ten years.

Most expected Winston Churchill, rightly hailed as the nation’s wartime saviour, to lead the Tories to victory. But if this had ever been going to happen, Churchill did himself and the party serious harm with a vicious attack on Labour in a radio broadcast:

But I will go farther. I declare to you, from the bottom of my heart, that no Socialist system can be established without a political police. …No Socialist Government conducting the entire life and industry of the country could afford to allow free, sharp, or violently-worded expressions of public discontent. They would have to fall back on some form of Gestapo…

The attack backfired. Voters were aghast that Churchill would level such a charge at gentle timid men such as Clement Attlee, who until recently had been working well alongside Churchill in coalition. The attack seemed to demonstrate the difference between Churchill the great war leader and Churchill the party politician and probably at least partly explains the scale of the Labour landslide which followed. And, no. Nothing anything like a “gestapo” was ever introduced.

1970: Benn attacks Enoch.

In 1968, Enoch Powell provoked a huge controversy with his inflammatory “rivers of blood” speech. Tory leader Edward Heath immediately sacked Powell from the Opposition front bench. As Labour went into the 1970 election, senior Labour campaigners were instrucyted not to mention Powell who still commanded significant support amongst many white vvoters.

Unfortunately, Tony Benn broke ranks with an attack almost as inflammatory in its own way as Powell’s had been. Benn declared: “The flag of radicalism which has been hoisted in Wolverhampton (Powell’s seat) is beginning to look like the one that fluttered 25 years ago over  (the concentration camps) Dachau and .Belsen“. Benn regretted saying it, almost immediately.

Powell, like Benn was a Second World War veteran and there is some evidence Benn’s gaffe galvanised white support in Powellite areas. The Tories won a surprise victory in 1970. Benn’s remarks don’t entirely explain  this but they didn’t help.

February 1974: Enoch backs Labour.

By 1974, many white voters still wanted Enoch Powell to be Prime Minister. With Edward Heath’s Tories facing a knife edge election, Powell’s speech declaring that Tories who oppose Common Market membership should vote Labour as he had done was hugely damaging.

The result? Labour won slightly more seats than the Tories (though fewer votes) and were soon able to lead a Hung Parliament. Powell’s intervention may have actually led to the difference between victory and defeat. That said, Labour held a referendum on Common Market membership. People voted “yes” so Britain remained within.

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1983: Thatcher gets a grilling.

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The 1983 election was by and large a very good one for Mrs Thatcher’s Tories aside from this one supremely awkward phone-in with teacher Diana Gould. This centered on the sinking of the General Belgrano, during the 1982 Falklands conflict.

Gould: Mrs Thatcher, why, when the Belgrano, the Argentinian battleship, was outside the exclusion zone and actually sailing away from the Falklands, why did you give the orders to sink it?

Thatcher: But it was not sailing away from the Falklands — It was in an area which was a danger to our ships, and to our people on them.
Lawley: Outside the exclusion zone, though.
Thatcher: It was in an area which we had warned, at the end of April, we had given warnings that all ships in those areas, if they represented a danger to our ships, were vulnerable. When it was sunk, that ship which we had found, was a danger to our ships. My duty was to look after our troops, our ships, our Navy, and my goodness me, I live with many, many anxious days and nights.
Gould: But Mrs Thatcher, you started your answer by saying it was not sailing away from the Falklands. It was on a bearing of 280 and it was already west of the Falklands, so I’m sorry, but I cannot see how you can say it was not sailing away from the Falklands.
Thatcher: When it was sunk ..
Gould: When it was sunk.
Thatcher: .. it was a danger to our ships.
Gould: No, but you have just said at the beginning of your answer that it was not sailing away from the Falklands, and I am asking you to correct that statement.
Thatcher: But it’s within an area outside the exclusion zone, which I think is what you are saying is sailing away ..
Gould: No, I am not, Mrs Thatcher.
Sue Lawley: I think we are not arguing about which way it was facing at the time.
Gould: Mrs Thatcher, I am saying that it was on a bearing 280, which is a bearing just North of West. It was already west of the Falklands, and therefore nobody with any imagination can put it sailing other than away from the Falklands.
Thatcher: Mrs – I’m sorry, I forgot your name.
Lawley: Mrs Gould.
Thatcher: Mrs Gould, when the orders were given to sink it, when it was sunk, it was in an area which was a danger to our ships. Now, you accept that, do you?
Gould: No, I don’t.
Thatcher: I am sorry, it was. You must accept ..
Gould: No, Mrs Thatcher.
Thatcher: .. that when we gave the order, when we changed the rules which enabled them to sink the Belgrano, the change of rules had been notified at the end of April. It was all published, that any ships that were are a danger to ours within a certain zone wider than the Falklands were likely to be sunk, and again, I do say to you, my duty, and I am very proud that we put it this way and adhered to it, was to protect the lives of the people in our ships, and the enormous numbers of troops that we had down there waiting for landings. I put that duty first. When the Belgrano was sunk, when the Belgrano was sunk, and I ask you to accept this, she was in a position which was a danger to our Navy.
Lawley: Let me ask you this, Mrs Gould. What motive are you seeking to attach to Mrs Thatcher and her government in this? Is it inefficiency, lack of communication, or is it a desire for action, a desire for war?
Gould: It is a desire for action, and a lack of communications because, on giving those orders to sink the Belgrano when it was actually sailing away from our fleet and away from the Falklands, was in effect sabotaging any possibility of any peace plan succeeding, and Mrs Thatcher had 14 hours in which to consider the Peruvian peace plan that was being put forward to her. In which those fourteen hours those orders could have been rescinded.
Thatcher: One day, all of the facts, in about 30 years time, will be published.
Gould: That is not good enough, Mrs Thatcher. We need ..
Thatcher: Would you please let me answer? I lived with the responsibility for a very long time. I answered the question giving the facts, not anyone’s opinions, but the facts. Those Peruvian peace proposals, which were only in outline, did not reach London until after the attack on the Belgrano—that is fact. I am sorry, that is fact, and I am going to finish—did not reach London until after the attack on the Belgrano. Moreover, we went on negotiating for another fortnight after that attack. I think it could only be in Britain that a Prime Minister was accused of sinking an enemy ship that was a danger to our Navy, when my main motive was to protect the boys in our Navy. That was my main motive, and I am very proud of it. One day all the facts will be revealed, and they will indicate as I have said.
Lawley: Mrs Gould, have you got a new point to make, otherwise I must move on?
Gould: Just one point. I understood that the Peruvian peace plans, on a Nationwide programme, were discussed on midnight, May 1st. If that outline did not reach London for another fourteen hours, ..
Lawley: Mrs Thatcher has said that it didn’t.
Gould: .. I think there must be something very seriously wrong with our communications, and we are living in a nuclear age when we are going to have minutes to make decisions, not hours.
Thatcher: I have indicated what the facts are, and would you accept that I am in a position to know exactly when they reached London? Exactly when the attack was made. I repeat, the job of the Prime Minister is to protect the lives of our boys, on our ships, and that’s what I did.

The Tories still won the election handsomely but Thatcher refused to do any live tv phone-ins or to appear on anything presented by Sue Lawley ever again.

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Winston Churchill: alternative lives

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Winston Churchill died fifty years ago this week in January 1965. Born in 1874, four years after Charles Dickens died, Churchill, who was nearly thirty when the first aeroplane flew, lived into the space age, the nuclear era and the time of Beatlemania. Perhaps more importantly, he has perhaps greater claim than anyone to have saved Britain, perhaps even western civilisation. For had not Churchill become Prime Minister in 1940 and without his decisive leadership in the dark years that followed, the liklihood of the world sucumbing to the evils of Nazism would have been very real indeed. Let us consider, for a moment, how things might have gone differently…

He might have died in 1931
Churchill rarely shunned danger and might, of course, have been killed many times during his long life, for example, while fighting at the Battle of Omdurman in 1898 or on the Western Front where he fought in the trenches during the second half of the First World War. In 1931, however, while serving as an MP, he was struck by a car while on a speaking tour in New York. Churchill was entirely to blame. He had been getting out of a taxi in a rush (he was running late) and had stepped out without looking, forgetting that cars drive on the opposite site of the road in the US. Churchill survived, receiving only a scalp wound and cracking two ribs. The car had been travelling at thirty five miles an hour. Had it been going a few miles faster, the implications not just for Churchill but for the world as a whole since 1940 and everyone alive today are almost unthinkable.

He might have quit politics in the 1930s
Who would have blamed him? Like his father, he looked like “a man with a great career behind him”. He had already resigned from Stanley Baldwin’s National Government over their position on India. Churchill’s opposition to Indian independence looks more wrongheaded now but his dire warnings over the dangers of German rearmament were being ignored too. These were his “wilderness years”. He was 61 at the time of the December 1935 election. Nobody would have been surprised at all if he had stood down. In truth, he probably needed the money to keep Chartwell going.

He could have died during the Second World War
Though it was covered up at the time, Churchill suffered a mild heart attack while visiting FDR in Washington in December 1941. Had he passed on, his designated successor Anthony Eden would have succeeded him (as he eventually did in 1955). Would the rest of the war gone as well under Eden? Would he now have a far better reputation than the one he currently has, tarnished irrevocably by his poor leadership during the 1956 Suez Crisis? We will never know.

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DVD review: Vic and Bob’s House Of Fools – Series 1

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Warning: if you don’t like silliness, look away now. For House Of Fools is very very silly indeed.
A typical scenario sees Bob deciding with Vic’s help, to sit in a warm tin warm bath on the stove. The bath seems too small for Bob’s dimensions but he initially seems comfortable enough. When the water eventually gets too hot. Bob falls off and ends up with the bath embedded on his back. He is soon scuttling around like a turtle with a tin shell before his housemates Vic and Bosh (Dan Skinner) are able to brutally remove him. You see what I mean? Ingenious but bonkers and often enlivened by bizarre animated sequences usually ending with someone’s head catching fire.
It’s also very good fun. And funny as Vic and Bob are (even if after 25 years on our screens, neither can act), House Of Fools would be nothing without its strong supporting cast. Morgana Robinson excels as nymphomaniac next door neighbour Julie, continuously obsessed with getting one of the boys to “buff her Barnaby Rudge” while apparently hallucinating someone called “Martin”. Vic and Bob’s old Shooting Stars colleague Dan Skinner plays Bosh, an ex-con who routinely ends almost every sentence with “you twat”. Daniel Simonsen plays Bob’s sulky hermit-like son Erik while the wonderful Matt Berry (The IT Crowd, Toast Of London) is great as ever, as Seventies-style lothario Beef.
All good fun. Hopefully, the second series later this year, will be just as much fun.

Release date: February 23rd
BBC Worldwide
2014 Christmas Special not included.
Bonus features: Bosh’s Tour Of The Prop Room, Behind The Scenes, Vic And Bob’s Set Tour. (Note: these are all rubbish).

DVD review: Mapp & Lucia

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It’s 1930 and the peace of the village of Tilling is unsettled by the arrival of two outsiders. The duo: Mrs. Emmeline Lucas (Anna Chancellor) and her male companion Georgie Pillson (Steve Pemberton) are an odd pair but, it soon becomes clear, nowhere near as odd as the people of Tilling itself. For this is truly a world of eccentrics, peopled by drunken majors, vicars with fake accents, intriguing lifestyle choices and of posh women who though ostensibly polite rarely say what they actually mean. Chief of them all is Miss Elizabeth Mapp (a toothsome Miranda Richardson), a social tyrant in the guise of a benign village spinster. It is only a matter of time before she and her new tenant Lucas (known as Lucia) become locked in a battle of wills.

Do not be fooled. This may be filmed in genteel village surroundings and was screened in three parts over the Christmas period, but do not assume this is gentle stuff. A clue should be evident in the fact that it was written by the League of Gentlemen’s Steve Pemberton adapting it from E.F Benson’s classic series of inter-war novels. He and fellow Royston Vasey resident Mark Gatiss (he plays the Major), make up a stellar cast. There is undeniably a dark underbelly to this village too.

Although Blackadder II fans will already know she can play a tyrant called Elizabeth (she played Elizabeth I as a dangerously volatile spoilt brat in the 1985 classic TV comedy), here Miranda Richardson (plus added teeth) excels as the megalomaniac Elizabeth Mapp. Thirty years after the well received Channel  4 version of the stories (featuring Geraldine McEwan, Prunella Scales and Nigel Hawthorne), this new version is a triumph.

Mapp & Lucia

DVD out now.

BBC DVD

The Tories: A poem

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We’re the Tories; hear us sing!

Blame Labour for everything.

The last thing we’d do is confess,

That we’re to blame for the current mess!

Ten years ago, our chief complaint,

Was that the markets were under too much constraint,

Under us, they’d have been much stronger,

The slump much harsher and much longer.

Never mind that there was a crash everywhere,

It’s better for us to blame Brown and Blair.

Our public services are now a mess,

We’re iffy about the NHS,

Shall we “reorganise” it again? Well, we may,

But we won’t say a thing about that before May,

The press is safe from real reform,

While Rupert’s Sun keeps us all warm,

“Vote Tory” stories every day and

Silly pictures of Ed Miliband.

Frankly, we’ll do what it takes to win,

Even if we have to invite UKIP in,

We’ll attack the scroungers, play the race card,

Kick the weakest good and hard,

Our leader Cameron’s liberal underneath,

A bit like Major or Ted Heath,

But like them he’s weak, you’ll see what we mean,

He’ll even sacrifice the European dream.

So if you don’t care about the national health,

Care only really about yourself.

We really are the party for you!

(Though we’ve not won since 1992).

Don’t get us wrong: we love the UK,

We just wish all the people would go away.

The Liberal Democrats: A poem

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Do you know what we are for?

We’ve no idea anymore.

Progressive change was once our mission.

Before we joined the Coalition.

Do you remember 2010?

“Cleggmania” was all the rage back then.

We soon held the balance of power.

But this was not our finest hour.

On election night, everyone failed to win,

The Tories needed us to get in,

Did Clegg thus demand safeguards for the nation?

Or to protect the NHS from “reorganisation”?

Did he do all he was able,

To get a seat at the cabinet table?

Today the record says it all,

The Lib Dems have achieved sweet sod all.

Face facts voters, to our shame,

If your library’s closed, you’re as much to blame.

The sad conclusion to our story,

Is that you might as well have voted Tory.

The Oscars: myths, legends and statistics

Chris Hallam's World View

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Four score and seven years ago (or thereabouts) the Oscars burst onto the world. With this year’s ceremony fast approaching, let’s take a look back at the highs and lows of Academy Award history…

1927: World War I based thriller Wings wins the first ever Best Picture Oscar. It is the last silent film to win until The Artist wins in 2012.

1933: In a scene reminiscent of the early scenes of Zoolander, comedian Will Rogers opens the Best Director envelope and says “Come and get It Frank!” Unfortunately, there were two directors called Frank nominated in that year. Frank Capra was half way to the podium before Rogers clarified that it was Frank Lloyd, director of Cavalcade who had won, not Capra. Happily, Frank Capra wins for Mr Deeds Goes To Town in 1936. In future years, the awards are always announced in a heavily scripted way, to avoid…

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Is it 1992 all over again?

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It is General Election year and the Labour leader remains unpopular. After years of attacks from the Tory press, he was lucky to survive a direct challenge to his leadership before Christmas, when many suggested an older man should replace him as leader. Despite this and some evidence of economic recovery, Labour remain narrowly ahead in the opinion polls. A Labour-led hung parliament is seen by many as the most likely outcome in the General Election.

Ed Miliband in 2015? Or Neil Kinnock in 1992? The older John Smith was the potential older alternative leader in 1991, Alan Johnson last year. The parallels are uncanny and not encouraging to Labour who, of course, ultimately suffered a shock defeat to John Major’s Tories in April 1992.

But, let’s not get carried away. There are numerous differences…

Labour actually seem less confident now than Kinnock’s party were then. This makes a repeat of complacent gestures like the overblown Sheffield Rally unlikely.

Despite this and their quite small lead, the electoral arithmetic favours Labour far more. The Tories need to win by over 10% to win a majority. Labour only need 2%.

David Cameron is not John Major: It is also true Ed Miliband is not Neil Kinnock. Kinnock was slightly more popular than Miliband but had already suffered defeat in 1987. But Major, though ultimately weak, was untested and novel in 1992. Cameron has been Tory leader for over nine years.

Ultimately, the combination of UKIP and Coalition politics, in fact, means Labour’s chances this year are better than they have been in a decade.

Farewell: some big names who died in 2014

Another year has passed and inevitably the last twelve months have seen us saying goodbye to many famous names for the final time.
But who were the main big names to leave us forever in 2014? Here is just a sample of some of the famous people who died in 2014…
Roger Lloyd-Pack (69)
(January 15th) Most people know him better as Trigger, Del Boy’s slow witted pal who inexplicably always referred to Rodney as Dave.
In addition to Only Fools and Horses, Lloyd-Pack was the father of the actress Emily Lloyd and was a regular in The Vicar Of Dibley.

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Philip Seymour Hoffman (46)
(February 2nd) Undoubtedly one of Hollywood’s greatest ever character actors, Hoffman appeared in everything from The Big Lebowski to an Oscar winning turn in Capote while enjoying high profile roles in Mission Impossible 3 and the later Hunger Games films.

2010 Sundance Film Festival - "Jack Goes Boating" Portraits

Shirley Temple-Black (85)
(February 10) As a child performer Shirley Temple was one of the biggest stars of the 1930s.
In adult life, she found a new role in politics serving as both US Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia.

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Tony Benn (88)
(March 14th) One of the longest serving Labour MPs there has ever been, Benn never quite made it to the very top.
But as a cabinet minister, diarist, reformer (he battled to change a law which would have forced him to go to the House of Lords) and in late life an anti-war campaigner, Benn had a huge impact.

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Mickey Rooney (93)
(April 6th) Like SHirley Temple, Rooney was another child star of the Depression years. He ultimately enjoyed a long career cropping up in everything from Breakfast At Tiffany’s to the Night At The Museum movies.

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Peaches Geldof (25)
(April 7th) The daughter of Bob Geldof and Paula Yates, Peaches was well on the way to massive stardom as a model, presenter and model before her tragic and unexpected death from a heroin overdose.

Peaches Geldof

Sue Townsend (68)
(April 10th) As the author of the diaries of hapless teenage wannabe intellectual Adrian Mole, Sue Townsend was one of the most popular British authors of the Eighties.

Bob Hoskins (71)
(April 29th) A familiar face throughout the last forty years thanks to roles in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Hook, Dennis Potter’s Pennies From Heaven and The Long Good Friday, Hoskins was one of Britain’s best and most underrated actors.

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Rik Mayall (56)
(June 9th) One of the biggest names of the 80s alternative comedy scene, Mayall shot to fame in the roles of odious student Rick in the anarchic sitcom The Young Ones, evil politician Alan B’stard in The New Statesman and Lord Flash ‘Flash by name, flash by nature!’ in Blackadder before returning in the Nineties with Bottom.
James Garner (86)
(July 19th) US actor best known for his roles in The Great Escape and in TV’s Maverick and The Rockford Files.
Robin Williams (63)
(August 11th) Legendary US comedian and actor who moved from zany TV stardom Mork and Mindy, onto the big screen in Good Morning Vietnam and Dead Poets Society. Although increasingly drawn towards dramatic roles such as The Fisher King, One Hour Photo and an Oscar winning turn in Good Will Hunting, he also continued to appear in often very sentimental comedies including the huge popular hit Mrs. Doubtfire.

Robin Williams as Mork

Lauren Bacall (89)
(August 12th) True Hollywood giant famously married to Humphrey Bogart. Great beauty, superb actress, her most famous roles were largely opposite Bogart in To Have And Have Not, The Big Sleep and Key Largo in the Forties and Fifties.

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Lord Richard Attenborough (90)
(August 24th) Brother of the celebrated naturalist David, “Dickie” enjoyed huge success as an actor in key post-war films such as Brighton Rock, The Great Escape and 10 Rillington Place before becoming the director of the Oscar winning Gandhi and Cry Freedom in the Eighties. He later returned to acting in Jurassic Park and the remake of Miracle on 34th Street in which he played Father Christmas.

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Joan Rivers (81)
(September 4th) Can we talk? Hilarious US comedian famed for sharp often harsh wit and witty one liners. A winning although sometimes controversial presence on the chat show circuit for decades.

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Sir Donald Sinden (90)
(September 12th) Celebrated British actor of stage and screen often noted for his distinctive voice and charismatic performances in everything from Shakespeare to sitcom Never The Twain.
Sir Ian Paisley (88)
(September 12th) Charismatic and controversial, fiercely pro-Unionist Northern Ireland politician.
Lynda Bellingham (66)
(October 19th) Beloved TV star of All Creatures Great And Small, Loose Women, sitcoms such as Second Thoughts and Faith In The Future and those OXO adverts. Although often a strong mother figure on screen, her private life was sadly often marked by domestic discord.

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Alvin Stardust (72)
(October 23rd) Pop star and stage actor famed for his Seventies hit My Coo Ca Choo.
Warren Clark (67)
(November 12th) Much loved British character actor famous for roles in everything from Stanley Kubrick's A Clockwork Orange to Blackadder The Third. He was probably best known for his role in detective drama Dalziel and Pascoe alongside Colin Buchanan..
Phillip Hughes (25)
(November 27th) Australian Test batsman tragically killed when a ball struck him on the head during a match.
PD James (94)
(November 27th) Acclaimed British crime writer. Author of The Children Of Men and Death Comes To Pemberley.
Jeremy Thorpe (85)
(December 4th) Liberal leader of the Sixties and Seventies. Initially, the most successful post-war Liberal leader up until that point, rumours of his homosexuality and his role in a high profile murder trial, in which he was found innocent, wrecked his career.

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David Ryall (79)
(December 28th) Familiar character actor perhaps best known for his later roles in Outnumbered, The Village and Harry Potter.