Fifty years of Tory leadership contests

Margaret Thatcher and John Major in 1991

It is easy to forget amidst all the current Labour leadership hoo-hah, that it is fifty years this month since the very first Conservative leadership contest. Generally more unpredictable than their Labour equivalents, let’s recall this and every such contest since…

1963: Tory Prime Minister Harold Macmillan falsely believing himself to be dying of cancer resigns on the eve of the party conference. The resulting chaos convinces most that the “magic circle” process of consultation needs to be replaced by an election of MPs. Macmillan’s successor Alec Douglas Home resigns after losing the 1964 General Election and begins devising the mechanism for the coming contest.

1965:

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Edward Heath beats the favourite Reginald Maudling to win the leadership. Enoch Powell comes third.

The right choice?: Probably. Heath at least won the 1970 General Election. Maudling fell foul of his business connections. Powell with his inflammatory Rivers of Blood speech (and his 1974 pre-election decision to urge voters to support Labour) was ill suited to front bench politics.

1975

Edward Heath and Margaret Thatcher

Former Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher unexpectedly deposes Heath (now back in Opposition) and proceeds to beat Geoffrey Howe, Willie Whitelaw, Jim Prior, Hugh Fras and John Peyton for the top job. Heath goes into “the incredible sulk” for the next thirty years.

The right choice?: Undoubtedly. Whatever else she may have been, Thatcher was a boon to the Tory party, ultimately delivering them three landslide election victories. This wasn’t obvious in 1975, however, and Heath’s popularity with the public continued to outstrip hers until the early Eighties.

1989

Margaret Thatcher resigns, Guardian front page 23 November 1990

Unknown backbencher Sir Anthony Meyer (dubbed “Sir Nobody” by the press) mounts a “stalking horse” challenge to Prime Minister Thatcher’s leadership. He loses but the number of abstentions is high, a fact largely overlooked at the time.

The right choice?: Could the brutality of Thatcher’s departure have been averted had she gone a year earlier? Who knows?

1990

LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - APRIL 9:  British Prime Minister John Major (L)  and  his deputy  Michael Heseltine answer questions at the morning election conference, 09 April in London,  as sleaze promised to dominate the 22 days left to May 1 elections after local party bosses thumbed their noses at the national leadership and retained   MP Neil Hamilton accused of taking bribes. Mr Major said that Mr Hamilton had the full support of the Conservative Party and hoped he would return to the House of Commons to carry out his work,    and he called on the voters of Tatton to stand behind    Hamilton and elect him as their MP at       elections.  (Photo credit should read JOHNNY EGGITT/AFP/Getty Images)

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In a hugely dramatic coup, Margaret Thatcher is challenged by former defence secretary Michael Heseltine. She wins but not by enough and resigns. Little known John Major beats Heseltine and Douglas “too posh” Hurd in the second round.

The right choice?: In the short run, yes. Major replacing Thatcher saved the Tories from certain defeat in 1992. In the long run? Perhaps not. Thatcher became a perpetual thorn in Major’s side and the scars of the contest took many years to heal.

1995

John Major PM talking to journalists in Downing Street before leaving for Waterloo.

Troubled PM Major pre-empts ongoing leadership controversy by resigning as leader and inviting people to “put up or shut up” and challenge him. He defeats former Welsh secretary John Redwood but only narrowly beats his own private target below which he would have resigned. Bigger guns Ken Clarke, Michael Portillo and Heseltine again, thus do not enter the contest.

The right choice?:  It seems doubtful anyone could have saved the Tories from electoral disaster in 1997 by that stage.

1997

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Little known 36 year old William Hague beats Clarke, Peter Lilley, Redwood and Michael “something of the night about him” Howard after their devastating election defeat. Heseltine’s heart condition rules him out. Portillo famously lost his seat.

The right choice?: Probably not. Hague proved an inexperienced and inadequate leader. Voters would have preferred the more effective and experienced Ken Clarke.

2001

Iain Duncan Smith beats Clarke in a ballot of party members. Michaels Portillo (now back in parliament) and Ancram all lost out early on in a ballot of MPs as did David Davis.

The right choice?: Definitely not. IDS was a disaster as leader and deposed in favour of an unelected Michael Howard in 2003. Any of the other candidates would have been better.

2005

In the year of Ted Heath’s death, David Cameron beats David Davis for the leadership. Liam Fox and an ageing Clarke lose out early on.

The right choice?: Probably, yes. Cameron finally delivered victory this year. their smallest post-war majority, yes. But a win is a win.

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Great Movie Switchovers

Chris Hallam's World View

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Few greater changes can occur on a movie’s production than the leading man being replaced at the last minute.

But what if history had played out differently? Yes, it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones now, but it almost happened.

Just consider…

HARRISON FORD Vs TOM SELLECK

The role:  Adventurer/archaeologist Indiana Jones in Steven Spielberg’s Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

The first choice: Tom Selleck, star of TV’s Magnum PI.

The replacement: Harrison Ford. Despite small parts in Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation and Apocalypse Now, Ford was not actually a star in 1981. Even his role as Han Solo in Star Wars had not assured him stardom in itself (any more than it did for his co-stars Mark Hamill or Carrie Fisher).

The switch: After struggling to receive serious attention from the industry into his mid-thirties, Selleck landed the role of Magnum in…

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Book review: The Frood: The Authorised and Very Official History of Douglas Adams & The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Jem Roberts

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Frood, as in “There’s a frood who really knows where his towel is” is a word created by Douglas Adams himself. He would never have referred to himself as one of course and one wonders if the term which is defined as a “really amazing together guy” by no less an authority than The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy generally applied to Adams, a man who was, after all, notorious for missing deadlines. What’s not in dispute, thirty five years after his first novel first appeared and thirteen years after his absurdly premature death is that Adams was a genius and among the top set of the best British comic writers of the twentieth century.

Adams was at his least “froody” only a short while before his greatest success. Six foot five inches tall and prone to taking day long baths while his housemate rising comedy producer legend John Lloyd went to work at the BBC, Adams despaired of ever being successful himself. This is odd as we are only talking 1976 here when Adams was still only 24. It is also a little odd as he had already achieved quite a bit such as working alongside his heroes Monty Python (by a strange coincidence appearing in one episode of Python, number 42).

But the next few years would see a period of frantic overwork for Adams: scripting for his dream show Doctor Who, writing a children’s cartoon Doctor Snuggles to make ends meet and, of course, scripting the radio series, TV shows and books of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. The saga would make Adams a millionaire before he was thirty and would dominate the last twenty years of his life.

The Babel Fish. The number “42”. Marvin the paranoid android (a popular character, who, of course, was not actually especially paranoid, just depressed). Towels. Slartibartfast. Vogon poetry. The saga provided the perfect vehicle for Adam’s hugely inventive brain. Five novels were produced in total (though the fourth one So Long And Thanks For All The Fish was a bit of a dud) and Adams was behind numerous adaptations notably a memorable text based computer game and various attempts to launch Hitchhiker as a film. This was, of course, only finally realised after Adams’ death. The result by Garth Jennings in 2005 was a mixed bag as Roberts notes somewhere between a success and a failure. The closest Adams came to a film was a possible collaboration with future Ghostbusters director Ivan Reitman. This foundered over Adam’s script which left any director little creative leeway and the saga’s previous tendency to resist any sort of narrative structure.

Like Jem Roberts’ brilliantly exhaustive previous book The True History of the Black Adder, this is a superb well researched book, especially detailed on all the many side projects Adams embarked upon with varying degrees of success. It is truly as essential a guide for any fan of the saga as the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide was for Ford Prefect as he travelled across the universe.

It is a shock to realise Douglas Adams would be barely into his sixties if he were alive even now. This is a fitting tribute to a giant of comic literature, taken from us far too early.

Going Solo: The early years of Han Solo

Han

Looking forward to the proposed Star Wars spin-off feature about Han Solo’s early years? Don’t bother. Everything you need to know about the early days of the roguish space captain is here…

SCENE 1

Even longer ago…

Medical droid: Congratulations Mr and Mrs Solo: It’s a boy!

MR SOLO: Well done luv! What shall we call him?

MRS SOLO:  I’ve got a list of the most popular boy’s names for last year: Anakin…Boba…Han… Jabba…Jago…Lando… Luke…Qui-Gon…

MR SOLO: Ho ho! Bloody ridiculous. “Luke” just sounds made up. How about “Han”?

SCENE 2

Fifteen years later…

Careers droid: According to the survey, you should try to become an accountant, a Storm Trooper or a smuggler/ship captain/ future leader of the Rebel Alliance.

Han: Hmmm. Accountancy’s boring but they do get paid well. I suppose I could do a Year Out first…

SCENE 3

Tatooine 15 years later again. Han is visiting Jabba the Hutt…

HAN: You know if you do try to send anyone to kill me, I’ll have to shoot them? It doesn’t matter if they try and shoot me first. It’s  just self defence. I’ll  have to.

JABBA: <Of course! Why would anyone waste time debating that? Think of all the Stormtroopers who get shot every day. . No one goes on about wasting time discussing whether they shot first or not do they? YEEERRRROOOW! Mind my tail! Arsehole.>

SCENE 4

Han sits alone, drinking at the bar of the Mos Eisley Cantina…

HAN: Jeez. Where the hell is Lando? You just can’t trust that guy to do anything…

Han notices a Wookie sitting next to him (it is Chewbacca).

CHEWBACCA:  Wyaaaaah!  Rugguhhh.

HAN: Hey…I don’t suppose you fancy being  co-pilot on my new ship?

CHEWBACCA: Uma firmin…<Okay. Why the hell not?)

HAN: What? You’re agreeing just like that? Don’t you want to know anything about me first?

CHEWBACCA: Yo agahaha. Arrragh graggh yeooowwwl grag cumberbatch funbags barroowl. Mumford doggerel grabach blorsplog.

<Not really. I can see that you are a charismatic and cynical space adventurer with a roguish charm and a doubtless eventful past. In theory, hearing about your life in detail would be great but, to be honest, it would probably take some of the magic away. Sometimes it’s better to leave an air of mystery around these things, don’t you think?>

HAN (drinks): I’ve got a bad feeling about this…

THE END

(Alternative names for the film: Han Rocks The Cradle, So Near And Yet Solo, Greedo Is Good, That’s The Way The Wookie Crumbles…)

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DVD review: Episodes Series 4

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Episodes is a comedy series about people making comedy series.

Following their hellish experience adapting their own successful British sitcom into “Pucks” (a US remake, wrecked by producer interference) British husband and wife comedy writing team Bev and Sean (Greig and Mangan) find themselves back in Hollywood.  With Sean, at any rate, lured back by the prospect of cash, the duo escape the extramarital shenanigans that characterised the first three series of Episodes but otherwise find themselves enduring the same Hollywood nightmare. Again. And again. And again.

Pucks star Matt LeBlanc (playing an unflattering version of himself) finds himself facing multiple dilemmas after losing half of his multimillion fortune. Should he sell his private plane, remarry his ex to cut down on his alimony payments or agree to do a terrible new quiz show “Beat The Box” with his hated ex-boss Merc Lapidus (Pankow, great)? Or would recording a sex tape with one of his co-stars or attending the birthday party of a malevolent but wealthy foreign dictator offer a solution? Carol (Perkins), meanwhile, finds herself sleeping with her boss again, while Bev and Sean find themselves at the heart of a bidding war over their new script The Opposite Of Us.

Like the show within the show Pucks, some may be surprised that Episodes has made it to four series (indeed, a fifth, somewhat incredibly, is already on the way). It has its strong points: Matt LeBlanc is generally a hoot and there’s a good chemistry between Greig and Kathleen Rose Perkins, the latter’s character Carol somehow providing a link between the insincere corporate world represented by Merc and new boss Helen Basch (Andrea Savage) and the more human world of Sean and Bev.

But generally this is increasingly tired stuff. Episodes peaked during its second series. Now a whole scene is based around the fact that Bev and Sean inadvertently choose to wear similar shirts one morning. Ha ha. “A brilliant, laugh-out-loud comedy…and a hilarious romantic comedy” this is not. There is no genuine romance at all and little hilarity.

In fairness, it’s never actually terrible either and occasionally is still quite amusing. But Episodes has clearly had its day.  Presumably the fact that it is returning for a fifth series owes itself to the fact that it has been far better received in the US than it has in the UK.

Episodes:  Series 4 DVD

Starring: Matt LeBlanc, Tamsin Greig, Stephen Mangan, Kathleen Rose Perkins, John Pankow

Extras: Blooper Reel

9 episodes

Release date: July 13th 2015

RRP: £20.42

BBC Worldwide

Matt LeBlanc as himself, Tamsin Greig as Beverly Lincoln and Stephen Mangan as Sean Lincoln in EPISODES (Season 3, episode 3) - Photo: Des Willie/SHOWTIME - Photo ID: episodes_303_B5012

The quest for a new JFK

Chris Hallam's World View

Fifty year have now passed since the presidency of John F. Kennedy and one thing is obvious: the US Democratic Party has never escaped the ghost of his memory. True, no member of the Kennedy family has ever been on the presidential ticket in the years since (Sargent Shriver, Kennedy’s brother in law, came the closest as George McGovern’s running mate in 1972). But consciously or unconsciously, the Democrats have repeatedly opted for the man they have perceived to be closest to the charismatic, idealistic Kennedy ideal as their candidate for the presidency. The fact that the Kennedy name has since been tarnished by revelations about his prolific sex life, his dealings with the Mafia and by harsh reassessments of his presidency has made no difference.

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Book review: Ardennes 1944 – Hitler’s Last Gamble by Antony Beevor

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As 1944 neared its end, a spirit of optimism seized the Allied forces. Following the D-Day landings in June (detailed in Antony Beevor’s last book) the Allied advance towards Berlin looked unstoppable. Many predicted a repeat of 1918 and a second internal collapse within Germany ensuring Allied victory before Christmas 1944. This was not to be.

Hitler’s surprise counter-attack on the relatively undefended area of the Ardennes failed in its ultimate aim to split the Allies by driving them back to Antwerp. But it did succeed in prolonging the war, provoking a fit of squabbling among the Allied generals – notably Montgomery, Patton and Eisenhower and cost many lives. Among the US troops on the ground were the established author and adventure-seeker Ernest Hemingway and the future novelists JD Salinger and Kurt Vonnegut. Trapped in the notorious Hurtgen Forest, the future Catcher In The Rye author Salinger was present for one of the bloodiest engagements endured by US forces during the entire war.

Few topics have proven more an enduring a source of fascination than the Second World War and few have continued to chronicle it as masterfully as Antony Beevor.

Ardennes 1944: Hitler’s Last Gamble by Antony Beevor. Published by: Viking.

Book review: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

Chris Hallam's World View

Funny Girl

Perhaps no British sitcom is more fondly remembered than Barbara (and Jim). The comedy series which enjoyed a popular four series run in the mid-1960s made a star of lead actress Sophie Straw and changed British TV forever.

Except of course, it didn’t, for convincing as this enjoyable novel by Nick Hornby is, neither Sophie Straw and Barbara (and Jim) ever existed. In fact, we first meet the fictional Sophie when she is still going under her real name Barbara Parker, poised to win and ultimately reject the title Miss Blackpool 1964. For while she is pretty, Barbara is also determined to be known for being funny like her heroine, US TV star Lucille Ball. Setting her sights on London, Barbara (now known as Sophie) dazzles a crew of jaded writers as she auditions for a hackneyed TV pilot going under the dubious title Wedded Bliss? Recognising they have discovered…

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