Book review: Tim Burton The Iconic Filmmaker and his Work by Ian Nathan


This is a story about a little boy called Tim.

He was born nearly sixty years ago in California. He grew up, a bit nervous and a bit strange, and looked a little like his own later creation Edward Scissorhands except without the scissory hands. And perhaps not quite as pale.  He basically looked the same for his entire life and later had long relationships with Helena Bonham Carter, the English star of A Room With A View and Fight Club amongst other people. But this book’s not really about that sort of thing. It is about his films.


After an unhappy spell at Disney working on boring films like The Fox and the Hound, Tim Burton made the first film Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985). The star, Pee Wee Herman (Paul Reubens) a children’s entertainer of the time, later got in trouble when he got caught publicly “misbehaving”  in an adult cinema. But the mass debate over this came later. Tim’s career had been launched.

Since then, he has made nearly twenty films. Most have contained a fantasy element. Some are animated (such as The Corpse Bride). Some are blockbusters (Batman, Batman Returns). Some are black and white (Ed Wood). Eight have Johnny Depp in. All but one have music provided by Danny Elfman, the man who composed the theme music for The Simpsons. Some are magical (Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice), some have divided opinion (Mars Attacks!) Very few are actually awful (Planet of the Apes).


All have been interesting in some way as this attractively illustrated coffee table book reminds us. Burton’s career proves that it is possible to be both offbeat, unconventional and interesting and still be commercially successful. And live happily ever after.

Tim Burton: The Iconic Filmmaker and His Work. Unofficial and Unauthorised by Ian Nathan. Published: Aurum Press, 2016


Book Review: Gilliamesque by Terry Gilliam

For more on Terry Gilliam, see my feature The Imaginarium of Terry Gilliam in issue 14 of Geeky Monkey magazine.


Gilliamesque: A Pre-Posthumous Memoir by Terry Gilliam, published by Canongate, 2016


Terry Gilliam has always stood out from the crowd.

Even when in Monty Python, he stood out somewhat as the one American. Slightly odd looking, he mostly remained off screen at first, producing instead the celebrated animated sequences (for example, during the series’ opening titles) for which he became famous. Nearly fifty years on, this book, his memoir is illustrated throughout in a similarly unique style.


Like many people called Terry (Terry Pratchett, Terry Brooks, fellow Python Terry Jones, er, Terry Scott?). Gilliam found himself drawn to the fantasy genre. His directing career began awkwardly with Gilliam co-directing Python ventures with Terry Jones. Although mostly good films in the end, they were tough shoots with Jones and Gilliam gently wrestling for overall control and the likes of Cleese and Palin losing patience with the American who they felt treated them like they were bits of animated card.


Gilliam really came into his own in the first half of the Eighties with brilliantly imaginative fantasies like Time Bandits and Brazil. He’s had many fine moments since – notably The Fisher King and Twelve Monkeys and has undeniably developed a unique visual style. Despite this, he has never developed a reputation for being a safe pair of hands, largely due to high profile flops like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1988) and The Adventures of Don Quixote which never even completed filming.

Though he sometimes adopts an overly defensive tone when discussing his own films, Gilliam makes for an engaging likeable narrator on his own life. The world of cinema would certainly have been poorer without him.


Blu-ray review: The Walk

Chris Hallam's World View


Many people have a hobby. Some collect Smurfs. Others do DIY. Others like to record their opinions of recent film releases for public consumption.

But not everyone’s the same. In the 1970s, Frenchman Philippe Petit directed all of his free time towards achieving one single goal: walking by tightrope between the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York.

In addition to the obvious perils: the great height, unexpected crosswinds, the possibility that Jeff Bridges might be attempting to climb the towers at the same time to rescue Jessica Lange from King Kong in a poorly realised remake – Petit and his chums also faced the added complication that the WTC was not yet officially open in August 1974. Also, what he was planning to do was technically illegal. He not only had to sneak in but risked serious jail time afterwards.

Just as the real life Petit…

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Blu-ray review: War & Peace

Chris Hallam's World View


Let me get the painful bit out of the way first: there was a mistake in this year’s acclaimed BBC adaptation of War & Peace. Hopefully, this won’t ruin your enjoyment of the series. “Abandon Moscow?” exclaims a general in the penultimate episode. “Abandon Russia’s sacred capital?” Well, no. For this is supposed to be 1812 (or thereabouts). Moscow had not been Russia’s capital for a century and would not be again for over a century more. So oops.


But ignore that, for as you’ll know if you were gripped by it throughout the winter months, this is great stuff. Andrew Davies juggles most of the characters deftly throughout these six episodes helped by a superb cast.

James Morton, Lily James & Paul Dano in War And Peace.

American actor Paul Dano excels as Pierre, a bespectacled misfit at the start, prone to getting drunk and embarrassing himself at parties by expressing his enthusiasm for the leadership of Napoleon Bonaparte, an…

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Book review: No Cunning Plan by Tony Robinson

Tony Robinson.jpg

Blackadder was not the sort of programme to rely on catchphrases. Most that were deployed such as “You have a woman’s hand, m’lord,” or the lecherous “woof woof! were used by one-off or very occasional visitors to the saga such as Captain Rum (Tom Baker) or Lord Flashheart (the late Rik Mayall).

A notable exception was “I have a cunning plan…” words which Blackaddder’s sidekick Baldrick (Tony Robinson) would use to signal a usually absurd scheme to get the duo out of trouble. These included a plan to rewrite Dr Johnson’s famous dictionary in one night after Baldrick had accidentally burnt it (Baldrick’s helpful definition for the letter C (sea) being “big blue wobbly thing where mermaids live”). Another ruse involved an attempt to save Charles I (Stephen Fry) from execution by disguising a pumpkin as the King’s head.


This is not the life of Baldrick, however, but the life of Tony Robinson. Although ultimately a tale of success (he is now a knight of the realm), it is an eventful, entertaining life although, as he freely admits, full of mistakes and less governed by any overall “cunning plan” than many.

Starting out as a child actor, appearing as one of Fagin’s gang in the original stage version of Oliver! Robinson was initially just keen to have fun and get out of school. After a long career including run ins with John Wayne and Liza Minnelli along the way, landing the role of Baldrick in 1983 didn’t seem like any sort of big deal. Indeed, as the first series was neither very  good or successful, initially it wasn’t.

But soon it had made his name and he was appearing in other Eighties comedy like Who Dares Wins and The Young Ones before writing his own Blackadder-influenced kids’ show Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. The long years hosting Time Team were still to come. And, yes, hosting The Worst Jobs In History really was his own worst ever job.

It’s not all laughs: he writes movingly about his parents’ descent into Alzheimer’s (one after the other). But this is a hugely entertaining and unpretentious read. Here’s to you, Mr Robinson…


Book review: Hinterland by Chris Mullin

chris-mullin-book-jacket-newAll politicians are supposed to have a hinterland: a realm of interest and experience beyond the Westminster Bubble, which they typically in Britain, inhabit. The late former Labour Chancellor Denis Healey, for example, with whom the term is often associated, had a huge range of experience and cultural and classical knowledge outside the political sphere and was much the better and more rounded a figure for it. Margaret Thatcher, in contrast, although in many ways more successful than him politically, had almost  no interests outside politics and thus had a boring and miserable retirement, often spent making a nuisance of herself.

Chris Mullin shouldn’t have this problem. Though his twenty three years as an MP for Sunderland South are now over, he entered parliament late in life (age 39) and as this memoir confirms, he did much before, during and since. He achieved ministerial rank under Blair and has perhaps subtly shifted from a position once regarded derisively as the “loony left” to a not uncritical position of support for Blair. He is rightly a cheerleader for the underrated Blair-Brown Government’s achievements, achievements unsung often by the governments themselves, particularly former members such as Ed Miliband.

“Loony MP Backs Bomb Gang” was The Sun’s unhelpful angle on his campaign to free the Birmingham Six. His three volumes of diaries on his political career make for fascinating  reading as does his novel A Very British Coup, a tale of a Corbyn-esque leader elected to power (it was published in 1982)) who is ultimately destroyed by the conservative political establishment. The book has been dramatised for TV twice, the second time, massively altered as The Secret State.

This is another fine book: a compelling story of a life well led.


Book review: Edward Heath: A Singular Life

Edward Heath: A Singular Life by Michael McManus

Poor old Edward Heath. This year is the centenary of his birth and how has Britain chosen to honour it? By rejecting the one crowning achievement of his premiership: by choosing to reject our membership of what is now known as the European Union. As Gyles Brandreth (who once happened to be sick on Heath’s shoes) has said: “were Ted still alive, it would kill him”.

Last year, was an even worse year for the former prime minister’s posthumous reputation with the emergence of a number of allegations emerging against Heath: specifically that he had sex with underage boys in retirement. Despite the fact these seem to have very little foundation, (Heath seems to have been homosexual by inclination but not in practice) the damage to Heath’s reputation seems to have been done. Thankfully, he never knew of them, having  died in 2005.


This is a slightly odd book. There seems to have been a  proofing error in it (one chapter is described as covering “1950-1959” when it actually covers “1950-1970”). It claims to be “not a biography” when to all intents and purposes, it is. McManus’s website describes as “an acclaimed collection of essays, tributes and anecdotes about the former Prime Minister.” It isn’t. It is a biography featuring extensive quotes and recollections of Heath. As the introduction explains, something was lost in the journey from conception to completion.

This is still an excellent read, however, providing a real sense of Heath’s character over the years. It is easy to forget now just what a supremely able person he seems to have been in his early years, impressing many with his qualities diligence and leadership both during the war and as a rising MP. He practically kept the nation going as Chief Whip during the 1956 Suez Crisis, when the real prime minister, Sir Anthony Eden was often either overseas or ill or both.


Real leadership does not seem to have brought out the best in Heath, however. On the one hand, joining the Common Market was a major personal triumph owing much to his endurance and diplomacy. He also acted courageously and correctly, quickly isolating Enoch Powell from mainstream Tory politics, following his racist “Rivers of Blood” speech in  1968. On the other hand, his was a disappointing premiership low on achievement and quickly derailed from its initial ambitions by inflation and industrial action. Having been brought down by the two General Elections of 1974, (having come to power after a surprise election win in June 1970), he was overthrown as Tory leader by his old Education Secretary Margaret Thatcher in February 1975.

Heath’s defensiveness in the face of media attacks, plus his rather odd manner and sense of humour gave rise to the rather stuffy awkward image of Heath which prevails to this day: that of the “incredible sulk”.

It is not wholly unjustified. But his morally courageous attacks on the excesses of Thatcherism in later life, demonstrate that he was perhaps a better man than he was a Prime Minister.


Book reviews: Egmont Star Wars titles 2016


Have you ever fancied trekking around Tatooine? Hiking around Hoth? Basically, visiting anywhere that you’ve seen in any of the Star Wars films?

Well, basically you can’t. As none of these places really exist. However, for eighty pages of large, (27 x 1.5 x 37 cm) attractively illustrated maps, timelines and such like based around the Star Wars universe, The Star Wars Galactic Atlas (Egmont, RRP £20) cannot be faulted.


Star Wars Propaganda (Egmont) written by Star Wars aficionado Pablo Hidalgo purports to be an anthology of propaganda posters from from throughout the fictional history of saga e.g. “Remember Alderan: Never Forget” and “Trump and Vader 2016: Let’s Make America Great Again” (okay, I made the last one up. There are no references to contemporary politics here at all).

To be honest, posters have never been an obvious background feature of the films. Fictional propaganda played a much bigger role in the Paul Verhoeven film Starship Troopers. Despite this, the book is undeniably marvellous to browse through, whether you’re a Star Wars fan or not. It is an inspired idea, beautifully realised.


Book review: Speaking Out by Ed Balls

Chris Hallam's World View


Honestly. What a missed opportunity. The comic possibilities of a potential title for former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls were seemingly almost endless.
Here are just a few: Balls Revealed, Balls Exposed, Balls Up, Balls Out, Iron Balls, New Balls Please!, Strictly Come Balls, Golden Balls, Better Ed Than Dead.
Instead, this book published by Hutchinson has the extremely dull title, Speaking Out: Lessons in Life and Politics. One just hopes when the time comes for his wife to reflect on her political career, she is more imaginative.
May I suggest, It Shouldn’t Happen To Yvette?
Perhaps Ed didn’t want to look stupid. He was a serious contender as recently as last year after all. Labour’s defeat and the loss of his own seat were a big personal shock to him. He is probably the most capable post-ear shadow chancellor never to make it to the position of Chancellor himself, along…

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How to lose the US presidency in 21 ways

Chris Hallam's World View


There are many ways to lose the presidency whether you’re fighting a primary or battling for the ultimate prize itself in the November general election. These are just some of them…

Cry (Ed Muskie, 1972)

Public crying has played well for both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama more recently but when Muskie appeared to weep over allegations about his wife’s drinking, he soon lost his status as the Democratic frontrunner. Ultimately, the victim of a dirty tricks campaign by the Nixon camp, Muskie denied crying, saying reporters had mistaken snow melting on his face for tears.

Lose your temper (Bob Dole, 1988)

Dole snarled that his opponent George HW Bush should “quit lying about my record” after losing a Republican primary. Dole looked like a sore loser and his campaign never recovered. He later won the nomination in 1996, losing comfortably to President Bill Clinton.

Scream (Howard Dean, 2004)


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The wit and wisdom of Dan Quayle

Chris Hallam's World View

Quayle (1)

In July 1988, the Republican presidential nominee George HW Bush (then generally known as plain old George Bush or more formally Vice President Bush) announced his running mate for the forthcoming presidential election. His choice, James Danforth (Dan) Quayle would generally be viewed as a disaster. The next four years would witness one of the most gaffe-prone vice presidencies of all time.
Quayle, a 41 year old senator from Indiana certainly looked the part. After eight years of Ronald Reagan, by then 76, and his potential successor Bush already in his mid sixties, Quayle certainly helped give the Republican Party a more youthful image. He was also much younger than his opponent Michael Dukakis’s 67 year old running mate Lloyd Bentsen.

But doubts were immediately raised about Senator Quayle’s experience. Most observers had expected Bush to pick his defeated Primary foe Bob Dole as his running mate. Quayle’s speaking style…

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Book review: The Conservative Party by Tim Bale


With all the publicity about Labour  recent and genuine problems, it’s easy to forget that until comparatively recently, the Tories were in similar dire straits. Tim Bale’s provides an excellent reminder of this.

Perhaps some of you disagree? Well, let’s us consider the electoral hole Labour currently finds itself in. Certainly, the loss of Scotland has been a disaster for the party and opinion polls currently offer few encouraging signs of any nationwide recovery. On the other hand, the Tories have one of their smallest parliamentary majorities since the war. In 2010, at the height of the slump, they didn’t even win a majority at all. Labour have not suffered a heavy General Election defeat since 1987, close to thirty years’ ago.

Compare this to the Tories. In 1990, John Major became Prime Minister inheriting virtually all of Thatcher’s majority from that same 1987 landslide, by then around a 100 with nearly 400 Tory MPs. By the time Major stood down from the leadership in 1997, the party was in opposition, many of the traditional Tory papers had turned on it and barely 160 MPs were left. The Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, the former Chancellor Norman Lamont and Defence Secretary and until that point, presumptive Tory leadership successor Michael Portillo had all lost their seats in the May 1997 Tory bloodbath. Of all the party leaders in the 20th century, only David Lloyd George presided over a similar decline.Things could only get bitter.


This was not all Major’s fault. In fact, he was generally more popular than his party. Thatcher had been leading the party to certain defeat. Major probably saved them in 1992.

The Tories comforted themselves with three things. One,the 1997 New Labour victory was a defeat for the Conservatives, but a victory for conservatism. This turned out not to be true.

Secondly, they tried to pretend they hadn’t really lost by much. The result was a statistical fluke. This wasn’t true either. Labour had won by the second biggest margin in the percentage share of the popular vote achieved since 1945. Their majority of 179 was bigger than any achieved by Attlee or Thatcher. The Tories now had no MPs in Scotland or Wales. The result had been a calamity for them.

However, after their big 1906 and 1945 defeats, the Tories had bounced back quickly. This third point was certainly true.

But it didn’t happen this time. William Hague was a disaster as leader. In the 2001 election, the party made only one net gain. They then compounded their error in 1997, by rejecting more plausible candidates like Ken Clarke or the returned Portillo in favour first of the disastrous Iain Duncan Smith in 2001 and then Michael Howard in 2003! They came tantalisingly close to rejecting David Cameron in favour of the un-electable David Davis following the third substantive Tory defeat in 2005.

Today Labour undeniably have leadership problems. But Tories take heed: within a decade the tables may have turned just as dramatically again.

The Conservative Party From Thatcher To Cameron: Tim Bale (Polity, 2016)







My News Hub articles (2015)

The News Hub site is about to close. Here are the eight features I wrote for it. Some now seem absurdly out of date…

The 7 most likely post-election scenarios in the UK

Cameron, Miliband, Farage: who will emerge triumphant from the post-May 7th carnage?

The troops are ready. The battle lines are drawn. The epic struggle is about to begin. But with just two months left until we know the outcome of the next General Election, what are the most likely political scenarios which could emerge after the big vote? Brace yourself. For chances are, we are set for one of the following…
1. An absolute majority for Labour
Don’t laugh! Leader Ed Miliband may be unpopular, but Labour remain narrowly ahead or at least neck and neck in almost every opinion poll going. Plus, due to the outdated constituency boundary set-up, they probably only need to beat the Tories by about a 2% margin in the share of the vote to win outright. And a majority of around 10 seats or above, would see Labour in power for at least the rest of the decade. Expect David Cameron to be replaced pretty sharpish by either Theresa May or even Boris Johnson as Tory leader if this happens.
2. A Labour-SNP coalition
Unthinkable only a few years ago, this now seems very plausible indeed thanks to a post-referendum surge for the Scottish Nationalists, mostly at Labour’s expense. Goodness knows how many seats they’ll win but leader Nicola Sturgeon has expressed far more stronger sympathies towards Labour than the Tories. So even if Labour end up winning fewer seats than the Conservatives, don’t be too surprised if Sturgeon’s party ends up propping up Labour after May.
3. A rainbow alliance
Currently, it seems unlikely the Greens will win more than a handful of seats. Many also predict the Lib Dems’ numbers might be halved. But would these two parties back Labour if it came to it? Would Nick Clegg be able to survive as leader if they did? And would the Lib Dems even want to be part of another coalition anyway?
4. Another General Election!
Nobody wants this. The markets would be shaken, the political parties broke and exhausted, the general public bored stiff. But if no one can form a government there would be no alternative.
5. A Tory-UKIP alliance
A nightmare scenario for many, this could yet happen especially if Nigel Farage’s party can achieve more than the predicted handful of seats and if the Tories fail to win a majority. But would Cameron remain as leader? And would Farage insist on an immediate EU referendum or even withdrawal? And would the Tories agree to this if it meant another shot at power?
6. A Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition…again
Boring though it would be, the 2015 election might well end up with a very similar outcome to the 2010 one.
7. A Tory majority
A dream scenario for David Cameron, this would spell the end for Ed Miliband’s leadership paving the way for a Labour leadership contest between Chuka Umunna, Yvette Cooper and Andy Burnham. Such a result would remove long standing Tory doubts which have persisted since he became leader in 2005. But this scenario remains a dream. Neither Cameron or anyone else has won a majority for the Tories since April 1992!
(NOTE  November 2016: This is, of course, what ended up happening).

10 people who may be leading their parties by the end of 2015

Boris, Theresa, Chuka or Yvette, whatever the election result, expect to see changes at the top

Nothing is certain in this most unpredictable of General Elections. Yet perhaps we can be sure of one thing: that the David Cameron, Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg trio is unlikely to survive the year. Whatever the result, someone will lose. And whoever does is likely to be replaced. Every General Election in the past forty years has been followed by at least one of the big three going shortly afterwards. Last time, it was Gordon Brown who went, the time before Michael Howard and Charles Kennedy. Someone will fall this time. And who, in each party, is poised to replace them when they do?
1. Theresa May (Conservative)
One of the very few leading Tories to have made a good impression in this parliament, the Home Secretary would nevertheless have to win over traditionalists still wary of her after her “nasty party” comments a decade ago. With May only likely to become leader if the moderniser Cameron loses, this might be an issue. However, she certainly came off best out of her spat with the unpopular former Education Secretary Michael Gove and seems closer to achieving the leadership than any other Tory woman since Margaret Thatcher forty years ago.
2. Boris Johnson (Conservative)
Although not even in parliament at the moment, Johnson’s general success as London Mayor would leave him well placed for the leadership, after he becomes the elected MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in May. His election as MP can be presumed and assuming he is able to get out of his final year as mayor, the leadership could be the next step. Doubts persist as to whether Johnson is a seriously credible political character, however, and he has certainly had plenty of scandal in his past. Despite this, he could potentially wipe out the UKIP threat and attract many other non-Tories. Even if Cameron wins the General Election, Johnson, easily the most popular Tory politician in the country, could still prove a threat to him.
3. Chuka Umunna (Labour)
Despite being in Opposition, Labour have produced far more potential leaders recently than the Tories. Umunna, often seen as either the “British Obama” or the “black Blair,” is still in his thirties but has impressed many. The Shadow Business Secretary does have a somewhat unfashionable Blairite manner, however, and has a tendency to storm out of TV interviews.
4. Yvette Cooper (Labour)
Blair and Brown were friends (at first). The Milibands were brothers. Likewise, the Shadow Home Secretary is married to another potential leadership contender Ed Balls. It is inconceivable they could run against each other. But if she were to succeed, Cooper could become Labour’s first woman leader.
5. Ed Balls (Labour)
Balls came third in the 2010 contest (after the Miliband brothers) and though generally successful as Shadow Chancellor still seems far more popular within his own party than outside it.
6. Andy Burnham (Labour)
Another strong contender in 2010, the still youthful Shadow Health Secretary has excelled in his portfolio but like Balls, probably appeals to Labour people more than the floating voters he would need to win over in a future General Election.
7. Tim Farron (Lib Dem)
With the Lib Dems widely expected to lose half of their seats in May, the unpopular Nick Clegg might well survive as leader simply due to a lack of any credible alternative leader. Lib Dem President Farron remains unknown to most of the public. Then again, the same was true of Clegg when he became leader in 2007.
8. Danny Alexander (Lib Dem)
The lack of strong Lib Dem contenders (Sarah Teather is standing down, Vince Cable is widely seen as too old), means the Chief Secretary to the Treasury is a real possibility as the next Lib Dem leader. His Scottish constituency is seen as highly vulnerable, however.
9. Caroline Lucas (Green)
As a former leader and the party’s only MP, Lucas is already seen by many as a much more credible option than the current leader Natalie Bennett.
10. Douglas Carswell (UKIP)
The ex-Tory MP is often much more convincing than the gaffe-prone Nigel Farage. Should UKIP fail to fulfill it’s lofty ambitions, the first ever UKIP MP could be the man to seize the helm.
(NOTE November 2016: Three of these are in fact now party leaders including May! Not bad going by my standards. Only Farron became  leader in 2015 though and Balls and Alexander are no longer MPs).

Why David Cameron and the Tories are losing the election

The economy’s apparently good, the press is pro-Tory. So why do people still not want the Tories?

These should be good times for the Tories. The economy has apparently recovered. The Opposition leader Ed Miliband remains unpopular. The press are overwhelmingly pro-Tory and can be relied upon to bash Miliband. So why does almost every opinion poll released shows Labour at least slightly ahead? Why don’t people like the Tories? Why, in short, is the party which has not won a General Election outright since April 1992, apparently losing again? Here are some possible reasons…
  • The Tories are not getting credit for the economy: And perhaps, why should they? Cameron has, after all, spent much of his leadership blaming any economic failings on the last Labour Government. Having denied all responsibility for any economic failures, why should the Tories now expect to be seen as responsible for any economic success?
  • The NHS: This is a big election issue for many people and most people haven’t forgotten Andrew Lansley’s botched attempt at “reorganising” the Health Service after the last election. No one was warned about this beforehand and though it was eventually abandoned, the memory of this and past Tory governments’ poor record on the NHS, has understandably made voters extremely wary of the Tories on the subject.
  • Cameron has mishandled the TV debates: Although only a recent issue, Cameron has made himself look both cowardly and foolish by refusing to be more helpful in the negotiations concerning the TV debates. Cameron’s attempts to blame the media for the debacle have largely failed and it is difficult to escape the conclusion that the Prime Minister simply fears debating Ed Miliband one on one.
  • Immigration: Many Tory voters have been disappointed by the Tories’ failure to meet their promise to cut immigration numbers.
  • Many Tories have never liked Cameron: Cameron’s failure to win outright in 2010, combined with his support for liberal issues such as gay marriage, has ensured that many of his party supporters have never warmed to him.
  • The boundary system is unfair: It currently strongly favours Labour. Even if the Tories were a few points ahead in the polls, they still probably wouldn’t win a majority. Why hasn’t this been reformed? Because the Tories’ coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats blocked such efforts a few years ago.
  • The rise of UKIP: This is hitting all three traditional parties but there seems little doubt the Tories are being hurt more by it. Even if Nigel Farage’s party only wins a handful of seats, the right wing vote may well be split in many seats.
  • Ultimately, the Tories have achieved little so far: By the end of Mrs Thatcher’s first four year term, she had won the Falklands War, while Tony Blair had brought peace to Northern Ireland by the end of his. Cameron has been in power for five years yet aside from the economy, his premiership seems most likely to be remembered for hiking up student tuition fees, unleashing dramatic spending cuts while failing to get a handle on either immigration or the deficit. Tory defeat is not yet inevitable but Cameron will have to think fast if he wants to pull the first Tory election win since 1992 out of the hat.(NOTE November 2016 JUST WRONG!)

Leaving Downing Street for the last time

Suddenly, peacefully or with plenty of warning? A quick guide on how to do it

For a Prime Minister knowing when to leave the political stage is essential. But also how. Is it better to send out a warning about your planned departure years in advance or to take friends, colleagues and public totally by surprise? In the wake of David Cameron’s perhaps accidental announcement that he would not run for a third term,can the past offer us any guidance?

The warning shot (Tony Blair, 2004)
Blair’s decision to announce his plan to retire came under very different circumstances to David Cameron yesterday. Whereas Cameron is yet to win a single election outright and is about to enter a potentially fraught election campaign, Blair was a year ahead of a third easy election win, had just suffered a minor heart ailment and had an obvious successor impatiently waiting in the wings in the shape of Gordon Brown. In retrospect, Blair admits the announcement fatally undermined his authority during his final three years in power up until 2007.
The accidental warning shot (David Cameron, 2015)
In the light of this, Cameron’s possibly accidental decision to announce he will stand down before 2020 looks inept in the extreme. Why, after all, has he announced this at the start of an election campaign in which the Tories will be stressing the importance of leadership above all else? Why has Cameron stirred things up further by speculating as to his likely successors? How can Cameron possibly claim he will serve a full term when his successor will need some time at least to establish themselves before election day? The questions continue.
On and on and on (Margaret Thatcher, 1987)
If there’s one thing worse than openly stoking the fires of speculation by anticipating an end date for your leadership its refusing to admit the possibility of retirement at all. Thatcher’s declaration after her third consecutive election victory that she would “go on and on and on”in 1987 ultimately sealed her fate. She went. Brutally. In 1990.
Sudden impact (Harold Wilson, 1976)
Wilson’s decision to resign suddenly at the age of sixty in April 1976 took the world by surprise. Nearly forty years on, this still looks like the best way to do it.

Ed Miliband: myths and reality

Separating the truth from the tabloid fiction…

As the election campaign begins, an air of mystery continues to surround the Opposition leader. So what exactly is true and what is false about the Opposition leader? Find out below…
  • Myth 1: Ed Miliband has “next to no experience” of office: Untrue. As Minister of the Cabinet Office and then Environment Secretary under Gordon Brown, Miliband has three years of cabinet experience. David Cameron, in contrast, had no cabinet experience at all on gaining office as PM in 2010. Nor did Nick Clegg or, for that matter, did Tony Blair when he became Prime Minister in 1997. Miliband is also older and has been an MP for longer than Cameron had in 2010.
  • Myth 2: Ed Miliband went to public school: Untrue. Unlike Nigel Farage, Miliband never attended public school. He attended Haverstock Comprehensive.
  • Myth 3: Ed Miliband’s father Ralph Miliband was unpatriotic: Untrue again. Miliband Senior spent three years fighting for the British Navy during the Second World War.
  • Myth 4: Ed Miliband is in the trade union’s pocket: This seems very unlikely. Miliband distanced himself from the unions in his acceptance speech as leader and has been in conflict with UNITE for many years’ since.
  • Myth 5: Ed “stabbed his brother in the back” for the leadership: Nonsense. Ed ran against his brother David in a free and fair leadership contest. If he stuck a knife in David Miliband’s back, then the same is true of Cameron, Clegg, Thatcher or anyone who has ever defeated anyone else in a leadership contest.

The day the election got personal

Michael Fallon’s attack on Ed Miliband backfired. But do personal attacks ever work?

It was supposed to be a debate about the future of Trident. Instead, Defence Secretary Michael Fallon injected a calculated shot of venom into his comments on the Opposition leader Ed Miliband.
“Ed Miliband stabbed his own brother in the back to become Labour leader,” he began. “Now he is willing to stab the United Kingdom in the back to become Prime Minister.”
Fallon’s comments referred to the suggestion that Ed Miliband would be prepared to abandon Labour’s commitment to renewing the Trident nuclear weapons system if doing so meant ensuring a power sharing deal with the SNP. Labour figures had already widely rejected this idea.
Fallon’s words were sure to have been approved beforehand by Tory campaign supremo Lynton Crosby. But the attack backfired horribly for the Tories particularly after Fallon twice refused to say whether he thought the Labour leader “a decent man” in a subsequent interview.
Leading Tory Tim Montgomerie described Fallon’s attack as “embarrassing. Way too personal”. Voters are more likely to have been impressed by the quiet dignity of Miliband’s response.
“Michael Fallon’s a decent man,” he said. “But today he demeaned himself and he demeaned his office. The defence issue is too important to play politics with.”
By any stretch of the imagination, Fallon’s words were bizarre. For one thing, Ed Miliband defeated his brother in a fair and open leadership contest in 2010. The contest caused plenty of upset within the Miliband family but there is no suggestion Ed betrayed his older brother. Why would there be? Should David have won automatically because he is the older brother? There is no royal line of succession in the Labour Party. Had David Miliband won, would Fallon now be arguing he had stabbed Ed in the back to win the leadership? Did Ed stab the other candidates in the back too? Did David Cameron stab David Davis in the back to win the Tory leadership in 2005? Of course not. Fallon is talking nonsense. His attempt to link the issue to defence in a bonkers attempt to question Miliband’s patriotism is absurd too. The Daily Mail already attempted this in 2013 when they attacked the Milibands’ late father. It backfired on them too.
This election is unusual in that for the first time since 1979, the party led by the least popular of the two party leaders appears to be winning. The Tories have to do something fast to break the deadlock. But as with Churchill’s disastrous “Gestapo” speech during the 1945 election, they have totally shot themselves in the foot.
If these negative personal attacks continue, the Tories will lose and they will deserve to lose (Apparently not).

Why are our newspapers so Tory?

Our press is supposed to be free: so why the endless Miliband-bashing?

Why is Britain’s press so pro-Conservative? With a week to go until polling day, the two main parties remain firmly neck and neck. Yet a glance at the day’s newspapers on any day of the campaign would suggest a strong lead for the Right in Fleet Street if nowhere else. The Daily Telegraph and Daily Mail consistently support the Tories, the Express now supports UKIP, while the Murdoch-owned Times and Sun fiercely back the Tories too. Only The Guardian and The Mirror back Labour. The Independent, now owned by the Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev, supported the Liberal Democrats in 2010. The strict guidelines which manage TV coverage of the election do not apply to Britain’s “free” press. Every day sees an endless round of Miliband bashing. So why is our press so pro-Tory?
Some would argue that the newspapers are merely following public opinion. The fact that most newspaper proprietors position their papers to adopt a pro-Tory position, suggests that they believe most of their readers are likely to be Tory and are thus less likely to be driven away by pro-Tory content. From this, some people conclude, the fact that most of our newspapers are Tory suggests that most British people are Tory. A good argument? Well, no. in reality, our newspapers are much much more Tory than the British public ever is. In the 2010, over 71% of newspapers bought can be accounted for by the Tory press. Yet less than half that figure voted Tory in the last election. The Tories have not actually won a General Election since 1992. This makes no sense if the public are as pro-Tory as the press is.
Could it be then, that our press bosses merely like to back a winner? Rupert Murdoch, certainly seems to have shifted the support of his newspapers in accordance with those parties judged most likely to win moving The Sun, for example, from a pro-Labour position in 1970 (an election which Labour unexpectedly lost) to a pro-Thatcher positions in the Eighties, then pro-Blair after 1997, only switching back to the Tories when Labour defeat began to seem inevitable under Gordon Brown.
Even during the Blair years, however, it should be noted the Mail and Telegraph remained defiantly Tory. It also should be noticed that the press remained vigorously pro-Tory even during the height of Cleggmania in 2010 when it briefly seemed possible the Lib Dems might actually achieve the impossible and win. The press also remain hostile to Labour now, even as many pundits predict a Miliband premiership as the most likely outcome of the 2015 General Election.
The simple truth is that most of our newspapers remain resolutely pro-Tory simply because of the political leanings of their proprietors. Richard Desmond, the editor of the Daily Express is a former Labour supporter but recently gave a £1 million to UKIP. The Daily Mail despite being damaged by the reaction to their attacks on Ed Miliband’s late father in 2013 continued to run endless personal attacks on Miliband, sometimes backfiring as in the case of the recent story about Miliband’s pre-marital love life. The Murdoch papers and the Mail and the Telegraph all remain ideologically hostile to the Labour cause. Cameron’s refusal to initiate press reform after the Leveson Report made him look more compliant too. The press barons could not have a better puppet than David Cameron. The system is unfair but do not expect things to change any time soon.(This still holds true).

Why Labour lost

Last Thursday’s election result destroyed Labour’s hopes of power. So what went wrong?

It’s hard to believe now but as recently as last Thursday, Ed Miliband appeared to stand on the precipice of power. Labour were widely judged to have fought a good campaign and opinion polls throughout the campaign had shown the parties to be consistently neck and neck. But on the night, as we now know, to Tory and Labour surprise, the Tories secured an overall majority, something that had seemed almost inconceivable a few hours before.
What went wrong? In retrospect, the following reasons perhaps explain why Labour had probably lost before the campaign even began:
The Miliband Factor: The Tory press have always been keen on the “wrong Miliband” theory, arguing that David would have made a more convincing leader than his brother. Even if one takes this at face value (and there seems little doubt these same papers would have attacked David just as much as they did Ed, had he won), it’s hard not to feel David Miliband has become hugely overrated and Ed underrated. David, after all, in office was frequently indecisive, dithering particularly over whether to endorse Gordon Brown and frequently arrogant. Ed, contrary to expectation, performed generally well in the election “debates” and largely campaigned well. That said, there was an image problem there. Ed remained less popular than Cameron and it is no coincidence that all but two of the twelve General Elections in the last fifty years have been won by the Labour or Tory Party with the more popular of the two leaders. A more charismatic leader would certainly help Labour next time.
Record breaking: The Tories repeated the mantra that the global economic slump was a result of Labour overspending until they were blue in the face. It wasn’t true. Labour spending only took off when the banks needed bailing out, something which only occurred when the global crisis was in full swing and which had the Tories’ full support at the time. But this didn’t matter. Labour didn’t defend their record and in the end many people came to believe the Tories’ claims.
It was the economy, stupid! ultimately, most indicators now suggest the economy is now doing well. It is difficult for an opposition to argue with this.
Finally, many things suggested Labour were simply not yet ready to return to power. In truth, few parties return from a thirteen year stint in office after just five years in opposition. The Tory majority is only 12 – their smallest since the war (aside from the recent Hung Parliament). Revitalised and under a new leader, Labour should easily be able to overturn it.