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 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 as Tory leader after losing the 1964 General Election and begins devising the mechanism for the first Conservative leadership contest to be held amongst MPs.

1965

Heath 65

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

The right choice?: Probably. Heath at least won the 1970 General Election. ‘Reggie’ Maudling ultimately fell foul of his business connections and resigned as Home Secretary. Powell with his inflammatory 1968 ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech (and his 1974 pre-election decision to urge voters to support Labour) proved ill-suited to frontbench 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 Fraser and John Peyton for the top job. Heath descends 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 pro-European back-bencher 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)

In a hugely dramatic coup, Margaret Thatcher is challenged by her former defence secretary, Michael Heseltine. She technically wins but not by a wide enough margin and reluctantly resigns. Little-known Chancellor John Major beats Heseltine and Foreign Secretary 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 – a woman with no interests outside politics – 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.

By now perpetually embattled 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 the own private target set by himself below which he would have resigned. Bigger guns Ken Clarke, Michael Portillo and Heseltine again, thus do not enter the contest, as might have been expected otherwise.

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 former Welsh secretary William Hague beats Clarke, Peter Lilley, Redwood and Michael “something of the night about him” Howard after the party’s devastating election defeat. Heseltine’s heart condition rules him out. Portillo famously loses his seat, preventing him from participating in the contest.

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 was deposed in favour of an un-elected Michael Howard in 2003. Any of the other candidates would have been better. Clarke’s election as Tory leader might also have prevented UK involvement in the Iraq War after 2003.

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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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

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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

Book review: A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson

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Teddy Todd is rather surprised to find he has survived the Second World War. The main character in Kate Atkinson’s tenth novel has, after all, had a harrowing war experience and like 90% of those who joined Bomber Command during the war might have expected to have perished.

Kate Atkinson fans (and there are many) will have met Teddy before. Her previous book Life After Life saw the main character Ursula Todd living numerous lives over and over again. Every time Ursula died, whether in infancy or as an adult perhaps during the same Second World War, Ursula returns to the original start date: her birth in February 1910. Teddy is her beloved brother (born around 1915) and, like her sister, shares multiple fates and outcomes throughout that book.

Don’t worry if you can’t remember Life After Life, in detail, however (or even if you haven’t read it although I would recommend it). This novel does not share the same structure. It does, however, jump around through Teddy’s long life I and indeed the last century in a manner reminiscent of Atkinson’s fondly remembered debut of twenty years ago Behind The Scenes At The Museum.

Teddy is, his war experiences aside, a plodder and a rather dull character in himself. But rest assured, the novel is anything but. Whether dealing with bombing raids over Germany, the experiences of Teddy’s unlovely daughter Viola on a Seventies commune, or the details of 21st century York hen parties, this is a consistently enthralling read.

A God In Ruins by Kate Atkinson. Published by: Doubleday.

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Book review: Closet Queens: Some 20th Century British Politicians by Michael Bloch

Closet Michael Bloch

As of May 2015, there are more openly gay members of parliament than there have ever been before. But how many are still “in the closet”? And what about those who kept their sexuality under wraps in the past, perhaps before the homosexual act itself was legalised in 1967?

Michael Bloch’s book is extremely gossipy but also highly informative revealing that far more of the British politicians who shaped the last century were gay than was commonly thought. In some cases, it was just a phase: Roy Jenkins and Tony Crosland’s very intense early relationship fizzled out into mere friendship by the time both had began their careers as Labour politicians. They later became fierce rivals. The still homosexual Crosland was bitterly disappointed when the now keenly heterosexual Jenkins was appointed Chancellor in 1967. Jenkins felt the same when Crosland became Foreign Secretary seven years later. Jenkins left the Callaghan government in 1977 to become President of the EEC. Crosland, a heavy drinker, died soon afterwards. But it was Jenkins, who as Home Secretary oversaw the legalisation of homosexuality. Bloch points out many of the key architects of the change in the law, in fact, had secret homosexual pasts themselves. Bloch even suggests the bisexual Lord Boothby (for many years, the lover of Lady Dorothy Macmillan) may have blackmailed the notoriously homophobic Home Secretary David Maxwell Fyfe into permitting the Wolfenden Report which urged legalisation in the Fifties.

What about Downing Street? Bloch repeats the rumours that the 1890s Liberal Prime Minister Lord Rosebery may well have been homosexual, rumours which ultimately wrecked his career at the time. As for Edward Heath, one of only three bachelor Prime Ministers in the UK, Bloch re-enforces the growing conventional wisdom that Heath (a misogynistic mummy’s boy) was essentially homosexual but chose to suppress his sexuality as he knew it would destroy any chance of a political career. This throws an interesting angle on the brief coalition talks Heath went through with Liberal leader Jeremy Thorpe in 1974. Heath knew from the security services that the married Thorpe was a promiscuous homosexual and indeed that the younger man was already in difficulties with the Norman Scott affair which would ultimately destroy him. Heath kept his knowledge to himself, however.

Some might raise eyebrows at the inclusion of Winston Churchill in a book entitled “Closet Queens” though. Yes, Churchill reportedly had a low sex drive, had misogynist tendencies and enjoyed a number of close friendships with young men. This does not, in itself, make him a “closet queen,” however, and this chapter should have been expunged from the book.

However, with the wealth of biographical information on the likes of such characters as “Chips” Channon, Bob Boothby, Tom Driberg, Harold Nicolson and Peter Mandelson and the like, this is a useful book even if you choose to ignore the bits about their sex lives.

Closet Queens: Some 20th Century British Politicians by Michael Bloch. Published by: Little, Brown

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DVD review: W1A Series 1 and 2

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The problem with peopling a comedy series with annoying characters is that the series as a whole can end up being annoying rather than funny. This is a bit of an issue for W1A, John Morton’s follow up to his own Twenty Twelve. That dealt with the farcical goings on at the fictional Olympic Deliverance Commission in the run-up to the 2012 London Games. This follows the onetime Head of Deliverance Ian Fletcher (Bonneville) as he grapples with the frustrations and inertia of life at the BBC where he has been appointed to the meaningless position of Head of Values.

Fletcher is not especially annoying himself and along with Head of Inclusivity Lucy Freeman (Sosanya) is probably the closest thing we have to a hero or at least a sympathetic character in the whole thing. Fletcher is joined by the most memorable character from Twenty Twelve, the vacuous Siobhan Sharpe (Hynes, in her best role since Daisy in Spaced). A strong cast of supporting cast notably Rufus Jones, as a camp dim-witted ideas man and Hugh Skinner as a hopeless intern.

Numerous problems confront the hapless Fletcher in these seven half-hour (plus one-hour special) episodes. A Spotlight South West presenter complains about a perceived anti-Cornish bias at the Corporation towards her, though she does not actually come from the county herself. A row emerges when details of Fletcher’s salary are leaked and chaos ensues after it is revealed Newsnight presenter Evan Davies is to appear on Strictly Come Dancing. The show wears its celebrity cameos lightly and does not rely on them too heavily for humour.

John Morton was behind the earlier “mockumentary” People Like Us (which starred the now disgraced Chris Langham) and as on that there are moments of genius in the show’s deliberately inane voiceover, here delivered by David Tennant as in Twenty Twelve (“Sting has called up Alan Yentob personally and called him an actual prick”). There is much to commend here. Another brilliant touch is that the show’s offices have all been named after comedy giants of the past. Hence “inside Frankie Howerd,” there is a huge, rather alarming backdrop featuring the face of the Up Pompeii! star.

It is admirable that the BBC has produced something that is so critical of itself. However, in general, too many of the characters either speak in catchphrases (“I’m not being funny but…”) or obstructive cliches (responding to a question with an unhelpful “brilliant” rather than answering it) that it is sometimes as frustrating as the media world it depicts.

Otherwise, and I’m not being funny or anything but it’s all good.

Release date: May 18th 2015

Certificate: 15

Cast: Hugh Bonneville, Jessica Hynes, Rufus Jones, Sarah Parish, Nina Sosanya, Jason Watkins, Hugh Skinner, Ophelia Lovibond

BBC Worldwide

Programme Name: W1A 2 - TX: n/a - Episode: Generic (No. n/a) - Picture Shows:  Jack Patterson (JONATHAN BAILEY), Will Humphries (HUGH SKINNER), Izzy Gould (OPHELIA LOVIBOND), Lucy Freeman (NINA SOSANYA), Ian Fletcher (HUGH BONNEVILLE), Siobhan Sharpe (JESSICA HYNES), Neil Reid (DAVID WESTHEAD), David Wilkes (RUFUS JONES), Anna Rampton (SARAH PARISH), Simon Harwood (JASON WATKINS), Tracey Pritchard (MONICA DOLAN) - (C) BBC - Photographer: Jack Barnes

Book review: Funny Girl by Nick Hornby

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 a major talent, the sitcom is transformed, Sophie is coincidentally given her own real name back for the main character and the show becomes a monster hit, acclaimed for its edgy depiction of modern family life. But before long, inevitably, the show loses momentum. With the lead couple saddled with a baby (a disaster as far as many sitcom writers are concerned) the series is ultimately squeezed out by an edgy newcomer To Death Us Do Part: a comedy which could hardly be more dated today.

Writing about a fictional comedy star and sitcom isn’t easy. Hornby avoids mentioning real life female comedy actresses of the period such as Joan Sims, Hattie Jacques or Joyce Grenfell and the Carry On films are never mentioned. Yet the creation of Barbara (and Jim) is utterly convincing even if a later story-line in the novel about the Funny Girl being reunited with her estranged mother adds nothing to the book.

Hornby also manages to dodge the usual “fictional comedies are never funny” issue. We hear surprisingly little of the dialogue from the sitcom yet the interaction between Sophie and the show’s three male creators off screen really sparkles with energy and wit. Hornby has written several well received screenplays now, notably An Education based on Lynne Barber’s memoir. Hornby’s own “education” is starting to yield real results.

A fine funny book and a return to form for Nick Hornby, the novelist.

DVD review: American Sniper

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Director: Clint Eastwood.

Cast: Bradley Cooper, Sienna Miller, Kyle Gallner, Cole Konis, Ben Reed

American Sniper is based on the story of Chris Kyle, the Navy SEAL who served four tours in Iraq and became the most prolific sniper in US history.

Brought up in a strict God-fearing, gun-toting Texan family environment, Kyle (played as an adult by Bradley Cooper) has nevertheless rather gone off the rails by the time we meet him in adulthood, wasting his time on booze, bucking broncos and broads. The solution? He decides to replace his Stetson with a helmet.  Intensely patriotic, Kyle enrols as a Navy SEAL and is soon going through the rigours of an intense beefing up programme, catching the eye of future wife Taya (Sienna Miller) along the way. Soon Kyle is in Iraq, engaged in numerous hugely dangerous combat missions, often involving shooting potential terrorists from great distances.

Kyle’s efforts soon earned him the nickname “Legend” amongst his colleagues, but to its credit, Clint Eastwood’s film does not attempt to glamorise Kyle’s unpleasant, hazardous and ethically dubious work. The real difficulties of family life for a warrior are also laid bare with Sienna Miller excellent as the long suffering wife and mother back home. Cooper is also impressive as Kyle, an inarticulate but apparently moral man who often seemed more at ease in terrifying combat situations than he did with his family on leave back home.

This is a well made, memorable film which continues Eastwood’s latter career as a great director. It would be an incurious soul who did not have a few doubts about the film’s political position though. For example, Kyle is seen first going into Iraq only two scenes after he and his wife witness the 2001 World Trade Centre attacks on TV. The casual viewer would be forgiven for thinking Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was actually responsible for the attacks, hence making the US intervention in Iraq logical and necessary. This myth is, of course, believed by many to this day: perhaps Kyle believed it sincerely himself. But the reality is Iraq had nothing to do with September 11th whatsoever. It is difficult to feel Kyle’s actions, however brave they may be, are wholly necessary when the reasons for the US being in Iraq were so dubious in the first place.

Similarly, few non-American viewers could watch this without being struck by the crazy attitude towards guns. Kyle himself is shown being encouraged to use a gun from childhood, he does the same with his own kids. At another point, in what is supposed to be a playful scene, Kyle even jokingly points a (presumably unloaded) gun at his wife, ordering her to “drop her drawers”. His wife is as amused by this as he is; it isn’t even a cautionary scene. But without wishing to spoil anything, the proliferation of guns in US life leads directly to one personal tragedy during the course of the film. This in fact presented as more as down to pure bad luck: the fact that it would never have occurred if the populace were not so heavily armed in the first place, is totally glossed over.

Yet despite the politics, American Sniper is a genuinely good film, a worthy addition to Clint Eastwood’s directorial portfolio and featuring at least two first class performances from Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller.

DVD extras: One Soldier’s Story: The Journey of American Sniper (30 minute documentary)

Running time: 132 minutes.

Rating: 15.

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Great political myths of our time

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  1. “The chief problem with MPs today, is that too few of them have held a job outside politics”.

Saying this sort of thing is an easy way to get a big applause on BBC’s ‘Question Time’. But is it really such a problem? Anyone who wants to get on in politics is surely well-advised to start pursuing their ambitions early. Even in the past, many of those who did pursue other careers first (Margaret Thatcher was briefly a chemist, Tony Benn was a pilot and worked for the BBC) ultimately seem to have been biding their time until they got into parliament anyway, just like David “PR exec” Cameron and Tony “lawyer” Blair. But why is it assumed that MPs who have done other jobs first are necessarily of better quality? Remember: for every Winston Churchill or Paddy Ashdown, there’s a Jeffery Archer, Robert Kilroy-Silk, Neil Hamilton (an ex-teacher), a Robert Maxwell or an Iain Duncan Smith. All of these last five had other careers before politics. None seem to have been better MPs as a result.

2. “The Labour Party today has been taken over by the middle classes who have moved it to the right.”

Again, this isn’t the problem. Labour has always had lots of poshos in it from Clement Attlee to Hugh Gaitskell to Shirley Williams. It’s wrong to assume people from wealthier backgrounds are necessarily more conservative anyway. Anthony Wedegwood Benn and Michael Foot, after all came from better off families and they were hardly pseudo-Tories. Nor were James Callaghan or David Blunkett, exactly rampant lefties despite being of working class stock.

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3. “Labour is obsessed with class”.

Actually, if you look at the tabloid press, it is clear the Right are far more intent on class war, attacking anyone on benefits as a “scroungers” and anyone not to their political liking with money as “hypocrites” or “champagne socialists”. Ignore them!

4. “Rupert Murdoch is nor right wing: he just likes to back a winner.”

Wrong! Murdoch will only back those who share his own right wing outlook. Hence why he backed losers like John McCain and Mitt Romney in the US and still backed the Tories even as they appeared to be heading for defeat in May 2015. Remember this, next time you pick up The Times!

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DVD review: Inside No 9 Series 2

The premise behind Inside No. 9 is so thin that it barely amounts to a premise at all. Every story occurs inside a different “No.9” usually a house number although sometimes something else, for example, as in the first of this series, a railway carriage. That’s it. But from this, writers and performers Steve Pemberton and Reece Shearsmith have found the perfect vehicle for their brilliantly judged macabre humour.

Anyone who has ever fancied travelling on a sleeper carriage may well be put off the idea forever by ‘La Couchette’. This first episode sees Shearsmith’s doctor increasingly disturbed by first, a flatulent drunk (Pemberton), then a noisy middle aged couple before finally a pair of randy young backpackers (Jack Whitehall and Jessica Gunning) discover something which changes the nature of the journey for everyone.

The ’12 Days of Christine’ starring Sheridan Smith is a more sober but hugely effective piece. As we see Christine’s life pass before her rapidly before our eyes  from  the night of her first meeting her future husband, through to marriage, motherhood and then divorce, an element of horror seems to be threatening to creep in. But the end, when it does come, packs an enormous emotional punch.

‘The Trial of Elizabeth Gadge’ is much funnier, sending up the real life insanity of the 17th century witch trials. Having taken only very minor performing roles in ‘The 12 Days of Christine’, Shearsmith and Pemberton return to the fore in this, the most ‘League of Gentlemen’-esque episode with veteran actor David Warner (The Exorcist, Time Bandits, Tron) also taking a role.

None of the episodes are weak although the quality perhaps does decline ever so slightly with ‘Cold Comfort’ set in the offices of a busy phone helpline and ‘Nana’s Party’ which suffers slightly from having barely any normal characters in it at all. Yet even these contain moments of excellence.

The series finale ‘Séance Time’ is brilliant, however. With some vaguely insightful behind the scenes featurettes for each episode, this is ultimately a superb series of comic anthologies. Let us hope there will be more.

Release date: May 4th 2015

Bonus features: Behind the Scenes Featurettes on Each Episode

Certificate: 15

Cast: Reece Shearsmith, Steve Pemberton, Jack Whitehall, Sheridan Smith, Claire Skinner, Julie Hesmondhalgh, Alison Steadman, Jane Horrocks, David Warner

BBC Worldwide

Great myths of our time: Why Ed did not stab David Miliband in the back

The Labour Party Hold Their Annual Party Conference - Day 3

“That helps to explain why the history of socialism is littered with appalling personal betrayals, from the murder of Leon Trotsky to the smears and lies of Damian McBride… Ed Miliband’s excuse for knifing his brother was that it was the only way to ensure his beloved Labour Party was led by a true believer…” Toby Young, Daily Telegraph blog, 2013

“Younger brother Ed was the deceptively geeky assassin with the bow. He snatched the job David thought was his birthright…” Richard Pendlebury, Daily Mail, 2013.

“Do you regret stabbing him in the back or not?”TV audience member question to Ed Miliband during March 2015 BBC Three debate.

In 2010, Ed Miliband beat his older brother David for the Labour leadership. Of the many myths to arise out of the contest, none is more persistent than the argument promoted by the Tory press that Ed “betrayed”, “assassinated” or “stabbed his brother in the back” to get the job.

And guess what? It is absolute nonsense.

The September 2010 contest was won by Ed Miliband fair and square. In addition to David, he also beat Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and Diane Abbott. Were they “stabbed in the back” too?

David Cameron beat David Davis to win the Tory leadership in 2005. Davis was initially the favourite to win.Did Cameron “betray” him by standing against him and winning? Of course not.

The term “assassinate” is sometimes appropriate in politics if one leader is overthrown by another. Margaret Thatcher arguably politically assassinated her leader Edward Heath by standing against him and winning. Although he never became Prime Minister himself, Michael Heseltine politically assassinated Thatcher herself fifteen years later in 1990. But David Miliband has never been leader.

But the difference is that the Milibands were brothers! How could Ed so cruelly deny his brother the job that was so rightfully his?

This is a strange argument. I repeat that Ed Miliband was elected in a free and open contest. Why should we assume David is more entitled to job than he is, when he lost the actual election?

Is it because David Miliband is older than his brother? Since when was this the rule? We are not talking about the royal family here. Both men had Cabinet experience too. In this, they were both more qualified for leadership than both Cameron and Clegg were on assuming office in 2010. Neither had

I actually very much doubt that David Miliband ever thought the leadership was his “birthright” either despite what the Mail claims above. If he did, he was supremely arrogant to think so. It was a bruising contest and I don’t doubt that David was upset to lose. But I doubt very much that he thinks there was anything constitutionally wrong with his brother beating him in a fair fight. If David had won would we now be accusing him of betraying his brother Ed? It makes no sense.

What about the unions who played such a role in Ed’s victory? Well, that is another issue. The leadership vote is divided equally three ways between Labour MPs, party members and union members. David won narrowly in the first two and lost narrowly in the third. David knew all three of these groups were crucial to the verdict. Ed won fair and square overall and contrary to tabloid myth has consistently taken a tough line against the unions from his leadership victory speech onward.

Five years on, despite endless relentless attacks from the Tory-owned press, Ed is close to David Cameron in terms of personal popularity. With Labour neck and neck with the Tories in the opinion polls, he stands a very good chance of becoming Prime Minister.

The Tory press who today attack Labour for electing “the wrong Miliband” as their leader are natural enemies of the Labour Party. Had David Miliband won in 2010, they would be attacking David Miliband with all the venom with which they now attack his brother.

How To Read Opinion Polls

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Do not obsess over every poll

Reading opinion polls is like checking your weight: there really is no point fretting over every minor daily fluctuation. Tomorrow the Tories may be one percent ahead, today one percent behind. The general trend is solid: both the major parties have been basically neck and neck for months.

Just because the Tories are ahead, this does not mean they are winning

This may seem like an odd thing to say, but due to the unfair and outdated boundary system, Labour would still probably get the most seats even if both parties received an equal number of votes. Or even if Labour got a few percentage points more. It is thought that the Tories would need to be at least five percent ahead in the polls fairly consistently to even stand a chance of becoming the largest party. They aren’t doing that currently.

Don’t get paranoid

True, the press are overwhelmingly Tory. Don’t let this fool you into thinking that no poll from either Ashcroft or The Sun or The Telegraph can be trusted though. There is no obvious bias in their polling.

Ignore betting odds

Betting odds seem to b being treated almost as seriously as opinion polls in this election. Treat these with caution. They are, after all, derived from people’s opinions on who will win and these are most likely ultimately shaped by the results of opinion poll anyway. That and the press. The suspicion that Labour is heading for defeat owes more to the anti-Labour feeling in the print media than to which party people say they are intending to vote for. In short, Labour is winning but many believe the newspapers who are telling them the opposite.

Watch out for electoral upsets

Beware! Opinion polls can be wrong too! There have thus far been two great post-war electoral upsets in 1970 and 1992. Both resulted in the Tories winning unexpectedly. Both were twenty two years apart. Twenty three years on from 1992, we are about due for another one!

10 reasons why the last Labour Government was great

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The Blair-Brown government achieved a lot of good, so why are Labour politicians so afraid of defending it in public? Here are ten reasons why it was a success…

  1. A lasting peace in Northern Ireland

By 1997, the peace process began under John Major had stalled, partly because the Tories were reliant on the Ulster Unionists to prop up the Tories in parliament during the Major Government’s final days. It took a new government, a new Prime Minister (Tony Blair) and a dynamic new Northern Ireland Secretary (the late Mo Mowlam) to deliver the Good Friday Agreement and the enduring peace which continues to this day. Blair and Mowlam succeeded where thirty years of previous governments had failed.

  1. The economy…stupid!

There are countless Tory myths about the last government’s economic record. Did Labour overspending cause the slump? Clearly not, there was a severe recession throughout the western world: Britain would have been hit anyway. Only the effort to bail out the banks (supported by the Tories) once the slump was in progress put the economy in debt. Should Labour have regulated the markets more tightly? Yes, but again the Tories at the time were arguing for LESS regulation of the markets not more. Did Brown’s actions prevent a recession becoming a depression? Undoubtedly yes. Brown stopped the UK entering the Euro as Chancellor and as PM, his quantative easing policy was widely credited with saving the global banking system. Historians are likely to judge Labour well for dodging the recession which hit many countries at the start of the century and coping well with the global deluge when it came. Should Labour have prepared a “rainy day fund” to prepare the economy during the boom times? In retrospect, yes. Has any other government ever done this? No!

  1. Tough on crime…

The crime rate fell by 44% between 1997 and 2010. Will this continue under Cameron with police numbers being slashed? It seems doubtful. Even Cameron in 201 admitted crime had fallen under Labour making a mockery of his “broken Britain” slogan.

  1. Labour saved the NHS

A disaster area in 1997, Labour bailed the NHS out, leaving it in a good state and with record user approval ratings by 2010. Once again, the Tories have squandered this inheritance and the NHS is in crisis again.

  1. Education, education, education

The period saw huge strides in education. By any measure, standards rose dramatically.

  1. A minimum wage

Fiercely opposed by the Tories at the time on the grounds that it would lead to mass unemployment (wrong!), the minimum wage introduced by Labour is now universally accepted by everyone. The living wage promoted by Ed Miliband is the next step.

  1. Things did get better

Homelessness fell dramatically (under both Thatcher, Major and Cameron it rose dramatically). Civil partnerships were introduced. The House of Lords was reformed. Devolution was introduced for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The gay age of consent was equalised. Britain got better.

  1. Less social division

Labour were never affected by the endless wrangling over the EU that has blighted both of the last Tory Governments. Nor did the government actively seek to turn the public against itself as the Tories have with the public and private sectors.

  1. What will Cameron be remembered for?

Compare his achievements with those listed above. What springs to mind?  Austerity. The Bedroom Tax. Gay marriage – a real achievement but only accomplished with Labour’s help. The massive rise in student tuition fees. Cameron’s record has been abysmal.

  1. Win. win, win

If Labour were so bad in office, why did the public elect them three times? The Tories were hated in 1997, leading to the biggest majority achieved by either party being won by Labour (179). After four years in power, the people wanted more. Labour’s 167 seat majority in 2001 was second only to their 1997 one in post-war scale. Neither Attlee or Thatcher ever won such big majorities. In 2005, their majority fell to 66. Even then, this was a big majority, the eighth largest win of the 19 elections held since 1945. No disgrace at all. Even in 2010 under the unpopular Gordon Brown and during a major slump, Labour still did well enough to deny the Tories a majority.

It is a record to be proud of. Labour should not shy away from defending it.