Twenty Years Ago

Twenty years ago today, I packed the last of my things from my flat in South London to begin the long journey up through the centre of the city, up through North London, onto the M1 and up to Derby.

I’d made this journey many times over the previous few years. I’d lived in London for seven years, but I’d kept my house in Derby as a sort of occasional weekend retreat. This time though, I was leaving for good.

The last thing I did before leaving was to climb out of my bedroom window onto the flat roof of the extension below, then climb up the slates to the top of the terrace where I had lived, in the top floor flat. I had a theory that I should be able to see the top of the Canary Wharf Tower from there, a little over four miles away. And I was right.

I’d been meaning to try this for years, and I left it, literally, to the last minute. My girlfriend Polly, who’d come over from Hong Kong to stay with me in the flat for a few days, was already sitting in the passenger seat of my car in the street below. I wished I’d had my camera with me, but I’d already packed it. My last job in London had been based in the top floor of the tower and it amused me that I could see my office from my flat, when it took the best part of an hour to get there in the morning.

I loved my time in London. It was an amazing adventure that I never took for granted. I’d had two brilliant jobs there. I’d been a system manager at a Japanese bank in the City for two years, then from 1996 an IT specialist at a US investment firm at Canary Wharf. That second role especially was a fantastic opportunity for a young man. I had frequent business trips to New York, Tokyo, Hong Kong, San Francisco, Frankfurt and Geneva, always business class, always one of the best hotels in town or a serviced apartment, always fully expensed, restaurant and bar bills never given a second glance.

But I’d lost that job when a “market correction” occurred following the collapse of the dot-com bubble in 2001. When I turned the key for the last time in the front door of my flat, I’d been out of work for seven months. The firm had given me a fairly big sum of cash when they asked me to leave and I still had most of it, but it seemed imprudent to be paying an expensive rent in London and a mortgage in Derby in those circumstances. I’d pretty much been having a holiday in London since March the previous year, when I was placed on “gardening leave”. But I hadn’t been getting a monthly salary since June.

So, I decided on what I optimistically termed a “tactical retreat”, to Derby. I would continue to look for another role in London from there, but of course I couldn’t know whether I’d be successful or not.

I well remember the melancholy drive north. The noise and bustle of central London gave way gradually to the subdued grey of its outskirts as the afternoon daylight faded to dusk. When the front wheels of my car made contact with the bottom end of the M1 I noted to myself, with a certain sense of disbelief, that I was no longer a resident of London.

I had become a proud Londoner, over the preceding years. Now I wasn’t.

Adjusting to life in Derby was not easy, not least because I didn’t really want to. When you’re used to living in the capital city, it’s hard to wake up in a nondescript housing estate on the outskirts of a dull provincial town with no particular reason to get out of bed. I’d lived in Derby before of course, in the same house. But I was used to life in London now, and I had no job in Derby this time. I came to think of my life there post-London as a sort of living death; indeed I used to claim that if you could drink beer when you were dead, there’d be no meaningful difference.

One compensation of moving back to Derby was that I’d be able to see more of my friend Shaun, whom I’d worked with at Rolls-Royce. Shaun was the only person I’d kept in touch with from Derby. But he’d been ill for some time, and he died in hospital from complications arising from an infection in July the same year.

The highlight of my week in London had been to take a train into the West End on a Saturday morning and walk round the shops for a few hours: the Strand, Covent Garden, Oxford Street, Piccadilly, Trafalgar Square. For a while I’d go to Nottingham on Saturdays as a sort of surrogate West End, but after a few weeks I was contenting myself with the centre of Derby. I’d walk in from my house a few times a week, often with a mild hangover. I was probably mildly depressed. I medicated myself with alcohol.

I didn’t feel sad the whole time exactly, more displaced and disconnected. Lost. I had flown too close to the sun, my wings had melted and I had tumbled from the sky into the sea.

The 2002 World Cup was a welcome diversion. But mostly that year, I distracted myself by immersing myself in the World Wide Web. I spent many hours arguing the merits of another war against Iraq, something that had started to look quite likely. I took an active part in several music mailing lists and message boards.

Every few weeks, I’d take a train from Derby back into London on a Saturday. I’d slip into my identity as a Londoner for a few hours, like putting on a coat. It felt a little like coming up for air. It was genuinely a relief to do this, to remind myself that London was still there, still no more than a train ride away. And I was still the same person. I would never be a tourist in London.

But I had no luck finding another role there and my next job was in Derby. A dismal job to be frank, working for an outsourcing company. I didn’t stay there long though, and I started to claw my way back up the career ladder. By 2006 I’d met my wife here in the East Midlands and by that time I had no intention of going back to live in the capital.

I sold my house in Derby in 2009 and I live in Leicestershire now, with some brilliant cycling routes almost literally on my doorstep. I live in a bigger and nicer home than I would have afforded within commuting distance of Canary Wharf or the City. And the thought of fighting hordes of fellow commuters to get on a tube train every morning, while it was exciting at the time, has no appeal to me now.

I look back on those seven years in London with huge affection and nostalgia. Every Oasis or Blur tune takes me back to that magical Britpop summer of 1995, when I first moved there. I certainly miss London sometimes. It calls to me, and I return for a while. But the terrifying provincial nothingness outside the M25 turned out to be, in the end, my best life.

Advice For The Young At Heart

James found himself sitting at the edge of a double bed, in a small bedroom. He was dreaming. He knew he was dreaming, but for a moment, he didn’t know where he was.

The glow of dawn through curtains behind him filled the room with a subdued, soft light.


His unconscious mind had brought him to his old bedroom in Markfield, the village where he had lived thirty years earlier.

His eyes scanned around the room, from the white, flat-pack wardrobes with the grey handles to the old FM radio standing on the crude bedside table. Cassette tapes were scattered on the slightly threadbare carpet. Next to the bedside radio lay a book titled Philip K Dick Is Dead, Alas.

Everything was exactly as he remembered it. He’d had lucid dreams before, but this was something else; remarkable in its detail. Somehow his sleeping brain had brought to life details he’d forgotten about; the pile of music magazines next to the wardrobe, the stack of vinyl records on the chest of drawers.

He looked down at the bed and smiled as he remembered the old red quilt cover that he hadn’t seen for a couple of decades. But he only smiled for a moment.

Someone was lying in the bed. A man, roughly his own size and height, but younger. The sleeping man stirred, took a deep breath and sat up.

Stay calm, James told himself. Don’t wake up. Stay here for a while, in your past.

James stared at the younger man. He was looking at himself, exactly as he must have appeared when he slept in this room, thirty years earlier.

And in the diffused, dawn light, thirty-years-younger James was staring right back at him. Nonetheless, he seemed calm.

“I know I drank too much last night”, Younger James said. “But this is the weirdest dream I’ve ever had. You look exactly like me, but about forty years older”.

“Thirty”, older James laughed. “But I believe this is my dream, not yours”.

Then his heart sank as he absorbed the circumstances of the time and place to which his dream had transported him. He looked around the room again, then he spoke softly to the younger man.

“It’s 1990?”

“Yes”, the younger man replied, quietly. He looked sad, now. Haunted, even. James knew why.

“What month is it, Jim?”

“June, I think. I’m not certain. I’m sure I could tell you if I was awake”.

“June, 1990. She’s gone, then.”

The younger James lay back on his pillow and glanced wistfully at the empty space in the bed beside him.

“Yes. She’s gone”.

Older James said nothing for a few moments. Then he said: “You’ll be fine, one day. Not for a long time. But you’ll be OK, I promise”.

Younger James said nothing.

Older James paused, then continued: “You know this is your own fault, don’t you? I know you feel betrayed, and abandoned. But you’ve mostly done this to yourself”.

Why James was lecturing a figment of his unconscious imagination, an artefact of this unusual dream, he wasn’t entirely sure. But he felt genuine compassion for his younger self. He knew that young James was going through the worst time of his entire life.

Older James stood up, turned round and looked out through the gap between the curtains. Markfield. Chitterman Way, just as he remembered it. Amazing that every detail was stored in his brain somewhere, ready to be projected like a virtual reality game, in a dream.

Then he turned toward the bed again and sat back down on the edge, carefully avoiding his own legs.

“I know how you feel. I remember. Very well. But I’ll tell you something, James. There will come a time when you don’t regret that you lost Sara.”

Younger James stared at him incredulously. “What was I drinking last night? It must have been very good stuff”, he wanted to know.

Older James smiled, sympathetically. “Supermarket whisky, probably. They don’t pay you much at Rolls-Royce, do they? But you get promoted to section leader two years from now”.

Younger James seemed disinterested at this optimistic news. And certainly, having delivered it, Older James wondered if it wasn’t perhaps a little superfluous in the circumstances.

The older man sat in silence for a moment, eyes wandering around the room, scrutinising every detail of this place where he had lived in a warm, fulfilled contentment, then existed in a hollow, lonely grief, thirty years earlier.

The Artex ceiling. The faded pink curtains. The radio-cassette player on the bedside table. Finally his eyes came to rest again on his younger self. He looked impossibly young, with thick, light brown hair and smooth, taut skin. But he looked improbably miserable, as well. And he looked bitter.

Older James spoke again. “You know what your problem is?”

“I think so, yes”, Younger James replied, before he could continue. “I’ve lost the only person in the world that I really care about. The life I waited for, for years, has been cancelled a few months after it started, by the one person I thought I could always count on, no matter what.”

“And I’ve been left alone, in an empty house, in a part of the country where I have no friends and no family. And even the idiots I work with are all 20 miles away in Derby.”

As he spoke, Younger James had started to cry, silently.

Older James felt a profound pang of pity. Certainly he hadn’t forgotten about all this. He would never forget it. But it was a long time in his past. He reached over and placed his left hand over Younger James’ left hand, motionless on the quilt cover. He squeezed it, reassuringly. He looked carefully at the two hands. They were exactly the same hand, except that one of them wore a wedding ring.

He spoke softly. “Your problem is that you aren’t actually a person. You’re half of something that is broken. It’s gone. You have to reinvent yourself. And you will”.

Tears were streaming down Younger James’ face now, but he didn’t seem to have listened to a word. Instead he was staring at the older man’s left hand, holding his own.

“So – you’re me, but thirty years older – is that right?”

Older James nodded.

“And you’re married. I get married”. He looked incredulous.

“Yes”, replied Older James. “In 2007. Enjoy the next 17 years while you can. Actually you will, mostly. Not all of them. Not the next two or three. But you will.”

“And where do I .. did you – meet her? At work? Is it someone I know now?”

Older James smiled. “No. You buy a house in Derby next year. But you leave Rolls-Royce in four years’ time. Then you live in London for seven years. Then you move back to Derby, because you keep the house there while you’re living in a flat in London. Then four years after that, you meet someone on the Internet, you get married and you buy a house together six miles from here.”

Older James laughed. As a summary of the previous thirty years of his life, it seemed to work well enough. But Younger James seemed preoccupied by something.

“Sorry, the Inter-what?”

Younger James was an IT specialist who had never heard of the Internet. It seemed astonishing, yet Older James couldn’t imagine that the purpose of his dream was to explain SMTP, DNS, HTTP and the rest of it, let alone the social and cultural implications of the World Wide Web – so he didn’t reply. Instead he said “Stay there, I’ll be back in a minute”.

He rose from the bed and pulled open the bedroom door. It creaked slightly, exactly as he anticipated. He stepped quietly down the stairs in the early morning light.

He entered the kitchen at the bottom of the stairs. It was all as he remembered it. The fake wooden beams, the old electric cooker. The wooden table and chairs. A cassette tape labelled ‘PREFAB SPROUT R1 1984’ lay on the table, next to a copy of ‘Q’ magazine.

He remembered an early evening in February 1990. He was making dinner for both of them in this same place, waiting for her to come home. He was often home first. It was dark outside. The kitchen radio was playing Advice For The Young At Heart by Tears for Fears, as he stirred amateurishly at a risotto. He was sure it was a risotto because thirty years later, it was still the only thing he knew how to cook.

“Soon, we will be older”. So apt. Every time he heard that song, he was reminded of that same prescient advice radiating from a kitchen radio in the winter of 1990, a few short weeks before his world crumbled to dust.

The keys to his old Talbot Sunbeam were lying on the kitchen table, and for a moment he thought of opening the front door and driving home to Ravenstone, six miles away. But his house wouldn’t have been built there yet, and whatever he saw there would be pure imagination. He had never seen Ravenstone until 2009. Besides, he would surely be awake soon.

A pity. Part of him wanted to stay here, and live the next thirty years one more time.

He climbed the stairs again and pushed the bedroom door open softly. Younger James was sitting up in bed, staring at the duvet cover in front of him.

“Still awake?” Older James asked.

“No, still asleep apparently, and having a very weird dream. But I suppose anything’s better than being awake”.

Older James sat on the edge of the bed again, and said nothing for a moment. Their eyes met and he felt a curious mixture of pity and envy. The young man had so much to look forward to. But he would suffer an aching loss, weaponised by an unimaginable, hollow disillusion, for quite some time to come. He knew that Young James missed his partner acutely and to his surprise, as his eyes glanced around the bedroom they had shared again, he missed her himself for a moment.

“James”, Older James said, “if this were real and I could leave you with just one thought, it’s this. One day you’ll be grateful to Sara that she did this. Yes, it was grotesque, I know. But she’s young, younger than you. And as impossible as I know it is for you to understand or accept now, things work out better for you than they would have if you’d stayed together. And maybe even for her, too.”

He didn’t actually believe that last part. Perhaps he was arrogant. But what did it matter now?

“No. I’ll always love her”. The younger man’s reply was almost matter-of-fact. He sounded resigned; defeated.

“Yes, you will. You’ll always love the memory of the young woman who was your soulmate these last five years. And you’ll be glad you have it. But you’ll end up in a very happy place. An even better one. I promise. And those memories won’t hurt.”

He continued. “And you’ll never forget what you owe her, either. She was the reason you went to University and got that degree. She’s the reason you have a career. And no-one ever gave you more love and support”.

Younger James looked confused, for a moment. “I didn’t go to University”, he said.

Older James smirked. “Oh yes, I’d forgotten. You went to Teesside Poly. But in two years’ time it becomes a university, and after that you’ll always say you went to Teesside University”.

“Well”, the younger man replied, “that sounds like me, I must admit”.

And certainly, it did. James had been known to claim that he had “read Computer Science at Durham” on the grounds that he’d studied for his exams in Hartlepool.

Older James realised that he was tired. It was getting lighter in the room. Rays of sunshine had begun to penetrate the curtains. He closed his eyes for a moment. But when he opened them he was looking sideways at a digital clock on a bedside table.

He was awake.

For a moment he felt disoriented, and a little shocked. What a vivid, lucid dream he’d had.

It was a Saturday morning. He lay in bed thinking about his dream and let his mind drift back to the summer of 1990, hesitantly and carefully. His wife was still asleep when he got out of bed, to make coffee and toast.

Two hours later, something was nagging at his memory. He went to a bookcase in his study and beside a book labelled Philip K Dick Is Dead, Alas, he found his old Filofax diary, from 1990. He opened it with some reluctance, because there were memories in there that were painful to him. Toxic, even.

But he thumbed through the pages until he found an entry from June 16th.

Bizarre dream. I was visited in the bedroom by
myself, thirty years older. Like a time traveller.
Strangely comforting. But I woke up with another

James stared at the words on the page and shuddered. A coincidence? Or had a long-forgotten diary entry somehow bubbled to the top of his unconscious memory, to provoke a dream?

He felt unsettled, but put it out of his mind.

A week later, James found himself dreaming again. He was lying in bed, in his own time. His wife was lying asleep beside him, her leg resting against his. But he knew he was dreaming, because an old man was sitting on the edge of the bed, in the dim, first light of a new day.

The old man’s hair was thinner, and almost white. The jawline was a little less firm. But James recognised him immediately. He had the same warm, brown eyes, though the wrinkles that framed them were deeper.

The old man smiled. “Hello”, he said.

James smiled, too. “I’ve been expecting you”, he replied.

The old man put his left hand over James’ left hand. He squeezed it, reassuringly. James looked carefully at the two hands. They were exactly the same hand, with the same wedding ring.

Beatles Diary

I was born in 1960. I’m old enough to remember The Beatles from when they were still making records, and appearing on Top Of The Pops.

I’ve always loved their music, but later in life I became fascinated by the way popular culture changed in the ’60s, when I was too young to appreciate what was happening around me. The Beatles for me are the living embodiment of that; perhaps even an important part of the cause.

In my mind there’s something very mysterious, almost mystical about the way the Beatles morphed from the mop-top Merseybeat group of the monochrome British early ’60s into the flamboyant, technicolor, experimental artistic phenomenon of the late ’60s, over the space of a few years.

I wanted to experience this for myself, somehow. I decided that a good way to do this might be to start a Beatles diary, time-shifted by 50 years, so that I could relive those years in real time – informed by a number of official publications, but also more importantly by old photographs, news items and video archived on the World Wide Web. There’s such an abundance of this that I was probably able to follow the Beatles story in closer detail than I would have been able to in the ’60s. I posted entries on Twitter under the username @beatlesdiary, exactly fifty years after the events I was describing. I took care to make sure that any photos, video or audio material were taken on, or sometimes broadcast on, the specific date.

This could be quite a diverting challenge within the Twitter character limit, but much less so for entries for events after November 1967. Twitter changed its post limit to 280 characters in 2017.

Barry Miles’ The Beatles Diary Volume I : The Beatles Years was hugely helpful in this endeavour as the default reference, and I thank the author sincerely.

Maintaining this diary was a lot more time-consuming in the time-shifted early ’60s than it was in the later years when I could afford to become slightly lax about it, and I must confess that I dropped the ball a few times. I missed both John’s wedding to Yoko, and Paul’s to Linda, for example.

I’m glad that I conducted this exercise and was able, in some way, to live through the Beatles story as it happened, through a window from the future. And yet there’s still something strange and elusive about the way they and the culture around them changed. It’s still hard to pin down. One moment that I thought might be significant is when Lennon returns from a US tour wearing a colourful striped boating blazer – was that a contributory factor in the birth of psychedelia? I don’t know. It’s still hard to understand exactly how and why the culture experienced that earthquake, perhaps as it was even at the time. How could the band that recorded brilliant but simple cheery pop tunes like You Won’t See Me have been recording Day In The Life not much more than two years later? I still don’t get it.

I started my diary at the beginning of 2012 with an entry for 1st Jan, 1962 – when John, Paul, George and Pete auditioned for Decca Records in London, having been driven down from Liverpool by Neil Aspinall. They were of course rejected, partly on the grounds that “guitar groups are on the way out”.

There is no definitive final day of The Beatles. John had told the other three that he was leaving the group in September 1969. The final occasion on which all four were together as a band was a photo shoot at Tittenhurst Park in August that year. The very last Beatles recording session took place on April 1st the following year, when Ringo recorded a drum part for I Me Mine with Phil Spector. But nine days later, fifty years ago today on April 10th 1970, an interview with Paul was published in which he hinted quite strongly that The Beatles would not work together again. That was taken by many as confirmation that it was all over.

And certainly, it was.

If the final @beatlesdiary tweet brought you here, many thanks for reading.

General Election

It’s my opinion that everyone should think carefully, irrespective of old party allegiances they may have, before casting their vote in a General Election. As it happens I’m a lifelong Conservative supporter, albeit my patience has been stretched to breaking point by Theresa May over the last couple of years.

Nonetheless at every election I do, sincerely, try to clear my mind of any biases, automatic loyalties and prejudices – and to think as objectively as possible about what’s the wisest choice. Not just for my family, but for our country and our wider society, giving especially careful consideration to the many less fortunate than myself.

I’ve done that this time, and it didn’t take me long to reach my decision. Barring inconceivable unforeseen circumstances, I intend to vote Conservative.

Let me start by articulating some important positive reasons for that choice.

First: Brexit.  While this is widely considered to be the central, defining issue of this election – and in a sense, it is – the important question for me is not whether the UK is better off outside the EU, because that matter was put to the people and settled at a referendum in 2016.

The actual question at hand is whether the people’s instruction to leave should be respected, and fulfilled.

I strongly hold the view that it should, not only because that is the only moral choice when the people have expressed a view on the way they are governed at a referendum, but also because a failure to do so can only lead to a catastrophic, lasting, corrosive distrust in our politics.

Attempts to defy the referendum, particularly by members of parliament on all sides, have already led to bitter division and resentment. My opinion is that this General Election should be seized as an opportunity to heal these wounds, not to twist a knife in them.

The Conservative Party is the only political party fighting this election with both a chance of winning and the will and integrity to deliver on the people’s historic choice.

Brexit apart, I am pleased with the reforms made to our welfare system by Conservative governments in recent years. It seems to me that easy access to handouts had led to taxpayers sustaining a permanent benefits underclass, which is not only a strain on the treasury and on working people who pay taxes, but a reservoir for crime and anti-social behaviour.

I do not want to see the valuable work done by Iain Duncan Smith and others undone by a government with an instinct to buy votes with handouts paid for by other people’s money. Only today I heard an employer state in an interview on Radio 5 Live that the reason Eastern Europeans had taken so many jobs was that the local young British population preferred to stay at home on benefits. I think I’d prefer them to get up and work and pay their own taxes, instead of absorbing mine.

The Conservative Party in government in the current decade has an enviable record. Unemployment in particular is at a historic low; there are a record number of people in full-time jobs. The deficit has fallen from 10% of GDP to around 1.2%, since 2010.

Under the Conservatives there are over 21,000 more doctors and 17,000 more nurses in our hospitals, and a budget increase of £33.9 billion is planned. That’s important, I feel.

Finally – I find Boris Johnson to be a charismatic leader, with a powerful can-do, infectiously enthusiastic approach to government. He stepped up to a difficult challenge in taking the reins of the Conservative Party at a very trying time. He confounded his critics by negotiating the deal with the EU they had condescendingly told us was not possible. And he took courageous and resolute action against those in his own parliamentary party who had betrayed not only their party, but undoubtedly their country as well, by supporting Hilary Benn’s Surrender Act, intended to undermine Britain’s negotiating position with the EU.

Now let me describe the essential negative reason to vote Conservative at this election. I badly want to ensure that Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party is kept well away from the levers of power.

Why? Well I could write a book about that, and you know what? Perhaps I should. But let me summarise a few reasons here.

Firstly – socialism. Labour’s whole schtick of taking public utilities and other industries into state ownership, removing their incentive to perform by eliminating their competition, then crippling them with militant trade unionism. It didn’t work in the ’60s and ’70s, when that mode of government was last in vogue. It resulted in millions of jobs being exported abroad and the collapse of traditional British heavy industry. It punished the taxpayers and led to awful public services. We thought it had died a welcome death decades ago, but apparently it’s fashionable again in some quarters.

Labour’s hard left has an instinctive, reflexive disdain for business and wealth creators.

It seems incredible now, but there was a time when you weren’t allowed to own a telephone. You had to request one from the state communications monopoly, and it remained their property. There were about three models and three or four colours to choose from, and usually you’d go on a waiting list.

In those days, the state owned you. A Conservative government saved us from that nonsense starting in 1979, and I just don’t want to go back there. I must make sure my vote counts against that.

Labour in its current hard-left incarnation is more extreme and controlling than it has ever been. In office, it might very well start to take control of the press, and of education. We could end up with political officers in every school council and media outlet. These people are blinkered fanatics. They would think of closing down the Daily Express or imposing political censorship on the BBC as the moral thing to do.

The Labour Party in the last parliament showed no particular commitment to delivering Brexit and their present manifesto shows precious little, either. They claim that they will negotiate a credible deal to leave the EU, but most of the senior Labour Party will then ask you to reject it. In other words it’s literally in their interest to negotiate an awful deal. And given that opportunity – of course, that’s exactly what they’d do in my view.

But even if the Leave side won that argument again, as I believe they would – I have no confidence that a parliament dominated by Labour, or by Labour and the SNP, would respect our decision. We’d just have another few years of frustration and delay, perhaps culminating in a third referendum – just to give you another chance to change your mind.

I don’t want a second referendum in the first place; I want whoever’s in charge to get on with honouring the first one. That is already well overdue. And for that reason alone I would vote to keep Labour away from power.

Corbyn’s stance over Brexit in this election has been to adopt a neutral position. The man who wishes to be Prime Minister of this country would not support either side, Leave or Remain. On this most important of issues, he won’t tell you where he stands. That is surely a transparent failure of leadership.

And on that note: let’s consider more carefully the character, judgement and integrity of Labour’s leader. Grim reading follows, I’m afraid.

Jeremy Corbyn supported the Provisional IRA in its lethal conflict against British service personnel and civilians for decades. Some would have you believe that this is a “smear” dreamed up by the right-wing press, but a little bit of research will tell you that it isn’t:

  • Each year between 1986 and 1992, Corbyn attended and spoke at the annual “Connolly / Sands” commemoration in London, held in honour of dead IRA terrorists and “prisoners of war”.
  • He hosted meetings of the ultra-left extremist group Red Action, an organisation that expressed (in its own words) “unconditional and uncritical support” for the Provisional IRA, at his constituency office.
  • He was a member of the editorial board of a hard-left publication which praised the Brighton bombing of 1984.
  • In 1987 he handed a petition to Margaret Thatcher demanding “the immediate transfer of Irish political prisoners to prisons near their homes”. The same year, he stood in a minute’s silence for IRA gunmen killed while attempting to blow up a police station in Armagh, saying “I’m happy to commemorate all those who died fighting for an independent Ireland”.

And it’s not just the Provos, of course. Corbyn famously considers Hamas and Hezbollah to be his friends. He laid a wreath in commemoration to the murderers of the Israeli athletes killed in a terrorist attack at the 1972 Olympics.

And when three people were severely poisoned and a fourth killed by military grade nerve agents used in an assassination operation by KGB agents, Corbyn rushed to the defence of the Russians in our Parliament, preferring to give them the benefit of the doubt.

Yet while he lauds and praises armed groups hostile to Western interests and the United Kingdom in particular, he is the first to condemn any armed action undertaken by his own country. Recently a video was uncovered showing Corbyn ranting angrily about an operation carried out by the “lawless” SAS in Basra.

In the event of a Labour victory at this General Election, Corbyn would be in ultimate charge of our armed forces and of the defence of this country. It must surely be obvious that he cannot be trusted with either responsibility.

Consider too Corbyn’s obsession with extreme leftist ideology. When Maduro took over Venezuela in 2013, Corbyn sent his sincere congratulations to him, and to the whole of the Venezuelan people. He appeared at public meetings, cheering on the new regime. “It’s called socialism”, he said. A “better way of doing things”. A few years later Venezuela’s economy was on its knees, with queues forming outside empty supermarkets, hyper-inflation and hospitals going without basic medicine or even soap. That’s what Corbyn’s ideology did to the most oil-rich nation on Earth.

That’s not the sort of judgement I want or expect from a British Prime Minister. Next time you hear Corbyn complain about the way the Tories have run the NHS, have a think about what it must be like to fall ill in Venezuela, under Corbyn’s “better way of doing things”.

What else? Corbyn appointed John ‘Provo’ McDonnell as shadow chancellor shortly after being elected leader. This is a man who once read from Mao’s Little Red Book in the Commons during an exchange with George Osborne, and openly praised what he described as the “bravery of the IRA and people like Bobby Sands”. A man who has on more than one occasion said that he’d like to bring his political opponents to trial as “social criminals”.

In the event that Labour win this election, the disaster-prone Diane Abbott, who also quite openly supported the Provisional IRA in the ’80s, would be our Home Secretary. Jeremy thinks that’s a good idea evidently. I don’t think I do.

And Corbyn appointed Angela Rayner, a woman who left school at 16 without qualifications and who can barely manage a coherent sentence, to be shadow Education Secretary.

Corbyn pocketed £20,000 from Iranian state TV at a time when that country was hanging people from cranes for the crime of being gay. When questioned about this in a Pink News Q&A session, his defence was that this was “not an enormous amount”.

Perhaps most disturbingly of all, under Corbyn’s leadership, anti-semitism appears to have found a natural home in the Labour Party, which is one of only two parties found to have met the necessary evidentiary threshold to warrant being investigated for racism by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (the other is the BNP).

In its submission to that organisation, the Jewish Labour Movement – again, not an instrument of the right-leaning press – concluded that the Labour Party is no longer a safe space for Jewish people based on the testimonies of former staff, Labour members and officials.

Several Jewish Labour MPs have been driven out of the party. The MP for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger, was subjected to what she described as a “torrent of anti-semitic abuse” from Labour supporters before she left the Labour Party over its “institutional anti-semitism”.

Corbyn has frequently championed individuals and organisations who have denied the Holocaust.

The activist and social commentator Sara Gibbs – a Labour Party member, not a puppet of the right wing press or the Conservative Party – conducted an extremely thorough investigation into Labour’s anti-semitism crisis, in forensic detail. In it she argues that Corbyn personally holds “deeply rooted anti-semitic beliefs which are too intrinsically held to recognise”. It’s a fascinating (if long) read, and you can do so here:

Asked during an interview to apologise for his failure to deal with anti-semitism, the Labour leader refused to do so – four times.

A common defence made by Labour supporters against allegations of anti-semitism in their party is that they are “smears”. A brief skim through Gibbs’ work will show that they aren’t. The other classic defence is the whataboutery gambit, the yes-but-the-Tories-are-Islamophobic defence.

While there have certainly been instances of Tory councillors and similar making stupid Islamophobic remarks, these have been dealt with promptly and properly. Any suggestion that the Tory Party is a natural home for Islamophobes or that it is institutionally racist is without foundation.

It is true that Boris Johnson once described the burka as “oppressive and ridiculous”, describing those who wear it as looking like letterboxes. I submit that this is a view held by many liberals, perhaps most often by feminists. It’s a view that has more to do with the dehumanisation of women than with Islam, most of whose adherents don’t actually wear one in any case. And actually, in the article in which Boris employed that colourful turn of phrase, he was arguing against the burka being banned.

You can find an article online written by the left-leaning commentator Polly Toynbee in which she speaks of the burka in far more contemptuous, lurid terms than that, yet somehow she is not normally considered an Islamophobe.

But I digress.

I could probably spend another couple of hours writing about Corbyn’s appalling character and judgement. I don’t really want to do that though, because it’s depressing enough already. As a general observation: it’s baffling to me that a Labour MP would spend his career in Parliament campaigning for international terrorist and radical / groups rather than concerning himself with the welfare of working people in general and his constituents in particular.

I’ll wrap up that subject with one last thought. It isn’t lost even on the majority of Labour MPs that Corbyn is unfit to be Prime Minister, or even the leader of their party. The Parliamentary Labour Party voted to support a no-confidence motion in their leader in June 2016. This passed by 172 votes to 40, but Corbyn did not have the integrity or personal dignity to stand down.

So: I’ve explained why I want to vote Conservative in a positive sense, and why I think it important for a person of conscience to vote against Labour.

But what of the Brexit Party, and the Lib Dems? Or UKIP?

Well, briefly: the Brexit Party isn’t standing in my constituency anyway, so for me that’s not even an option. However – their basic stance is that the PM’s withdrawal deal is not acceptable, and they would oppose it. My own view is that it is an honourable compromise that properly achieves the essential purpose of leaving the European Union. They probably won’t get a single seat in the Commons and the great risk is that voting for them splits the Brexit vote, making a fulfilment of the referendum result less likely and risking an extremist / anti-semitic government taking power.

And the Lib Dems? Again there is no possibility that they will form a government, but they might prevent a Conservative government in a hung parliament. In any case their blunt anti-Brexit policy – they would simply cancel it, and pretend the referendum never happened – is obviously a slap in the face to millions of ordinary people who voted to leave, and won that argument in 2016. There’s something rather unsavoury and cultish about their servile devotion to the European Union.

Since Nigel Farage stepped down as leader UKIP have entertained a series of ineffectual leaders, finally lurching to the far right, even hiring Tommy Robinson as an adviser in 2018. I have no truck with or tolerance for that.

I don’t live in Scotland, but if I did, might I vote for the SNP? Well they are fundamentally a single issue party (Scottish independence, of course) with a side order of contempt for the referendum. Their repeated mantra that Scotland voted to remain in the EU is undermined somewhat by the fact that Scotland wasn’t actually a constituency in the EU referendum, and nor is it a member of the EU. They would undoubtedly prop up a Corbyn government. But if, as a Scot, I wanted independence from the UK, I’d vote for them. If I didn’t – I wouldn’t. I don’t have a dog in that fight.

In summary then – on Thursday, I’ll cast my vote  to support our economy and society and to reward a strong record in office.

I’ll cast my vote to defend our Jewish community, genuinely and justifiably frightened of a Corbyn government.

And I’ll be thinking especially too of the poor and vulnerable – people who depend on the NHS; people who can’t afford to lose their jobs to economic failure. People, in other words, who cannot afford to depend on a society broken by socialism.

For them especially I will vote Conservative, and I’ll do that for them gladly.

Please do feel free to share this piece, in whole or in part, on any other forum or social media where it might be useful. I’ve tried to conduct this exercise as scrupulously fairly as possible, and I hope that my analysis might help people who have not yet made up their mind to come to a balanced and sensible decision.


Hi again, Theresa.

So: you’re the leader of a mainstream political party. Not only that; you’re the Prime Minister. Your main job, which you’ve promised faithfully to carry out – a promise on which your party was returned to power at the last election (the one you royally fucked up, though we need not dwell on that here) – is make sure your country leaves the European Union.

You repeatedly assure your supporters – for the great majority of whom, this is actually rather important – and anyone else who will listen, that you understand that no deal is better than a bad deal. You promise, emphatically, time after time, that you will take the UK out of the European Union in March 2019.

And then you don’t do that.

Instead – you obsessively push a deal with the EU that is clearly a sham; a Brexit In Name Only that almost nobody wants. Your intention to do this prompts the resignation of a number of senior cabinet ministers. Not unexpectedly, it’s rejected by Parliament – in no small part thanks to those of your own MPs who respect the people’s democratic choice, want to defend it, and are considerably more in touch with your supporters’ wishes and expectations than you are.

You keep trying to crowbar it through Parliament, even after it has been rejected emphatically, three times.

Instead of trying to accommodate those in your parliamentary party who best represent your supporters in their desire to rid their country of the EU, instead you attempt to defeat them, by negotiating with Corbyn and the Labour Party, whom your supporters naturally and quite properly despise.

Let me restate that, because I think it’s important. You opted to collaborate with the racist, terrorist-sympathetic, Marxist hard-left against those in your party who best represent the values of your supporters.

What exactly did you think would happen?

Theresa and the Poison Parliament

So: our leader has promised to resign if she gets her awful deal through, and that – combined with the grim prospect that their fellow parliamentarians might succeed in their attempt to force the British people to stay in the EU against their expressed will – has persuaded the ERG, or most of them, to go along with it.

It’s now clear that the Conservatives’ allies in the Parliamentary DUP will vote against the deal again and that therefore, she’s more likely to fail. But either way – she’s toast.

I can well understand that many will be dismayed at the power a small parliamentary party is able to wield in the Commons, but that’s the way our representative democracy works.  The Lib Dems exploited it. The Greens, God forbid, would jump at the chance. Those are the breaks, folks.

There’s always the possibility of course that the People’s Remain Speaker of the House of Commons will enjoy his moment in the spotlight again, and refuse to allow the vote. He is something like a Premier League referee who thinks that the crowd have come to see him hand out penalties and red cards.  But – greatly to his own chagrin no doubt, that seems not to matter very much now.

As I type this, I’m waiting to hear the results of the “indicative motions” held today in proceedings hijacked by the contemptible Conservative hardline remainer Oliver Letwin and friends.  I have no doubt that what most of our parliamentary representatives will have voted for are the options that most closely resemble staying in the EU – utterly against the spirit of the referendum, and of our democracy itself.  One positive though is that the voting records will be published in Hansard, so these bastards will not be able to hide from their constituents what they are trying to do to them; namely colluding with foreign powers against their wishes and interests.

The PM is under no obligation to take heed of these recommendations of course, if indeed coherent recommendations do emerge. And our enemies at the EU have no power to negotiate our withdrawal with Oliver Letwin, or our parliament. Theresa is still the only game in town.

In fact, what I think many may not realise is that she still has it in her gift to leave the EU without a deal.  Not on Friday, but certainly next month or in May.  She has said that she won’t do that without Parliament’s approval, but of course she’s said a lot of things over the last few years that somehow didn’t turn out to correspond to real life.  There must be a small possibility that she was operating a little Project Fear of her own, to persuade the ERG to back her deal.

And she absolutely should take us straight out of the EU without a deal. It would be a defining, historic act of statesmanship in what has otherwise been a disappointing spell in office. It may well be the best or only way to ensure that the referendum result is respected. It would concentrate minds across the channel. And it would substantially improve our negotiating position with the EU for the various agreements on trade and cooperation that would surely follow, and follow quickly.

So I wonder if there’s a small chance that she will, in the end, do the right thing? Of course this would provoke torrential panty-wetting in the opposition parties who would have us believe that the sky will fall in in the event of a sharp, clean break with the EU – but you have to admit, Theresa can take it. She just keeps on walking into the bullets.

And right now, she doesn’t have an awful lot to lose.

I don’t know if she reads my blog – I expect not, but just in case you do, I’ve written a speech for you, Prime Minister. Change it around a bit if you like but keep the gist, please. Put your own spin on it to close it out.

It is a source of considerable disappointment to me that I have been unable to persuade Parliament to agree to the withdrawal agreement that I have negotiated over these last two years. However, I must tell you that I have decided that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union on <insert preferred date here> without a deal. The risk otherwise is that Brexit may never take place at all – and as Prime Minister, I simply cannot allow that to happen. I acknowledge that there may be difficult times in the coming months, but the government will do everything it can to prepare, and to mitigate the consequences.

I also understand that some will be surprised by this, but frankly, no-one should be – it was always my position that no deal is better than a bad deal, and that we would leave the EU with or without a deal – and in the Conservative manifesto for the General Election of 2017, I made an explicit commitment to this <keep a straight face here, please>.

This has been a difficult decision. There are no easy choices here. But let no-one misunderstand that the consequences of allowing Parliament to ride roughshod over the wishes of the electorate, freely expressed during the greatest democratic exercise in our country’s history, would be severe. As Prime Minister, the duty to prevent this rests with me. I simply cannot in good conscience abrogate that responsibility. I will not allow the public’s confidence in our politics to suffer the irreparable harm that would follow a defiance of the British people’s explicit instruction, clearly expressed during the referendum of 2016.

We can only hope.

The Orville

I felt slightly violated when I first read about, and saw still images from a new science-fiction TV programme called The Orville. It looked unbelievably derivative of The Next Generation-era Star Trek.

Then a couple of days ago I read a positive review of it, and I discovered that I have the first episode free with Amazon Prime. So I watched it, last night.

I was right. It is blatantly a Star Trek rip off – so much so though that I realised that this was actually the whole point. It’s an homage.

In this first episode I noticed, for example: a holodeck. A “starship” explicitly referred to as such. A shuttle craft. The starships have warp drive, and although it’s called “quantum drive”, they do the same flash of light BOOM! when the ship goes to warp.

The layout of the ship’s bridge is pretty much the same as any Federation vessel, with two helm officers sitting in front of the Captain’s chair, and a view-screen in front of them. The doors hiss open in exactly the same way. The overall styling is also very reminiscent of TNG and Voyager, especially in the clothing and decor.

The CGI is entirely adequate. It’s about the same standard as Star Trek: Voyager, which considering that series is over 20 years old now is not saying a lot. But it’s definitely good enough. Perhaps I’m misremembering that anyway.

Some of the characters seem a bit thin or even pointless so far, particularly the conniving First Lady from the first couple of series of 24 (Penny Johnson Jerald) – who’s a physician in this one. But perhaps they’ll be fleshed out.

It doesn’t have any of the tradition and gravitas of course of the Star Trek franchise, but the approach is different. They’re doing something different here. It’s played for laughs. It’s pretty much a comedy, to the point where the story is more or less a vehicle for the gags. It reminded me of the old Star Trek spoof movie with Sigourney Weaver and Alan Rickman, Galaxy Quest.

What I’ve seen so far (trailers mainly) of the new, official franchise TV series Star Trek: Discovery does not appeal to me very much so far. It looks rather dark. It doesn’t really seem to have the spirit of any of the old Star Trek TV series.

And neither, for different reasons, does The Orville. But it does at least seem to be a lot more fun. I really liked the first episode and will be giving the rest of the first series a go.

UPDATE: I watched the second episode, and hugely enjoyed it. I love what they’ve done with the Star Trek idea in this series. It doesn’t have the drama, or the emotion, or – if it’s not too grandiose a way to put it – the philosophy of the decades-old franchise on which it is based. But it does have wit, charm and humour in abundance. And it’s done with great affection.


I was relieved and pleased to see Theresa May’s “Chequers plan” – effectively an instrument of surrender to the EU – being shot down in flames by the resignations of Messrs Davis, Johnson and others. This was an attempt to fashion a Brexit in name only, not the exit from the EU that the British people have every right to expect.

Even Peter Mandelson has accepted that leaving the EU with no deal at all would be preferable to May’s humiliating betrayal of the people she was elected to serve.

And yet – I do believe that she could and would have delivered an honourable and clean Brexit if she hadn’t been undermined and frustrated by those in her parliamentary party – even in her own cabinet – who wish to deny the people the choice they made in what was the biggest vote in this country’s history, for anything.

It’s clear now that she has approached Brexit as a damage limitation exercise rather than an opportunity. In other words she has utterly missed the point and the spirit of the people’s historic choice to shape their own destiny.

It’s an extraordinary time in the UK political scene. The spectrum of opinion on the EU and our relation to it seems to cut across the usual left-right spectrum at an awkward angle, defying party lines and making it impossible for either of the main parties to capitalise on it. This has made British politics volatile and unpredictable.

For me the great worry is the potential for the Labour Party, in its present backward, fanatical and extremist form, to take advantage of the current state of chaos. We could find ourselves under the jackboot of a government led by a man who loathes his own country and everything it stands for; a blinkered fanatic who believes in the political homeopathy of socialism, in charge of a hard left administration that might set the clock back 50 years and cause widespread misery – not for the few who could afford to ride out the storm, but for the many.

To undo their damage would be the work of decades. Meanwhile, you could well find yourself going on a waiting list with the state communications monopoly for the privilege of having a new telephone, in a few years time (you wouldn’t own it, by the way – your equipment would belong to the state like it did in the ’70s, and so would you).

The key to the Brexit / Remain conundrum is to remember that the matter has been settled. It was put to a referendum two years ago, and the case for independence and self-determination was won. A solution to the present chaos is not to be found on the wrong side of history.

It will not be found by pandering to the losing side of the defining political argument of our time.

The Tango Briefing

I don’t read books often, but downloaded a novel by the British author Elleston Trevor to my Kindle just before going on holiday to Cornwall, and I finished it in about a week.

The Tango Briefing is one of 19 novels written by Trevor under the nom-de-plume Adam Hall, about an enigmatic British secret service ‘executive’ (agent) named Quiller. Trevor also wrote The Flight Of The Phoenix, which became a famous James Stewart film 50-odd years ago and was remade in 2004. Some readers may also be familiar with a 1966 film, The Quiller Memorandum, with George Segal as the eponymous super-spy.

I particularly wanted to read Tango Briefing because a Quiller TV series was broadcast by the BBC in 1975. It has never been repeated, and the only episode I can remember was based on this book.

This one was written in 1973 and doesn’t have the usual cold war theme. Instead, Quiller has to find a freighter plane with a mysterious, sensitive and top-secret cargo that’s come down in the Sahara, before various Arab government and security agencies can find it.

I found it a frustrating, occasionally irritating but ultimately rewarding read. It’s a cracking story, told in the first person – but bloody hell, he takes his time telling it – in a long-winded, rambling stream-of-consciousness style, sometimes taking in plot aspects that contribute nothing ultimately to the story.

He also has this little trick of taking you by surprise by casually referring to something you haven’t quite found out about yet, for dramatic effect – “it occurred to me, in one of those stray thoughts that pass through our minds at unlikely moments, that it wasn’t a very easy death I was giving him” – Er, what? Oh, right! Even though he’s got you under armed guard, you’re about to kill him!

And it gets a bit wearing after a while.

I honestly think you could improve the book by judiciously removing about 40% of it. It does need an edit. But it won’t get one, and it’s worth a few hours of your time anyway if you’re into this sort of thing.

Actually while writing this it’s just occurred to me, in one of those stray thoughts that pass through our minds at unlikely moments, that I said much the same thing about the 1968 film Countdown when I wrote about it a few months ago. Maybe it’s my attention span.

Bad Bohemian

I’m not a tattoo person. I managed to clock up more than half a century without having one.

But at a British Sea Power gig at Sheffield earlier this year, arms aloft, enraptured by the life-affirming chorus of the brilliant Bad Bohemian, a song from the album Let The Dancers Inherit The Party, I decided that I wanted to make some sort of permanent dedication – a commitment – to the idea of the song, to the band, and to the moment.

At another BSP gig in Nottingham this month I had the same experience and that cemented my intention. So I made the following image, derived from the official video of the song.

From this, on Monday this week, a tattoo artist made an outline transfer which she applied to my upper left arm at her premises in Ashby.

Then when I gave her the nod, she made it permanent with a scary motorised needle device and black ink. It extends down my upper arm from near the shoulder, down toward the elbow. It’s 120mm in length.

It took about 40 minutes. It was bloody painful. Not agonising, but definitely an ordeal. I started to feel dizzy and sick after the first 10 minutes or so. She told me this was an adrenalin reaction, and normal. I recovered after a couple of minutes and was OK after that, but I was extremely glad when she told me she was finished.

All a bit grim at first with redness and soreness and traces of blood smeared under clingfilm, but I have taken great care of it with simple soap, moisturiser and Savlon as recommended by the artist, and it looks rather good now. The skin where the letters are indelibly printed has started to go a bit dry, itchy and flaky – all normal of course – but it’s no longer sore. It’ll take another week or two before it’s healed and settled in.

I must say she did an excellent job – very accurate and very neatly executed.

It’s pretty discreet. Under a t-shirt, you either can’t see it at all, or only the last couple of characters are visible – depending on sleeve length, of course.

Even so I must admit I did go through a WHAT HAVE I DONE TO MYSELF phase for a few hours on Tuesday. But that has passed; a mere period of adjustment. For sure, there’s a certain dichotomy with my urbane, middle-class professional self-image. But that only enhances the appeal. I’m very pleased with it.

And anyway, in the words of the song which inspired my, er, body art – what’s done, is done – and there’ll be no redemption.

Oh, Don’t let us die
While we are still alive!