25 years ago today: Margaret Thatcher resigns

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25 years ago today, Margaret Thatcher resigned as prime minister. She bowed to the inevitable after her cabinet finally rebelled against her autocratic rule.

I blogged at length about Britain’s first woman prime minister when she died in 2013. I titled that post ‘the woman who changed Britain’ – which she did, for both good and ill. She was a force of nature, unlike almost all of her successors. Only Tony Blair came close.

Paris, Facebook and the fight for humanity

Paris 2014

Paris 2014: the city and people we love

Bravo to family and friends who have turned their Facebook profile photos into a tricolour in respect for the victims of Friday’s appalling murders in Paris.

I love France and the French, and grieve for them and everyone else who died in this assault on humanity. But I won’t be changing my profile photo. I feel equally sad for those who have been savagely killed in Beirut, on the Russian airliner, on the beaches of Tunisia and across the Middle East. And those who have perished fleeing the death cults of the Middle East.

I just wish we could find some way to combat such brutal, medieval tribes that wish to defeat those who hold different values. The sad truth is that the western powers will most likely respond in a way that makes things worse, not better.

It’s easy to change your profile photo. That’s not to say that doing so has no meaning. I’m sure it will bring some comfort to the people of France, a country that millions of us love and cherish. But I’d rather see brilliant minds across Europe thinking how we can turn the tide of hatred. The west has a grim record of intervening in the Middle East without thinking or caring about the consequences, from Britain, France and Israel’s 1956 Suez adventure through to the 2003 Iraq invasion.

Please prove me wrong.

Please, no more Aylan tragedies

Please let Aylan be the last victim

Please let Aylan be the last victim. Photo: Reuters

This tragic image shook Europe into action. It shook an unthinking and uncaring continent into thinking about the tragedies unfolding every day, and rethinking its prejudices. Aylan Kurdi, we will honour your memory and make sure your short life has a historic legacy.

At last, the likes of Britain’s Daily Mail realised that the people fleeing to Europe were refugees desperate to escape death and persecution in the Middle East and North Africa, rather than opportunists seeking European welfare. I applaud Germany and Austria for their warm-hearted welcome for thousands of refugees. How I wish that David Cameron’s government could have shown a fraction of that humanity. How petty and uncaring these millionaire politicians appear as they turn their backs on the tragic flow of desperate people who simply want a safe future for their families. And how shocking it is that the London Standard newspaper thought Eurostar disruption was the story, rather than the plight of desperate refugees.

Over 40 years ago, a very different Conservative government welcomed to Britain some 30,000 Ugandan Asians who had been expelled by murderous dictator Idi Amin. The new arrivals made a significant contribution to the life and economy of Britain.

It has been hugely encouraging to see the positive response on social media to a more human approach to the crisis. That most intelligent commentator, Mathew Parris, said: “What kind of primitives have we become that we need to see a drowned person before we acknowledge to ourselves that people are drowning? Did we not know, had we not read, that migrant children drowned?” So true, yet sometimes one stark, appalling image transforms opinions. The best solution is surely to make the refugees’ homelands safe for them to stay or return – but over a decade of Western military interventions in the region has corroded our reputation.

How sad that the summer of tragedy on Europe’s beaches saw the death of Sir Nicholas Winton, ‘Britain’s Schindler’. Then as now, Britain was slow to help people desperate to flee death and persecution. Then as now, bureaucracy was a killer. Yet the wonderful Winton secured safe passage in 1939 for over 600 children from Czechoslovakia. The story has an echo in Mr Gruber in the wonderful film Paddington, with its echoes of the Kindertransport. How apt and poignant that German and Austria have been quicker than Britain to welcome the 2015 counterparts of the families of 1939.

General election 2015: the humble act of voting

Voting generations

Poll position: voting generations

Britain elected a new parliament today. I always feel humble and emotional when I vote. Men and women have died for democracy – and I recall those long ago battles when I place a cross on a ballot paper.

Queuing to vote, 2015

Queuing to vote, 2015

As I write this, the BBC’s exit poll suggests the Tories have done better than expected. We shall see.

As we took Owen with us to the polling station in Chalfont St Giles, I explained that his paternal great grandmothers both waited a long time to vote – because women were deprived of equal votes with men until 1928. I think my dad’s mother was 38 before she voted in 1929.  Her last vote would have been in the 1992 election.

If you didn’t vote, don’t complain if you don’t like the government that results from today’s election.

PS: I turned the car radio on for the 8am news headlines as we went to vote. The main story on BBC Radio 5 Live was tomorrow’s 70th anniversary of VE Day. An important day from his grandparents’ early days.

The Daily Telegraph turns Torygraph

I cancelled my digital subscription to the Daily Telegraph today. A shame, because it’s one of my favourite news apps. But I’m not willing to pay £10 a month for what has become a general election propaganda sheet for the Conservative party. I’ll get enough of that for free through the letterbox. It’s living up to the Torygraph tag.

Hold the front page: business leaders support the Tories. In other news, the Pope's a catholic

Hold the front page: business leaders support the Tories. 

Every front page lead story for the past six days has attacked Labour or carried a pro-Tory message. Today’s reported that 100 business leaders think that Labour threatens the economy.

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Europe: a dangerous obsession

Introduction

I wrote the article below in 1995. It’s eerie how little has changed in 20 years – the only conclusion I’d change is the assertion that few people would have voted in a referendum about whether Britain should join the euro.

Europe – a dangerous obsession

Rob Skinner, March 1995

British democracy is at crisis point. Not just because fifteen years without a change of government has left the nation restless for change. Not even as a result of former ministers making sleazy, easy money in a privatised quangocracy.

No, this crisis is a case of obsession. The subject of this obsessions is Europe, the perpetrators politicians and the media alike. This single topic dominates news bulletins, current affairs programmes and the leader columns of the national press. Yet it utterly fails to stimulate the nation.

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Emily Thornberry, Rochester and Labour’s crisis

Emily Thornberry white van tweet

This is the tweet that plunged the Labour party into crisis. Emily Thornberry was forced to resign after sending it as the Tories were losing the Rochester by-election to UKIP. The result? Labour, not the Tories, were seen to be the greatest losers from the fact sitting MP Mark Reckless retained the seat for UKIP after defecting from the Tories.

It’s a sorry tale that makes me despair even more about British politics. Here’s why:

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Final thoughts on Scotland’s independence vote

Scotland decides

Scotland decides

On Thursday, Scotland will decide whether to become an independent country. This time next week we might be coming to terms with the end of Britain. I’ve blogged a few times about the independence vote, starting with the 2012 Edinburgh agreement between the UK and Scottish governments to hold a referendum. More recently, I voiced concern that the rest of the country was paying more attention to the Great British Bake Off than the Great British Break Up. That has changed at the eleventh hour as the British establishment finally realised that the union was in deadly peril.

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Guardian wrong on Chris Huhne – readers’ editor

The Guardian’s readers editor Chris Elliott today accepted the paper was wrong to allow Chris Huhne to use his weekly column to attack convicted judge Constance Briscoe’s part in his own conviction.

I blogged my disgust at Huhne’s column the day it appeared. I think the Guardian made a misjudgement giving Huhne a weekly column. But this crass piece was the final straw. Continue reading

Chris Huhne: The Guardian’s shame

Convicted criminal and Guardian columnist Chris Huhne

Chris Huhne, convicted criminal and columnist

I was horrified when The Guardian gave convicted criminal Chris Huhne a weekly column. It was a big misjudgement. But today’s column, in which the former cabinet minister wallowed in self pity about his conviction, marked a new low.

To recap. Chris Huhne is the liar who put lives at risk. As I blogged when he was convicted:

The act of deception that destroyed his career was intended to avoid a driving ban. Yet just weeks later he was banned anyway, for using his mobile phone while driving. The man is a menace. And any sympathy we may have for his former wife – Huhne walked out on their 26 year marriage – is tempered by the fact she put other people at risk through their reckless act of conspiracy.

This foolish and vain man says in his column today:

Although I was guilty, I justified my denial to myself by saying that it was a relatively minor offence committed by 300,000 other people.

That’s all right then. Lots of other drivers put lives at risk, so it doesn’t matter. The man has learned nothing. He cares only about himself. The conviction of Constance Briscoe is irrelevant: as he concedes in the column, his own conviction was justified. Yet this awful man compares his carriage of justice (we can’t call it a miscarriage as he admits he was guilty) with the Stafford NHS scandal, in which people died. The man is as dim as he is vain.

What possessed the Guardian to give so much valuable editorial space to this man? It’s not as if he has any valuable insight, or has achieved anything in his political career that made him a catch as a columnist. This grubby business is such a contrast with The Guardian’s Pullitzer prize for its NSA revelations.

I should add that I don’t object to newspapers employing convicted criminals as columnists. I supported The Guardian when it was attacked over its columnist Erwin James, a convicted murderer, who had worthwhile insights into the criminal justice system without any sense of brushing aside his crimes.

Let’s hope that the paper sees sense and axes this weekly insult to its readers.