Getting rid of May doesn’t resolve the worst thing about her deal

The papers are full of speculation that Theresa May’s days as Prime Minister are numbered. So far so like every other day for the past year or so. If current reports are to be believed, up to 11 members of the Cabinet are poised to replace her with David Lidington, Michael Gove or Jeremy Hunt […]

The papers are full of speculation that Theresa May’s days as Prime Minister are numbered. So far so like every other day for the past year or so.

If current reports are to be believed, up to 11 members of the Cabinet are poised to replace her with David Lidington, Michael Gove or Jeremy Hunt pending a leadership contest in the Autumn.

This was always the danger though. If she got her deal through, she would always have been quietly – or not- dumped later this year and the new leader would preside over negotiations with the EU on a longer term trade deal. It is likely that that leader would be someone who was acceptable to the ERG. That means they would be after all sorts of impossible unicorns like a free trade deal where they had to comply with absolutely none of the EU’s rules.

There is no way the EU would agree to the carefully crafted single market being compromised – and nor should they. The level playing field across Europe is a very good thing and leaving it is an act of folly.

But it’s not only trade deals with the EU that need to be forged. It’s trade deals with the rest of the world. We would be at a distinct disadvantage negotiating on our own with China and the US. Vince keeps citing the example of Switzerland whose access to Chinese markets is next to nothing while the Chinese access to Swiss markets is almost total.

And being on the receiving end of a trade deal that would be acceptable to Donald Trump is not something that anyone should relish. Remember the fuss over whether TTIP would compromise our NHS? Well how much do you trust right wing Tories to protect our NHS in the first place? But also, when you show up at negotiations with 27 of your mates you have more clout rather than when you pitch up on your own with a whiff of desperation about you.

Replacing the leader does not make the deal she has negotiated and the entire Cabinet has signed up to any more palatable and it shouldn’t make it easier to get it through.

I actually wonder, though, if she could actually be forced out. She is, as we have all seen, pretty stubborn.

Would a large scale cabinet revolt actually make any difference? Gordon Brown clung on between 2009-10. Jeremy Corbyn has clung on in defiance of his MPs and there is still pretty much a free for all on the Labour benches. He has the support of the party in the country though and the same can’t be said for May. And it’s easier in opposition to function when you don’t have a cohesive team.

Oh to be a fly on the wall at that Cabinet meeting tomorrow. Although we might as well be because details seem to appear in the press after them these days as all sides play to their respective galleries.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Layla responds to rumours about 2013 incident

In a tweet last night, Layla Moran set out what happened at the 2013 Autumn conference. There had been rumours and speculation about it for some time.

Hi everyone. I have a story I want to share….
— Layla Moran …

In a tweet last night, Layla Moran set out what happened at the 2013 Autumn conference. There had been rumours and speculation about it for some time.

Senior Tories’ message for Theresa May: ‘It’s time to go’

Gove and Lidington both reported to have support to take over as UK prime minister.

Senior members of the Conservative Party have told the Cabinet that now is the time to get rid of Theresa May.

According to several reports in the British press Sunday, a number of names have been suggested as caretaker prime minister if May is ousted, including Michael Gove and David Lidington.

In the Telegraph, Nicky Morgan, a former Cabinet minister and Remain supporter, said of May: “Unfortunately, I think that what started off as qualities that people admired are the ones that now mean she’s not the flexible leader to find a way through this.

“I understand that it is difficult to say to someone that it’s time to go. But there are enough people around the Cabinet table who can step up … and she’s got to listen.”

In the same paper, former Brexit minister Steve Baker had a message for the Cabinet: “If they will not act now when are they ever going to be seen to step forward and how could they possibly persuade the country that they’re the great statesmen to take us forward?”

In the Mail, an unnamed “government source” said there is “complete unanimity” that May has to go, with Environment Secretary Michael Gove the “consensus choice” to replace her in Downing Street. Pro-Remain Cabinet ministers such as Chancellor Philip Hammond and Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd are reported to have been backing Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington to take over from May.

David Davis, May’s first Brexit secretary, writes in the Telegraph that the EU treated the prime minister with “humiliating disdain” and if her deal doesn’t pass in parliament at the third time of asking, she should be prepared to leave the EU with no deal.

Andrew Smith: Whatever indicative votes produce, let it not be Norway Plus

It would be dangerous for UK business and would leave both Leavers and Remainers dissatisfied. It would leave Britain subject to free movement.

Andrew Smith is a councillor in Westminster and a consultant for Cicero Group. He writes in a personal capacity. 

The possibility of indicative votes, giving MPs the option to vote on a number of possible Brexit outcomes to see which one might be able to gain the support of a majority, seems to have energised both Conservative and Labour supporters of a so-called “Norway Plus” model, or Common Market 2.0, This option would keep the UK in the Single Market as a member of the EEA and would additionally include a Customs Union.

Conservative supporters of the idea first proposed it as ‘Norway for Now’ – a temporary safe harbour to help UK business make the complex transition from being a full member of the EU.  The plan of the Common Market 2.0 group now seems to be for the Norway option to be the long-term outcome of Brexit.

Supporters of this proposal often suggest that it is a business-friendly outcome and a compromise approach which can unite Leavers and Brexiteers.  In reality, a Norway solution would be dangerous for UK business and would leave both Leavers and Remainers dissatisfied.

I wrote on this site in 2017 that a deal which left us in the Single Market for the long term would not be a sustainable option for UK business. Being subject to all current and future EU regulations, but being unable to influence them, might work for economies of Norway, Iceland, and Lichtenstein, but it would be unsustainable in the long term for a diverse and complex economy like Britain’s. Only those few multinational businesses with the ability to influence Government and MEPs from remaining member states would have any voice at all on regulation impacting on their sector

Mark Carney, the hard Brexiteers, bête noire, has made it clear that the Norway option would be a dangerous one for the UK financial services, leaving Europe’s largest financial centre a sitting duck for European regulators, taking rules but having no formal say in their development.

For the vast majority of those who supported leaving the EU, a Norway option simply wouldn’t be Brexit.  As well as leaving the UK subject to Single Market rules it would leave the UK subject to the freedom of movement.

Claims that an emergency break or the unique arrangement enjoyed by Lichtenstein to control EEA migration into a country of 35,000 offer a model that could give the UK meaningful control over migration aren’t realistic. This paper by Open Europe, written before the referendum, provides a detailed analysis of what a Norway option would mean for freedom of movement, and should be required reading for all those contemplating the idea.

For those who supported remaining, rather than being a happy compromise, Norway would be a position of frustration, with the UK bearing most of the responsibilities if EU membership but having very little say in shaping how the EU does things.

The lack of accountability for issues that would affect the day to day life of all British workers and consumers would be even worse than the democratic deficit inherent in our membership of the EU. ‘Vassal state’, the term frequently used by Conservative Brexiters to attack the Prime Minister’s deal, was actually coined by Labour’s Barry Gardiner to attack the idea of the UK remaining in the EEA. He was spot on. For those from the Left or the Right, the idea of an economy as large and complex as the UK’s being subject to rules over which we have no say should be an anathema.

Supporters of the Norway model seem to believe that their solution would provide an answer to the Northern Ireland backstop by remaining aligned to the Single market and adding a Customs union – the plus in Norway plus.  Simply bolting on a customs union isn’t as simple as supporters of the idea believe.  The UK couldn’t simply join EFTA while remaining in the EU customs union. This would prevent the seamless transition from our current membership.

As Parliament searches for an acceptable outcome to the Brexit standoff, compromise is needed.  MPs can’t ignore the decision of the majority of British voters to support leaving the EU, but have also to accept that the idea of an ideologically pure ‘clean’ Brexit is a mirage which would be a huge risk to the UK economy.

Rather than delivering a workable compromise solution, a Norway solution would deliver bad outcome for supporters both of leaving and remaining.  If and when MPs do get the chance to vote on a series of  Brexit options, Norway Plus needs to be rejected. MPs will need to find better solutions which recognise the need for the UK economy to maintain close relations with the EU as a our largest trading partner.

Coronation (headless) chicken

May should go in mid-April. But attempts to appoint a successor uncontested will only stir further chaos in the hen coop.

  • On April 12, Britain is due to move out of a short extension either into No Deal (which is unlikely) or a long extension (which is likely).  In the latter event, Theresa May should stand down on that date as Conservative leader, but stay on temporarily as Prime Minister.  This would allow the Party to hold a leadership election with both Parliamentary and membership stages, which would be impracticable before mid-April.  The new leader would then succeed May as Prime Minister in, say, mid-June.
  • If May gives such a commitment to her Cabinet on Monday, and makes it public later that day, her deal stands a better chance of being approved by the Commons this week.  But endorsement would still be far from certain.  Such a pledge might not persuade the DUP to back it.  And even if it did, the “Spartans” will hold out.  If Opposition MPs hold fast too, the agreement will still go down.  Whatever you view of the deal, this is worth bearing in mind.
  • Now suppose that May instead agrees to quit immediately.  Today’s papers are full of the names of potential successors as Prime Minister, including David Lidington, Michael Gove and Jeremy Hunt.  How would a handover work?  Is it suggested that May stay as Party leader until after a post-April 12 leadership election – thereby allowing a replacement, temporary Prime Minister to serve until that contest produced a new leader, presumably at some point in early-to-mid June?
  • If so, would a new Prime Minister be prepared to take office under that constraint?  Is Hunt, Gove, Lidington or anyone else really prepared to serve in office for less than twelve weeks?  If not, is it proposed that the person who might lead the Party into the next election is selected unopposed?  We name 19 potential leadership contenders in our regularly monthly Next Tory Leader survey question.  There are doubtless others.  Is it seriously suggested that all but one would be prepared to stand aside?
  • Next, Conservative MPs.  Would they, too, be able to rally round one person?  Consider the names most in the frame.  Lidington would be unacceptable to most hard Brexiteers.  Boris Johnson unacceptable to many softer ones.  Gove and Hunt would be in danger of falling between two stools.  Too pro-hard Brexit; too pro-Soft Brexit; pro-Remain; unpopular with members; unpopular with voters; too tained, too fresh – the objections to any aspirant are legion.  What is meant to bring clarity would breed confusion.
  • Next, Party members.  May was elected unopposed after Andrea Leadsom’s withdrawal from the last contest (in effect).  Her leadership is not ending well.  Why should activists want to see her successor appointed – “crowned”, as Tory MPs like to say – rather than elected after a proper contest?  If it didn’t work out last time, why would it do so this time?  Would such an outcome even be legal under the terms of the Party’s constitution?  Above all: what difference to Brexit policy would this new leader make?
  • Next, the Palace.  Monarchs like coronations – but why should the Queen assent to this one?  She might well say to a departing May: “Now, look here.  You tell me that your Parliamentary Party will accept Mr Lidington as your successor.  But I read gather that some Tory MPs will not support him.  Why shouldn’t I send for Jeremy Corbyn instead?”  The Queen has steered clear of party political controversy for the length of her distinguished reign.  Why should she now be dumped right in the midst of one?
  • Finally, May herself.  What if she simply refuses to go? She cannot be challenged in a leadership ballot until the autumn.  Both the 1922 Committee and the whips have pointed her towards the door.  As we write, she is declining to walk towards it.  If her Cabinet unanimously advises her to quit – and we’ll believe that when we see it – she might be left with no alternative.  But until or unless that happens (or Philip May steps in), she will be hard to winkle out.
  • This site is not set on keeping May in office.  We urged change during December’s leadership challenge.  As we say, we want her to pledge to quit as Party leader, and to depart on April 12 – paving the way for a full leadership contest.  Conservative MPs have had enough of her, too.  No group or faction trusts her.  She has lost the confidence of her Cabinet and whips.  Her disastrously misconceived attack on her own MPs appears to have sealed her fate.
  • None the less, our message to them this morning is: be careful what you wish for.  A post-April 12 Prime Ministerial departure works.  A pre-April 12 one doesn’t.  The Conservative Party is like a man stuck in a swamp.  If he keeps his head, he can work his way out of it.  If he loses it, he will be sucked into the depths.  Lidington Now, Gove Now, Hunt Now, Anyone Now – to attempt anything like this is to flail and thrash about. It will only drag the Government deeper into the swamp which threatens to drown it.

Poor decisions and strategic errors from the very top of Government have defined the Brexit process

There are very few people who are willing to argue publicly that Brexit has been a smooth and easy process. Nor are many likely to say that it has gone the way that most Brexiteers anticipated. Over the course of the past three years there has been a series of poor decisions and strategic errors […]

The post Poor decisions and strategic errors from the very top of Government have defined the Brexit process appeared first on BrexitCentral.

There are very few people who are willing to argue publicly that Brexit has been a smooth and easy process. Nor are many likely to say that it has gone the way that most Brexiteers anticipated. Over the course of the past three years there has been a series of poor decisions and strategic errors in the handling of Brexit. These events have left the UK with an appalling Withdrawal Agreement and a Government without authority or credibility.

Trying the same thing and expecting a different result is often quoted as the definition of insanity, and yet this is now the position of the Government. The Prime Minister intends to bring her Withdrawal Agreement back to the Commons for a third time; but it will not go through Parliament. It suffered the worst government defeat of all time, by 230 votes, and then the fourth worst, by 149 votes.

These were record government defeats and still, the Prime Minister insists upon a third Meaningful Vote even though “nothing has changed”.

This is a ridiculous position for the UK Government to be in, but it is hardly a surprise. The awful Withdrawal Agreement is the result of a Prime Minister making a litany of blunders in her handling of Brexit and refusing to accept that she, like most Remainers, has not understood Brexit. There is a reason that there are so few Brexiteers still in government.

The first sign of the current crisis was the disastrous 2017 general election. All anyone will truly remember from her campaign was her ability to trot out the same meaningless phrases of “Brexit means Brexit” and “strong and stable” despite the clear evidence that nobody believed in her or her position. Naturally, this played out with her blowing record poll leads and the first Conservative majority for almost 20 years.

It demonstrated to the EU her inability to articulate a clear, sensible Brexit policy that could unite the UK and Parliament.

This electoral and parliamentary weakness was then compounded by her decision to give in to the EU’s demands on the progress of negotiations against the advice of the Brexit Secretary at the time, David Davis.

This concession to the EU handed complete control of the agenda to the EU and set the tone for the future of the negotiations. This put the UK in the ludicrous position of being unable to negotiate future arrangements at the same time as its withdrawal, despite the inextricable nature of the future arrangements and the withdrawal.

Theresa May has had little to no control over her Cabinet and ministers, let alone her parliamentary party. Fundamentally, she is too weak to exert any measure of meaningful influence.

Theresa May recognised this weakness, which is why she sought to balance her Cabinet between Remainers and Brexiteers, to assuage both sides of her party and to prevent a split. However, this has been an awful mistake as it has allowed Remainers to hijack the Brexit narrative and push the Prime Minister away from delivering a true Brexit.

Moreover, this strategy has been ineffective as the Conservative Party is now more divided than ever between Brexiteers and Remainers. Theresa May should have backed the Brexiteers in her Cabinet and, by doing so, challenged Remainers to respect the referendum and manifesto or to rebel against the party line. I suspect that, when pushed, most Remainers would have fallen behind the sensible policies put forward by leading Brexiteers like Canada+ or MaxFac.

Moreover, it is mostly Brexiteers who have resigned, whilst high-profile Remainers have stayed within government. This is a telling indicator of both Theresa May’s weakness and the failure of her Brexit proposals.

There are two possible reasons that Remainers are not resigning: perhaps it is because they can snipe against Brexit with impunity or maybe because they know that the proposed Withdrawal Agreement could see us inextricably trussed to the EU – Remain by any other name.

Another issue with prominent Remainers in Cabinet has been the refusal to allow adequate preparation for No Deal. There have been several reports of the Chancellor withholding allocated funding for preparations for a move to WTO terms. The Chancellor is also ultimately responsible for the endless stream of economic propaganda about Brexit, a continuation of the discredited pre-referendum Project Fear – which has been proven so drastically wrong.

Of course, we must not forget that some of the problems in the Brexit process started before the referendum took place. It is a shameful indictment of David Cameron and his Government that they arrogantly refused to allow the Civil Service to start planning for potential Brexit options.

They disregarded the possibility that they could lose the referendum. After all, how could they? The Remain campaign heavily outspent the Leave campaign and had the benefit of official government messaging such as the Government’s leaflet, which cost taxpayers £9 million.

This Government is caught in a seemingly endless cycle of errors, mistakes and poor decisions with each new loop inexorably bringing the Government further away from the lofty heights that Theresa May once promised. But this crisis is one of her own making and the signs were there: we should have seen this coming.

Photocredit:  ©UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor

The post Poor decisions and strategic errors from the very top of Government have defined the Brexit process appeared first on BrexitCentral.

Jo: Our children deserve better than Brexit Britain

British people don’t often take to the streets in massive numbers. And when they do it twice in six months, you would hope that those who represent them at any level take note. 750,000 in October. Estimates of a million today. From Wick to Cornwall and pretty much everywhere in between. You would think that […]

British people don’t often take to the streets in massive numbers. And when they do it twice in six months, you would hope that those who represent them at any level take note.

750,000 in October. Estimates of a million today. From Wick to Cornwall and pretty much everywhere in between.

You would think that if there was a real desperation to leave, there would be another million supporting that cause. But there isn’t. Nigel Farage was surrounded by a couple of dozen people on Sky News.

In contrast, apparently there are still some people to leave Park Lane after the march has finished and dispersed after many speeches in Parliament Square.

Our Deputy Leader Jo Swinson delivered a speech. It is brilliant to see her do so with baby Gabriel in his sling.

Earlier she had spoken to Sky News:

Our former  Climate Change Secretary Ed Davey spoke about how important it was to be part of European efforts to tackle climate change.

This is one of my favourite pictures of the day:


One important thing to take from today, though. It wasn’t just a million remoaners talking to each other and getting high listening to Ode to Joy.

Liberal Democrats were out all over the country knocking on doors. I was out and about in Edinburgh West where I was told on every doorstep that people didn’t want to leave the EU and they liked what we were saying on this.

We are getting noticed and people are liking what they hear from us.

There was an action day across Scotland and across England, campaigning was going on for local elections, too.

The last few days have shown that people really don’t want Brexit. Again. The Government cannot rely on that fragile mandate from 23 June 2016.


* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

Heather Harper: The key to tackling knife crime starts in the home

My decades of experience suggest that the knowledge, experience, and will to combat this crisis is out there. We need to tap it.

Heather Harper MBE is the Chairman of Conservatives Abroad and a former Crimestoppers Volunteer of the Year.

Yet another knife murder? There’s so much media coverage about the pros and cons of putting more police on the street and more money being needed to solve the terrible epidemic of knife crime – but that’s not the solution alone.

Here’s why: with a quick trawl into my 20-year-plus archives, I dug out some incentives successfully integrated into communities to tackle knife crime. These were undertaken during the years when I was a volunteer with the charity Crimestoppers and Thames Valley Police.

Over the last two decades, along with other great partnerships, including DrugFam, I participated in numerous Crimestoppers campaigns and police operations to tackle the scourge of knives on the streets:

  • Gameover4knives
  • Think this keeps you safe?
  • Knife amnesties
  • Say No to Knives
  • Knives Cost Lives
  • Rat on a Rat
  • Drug Dealers Deal in Death

The list goes on. We worked with the families of Damilola Taylor (the young boy who was knifed to death 19 years ago), Ben Kinsella, and many many others who lost their loved ones to street crime.

Back to now. I’m observing an increasing blame culture: blaming the Government and police for not stopping these terrible crimes – and almost everything else.

Blame culture

Let’s stop blaming others for anything that is not right in the community, and think about how we could ‘do something’ to help to fix this. From the many campaigns and incentives I have witnessed over the years, I know therein lies sound knowledge for successfully combating crime when targeted correctly.

Knife crime isn’t new, as evidenced from my 20-year-old archives. But reality is it is currently growing like a disease at an alarming rate in some areas, and like any other disease we must look at the root cause of why it has been spreading over such a long time, and then tackle it at source.

I believe ‘doing something’ about it begins at home. I don’t think the majority of perpetrators wake up with the intent of taking a life. Maybe some do, but either way we need to understand why it happens and do our best to prevent it happening again and again.

I suspect when news breaks of yet another fatality, people think not only of the pain brought to the immediate families but “thank God it’s not one of ours – but it could be”. Seventeen lives (at the moment of writing) have already been lost to knife crime this year. It affects all of us, not one particular group or race or creed, not just the victims or broken families, or those related to the perpetrators.


Families educate from within, but in our busy lives we need to be more alert to when something isn’t right. The reality is that nobody gets lessons on being a parent and – in an age when children absorb so much from the internet – perhaps its time they did.

I’ve also noticed that many times a family bravely takes on the challenge of trying to understand why they have lost a loved one, they get involved and try to help prevent more crime, and another campaign starts. Daily, via the media, I hear dedicated people offering solutions and preventative measures.

These include creating more youth activities that have largely disappeared, teaching respect for those in authority, powerful messages from the criminal justice system, knife amnesty schemes, and many more. We need to link up the thinking, pool research and knowledge, and combine valuable experience with the latest ideas to support the incentives to help stop this horrible ‘disease’.

I don’t profess to have the answers but looking through my archives, much of which are pre-digital, I believe the human resource, the will, and the expertise to help tackle this from within communities is out there.

We can all ‘do something’. The dialogue begins at home, teaching the consequences of this anti-social behaviour at an early age and reiterating it through the often difficult teenage years. To quote another campaign: “Be blunt – knives end lives”

Let’s take a good look at our own neighbourhoods, too. Focus on cohesion in the community instead of diversity, stop blaming the local services and support them instead, and find time to reflect on how we might contribute to make our own communities healthier and safer.

At the very least, start searching for solutions at home.

Hundreds of thousands expected at anti-Brexit march

Tom Watson, Nicola Sturgeon and Sadiq Khan will address the crowd in Parliament Square.

Hundreds of thousands of people are expected to attend a march in London on Saturday calling for the British people to have another vote on Brexit.

“I’m marching with family & friends because Brexit’s the biggest deception perpetrated on the U.K. in my lifetime. Incalculable damage to economy, international reputation, my children’s rights to live, love, work & travel freely across 27 EU countries as I did,” tweeted one participant.

Protesters want a second referendum in the hope of overturning the 2016 Brexit referendum result. But Prime Minister Theresa May has consistently ruled out another nationwide vote, including in a letter sent to MPs late Friday in which she outlined four options for the U.K. government.

One of those options was for the government to revoke Article 50, which she said would be a betrayal of the Brexit referendum.

An online petition asking the British government to revoke Article 50 and stop Brexit has collected over 4 million signatures.

In October 2018 a rally asking for people to have a say on the Withdrawal Agreement drew hundreds of thousands of people — the organizers said it was 670,000 — and similar numbers are expected Saturday.

The rally, organized by the People’s Vote campaign and other pro-EU organizations, is set to begin at 1 p.m. local time and end in Parliament Square.

There, Labour deputy leader Tom Watson will tell the crowd he has reluctantly joined the call for a second popular vote on Brexit.

“Brexit is stuck in the parliamentary pipework. The impasse works for neither Leavers or Remainers. I have come to the reluctant view that the only way to resolve this is for the country to have the final say,” he tweeted on Friday.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and London Mayor Sadiq Khan will also speak to the crowd.

Sturgeon wrote in a statement published by The Independent ahead of the rally: “It is essential that parliament now takes control away from the PM and uses the extra time it has been given to chart a way forward. [Scottish National Party] MPs will be part of that process and our preference is to secure a longer extension to the Article 50 process to allow time to put the issue back to voters.”

“No matter how you voted I’m sure you agree Brexit is a complete and utter mess … Enough is enough,” Khan said on Twitter.

Read this next: Theresa May outlines four Brexit options

The Three Women of ‘Newsnight’

This article originally appeared in The i Paper.

“Where are the men?” was the somewhat tired and predictable response from the more unenlightened (male) social media users to the BBC announcement on Wednesday that Emily Maitlis is to lead …

This article originally appeared in The i Paper.

“Where are the men?” was the somewhat tired and predictable response from the more unenlightened (male) social media users to the BBC announcement on Wednesday that Emily Maitlis is to lead a Newsnight presenter team of three women. Kirsty Wark, a veteran of the show for a quarter of a century is to take on what is called “an enhanced role”, with Five Live’s Emma Barnett joining the team as a new recruit.

Newsnight Kirsty Wark

I even got texts from friends of mine on the ‘liberal left’ along the lines of “If it were an all male line-up there would be uproar”. This rather misses the point that for years there was a predominantly male line-up of presenters on all political programmes, including Newsnight and few people commented, let alone complained. It was just so. Male BBC managers appointed people in their own reflection. The trouble is, female managers also appointed male presenters. In radio a myth has somehow grown up that women listeners don’t like to listen to female presenters and sadly this has also been evident in political TV programming. It’s bollocks of course, and I use that word advisedly, for in both TV radio, the possession of a pair of spherical objects has no influence on whether you’re good at your job or not.


Another text I received (from a particularly right on journalist) said: “This is actual proof of positive discrimination”. No, it wasn’t. I replied by asking: “Which one of Maitlis, Wark or Barnett” do you think has been promoted over an equally competent, or perhaps even more qualified male candidate? Answer came there none. These three journalists are at the top of their game and no one with any understanding of political journalism could argue otherwise. All three appointments are fully merited and the Newsnight production team should be very confident about how they will once more turn the programme into a “must-watch”, not just for political geeks like me, but for everyone with a passing interest in current affairs.

There is one big challenge for the Newsnight team, and it’s not a short term one. There was a time when most politicians would regard it as both an honour and a duty to appear on Newsnight and programmes like it, and Number 10 would generally put up a cabinet minister. Over the last decade or perhaps more, that mindset has changed both within government and opposition. Newsnight is not alone in encountering this attitude, it has to be said. Even this week the Government refused to put up a cabinet minister on the show, and Labour refused to put up a front-bencher for three days in a row, and this during one of the most incendiary weeks in British politics for years. However, it’s been quite noticeable in recent months that the quality of political guests has improved, and this is translating into much healthier audience figures. On some important news evenings the audience has topped 1 million recently, which given it generally inherits 200,000 is good going. The earlier finish to the BBC1 News at Ten will also have an effect.


The new Newsnight editor, Esme Wren – who joined the programme from Sky News in May last year – is very different from her predecessor in the role, Ian Katz, yet they both command huge loyalty from their team. Katz was flamboyant and was always looking to create headlines by any means necessary. Wren is more understated but has already made some significant changes to the show, making it tighter and less flabby. Katz was known for his gimmicks. Who can forget the sight of Kirsty Wark closing a show, dancing to Thriller. Under Wren, she also departed the show one evening when I was on a panel as a guest, by disappearing up into the studio roof holding an umbrella and dressed as Mary Poppins. In context, it worked. Trust me.


Emma Barnett made some impressive appearances as a cover presenter last summer and has proved herself as an excellent political interviewer, whether on Newsnight, Marr or her radio show. She’s created several memorable interview moments, including recently with both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn.

She’s also a producer’s dream in that, like me, she regards it as part of her job to “get” the interview as well as conduct it. She doesn’t take no for an answer and is completely shameless in battering down political doors until she gets what she wants. That’s what she will bring to Newsnight. Emily Maitlis’s promotion to lead presenter is no more than she deserves. Frankly, it should have happened a long time ago. She’s at the top of her game and has proved to be not only an impressive host, but also a story getter in the traditional sense of the phrase. Her original journalism on American politics over the last two years have been exemplary and brought a unique perspective to Newsnight.


In the end, all programmes are judged by their audience figures. Even with Jeremy Paxman at the helm, Newsnight’s was already falling. Can this new team turn it around? I rather think they might.

This week I have been… Reading…

It’s astonishing that it’s been 37 years since Chris Mullin published his political thriller ‘A Very British Coup’. Next week the sequel, ‘The Friends of Harry Perkins’ comes out. I’m half way through it at the moment and savouring every page. It’s set in a post Brexit Britain with a left wing politician climbing the greasy pole of Labour politics. As Theresa May might say, remind you of anyone?


Giles Fraser’s ‘Confessions’ podcast is getting rather addictive, and not just because I am his latest victim (download it on Monday!). I’ve gone through his entire back catalogue and enjoyed every one of his interviews with the likes of Mary Warnock, Melanie Phillips (who was a revelation!), Helena Kennedy & Claire Fox. He tempted me to reveal rather too much from my lurid past. If you hear me mention Bondi Beach, you may want to cover your ears…

Listening to…

‘Big in Japan’ was Alphaville’s biggest hit, back in 1984. I was living in Germany at the time and sent a ’45 single of it to Steve Wright on Radio 1. He played it and it became a hit in the UK too. I’ve loved Alphaville ever since. They’ve released a remastered version of their ‘Forever Young’ album which also contains around 20 remixes and unreleased tracks. Alphaville are still going strong and I’m going to see them in concert in Belfast in April.


I’ve just completed watching Salvation on Netflix. It’s all a bit Bruce Willis, with the lead character – coincidentally played by an actor called Ian Dale – trying to stop an asteroid hitting the Earth. In two series it features four different US Presidents, including one who supposedly dies but then comes back to reclaim her presidency. Sadly the series has now been canned, but if you like ‘24’ and ‘Homeland’ you’ll love it.