The Uxbridge connection

The last time I met the sitting MP for Uxbridge was in 1988 while a politics student at nearby Brunel University. Michael Shersby, the then Parliamentary representative for our local constituency, generously hosted Brunel’s annual Government Society dinner at the House of Commons, and arranged an array of guest speakers.

One year, we were fortunate to have the Speaker, the then Bernard (later Lord) Weatherill, who came to talk about democracy and the importance of being actively involved.

On another occasion, sharing the evening with the local Conservative Association, we were slightly less impressed by Minister of Education Angela Rumbold. Possibly labouring under the misapprehension that we were the University’s Conservative Students Group, she decided to lecture us about how the Tories were ‘good for education’.

We listened politely and then gave her hell in the Q&A session that followed. My particular contribution to the debate was to ask her to square her comments with the cuts to our courses, the fact that we couldn’t any longer combine politics with modern languages studies, and remarks wrongly attributed at the time (and since retracted by The Guardian, as reported here) to her colleague Norman Tebbit that ‘no one with a conscience votes Conservative’.

This went down rather badly, the Minister clearly knowing better than a callow university student that Tebbit had never uttered the words as reported. I was listened to and then put in my place. When we came to board the coach back to Uxbridge, the blue-rinse brigade from the local Conservative Association could barely disguise their anger at my supposed cheek.

“Disgraceful behaviour, no respect, ought to be ashamed,” came comment after comment.

As students, we all found it rather amusing. And Michael Shersby, awarded an Honorary Degree by Brunel in 1994, clearly thought nothing of it, inviting us back the following year.

So cut to 2019 and a chance meeting at Zurich airport with the current Uxbridge constituency MP, none other than Boris Johnson, he of the fairly unassailable 11,000 majority and equally strong leadership ambition.

Fresh from allegedly trousering €30,000 (£26,500) to tell the Swiss Economic Forum (not the WEF, for you Davos watchers) that Britain will leave the EU on October 31, ‘with or without a deal’, a slightly untucked and dishevelled Johnson was easily spotted in the Swiss airline lounge, scoffing a large plate of chickpea salad by the food counter.

“Jolly glad of your support,” he mumbled, while agreeing to shake my hand.

Another Uxbridge MP who’s mistaken me for a fan, I thought. But I held my counsel this time.

Simon’s choice: uncomfortable, essential viewing

how-to-dieIt’s very rare that a television documentary can move viewers to tears. How to Die: Simon’s Choice did that, however.

This 90-minute BBC film followed the last months of Simon Binner, a successful businessman diagnosed with motor neurone disease. Continue reading

When ghost writers go off piste

acting-t-thank-the-academy-logo-cafe-pressAnd the winner is…….

“I’d like to thank the Academy. I’d like to thank my agent, obviously. I’d like to thank the director, the producer, the girl who made the tea and her lovely assistant who made the really great bacon sandwiches which I ate with lashings of Acme Tomato Ketchup. I’d also like to thank the PR guy who wrote this speech and added that bit about the ketchup because Acme said they’d pay me ten big ones to mention them. Continue reading

Switzerland’s immigration worries

Last year in Geneva I was approached by a political activitist and asked to put my name to a petition. I politely declined – and my reply elicited a shocking response.

I should explain, Swiss democracy works in a quirky way. Initiatives that attract more than 100,000 signatures (all are checked to ensure they’re bona fide Swiss voters) can be used to demand an amendment to the Federal Constitution. Continue reading

9 out of 10 statistics are bunkum

Journalists like to use them on quiet news days, but they’re not doing their readers much of a service by reprinting them.

I’m talking about self-serving press releases with phoney statistics. You know the type, “50% of Europeans not saving enough for retirement” (by retirement savings company); “Debt consolidation used by 40% of people” (by debt consolidation company); “60% of Britons don’t know their history, don’t visit enough sites of historical interest” (by a hotel chain). It’s the latter that’s proved a problem for British education secretary Michael Gove. Continue reading