Friday, 18 June 2021

The story of the only British prime minister to be assassinated + the murder of Cambridge's first professor of history

Spencer Perceval is the only British Prime Minister to have been assassinated. Here's the story of how he was gunned down in the Houses of Parliament in 1812. And here too is the tale of how Cambridge University's first professor of history was murdered in The Hague. I was in conversation with Andy Lake of BBC Radio Cambridgeshire about my book, 'Assassins' Deeds'.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Do petrol cars have a future? I was asking the question back in 1973

With the UK government planning to end the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2030, not surprisingly people are asking whether this is the end of the line.

But back in 1973, as oil prices went through what then seemed like the roof, they were posing the same question. In those days, I was industrial correspondent for ATV in Birmingham, working mainly on 'ATV Today'. Here's my report from what was then Britain's biggest car factory at Longbridge. Dateline: 26 November 1973.

Saturday, 1 May 2021

Assassins' Deeds - my podcast interview with BBC History Magazine

Very interesting to be interviewed about my latest book
Assassins' Deeds. A History of Assassination from Ancient Egypt to the Present Day (Reaktion Books) by Rachel Dinning of BBC History Magazine for their podcast.

We ranged over: 

what was history's first assassination?

when and where were the powerful and famous most at risk of assassination? 

how negligent were targets about their own safety?

do assassinations work, and what unintended consequences have they had?

what are assassins' favourite methods?

how many victims were not the assassin's first target?

what kind of people become assassins? 

what are history's strangest assassinations?

who was the world champion at surviving assassination attempts?

what were the ethical arguments put forward in favour of assassination and who advanced them?

the murder of Wat Tyler, of Mary, Queen of Scots' husband, Lord Darnley, the Archduke Franz Ferdinand, the assassin who nearly killed Hitler, women assassins

You can hear the podcast here

Friday, 5 March 2021

It was 50 years ago the other day. I was there as Radio Humberside's first sports editor in 1971

Back on 25 February 1971, the day BBC Radio Humberside opened in Hull's Chapel Street (pictured), I was there as its first ever sports editor. 

In this interview with Humberside's David 'Burnsy' Burns, I talk about the promotion battle Hull City were caught up in when we went on air, a goal for Grimsby Town by Matt Tees, actor Tom Courtenay, broadcaster Paul Heiney, and decimalisation.

Sunday, 28 February 2021

Brexitwatch: The speech Keir Starmer should be making

Instead of running around the Labour Party like some demented John Cleese tribute act, shouting: ‘Don’t mention the Brexit!’, here is the speech Sir Keir Starmer should be making:

‘Today I am calling on Boris Johnson to respect the result of the EU referendum, and deliver what people voted for.

A lot of you voted to leave the EU, but you didn’t vote for the Brexit disaster that Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are imposing on us. We were promised by the Prime Minister and his Leave Campaign colleagues that we would have frictionless trade with the EU, that we would hold all the cards, that Brexit was all upside and no downside.

Instead, we have British fish, meat and flowers lying rotting because the so-called ‘deal’ that the Tories have negotiated means that they can’t any longer be sold in our biggest market, Europe. We have trade drying up between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We have British businesses built up by hard-working entrepreneurs over decades collapsing because the deal the Prime Minister agreed inflicts strangling red tape on them. We have more Brexit red tape stopping British musicians, technicians, architects working in Europe any longer.

We have British people no longer able to send presents to their loved ones across the Channel, and we have the obscene spectacle of Boris Johnson’s government advising British businesses that if they want to survive, they need to go and set up in Europe instead.

This is not what people voted for. So Labour is calling on Boris Johnson’s Tory government to start dismantling today the unnecessary barriers they have put up between the UK and its biggest, nearest market, to tear up the unnecessary red tape, to stop putting dogma above jobs, and to set our country free.’

Monday, 8 February 2021

Brexitwatch: a new reply from Sir Keir Starmer. (Spoiler alert!) Looks just like the old one

I've had a reply from Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer, who happens to be my MP, to my criticisms of Labour's reply (see my post of 23 January) to my original criticisms of Labour's policy on Brexit. I attach this latest reply below, and you will see it bears an extraordinary resemblance to Labour's original reply (see my post of 17 January), which I had already demonstrated to be completely unsatisfactory. 

It is almost as though Labour has a standard pro forma response to anyone who raises anything that casts doubt on the Great God Brexit. Personally, I don't see how determinedly ignoring the Brexit disaster can win the next election for Labour, but what do I know? I'm only a voter. Anyway here's the letter: 

Dear John,

Thank you for writing to Keir to share your thoughts on Britain’s exit from the EU. He has asked me to respond on his behalf.

I am sorry that it has taken us so long to get back to you, the constituency office has received a huge amount of correspondence recently and we have had to prioritise urgent Covid-19 related casework. That said, I would like to assure you that we have still been reading and monitoring policy inquiries throughout this period and ensuing that Keir is fully briefed on the issues which are being raised by local residents. Your strong views, arguments and observations have been duly noted and shared with the relevant policy teams.

The old divides of Remain and Leave are over. At the end of December, Labour had two options: Johnson’s flawed trade deal with the EU, or the chaos of ending the transition period with no deal, which would have meant substantial tariffs and barriers to trade. Neither one was ideal. Neither one would deliver for jobs, business or the economy. 
We have always said that to crash out with no deal would be unthinkable. It would have created enormous uncertainty, endless negotiations and inflicted huge damage to businesses in highly exposed sectors, including manufacturing and farming.
With no option of renegotiating left, we voted in the national interest by rejecting no deal.
Voting for this deal did not mean that we welcomed it. However, compared with the alternative, this is the better option for business, supply chains, the economy and jobs. This deal will provide some stability and certainty for businesses. Without it, we would have faced no deal which would have meant investment and jobs lost across crucial sectors.

But, this is Johnson’s deal. He and his Government will own it and they must take full responsibility for their slowness and lack of preparedness – and for the promises they make and break. There was no reason that a deal this unambitious for the UK had to be left until the final days of the transition period. The decision to delay this deal has done unnecessary damage to businesses and the economy.
Moreover, this deal falls far short of what the Government promised. It neglects services, which account for 80 per cent of our economy, and weakens our security measures. There was very little time for Parliament to scrutinise the deal properly because of how quickly it had to be passed. So much for ‘taking back control’ – this Government is arriving at the last minute with a deal that is more ‘be grateful you’ve got anything’.
More holes will be exposed in the coming weeks and months which must be mended in the future. This Tory Government must now get into action and properly support British industries with adjusting to new trading rules, building up local supply chains and expanding in to new markets.
The biggest challenges facing our country and our planet require co-operation and international solutions, and a Labour government will work with others with shared values to tackle those.

Now that a trade deal has been agreed, the task of securing the economy, protecting the NHS, and rebuilding the country will only have just begun. A Labour government will build on the foundations of this deal, stand up against any Tory attempts to dilute workers’ rights and environmental standards, and make the United Kingdom the best place to grow up and the best place to grow old.
Thank you once again for your email. Please do not hesitate to get back in touch if there are any further points that you would like to raise.

Best wishes,
Annie Peterman
Research and Communications Officer
Office of Keir Starmer QC, MP
Member of Parliament for Holborn & St Pancras
Leader of the Opposition

Saturday, 23 January 2021

Brexitwatch: stop treating pro-EU voters as unpeople - my reply to Labour

On 17 January, I posted Labour's reply to my emails asking Sir Keir Starmer to keep his promise and vote against Boris Johnson's Brexit deal. Here's my response:

Dear Sir Keir,

I was disappointed when my emails urging you to oppose Boris Johnson's catastrophic Brexit 'deal' were responded to by someone identified just as 'Lee from the Labour Party'. Is this taking a leaf out of the Tory playbook, where comments come from an anonymous 'Downing Street source'?

It is such a completely unsatisfactory response that I do not have time to respond to all its inadequacies, so here are a few:

1. The 'old divides of Remain and Leave' are not 'over'. It is true, of course, that there are no more 'Remainers'. We have been dragged out of the EU against our will, so we cannot 'remain'. But the division between pro and anti-EU voters in the UK is at least as deep as ever. All polling suggests that pro-EU people are in the majority, and among Labour voters, they probably outnumber anti-EU by around 3 to 1. In spite of that, Labour has decided to ignore pro-EU people because it seems to believe the only way to election victory is by winning anti-EU votes in the so-called former 'Red Wall' seats.

I can tell you that we who are pro-EU are sick and tired of being treated by Labour as though we are unpopular relatives, who unfortunately have to be invited to the party because you want our votes, but who are expected to sit in a corner trying to make ourselves invisible and under strict instructions to shut up.

2. If Labour had voted against Johnson's deal as I urged, it would still have passed comfortably, so the 'it was the only way of avoiding no deal' excuse won't wash.

3. Every day new Brexit disasters appear: fishermen who can't sell their fish, hauliers who bypass the UK, companies who give up exporting, consumers facing huge price rises, etc. If Labour wants, it can go around saying: 'nothing to do with us, guv, even though we voted for it. It's all that Boris Johnson's fault.' We'll see whether the voters buy that line.

4. As you voted for the 'deal', Lee's comments about how useless it is are irrelevant.

5. Lee says: 'Labour are focussed entirely on making this the best country to grow up in and the best place to grow old in.' This is the kind of vacuous drivel I expect from the Tories. You don't make a country better by making it worse - by making its people poorer, by stripping them, their children and their grandchildren of their rights, by making their country weaker and more divided.

Labour's performance on Brexit has been shameful. Half-hearted on opposing it in the referendum campaign, voting to trigger Article 50 when the government had no credible plan, turning a blind eye to the cheating, lying, gerrymandering and possible foreign interference that won the vote for Leave, etc., and now treating pro-EU voters as unpeople. Labour may want us all to go away, and let you have a quiet life in which no one ever says a bad word about Brexit. But we're not going anywhere.

Lee says Johnson's deal is no good, so let's see Labour fighting to tear down the barriers it has put up. Where's the campaign to rejoin Erasmus, to restore freedom of movement for musicians, artists, technicians, and what about the many others in less glamorous jobs who would like to go on working in Europe, where's the demand to get mutual recognition of professional qualifications? Why hasn't Labour set up a forum with business to find out what are the barriers stopping them trading with Europe, and working with them to get them removed?

Yours sincerely,

John Withington