The Iron Lady – it’s about so much more than just Thatcher

DAVID WOODING reviews the hot new political movie

THIS fascinating movie shows Britain’s most divisive political figure in a new light – as a real human being.

If you’re a nerd, fan or critic expecting a potted history of Margaret Thatcher’s 11 years in power you’ll be disappointed.

This poignant film barely scratches the surface of the real-life dramas which shaped her Premiership. The Falklands War, the poll tax riots, the miners’ strike and the Brighton bomb are all a sub-plot to a rather sad but charming story about getting old.

It vividly depicts how giants of history are really just frail, ordinary people underneath. And Meryl Streep’s incredible portrayal of Mrs Thatcher achieves what the Tory icon often failed to do herself – by winning  our admiration, sympathy and respect.

Meryl Streep as Margaret Thatcher

The Iron Lady is about so much more than the rise and fall of a legend.

It’s about the tragedy of old age, the struggle by women for equal rights and the rise to power of a grocer’s girl from Lincolnshire.

Thatcher’s amazing life is seen through the prism of an old lady struggling with dementia, mourning the loss of her husband Denis and having flashbacks to the days when she ran the country.

Tories have been swift to express their uneasiness with the subject matter while Lady Thatcher is still alive – and Labour tribalists baulk simply at the idea of a film about a woman whose legacy they detest.

But you must put the political ethics to one side and watch this as a piece of pure cinema. Forget the historical inaccuracies, too. Maggie never wore a hat in the Commons, she was not with Airey Neave in the car park when he was blown up and I’ve never before heard she barked “sink it!” when generals asked  what to do about the Belgrano.

Director Phyllida Lloyd certainly knows how to use artistic licence to great dramatic effect. She once produced a quirky version of Wagner’s Ring cycle at the ENO, in which the Rhinemaidens were mini-skirted, fishnet-stockinged, spiky-heeled pole dancers and the heroine Brunhilde became a suicide bomber. I was sceptical about that – but it worked. Lloyd’s idiosyncratic style works wonders in The Iron Lady, too.

Sadness

There’s also great use of music from  Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Bach to Bellini and Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Shall We Dance?”

Meryl Streep’s portrayal spans 40 years and the flashbacks give a balanced picture of the woman – her determination, vision, weaknesses and failings – all in nugget-sized  episodes, rather than detailed analysis. The 90-minute film also takes us  back six decades to Thatcher’s childhood working during wartime in her father’s grocery shop.

The movie sends out a powerful message about the tragedy of dementia – and the sadness of loneliness endured by many in old age.

It may struggle to turn Thatcher’s critics into full-blown admirers. But if they’re honest with themselves, they’ll admit to feeling rather more warm towards her after seeing this.

At the very least, thousands more people will see Lady Thatcher for what she really is – a human being.

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Poppy pride…or posing?

By DAVID WOODING

REMEMBRANCE Sunday is 17 days away and already politicians seem to be racing each other to be first to wear a poppy.

A host of MPs were proudly – and perhaps a little ostentatiously – sporting one in their lapels during Prime Minister’s question time in the Commons today.

They are sold to honour brave troops killed in action since the First World War – and raise millions for the Royal British Legion’s charitable work.

But in recent years, the well-observed tradition seems to have taken on an unfortunate political edge.

Etiquette dictates that the poppy should be worn in the week leading up to Remembrance Sunday – on November 13 this year.

But Labour MPs today stole a march on the Tories with nothing short of a sea poppies on Opposition benches during Prime Minister’s questions in the Commons.

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham chided: “Not a Tory on the front bench with a poppy.”

He tweeted: “They have been on sale in Parliament for days and large numbers have them. Surely wearing them encourages others.”

Isn’t this all a little unseemly? Nobody is forced to wear a poppy yet 26 million are sold every year raising an estimated £35 million for ex-servicemen, women and their families.

I’m sure that David Cameron and his MPs will all have bought and worn one before he lays a wreath at the Cenotaph next month.

Demanding the PM pins one to his jacket now is a bit like complaining he hasn’t sent his Christmas cards out by mid November.

No doubt nervous TV presenters will be pinning on a poppy fast lest they get a dressing down from righteous MPs.

Twisted

Channel 4 News man Jon Snow fiercely refuses to give in to what he calls the “poppy fascists” and appears on screen with bare lapels all year round.

While some may find his stance a little extreme, many believe it is unfair to criticise MPs for being poppy-free in October.

Mr Cunningham’s followers accused him of a “petty partisan attack” and “twisted point-scoring”.

Amy Jackson declared: “My father spent 37 years in the Army and always taught me to start wearing poppies on November 1.”

Blogger Harry Cole added: “You used the war dead to try to score a point against the government.”

So what is poppy etiquette? A quick check in Debrett’s guide to good manners says poppies can be worn from the end of October to Remembrance Sunday – but adds it is acceptable to wear them from November 1 or just the week leading up to that day.

The Royal British Legion would probably settle for that – and scowl at the blatant politicisation of the biggest event in their calendar. Besides, the vets’ organization hasn’t even launched this year’s poppy appeal yet.

What is your view on the “poppy police” and “poppy etiquette?” Please leave your comments below.

EU referendum – a running sore for David Cameron

By DAVID WOODING

DAVID Cameron faced the biggest Tory revolt in modern history tonight in a row that looks set to dog the rest of his Premiership.

Mr Cameron crushed the rebellion thanks to support from Labour and Lib Dem MPs but it left wounded and festering backbenchers vowing never to surrender on the issue.

Up to 80 of Mr Cameron’s own troops opposed him in the Commons tonight and voted in favour of a referendum on Britain’s EU membership.

It was biggest revolt suffered by a Conservative Prime Minister since 41 defied Sir John Major to oppose the Maastricht Treaty in 1993.

Labour leader Ed Miliband taunted: “This massive Tory rebellion is a humiliation for the Prime Minister.”

Some 111 MPs of all parties backed the referendum call, not enough to clinch victory on the issue. Early estimates suggest that about 80 of them were Tories.

Resentment is now mounting not only over the result, but his handling of the issue, with some claiming they were threatened by heavy-handed government whips.

Costly mistake

Two ministerial aides have quit and one private parliamentary secretary is said to have needed medical attention after he fainted during a stern showdown with the PM.

The rebels were given a further boost by two polls tonight which show voters are overwhelmingly on their side

Two-thirds of the public want a straight “in or out” referendum onBritain’s membership of the European Union, according to a ComRes survey for ITV News.

More than half – 54 per cent – believe that joining the union has been a costly mistake, delivering more problems than advantages.

But they are equally divided on full withdrawal – 37 per cent agree and 37 per cent disagree – but 41 per cent want the government to negotiate better membership terms.

And more than half would support pulling out if striking a better deal was not possible.

More than 130,000 have already signed a petition demanding a say on Britain’s future relationship with Europe.

An ICM poll for tomorrow’s Guardian shows 70 per cent want a referendum, with 49 per cent prepared to vote to pull out and only 40 per cent to stay in.

UK Independence Party chief Nigel Farage said: “It is fascinating watching the Conservatives tear themselves apart over this.

Wrong 

“Polls over the last few days have shown clearly that the general public believe MPs should be able to vote how they like regarding an EU referendum.”

But Mr Cameron insisted voting to leave Europe at a time of financial crisis would be like deserting your neighbours when their houses are on fire when you should be helping and stopping it from spreading to your home.

Foreign Secretary William Hague told MPs a referendum on our future in Europe was the “wrong question at the wrong time”.

With the euro in meltdown, and Britain having to stump up billions to keep it afloat, the row looks set to drag on.

After the economy, it could turn out to be one of the biggest issues to dog Mr Cameron’s premiership.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Kelvin MacKenzie on Press standards

By DAVID WOODING

KELVIN MacKenzie isn’t one to pull his punches – and was his usual knockabout self when he spoke to the Leveson inquiry on Press standards today.

Love him or loathe him, the former Sun editor knows how to get his point across in concise and often colourful language.

Mr MacKenzie revealed how:

  – HE only checked the source of one story when he was editor of The Sun and it ended up costing him £1 million in libel damages.

– A MOLE hunt launched after a major defence exclusive was chaired by the MI6 colonel  who leaked the story.

– GORDON Brown threatened to “destroy” Rupert Murdoch in a 20-minute phone tirade hours after one of his paper’s endorsed the Tories.

– DAVID Cameron hired ex-News of the World editor Andy Coulson only as a gesture of political friendship to the newspaper tycoon.

Mr MacKenzie (pictured left) didn’t mince his words when asked for his assessment of what should be done to reform the British media.

“Nothing,” he declared bluntly.

He said the only new law needed is one to ban “under-talented” MPs from kissing the a**es of newspaper owners.

In a bravura performance, he gave both barrels to David Cameron and Education Secretary Michael Gove over their “gut-wrenching” crawling to Rupert Murdoch. He even tore into Lord Leveson himself.

Mr MacKenzie told how he had suggested Labour MPs should set their mobile phones ringing every time the PM stood up to talk in the Commons – in a jibe at his “potty” decision to hire ex-News of the World boss Andy Coulson as an aide.

Mr MacKenzie gazed around the room and asked: “Where is our great Prime Minister who ordered this ludicrous inquiry?

“After all, the only reason we are all here is due to one man’s action; Cameron’s obsessive a**e-kissing over the years of Rupert Murdoch. Tony Blair was pretty good, as was Brown. But Cameron was the Daddy.

“Such was his obsession with what newspapers said about him – and Rupert had three market leaders – that as party leader he issued all his senior colleagues, especially Michael Gove, with knee pads in order to protect their blue trousers when they genuflected in front of the Special Sun.

Gut-wrenching

“Cameron wanted Rupert onside as he believed, quite wrongly in my view, that The Sun’s endorsement would help him to victory. “When the paper did come out for Cameron the Sun’s sale fell by 40,000 copies that day.

“There was never a party, a breakfast, a lunch, a cuppa or a drink that Cameron and Co would not turn up to in force if The Great Man or his handmaiden Rebekah Brooks was there. There was always a queue to kiss their rings. It was gut-wrenching.”

He added: “Cameron had clearly gone quite potty. And the final proof that he was certifiable was his hiring of my friend Andy Coulson.

“I remember telling anybody who would listen that if I were Brown, every time Cameron stood up in the Commons he should arrange for mobile phones to ring on his side of the House.

“It would have killed Cameron. Nobody took me seriously. And then the phone hacking scandal erupted. Not a scandal of Rupert’s making but the order went out from Cameron: stop the a**e kissing and start the a**e kicking.”

Turning to “this bloody inquiry” chaired by Lord Leveson (pictured right), he continued: “God help me that free speech comes down to the thought process of a judge who couldn’t win when prosecuting counsel against Ken Dodd for tax evasion and more recently robbing the Christmas Island veterans of a substantial pay-off for being told simply to turn away from nuclear test blasts in the Fifties. It’s that bad.

“I have been forced by what sounds like the threat of a jail term to give a witness statement to this inquiry.

“The questions not only made me laugh through their ignorance but also that a subject as serious as free speech should be dealt with in this manner.

“Question seven basically wanted to know if an editor knew the sources of many of the stories. To be frank, I didn’t bother during my 13 years with one important exception. With this particular story I got in the news editor, the legal director, the two reporters covering it and the source himself on a Friday afternoon.

“We spent two hours going through the story and I decided that it was true and we should publish it on Monday. It caused a worldwide sensation. And four months later The Sun was forced to pay out a record £1 million libel damages to Elton John for wholly untrue rent boy allegations. So much for checking a story, I never did it again. Basically my view was that if it sounded right it was probably right and therefore we should lob it in.

“How will this inquiry change that? Question six also deals with sources and I disclosed another story that happened during my 13 years as editor of The Sun. That morning we had led on a Ministry of Defence story revealing some kind of secret we felt our readers should know.

“The reporter concerned came in and said there was problem. No 10 had gone nuts and an official inquiry was starting into who had leaked the story with a colonel from MI6 being drafted in to head it. The reporter told me the MoD were determined to get to the bottom of it but it was not all bad news. Why was that I asked.

“Because the colonel heading the inquiry was the bloke who gave us the story in the first place. How will this inquiry change that? Yes there was criminal cancer at the News of The World. Yes, there were editorial and management errors as the extent of the cancer began to be revealed. But why do we need an inquiry of this kind?

Roared

“There are plenty of laws to cover what went on. After all, 16 people have already been arrested and my bet is that the number may well go to 30 once police officers are rounded up. Almost certainly they will face conspiracy laws, corruption laws, false accounting laws. There are plenty of laws that may have been broken. Lord Leveson knows them all by heart.

“Supposing these arrests didn’t come from the newspaper business. Supposing they were baggage handlers at Heathrow nicking from luggage, or staff at Primark carrying out a VAT swindle, or more likely, a bunch or lawyers involved in a mortgage fraud. Would such an inquiry have ever been set up? Of course not.”

Mr MacKenzie said Mr Coulson’s appointment at Number 10 was down to the PM’s personal lack of judgment.

“I don’t blame Andy for taking the job,” he said. “I do blame Cameron for offering it.

“It was clearly a gesture of political friendship aimed over Andy’s head to Rupert Murdoch. If it wasn’t that then Cameron is a bloody idiot. A couple of phone calls from Central Office people would have told him that there was a bad smell hanging around the News of the World.

“Rupert told me an incredible story. He was in his New York office on the day that The Sun decided to endorse Cameron for the next election. That day was important to Brown as his speech to the party faithful at the Labour party conference would have been heavily reported in the papers.

“Of course the endorsement blew Brown’s speech off the front page. That night a furious Brown called Murdoch and in Rupert’s words: ‘Roared at me for 20 minutes’.

“At the end Brown said: ‘You are trying to destroy me and my party. I will destroy you and your company.’ That endorsement on that day was a terrible error.

“I can’t believe it was Rupert’s idea. Strangely, he is quite a cautious man. Whoever made that decision should hang their head in shame. I point the finger at a management mixture of Rebekah and James Murdoch.

“The point of my anecdotes is to show that this inquiry should decide there is nothing wrong with the Press, that we should enshrine free speech in Cameron’s planned Bill of Rights and accept the scandal was simply a moment in time when low-grade criminality took over a newspaper.

“If anything, the only recommendation that should be put forward by Leveson is one banning by law over- ambitious and under-talented politicians from giving house room to proprietors who are seeking commercial gain from their contacts. In tabloid terms, a**e kissing will be illegal. Should have an interesting passage through Parliament.

“Do that and you will have my blessing – and I suspect the blessing from Rupert Murdoch, too.”

See also: “Keep taking the Tabloids” – this page, October 6. 2011.

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

Liam Fox: His Best Man, the hotel meetings and those emails

By DAVID WOODING

LIAM Fox is fighting for his political life after being accused of lying about his “murky” relationship with a man who falsely claimed to be his adviser.

The embattled Defence Secretary was under mounting pressure as the Prime Minister ordered a probe into the role of Adam Werritty – the minister’s former flatmate and Best man at his wedding.

Liam Fox (left) and Adam Werritty

He has also ordered Whitehall's top civil servant Sir Gus O'Donnell to probe whether he presented a risk to national security and wants a full file on his desk by tomorrow morning.

Mr Werritty, 34, has accompanied Dr Fox on at least one foreign trip - which the Cabinet minister had at first denied - despite having no role in government.

He has visited the MoD 14 times in the past 18 months and handed out business cards bearing the House of Commons logo and describing himself as the minister's "adviser".  He also ran a Right-wing charity from his Commons office.

But the row has deepened as fresh evidence emerges which flies in the face of the minister’s explanation. Dr Fox, 50, claimed his pal had never met any foreign dignitaries. But TV and film evidence clearly show them both shaking hands with the president of Sri Lanka in a London hotel last year.

Dr Fox also ran into trouble after he dismissed talks with a defence equipment dealer in a Dubai hotel last June as  a “chance” meeting.

Emails between Mr Werritty and the businessman surfaced which show the minister’s friend had been trying to fix up a get-together since April.

Now a senior Labour MP has told how Dr Fox had given him a personal assurance that the Dubai meeting was all above board and a senior civil servant was present.

Cameron’s dilemma

Shadow defence secretary Jim Murphy was stunned to learn it was brokered and attended by Mr Werritty and no MoD officials were present. He said:  “Alarm bells should be ringing in Downing Street.”

Mr Murphy told Sky News: “That’s very worrying indeed and this is becoming an increasingly murky situation and we can’t go on like this, with a daily drip-feed of fresh allegations just piling upon the Secretary of State’s head. And we can’t have Downing Street dithering on this – we need a full forensic inquiry.”

The row presents a tough dilemma for the Prime Minister who is desperate to snuff out the row quickly.

Mr Cameron knows that to keep him in his job risks making him look weak – and could lead to a damaging drip-drip of further negative stories.

But to sack him is fraught with political danger because Dr Fox on the back benches could become a rallying point for the disaffected Right-wing of the Tory party, fed up with concessions given to the Lib Dem coalition partners.

Downing Street insists the PM is “fully supportive” of Dr Fox and “genuinely doesn’t want to lose him”.

Former PM John Major, who dealt with sleaze on an almost daily basis in the 1990s, said Mr Cameron risks looking indecisive if he doesn’t act quickly. He told the BBC: “He has to balance natural justice and the truth, rather than gossip and rumour.”

Dr Fox  will be called before the Commons to answer questions about his relationship tomorrow. But he has told the Sunday Telegraph: “I have absolutely no fear of complete transparency in these matters. I think there are underlying issues behind these claims and the motivation is deeply suspect.”

Follow me on Twitter: @davidwooding

David Cameron: Bulldog spirit key to ending debt crisis

By DAVID WOODING in Manchester

DAVID Cameron urged cash-strapped Britain to adopt the bulldog spirit to drag ourselves out of debt and despair.

The Prime Minister called for the nation to stop being “paralysed by gloom and fear” – and instead show some fight and energy to get our great country back on the road to prosperity.

He called on people in every walk of life to work together to turn things round and make Britain a beacon of enterprise for the world.

Mr Cameron (pictured left making his speech) issued the rallying call  in his closing speech to the Tory party conference in Manchester.

He declared: “Britain never had the biggest population, the largest land mass, the richest resources – but we had the spirit.

“Remember, it’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog. Overcoming challenge, confounding the sceptics, reinventing ourselves, this is what we do. It’s called leadership.”

The final flourish of his address – echoing on the conference slogan: “Leadership for a better future” – was aimed at contrasting his leadership skills with those of Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Mr Cameron said: “Let’s turn this time of challenge into a time of opportunity. Not sitting around watching things happen and wondering why. But standing up, making things happen and asking why not.

“We have the people, we have the ideas, and now we have a government that’s freeing those people, backing those ideas.

“So let’s see an optimistic future. Let’s show the world some fight. Let’s pull together, work together. And together lead Britain to better days.”

The 50-minute speech covered a wide-range of issues. Here’s a summary in nugget form:

JOBS AND DEBT: Mr Cameron said: “It’s an anxious time. Prices and bills keep going up – petrol, the weekly shop, electricity.” He admitted the “uncomfortable” truth that the slump is caused by too much debt and the only way out is to cut spending and live within our means.

EUROPE: Britain will never join the euro while Mr Cameron is Prime Minister, he vowed.  And he won’t let us be sucked into “endless bail-outs” of countries that are in the single currency.

SCHOOLS: He promised to tear down the “apartheid” between private and state schools. It was “disgusting”, he said that we should aim for any less from a child from a poor background than a rich one.

IMMIGRATION: Mr Cameron vowed to get tough with criminals who use human rights laws to try to stay in this country. But he warned we must not lock out talent and should give the red carpet treatment to the best entrepreneurs, scientists and students from around the world to attract them here.

JOBS and BENEFITS: More than 2.5 million people have been “parked” on sick pay as a con trick by governments to keep unemployment figures down. The PM said: “Under Labour they got something for nothing. With us, they’ll only get something if they give something.” He will spend up to £14,000 on long-term jobless to get them trained and back into work.

GAY MARRIAGE: He promised to give equal marriage rights to same sex couples – “not despite being a Conservative but because I am a Conservative”.

ADOPTION: Action to find homes for the 65,000 children in care. Only 60 of the 3,660 kids without parents under the age of one  were adopted in Britain last year. He promised action to end this scandal. “How can we let this happen? We’ve got people flying all over the world to adopt babies, while the care system at home agonises about placing black children with white families.”

LIBYA He urged everyone to remember what Gaddafi did – he bankrolled the IRA, was behind the shooting of a police officer in London and the bombing of a plane in the skies over Lockerbie. Mr Cameron said: “Let’s be proud of the part we played in giving Libyan people the chance to take back their country.”

HEALTH and SAFETY: Mr Cameron said he would overhaul barmy health and safety rules and scale back criminal checks rules to common sense levels. He remarked: “Britain didn’t rule the waves with arm bands on.”

Mr Cameron got the biggest ovation of the afternoon when he took a sideswipe at Ed Miliband who was met with jeers when he mentioned Tony Blair at Labour’s rally in Liverpool last week.

He said he had lucky enough to have strong support from all previous Tory leaders, including Michael Howard, Iain Duncan Smith, William Hague, John Major and Lady Thatcher.

The PM quipped: “You know what? We don’t boo our leaders. We’re proud of our past and what those people did for our country.”