Nobody leaves Ming in the corner

Dancing lessons, life meaning life and the chances of being ethical and working in the media

Dear Marina,

I am having difficulty understanding the difference between a two-step and a fox-trot, I am not sure I have the confidence for jive and this modern break-dancing looks simply too dangerous. All I know is I like to lead from the front. Can you please help.

Best regards,

Wurzel Fortesque-Smythe, 3rd Earl of Little Snodgrass.
PS: My Roller is at your disposal on election day.

I urge caution to any man choosing to lead from the front. The obvious dangers are stepping on toes, being caught on the back foot and leaving those you hope to lead behind.

If for example you so desired to lead a woman such as myself, you must take me gently but firmly into your arms and guide me. Since it is the woman who moves off backwards, one could say, strictly speaking, it is the woman who leads the way.

But the woman does so with charm and feminine foresight. She is ready to override a man’s urge to veer either left or right should she sense she’s about to back into the competition.

This would be too confusing for the judges and would split the vote.

You are right Lord Snodgrass, to be suspicious of the modern dance moves. There is no consistency to the rhythm, the footwork is lazy and the choreography too predictable.

If I were to choose my perfect dance partner to ensure competition gold, it would have to be none other than Sir Ming Campbell. He has enormous appeal with younger audiences who, responding to modern media coverage have seized ownership of this once deemed old fashioned dance form. At the same time his neat footwork and sartorial good taste has older generations gasping at his nimble footed elegance.

Tony and Dave, by comparison are but a confection of tulle and sequins with two right feet apiece. No wonder the judges get confused.

In short sir, whether exemplifying the fox trot or taking the opposition on a merry tango with his military two step Ming is an inspiration: his enormous talent for guidance has enabled his growing troupe of women to lead the way.

You might argue if we ain’t got that swing, this don’t mean a thing, but I’m optimistic the judges recognise class when they see it and we’ll sweep the floor with the opposition come May.

PS: Having mothballed Ming’s jag, I think it best we don’t avail of your Roller to provide lifts to the polling station. Chris Huhne is loaning us his Toyota Prius instead.

Dear Marina,

This week Amnesty criticised Iraq for its growing use of the death sentence. A report says that since 2004 at least 270 people have been sentenced to the ultimate punishment and that trials frequently are unfair. Now clearly no-one thinks people should be executed unless we can be absolutely certain of their guilt but surely society can choose that an Ian Huntley or Rose West be hung or shot? Are there ever circumstances in which you would support the death penalty?

IDS Essex

Hmmm. 270 death sentences since 2004. You do realize America puts down 114 prisoners a year? It would be more, but there’s a debate in progress as to whether the lethal injection is cruel, in that the recipient might die in some pain. Hence a 3366 prisoner backlog – mostly black Americans - on Death Row in the States.

In Iraq meanwhile they appear to have averaged less than 100 executions a year in a country where 200 died just this week at the hands of the insurgency.

The Iraqis appear remarkably restrained in their use of the ultimate judicial tool by comparison to the occupying forces.

Here in the UK we first need to address our sentencing shambles. When does life ever mean life? Never it seems. Evil people do evil things, get life and get out in seven years.

Should we ever introduce the death penalty here, it’s unlikely given the current form, that death ever actually mean death. It would probably mean you get the noose round the neck and the chair kicked out, to be replaced by slightly lower wobbly stool. You’d break your neck but it wouldn’t actually kill you. Later you’d be released – but don’t expect them to adapt your home for wheel chair use.

Lock up the worst offenders and throw away the keys, I say. Life should mean life. So say the Liberal Democrats too – the toughest party on crime and disorder right now. Okay that’s not difficult since we’re the only party with policies on the subject.

And in a recent street survey in my area carried out by myself and my exellent LibDem team, 95% of respondents agreed!

Anyone wishing to know more about Liberal Democrats and our tough action on crime should go to www.wecancutcrime.com or www.homeofficewatch.com

Dear Marina

I’ve got a dilemma. I like to treat people decently, keep promises I make but I also want to pursue a career in the media! What would you do?

S, Manchester

I have just signed 700 letters to local postal voters. I still have to deliver them. My wrist is stiffer than a lonesome Bonobo monkey’s.

So I’ll keep this brief. I have never had any trouble treating people well, keeping my pledges and combining it with a media career – and I’m a single mother.

If you can’t see a way forward, apply for job at the Daily Mail or join the Conservatives. Or do both!

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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After Richmond Park, Labour MPs are haunted by a familiar ghost

Labour MPs in big cities fear the Liberal Democrats, while in the north, they fear Ukip. 

The Liberal Democrats’ victory in Richmond Park has Conservatives nervous, and rightly so. Not only did Sarah Olney take the votes of soft Conservatives who backed a Remain vote on 23 June, she also benefited from tactical voting from Labour voters.

Although Richmond Park is the fifth most pro-Remain constituency won by a Conservative at the 2015 election, the more significant number – for the Liberal Democrats at least – is 15: that’s the number of Tory-held seats they could win if they reduced the Labour vote by the same amount they managed in Richmond Park.

The Tories have two Brexit headaches, electorally speaking. The first is the direct loss of voters who backed David Cameron in 2015 and a Remain vote in 2016 to the Liberal Democrats. The second is that Brexit appears to have made Liberal Democrat candidates palatable to Labour voters who backed the party as the anti-Conservative option in seats where Labour is generally weak from 1992 to 2010, but stayed at home or voted Labour in 2015.

Although local council by-elections are not as dramatic as parliamentary ones, they offer clues as to how national elections may play out, and it’s worth noting that Richmond Park wasn’t the only place where the Liberal Democrats saw a dramatic surge in the party’s fortunes. They also made a dramatic gain in Chichester, which voted to leave.

(That’s the other factor to remember in the “Leave/Remain” divide. In Liberal-Conservative battlegrounds where the majority of voters opted to leave, the third-placed Labour and Green vote tends to be heavily pro-Remain.)

But it’s not just Conservatives with the Liberal Democrats in second who have cause to be nervous.  Labour MPs outside of England's big cities have long been nervous that Ukip will do to them what the SNP did to their Scottish colleagues in 2015. That Ukip is now in second place in many seats that Labour once considered safe only adds to the sense of unease.

In a lot of seats, the closeness of Ukip is overstated. As one MP, who has the Conservatives in second place observed, “All that’s happened is you used to have five or six no-hopers, and all of that vote has gone to Ukip, so colleagues are nervous”. That’s true, to an extent. But it’s worth noting that the same thing could be said for the Liberal Democrats in Conservative seats in 1992. All they had done was to coagulate most of the “anyone but the Conservative” vote under their banner. In 1997, they took Conservative votes – and with it, picked up 28 formerly Tory seats.

Also nervous are the party’s London MPs, albeit for different reasons. They fear that Remain voters will desert them for the Liberal Democrats. (It’s worth noting that Catherine West, who sits for the most pro-Remain seat in the country, has already told constituents that she will vote against Article 50, as has David Lammy, another North London MP.)

A particular cause for alarm is that most of the party’s high command – Jeremy Corbyn, Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, and Keir Starmer – all sit for seats that were heavily pro-Remain. Thornberry, in particular, has the particularly dangerous combination of a seat that voted Remain in June but has flirted with the Liberal Democrats in the past, with the shadow foreign secretary finishing just 484 votes ahead of Bridget Fox, the Liberal Democrat candidate, in 2005.

Are they right to be worried? That the referendum allowed the Liberal Democrats to reconfigure the politics of Richmond Park adds credence to a YouGov poll that showed a pro-Brexit Labour party finishing third behind a pro-second referendum Liberal Democrat party, should Labour go into the next election backing Brexit and the Liberal Democrats opt to oppose it.

The difficulty for Labour is the calculation for the Liberal Democrats is easy. They are an unabashedly pro-European party, from their activists to their MPs, and the 22 per cent of voters who back a referendum re-run are a significantly larger group than the eight per cent of the vote that Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democrats got in 2015.

The calculus is more fraught for Labour. In terms of the straight Conservative battle, their best hope is to put the referendum question to bed and focus on issues which don’t divide their coalition in two, as immigration does. But for separate reasons, neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats will be keen to let them.

At every point, the referendum question poses difficulties for Labour. Even when neither Ukip nor the Liberal Democrats take seats from them directly, they can hurt them badly, allowing the Conservatives to come through the middle.

The big problem is that the stance that makes sense in terms of maintaining party unity is to try to run on a ticket of moving past the referendum and focussing on the party’s core issues of social justice, better public services and redistribution.

But the trouble with that approach is that it’s alarmingly similar to the one favoured by Kezia Dugdale and Scottish Labour in 2016, who tried to make the election about public services, not the constitution. They came third, behind a Conservative party that ran on an explicitly pro-Union platform. The possibility of an English sequel should not be ruled out.  

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.