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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When Theresa May speaks, why don’t we listen?

Not many Prime Ministers have to repeat themselves three times. 

Theresa May is the candidate of Brexit and market panic. She ascended to the highest office because, in the fraught weeks after Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, she represented a safe haven for nervous Conservative MPs, the dependable family mutual that remained open while all along the Conservative high street, her rivals were shutting up shop.

Her popularity, as revealed in high poll ratings outside Westminster, too, owes itself to the perception that she is a serious politician in serious times, happily installed atop the ship of state to guide it through the rocky waters of Brexit negotiations.

May’s premiership has been defined by market panics of a different kind, however. The first is in the currency markets, where sterling takes a tumble whenever she pronounces on Britain’s future relationship with the European Union, falling both after her conference speech on 2 October and after her start-of-the-year interview with Sophy Ridge on 8 January. The second is in the opinion pages, where May’s stock oscillates wildly from bullish to bearish.

In the first months of May’s government, she was hailed as an Anglo-Saxon counterpart to Angela Merkel: a solid centre-right Christian democrat who would usher in a decade of conservative hegemony. More recently, she has been compared to Gordon Brown because of her perceived indecisiveness and repeatedly accused of failing to spell out what, exactly, her government’s Brexit objectives are.

In a symbol of the splits on the right between the Brexiteers and Remainers, the Economist, that bible of free-market globalisation and usually a reliable tastemaker as far as Westminster groupthink is concerned, began 2017 by dubbing the Prime Minister “Theresa Maybe”. Though May’s Downing Street is less concerned with the minutiae of what goes on in the public press than David Cameron’s, the contention that she is indecisive was a source of frustration.

There is an element of truth in the claim that May still views the world through a “Home Office lens”. One senior minister complains that Downing Street considers the Ministry of Justice as a “rogue outpost” of May’s old stomping ground, rather than a fully fledged department with its own interests and perspectives.

Yet even the most authoritarian of home secretaries would struggle to secure a conviction against May on the charge of opacity as far as her Brexit approach is concerned. She has hit the same grace notes with the reliability of a professional musician: Brexit means freedom from the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and control over Britain’s borders, two objectives that can only be achieved as a result of Britain’s exit not only from the EU but also the single market. This was confirmed on 17 January in the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech in London.

David Cameron used to say that he would never have “a people”. Certainly, there is no Cameroon tendency in the country at large to match the generation of council house residents that became homeowners and lifelong Conservatives because of Margaret Thatcher and Right to Buy. However, there is, unquestionably, a Cameroon people or faction to be found at almost every rung of London’s financial services sector or at editorial meetings of the Economist, though it as at the Times and the Sun where the treatment of May is at its most noticably rougher than in the Cameron era. 

Michael Gove, her old rival, is not only employed as a columnist by the Times; he enjoys the confidence and admiration of Rupert Murdoch. That the Times secured the first British interview with Donald Trump was a coup for Murdoch, an old associate of the president-elect, and for Gove, who conducted it. It left May in the unlovely position of making history as the first prime minister to be scooped to a first meeting with a new American president by a sitting MP in modern times. It also attested to a source of frustration among May’s allies that she is, for all her undoubted popularity, still ignored or doubted by much of the right-wing establishment.

That condescension partly explains why her words are often listened to briefly, acted on hastily and swiftly forgotten, hence the pound’s cycle of falling when she makes an intervention on Brexit and rising shortly thereafter. The Lancaster House speech was designed to break this pattern. Downing Street briefed the most potent paragraphs at the weekend so that the markets could absorb what she would say before she said it.

As a result, the pound rallied as May delivered her speech, which contained a commitment to a transitional deal that would come into effect after Britain has left the EU. Some financiers believe this arrangement could become permanent, which once again demonstrates how much they underestimate May’s ability to enforce her will.

Being underestimated by Cameron’s people, in Westminster and the City, has the unintended effect of shoring up Theresa May’s position. A prolonged and sustained bout of panic would increase the pressure for a soft landing, but its absence makes it harder for Labour to oppose her effectively, although it has largely acquiesced to the Tory plan for Brexit, at least as far as membership of the single market is concerned. 

Yet for all the plaudits that the Prime Minister’s Lancaster House speech attracted, for all her undoubted popularity in the country, she is in the anomalous position of being a Conservative Prime Minister who has priorities on the European stage other than the preservation of the City of London and to whom Rupert Murdoch is not a natural ally.

As such, she may find that her deadlier enemies come from the right.

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