Friday 27 January 2017

The President and the Prime Minister: a transcript

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The Oval Office. The White House.

THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, DONALD J TRUMP: Hi, prime minister. Great to see ya. Glad you could stop by. Did you notice your friend Winston as you came in? Great guy. The best. Knew how to win. My kind of guy. Yours too, huh? Terrific guy ... But he never got the kind of crowds I get ... did you see the inauguration? Biggest ever. No question. You could see it from the moon. They said it on Fox. Great news channel - do you get Fox in England? It's the best -- I can introduce you to Rupert, you'd love him. He's terrific.


TRUMP: Yeah, you're the first foreign head of state to come visit. To me, you're my Maggie. Wow, she was somethin', wasn't she? The best. We're gonna do great things together, you and me. How d'ya like the curtains, by the way? Real gold, cost a fortune. Most expensive curtains in the world. I had the old ones torn down -- they were terrible. The Obamas put them up. No taste. Really, I'm tellin' ya, the worst taste ever.

MAY: Mr President, I'm not actually the head of state; that's the Queen.

TRUMP: Sure. The Queen. Lovely lady. The best. My Mom loved the Queen. But she's pretty old now, ain't she? You need to think about getting a new one. I could do you a deal on my daughter. What d'ya think? Have you seen her? Ivanka? I mean, ain't she somethin'? She'd be a great Queen of England. Of course, she's married now -- Jared, lovely guy, smart as hell -- but if she wasn't, well, I wouldn't mind ... But if you need any help with those Europeans, get Jared to have a word. Smart guy, believe me.

MAY: That's very kind, Mr President. I was hoping we could talk ...

TRUMP: Yeah, I know. Europe. What a bunch of losers. LOSERS! Your friend Nigel was telling me. Unbelievable. You were really smart to kick 'em out. And that other English fella who was here -- Michael somethin'? Your deputy. Funny-looking fella. But smart, really smart. Wrote down everythin' I said and put it in all the papers. Did you see it? Every newspaper in the world. You're lucky to have him. Terrific guy.

MAY: I was hoping we could perhaps discuss a trade ...

TRUMP: No question. I'm the best on trade. The best president for trade in the history of the world. You want to buy our stuff -- American stuff, made by Americans, none of that Mexican or Chinese crap -- I can get you a great deal. I mean, look at our cars. Best in the world. Who needs those Jaguars or whatevers? You want to sell Jaguars in America, you tell 'em: build a factory in America. I'm tellin' ya: we sell three billion dollars’ worth of cars to England, and then you sell eight billion dollars’ worth to us. How crazy is that? It's gonna stop, believe me. Day One. It's gonna stop. You heard about my wall, huh? It's going to be a beautiful wall, you'll see, everyone agrees with me on this. I'm tellin' ya, you should build a wall along your border with France. Keep out all those illegals. I mean, no one knows who they are, right? Muslims, Iraqis, Afghanistanis -- who knows who the hell they are?

MAY: If I may, Mr President, I was somewhat concerned to read ...

TRUMP: Don't believe what you read, Teri. It is Teri, right? Crooked journalists peddling their fake news -- believe me, we're after them. People keep saying to me: 'Mr President, lock 'em up.' And we're working on it, trust me. Like Steve said -- you've met Steve, right? Great guy, really, terrific -- like he said, the media should keep their mouth shut.   I'm gettin' all these calls -- more calls than any president in history -- and what they're all sayin' -- millions of 'em, believe me, it was on Fox --is 'Donald, you're the greatest president in the history of America, we're goin' to put you on Mount Rushmore' -- do you have Mount Rushmore in England? -- 'but you're goin' to have to lock up all those lyin' press people.' So, hey, I believe in the will of the people -- hell, I was elected by the biggest majority in the history of the world, even though the election was rigged. Horrible, really horrible, what they did. Millions of people not voting for me. We're gonna change that. From now on, you vote for Trump, or you don't vote. Starting right now.

MAY: But torture, Mr President...

TRUMP: You bet. It works, you know that, right? Sure you do, everyone knows it. I read somewhere you guys used it with the IRA. And you beat 'em, right? So like I say, torture works. You guys understand this stuff. I saw this show on Fox where they said England was great on all those rendition flights, and black holes or whatever? So yeah, don't worry, Teri, we're with you on torture. Absolutely. One hundred per cent.

MAY: I think perhaps ...

TRUMP: Look, I need you to do somethin' for me. I've got this great golf course in Scotland -- beautiful golf course, the best, and I love Scotland. My Mom was from Scotland, but listen, this weird-looking woman they've got running the place -- Nicole somethin'? -- I mean what is it with her? I need her to put a stop to these windmill things they keep talkin' about. Terrible idea, the worst. Can't you just grab her by the ... well, wherever -- and get her to deal with it? Listen, I'll do you a deal. I'm great at deals, I'm sure you've heard, the best. You deal with Nicole or whatever, and I can sort out your little ol' Downing Street place. I mean, you gotta admit, it's horrible. It's old, and it's so small. I've seen pictures. I'll knock it down, build you a fantastic gold-plated Trump Tower, the biggest ever, and you can have the penthouse suite. I'll put in a casino too: the Trump Downing Street Casino. You and Denis -- it is Denis, isn't it? -- you'll love it. Trust me.

MAY: Mr President, it's been a pleasure.

WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN (later): The president had an excellent discussion with the prime minister of England, who congratulated him on being the best president the world has ever seen and attracting the biggest inauguration crowd in the history of the universe. Ever.

DOWNING STREET SPOKESMAN: The prime minister was delighted with her meeting with the president, who assured her that the US greatly values its historic ties with the United Kingdom. They had a broad-ranging discussion covering several major issues, and the prime minister took the opportunity to emphasise the UK's determination to work closely with the US in the coming years.

Friday 20 January 2017

More important than Trump -- or Brexit

 If you're troubled by Trump, or bovvered by Brexit, I have good news for you: there is something far, far more serious for you to be worrying about.

Last year was the hottest year on record. So was the year before. And the year before that. Sixteen of the seventeen hottest years on record have been since the beginning of this century. And according to Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, about ninety per cent of the earth's warming was due to rising greenhouse gas emissions.

That means us. (Plus about 6 billion tonnes a year of intestinal gases from cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and chickens -- which we breed so that we can eat them. So it's us again ...)

But there are some teensy weensy bits of good news. Did you know that all the electric passenger trains in the Netherlands are now powered by wind-generated energy? Or that on four consecutive days last month, all of Scotland's power demands -- yes, all of them -- were met by output from wind turbines? (It was over Christmas, when presumably Scottish ovens were blasting away to roast all those turkeys, so it's even more impressive.)

And then in tramps Trump. George Monbiot, The Guardian's doomster-in-chief, says the new US president will spell disaster for our planet: 'He could not have made it clearer, through his public statements, the Republican platform and his appointments, that he intends to the greatest extent possible to shut down funding for both climate science and clean energy, rip up the Paris agreement, sustain fossil fuel subsidies and annul the laws that protect people and the rest of the world from the impacts of dirty energy.'

On the other hand, American businesses are learning that there are big bucks to be made in going green, and not even Donald Trump will stop them investing in technologies that look as if they could make money for them. Even the oil-mad state of Texas understands which way the wind is blowing -- literally -- and is leading the way in wind-generated power.

And some scientists think the incoming Trump administration may turn out to be more renewable-friendly than it might appear at first sight. Professor Myles Allen of Oxford University told the BBC: 'It is clear that they actually accept a great deal more of the science of human influence on climate than they are prepared to let on. They are acknowledging there is a link, there is a potential problem and that's already more than enough to justify continuing the relatively modest goals of both the Paris agreement and Clean Power Plan.'

Even Mr Trump himself has moderated his stance (apparently). During the election campaign, he called climate change a hoax and said he would cancel the US's endorsement of the Paris climate agreement. Since the election, however, he has said he has an 'open mind' about Paris and accepts that there is 'some connectivity' between human actions and climate change. Who knows? Perhaps he means it.

Both the new US president and Theresa May say they believe in investing serious government money to improve their nations' infrastructure. Flood defences might be a good place to start, coupled with much more imaginative tax incentives to encourage technological innovation in energy generation.

I was asked the other day to name my favourite building in London. I chose Blackfriars station, partly because it sits on a bridge across the River Thames, and I love the idea of waiting for a train while gazing over the river. But mainly because its roof is made entirely of photovoltaic panels, which generate up to half the energy used by the station.

It's what the future should look like -- otherwise we risk having no future at all.

By the way, my memoir, Is Anything Happening?, was published this week, and should now be available in all good bookshops. Signed (or unsigned) copies are available direct from the publisher by clicking here.



Thursday 19 January 2017

When the BBC gets it very, very wrong

                                                      To pre-order, click here.

This is the fourth and final extract from my memoir that I'm posting ahead of today's publication. As of tomorrow, it should be available either from your local bookshop or online.

The BBC excels at many things: world-class TV drama, innovative en­tertainment formats (Dr Who, Top Gear, Strictly Come Dancing, Bake-Off), wildlife documentaries and much, much more. Its programmes – Test Match Special, BBC Proms, The Archers, EastEnders – enrich the nation in a way that no other institution can dream of. In 2012, when the think tank Chatham House commissioned a survey to find out which institutions voters thought best served the UK’s national inter­est, the BBC came second, with just the armed forces ahead of it.

            But it is also in a league of its own when it comes to corporate melt­downs, and I had the great misfortune to be granted a ringside seat at far too many of these ghastly displays of managerial incompetence. All institutions get things wrong, but what the BBC wins gold medals in is getting things wrong when it gets something wrong.

            Exhibit One: the Hutton Report into the death of the government scientist David Kelly in 2003 after he was named as the source for a BBC report that said the government had ‘sexed up’ a dossier about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Lord Hutton was an appeal court judge and former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland who had been appointed to investigate the circumstances surrounding Dr Kel­ly’s apparent suicide – and he came down spectacularly hard on the BBC while largely exonerating the government.

            My conclusion, more than a decade later? When two alpha male elephants (in this case, Alastair Campbell and Greg Dyke) clash in the jungle, a lot of lesser creatures get hurt. Both men were spoiling for a fight – Campbell believed that the BBC’s journalists had been consistently hostile to [Tony] Blair and his support for the US-led invasion of Iraq, and Dyke was determined to show Campbell that the BBC was not prepared to be intimidated. His mistake – and it was a serious one – was to fight the battle on the ground of [Andrew] Gilligan’s reporting.

            Exhibit Two: Sachsgate, when the actor and comedian Russell Brand and the radio and TV presenter Jonathan Ross lost their senses and broadcast on Radio 2 a series of voicemail messages that they had left for the then 78-year-old actor Andrew Sachs (best known as the Spanish waiter Manuel, in Fawlty Towers). On one of the messages, Ross could be heard saying: ‘He [Brand] fucked your granddaughter.’ Although the programme had been pre-recorded, no one who heard it ahead of transmission thought it presented any problems.

            Interestingly, after it was broadcast, there were no immediate com­plaints. But when, a week later, the Mail on Sunday drew attention to what had been said, the complaints came flooding in. Russell Brand resigned, as did the much-respected head of Radio 2, Lesley Douglas, and Ross was suspended without pay for twelve weeks. The BBC went into one of its meltdowns and eventually issued an apology, calling the voicemail messages ‘grossly offensive’ and a ‘serious breach of editorial standards’.

            But it all went on much too long. The BBC’s response to the furore, artificially fanned though it might have been, was far too late in coming. The Prime Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and the Culture Secretary had all had their say by the time the corporation had got its act together, once again leaving the impression that too many well-paid executives were spending too long trying to duck their responsibilities.
            When the director-general, Mark Thompson, agreed to be inter­viewed on The World Tonight, I questioned him as robustly as I would have done had I not been working for him. When it was over, he smiled wanly at me across the studio desk and commented: ‘You guys really enjoy this sort of thing, don’t you?’

            He was wrong. I hated it when the BBC fell short. But what use is a BBC interviewer who is not prepared to ask tough questions of his own bosses?

            Exhibit Three: the Savile crisis. Yet again, the BBC went into meltdown after its shambolic decision-making processes proved to be utterly inadequate. There is no need to rake over the sordid details: an investigation by Newsnight into allegations that Jimmy Savile was a serial child abuser was halted, apparently because the programme’s editor was unconvinced by the available evidence, and then, in the midst of a gruesomely public inquest into his decision, the same pro­gramme broadcast similar allegations against another public figure, only for those allegations to turn out to be totally unfounded.

            It was a catalogue of ineptitude that would have shamed the most shambolic student newspaper. For an institution that likes to think of itself as the world’s most respected broadcaster, it was an unparalleled disaster. What made it particularly toxic was that although Newsnight’s Savile investigation was axed, two tribute programmes went ahead after his death, despite misgivings about Savile’s ‘dark side’ having been expressed in internal BBC emails. It still seems to me that the real scandal was that executives who had worked closely with Savile over many years, and who were well aware of the suspicions over his sexual behaviour, authorised the transmission of those programmes.

            I find that much harder to excuse than an editorial misjudgement over the strength or otherwise of a complex journalistic investigation. No editor’s judgement is infallible, and as I had worked closely with the Newsnight editor, Peter Rippon, during his time at the World Service, I was convinced that he had made his decision, rightly or wrongly, in good faith.

            Perhaps I have a weakness for thinking the best of people – except when I am interviewing them, naturally – but after more than two decades at the BBC, I came to the conclusion that with very few excep­tions, it is run by good, intelligent people with all the right instincts. Sometimes they are asked to do jobs for which they are ill-suited and sometimes they are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Greg Dyke was not temperamentally suited to run a major national institu­tion, and George Entwistle was engulfed by crisis before he had had a chance to find his way around. Both men made mistakes, and they paid the price.

            It does not make them villains.

If you missed the earlier extracts, they are here, and here, and here.