Gavin Esler's Biography

Gavin Esler

Gavin Esler is an award winning television and radio broadcaster, novelist and journalist. He is the author of five novels and two non-fiction books, The United States of Anger, and most recently Lessons from the Top, a study of how leaders tell stories to make other people follow them. It’s based on personal encounters with a wide variety of leaders, from Bill Clinton and Angela Merkel to Tony Blair, Margaret Thatcher, and even cultural leaders such as Dolly Parton.

Reviewers have been full of praise for Esler’s fiction and story-telling abilities. The writer Bernard Cornwell said his novels are "made luminous with wisdom, sympathy and story telling." The Guardian commented that Esler's fiction displays "undoubted sympathy for the human condition and a burning anger, a genuine lyricism, a quick sensitivity and a real understanding of other people." The Financial Times said Esler's stories of people in power and the compromises they are forced to make, shows that he "understands the political beast better than anyone."

What Trump stands to lose if Washington DC gains statehood

DC is overwhelmingly Democrat and Republicans are fearful of how Donald Trump’s 'reign of error' will play out

The statue debate: What to do about Adolf Hitler’s head

To refer to Colson as if he was a “philanthropist” is a reminder that black lives simply did not matter to Colson or generations of white people in Britain and elsewhere.

The spectacle of a bunch of white racist thugs pretending to “defend” the statue of Winston Churchill in Parliament Square was a truly bizarre British occasion. Some demonstrators gave Nazi salutes while claiming to “defend” the statue of the man who did more than any other individual to destroy the Nazis. What were they thinking? 

Johnson-Trump syndrome is incurable – unfortunately it infects all of us

The most arrogant bulls****ers in life are hopeless at actually getting anything done successfully

We can't just cycle our way to a greener world

In the aftermath of Covid-19 global political leadership is sorely needed to address climate change

Britain moves closer to the brink

Between Brexit and the pandemic, the UK faces unprecedented upheaval

The Big Steal 9

The Big Steal 8

The uniquely American threads that tie Rodney King to George Floyd

Racism is not an American phenomenon, but its existence in America is unlike anywhere else

Why Donald Trump is 'almost' right about the G7

The group's relevance is fading, but adding more members makes co-operation less likely

Johnson-Trump syndrome is incurable – unfortunately it infects all of us

The most arrogant bulls****ers in life are hopeless at actually getting anything done successfully

If you think chlorinated chicken sounds disgusting…

You don't know the half of it.

Nearly 30 years after the Rodney King beating nothing much has changed

Donald Trump may be the political beneficiary of these events. He plays the race card with skill and it energises his supporters.

The NHS was once the envy of the world, we need a new social contract to rebuild it

The Big Steal 7

The Big Steal 6

The Big Steal 5

Migrants risking their lives crossing illegally from France to the UK need help not blame

The migrants are sometimes fleeing war zones, from Syria or Afghanistan. But many are economic migrants looking for a better life

Coronavirus: How to prevent a new nuclear arms race – and future pandemics

Difficult though it may be, the world's powers should find ways to engage with rogue actors and thereby use investment, otherwise meant for nuclear conflict, to better prepare for global health threats

How to judge people by their Zoom backgrounds

Curating a virtual 'mise en scene' for video conferencing is now essential.


What coronavirus numbers tell us about UK's social contract

A decade of Conservative-led government policies has produced nothing but inequalities across the country. This is being brutally exposed by the pandemic.


The Big Steal Episode 4

El Pais recommends The Big Steal

"Reporter Gavin Esler builds this fascinating documentary that sounds like an addictive political thriller and contains memorable moments, like the one starring Bill Browder, an American investor in Russia who had to deal with various corrupt officials."

Coronavirus: Boris Johnson returns to a divided kingdom

In dealing with Covid-19, different parts of the UK are going in different directions – and that may be a powerful sign for the future

Coronavirus: Uncle Sam, the world really needs you

I grew up in a time when the US wanted to lead the world, and indeed it did, but its current leader is overseeing a retreat just when we need it to stay the course.

The Big Steal - Podcast Series

The Big Steal Podcast - Gavin Esler


The story of the largest theft of the biggest country’s resources by a clique of men associated with the Kremlin.

It’s the story of two men. One a rising star in business and the head of Yukos - a huge oil company: Mikhail Khodorkovsky. The other a former KGB officer who rose through the ranks to become President of Russia: Vladimir Putin.

With very different ideals, the two were destined to clash, and there could only be one winner. Vladimir Putin put Khodorkovsky in jail for ten years, stealing his company and becoming the richest man in the world.

In The Big Steal, Gavin Esler tells the story and examines Russia’s journey from democracy to kleptocracy, as the Putin regime attempts to erode democracy across the globe.

Listen to the trailer and full episodes below and subscribe now on your favourite podcast app so you don’t miss an episode!



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Big Steal Podcast

The Big Steal Podcast Ep 3

The Big Steal Podcast Ep 2

The Big Steal Podcast Ep 1

Experts are back in fashion because of the coronavirus

Political leaders in the UK and US rarely appear alone to speak about the pandemic

The silent poetry of locked-down Britain's total transformation

Most Britons are shuttering themselves in their homes, but outside the country is changing by the day

Our coronavirus superheroes don't need capes – they need our support

Don't blame villains or enemies – this is a time for heroes and friends

Pandemic teaches us who is really an 'essential worker' – and who is not

In times of emergencies, it becomes increasingly evident that many workers most of us would consider to be absolutely essential to our lives are not very well paid

Coronavirus offers a stinging rebuke to protectionists

The outbreak reminds us that all the important problems in the world are global rather than national or local – and we have to accept this fact of life

Jurgen Klopp on coronavirus: leave it to the experts

The football manager would rather play to his strengths than pretend to know the facts

In the West, healthcare standards have fallen – but there is a cure

The decline in the US and UK can be largely linked to lack of public spending. The politicians know this and need to act

Hyperactivity, Boris Johnson and the dead cats on the table

There is much activity in Boris Johnson's government but how much is real progress and how much is just clever PR spin?

Why the Scottish National Party thinks it could benefit from yet another referendum

Party supporters are convinced that Boris Johnson is alienating many previously unconvinced Scots and breaking up the UK


In voting and viruses, political challenges become apparent

In China the immediate problem is to deal with coronavirus and in the US to ensure that the election of 2020 is as fair as possible


While watching David Copperfield, suspend disbelief – and your prejudices

Dev Patel was excellent in the film, and to suggest – as some have – that his was a case of 'colour-blind casting' is missing the point about art

Boris Johnson has three big challenges ahead

Brexit is perhaps the least of the British Prime Minister's worries

It is good that difficult stories are being told and lesser-known films are getting their due

At a time when the Oscars and other film awards are criticised for lack of diversity, Arab voices are being heard a bit more than before

This is for Sama. She is a little girl I have never met but whose story touched me and if you see the Syrian documentary which bears her name, it will move you too. For Sama was filmed and directed by Waad Al Kateab – Sama’s mother – and co-director Edward Watts, in co-operation with British TV Channel 4.

Impeaching of a US president is more theatre than threat to their hold on office

Donald Trump will almost certainly escape removal from office, like Bill Clinton did two decades ago

In 2020, we must figure out how to make food banks a thing of the past

The question of what to do about poverty, especially in a rich country like the UK, should trouble us all


Movie audiences are in control today – and that's good for both business and art

A remarkable, and expensive, epic like The Irishman might not have been funded by Netflix without profound changes to the entertainment industry


After the British general election, the new battle is for the centre ground


Jeremy Corbyn's dismal failure shows Labour needs not just a new leader but new ideas

Britain decides between two leaders who barely reflect their country

The UK is a competent place where people like to solve problems rather than create them – unfortunately that doesn't seem to be how Boris Johnson or Jeremy Corbyn come across 

Nato summit failed for making news more than it made deals

The success of multilateral meetings is predicated on the willingness of leaders to negotiate in good faith and to compromise


Two nations separated by a common language: there are some things Britain just doesn't get about America

US President Donald Trump's visit to the UK is a reminder of the two nations' complex historical ties


It’s impossible to leave only footprints when US parks are being trampled

National parks in the US will be disfigured if the Trump administration allows mining, the construction of malls and introduces WiFi and Amazon deliveries


For British territories, Brexit will amount to being cut off from Westminster

Leaving the EU will remove the connection that those living in places such as Gibraltar have with the UK


Public broadcasters like the BBC face an even greater threat than politicking: apathy

Free-to-air channels are facing the challenge of staying relevant, particularly to young people, in an ever-crowded market


UK general election: Remain and Leave camps are splitting the vote

Old party loyalties will be compromised as voters side with whichever candidate fits their Brexit ethos

The last time stupidity destroyed parliament

GAVIN ESLER draws parallels between government behaviour today and around the Gunpowder plot.

Tony Blair: "Jeremy Corbyn is probably pro-Brexit for old-style leftist reasons.”

Tony Blair on Brexit: it started and should end with a referendum

Britain could be heading for a general election but that won't solve the core problem of Brexit


Boris Johnson is less like Hannibal and more like one of his elephants

The British prime minister's lumbering negotiations have little in common with the skill of the Carthaginian military strategist, who famously led a herd of African elephants across the Alps


A ban on snacking in public might seem extreme – but our health crisis demands tough measures

If taxation and education force people to be healthier, the stick approach might be a price worth paying


What would FR Leavis make of today's toxic Brexit language?

We should be taking a leaf out of the literary critic's book and paying close attention to what politicians say – and what they really mean


Amid the Brexit mess, Prince Harry and the British royals deserve a break

The UK cannot afford to have a damaged monarchy and an ineffective government at the same time


The great drama of Brexit is more farce than tragedy

Boris Johnson and his sidekick Dominic Cummings might have tragic flaws but they are no heroes


Dragging the Queen into politics leaves a sour taste

David Cameron's indiscretion and the current Brexit mess are a reminder that constitutional vagueness is no longer acceptable


Dishonesty and denialism is a virus infecting public life

Historians have long struggled to separate fact from fiction – but the truth is even harder to distinguish when politicians actively try to rewrite events as they unfold


Why has Greta Thunberg got so many people riled?

The 16-year-old climate change activist has been inundated with abuse from those who should know better


In Brexit Britain even the usually stiff upper lip is starting to quiver

Now that we know the consequences of Brexit, are we still willing to go ahead with it?

Welcome to Catch-22 Britain, where Boris Johnson has just pressed the self-destruct button​​​​​​​

Faced with the greatest political and constitutional crisis since 1939, Mr Johnson wants to close down the core of our democracy


Scots voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU – so why are their voices being ignored by the London elite?​

On my Brexit book tour, Scottish people tell me they are having second thoughts about independence, writes Gavin Esler


A no-deal Brexit would be a disaster – but is Corbyn the man to stop it?

Amid predictions of food and medicine shortages in a worst-case scenario, Britain could soon be broken


Far from the madding crowd: how tourism is a double-edged sword

We all want to find a remote spot but the trouble is, so does everyone else


The US's flourishing economy is as fake as the gold elevators in Trump Tower

'Voodoo economics' have widened the gap between the ultra-rich and those who are struggling – but can the Democrats come up with a credible challenge?


Will the Brexit buck stop with Boris Johnson?

The UK prime minister now has to take responsibility for the manifold complexities of withdrawing from the European Union


If contemporary politics have taught us anything, it's that things can always get worse

President Trump is using crude racial rhetoric as a central plank of his re-election strategy


The demise of Our Man in Washington is a reflection of the chaos of Brexit Britain

The real story behind Sir Kim Darroch's resignation lies not in the US capital but in Westminster


As graduating students look forward to the future, should we be doing more for their mental health?

Loneliness and depression can plague young men and women, who are at the greatest risk of suicide


Brexit Without The Bullshit

In 2016 I did something I had never done before. I voted in the Brexit referendum without knowing what I was voting for or against. No one explained to me - or you - what Brexit would mean for our lives. Whether you voted Leave or Remain, we did not know the facts about Brexit, how it would affect our jobs, food, schools, universities, the NHS, our families, pets, travel arrangements, and even the supposed unity of the United Kingdom. In the years since the Brexit vote, the British government has continued to fail to explain the facts about Brexit, and so I decided to find out for myself. The result is my latest book, “Brexit Without The Bullshit.” 


Brexit Without the Bullshit   Brexit Without the Bullshit


At first I thought that if Brexit were stripped of the bullshit — lies and deceit, scare stories and fantasies — there would be nothing left. But the facts about Brexit are so stark, there’s plenty to discuss and think about. The key fact is this:  Brexit is not an event. It is a process. Whether it happens or not, whatever version of leaving the EU we end up with, we will be forced to discuss Brexit for years to come. If we are to survive and perhaps thrive, we need to start with the facts. 

The Brexitaur is devouring our children’s futures

Once upon a time it was the will of the people that young Greek men and women were sacrificed to a voracious beast, the minotaur. The reasons for this were never entirely clear. In 21st century Britain we have our own great beast, the Brexitaur, to which we are about to sacrifice future generations of our own young.

Little Valeria Ramirez and her father are a symptom of a much bigger problem

Climate change, crime and famine have rendered migration the story of our time 

Thirty years after the Cold War ended, the fault lines are being redrawn

The battle is no longer about the competing ideologies of communism and capitalism. Instead, it is between disruption and order


With Brexit looming, luck will not be enough for the UK's next prime minister

The UK's Conservative party is choosing its – and the country's – next leader. It's a job with even more potential pitfalls than ever.


Mobile phones are killing our attention spans and ruining public discourse

Information overload, multitasking and soundbite culture have created a world in which nuance is lost and coarse sloganeering prevails


It's not good enough to just shrug when politicians like Boris Johnson are caught lying

It will never be possible to eradicate lying from public life but a more vigorous media and more critical voters would be a start 

Being on the European campaign trail brought out the worst of us – and the best

From Journalist to Candidate: "Cometimos muchos errores con el Brexit"

Gavin Esler, periodista y novelista británico, ha decidido dar un paso adelante y presentarse a las elecciones europeas por el nuevo partido Chanke UK para intentar frenar el Brexit

At Change UK we will fight to save London from Brexit

British public has chance to see off caricature figures of Brexit debate

Gavin Esler: TV News Must Stop Giving Airtime To The 'Village Idiots' Of Brexit

BBC presenter turned Change UK MEP candidate tells HuffPost UK he wants 'fix Britain' – and explains why he would "happily" buy Farage a pint.

European elections: Gavin Esler on Brexit, Poles and real change

I have never joined a political party before. But I have joined ChangeUK. My thinking is simple. The Brexit which British people were promised in 2016 is undeliverable.

My first week as a politician has been filed with lively debates and constant beeping

Announcing the decision to stand for election is a truly life-changing event – and one I never imagined happening to me.

I have never feared for my country's future... until now


Broadcaster Gavin Esler explains why he has decided to stand as a Change UK MEP candidate – and how New European readers helped convince him to do so.


I want to stop Brexit, fix Britain and reform the EU

“I’m in this because I want to address the causes of Brexit. I want to stop Brexit, fix Britain and reform the EU.” So says Gavin Esler who is next month likely to become one of the UK’s more unlikely elected politicians.


In just 10 minutes I knew I had to run as an MEP

This week Change UK announced their star candidate in the European elections — Gavin Esler. The former journalist talks throwing off BBC impartiality, fighting Brexit and not watching Newsnight anymore.


European Elections

I am honoured to be a Change U.K. Candidate for London in the upcoming European elections. I'm proud to be on a team which has an opportunity to stop Brexit and start fixing the things which are not working well enough in this great country.

Please register and vote!

I wasn't born to run as a politician but Brexit was my breaking point

Our political system is severely damaged. That's why I'm running in the European elections.

We're beginning something really big

There is no debate about measles and vaccination – the science says it all

When it comes to matters of public health, we must all deal with established facts and act in the best interests of society at large


In politics, tough decisions must be made before the doors of opportunity slam shut

Global leaders are often judged on their bad decisions, but there is no way to tell whether the alternative would have been worse


Demographic change is an age-old problem

People are living longer and having fewer children. These combined factors will have massive implications for healthcare, the economy and society at large


Waiting for Brexit – a drama in which nothing happens again and again

With the the UK's departure from the European Union in a state of deadlock, politicians could learn a valuable lesson from the people of Northern Ireland


There are rough days ahead as Brexit D-Day looms – but the great British tradition of common sense will get us through

Britain is stumbling into yet another crunch week, with no clear picture of what will get us out of this self-made mess


Brexit Britain has painted itself into a corner, but there are escape routes

Voters are able to respect the result of a vote held three years ago, while also recognising that things have changed since then


We could all do with a holiday from Brexit

Unfortunately, as the deadline for leaving the EU approaches, it is clear that taking a family break will soon be much harder for British passport holders


Charities are not giving a real picture of Africa

British MPs now have their chance to 'take back control' from Theresa May's hapless government

From Trump to the Brexiteers, welcome to the world of the Know Nothings

Cinema is making connections in an increasingly disunited world

Venezuela will suffer as long as Maduro remains in power

Financial mismanagement and endemic corruption have killed what should be the region's most dynamic economy


Hollywood is changing but women still face an uphill battle

The world of cinema is more diverse than ever before, so why is this not being reflected in major award nominations?


Tearing down walls: how those who are vehemently opposed can sometimes forge peace

Tearing down walls: how those who are vehemently opposed can sometimes forge peace

Britain is a rudderless ship with no real captain

As we await Tuesday’s critical Parliamentary vote on Brexit, Prime Minister Theresa May is only nominally a leader


Degrees of separation – how UK universities are set to suffer after Brexit

Contrary to what some members of the government might think, we have never been in more need of expertise


Now that cancer is no longer a death sentence, we must do more to help survivors live

Many who have lived through the disease speak of suffering twice – one with the condition itself and then again with the stigma of its aftermath


Food banks should not exist in the world's fifth-richest country

While many British people are exchanging gifts and sitting down to lavish seasonal meals, a growing number cannot afford to eat


Brexit has proved that there should be second acts in political life

While the current government plays with the UK's future, veteran politicians such as John Major and Tony Blair have emerged as important voices


In Theresa May's Brexit pantomime, a second referendum is the only final act that makes sense

Conservative infighting has torn the government apart and placed the UK's future in the balance. Meanwhile, any attempt to appease both the leave and remain camps is doomed to failure


Brexit Britain is in chaos and only a People's Vote can save it

The UK is at a truly pivotal point and its people must be given a chance to reconsider their options


George HW Bush was the perfect embodiment of an old elite and another era

Driven by a deep commitment to public service, the party of the 41st president of the United States couldn't be more different to today's GOP


Vladimir Putin's plan of global destabilisation falters as respect for him plummets

Increasingly viewed as interfering, inept and economically challenged, things are not looking good for Russia

This lady should be for turning: stubbornness could be Theresa May's ultimate downfall

Margaret Thatcher lost her grip on power by sticking to her guns over the poll tax. Mrs May could end up doing the same by ploughing ahead with her unpopular Brexit deal.

In an age of information overload, who can we really trust?

As faith in traditional media outlets declines and fake news is on the rise, sifting out biased sources is becoming ever more challenging.

Tomorrow's midterms could be a repeat of Clinton's catastrophic errors in the 1990s

Trump faces a similar test, with polls predicting the Republicans will lose control of the House of Representatives but might hold the Senate.

America’s midterm elections take place tomorrow, giving voters the opportunity to deliver a rebuke to Donald Trump and steer the US in a different direction. But will we see a repetition of November 1994, when then president Bill Clinton and his New Democrats were thoroughly humiliated? The results then were so bad that one commentator prophesied “curtains for Clinton”. Republicans swept into the Senate and House of Representatives and America lurched heavily to the right. Mr Clinton said he would work with his political opponents “to serve all the American people in a non-partisan manner” and by 1996, he himself lurched to the right, claiming “the era of big government is over”.

Politicians are morally complicit in fuelling violent action with hate-filled rhetoric

Verbal incendiarist politicians have long used their speeches to fire up hatred, even if they don't break the law themselves.


The People's Vote march showed ordinary citizens are leading the leaders on Brexit

A gathering of 700,000 protesters, the biggest in the British capital in 15 years, demonstrated massive discontent about the supposed inevitability of a pullout from the European Union

In a crunch week for Brexit, there are echoes of the crash and burn of the DeLorean dream

Just like the failed sports car of the 1980s, the promise of a deal has been based on exaggerated hopes, empty promises and bluster

In spite of Donald Trump, the desire for US leadership on the international stage remains strong

It will take more than the actions of one man for the people of the world to lose faith in American values

Politicians could learn a lesson from ancient Rome and know when to quit

One of the biggest problems facing the world is that of low-skilled, incompetent government, but it doesn't have to be that way

How Margaret Thatcher would have handled Brexit

As the Conservatives gather for their conference in Birmingham, their Brexit policy in crisis, they should consider what lessons can be learned from the former PM, says GAVIN ESLER.

Home of the Hamburger? Book Review

"Inventing American Tradition: From the 'Mayflower' to Cinco de Mayo" By Jack David Eller

Canterbury Cathedral reeks of tradition. The home of the Church of England and Anglicanism, it may have a 21st-century Twitter handle, @No1Cathedral, but behind that lies more than a thousand years of history. When I was asked to become chancellor of the University of Kent, based in Canterbury, I was, I admit, daunted by the weight of tradition. One tradition, dating from the university’s founding in 1965, is for the chancellor to wear a heavy green silk and gold-braided gown created for the first person to exercise that office, Princess Marina. I was worried about how I would control the awkwardly flapping cloth and matching headgear as I processed into No1 Cathedral for the first time in front of a congregation of a thousand people to present degrees to graduating students. ‘What if the mortar board slips off?’ I said to the vice-chancellor, Dame Julia Goodfellow, ‘or if I trip on the gown and fall flat on my face?’ ‘Don’t worry,’ she assured me. ‘Anything that goes wrong in the cathedral, you just say it’s a tradition.’

Blasey Ford and Kaepernick: twin symbols of America's deep divisions

Both have fought against exploitation and discrimination, but the issues that energise Democrats are likely to drive Republicans in the opposite direction 


Brexit is the naughtiest thing Theresa May has ever done

Brexit - can it be overturned? Gavin Esler In Conversation with Lord Adonis

On Thursday 20 September, Lord Adonis visited the University of Kent for a special In Conversation event titled 'Brexit - can it be overturned?'

The taxing problem of how to avoid another financial crisis

A portrait of a president: fear and loathing in Donald Trump's White House

Who are the Brexit posse chasing us off the cliff?

In one of the most famous bits of dialogue in a modern film, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the two robbers are being pursued by a posse which they can’t shake off.

“Who are those guys?” Butch and Sundance keep asking each other, before being forced to jump off a cliff.

“Who are those guys?” is also a question many of us have been asking about a different desperate posse, the Brexit Bunch, the group of self-confident politicians, motor-mouth Brexiteers and assorted think tankers who have led us into this Brexit shambles.

To be clear: Brexit is not in trouble because of those of us who oppose it. It is in trouble because those who are most enthusiastic about it cannot deliver the fantasy they promise. So it is worth asking, before we jump off our own cliff, who are those guys?

Jonathan Isaby
Jonathan Isaby


How Britain's surge in measles cases shows those who shout loudest often know so little

The lessons learned from the MMR debate: facts must be separated from the smooth patter of snake oil salesmen

Here’s a story for our time. A campaigner, an articulate, convincing talker – although a bit of an outsider –creates around himself an extraordinary media blitz. He passionately declares to anyone who will listen that he is telling the truth, despite all the controversy he has caused.

Why I joined the People's Vote campaign: Britain deserves better than the diet of lies and incompetence we have been fed

If voters have changed their minds or feel cheated over Brexit, they should be allowed to say so at the ballot box

You walk into a restaurant and order steak with French fries. When the meal comes, the French fries are cold and instead of steak, you find you’ve got a plate of raw chicken. It smells bad.

When the facts change, rational people change their minds

Truth decay matters – whatever Rudy Giuliani and his master might say

Politicians have always stretched the truth but in the world of lies in which we now live, truth decay extends from politics to science

The storm over Rudy Giuliani's comments last weekend that "truth isn't truth" are a reminder of the dispiriting sense that we are all suffering from “truth decay”. That’s the phrase used by the highly respected Rand Corporation to account for a world in which lying and deceit have become normalised.

We’re in the Br-excrement.

People's Vote Edinburgh Rally

Insect Armageddon: how modern life is killing man’s essential friend

If every last bug were to be killed off, it is difficult to see how humans could long outlast them

Here is this year’s most unpopular cause: insects. I suspect, if you think of insects at all, you will be absolutely sure you have enough of them in your life. What is there to like about those six-legged little beasts, which can bite at one end, sting at the other and are generally regarded as pests? None of us want them near our bodies, in our homes, cars, or (worst of all) anywhere near our food.

'This is the best piece I’ve read about Brexit'

'This is an emergency'

Why I’ve changed my mind on Brexit

When the facts change, rational people change their minds. It’s normal. It’s advisable. We do it every day.

The facts about Brexit have most certainly changed over the past two years and I’ve now changed my mind about that too. When once I quietly accepted a democratic vote to make Brexit happen, I don’t any more.

This could be the century of women as more female voices call for change

University of York

Could you give up social media for a month? Scroll Free September gives pause for thought

A new campaign is urging people to ditch their smartphones for a month – but there could be better ways to learn healthy online behaviour

It’s possible you are reading this article after following a link on Twitter. Or perhaps a friend recommended it on some other part of the social media universe. Most days I read news stories, features, interesting anecdotes, surveys, opinion polls and other informative material by scrolling through social media.

Fresh-faced university graduates are our best hope of deflecting fake news

Universities are not merely buildings full of knowledge, books and clever people – they are institutions which live up to the values of the Enlightenment. That means they are a good place to kill off misinformation

Set in the English county of Kent, an hour by train from London, Canterbury Cathedral is one of the most magnificent buildings in Europe. It’s 1,000 years old, one of the oldest buildings in Britain and in the past week, it has also been one of the happiest.

Has Trump made Uncle Sam the embarrassing relative at a wedding?

The US president's UK tour sparked a tidal wave of anti-Trump sentiment, which is in danger of breeding a generation of America haters

In the unlikeliest of places, the Amazon jungle, I once met two intrepid young British tourists. I was filming television reports on the burning of the rainforest. They were eco-tourists exploring an extraordinary and exotic part of the world. I happened to mention that I had also been filming in another remarkable natural setting – the deserts of the western United States. I suggested they might like to visit the US.

It might not seem like it, but the world has never had it so good

A new book by Swedish academic Hans Rosling is a powerful antidote to the fact-free nonsense of modern politicians

Cheer up, it’s not as bad as you think. That's not my opinion; I know it for a fact, and that fact is as follows: things are, mostly, getting better around the world.

A young Hispanic woman from the Bronx is exactly the disruption global politics needs

At a time when staid politicians want to put up divides, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's win at the primaries represents a break from the politics of the past, writes Gavin Esler

This is the attention deficit age, with an American president ruling as the king of clickbait

Attention-grabbers like Trump profit every time they get our attention. We should ignore them instead, writes Gavin Esler

Voters will judge Trump on the economy, not on his moral or constitutional values

If middle-income Americans feel they are better off, the US president will win a second term, writes Gavin Esler

Are mothers to blame for the recent spate of young women extremists?

In two recent cases, the mothers were key figures whose actions in the name of protecting their daughters ended up doing precisely the opposite, writes Gavin Esler

Why the Cold War didn't really end when the Soviet Union collapsed

Poland has requested an American armoured division on its soil to counter Russian interference. It should pursue diplomacy instead, writes Gavin Esler

Tens of millions of us seek a home away from home – but migrants are easy targets for 'the race card'

An estimated 258 million people live far from the country where they were born but the reception they receive can be hostile – and not all of them integrate, writes Gavin Esler

Whether it's Chairman Mao or Churchill, why not let history be taught by the victors?

Attacking English public schools for supposedly kowtowing to China's view of the past is a lesson in hypocrisy, writes Gavin Esler

Lies, damned lies and statistics: when does a fabrication become permissible?

Trump's verbal contortions raise the question of whether lying matters anymore as his outrageous claims don't seem to dint his popularity, writes Gavin Esler

The best way to prepare for the future is to create it yourself

The world is considerably healthier, wealthier and less dangerous than it was 50 years ago, but where will we be in another 50 years? asks Gavin Esler at The National's Future Forum

The secret weapon of the Republicans is loyalty – but it will be sorely tested with the midterm elections just six months away

The big question is whether Republicans sensing defeat in November might be more open about distancing themselves from a president with a bizarre leadership style, incompetent White House staff and dubious personal morality, writes Gavin Esler

I stand with Elon Musk: meetings at work are the enemy of creativity

Any of us who have spent our lives as office drones will cheer at his claim that excessive meetings are the blight of big companies, writes Gavin Esler

Who would want to join politics when it is so riven with nasty factions?

The search for a new knight in shining armour to rescue us has been going on for years – and not only in Britain, writes Gavin Esler

On its 20th anniversary, the Good Friday Agreement teaches us important lessons – even for those with blood on their hands

If members of paramilitary organisations in Northern Ireland can change and make peace, perhaps there remains hope in other supposedly impossible conflicts

Blade Runner's dystopian vision failed to account for our changing social habits. Where will we be 30 years from now?

Perhaps the more interesting change will not be whether we eliminate evil robots but whether we can also slay some of the causes of health problems by altering our habits 

America is great in every field except government

US enterprise has triumphed in every area of the private sector, from science and culture to industry and research. So why does greatness in the public sector elude those in power? Gavin Esler asks

March madness seems to have infected international politics

Foolish behaviour reminds us that humans are not exempt from Mad March – and that politicians are sometimes desperate creatures, prepared to do almost anything to catch our eye

Retail shopping has been turned on its head by online ordering. Here's how it can survive

Gavin Esler unravels what the future of shopping could look like

How to change the world, one book at a time

Jared Kushner might learn to turn the page on peace in the Middle East if he read more

How a simple postie can teach us all a lesson about tackling social ills

If loneliness is a problem so significant that it requires a government minister, perhaps authorities should re-consider the value of public services


In a 21st century media world of endless choice, should we still have to pay for public service broadcasting?

Broadcasters are dealing with ageing audiences and limited appeal to younger people – but at the same time offer 'a source of civil discourse in an uncivil era'

The ‘gotcha’ game might make good TV, but exposing politicians’ lies takes skill

Politicians frequently engage in the politics of distraction but such tactics rarely serve good government

If a leader leads and nobody follows, the consequences for all of us are profound

Trust in the US government is eroding. Gavin Esler considers the causes.


Headless chickens or sitting ducks? The Tories' lack of strategy in Brexit makes their leader a prime target

British Prime Minister Theresa May could learn a lesson from business executives, who set objectives and gather their top team to achieve them.

Put down your smartphone and stop watching great art through a viewfinder

Live events are a time when artists create something for us to share in the moment. Don't miss it.

In awards season, look to Hollywood to understand modern America

The film industry is capable of rapid change. With luck, so is the United States.


We are witnessing the normalisation of racism, from the US to Myanmar

Controversial statements do not appear to harm the careers of politicians making them.

Why do politicians lie? When honesty is not always the best policy

Leaders are often afraid to appear out of touch or ignorant about a subject.

Terrorism is a kind of violent theatre seeking the oxygen of publicity

Terrorists themselves are deluded, armed criminals and misfits. We must refuse to be terrorised.

Drowning men clutch at straws. Drowning politicians clutch at anything.

By inventing phoney problems and pretending to solve them, politicians are damaging democracy.

Brexit is all about borders and barriers. Peace in Ireland is not

Brexit dictates a hard border in Ireland – but political logic and common sense say this would be disastrous for tourism and business,

Year in Review: Populism was on the march in 2017

Will populism continue into 2018?

Worldwide, 2017 was the Year of Populism but there were as many setbacks as gains for rabble-rousers. It is fair to ask if it was the year that the trend peaked.

Gift-giving can lead to some awkward moments

What should you do when given a gift you hate? Lie through your teeth.

Louvre Abu Dhabi teaches us to celebrate our diversity and common humanity, not our differences

The 'universal museum' encourages us to see the world differently and conveys the greatness of Arab culture

Why Donald Trump's 2018 UK visit really isn't a good idea

At first I thought a Trump visit would in some way pull Britain together. Now I am not so sure.

Capitalism is not working, but can it be fixed?

Profound inequalities and unfairness are undermining the economic system.

Brussels is in big trouble: Brexit is the least of Europe's problems

There is a crisis of confidence within the EU and rising nationalism could lead to it unravelling.

Theresa May's British government strides closer to the edge

Britain tolerates the mediocre, the blowhards, the unprepared, the lazy and the ignorant, but it doesn't take kindly to bad politics.

Finding news has never been easier. Finding information we can trust is much more difficult

Twenty years ago this week I was sitting in a TV studio in west London waiting to be the first voice on the BBC’s first 24-hours-a-day news channel. Nowadays along with BBC World, the BBC News channel is the spine of much of the BBC’s journalism.

In Conversation with David Suchet

David Suchet CBE is an actor, playing roles on the stage, on television and in films for over 40 years. Series three continued with a special episode of In Conversation on Friday 3 November 2017 in the Colyer-Fergusson Concert Hall, where Gavin questioned David on everything from finding his voice, how he developed and transformed into his characters, and what Agatha Christie’s family thought of his portrayal of Poirot.

What does the future of work look like?

Gavin Esler travels to Paris to sample the views of experts and thinkers on artificial intelligence and what we all be doing once robots take over in the workplace.

In Conversation with Francesca Simon

Francesca Simon is an author of children’s books, the most famous of these being the Horrid Henry series, illustrated by Tony Ross.

In our first special family-friendly episode of In Conversation on Saturday 28 October 2017, Gavin asked how the famous naughty child was created and how Francesca developed him in to a fully-fledged personality. She drew on her own experiences, translating perfectly in to Henry’s Horrid world. Gavin also explored her expansion into books for older children and how everything she writes has some sort of archaic basis…

In Conversation with Owen Jones

Owen Jones visited the University of Kent on 23 October 2017 as a guest in our In Conversation series.

The informal chat with Chancellor Gavin Esler covered a variety of topics, with a particular focus on the political climate in the wake of the 2017 General Election and the 2016 European Union Referendum.

In the struggle against terrorism, torture is counter-productive and morally wrong

Winston Churchill is supposed to have joked that “you can depend upon the Americans to do the right thing, but only after they have exhausted every other possibility.” It is a fine, affectionate quip and it sums up an extraordinary and extremely detailed new report by the US senate select intelligence committee. The report was into torture, one of the most unpleasant by-products of the struggle against terrorism.

Could China Teach Western Governments a Lesson in Competence?

My new job description is “professional tennis player”, although Rafa Nadal can rest easy. I’m enthusiastic but incompetent. And by “professional”, I mean I play tennis when I should be working. The idea of amateur enthusiasm posing as professional competence is one of the stories of our time.

The "Obvious" solution to gun massacre... Gun Control

The talented literary agent, Ed Victor, once wrote a book with an intriguing title: The Obvious Diet. He was trying to lose weight and he read various how-to-diet books with increasing disappointment. He was struck by something, well, obvious. Diet books are often ways of selling more food. Some involve the purchase of special diet supplements, diet plans, fancy juices or supposed wonder foods.

In Conversation with Terry Waite

On Tuesday 3 October, humanitarian and author, Terry Waite CBE joined us for the In Conversation series. Watch as he relates his time as a hostage in Lebanon, his career and perspectives on life, faith and politics.

Would You Trust A World Leader To Babysit Your Children?

It cannot just be me who is thinking this, surely. But over the past few months and with increasing frequency I have been asking myself the same troubling question. World leaders and major political figures have often had delusions of grandeur. But are we now living in an age when a remarkably large number of politicians actually have delusions of competence?

In Conversation with Polly Toynbee

In a one-off special at the Astor Community Theatre, Deal, Gavin Esler was joined by fellow journalist and writer, Polly Toynbee for In Conversation.

Kim Jong Un, Gambling and the 1% Doctrine

As a 15 year old, I broke a big school rule: no gambling. Like most teenagers, I knew everything about everything and had no concept of danger nor of my responsibility to others. But I did know I was good at poker, which meant that even though I played with my friends only for pennies, I would usually emerge from a game with more money than when I started. Repeatedly winning while gambling creates a dangerous delusion of infallibility, especially in someone who is quite immature. I did not understand that I was risking much more than pennies. 

My Interview With Bruce Frosyth

A few years ago I had the great pleasure of spending some time with Bruce Forsyth at his home. He was generous with his time, delightful, funny and full of stories about his career. I was very amused to see in his downstairs loo he had a poster from the 1960s with him at the top of the bill (of course) at the London Palladium. Underneath was a long list of other stars, and near the bottom of the bill an obscure pop band called .... The Beatles. Brucie was a great entertainer for years and for the generations. Much missed.

My Top 5 Rules For Spotting Twitter Trolls

  1. The most virulent trolls are always anonymous, too cowardly to identify themselves.
  2. The most stupid comments come from those with the silliest phoney Twitter names.
  3. The abusers usually have few followers but Tweet incessantly.
  4. The less the troll knows, the greater the certainty with which he (and it is usually a "he") claims to know it.
  5. And women on social media receive the worst abuse.

Know-Nothings & the Un-Enlightenment

One of the great puzzles of life is why people who know nothing about a subject are so keen to demonstrate their ignorance by sounding off about it. Perhaps there is nothing new in this, but social media and international TV broadcasts mean stupidity is now globalised. Ignorance can go viral, publicly, loudly and worldwide before Knowledge gets its boots on.

In the West, the traditional political system is broken. The question is: how do you fix it?

The most important political division in the world used to be between the left and the right. No longer. Nowadays it is between those who believe the economic and political system worldwide broadly works for them and those who don’t. Political divisions of the old fashioned left-right variety still exist, but the "system works or does not work" division cuts through what used to be normal. I know all this because Dave, the builder who has been working on my house, told me so.

Peak Populism?

We have reached Peak Populism. (Probably.) With populism, the caveat is necessary because the wave of discontent which swept the world in 2016 remains unpredictable, but the evidence is clear. Populism worldwide is waning or mutating, and is certainly not the force it was a year ago. Britain voted for Brexit in 2016, and populist discontent with ailing economies, stagnant wages, and government failures brought us Trump in the USA, Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines, and a host of new parties and groupings apparently edging towards power across the world.

In Conversation: New Series

I'm delighted to say that the University of Kent is hosting a new series of IN CONVERSATION with some absolutely terrific guests. Coming up we have Polly Toynbee, Michael Gove, Owen Jones, Terry Waite and Francesca Simon all in the schedule and other top names have confirmed they want to take part but we are juggling dates. Francesca Simon will be spending the afternoon on the University of Kent's lovely campus overlooking Canterbury.

We expect a very big demand for tickets from her many loyal readers. Terry Waite will undoubtedly talk with me about his experiences in captivity in Beirut but will also reflect on the role of religion and the church today, at a time when religious persecution and bigotry towards people of different faiths remains part of our lives. Polly Toynbee, Michael Gove and Owen Jones will undoubtedly be discussing their own lives, formative influences and careers but also topics as diverse as how to pay for a university education, Brexit, Trump, and Britain's future role in the world. Do join us! Tickets have in the past gone very quickly so please book early to avoid disappointment, Dates and times are listed on this website under EVENTS, and available through the University of Kent Gulbenkian theatre, Collyer Ferguson theatre or (in the case of Polly Toynbee) from the Astor Theatre in Deal, Kent. 

Sunday, 23 July 2017

In Conversation with Jo Brand

In Conversation with Jo Brand at the University of Kent on 28 February 2017.

In Conversation with Dame Diana Rigg

On 28 November 2016, Gavin Esler, Chancellor of the University of Kent welcome Dame Diana Rigg DBE to the University as part of the second series of In Conversation.

In Conversation with Bernard Cornwell

Bernard Cornwell OBE joined Gavin Esler for the third In Conversation of series two, on 17 October 2016.

The United States of Anger (1998)

In the 1990s I travelled around 48 of the states in the United States and was astounded by the level of anger I found among ordinary middle income Americans. I wrote a book, published by Penguin in 1998, about my experiences called THE UNITED STATES OF ANGER. The themes of that book explain why Donald Trump is to be the next President of the United States. I thought that sections of the book would appeal to readers today, and so I have begun to place some of the text in the BOOKS section of my website.

The roots of the Trump presidency extend back to the economic "good times" of the Clinton presidency, when the fissure between the richest Americans and those left behind began to open wide. If Americans were angry -- and they were -- during the period of great economic growth in the 1990s, you can imagine the impact the recession has had on ordinary working people. Let me know what you think -

Saturday, 19 November 2016

In Conversation with Count Herman Van Rompuy

Gavin Esler In Conversation with Count Herman Van Rompuy

In Conversation with Sandi Toksvig

On Tuesday 4 October, the second series of In Conversation began at the University of Kent. Gavin Esler was joined by Sandi Toksvig OBE for an evening of conversation... with laughter aplenty!

In Conversation with Robert Wyatt

Robert Wyatt, legend of the Canterbury Scene, was the sixth and final guest of the 2015/16 series of Chancellor's conversations

In Conversation with Louis de Bernieres

Our In Conversation at the University of Kent with Louis de Bernieres was an evening of great wit and insight. It began with Louis describing how he had been at school for a time in Kent, a school in the county of Charles Dickens which sounded as if it could have come from a Dickens novel. As Louis put it, the head teacher was a paedophile and the deputy head was a sadist. Louis said he prefered the paedophile. "At least he liked us." I'll put the video of our hour long (and often very funny) conversation up on the website when it becomes available. The next season of IN CONVERSATION begins with the delightful, wonderful SANDI TOKSVIG in early October, followed soon afterwards by an old friend, BERNARD CORNWELL. Watch out for further details. 

Gavin Esler In Conversation with Alastair Stewart

Alastair Stewart OBE was the next guest in the Chancellor's In Conversation series when he visited the University of Kent on 20 February 2016.

Gavin Esler In Conversation with Mark Kermode

Saturday 23 January saw the visit of Mark Kermode to the University of Kent's Canterbury campus. The University Chancellor, Gavin Esler, welcomed Mark to the University in front of a packed-out Woolf Lecture Theatre.

Gavin Esler In Conversation with Ian Rankin

On Saturday 7 November 2015, the University's Chancellor, Gavin Esler, welcomed Ian Rankin OBE to the University for the second 'In Conversation' of the 2015/16 academic year.

Gavin Esler In Conversation with Gerald Scarfe

Joining University of Kent Chancellor Gavin Esler for the first instalment of this series of 'In Conversation' was celebrated satirical cartoonist and illustrator Gerald Scarfe CBE.

Gavin Esler In Conversation with Lord Kinnock

Gavin Esler, the University of Kent's Chancellor, launched the In Conversation series in 2015 with a visit from Lord Kinnock.

The Good Goering

Albert and Hermann Goering

Hermann Goering, Hitler's deputy and chosen successor, plus the man who led the Luftwaffe into the Battle of Britain, had a younger brother, Albert. And Albert was a very different Goering. But was he - as some claim - the "Good Goering?" I've been finding out for BBC Radio 4.

Hitler's Revenge at Nuremberg

While visiting the court house in Nuremberg, the site of the Nuremberg trials, one of the excellent historians at the related museum was scheduled to record a BBC interview with me. Unfortunately she phoned to say she had been delayed. She needed to visit her doctor. When she eventually turned up she revealed that she was in considerable pain -- as a result of the bust of Hitler that, in Nazi times, had once stood at the courthouse.

Hitlers Revenge

Apparently during the Nuremberg trials one of the US military doctors called in to check on the health of the top Nazis who were accused of war crimes, decided to "borrow" the bust of Hitler which stood at the front of the court. When his tour of duty at Nuremberg ended (we believe in 1947) the bust disappeared. Then early in 2015 the Nuremberg courthouse recieved a telephone call from the United States. The former military doctor had died and his widow was desperate to return the bust of Der Fuehrer. (You can understand why.)

The historian was despatched to the United States to pick it up, but as she was hurrying to catch her plane home to Germany she slipped on ice and the very heavy bronze bust of Hitler, which she was taking as hand luggage, cracked her ribs. The poor woman returned in considerable pain to Europe but had to change planes in Schiphol airport in the Netherlands. There the security staff X-rayed her bag and saw the face of the greatest war criminal of the last century, the man who had invaded their country in 1940, staring back at them. They called the historian over to answer a few questions -- clearly assuming she was some kind of neo-Nazi Hitler admiring nut. When she produced evidence of her identity as a leading historian she was allowed to go on her way .... but Hitler, in the strangest of ways, had a bit of revenge on those whose job is to ensure that Germany and the world never forgets about his deeds.

Our historian friend tried to laugh about the incident, but her ribs still hurt.


Fatherhood. The best thing …


Defence Academy

Thanks to the Defence Academy at Shrivenham for inviting me to lecture to senior military officers, MoD staff, and others. What an engaging, interesting, tough minded and experienced audience. I was especially delighted with the feedback, which I reproduce below. Most importantly, from my point of view, the audience understood why PowerPoint and similar lectures can be a turn off. I just talked about leaders and leadership and answered questions to the best of my ability. Here's a flavour of the responses.

  • “he showed that PowerPoint is unnecessary when you are a gifted orator. I did not lose interest once.”
  • “Gavin demonstrated the value of distilling issues and keeping it simple – ‘less is more’. Brilliant.”
  • “First class session. Someone able to draw on his experience to offer insights relevant to our own challenges. Excellent and entertaining presentation, and handled a large number of questions professionally and with good humour.”
  • “engaging, articulate, personable and a raft of stories to tell, you could not go wrong! Some real nuggets to take back to base and reflect upon.”
  • “I attended seeking some thought on how to deal with negative reputational issues suffered by the team I am working with. This talk has given me some thought on how I might deal with achieving a change in how the team is viewed.”
  • “what an excellent and inspiring speaker! By setting the ‘story’ message in the context of people we know I now appreciate the importance of my own story. "

Thanks to all those involved in the organisation of the event.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Jimmy Page & Inspiration

I spent part of today with Jimmy Page, someone who appears on everyone's list of the greatest rock guitarists of all time. 

Jimmy Page


We were talking, among other things, about his re-mastering of the Led Zeppelin double album PHYSICAL GRAFFITTI to be released this month in time for the 40th anniversary of its first release. But what struck me was that our conversation constantly turned to innovation and inspiration. Jimmy Page would repeatedly say that Led Zeppelin could have made the same sounding music over and over again but never wanted to. If some elements of the fourth album sounded a bit like Led Zeppelin 2, they would abandon that idea and move on. It was the definition of creativity.

If you go to McDonalds you do not get the best hamburger you have ever eaten in your life, but you do get one which will, almost certainly, taste like the one you had yesterday and the one you can buy tomorrow. Some artists and writers are like that. A friend of mine who coordinates a literary festival complained that if she gets yet another new novel calling itself "the new GONE GIRL" she will go mad.

Like McDonalds, some publishers only want to publish what they published before, and some musicians want constantly to rework their former hits. The fact that Jimmy Page absolutely does NOT want to do that explains why in its fifth decade, Led Zeppelin still sounds fresh, as if every recording is in fact a live show.

Meryl Streep

I don't usually get nervous before interviewing people, but I was very nervous before meeting Meryl Streep this week. The reason is not that she is formidable - although she plays some very formidable characters. She was in London to promote her role as the witch in Into the Woods - but the witch character is a pussycat compared to Streep's role as the matriarch in August: Osage County. She also played Mrs Thatcher in The Iron Lady but -- as she reminded me -- she was also in Mamma Mia.

The thing that made me nervous was that as a fan I have admired her from afar for so long and I was worried that maybe, just maybe, up close she would not be what I had admired. Years ago, in one of the worst interviews I ever conducted, I met Catherine Deneuve and before the interview I was full of admiration for her. After the interview? Well, let's just say that I have met less petulant 3 year olds. And so I waited for Meryl Streep in our film location in central London hoping that she would be all that I ever thought she was: extremely smart, witty, talented. She was all of the above, and also funny, self-deprecating, plugged in to the wider world beyond Hollywood.

The interview will be aired on the BBC this week, but after we stopped recording I mentioned to her that however scary her role as the witch was supposed to be, it was nowhere near as terrifying as the matriarch in the Osage County movie. "Scared me too," she said, and she meant it. And what makes Meryl Streep nervous? Well, on Day One of shooting Into the Woods she was as she put it "first up" when it came to recording her songs, written by Steven Sondheim. She entered the recording studio and discovered that sitting in the gallery was ... Steven Sondheim.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

Prog Rock Awards 2014

Esler at the Prog Rock Awards



Spent the day at the lovely British Grove studios in Chiswick with Pete Townshend and a host of performers preparing for The WHO at 50 - their gig at the Shepherds Bush Empire. Had a long chat with Roger Daltrey about why he works so hard for the Teenage Cancer Trust (the charity is benefitting from the concert) and of course we talked about how a band who sang "hope I die before I get old" made it to 50. But the killer fact emerged that one of my favourite albulms of all time LIVE AT LEEDS was supposed to be LIVE AT HULL. Unfortunately they failed to record the bass .... and panicked a little ... what can we do? I know, we're doing Leeds University ...let's try again ...

 A few years after the recording I was a post-graduate at Leeds and was taken very solemnly to see where Daltrey stood and where Townshend stood during the recording. LIVE AT HULL. Apparently it was a great gig, but somehow LIVE AT LEEDS is a better title.  

Friday, 14 November 2014

Barack Obama & the US Mid Terms: COMMENTARY

The era of hope is over. If the results of the U.S. mid-term elections have been a huge setback for the Democrats, they were a personal catastrophe for Barack Obama.   

They were even worse than the most pessimistic forecasts of his party’s strategists, amounting to a comprehensive rejection of his governance.

With the Republicans now in control of both the upper and lower Houses of Congress, the twilight of Obama’s presidency has begun.

The man who once electrified the American nation with his soaring oratory - and titled his book on political philosophy The Audacity Of Hope - is now the lamest of ducks in the White House, mired in unpopularity and devoid of allies.

In this election, Democrat candidates saw him as a liability rather than an asset - with most of them running away from him like scalded cats. 

But the attempt to quarantine the President paid no dividends for his party.

Chancellor's Lecture: University of Kent

In my new role as Chancellor of the University of Kent I am delighted to be giving this year's Foundation Day lecture celebrating 50 years since the university was founded. It has come a long way since the 1960s. The title for the lecture is TRUST ME: How trust has been diminished in the Suspicious Century. 

Tuesday, 14 October 2014


 Ava Duvernay and David Oyelowo

Duvernay, Oyelowo and Esler

Reflections on the Revolution in Scotland (2)

It's not a revolution of course, but .... 

So much has changed. People engaged in politics. Attending meetings in village halls, discussing the future, thoughtfully. A tripling (as of today) of membership of the SNP. But one trend is very difficult to understand: in an independence debate of such importance lasting two years (or more), how can it be that there were almost no undisputed "facts?"

One side promised you would be £1400 a year better off if you voted their way; the other side said you would be £1000 a year better off if you voted their way. The oil is running out - no, there's plenty left. Joining the EU might be a problem - no, commonsense will prevail. Keep the pound? No problem - or a big problem?  And so on. When I asked -- and I asked repeatedly -- various politicians how any ordinary person not an economist or oil expert could make sense of these supposed "facts" I was told it depends on whom you trust. Oh, I see. In the Enlightenment the great sages of Scotland weighed up the facts and then came to form an opinion. Now in the Enlightenment-in-Reverse do we form an opinion of whom we trust and then accept their "facts?" And what if -- as many of the Don't Knows presumably thought -- you decide that you do not entirely trust either campaign ...? 

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Reflections on the Revolution in Scotland

It's not a revolution of course - but the decision of 45% of Scots to vote for independence has created a new political dynamic whose end none of us can foresee. I travelled from Shetland in the north to the borders, Islay in the west to Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. One of the most memorable encounters was in Shetland. I tried to encourage an older local man to give away his political views. 

"So is it Britain's oil?" I asked. "Or Scotland's oil. Or Shetland's oil."

Without missing a beat he said: "No, it's the oil companies oil." Then he added: "The bastards."

Tuesday, 7 October 2014

Bowmore, Islay

The lovely round church in Bowmore on the island of Islay ... why is the church round?

Church in Bowmore on the island of Islay

"So the Devil cannot hide in the corners."

Anti-Semitic Hate Mail for Presbyterians

I have been receiving anti-semitic hate mail over the past couple of years, which is a bit odd. I am a Presbyterian.

So were my parents, grandparents and -- as a recent genealogical study carried out by Strathclyde University informed me -- my family have been Presbyterian since the 17th century when -- as Protestant Lutherans during Germany's 30 Years War -- they fled southern Germany and came to Scotland and Ulster to find a home in a suitably Protestant land.

Perhaps sending anti-semitic hate mail to a Presbyterian is confirmation of something most of us already know: anti-semites, liked racists, are not just bigoted, but also tend to be very stupid. In my case, I receive roughly every 8 weeks or so a laser-printed and rather neat looking anonymous letter with a "Bath-Bristol-Taunton" postmark referring to Newsnight as "Jewsnight" and part of the "world wide Jewish conspiracy." Ho, hum.  To my surprise, I am rather grateful to the dimwitted lunatic behind the letters, since he (I am sure it is a 'he')  opens a window into what passes for the anti-semitic "mind" which would otherwise be closed to those of us who are not actually Jewish. Once in the United States sitting in the back seat of a van driven by two black friends I observed the suspicion with which they were regarded by some white people in Los Angeles. In a way, the West Country anti-semite, like the occasional LA white racist, actually has helped me understand what it must feel like to be discriminated against and the dangers of tolerating intolerance.

As for being a Presbyterian, well, I am certainly an ethnic Presybterian. I cannot escape my background growing up in Glasgow, Edinburgh and eventually in Northern Ireland. Even when I went through an atheistic phase I realised I was a Presbyterian atheist -- it was a Presbyterian God that I did not believe in.

So, if you happen to live in the Bath-Bristol-Taunton area and see someone posting standard white envelopes with a stick-on label addressed to me at BBC Newsnight, you could mention that while I am grateful to be reminded of the stupidities of anti-semitism, I don't nowadays feel the need to open the envelope before putting it in the trash. And that is the real problem. 

It hurts my thrifty Presbyterian conscience to think that some poor anti-semitic dimwit is wasting his first class postage on me. Shalom.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Scotland the EU and Joining the Euro

This is from the European Commission website. It offers guidance on what happens when a new candidate member state to the EU seeks to join the European Union, and also the position affecting member states of the EU. It clearly states that two member countries have an opt-out on the euro: Denmark and the UK. Sweden does not have an opt out but has yet to fulfil all the criteria for joining the euro. Since an independent Scotland would not be either of the two opt-out countries, the presumption in the European Commission guidance is obvious. Here's a selection:

Adopting the euro:

The European Union grows as candidate countries meet the conditions for entry and accede to the Union – this process is known as enlargement. Similarly, the euro area is enlarging as non-euro-area EU Member States meet the conditions for entry and adopt the euro.

The euro area includes those EU Member States that have adopted the single currency. But the euro area is not static – under the Treaty, all EU Member States have to join the euro area once the necessary conditions are fulfilled, except Denmark and the United Kingdom which have negotiated an 'opt-out' clause that allows them to remain outside the euro area.

Sweden is also expected to join the euro area in the future, but has not yet qualified.

Progressive enlargement, progressive integration

An accession country that plans to join the Union must align many aspects of its society – social, economic and political – with those of EU Member States. Much of this alignment is aimed at ensuring that an accession country can operate successfully within the Union’s single market for goods, services, capital and labour – accession is a process of integration.

Adopting the euro and joining the euro area takes integration a step further – it is a process of much closer economic integration with the other euro-area Member States. Adopting the euro also demands extensive preparations; in particular it requires economic and legal convergence.

Bicycling Berlin Style

I’ve been cycling around Berlin for the past week, and I noticed something very strange. Car drivers, even the German equivalent of white van man, are very polite to cyclists. But that’s not all. The cyclists are very polite to each other, and to pedestrians. There is a cascade of on-the-road politeness, with the bus, car, van and lorry drivers giving way to those of us who are on bicycles, and the cyclists giving way to pedestrians.

It’s not perfect, but it works. It is certainly a lot better than the system in British or American cities where I have cycled and where cyclists can be extremely aggressive, trying to protect themselves and make sure drivers notice them. This cascade is one of on-the-road aggression, and it often makes British roads dangerous and bad tempered places. Of course there are cycle accidents in Berlin, but the city is much safer for those of us who like to be on two wheels. There are proper cycle lanes, properly enforced. In too many parts of Britain the cycle lanes are either non-existent or regarded as a joke.

Some British drivers regard cycle lanes as parking spaces.

Some local authorities seem to see cycle lanes as a bit of paint on the road and a sign, but not actually a means of transport.

There are places in London where the “cycle lanes” are actually a few metres long. Why would anyone want a “cycle lane” which goes from Nowhere to Nowhere?

After the war Berlin could clear the wreckage and plan for a different kind of city. London and other British cities have to change more organically. But the real difference between Berlin and London is the mind-set of everyone on the road. Even if we cannot re-plan our cities to make them more bike friendly, we could at least re-plan our brains. Here are three things to make life on our roads better and safer:

  1. Teach every road user to give way to the weaker and slower. Car drivers should be taught as part of their driving instruction to let bicycles go ahead; cyclists should learn to let pedestrians have right of way. This would take much of the aggression out of cycling.
  2. Make sure everyone understands bike lanes are not a joke. They are a public service. Give parking tickets to cars that park in them. Local councils which produce Cycle-Lanes-To-Nowhere should be forced to re-think.
  3. Berlin has bendy buses and buses of other shapes too – but unlike London the bus drivers do not see bus lanes as their private preserve. Some bus drivers need to be taught that cyclists are legitimate road users. As a cyclist friend in the NHS put it to me once, “In London, the nickname for cyclists is: Organ Donors.”

Rant over. I’m off to cycle to the centre of Berlin. It should take me about 15 minutes. Oh, and unlike the UK, cyclists here get on their bikes wearing normal clothes. I have yet to see anyone in Berlin bicycling with bright yellow fluorescent tops like a Lemsip on two wheels. I wonder why?

Friday, 27 June 2014

Nigel Kennedy

The man in the middle said I had funny hair … I mean, really

Nigel Kennedy

Jimmy Wales

Jimmy Wales - like him - not sure about Wikipedia …

Jimmy Wales with Gavin Esler


Scotland's Shape Shifters


Val McDermid

With Val McDermid at Edinburgh Festival

Val McDermid with Esler


The Big Green Bookshop

A review of a talk I held at The Big Green Bookshop in December 2012:

Back in 1979 whilst I was at Warwick University,  I went along to see a very much younger Jon Snow give a brilliant expose of what was happening behind the headlines in Nicaragua. That was a memorable experience that has stayed with me to this day.

I dared to hope that Esler might offer another memorable experience at The Big Green Bookshop tonight. I wasn't disappointed.

The evening's conversation and the Q&A that followed was around Mr Esler's latest book, "Lessons from the Top: How Successful Leaders Tell Stories to Get Ahead - And Stay There"

The book explores how leaders use stories to persuade and educate, and how sometimes they spectacularly fail to do so. It's based on decades of first-hand experience of interviewing world famous figures from Bill Clinton to Angelina Jolie.

Esler make his narrative against twenty-first century phenomena such the "confessional culture" and 24 hour news. He offered some insights on how leaders weave their stories, "We all tell stories, but I believe leaders who communicate well organise their stories into three parts: Who am I? Who are we? What is our common purpose? It's a rough guide to how just about everybody does it."

Apparently the book as written to offer lessons as much to you and me as to aspiring leaders of the future. It's a fascinating set of insights with some great lessons for us all.

I noticed one local aspiring leader in the audience and I'm genuinely interested to hear what he thought. Whilst I'll save him his blushes at this point, I'll drop him a note and ask him to share his reflections on the evening.

A fascinating evening - and an intriguing book, well worth getting your hands on - in stock at a Big Green Bookshop near you!

Some takeaway quotes from tonight for me were:

"It's really important for leaders (and everybody) to confront the things people are thinking about you".

On Gordon Brown: "Never one to miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity".

"Politicians submit to today's confessional culture because they feel it humanises them".

On journalists: "You're entitled to your own opinions but not your own facts".

Lessons From The Top - 23 July 2012

Interview with Profile Books about my book Lessons From The Top

Books For Breakfast: Lessons From The Top

BBC Newsnight presenter Gavin Esler has spent thirty years interviewing people who influence the world and listening to the incredible tales they tell; from Bill Clinton Tony Blair and Margaret Thatcher to Angelina Jolie.

Bomber Boys

After almost seventy years the men of Bomber Command are finally to have their own official memorial. It's in the heart of London, near Buckingham Palace. Of the 125,000 'Bomber Boys' as they were called a total of 55,573 were killed -- almost one in two. The average age was as young as 22 years old, and for some of the volunteers the life expectancy was a mere six weeks from the start of the first mission.

The reason the memorial has taken so long? Unlike the Spitfire and Hurricane which were essentailly defensive fighters, the bombers were used to take the war to Germany. Inevitably there were many civilian casualties, as there were British civilian casualties of the Blitz. But with Britain excluded militarily from continental Europe until the invasion of Italy in 1943, the bombers were one way of taking the war to Hitler, as Churchill recognised. He said: "The fighters are our salvation but the bombers alone provide the means of victory." That inscription is inside the new memorial, but so is this: "This memorial also commemorates those of all nations who lost their lives in the bombing of 1939-1945."

It's an honour to be asked to deliver the commentary at the event for BBC Television. If the "Bomber Boys" had not done their job almost seventy years ago, I would not be doing my job now. 

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Penelope Cruz

Penelope Cruz


Meeting Merkel

I was walking across a bridge over the river Spree in the heart of Berlin, hoping for a rare meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and thinking about a strange coincidence involving Germany and grand European projects.

Meeting Angela Merkel

Exactly five hundred years ago one of Europe's greatest thinkers was getting increasingly worried that good German money was being wasted. Cash was heading to the Mediterranean, subsidising a bunch of badly behaved foreigners. The 16th century German thinker was Martin Luther, and he was desperate to stay part of that great European project known as the Roman Catholic church, but equally desperate not to support those who were ripping off German believers to pay to build St Peter's in Rome. The unfairness of what he saw as  abuses fed popular resentment until German patience finally snapped. Luther broke away from his beloved Catholic church, “protesting” in that great rebellion we know as the creation of Protestant-ism, the Reformation.

Pat Barker

The Ghost Road is one of the finest modern novels

Pat Barker with Gavin Esler


Paloma Picasso

Paloma Picasso, a great woman who has been a strong guardian of P. Picasso.

Paloma Picasso


Dolly Parton

Dolly Parton is one of the most shrewd businesswomen I have ever met, she has also got a very sharp political brain.

Dolly Parton With Gavin Esler


Angelina Jolie

Angelina Jolie & terrible camera work

Angleina Jolie with Gavin Esler


Brenda Blethyn

Brenda Blethyn


John Hurt

John Hurt


President Rafsanjani in his Tehran Palace.

President Rafsanjani


John Berger Interview - 27 May 2011

John Berger Newsnight interview 27.05.2011

Donald Trump & the Business President

Donald Trump's apparent eagerness to run for the presidency of the United States enlivens the Republican race. But the history of big business tycoons getting into politics has not been encouraging for Mr Trump. Steve Forbes (of Forbes Magazine) flamed out a few years ago. Ross Perot was much more impressive in 1992, but still only managed 19% of the vote. In an AV system that would almost certainly have handed the presidency in 1992 to George H W Bush since Perot took more votes from Republican-leaning types than from Bill Clinton. But Perot ran as an independent. Trump may decide to try for the Republican nomination, though it will be a long hard road. Americans very often look to an "outsider" to save them from "politics as usual" and then when they take a close look at the "outsider" they usually decide to have another look at the professional politicians.

My Education

My alphabet book at Duddingston Primary, Edinburgh, began traditionally with "a is for apple", but when it came to "g", it was "g is for gas globe". This was in the late Fifties; there hadn't been gas globes for decades. The textbook must have been 30 or 40 years old! Whatever we say about the resources today, the good old days were bloody awful. Apart from that, it was a wonderful school. I loved both it and my first teacher, Miss Darling, an elderly lady in her last year of teaching.

Jane Fonda

Jane Fonda in Cambridge

Jane Fonda


Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney. I've been a fan of his since I was a child ...

Seamus Heaney


Javier Marias

Javier Marias at home in Madrid

Javier Marias


Amin Maalouf

Amin Maalouf - his bulldog snored during our interview.


Amin Maalouf with Gavin Esler

Gavin Esler - Power Play - 19 November 2010

All my novels start with the idea of a character put in an impossible position, rather than with a plot. Power Play started as an idea about a British ambassador to the United States torn between two countries that he loves, the UK and the USA, which he sees heading in opposite directions as the 'special relationship' suddenly becomes especially bad.

Asif Zardari Newsnight Interview

Gavin Esler interviews President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan on the BBC's Newsnight originally broadcast on 2nd of August 2010.

Film Director John Boorman

Film Director John Boorman


Simon Callow

Simon Callow - his Dickens One Man show was extraordinary.

Simon Callow & Gavin Esler