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Lewes Speakers Festival 2020

21st and 22nd of March

At The All Saints Centre Lewes

Saturday 21st March 2020

Norman Baker

…And What Do You Do?: What The Royal Family Don't Want You To Know

Saturday 21st March 11.15 – 12.30


The royal family is the original Coronation Street  - a long-running soap opera with the occasional real coronation thrown in. Its members have become celebrities, like upmarket versions of film stars and footballers. But they have also become a byword for arrogance, entitlement, hypocrisy and indifference to the gigantic amount of public money wasted by them.

The monarchy itself is an important part of our constitution with considerable influence on the kind of nation we are. Yet you will struggle to find much in the way of proper journalism that examines the monarchy in the way that their position and influence merit. Instead, we are fed a constant diet of sickeningly obsequious coverage which reports their activities with breathless and uncritical awe.

In this talk, former government minister Norman Baker argues that the British public deserves better than this puerile diet. He also considers the wider role the royals play in society, including the link with House of Lords reform, and the constitutional position of the monarch, which is important given Prince Charles's present and intended approach.

Norman Baker was the Lib Dem MP for Lewes from 1997 to 2015 and established a reputation as one of the most dogged and persistent parliamentary interrogators the modern House of Commons has known. Following the 2010 general election, he was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, then Minister of State for Crime Prevention at the Home Office. He is also a member of the Privy Council, the body that officially advises the monarch.


A Q&A Session will follow.


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Simon Heffer

Staring at God: Britain in the Great War'

Saturday 21st March 12.45 - 14.00


This talk, which is based on the book that Andrew Roberts labelled ‘brilliant’, describes ‘The Great War’ which evokes images of barbed wire and mud-filled trenches, and of the carnage of the Somme and Passchendaele, but it also involved change on the home front on an almost revolutionary scale. In his hugely ambitious and deeply researched new book, Heffer explores how Britain was drawn into this slaughter, and was then transformed to fight a war in which, at times, its very future seemed in question.


After a vivid account of the fraught conversations between Whitehall and Britain’s embassies across Europe as disaster loomed in July 1914, Heffer explains why a government so desperate to avoid conflict found itself championing it. He describes the high politics and low skulduggery that saw the principled but passive Asquith replaced as prime minister by the unscrupulous but energetic Lloyd George; and he unpicks the arguments between politicians and generals about how to prosecute the war, which raged until the final offensive. He looks at the impact of four years of struggle on everyday life as people sought to cope with: dwindling stocks of food and essential supplies; conscription into the Army; air-raids and bereavement; and, in Ireland, with the political upheaval that followed the Easter Rising. And he shows how, in the spring of 1918, political obstinacy and incompetence saw all this sacrifice almost thrown away.


Professor Simon Heffer is an English historian, journalist, author and political commentator. He has held senior editorial positions on The Daily Telegraph and The Spectator and was appointed professorial research fellow at the University of Buckingham in 2017.


A Q&A Session will follow.


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Lord David Howell

Look Where We’re Going: Escaping the Prism of Past Politics

Saturday 21st March 14.15 – 15.30


This talk is a fresh look at the ideas, hopes, lessons and largely unintended consequences of successive generations of political leaders; it shows us how to Look Where We’re Going.

Based on deep personal experience – the speaker is one of the few left who served in Margaret Thatcher’s first Cabinet of just over forty years ago – Howell gives us a new picture of the dramas deep inside government and how yesterday’s clashes of ideology and personality have led to today’s unanticipated turmoil. Old assumptions are torn apart and accepted versions of what occurred are unravelled.


Howell shows how technology has made much of our conventional political vocabulary obsolete, how we now need quite different types of leadership serving new priorities and how, while we wrestle with the issues just before our eyes, much bigger forces are at work which are re-shaping our lives and our future.


Lord Howell of Guildford acted as policy adviser to Edward Heath in the 1960s and in the late 1970s he became head of Margaret Thatcher's speech-writing team. He served as Minister of State in Northern Ireland, under William Whitelaw, from 1972 to 1974, at the height of the troubles, before going on to serve as Secretary of State for Energy & Secretary of State for Transport in the first Thatcher Cabinet.  In 2010 he was enrolled as Minister of State at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office with special responsibilities for the Commonwealth and for international energy issues. He is currently chairman of the newly set-up House of Lords Committee for International Relations.

A Q&A Session will follow.


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Theodore Dalrymple

False Positive:

A Year of Error, Omission and Political Correctness in the New England Journal of Medicine

Saturday 21st March 15.45 – 17.00


The New England Journal of Medicine is one of the most important general medical journals in the world. Doctors rely on the conclusions it publishes, and most do not have the time to look beyond abstracts to examine methodology or question assumptions. Many of its pronouncements are conveyed by the media to a mass audience, which is likely to take them as authoritative. But is this trust entirely warranted?


Theodore Dalrymple, a doctor retired from practice, turned a critical eye upon a full year of the Journal, alert to dubious premises and to what is left unsaid. In False Positive, he demonstrates that many of the papers it publishes reach conclusions that are not only flawed, but obviously flawed. He exposes errors of reasoning and conspicuous omissions apparently undetected by the editors. In some cases, there is reason to suspect actual corruption.


When the Journal takes on social questions, its perspective is solidly politically correct. Practically no debate on social issues appears in the printed version, and highly debatable points of view go unchallenged. The Journal reads as if there were only one possible point of view.


There is indeed much in the New England Journal of Medicine that deserves praise and admiration. But this talk should encourage listeners to take a constructively critical view of medical news and to be wary of the latest medical doctrines.


Theodore Dalrymple is a psychiatrist who acts as expert-witness in murder trials. After working as a doctor in Africa and the Gilbert Islands, he returned to Britain and has worked in prisons and hospitals in the East End of London, the Midlands, and Birmingham. He is a contributor to The Times, Telegraph, Wall Street Journal, Spectator, and British Medical Journal. He is the author of several books, including the acclaimed Spoilt Rotten, The Knife Went In, Litter, and the Pleasure of Thinking.

A Q&A Session will follow.


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Jack Straw

The English Job: Understanding Iran and Why It Distrusts Britain

Saturday 21st March 17.15 – 18.30


Amongst British diplomats, there's a poignant joke that Iran is the only country in the world which still regards the United Kingdom as a superpower. For many Iranians, it's not a joke at all. The past two centuries are littered with examples of Britain reshaping Iran to suit its own ends, from dominating its oil, tobacco and banking industries to removing its democratically elected Prime Minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, in a 1953 US-UK coup.

All this, and the bloody experience of the Iran Iraq War of 1980-88, when the country stood alone against an act of unprovoked aggression by Saddam Hussein, has left many Iranians with an unwavering mistrust of the West generally and the UK, in particular.

Today, ordinary Iranians live with an economy undermined by sanctions and corruption, the media strictly controlled, and a hardline regime seeking to maintain its power by demonising outsiders.

With tensions rising sharply between Tehran and the West, former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw unveils a richly detailed account of Britain's turbulent relationship with Iran, illuminating the culture, psychology and history of a much-misunderstood nation. Informed by Straw's wealth of experience negotiating Iran's labyrinthine internal politics, this is a powerful, clear-sighted and compelling portrait of an extraordinary country.

Jack Straw went to Iran in September 2001, the first visit to Iran of any British Foreign Secretary since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He went back to Tehran four more times as Foreign Secretary and has developed a growing interest in the country ever since.  As well as being Foreign Secretary from 2001 until 2006 under Blair, he was also Home Secretary from 1997 to 2001.

A Q&A Session will follow.


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Tom Watson

Downsizing: How I lost 8 stone, reversed my diabetes and regained my health

Saturday 21st March 18.45 – 20.00


'Two years ago I turned 50, weighed 22 stone and was heavily medicated for type 2 diabetes. I thought it would be all downhill from there. By radically changing my nutrition, cutting out sugar, and taking up exercise, I've changed my life and reversed my diabetes. I hope my story will inspire others to regain their health and happiness and discover the new lease of life I'm experiencing.'


Tom Watson began to put on weight in his early twenties, having developed an appetite for fast food and cheap beer while studying at the University of Hull. As time progressed - and his penchant for anything sweet, fatty or fizzy persisted - he found himself adjusting his belt, loosening his collar and upsizing his wardrobe to XXL. He continued to pile on the pounds when he entered the world of politics as MP for West Bromwich East (despite short-lived flirtations with fad diets and fitness classes). By December 2014, his bathroom scales had tipped to 22 stone. After being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in late 2015, he decided to take control of his diet and exercise. He started to feel better quickly and within a short time his long-term blood sugar levels were within normal range. By July 2018, he came off medication.


Tom Watson served as a Minister for Tony Blair and with Gordon Brown. In September 2015, he was elected as Labour's Deputy Leader. In 2016 he took the post of Shadow Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. He has established several major projects, including the Future of Work Commission, the Gambling Addiction Review, which has led public policy reform around the betting industry, and is currently setting up an independent commission into tackling obesity and stemming the rise of type 2 diabetes.


A Q&A Session will follow.


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Annabel Streets and Susan Saunders

The Age-Well Project

Saturday 21st March 20.15 – 21.30


Diseases of older age take root decades before symptoms appear. For a longer, happier life, we need to plan ahead - but what exactly should we do?

For five years, Annabel Streets and Susan Saunders immersed themselves in the latest science of longevity, radically overhauling their lives and documenting their findings on their popular blog.

After reading hundreds of studies and talking to numerous experts, Annabel and Susan have compiled almost 100 short cuts to health in mid and later life, including: how, when and what to eat; the supplements worth taking; when, where and how to exercise; the most useful medical tests; how to avoid health-threatening chemicals; the best methods for keeping the brain sharp; and how to sleep better.

The Age-Well Project I was set by these two authors to make the second half of your life happy, healthy and disease-free.

Annabel Streets is an author with a passion for food and nutritional knowledge. Aged 25, she had been diagnosed with an incurable inflammatory disease, watched her grandfather die of cancer just weeks after retiring, and seen her grandmother succumb to dementia and rheumatoid arthritis so crippling she could no longer move her legs or her hands


Susan Saunders is a TV producer whose experience of age-related illness in her family has inspired her to help others.


jA Q&A Session will follow.


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Sunday 22nd March 2020

Polly Toynbee and David Walker

The Lost Decade: 2010-2020, and What Lies Ahead for Britain

Sunday 22nd March 9.45 - 11.00


The ten years from 2010 have been devastating. A decade of austerity and paralysis nurtured contempt for leaders, institutions and fellow citizens and fertilised the ground for a rebellious Brexit. It has been a decade characterised by national tragedies from Grenfell to Windrush, and food banks to the property crisis.

But, as Adam Smith said, ‘there’s a great deal of ruin in a nation’. No truthful portrait of an era can be monochrome. Bright spots included the rise of renewable energy, lower crime rates, legalisation of same-sex marriage and the creative industries continuing to punch well above their weight in spite of cuts.

In this talk, Polly Toynbee and David Walker offer the definitive survey of this most tumultuous of periods in British history and look to what lies ahead for us. This is the anatomy of a dark decade, bringing hope for better to come.


Polly Toynbee has been a key columnist for the Guardian since 1998. David Walker is a contributing editor to the Guardian Public and former director of public reporting at the Audit Commission.

A Q&A Session will follow.


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John Hemming

People of the Rainforest: The Villas Boas Brothers, Explorers and Humanitarians of the Amazon

Sunday 22nd March 11.15- 12.30


In 1945 three young brothers joined Brazil's first government-sponsored expedition to cut into its Amazonian rainforests, and were soon leading the tough two-year exploration. This, and a series of later expeditions into unknown terrain, made them the most famous explorers in South America of their day.


The Villas Boas brothers made four thrilling and dangerous 'first contacts' with isolated indigenous peoples and organised dramatic rescues of others. Captivated by these resilient tribal communities, they spent the rest of their lives with them, learning about their societies and above all helping them adapt to modern Brazil without losing their cultural heritage, identity and pride. The Villas Boases' drive for adventure and discovery quickly turned into political advocacy as they changed Brazilian attitudes to native peoples. Eccentric and charismatic, the brothers used their fame and status as national treasures to achieve humanitarian goals, securing 26,000 square kilometres as the Xingu protected area for both tropical forests and their indigenous guardians. This was the first such reserve, and it has been replicated throughout South America, to protect a significant proportion of the world's surviving tropical rainforests.


John Hemming is a former director of the Royal Geographical Society and the author of many books, including The Conquest of the Incas. He is a renowned explorer of Amazonia and the leading authority on the history of Brazil's indigenous peoples.

A Q&A Session will follow.


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Ken Livingstone

Livingstone's London: A Celebration of People and Places

Sunday 22nd March 12.45-14.00


As a passionate Londoner, Ken Livingstone has seen London change dramatically over the last 60 years. From playing on bomb sites in an era where St Pauls was the tallest building in the city, to 2019 where the gleaming towers of the Shard and Walkie Talkie dominate the skyline, thanks to new building rules introduced by his administration.

With a witty and worldly eye, he takes a look at his home-city and the people, places and the politics that have shaped the landscape.

On this personal journey he shares his views on every aspect of the city from his favourite restaurants and most loved buildings to anecdotes on fellow politicians and the triumphs, and disasters, encountered running the largest metropolis in Europe.


Ken Livingstone was born into a working-class family in South London. In his early 20s he became interested in politics, swiftly rising through the Labour party to run the GLC. He went on to become MP for Brent and wrote a popular restaurant column for the Evening Standard. In 2000 he became the inaugural Mayor of London and served two terms. He was praised for integrating London’s transport networks, improving social justice and supporting minority rights. In 2005 he led the team which brought home the Olympics and was widely lauded (even by opponents) for his leadership following the 7/7 bombings the day. He lives in North West London with his family and dog Coco

A Q&A Session will follow.

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Lord Tugendhat in conversation with Asa Bennett

A History of Britain Through Books: 1900 - 1964

Sunday 22nd March 14.15 – 15.30


Former journalist, businessman and European commissioner Lord Tugendhat talks about his unique take on the history of Britain in the first half of the last century told through the books that were written.


Tugendhat explains how literature both shaped and reflected public concerns over the decades. He includes titles by writers such as Doris Lessing, Margaret Bondfield, CP Snow, Ernst Gombrich, Noel Coward, Evelyn Waugh, Robert Tressall, Elizabeth David and George Orwell, shining new light on both world wars, the end of empire, social change, the nuclear age, feminism, gay rights, race and immigration.


Tugendhat is a Conservative member of the House of Lords. In a distinguished career in business and government he was a European commissioner between 1977 and 1985 (where he survived a personal IRA assassination attempt); and chairman of: Abbey National; Blue Circle Industries; and of the Civil Aviation Authority. He was also Chancellor of the University of Bath, and a Financial Times journalist for 10 years.

A Q&A Session will follow.

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Asa Bennett


Sunday 22nd March 15.45 – 17.00


Despite the last days of Rome being around 1,500 years ago, the shadow of its empire - and what those who lived in it had to say - still looms large over modern politics.

Indeed, we would not think of politics as it is without our Classical ancestors. The word comes directly from the ancient Greek word polis, which refers to a city or state. Someone who had to take charge came to be known as a politikos. The Roman political scene was fuelled by ambition, ego and self-interest. People sought to get ahead by striking backroom deals or shaky alliances that would soon fall apart. Politicians were happy to stab each other in the back - and the front for that matter - if necessary.

Politics may be less bloody these days, but in many ways things are still the same. In our rush to keep on top of events, it is worth looking back to the Romans to understand what is going on.

This talk delves into these similarities to examine what today’s politicos can learn from their Roman predecessors. How did they climb the greasy pole? How did they handle the rough and tumble? What can Boudicca teach us about Brexit? What could Emperor Hadrian teach President Trump about walls?

Asa Bennett is Brexit commissioning editor at the Telegraph, and formerly assistant comment editor. He also writes their daily Brexit Bulletin.

A Q&A Session will follow.

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Steve Richards

The Prime Ministers: Reflections on Leadership from Wilson to May

Sunday 22nd March 17.15 - 18.30


At a time of unprecedented political upheaval, this magisterial history explains who leads us and why. From Harold Wilson to Theresa May, it brilliantly brings to life all nine inhabitants of 10 Downing Street over the past fifty years, vividly outlining their successes and failures - and what made each of them special.


Based on unprecedented access and in-depth interviews, and inspired by the author's BBC Radio 4 and television series, Steve Richards expertly examines the men and women who have defined the UK's role in the modern world and sheds new light on the demands of the highest public office in the land.


Steve Richards is a political columnist, journalist, and presenter. He regularly presents The Week in Westminster on BBC Radio 4 and has presented BBC radio series on Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May.

A Q&A Session will follow.

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Alison Weir

Six Tudor Queens: Anna of Kleve, Queen of Secrets

Sunday 22nd March 18.45 – 20.00



The King is in love with Anna's portrait, but she has none of the accomplishments he seeks in a new bride.

She prays she will please Henry, for the balance of power in Europe rests on this marriage alliance.

But Anna's past is never far from her thoughts, and the rumours rife at court could be her downfall. Everyone knows the King won't stand for a problem queen.


Acclaimed, bestselling historian Alison Weir draws on new evidence to conjure a startling image of Anna as you've never seen her before. A charming, spirited woman, she was loved by all who knew her - and even, ultimately, by the King who rejected her.

History tells us she was never crowned. But her story does not end there.

Alison Weir is the biggest-selling female historian (and the fifth best-selling historian) in the United Kingdom since records began in 1997. She has published twenty-three titles and sold more than 3 million books - over a million in the UK and more than 2.1 million in the USA.

A Q&A Session will follow.

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