Derek on Social Finance Exchange, Financial Times

24 Apr 2013

The Financial Times ran an item today featuring Derek’s proposal of a social finance exchange. Read the full article below:

Make apprenticeships works

28 Nov 2012

Derek contributed the attached item to the Evening standard on 28th November 2012

On Speaker Bercow, Mail on Sunday

12 Jun 2011

Derek contributed the following article in the Mail On Sunday, 12th June 2011:

Let me put my hand up and admit I once rather liked the Speaker John Bercow, or, more precisely, I felt inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.

But that was many years ago. I have known him for 20 years or more and we share the dubious history of having both been members of the Right-wing Conservative Monday Club.
But, in my own defence, I was asked to become a member and was taken with the idea of meeting on Mondays after a weekend of country pursuits.

John, armed with his first-class degree in politics from Essex University, had no such excuse. He knew the Monday Club was uncompromisingly extreme.

Until I became a member, I hadn’t appreciated just how absurdly nasty this fringe group of lunatics really were.

I remember now just how vile some of John’s views were. He believed, more than most, in repatriating immigrants and, even as a councillor in ethnically diverse Lambeth, South London, thought that this was a palatable message to take to the doorsteps.

Watching John in action could sometimes be stomach-turning. He was on the ‘edge’ and, with fellow ‘Thatcherite guerrillas’ Marc-Henri Glendening, Doug Smith and Mark MacGregor, made speeches about supporting the UNITA movement in Angola, in tune with the American Right-wing, despite the fact it had plunged that country into civil war.

Nearer to home, he was conducting his own ‘civil war’ for election to Lambeth Council like the invasion of Stalingrad: house by house, street by street, ward by ward. On one evening, we were campaigning and John strode up a pathway and knocked on a shining black door.

When it opened, the ‘lady of the house’ was of the same colour as her front door. John said quickly, ‘Sorry, wrong door’ and turned on his heels.

In those days, it was widely thought in the Conservative Party that you couldn’t be black and vote Tory. I was the odd man out and was an object of constant curiosity. I started feeling uncomfortable and, on my journey back home, my suspicions about John grew.

As my own mother was often heard to say: ‘There is something not quite right about the boy.’
John was odd: he wasn’t comfortable in his own skin and still to this day he gives every impression of constantly ‘acting’, almost as if he isn’t a real person.

Many were in the habit of casting aspersions about his sexuality because he never had girlfriends. I never did either, but was more inclined to the view that he wasn’t pretty enough to be gay.
He gave every sign of being just as uncomfortable in the company of women as he was with the few brave men who were openly gay. He was never friendly towards them (me included) and kept his distance.

At closed meetings of South London Conservatives, John rose to his feet and was masterful at pleasing his audience.

He harangued immigrants, routinely supported the restoration of capital punishment and, with madness in his eyes, punched his index finger in the air to reinforce his empty rhetoric.
According to the Monday Club, Nelson Mandela was a ‘criminal’ and ‘deserved’ his prison sentence.
I was alone in saying the opposite and John and his cohorts told me I only felt such a thing because I was black.

I remember on one occasion trying to interject as Bercow was spouting more prejudice, but John doesn’t do listening well and barked at me to pipe down. I persisted and he went into a rage.

I left the meeting dejected, but then it dawned on me that I was one of the ‘immigrants’ about whom he was speaking. It was no wonder he felt I was not entitled to be heard.

Bercow adopted a manner older than his years and had (and still has) an ego larger than Nicholas Soames’s breakfasts.

He was not sensitive to anything, or anyone, apart from his height – 5ft 6in – and often accused people of ‘heightism’.

John kept the company of young men in tweed suits and bow ties. Some of them smoked pipes. The affectations didn’t end there. Bollinger champagne was their drink of choice.

During my short period as a member of the Monday Club it dramatically split between the Liberal and the authoritarian Right.

I was on the Liberal wing and always talked about the need to have a ‘balanced’ ticket. John, on the other hand, had only one belief: his way, or no way.

He was robustly in support of the apartheid regime in South Africa. Following my own visit to the country, I wrote a report for the then Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe and Minister for Africa Lynda Chalker, and urged cultural sanctions, for which I was called a ‘wet’ and more besides. I quit the Monday Club, as did many others at the time.

John was also chairman of the Federation of Conservative Students. This body did much good work, but mainly before Bercow took up his post. Even Norman Tebbit, as Tory Party chairman, was sufficiently troubled by John’s views and the antics of its committee that he used his powers to close it down.

There was nothing modern about Bercow in those days. And, perhaps, there is still nothing genuinely modern about him now. I decided to put it to the test and dropped him a line the other day.
I suggested that since we both share a love of tennis (he used to play regularly with David Cameron) he should host a party at the Speaker’s house for the Gay and Lesbian Tennis Alliance (GLTA).
I explained that the GLTA is a worldwide body and is well supported in the US and many European countries.

I lamented that in the UK we get no help from the Lawn Tennis Association, although it purports to be interested in diversity in the sport.

As Speaker, John lives in a grace-and-favour apartment in the Palace of Westminster with grand entertaining rooms.

I thought a reception for 200 or so members would be a symbolic way of supporting the cause of tennis and diversity in the sport too.

I crossed my fingers as I posted my letter to John. It didn’t come as a surprise that he didn’t reply in person – he is now much too grand for that. The reply came from a functionary in his office. The clear implication was that the Speaker didn’t think our cause worthy enough. I beg to disagree. The best form of modernity is that which comes from the heart. And if you are genuinely modern, you don’t have to speak its name. Speaker Bercow has failed the modernity test, but in my own heart, I never really thought anything else.

Umbrian heaven with the truffle hunter in plus fours

5 Jul 2010

Lucy Fox contributed the following item in the Mail on Sunday, 5th July 2010:

Derek Laud and I have been friends for years. Derek is best known for his political commentary and his success on Big Brother. We share a love of food, and as my father is the actor Edward Fox I’ve been served some strange concoctions when visiting him on location in far-flung places.

Derek and I have never really argued but, to say the least, when truffles were mentioned our opinions were divided.
The great 18th Century food writer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin referred to them as ‘the jewel of cookery’ saying they aroused ‘erotic and gastronomic memories’ among both the ‘skirted’ and ‘bearded’ sexes.

Derek is entirely in agreement. I, on the other hand, have never been a fan of the truffle and find it odd when friends start getting over-excited as the season draws near.

Why do they want to grate a smelly bit of fungus over their risotto and pay through the nose for it to boot? So, in the hope of settling our difference of opinion once and for all, we set off for Palazzo Terranova in the heart of Umbrian truffle country.
Landing at Perugia Airport, we were disappointed to discover the sun wasn’t out. But it was considerably warmer than back home, which put a skip in our steps and a smile on our faces.

The approach to the 18th Century Palladian palazzo is stunning and also hair-raising. The winding road takes a steep incline and, if you suffer from vertigo, as Derek does, looking down is unwise.

But when the road turns sharply towards the palazzo, the panoramic view over the Umbrian hills is breathtaking. Even though Tuscan Florence is only 90 minutes away, the landscape is unmistakably Umbrian.

Palazzo Terranova has eight bedrooms, each with its own bathroom and in some cases the bathrooms are as large as the bedrooms! It makes it the perfect destination for a private party.

Each room has been stylishly decorated using traditional Italian paint finishes, the beds are fantastically comfortable and the bathrooms are sumptuous, with large bottles of delicious shampoo and body lotion as well as a proper hairdryer – marvellous for me but not much use to Derek!

Throughout the palazzo there is a wonderful smell of tuberose and jasmine, which comes from the many scented candles that are made to the owner’s own recipe. There is nothing mean or stingy here. You don’t feel as if you are in a hotel. Everything about the place makes it feel like you are at home, admittedly on a much larger and more comfortable scale, and in no time we were walking about in bare feet.

Separating the bedrooms are large sitting rooms with open fireplaces so you can flop with a book in peace and harmony.
Our first meal was taken by an open fireplace and consisted of a chicken thigh stuffed with ricotta and wild mushrooms, followed by a delicious ravioli filled with ragu and a fresh tomato sauce.

By this stage we were full but no, another lot of cutlery arrived closely followed by lamb cutlets coated in almonds. Then came a fondant chocolate pudding, which was so divine that we asked if the chef could teach us how to make it as the palazzo is also a cooking school.

After a blissful night’s sleep we embarked on a truffle hunt. Derek and I are competitive, and, not to be outdone on the wardrobe front, he had done his homework and teamed his plus fours with a jumper that reflected the colours of the palazzo. Such attention to detail appealed to the staff.

Our local hunter, Massimo, arrived with his two truffle hounds. He was using his older dog to help him train the younger black-and-white one which, full of enthusiasm for the job but still lacking the skills to find the elusive truffle, embarked on much random digging and yelping.

Massimo owns 13 dogs, each one taking four to five years to train. It starts when a piece of truffle is put on the dogs’ meat so they develop a passion for the taste, and graduates to them finding and digging out the truffles themselves. Even with the experienced dog there was much shouting of ‘Ferma!’ (stop) as she wanted to eat every truffle she unearthed. With all of Massimo’s passion and dedication it came as a surprise that he mostly ate the truffles himself or gave them away, for Massimo is an insurance broker and not a professional hunter.

Perugia is famous for its truffles, particularly the prized white truffle, so it is not surprising that there are strict regulations on the times of year hunters are allowed to forage. There is much rivalry between hunters. So secret are the good areas that the more fanatical will take their knowledge to the grave rather than share it, not even passing it on to their children.

We were fortunate in our hunting and found plenty. Then it was time to go back and learn how to cook with them, and to pick up a few tricks for making a great ‘risotto al tartuffi’.

At Palazzo Terranova they make or grow as many of the ingredients they use in their cooking as possible. The bread is homemade, stuffed with either cheese or rosemary, and they make their own olive oil.

There is an organic vegetable and fruit garden that is currently being enlarged, and meat and cheese come from local farmers. They also make their own tomato sauce, sundried tomatoes, honey and jams, as well as the lemon liquer ‘limoncello’ and the mandarin equivalent ‘mandarinello’.

Executive chef Antonio, ably assisted by chef Manueli, had the dubious task of getting Derek and me to stop bickering about whose culinary skills were best and concentrate on helping with the menu. The first course we were preparing was artichoke salad served in a delicate basket made of parmesan. The baskets look impressive and are not too difficult to make. I may be biased, but mine was better than Derek’s! To follow was the truffle risotto, which I approached with some misgivings. Among Antonio’s tips for making risotto are that you don’t have to cut up the shallots, just use quarters, thus saving a lot of chopping time.
The key thing to remember is to coat the rice in melted butter, oil and salt, then add wine and cook until the acid smell of the wine has gone, and only then do you start to add the hot stock.

We asked him if it was crucial to keep stirring as all the books tell you. He looked astonished and said: ‘How do you think I can feed a full restaurant if I spend all my time stirring this?’ – a myth dispelled, but you do have to stir it now and again.
A chocolate pudding was to follow but I have to confess to not paying much attention as the risotto was so good that it took all my willpower not to finish the lot. I had been converted from thinking truffles are disgusting! Derek, with his sweet tooth, paid much more attention to the pudding and was soon beating chocolate and eggs with gusto.

Antonio, who is a local, told us that Umbrians are stubborn traditionalists and are proud of their heritage in a good way, especially in the kitchen where the tricks of the trade have been passed down for generations.

After all this activity it was time to relax, so I had a Palazzo Teraranova holistic massage which was extraordinary and included reiki, reflexology, deep tissue massage and a host of other things which left me feeling fantastic, with my aches and pains a thing of the past.

Derek, being the sporty one, made full use of the gym and stunning pool, and then enjoyed a facial using wine products.
As he had decided not to drink, it was probably the only solution to getting delicious Italian wine into him! If escape is on your mind then Palazzo Terranova couldn’t be more perfect.

You can be totally at peace to paint or write and take walks through the countryside. But if you want to be more energetic there is golf, cycling and tennis – and even hot-air ballooning or canoeing.

There is plenty of culture to be found locally and the local towns are not crammed with tourists. But since the palazzo is stuffed with fabulous works of art and antiques from around the world, and more than 1,000 books, you may not want to leave it.
As Brillat-Savarin said: ‘To receive a guest is to take charge of their happiness during the entire time they are under your roof.’ Palazzo Terranova has certainly got that right.