Saturday, December 09, 2006

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part XXI: Stephen Tall

(Stephen Tall)
Stephen Tall was born in Surrey in 1977, but grew up in Liverpool, and has lived in Oxford for the last 11 years. He has served as a Lib Dem councillor in Oxford since 2000, and is currently the city’s executive member for finance (Mr Council Tax to his friends). By day, he works as development director at St Anne’s College. His blog is A Liberal Goes a Long Way

What made you decide to start blogging?

I started my website ( because I was bored and frustrated by only getting to have my say on local issues through the delayed, sub-edited letters pages of the local rag. I started my blog during the 2005 Lib Dem conference to let off steam, and as a place where I could swear without my parents noticing. (They still found it, and told me it was ‘unnecessary’.)

What is your best blogging experience?

Well, I’d be lying if I said that winning the Lib Dem ‘Blog of the Year’ award (or ‘Boty’ for short) wasn’t nice. That appealed to the attention-seeking egomaniac in me. I’ve tried keeping a diary but never had the patience - clearly I have some psychological craving for an audience. But I just love writing, so the best thing is the pressure to think of something new or fresh to say about issues which matter. If I think I’ve written an article that’s good and original - I like that feeling.

And your worst?

I annoy myself when I get inspiration for a quick blog-piece during Newsnight, and eventually post a 1,000 word article in the wee small hours, and so wake up entirely unrefreshed.
My most embarrassing experience came as a result of blogging, when I was interviewed live on Sky News. My fellow interviewee fainted, and I proved myself to be a heartless bastard by carrying on regardless. The YouTube clip is here.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

Well, I had a lot of fun making my video riposte to Webcameron , and it attracted a fair amount of attention for one reason or another… It’s (probably) the last time I strip off in front of a film camera. Unless the role demands it, or the price is right.
But my two favourite pieces were longer postings (and, therefore, for such is the stunted attention span of the blogosphere, pretty much ignored): a defence of Christopher Meyer for publishing his controversial memoirs, DC Confidential; and an attack on the cult of leadership in British politics.

Favourite blogs?

Ignoring present company and uber-bloggers… On the right, Prague Tory , Militant Moderate , Croydonian and Dizzy. On the left, my fellow Oxford residents, Antonia Bance and Jo Salmon, and Rob Newman. And all Lib Dem blogs courtesy of Ryan Cullen’s Aggregator (, in particular Liberal England, Quaequam Blog! And - another two Oxonians - de moribus liberalibus and Jock’s Blog.

What inspired you to go into politics?

Not sure I ever felt ‘inspired’. I’ve always been fascinated by politics, and obsessed enough to want to get my hands dirty - so when I was asked to stand for the Council it seemed the natural thing to do. Almost seven years later, I’m enjoying it more than ever.

Would you regard the Lib Dems as being to the left or the right and how do you answer the charge from Conservative and Labour activists that the Liberal Democrats are the real nasty Party?

Is it really so hard to believe that there is room in Britain for a liberal party which tries to make a practical reality of the political philosophy which is liberalism? To those who ask if the Lib Dems are left-wing or right-wing, can I first ask you to define whether you think liberalism is left-wing or right-wing. And why. Then I’ll try and give you a more reasoned answer.
As for the Lib Dems being ‘the real nasty Party’ - there’s too much tribalism in politics already, and whatever I say here will change no-one’s mind, so I’m going to excuse myself from answering. Instead I’ll say this… there is a liberal diaspora in British politics today. There are liberals in each of the main parties, and yet party loyalties all too often stop us from working together. It’s a waste and a shame. I am a liberal first, and a Lib Dem second. I’m content with the Venn Diagram relationship between the two, but I’m not a ‘my party right or wrong’ guy.

What's the best thing and the worst thing about being a Councillor?

The best thing is surprising residents by achieving something (anything), whether small or large. People’s expectations are so low, not helped by the erosion of powers of local government over the last 25 years. And I love knocking on doors, especially when there’s no election - folk don’t expect that.
The worst things: the maddeningly, grindingly slow snail’s-pace of change; that it takes up so much time, yet I can never give it as much time as it needs; and the mountain of papers crammed with meaningless jargonistic bullshit.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

Too many places to bore you with listing. I’ve been to Spain a lot (partly for family reasons), but neither Italy nor France, which is pretty shaming.

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

New York is a fantastic city.

Who, excluding the present leader, do you regard as the best Liberal Democrat/Liberal/SDP Party leader, and if different, the best Prime Minister?

I think Paddy Ashdown (for all his faults) must rank as the best party leader. To take the merged party, which had been overtaken by the Greens in 1989, to its best election performance in 70 years, in 1997, is a truly impressive achievement. He also knew when to quit - at the top - something too few politicians manage. Roy Jenkins (again, for all his faults) would have been the most intelligent politician to have become Prime Minister - how far intelligence translates into political nous is a moot point.

Which political figure has been your greatest inspiration?

I’m not a great believer in heroes - it seems to me to invite deferred failure. Though I find it impossible not to be impressed by Tony Blair every time I hear him speak (whatever I think of what he’s saying), I cannot hear him speak without remembering the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity he had to transform politics in this country. And failed. As an antidote to showy politicians who drip charisma, I’m a huge fan of Vince Cable, the Lib Dems’ shadow chancellor. Sharp, serious and courteous.

Favourite Bond movie?

The only one I’ve seen at the cinema was The World Is Not Enough - and that was crap. To make an actor like Robert Carlyle turn in a real stinker of a performance is some achievement, I guess.

Favorite Doctor Who?

Not really a fanboy, I’m afraid. (Which is rare for a Lib Dem blogger.) I have a certain nostalgia for my childhood Doctor, Peter Davison - Dr Who meant it was bath night, followed by tea curled up in front of the fire. I do really want David Tennant’s suit.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?

I’m a liberal, so can I ask for Neapolitan?

Which Band, past or present, would you most like to see in concert?

Present: Franz Ferdinand - just superb. Past: The Walker Brothers.

In terms of visiting for the weekend, Oxford, Cambridge, or Barsby, Leics..?

Well, it’d be weird to visit Oxford for the week-end, as I’ve lived here for 11 years. And Cambridge is too like Oxford but further away. I’m worried that Barsby might be a little cold as it sounds like it’s in the north. Can’t I go to south Devon instead? That’s my spiritual home.

Favourite national newspaper?

I graze on all of them, but I’m loyal to columnists rather than papers. Favourites are - in no order - Philip Stephens (Financial Times), Matthew d'Ancona (Sunday Telegraph), Simon Jenkins (The Guardian), Matthew Parris (The Times), Alan Watkins (Independent on Sunday) and Andrew Rawnsley (The Observer). I do subscribe to The Economist, which still calls itself a newspaper, and is a great read.

What would you say your hobbies were?

Hobbies are a thing you do in your spare time, right?
I do get to the gym a couple of times a week, but calling it a hobby makes me sound freakishly worthy.

And what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite books (Bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

Today’s three songs (it would be a different three tomorrow): A Lady of a Certain Age, Divine Comedy; Wind It Up, Gwen Stefani; and Livin’ La Vida Loca, Ricky Martin.And three books: Jonathan Franzen, The Corrections; Kazuo Ishigru, The Unconsoled; and Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, Susanna Clarke.


politicschimpette said...

South Devon is everyone's spiritual home! I'm really enjoying this series, Paul. How's things?

Andrea said...

"I’ve been to Spain a lot (partly for family reasons), but neither Italy "

yes, you should visit it :wink:

Tabman said...

A fellow Hannon fan! A Lady of a Certain Age is brilliant - makes me think of Tory matrons ... although my favourite has to be Mutual Friend.

Liberal Review not one of your top LD blogs? ;o)

Will said...

Which album is A Lady of a Certain Age on? My favourite Divine Comedy track - today anyway - is Motorway to Damascus. Neil Hannon's contributed vocals to the new Doctor Who CD too...

Paul Burgin said...

Am fine and dandy Chimpette, although we don't see so much of you around these days, so I could ask the same question! ;)

Stephen Tall said...

Tabman - I always assumed Lady of a Certain Age was based on Princess Margaret.

And of course Liberal Review's one of my faves - but you're already the 91st most influential political blog in the UK :)

Will - it's on Victory for the Comic Muse. Hannon is a genius.

Paul Burgin said...

"Tabman - I always assumed Lady of a Certain Age was based on Princess Margaret."

I didn't assume I thought it was a cert!