Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Twenty Questions to a Fellow Blogger Part CXL: Roger Darlington

(Roger Darlington)

Roger Darlington is a portfolio worker, specialising in consumer affairs and the communications industry:

  • He is the Member for England on the Communications Consumer Panel - formerly the Ofcom Consumer Panel - which is the statutory consumer body for broadcasting and telecommunications issues, a position he has held since February 2004.
  • He is a member of the Board of Consumer Focus which in October 2008 took over Postwatch, Energywatch and the National Consumer Council, a position he has held since January 2008.
  • He is a Consultant to Connect, the trade union for professional staff in the telecommunications industry.
  • He is a Support Trainer with Lamont Associates, a training consultancy specialising in transformation at work.

Roger Darlington is half English and half Italian; his wife is half Welsh and half Czech; and his son has a degree in International Relations. He enjoys travelling to new countries and experiencing new cultures.

In 1971, he obtained a First Class Honours Degree in Management Sciences from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology where his final year options were Organisational Behaviour and Industrial Relations. He spent a year (1969-70) as sabbatical President of the Students’ Union.

Following graduation, he spent six years working for the Labour Party/Labour Government as a Research Assistant/Special Adviser to Rt Hon Merlyn Rees MP in the latter’s capacity as Opposition Spokesperson on Northern Ireland (House of Commons 1972-74), Secretary of State for Northern Ireland (Northern Ireland Office 1974-76) and Home Secretary (Home Office 1976-78). He fought the two General Elections of 1974 as a Labour candidate.

For 24 years, he was a National Official with what was the Post Office Engineering Union (1978-85), then became the National Communications Union (1985-95), and is now the Communication Workers Union (1995-2002).

For the first six years, he was a Research Officer in the Research Department concentrating mainly on technological and regulatory issues. He was then promoted to the main negotiating grade of Assistant Secretary and, over the next six years, held a variety of negotiating posts. Next followed five years with responsibility for policy and international matters.

Then, in January 1995, the creation of the Communication Workers Union - a merger of the former National Communications Union and the former Union of Communication Workers - saw him return to the Research Department as Head of Research. The Department briefs Officers and Executive on all postal, telecommunications, and related matters. As well as managing the Department, he took special responsibility for strategic, technological and regulatory issues in both the postal and telecommunications industries. He took early retirement from the CWU in March 2002.

He was the first independent Chair of the Internet Watch Foundation (IWF), a body established by British Internet service providers to combat illegal content, especially child abuse images, on the UK Internet. This was a part time position which he held from January 2000 to December 2005, serving the maximum six year term of office. He was Chairman of the Greater London Region and a Council Member of Postwatch, the watchdog for postal consumers. This was a part time position which he held from April 2006 to September 2008 when the organisation was merged with two other consumer groups.

Roger Darlington’s private interests are the cinema (almost all genres), reading (especially modern history), music (especially classical), aviation (especially Second World War), and the social and economic aspects of information technology. He has written a biography - published in English and Czech - of his wife’s father, who was a Second World War night intruder ace. He is an intense user of the Internet and maintains his own web site and two weblogs.*

What made you decide to start blogging?

I had been reading about blogs for months before I actually met someone who was running one. At a London seminar on trade union use of the Internet, held in December 2002, I came across an enthusiastic Dutchman called Oskar van Rijswijk who had been operating a blog since the previous October and was really keen on the idea. Oskar continued to encourage me to start my own blog and offered to design one for me so, in April 2003, I launched a blog called NightHawk. In many ways this blog is complementary to my web site which I started in July 1999 - the former is a chronological account of my activities and thoughts, while the latter is a thematic collection of my writings and ideas. Also the two are closely integrated - the web site lists the most recent blog entries and the blog frequently refers to material on the site. In January 2004, I was appointed a member of the Ofcom Consumer Panel (now called the Communications Consumer Panel), so I decided to spin off my professional interests into a second blog - called CommsWatch - devoted to communications issues with a particular emphasis on regulation.

What is your best blogging experience?

I recently blogged about the Lod airport massacre in Israel on 30 May 1972 when three Japanese terrorists killed 24 people and injured 78 others. I wrote about the incident because I'd attended the 60th birthday celebration of a dear friend who was wounded in the attack and she spoke movingly about her experience as a young woman of 23. A few days later, there was a posting from the niece of one of the Puerto Rican women who died at Lod that day, seeking information that would help her know more about what happened to her aunt. I was able to put her in touch with my friend who provided her with a personal account. My web site and blogs now receive typically 5,000 visits a day and I love being able to make connections with and between people around the world.

And your worst?

Spam - my personal blog receives as much as my e-mail account and it's a constant effort to block and eliminate it.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

My tip of Barack Obama for the White House four years before he made it - see this posting.

Favourite blogs?

In the UK, Harry's Place is stimulating and, in the USA, The Huffington Post is impressive. Among my friends with interesting blogs are Ed Mayo and Eric Lee.

What inspired you to go into politics?

I was brought up in an apolitical household – my father (who was a life-long Conservative) did not live with us and my mother (an Italian who lived under Mussolini) had no knowledge of politics and even less interest. However, as a working class boy who was the first member of the family to go to university, I was very conscious that all my opportunities for advancement came from the Welfare State that was the political consensus in the Britain of the 1950s and 1960s. At school, I had free uniform and free meals and, at university, my fees were paid for me and I received the maximum grant which enabled me to study full-time. I was 16 when Harold Wilson led the Labour Party back into power after 13 years in the political wilderness and Labour remained in power while I was doing my degree. It was at university – the University of Manchester Institute of Science & Technology – that I became politicised. I won the Freshers’ Debating Competition and represented UMIST in the “Observer” Mace Debating Competition, so I learned to articulate my ideas, and I served full-time for a year as President of the Students’ Union, so I was actively involved in student politics at a time when Jack Straw (later the holder of many Cabinet posts) was President of the National Union of Students (I was one of his nominees). Also this was a very political time internationally with the student riots of 1968 and the American intervention in Vietnam and Cambodia. In the circumstances, it seemed inevitable to me that I should support a political movement that represented working people, that promoted free health and education, and that stood for a more equable distribution of power and wealth in our society. However, I was never attracted to Marxist or Trotstyist politics, because I believe in a genuinely open and pluralist society and because I reject totally the determinism inherent in Communist ideology. Therefore, from the first opportunity that I had to vote, I voted Labour and, ever since then, I have never missed an opportunity to vote and I have never voted anything other than Labour. I actually joined the Labour Party in 1969 and have been a member ever since - a continuous period of four decades. For six years (1972-1978), I worked for the Labour Party in the House of Commons and the Labour Government in two Departments and I fought the two General elections of 1974 as a Labour candidate.

You have written some short stories that have been published. Tell us a little about that and what started your interest in writing?

As long as I can remember, I have written. I've kept a personal diary since I was 14; in my professional career, I have written countless papers, reports, articles and speeches; in the mid 1980s I authored a full-scale book which was published in both the UK and the then Czechoslovakia; I've had a web site for 10 years and blogged daily almost as long. But all this is non-fiction and I've long had a yearning to try my hand at some fiction. In the summer, most of my work goes into a hiatus, since the consumer bodies on which I sit do not meet in August, so I have a very light month or so ahead of me and I've decided to use the time to attempt to become a short story writer. I've published the first three stories on my web site: The Edge Of War Making A Difference Thelma And Louise - The Sequel One day, I might write a political short story.

You are a member of the board of Consumer Focus. If possible, tell us a little about that and what the work entails?

Consumer Focus was created in October 2008 from a merger of Postwatch (on whose Council I sat), Energywatch and the National Consumer Council. I sit on the Board which meets formally every six weeks or so and then I work with staff to develop and promote policy, Consumer Focus speaks for consumers - especially vulnerable consumers - across the whole range of the economy. There has never been a time when a strong consumer voice was more needed with the deepest recession in our lifetime provoking high debt and unemployment. Business is a powerful lobbyist but individual consumers fight it difficult to ensure quality and choice in the provision of goods and services and to obtain protection and redress when things go wrong.

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

I am half English and half Italian, my wife is half Welsh and half Czech, and our son has a degree in International Relations. So it might seem inevitable that I love travelling to other countries and meeting people from other cultures. So far, I've been fortunate enough to visit a total of 52 countries. I'm planning my next trip to Iran!

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

I once spent two months in San Francisco, but haven't been there for 25 years. I'd love to go back.

Who, excluding the present leader and Prime Minister, do you regard as the best British Prime Minister, and if different, the best Labour leader?

Historically the best Prime Minister has to be Winston Churchill. For all his huge faults, he led Britain at its darkest moment and inspired its citizens to stand against the Nazi juggernaut. More recently - not withstanding Iraq - Tony Blair was outstanding in taking Labour to three consecutive large Labour victories. His consummate communication skills and clear strategic thinking are much missed in the present administration. It may be unorthodox but I think that Jim Callaghan has been under-rated as Prime Minister. He was the Peter Mandelson of his time - someone who didn't expect to be in the position he found himself and therefore had a quiet confidence and calm authority. His biggest mistake was not to go for a General Election in the Autumn of 1978. He interviewed me and appointed me to a research post in the Parliamentary Labour Party in 1972, so I've always had a soft spot for him. The best Labour Leader could well be Neil Kinnock - a brave and honourable man who made the Labour Party electable again after the madness of the 1980s.

Which political figure has been your greatest inspiration?

Rt Hon Merlyn Rees MP. I worked for him for six years as a Research Assistant in the House of Commons (1972-74) and as a Special Adviser in the Northern Ireland Office (1974-76) and the Home Office (1976-78). He was one of the most decent politicians I've ever met and someone who really cared about working people.

Favourite Bond movie?

As an adolescent in the early 1960s, two of my greatest influences were Bond and the Beatles. I read all of Ian Fleming's novels and, over the next 40 years, I've seen each new 007 film as it appeared. My favourite has always been the second, "From Russia With Love". From the brilliant pre-title sequence, it was a triumph of entertainment. After their experience on the first movie "Dr No", director Terence Young was in his stride and the ultra-suave Sean Connery was making the Bond role his very own. Above all, though, this was the last Bond film to take itself seriously. The plot was intelligent and credible and, at its heart was the Russian's Lector decoding machine, based on Fleming's wartime knowledge of Enigma (not that we knew this at the time). For me, Italian Daniela Bianchi was always one of the most attractive of Bond's many girls, partly because she looked so naturally beautiful. The main villain was chillingly believable in the form of muscle-toned Robert Shaw. The multi-functional briefcase genuinely serviced the story line, whereas in later films the gadgets became more objects of fun. The location scenes in Istanbul - including the Saint Sophia mosque - were atmospheric. Finally, as well as the original Bond theme, we had terrific incidental music and one of the best songs. In short: simply the best of the Bonds.

Favorite Doctor Who?

The original of course: William Hartnell. Although Tom Baker was fun too.

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?

Chocolate - in any form, but especially Toblerone.

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

Coldplay - "Viva La Vida" live would be awesome.

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

Definitely Barsby. I've been to Oxford and Cambridge many times and I like to go to new places. Barsby looks like a lovely village and my sister lives in Leicester so I could call in to see her.

Favourite national newspaper?

The "Guardian". It's fashionable to criticise it, but I enjoy it and it has a great web site. I take the "Daily Mirror" too, so that I have both Left of Centre papers and both news and gossip.

What would you say your hobbies were?

Reading, writing, photography, cinema, history, travel, aviation, technology - I have a lot of interests. If I had to single out one, it would be use of the Internet in all its forms.

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

Favourite songs: "The House of the Rising Sun" by The Animals (teenage nostalgia), "Dancing On The Ceiling" by Lionel Ritchie (so exuberant), and "I Will Survive" by Gloria Gaynor (so uplifting). Favourite books: I would nominate "Meditations" by Marcus Aurelius (stoic philosophy), "Dreams From My Father" by Barack Obama (inspirational) and the "His Dark Materials" trilogy by Philip Pullman (great writing and story lines).

*Bio taken from Roger's homepage at his suggestion

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