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An interview I did on Normblog

This was number 373 in Norman Geras’s series of profiles on his wonderful blog, 19 November 2010.

The normblog profile 373: John Rentoul

John Rentoul is a Blairite. He was born in India in 1958, where his father was a minister of the Church of South India. He studied History and English at King’s College, Cambridge. He worked on an oil rig before becoming a journalist on Accountancy Age, the New Statesman and at the BBC. He joined The Independent in 1995, becoming chief leader writer in 1997 and columnist for The Independent on Sunday in 2004,where he blogs. John also teaches contemporary history at Queen Mary, University of London. His books include two about Thatcherism and a biography of Tony Blair.
Why do you blog? > Because I am highly opinionated and I thought no one was looking.

What has been your best blogging experience? > Getting some traction for ideas such as the Iraq Inquiry Coverage Rebuttal Service, the Banned List, and Questions to Which the Answer is No (which I stole from Oliver Kamm, who is an inspiring blogger and writer).

What has been your worst blogging experience? > Getting things wrong; having to retract and apologize.

What would be your main blogging advice to a novice blogger? > It’s the thief of time.

What are your favourite blogs? > Apart from normblog and Tom Harris, who has just stopped, Hopi Sen, Marbury and Next Left.

Who are your intellectual heroes? > You tempt me.

What are you reading at the moment? > Just finished skimming Decision Points by George W Bush. His maternal grandmother was killed when his grandfather tried to stop a cup of coffee from spilling and drove the car off the road. And he killed his sister’s goldfish by pouring vodka in the bowl. I always love the early lives in biography and autobiography. Now about to go back to finish Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens.

Who are your cultural heroes? > I am a founder member of the Philistine Society.

What is the best novel you’ve ever read? > Catch-22 by Joseph Heller or Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger; more recently, the Molesworth books by Geoffrey Willans and the Clarice Bean series by Lauren Child.

What is your favourite poem? > Members of the Philistine Society (see previous answer) are permitted, by special regulation, one derogation from the rules of the society. I do not know what peotry, as Molesworth calls it, is for, but my favourite is ‘As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame‘ by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

What is your favourite movie? > Wise Blood, which I thought was so funny that I bought the book, by Flannery O’Connor, and discovered that it was meant to be earnestly serious.

What is your favourite song? > I have lots of favourites; that is the purpose of the shuffle function. To give a flavour: the last three tracks on which I didn’t press ‘next’ were The Stranglers (‘Princess of the Streets’), David Bowie (‘Look Back in Anger’) and The Rolling Stones (‘I Just Want To See His Face’).

Who is your favourite composer? > Philistine Society rules prevent me from answering this question.

Can you name a major moral, political or intellectual issue on which you’ve ever changed your mind? > In roughly chronological order: markets, the kibbutz movement, nuclear disarmament, vegetarianism and television.

Who are your political heroes? > Aha. You tempt me again.

What is your favourite piece of political wisdom? > ‘Whenever I hear a campaign talk about a need to energize its base, that’s a campaign that’s going down the toilet.’ James Carville, genius of the Bill Clinton campaign, 1992.

If you could effect one major policy change in the governing of your country, what would it be? > The ending of religious selection in state schools.

If you could choose anyone, from any walk of life, to be Prime Minister, who would you choose? > Tom Harris.

What would you do with the UN? > Spend less money on it.

What do you consider to be the main threat to the future peace and security of the world? > Environmental degradation.

Do you have any prejudices you’re willing to acknowledge? > The refusal to admit to prejudices.

What is your favourite proverb? > ‘Every proverb directly contradicts some other proverb.’ (Miles Kington)

What commonly enjoyed activities do you regard as a waste of time? > Association football, X-Factor, The Apprentice, I’m a Celebrity, Big Brother, that sort of thing.

If you were to relive your life to this point, is there anything you’d do differently? > Three-card brag.

What would you call your autobiography? > I wouldn’t write it, but I do feel that one of my relations, Sir Gervais Rentoul KC, missed an opportunity when he called his This is My Case. It surely should have been I Rest My Case. (He was a barrister, Conservative and Unionist MP for Lowestoft and the founding Chairman of the 1922 Committee.)

What do you like doing in your spare time? > Watching American football.

What talent would you most like to have? > The ability to understand (a) Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, (b) Keynes’s General Theory or (c) computer code.

What would be your ideal choice of alternative profession or job? > Computer coder.

Who are your sporting heroes? > William Perry, Walter Payton and Tony Dungy.

Which English Premiership football team do you support? > I refer the Honourable Gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago. (That was the catechism of Prime Minister’s Questions, each of which was prefaced by a formal question asking the Prime Minister to list his official engagements for that day, until the Robin Cook reforms.) I support the Philadelphia Eagles or, failing them, the more authentically rust belt team in any NFL game.

What animal would you most like to be? > Hawk.