The Telegraph 2024-02-09 18:00:27


Live ‘This is the worst day of Joe Biden’s presidency’, Democrats admit – follow latest

A bombshell report that found Joe Biden had “significant limitations in his memory” has handed the White House to Donald Trump, a senior Democrat has said.

Dean Phillips, who is Mr Biden’s only remaining challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination, called on other members of his party to “face the truth” about the President.

It comes after a report into the US president’s handling of classified documents found he struggled to remember when he was vice president, or when his son died.

Mr Phillips told Fox News: “The Report simply affirms what most Americans already know, that the President cannot continue to serve as our Commander-in-Chief beyond his term ending January 20, 2025.

“Already facing the lowest approval numbers in modern history and losing in each of the key battleground states, this Report has all but handed the 2024 election to Donald Trump if Joe Biden is the Democratic nominee — and I invite fellow Democrats to face the truth.”

Mr Biden angrily defended himself last night, saying his memory was “fine” – but in the process confused Mexico and Egypt when talking about the Middle East.

Follow below for the latest updates, and join in the conversation in the comments below.

Mirror hacking: Prince Harry says Piers Morgan ‘knew perfectly well what was going on’

The Duke of Sussex launched a fresh attack on Piers Morgan as he agreed a settlement with Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) in the wake of an “overwhelming” victory in his phone hacking claim.

The Duke’s legal team announced on Friday that he had accepted damages from the publisher in a deal that ends a four-year legal battle and will negate the need for a second trial.

The details of the settlement were not revealed.

An MGN spokesman said: “We are pleased to have reached this agreement, which gives our business further clarity to move forward from events that took place many years ago and for which we have apologised.”

In a statement read out on the court steps by David Sherborne, the Duke’s barrister, the Duke again singled out Mr Morgan for criticism, insisting that he “knew perfectly well what was going on” regarding hacking.

He suggested that the former Mirror editor’s “contempt” for the ruling vindicated his decision to go to court and obtain such a detailed judgment.

The Duke also reiterated his call for a police inquiry.

His statement said: “After our victory in December, Mirror Group have finally conceded the rest of my claim, which would have consisted of another two trials, additional evidence and 115 more articles.

“Everything we said was happening at Mirror Group was in fact happening, and indeed far worse as the Court ruled in its extremely damaging judgment.

“As the judge said this morning, we have uncovered and proved the shockingly dishonest way in which the Mirror acted for so many years and then sought to conceal the truth.

“In light of this, we call again for the authorities to uphold the rule of law and to prove that no one is above it.”

“That includes Mr Morgan, who as editor, knew perfectly well what was going on, as the judge held.

“Even his own employer realised it simply could not call him as a witness of truth at the trial. His contempt for the court’s ruling and his continued attacks ever since demonstrate why it was so important to obtain a clear and detailed judgment.

“As I said back in December, our mission continues. I believe in the positive change it will bring for all of us. It is the very reason why I started this, and why I will continue to see it through to the end.” 

Mr Morgan said in response to Prince Harry’s claims: “I think that invading the privacy of the Royal family is utterly reprehensible. And on that I share Prince Harry’s opinion. I just wish he’d stopped doing it.”

Duke’s barrister says settlement was ‘substantial’

Mr Sherborne told Mr Justice Fancourt that MGN had agreed to pay the Duke “a substantial additional sum by way of damages” as well as his costs.

The Duke, 39, sued MGN over 148 articles he alleged had been obtained illegally. Giving evidence last June, he revealed that he was motivated by a desire to protect his wife, Meghan.

In December, he was awarded £140,600 in damages after the judge found that 15 of 33 articles selected for examination at trial were the product of phone hacking or unlawful information gathering. The court threw out the remaining 17, branding one of them “hopeless”.

The ruling prompted the Duke to hail himself a “dragon slayer” as he vowed to continue his crusade against the tabloid press.

Last month, he threatened to pursue a second High Court trial if he was not awarded appropriate damages.

Traveller ‘king’ widow warns of riots if massive marble grave removed in planning row

Council officials are in urgent discussion with the family of a traveller “king” who warned of riots if they ordered the removal of his ornate marble grave.

The £200,000 marble gravestone dedicated to “Big” Willy Collins remains standing in the city’s Shiregreen Cemetery almost two years after it was unveiled.

Sheffield City Council has said it is considering its “next steps” concerning the 37-ton Carrara marble monument that it says was built without permission.

Mr Collins’ widow Kathleen previously said: “There have been vicious comments on social media from those who hate the traveller community and they have left the whole family feeling very hurt and angry.

“People are threatening to pull the monument down or damage it while the council is saying we may have to change it, but if that happens, there’s going to be war.

“It’s going to cause very, very bad riots if they take my husband’s headstone down.”

The council said on Thursday it was seeking a resolution to the dispute, which has angered families of others buried in the city’s graveyards.

Councillor Richard Williams, chair of the communities, parks and leisure committee at Sheffield City Council, said on Thursday: “This is a complex situation, and we will continue to correspond directly with the family or their chosen representatives until it is resolved. The council will be sure to let local residents know when there is an update on this matter.”

But supporters of Mr Collins’ family backed his widow, warning that the council should leave the monument as it stands.

Rhys Jackson, a boxer from Sheffield, wrote on Facebook: “Anyone complaining go touch the grave and see what happens.”

Nathan McDonald added: “Just leave the man in peace. It’s only a gravestone.”

The dispute between Mr Collins’s family and Sheffield council began when the monument was erected in March 2022, following his death in 2020.

Hundreds of people came out to attend the funeral of the 49-year-old, who became known to his admirers as the “King of Sheffield”. Flares were set off as his 22-carat gold coffin was led in a white funeral carriage by horses in yellow and blue feathers.

Mr Collins, one of 16 children, was born in Ireland and moved to Sheffield as a nine-year-old in 1980, growing up in the Pitsmoor area of the South Yorkshire city.

The patriarch, whose family is said to have extended to 400 nieces and nephews, met and fell for his future wife Kathleen when he was just 11. They married six years later.

He became a bare-knuckle fighter, training at Brendan Ingle’s gym in Wincobank, also used by World Champions “Prince” Naseem Hamed, Johnny Nelson, Junior Witter and Kell Brook.

Mr Collins was on holiday in Majorca to celebrate his wife’s 48th birthday when he collapsed and died in July 2020.

Tyson Fury, who has held the World Boxing Council heavyweight title since 2020, paid tribute, stating: “This is a RIP message to Big Willy Collins. God bless you, rest in peace.”

Billy Joe Saunders, the first fighter from the travelling community to win world championships in two weight classes, said: “Rest in peace to a good friend of mine’s dad, Big Willy Collins.

“God bless you my man, a gentleman. May God give you a good bed in heaven.”

Mr Collins’ monument features a solar-powered jukebox which plays his favourite tunes, as well as flashing LED lights and a lifesize 6ft 2in statue of “Big” Willy himself.

It also features four flagpoles and a marble bench, as well as depictions of Jesus Christ alongside biblical scenes.

The grave was quickly criticised as an “eyesore” when it was unveiled, with other mourners expressing their frustration at being previously told by the council that they were not allowed to put up small picket fences around their loved ones’ graves.

Rosy Ashton, 67, told The Telegraph on Thursday: “My son John, who died when he was 15, is buried in Wisewood Cemetery and we were ordered to take down a small stone trim around his grave. It seems it’s one rule for some and another rule for others.”

The council confirmed that the grave was built “without permission”, saying that it exceeded the maximum dimensions permitted for a gravesite.

While the Collins family did obtain permission for a headstone, the final structure failed to match the designs they had submitted.

Sheffield City Council said it had “reached out” to the family to discuss changes that will be needed to bring it back in line with the cemetery’s regulations.

Councillor Alison Teal, executive member for sustainable neighbourhoods, well-being, parks and leisure, said: “Cemeteries are a place where people can come, pay their respects and visit loved ones who are no longer with us. We understand memorials are deeply personal, however we must have rules in place to ensure fairness.”

Prince Harry makes surprise Las Vegas appearance after visiting King Charles

The Duke of Sussex made an unannounced appearance at an NFL award ceremony in Las Vegas last night, barely 24 hours after returning from his transatlantic dash to see the cancer-stricken King.

Prince Harry, 39, presented an award at the event, joking that the US “stole rugby from us and you made it your own”.

It comes ahead of a High Court hearing on Friday morning in which Mr Justice Fancourt is expected to rule on costs incurred during the Duke’s phone hacking claim against Mirror Group Newspapers.

Harry flew from Los Angeles to London on Monday night, before enjoying a 30-minute reunion with his father at Clarence House on Tuesday.

He returned home overnight on Wednesday, having had no contact with his brother, the Prince of Wales, from whom he remains estranged.

His light-hearted remarks at the NFL Honours ceremony at the Resorts World Theatre gave no indication of the worry experienced by the Royal family in recent days, following the King’s diagnosis.

The Duke presented Pittsburgh Steelers defensive lineman Cam Heyward with the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award.

Introducing the award with a joke about the similarities between rugby and American football, he said: “Instead of passing it backwards, just pass it forwards,” he said. “Why not wear pads and a helmet?

“All kidding aside, what you guys do on and off the field is truly remarkable. You are role models for millions in the way you carry yourselves and the way you give back.

“This final award, the highest honour, is all about serving your community, and there is one special man we’d like to pay tribute to now.”

Heyward hugged the Duke, exclaiming: “Prince freakin Harry, I’m just shocked, that’s Prince Harry.”

The award recognises a player who has achieved on and off the field and made a positive impact on their community. The winner is awarded 250,000 dollars (£198,000) to donate to a charity of their choice.

Phone hacking hearing

Meanwhile, the High Court will hear how much each side should pay in costs following the Duke’s successful claim against MGN.

The Duke sued the tabloid publisher over 148 articles he alleged had been obtained illegally, revealing when he gave evidence last June that he was motivated by a desire to protect his wife, Meghan.

He was awarded £140,600 in damages after the judge found that 15 of 33 articles selected for examination at trial were the product of phone hacking or unlawful information gathering. He threw out the remaining 17, branding one of them “hopeless”.

The ruling, handed down in December, prompted the Duke to hail himself a “dragon slayer” as he vowed to continue his crusade against the tabloid press.

Last month, he threatened to pursue a second High Court trial if he was not awarded appropriate damages.

National Trust boots local football team off their pitch in effort to restore gardens

The National Trust is facing a backlash after booting a football team out of the grounds of one of their country homes in order to “restore the land”.

Sudbury Football Club has been told that it will be their last season playing in front of Sudbury Hall, in Derbyshire, leading players to question why the charity is not protecting the “sporting heritage” of the area.

The pitch has been used for sports for 100 years and a petition calling for the charity to reverse their decision has received more than 45,000 signatures in just over two weeks.

Campaigners say that the decision to remove the sports field goes against the wishes of the 10th Baron Vernon, who donated the property to the Trust in 1967.

The Trust has already faced criticism for turning Sudbury Hall into a “children’s country house”, which people have said is more like a “theme park” than a preservation of history.

Joanna Fitzalan Howard, Lord Vernon’s daughter, said at the time it was a “major exercise of dumbing down” which was done “without consultation in the locality or with the donor family”.

The National Trust has said it is taking back control of the land in front of the house at the request of the Parish Council and are “looking at plans to restore the land back to a grade II listed landscape, which will include grassland and the planting of new trees”.

The pitch, which was originally used for cricket and in more recent years has been used for football and lacrosse, is the only one in the village.

A spokesman for the men’s Sunday league team said: “There has been sport played on that pitch for 100 years, The National Trust supports heritage projects and the Sudbury sporting heritage should also be supported and preserved.

“Preserving grassroots football is not just for our team, but for future generations of girls and boys. There are social and economic benefits as well as benefits for people’s health and wellbeing. There is no other place to play team sports in Sudbury.

“The National Trust’s claim to “make sure everyone benefits from the places we look after” but this does not seem to apply to us or grassroots football.”

‘’As a charity club we are also willing to work with the National Trust on conservation projects such as planting trees and other community projects.”

Their calls for a reversal of the decision have been echoed by City of Stoke Lacrosse, which says that their summer training schedule is at risk. A spokesman said that the loss of the ground will put “considerable pressure on the ever-shrinking set of local outdoor pitches within our catchment area”.

Restore Trust, a campaign group led by members who believe the Trust has lost sight of its charitable aims, said: “The playing field is valued not only in the village, but also by the wider community beyond Sudbury. The National Trust has a responsibility to the community to make a playing field available, as Lord Vernon intended when he gave the house.”

Restore Trust said that, despite efforts by the football club to find a compromise with the Trust, the charity “has not yet made a serious effort to resolve the situation”.

A Trust spokesman told the Telegraph: “We are ending the commercial hire arrangements at Sudbury and making the space available to the community for free.

“When the land was bequeathed to the Trust, the donor’s Memorandum of Wishes asked that the land be used for recreational purposes for the foreseeable future. Local people will be able to enjoy this space for activities such as picnics, games and dog walks.

“We are keen advocates for the benefits of sport and exercise. We proudly offer a wide range of activities at our sites, from running events and group walks, to bike hire and badminton, and celebrate historical connections to sport at many places.”

However, it faced criticism for not discussing these plans with the sports clubs.

Zewditu Gebreyohanes, former director of Restore Trust, said: “That this decision has been taken without prior consultation of affected locals is characteristic of the Trust, which under its current management has been failing to uphold its original philanthropic ethos.

“I very much hope the Trust will reconsider this decision, particularly in light of the highly popular petition calling for it to be reversed.”

Five key moments from Tucker Carlson’s interview with Putin

Vladimir Putin began his much-anticipated interview on Thursday night by offering a more than 30-minute, counterfactual history lesson to a bemused Tucker Carlson.

The former Fox New host’s interjections (how is this relevant, Mr President?) were swiftly shot down by the Russian leader: “Are we going to have a serious talk or a show?”

Putin’s show, it seemed. Beyond the foray into the Russian president’s version of history, here are the five key and most surprising moments of the more than two-hour sit down.

Elon Musk ‘unstoppable’ , says Putin

After a romp through history covering everything from Genghis Khan to the Roman Empire, Putin moved on to offering his thoughts on the future of mankind.

It is clear the Russian leader feels one man is making leaps and bounds towards the creation of a “superhuman”.

Carlson asked: “So when does the AI empire start do you think?”

Putin conceded he was no expert. But suggested Elon Musk might have some thoughts.

He said: “Mankind is currently facing many threats due to the genetic researchers, it is now possible to create this superhuman. A specialised human being. A genetically engineered athlete, scientist, military man. There are reports that Elon Musk has already had the chip implanted in the human brain in the USA.”

Putin went on to say: “I think there’s no stopping Elon Musk. He will do as he sees fit.”

He added that “an international agreement on how to regulate these things” was needed to address the threat “from unbridled and uncontrolled development of AI or genetics or any other field”.

Putin threatens World War Three if US puts troops in Ukraine

Putin accused the US of “cheap provocation” over its continued military aid to Kyiv, and warned Washington against extending that support to deploying troops to Ukraine.

“If somebody has the desire to send regular troops, that would certainly bring humanity to the brink of a very serious global conflict,” he told Carlson.

He continued that America should focus on its domestic issues.

He said: “Don’t you have anything better to do? You have issues on the border. Issues with migration, issues with the national debt. More than $33 trillion.

“Wouldn’t it be better to negotiate with Russia? Make an agreement. Already understanding the situation that is developing today, realising that Russia will fight for its interests to the end.”

‘CIA blew up’ Nord Stream, Putin claims

Mr Putin also claimed that the CIA was behind the sabotage of Nord Stream, the undersea gas pipelines between Germany, Finland and Russia. 

The attacks on the Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 pipelines took place in international waters, with large amounts of gas rising up from the ocean floor.

Russia was suspected of a potential sabotage attack, with Moscow previously threatening repercussions for Finland’s decision to join the Nato military alliance.

Intelligence reviewed by US officials later suggested a pro-Ukrainian group was behind the attacks.

Asked by Carlson who “blew up Nord Stream”, Putin replied: “You for sure.”

The former Fox News host joked he had been “busy that day”. Putin said: “The CIA has no such alibi.”

Asked whether he had evidence to support his claims, the Russian president said he “won’t get into details” but you should “look for someone who is interested” and who “has capabilities”.

‘Arrogant’ Boris Johnson is why Ukraine is still fighting, says Putin

Putin repeated claims that Boris Johnson sabotaged a peace deal with Ukraine that was being brokered with the assistance of Turkey in the spring of 2022.

Carlson asked Putin about reports that Ukraine was “prevented from negotiating a peace settlement by the former British Prime Minister acting on behalf of the Biden administration”.

The former prime minister has previously vehemently denied the claims as “total nonsense” and said he merely “expressed concerns” about the nature of the potential agreement during a conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

When Carlson raised the issue, Putin said: “Prime Minister Johnson came to talk us out of it and we missed that chance. Well, you missed it.”

He added: “The fact that they obey the demand or persuasion of Mr Johnson, the former Prime Minister of Great Britain, seems ridiculous.

“Where is Mr Johnson now? And the war continues.”

Carlson replied: “That’s a good question. Where do you think he is, and why did he do that?”

Putin said he “did not understand it”. “Because of arrogance, because of a pure heart, but not because of a great mind,” he said.

Putin could release Evan Gershkovich in prisoner swap

Elsewhere in the more than two-hour interview, Putin hinted that he could be open to releasing Evan Gershkovich, the Wall Street Journal reporter who has been held in a Russian prison for almost a year on unsubstantiated claims of espionage.

Putin signalled back-channel conversations were ongoing with Washington over Mr Gershkovich’s release, as he said: “special services are in contact with one another”.

“They are talking about the matter in question, he said, adding: “I believe an agreement can be reached”.

Sir Chris Bryant: ‘David Cameron used the Gaydar thing against me a couple of times’

As the Georgian era was nearing its end in 1835, Britain was a country that had banned slavery, outlawed the employment of young children in factories and led the world in its legal protection of fair trials. Yet it was also a country in which gay men could be hanged for the crime of having consensual sex in the privacy of their own homes.

In November of that year, two domestic servants, John Smith and James Pratt, were publicly executed after they were spotted by a peeping Tom. They were the last men to hang in the UK for a capital felony so shocking to public morals it could not be named in official records.

Sir Chris Bryant MP, who has raised these cursed lovers from obscurity in his latest book, James and John: A True Story of Prejudice and Murder, might consider himself lucky to live in an age where gay men like him can marry and celebrate their sexuality. But how far have we really come? That is the question that will linger in the mind of any reader, and which Sir Chris ponders as he recounts his recent experiences.

He has said before that he feels less safe now than he did 10 or even five years ago. Homophobic abuse on social media is ‘absolutely endless’. Death threats are commonplace, mainly online but sometimes in person. Hate crimes and physical attacks on gay people are on the increase, he says.

The Labour Member of Parliament for Rhondda fears that Britain has reached a point where so many freedoms have been won that we may be seeing a backlash.

‘The safest place in the world for a gay man in 1930 was Berlin, and then they started arresting them and sending them to concentration camps,’ he adds. ‘I worry that, politically, just because we have won these freedoms doesn’t mean they are guaranteed for ever.’

The cosy living room of his home in Porth, with its wood burner, deep-cushioned sofa and well-stocked bookshelves, feels as safe as anywhere could be, yet Sir Chris has had to take extra security measures on police advice.

‘I had a guy who disrupted my surgery, [he was] very violent,’ he recalls. ‘He came in and started ranting and then I think [he] made death threats, said I was dead meat.’ The police went to the man’s house – ‘He had lots of photos of me on the wall with my face crossed out with a Stanley knife.’ 

He was jailed but is now free. ‘I see him around occasionally because he’s local.’ The murders of MPs Sir David Amess and Jo Cox remain fresh in the memory.

Shortly after our conversation, justice minister Mike Freer announced he would step back from frontline politics at the next election following death threats and intimidation. Violence and threats against MPs are evidently an issue that is as pressing as ever.

Sir Chris is unusually candid for a politician; nothing seems to be off-limits. He is hugely entertaining company, with many stories to tell – occasionally interspersed with name-dropping – like the time, as a young actor, he was invited to watch a production of Macbeth in Valencia, together with another unknown, one Daniel Craig. (‘Daniel then was a completely different person, and of course he smoked back then.’) 

But he also talks openly about his mother’s alcoholism, of contemplating suicide over a semi-naked picture he took for a dating website that became public, and of discovering he had skin cancer five years ago that left him with a 40 per cent chance of living another year. Immunotherapy treatment proved to be his saviour, but he still sports a scar the size of a 50p piece near his left ear. ‘You always hope you are out of the woods,’ he reflects, ‘but you always fear you might still be in a thicket.’

At the age of 62, Sir Chris has a hinterland few politicians, let alone the rest of us, could match. Born in Cardiff, he spent part of his childhood in Spain, was an actor in the National Youth Theatre, a student member of the Conservative Party, a Labour convert, then worked as an Anglican vicar, before being elected to Parliament in 2001, where he is currently Shadow Minister for Creative Industries and Digital.

He shares his homes in Wales and London with his husband, Jared Cranney, 53, a company secretary, who asked him on a date after the MP canvassed him in a pub. In 2010 they formalised their relationship with the first civil partnership ceremony held in the Houses of Parliament.

‘We did it rather quickly, before the general election, because I feared that the Tories would get rid of civil partnerships,’ Sir Chris says. David (now Lord) Cameron was a champion of civil partnerships, I point out, but he replies: ‘I didn’t trust him. To be fair, I still don’t.’

If there is a hint of paranoia in that response, it is understandable for a man who has been let down by even those closest to him.

He was 13 when his mother Anne, a BBC make-up artist who ‘looked after Shirley Bassey’s wigs’, sat on his bed and told him she was drinking too much. He later discovered she was downing two bottles of vodka a day. His father Rees left, and he ended up ‘sort of being the man of the house’. 

On one occasion his mother set fire to their flat, another time she flooded it, and Sir Chris recalls taking her to Marks & Spencer to buy her new clothes, ‘which was stupid, of course’, because she took them back and exchanged them for vodka. She died in 1993, when he was 31.

It was his childhood experiences that brought him to the Church. ‘All the people who’d helped me during the awful teenage years were involved in the Church. In my last year at school, because I couldn’t stay at home any more, I lived with the school chaplain and his wife.

‘I felt I owed something back, and this probably makes me sound very pious, but I had quite a pronounced sense of things being wrong in the world and they needed to be put right, and for quite a while I thought the way to do that was through the Church.’

At Cheltenham College, the public school Sir Chris attended thanks to his father’s well-paid job at IBM, he attended chapel every day, and at Oxford University, where he read English, he went to church on his first Sunday and found ‘a very supportive community’.

He also joined the Conservative Party and was elected as an officer of the university’s Conservative Association. ‘I wore a jacket most days. I think I was just a terribly pompous prick.’

He was yet to fathom his own sexuality, let alone his political allegiance. ‘I had an inkling that I fancied boys but I had an awful lot of girlfriends,’ he says. ‘I did anything to have time with girls, in plays and choirs and concerts. I think I thought I was meant to fancy girls, and a bit of me did. I liked spending time with them.’

It was only when he was training to be an Anglican priest at Ripon College Cuddesdon in Oxfordshire, at the age of 24, that a girlfriend said to him: ‘Chris, you do know, by the way, that you’re gay, right?’

He adds: ‘You have to discover that you’re gay. You don’t come with a marker on your chest that says: “You are one of the gay ones.”’

By the time he was 29, and having spent five years working as an ordained minister, Sir Chris had decided that: ‘OK, you are definitely gay, you would like to have a long-lasting relationship with a man, and you can’t do that if you remain in the Church.’

When he told his bishop, the late Bill Westwood (father of the DJ Tim Westwood), his reply was: ‘But Christopher, if only you’d learn to keep your mouth shut, you could enjoy everything I do. You could become a bishop and have regular dinner with Margaret Thatcher.’ Sir Chris recalls: ‘I didn’t know that was what the Church was all about.’

After preaching his last sermon, he changed out of his dog collar, went to his local gay pub (‘In those days you had to ring on the door and someone would draw back a curtain and say, “You do realise this is a gay pub?” as if you had to show your gay card’) and ordered a pint, only to realise he had left his wallet at home.

‘This guy next to me, a short bald guy, said it was OK, he would pay for it.’ When he looked more closely at his saviour, he realised it was Bronski Beat frontman Jimmy Somerville.

Today Sir Chris appears entirely comfortable with his sexuality, which makes it all the more surprising when he brings up the most publicly humiliating episode of his life, and the pain it caused him.

We are discussing the homophobia he has experienced in the Commons, such as the time he was shouted down in a debate about smacking by an MP who said he had no right to an opinion as he would ‘never have children’, when he says Lord Cameron ‘used the Gaydar thing against me a couple of times’.

The ‘Gaydar thing’ happened in 2003, when a tabloid got hold of a picture he had taken for a dating website, in which he was dressed only in his underpants. ‘I invented the selfie,’ he jokes, half-heartedly, ‘and I increased my majority at the next election so it sort of pays to advertise.’ Then comes the truth about how it affected him.

‘I felt terrible. It is the only time in my life that I thought about ending it. Every ounce of shame many of us felt in the years when we were trying to reconcile ourselves to our sexuality as a child crowded into one great big dollop of shame being poured like ordure over me.’ 

Nowadays, gay MPs happily discuss being on Grindr, a newer app. Much of Sir Chris’s life, it seems, has involved accidents of timing. ‘I am a funny age,’ he says, ‘because gay people who are five or 10 years older are dead because of Aids.

A whole swathe went. So we have been making it up as we go along. Having kids, you know… I think if I got myself sorted much younger and settled down, we would have adopted.’

An accident of timing also sealed the fate of James and John in 1835, it appears. As Sir Chris writes, every other prisoner sentenced to death at Newgate prison in the preceding two-and-a-half years was granted a reprieve, and it had been more than a decade since there had been a hanging for sodomy at the jail. Sir Chris expends much ink in trying to answer the question of why these two men were singled out.

He says: ‘The thing that came across to me in writing the book was, it takes a whole country to hang a man – the crowds, the newspapers, the politicians, the judicial system, everything.’

So, almost 200 years on, have we come as far as we would like to think in snuffing out homophobia? ‘When I was at school, if you were caught with another boy, you were out,’ he says. ‘Now Eton and other schools have gay societies, and last time I was at my old school, they were celebrating LGBT Pride.

‘But only this week a Labour candidate in Gedling was called a batty boy [batty is Jamaican slang for buttocks] by a Tory activist. The president of Burundi was calling for gays to be stoned last week. There are American pastors who think gays should be taken out and shot.

‘I get a lot of homophobic abuse on Twitter [now called X], and Twitter doesn’t take it seriously at all. They just chuck it away, including all sorts of death threats and stuff like that.

‘When you complain, Twitter just says it hasn’t breached any of their rules.’ Since Elon Musk bought the platform, ‘It’s a much worse cesspit than it was,’ he says.

Sir Chris, a long-standing critic of Vladimir Putin, claims some of the homophobic tweets targeting him have been traced to Russia, where he made a ministerial visit in 2010. His husband went with him, paying his own way, and when they arrived at their hotel, staff refused to allow them to share a room, before eventually relenting. The next day Sir Chris was ‘violently ill’ after attending an official lunch. Everyone else ate the same food. He has no doubt that he was singled out and poisoned.

Sir Chris was named Stonewall Politician of the Year the following year for his work supporting lesbian, gay and bisexual people, though he diplomatically says he hasn’t thought about Stonewall for years when I raise controversies over its aggressive stance on trans rights.

He is wary of discussing transgender issues, though if Labour get into power later this year he will struggle to avoid taking a position on the subject. When I press him, he replies: ‘I would hate the idea of a young person being pressured into being trans, just as I would hate the idea of anyone feeling forced to be straight.

‘I’ve never understood why it can’t be possible to protect women’s rights and the rights of the tiny number of people in the UK who are trans. Human rights are a seamless garment. Men have penises, women have vaginas, but there is a very small number of people who don’t fit into that pattern. The word that I don’t like is when people say there is an epidemic.’

Sir Chris could once again be a government minister by the year’s end, and believes Sir Keir Starmer is the right man to lead the country, despite his ‘boring’ tag.

‘I haven’t seen him do a tap dance routine, but I’m not sure people want a tap dance routine from the next PM,’ he says. ‘He has been forensic in prosecuting the case against the Tory party and he is fundamentally decent. Churchill used to joke about an empty taxi pulling up and Mr Attlee getting out, but Clement Attlee was one of the best prime ministers we ever had.’

Labour’s enemy, of course, is complacency. Sir Chris began his political career as election agent for Frank Dobson, and vividly recalls Labour’s 1992 general election defeat. ‘Of course, we expected to win in ’92 and we lost. The day after, we were driving round with a loudspeaker, Frank and I, saying thank you for voting Labour. Frank said, “Can you stop the car?” and we just sat there and cried. In all the debates about the election this year, that is a strong part of my nervousness, my anxiety.

‘And there’s one word I’ve never used in any of my books, which is the word inevitable. Nothing is ever inevitable. You have to earn it.’

James and John: A True Story of Prejudice and Murder by Chris Bryant is out on 15 Feb (Bloomsbury, £25)