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Sunday, 31 May 2009

Dave Gets Dacred

Expensegate (now also Doubleflipgate, Nomadgate and Donationgate) has previously been run by the paper that opened its chequebook, the Maily Telegraph, while the Daily Mail and its legendarily foul mouthed editor Paul Dacre (the man with the 1.5 million remuneration package) looked on. Not any more. Because today, the Mail on Sunday (of which Dacre is the managing editor) has an MP in its sights over an apparent maximising of claims under the Additional Costs Allowance (ACA).

The MP concerned has said, via his spokesman, that he has done nothing wrong in paying off the mortgage on his designated main home, while taking out a loan on his second home which coincidentally has allowed him to claim the maximum, or close to it, under the ACA for several years. This MP is a Tory, and we all know just how jolly strict they’re being about the expense business. So is he in line for standing down at the next General Election?

Well, no he isn’t. Because the chap the MoS has fingered in its story is none other than David Cameron himself. Dave’s second home in his Witney constituency, which looks awfully big for a mere pied à terre, is reckoned by the MoS to now be worth a whole 300k more than what he paid for it (although of course when the Daily Mail and “property values” come together in one sentence, this should be taken with a king size pinch of salt). And, despite Cameron being not exactly on his uppers, the public have been funding this “petite maison” to the tune of over 20k a year.

I did consider only last Friday what might happen if the press turned their attention on Young Dave’s expense arrangements; now, with exquisite pre-election timing, they have done just that. So what action will Dave take following this latest revelation? Will he tell that there are “serious questions” to be answered? Will he give himself a jolly stern talking to? Will there be the firm stamp of authoritative leadership?

Will there heck.

Station Sellout – Take 8

So Network Rail (NR) had withdrawn their proposal to take Crewe station out of the town and relocate it out in open countryside. Victory could be declared, but only briefly: CREAM, and any other interested parties, knew that there was still serious business outstanding. The existing station, in the meantime, was a little older, and a little more in need of remedial action.

Also, NR had the opportunity to act on the problems with the station and its track layout that they had been so keen to stress when pushing for its relocation. But, thus far, there has been no word from them. Neither has there been any indication of whether the Crewe Gateway scheme will be revisited.

There has also been an opportunity for the specialist press to devote some serious thought towards the matter. But, again, there has been nothing. Worse, even after the proposal to move the station was shelved, Modern Railways magazine, while celebrating the completion of the “West Coast Upgrade” (which isn’t complete, hence many more months of weekend and holiday disruption), was still prepared to print this: “ ... Crewe, where a proposal has been floated for a completely new station south of the current structure. The existing buildings are difficult to maintain and there is operational merit in separating the station from the junction”.

This is not merely an opinion piece: it carries the name of the magazine’s editor, James Abbott. And it is a superb slice of tosh: there is “operational merit” in running trains without letting passengers get in the way, but it isn’t about to happen. And if we’re going to separate stations from junctions, then someone ought to tell the folks in York, Newcastle, Doncaster, Stafford, Basingstoke, Chester and many more that NR will be coming for them next.

Fortunately, some recognition of the business outstanding has come from the highest level: minister Andrew Adonis recently toured the rail network on a much needed fact finding exercise, and stopped off in Crewe. Councillor Roy Cartlidge and Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate David Williams met him and pressed the claim for action: at least Crewe is now on someone’s radar.

Where the area’s MP, Edward Timpson (the man with marginally more charisma than a Burton’s dummy) was at the time is not known. Perhaps he thinks it’s all getting “politicised” once more. But one thing is clear about Eddie: on this matter, he’s let the electorate down badly. That’s what happens when you turn a by-election into a “Yah boo Pa Broon” exercise, rather than focusing on electing someone to represent the people and the constituency.

That is one lesson to be learnt from Station Sellout. Another is that, without organising and speaking up, your voice is most likely not to be heard. And a third is that many in Crewe and Nantwich now know who their friends are.

Dan, Dan the Canvassing Man

Those Tories of a Eurosceptic persuasion – and, given the YouTube hits his speech received, many others – have one man in the European Parliament that they can call a straight talking soulmate. He’s Dan Hannan, and he doesn’t like Pa Broon. So there.

So there may be some discomfort at the revelation by the deeply subversive Guardian that Dan, who’s also a fluent speaker of Castellano, has been to Spain to suggest to expat Brits that they cast their Euro-votes for Alternativa Española. This is a party that has previously aligned itself with the Austrian Freedom Party and the French FN. More, it is backed by Blas Piñar, an apologist for Francisco Franco.

AE says it’s aligning itself with the Tories, and the impression is given that this is one of the parties that may form the new right of centre grouping that Young Dave is so keen to promote. But, after Dan found out a little more about their past, he seemed less than keen on the connection.

This surprised me. Because the expectation is that an organisation like the Tory Party would do its homework properly before even going near organisations like AE, or of course sending Dan Hannan to urge support for them.

This apparent lack of foresight may explain why the Tories have opted for some strange bedfellows in their new Euro-grouping, as I mentioned yesterday.

But it’s not an excuse that stands any serious scrutiny.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

A Bridge Too Far

All those folks I know around Merseyside aren’t going to be happy: the long adventure of Everton in this season’s FA Cup has ended in defeat by the Chelski. The Stamford Bridge outfit had drawn 0-0 twice in this season’s Premiership encounters with the Toffees, but today was different.

I doubt that David Moyes will offer any excuses; he’s too straightforward a bloke for that. They beat Man U in the semi-final, they put out Liverpool – heck, it’s hardly a bad run. Everton didn’t break the iron grip of the “big four” in the Premiership, but they were a solid and strongly finishing fifth: European football will come to Goodison Park next season.

And this is a team assembled from a fraction of the money available to Man U and the Chelski. Theirs is no disgrace.

Realignment of the Wrong

He even got a spread in The Guardian. Yes, Young Dave had conquered that bastion of print media subversiveness. He’d jolly well shown those Labour and Lib Dem chaps just who was newsworthy. As elsewhere, everything was going so well, but then, with today’s edition, Dave discovered what Alastair Campbell could have told him long ago: The Guardian is nobody’s house journal.

For this morning, the headlines were not at all laudatory: the paper has rounded on Cameron for his proposal to have his MEPs leave the mainstream centre-right grouping (which includes Germany’s Christian Democrats, Angela Merkel’s party) and form a new grouping, which will include the Polish Law and Justice party, the Czech ODS, and perhaps even the Latvian Fatherland and Freedom party.

Who they? Law and Justice is fronted by the Kaczynski twins. They’ve banned gay rights marches and appear regularly on a Catholic radio station that allows anti-semitic broadcasts. ODS’ founder denies man made climate change. And Fatherland and Freedom has some members who commemorate the Waffen SS. But it could be worse: if Cameron’s MEPs were not part of any such grouping, they might have to sit with non-aligned members, like representatives of the French FN (prop. Jean-Marie le Pen).

Senior Tories are clearly not happy at the prospect. Chris Tugendhat, Chris Patten and Leon Brittan are among their number. Also not enamouring Young Dave to the grandees is his insistence in reopening (perhaps) the Lisbon Treaty negotiations, even if a future Tory Government comes to power after everyone else has ratified it. What this would achieve, other than to let Dave show these jolly ghastly foreigners who’s boss, is not clear. It would, however, be consistent with Cameron’s egging on of the wave of screaming Europhobia that allows parties like UKIP – that he has dismissed as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mainly” – to not only flourish, but to be taken seriously, despite some of their MEPs falling by the wayside as a result of fraudulent behaviour, or disaffection.

Which leads back to a question that can be put directly: what is Cameron’s policy on the EU? He should not be allowed to retreat into that area where he can fend off requests for detail by saying he hasn’t “seen the books”: this does not apply. Some in his own party are becoming concerned with the apparent obsession with rightward drift over the EU. Moreover, it has to be said once more that neither Cameron, nor his spokesman in this area, William ‘Ague, appear prepared to even attempt to put the lid on the wave of Europhobia.

Who is actually driving the policy is not clear. Neither is its form, rationale or objective. That, for a party that would form the next Government, is not good enough.

Friday, 29 May 2009

Cash for Taxi? Taxi for Cash!

And so Expensegate came for Bill Cash, and here I find myself in a win-win situation: if he goes, it’s another one of the Europhobe fringe out of the way, and if he stays, it’s a good advertisement against Euroscepticism. So I should worry. But this now concerns me: I can’t see what he’s done that is so dishonourable as to debar him from the House of Commons. And I’m not a Tory supporter – full stop.

Cash is alleged to have allowed his son to live rent-free at a flat he owned in London. No, I can’t find anything illegal or improper there. Then he claims for living somewhere else in London – he’s entitled and allowed so to do. No impropriety has taken place, and he’s not dodging the issue. Perhaps it is being suggested that he should be a tougher Dad and chuck his son out of the flat instead, as if there has to be a direct connection between one flat and the other. I still can’t work up sufficient righteous indignation on this one.

What I do see, however, is that the Maily Telegraph is now picking MPs off on a regular basis, and here Young Dave ought to be concerned. This is the very same way in which the legendarily foul mouthed editor of the Daily Mail, Paul Dacre (total remuneration package of 1.5 million) likes to do things – hence Private Eye’s new nickname for the Telegraph. The Mail will tell of a murder, rape, child neglect case or the like – then start the Why-oh-Why treatment. Why isn’t the law being changed? Why have social services missed this one? Why are sentences so lenient?

Then they’ll find another similar case. What about this one? Why-oh-Why again, and again. The Maily Telegraph is doing the same, and right now, particularly to Cameron. Mackay bad? Going to tell him to step down? What about his missus? Is that as bad? Getting rid of her too? OK, now what about Bill Cash – getting rid of him as well? Cameron, inexplicably for someone who I’m sure is not daft, is allowing himself to be picked off and prodded around on a daily basis. If he lets this carry on, then it will indeed carry on. This is a beast he cannot sate.

Ultimately, the Maily Telegraph could even come for Dave himself: after all, there he is, worth some millions, yet taking out a mortgage that he just happens to be allowed to claim against. How stern a talking to is he prepared to give himself?

Perhaps the dissent of Nadine Dorries, which I mentioned recently, was not evidence of “wacky” behaviour, but something that Young Dave might learn from. Ms Dorries, I’m sure, was right on this part of her approach: just what is the motivation of the Telegraph? Further, what is the motivation of, and the part played by, Telegraph proprietors David and Frederick Barclay, aka The Fabulous Bingo Brothers?

If Young Dave just sits there, he may end up like Michael Dukakis – covered in crap and on his way to defeat. But that would suit me fine, so perhaps I’ll keep schtum.

Against the Dying of the Light – 2

The Match of the Day pundits had a new one to pick over: Manchester United had fielded a number of young hopefuls in a Premiership match and lost. “You don’ win anything with kids” observed Alan “terrible defending” Hansen. Watching this, a seething Alex Ferguson determined to ram Hansen’s words back down his throat. He knew that his young guns were the real deal, and he wasn’t about to let a former Liverpool player decide otherwise.

For this was the reply to those who wondered if the Red Devils could do it without Eric: we already knew about Ryan Giggs, and following him were the Nevilles, Paul Scholes, and a shy Essex boy called David Beckham. In 1999, they helped Man U firstly to a Premiership and FA Cup double, then topped it with a last gasp triumph in the Champions’ League final over Bayern Munich, which left Ferguson almost speechless as the microphone was offered to him. “Football. Bloody hell” was all he could manage.

Now, the achievement of Matt Busby had been equalled. More, the Premiership returned to Old Trafford the next two seasons as well, meaning that Man U had now equalled the record of Liverpool, Arsenal – and Huddersfield Town. But the competition were not content to sit and watch: Arsène Wenger’s Arsenal side had beaten Man U to the Premiership in 1998 and now did it again in 2002. Ferguson brought in an assistant who was to prove more influential to his team than most know even now: a quiet man from Portugal called Carlos Queiroz. Next season saw the Red Devils back at the top.

The problem was, though, that Queiroz was himself in demand, and he then went to manage Real Madrid. Real didn’t win La Liga in 2004, so Queiroz got the sack (even Fabio Capello got the sack from Real, and he won), returning to Manchester and a grateful Ferguson. But once more the landscape changed: another, rather less quiet, Portuguese had fetched up in the Premiership. José Mourinho had brought success to FC Porto, and now brought it to Chelsea.

Queiroz brought not only his coaching expertise and insights: he also provided the Portuguese and Brazilian connection. Nani, Anderson and especially Cristiano Ronaldo (thought at the time to be a bit pricy at over 14 million) came in on his watch. Although this time it took a little longer to get back to the top, Man U returned there in 2007. They retained the Premiership the following season, added a second Champions’ League title, and then the managerial merry go round struck: Portugal coach Luis Felipe Scolari was headhunted by Chelsea, and Queiroz went to replace him. Of all his assistants over the years, it was to Queiroz that Ferguson was the most generous after his departure.

So the question now was, could they do it without Carlos?

Station Sellout – Take 7

Moving Crewe station out into the countryside looked daft. But Network Rail (NR) were putting out enough disinformation to suggest an announcement was imminent. Also, the letter writing to local papers had started: this is a tactic much loved by political parties, particularly New Labour. The recurring theme this time was the idea that Nantwich Road’s traffic problems were down to the station (they weren’t) and that moving it would therefore be a good thing. Another one was the support for a new “super terminal”. NR may not have been behind this, but someone was.

Then I looked over the numbers, and it didn’t look so daft after all. Crewe has a footfall of around 6,000 passengers daily: a third of these are “interchanging”, so NR reasoned that, for them, station location was less relevant. Most of the others would arrive by car, but the present long stay only has 550 spaces: the Crewe Gateway proposal doubled this to 1,100. Where does everyone else park? Simple. There are other – cheaper - pay car parks operated by the local council and the Royal and Crewe Arms Hotels, and then there are enough side streets (the industrial estate behind B&Q is a favourite) to accommodate the rest. But if NR had a captive audience?

At the time, it was six quid a day to park in the station long stay. Most of its business is done on weekdays. So, assuming 500 cars park there for five days of the week, over 50 weeks each year, that’s 750k in income. For the Gateway scheme, that would double to 1.5 million. But if the station were out in the sticks, without a walking route other than to the car park, that 500 or 1000 could be transformed into three or four thousand. The latter figure turns the end number into a whopping six million quid. And, with no alternative available, the price could be jacked up that bit more – say to ten quid a day. End number now ten million. Think this is far-fetched? Well, the price of using the long stay during the week has just gone up from six to eight pounds a day. Go figure, as they say.

For those kinds of numbers, NR would have prospective car park builders falling over themselves to not only build the park, but stump up a lot of money every year to run it. More, the captive audience concept would extend to retail outlets, as there would be no chance of nipping out onto Nantwich Road to get a take out. So the rents for these could also be priced to go: it would effectively be the same rates as groundside at a typical airport.

Now the NR idea didn’t seem daft, but coldly calculating. The new station would be paid for quite easily through all the retail opportunities that being out in the sticks could provide. Anyone walking to the station would be left behind – unless, of course, they got a car. There was only one hurdle to overcome: NR needed the money to remodel the track layout. They didn’t get it.

The hurdle came crashing down.

Against the Dying of the Light - 1

The football season – my mistake – hasn’t quite finished yet. Wednesday night saw the conclusion of this season’s Champions’ League: Barcelona, a team owned not by big business but by its members, and taking no money for shirt sponsorship, outclassed Manchester United. The Red Devils’ fans were deeply disappointed, but were not calling for managerial scalps. It was not always thus.

Man U were for so many years a team of permanent underachievers. Managers came and went with some regularity; there was even a season spent in the second tier of football. In 1986, a bad start to the campaign did for Ron Atkinson, and Alex Ferguson left Aberdeen, to come south. He got the team into runner-up spot twice, but there had still been no trophies when, in late 1990, the banners started appearing at Old Trafford: “four seasons of excuses – bye bye Fergie”.

The plain fact was that Man U was in need of such change that it was taking some time for Ferguson to get to grips with it. With a significant helping of hindsight, others in the club have said as much, and that they were behind the Scot all the way. But this is total tosh. The decision had been taken to sack him, and it was only a matter of time: that point would come when the team were knocked out of that season’s FA Cup. Only they didn’t get knocked out: they won it. The turning point came in the first match with Nottingham Forest: had Forest scored instead of hitting the woodwork, then Ferguson would have been on his way. In any case, the Man U board already had a successor ready to answer the call.

The cup victory bought Ferguson time. He was now a successful boss, and even a failure to secure the last title of the old First Division the next season could not dislodge him, as his team won the Cup Winners’ Cup in Rotterdam, beating Barcelona. But there was a need for something, someone, to take the team that bit further, to make the difference. Here, Ferguson was the singularly fortunate recipient of a phone call from a friend over in France: Gérard Houllier.

Houllier tipped off Ferguson about a player with a hellish reputation for poor discipline, but an awesome talent, who was unsettled at his present club, Leeds United. Ferguson, reasoned Houllier, might be just the manager to get the best out of him. The player was Eric Cantona, and from the next season, Man U were back at the top of the pile.

In fact, the team won four out of the first five FA Premiership titles. But in the season where they slipped up, they lost Cantona at a key moment, and to a memorably bad lapse in discipline, when he attacked an opposition supporter in a midweek match against Wimbledon at Selhurst Park. Then, in 1997, Cantona retired abruptly, and Man U again failed to clinch the Premiership. The thought then entered that they could not do it without Eric.

Ferguson had to disprove that thought.

He Would Say That, Wouldn’t He?

Expensegate grinds on; it’s being milked very heavily by the Maily Telegraph. Now, in a further drip feed, are coming a succession of MPs deciding to stand down at the next General Election. That election cannot be more than a year away, but cometh the hour, cometh the opportunity: Corporal Clegg, the one party leader with the wind in his sails after all the revelations, is on the charge once more.

Clegg isn’t satisfied with the idea of MPs hanging on until the General Election. He wants a system whereby those caught being less than totally upstanding can be sacked. That is not provided for at present, although an MP can go voluntarily, as Young Dave’s jolly good chum Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson did after becoming Mayor of London.

The Clegg idea might look worthwhile, but I’ve got two thoughts that come to mind on the subject. Firstly, any vacancy means a by-election, and guess which party has the best track record there, especially when it comes to previously Tory held seats? Also, given that the Lib Dems are the only one of the three main parties that are broadly pro European, wouldn’t it be a good idea to put a similar proposal to the European Parliament, where there also seems to be no way of mid-term dismissal?

Such a move would deal with the double standards of UKIP: one MEP caught in an expense fiddle, and of course Kilroy not being here after taking his bat home. Both may have left UKIP, but they have been able to remain in the European Parliament, taking up seats on what looks to be a fraudulent prospectus.

So let’s see Nick speaking up consistently.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Houses of the People

I previously considered whether the architecture of the former Eastern Bloc countries was as bad as made out, or even as bad as what was built here in the UK at the same time. There is, however, a lot of Communist era building in some eastern European cities. Why so?

Think of any large city in the UK. Most suffered some wartime damage, then had to do some clearance of older housing in the 50s and 60s, and had some high and medium rise blocks built, which may have been of a variable standard. But no part of the UK was actually fought over during World War 2.

It was very different across mainland Europe, especially in the east. There, many cities became battlegrounds, and the battles were between the Nazis and the Red Army. These exchanges were routinely savage: the results were violent, bloody, and destructive. Even without the Allied bombing, cities were often reduced to rubble. It was thus in Berlin. And it was equally bad in Budapest.

Hungary had chosen the wrong side in the conflict: only late on in the war was it clear that the Nazis were going to lose, and then the Government in Budapest started putting out feelers to the Allies. The Nazis put a stop to this and occupied the country. Then the advancing Red Army arrived: Hitler forbade withdrawal, there was a vicious battle, and when the dust settled, the city was a mess. All of the bridges across the Danube had been destroyed. The Castle area was mostly flattened. Whole suburbs lay in ruins.

From this, it would have been a massive job to rebuild, whatever dogma was held by the ruling party. So it was that the city centre was pieced back together, but outlying areas got the kind of medium rise housing that can also be seen in equally badly damaged parts of Berlin. What happened in the UK had to happen so many more times over.

Even today, the outer suburbs of Budapest have patches of barren and undeveloped land. There will be housing developments, then the tram passes through a couple of stops’ wasteland, then more built up areas. It’s not a Communism thing, but the sheer scale of recovery from a carnage we in the UK were spared.

Perhaps this is one reason that much of mainland Europe is more enthusiastic about an organisation – the EU – that keeps its members together, and in peace.

A Short Labour

As with the Tories, now with Labour: another “Election Communication” drops onto the mat. This one at least has the benefit of brevity, though whether through choice or expediency is not known.

One side has a Union Flag background, which just looks unusual for Labour. The strapline is “Winning the fight for Britain’s future”. Where? Here at home? Within the EU? In the wider world? It’s not clear, and nor is it explained in much detail, except on the flip side, where there is an attack on the Tories for what they might do.

Well, big deal, say I. What the Tories might do is something that this blog has covered in rather more detail; what I’d expect from the party of government is more about what they intend to do. Also, given that this is for a European election, it would be useful to have the European angle on something – anything – from the main parties (the lack of this in the Tory leaflet I’ve also highlighted).

Is it just here in the North West, or is there generally very little effort or enthusiasm going into the Euro election campaign from the main parties? The only poster I see around the town is a suitably fraudulent UKIP one which has appropriated the image of Winshton, as if he’d have anything to do with a bunch of crackpot Europhobes. I can’t help contrasting this with the scene last week in Budapest, where every advertising hoarding had at least one election poster on it. There seemed to be so much more interest and engagement with the process.

And a lot of the locals speak English. As I’ve said before, now that we’ve got them speaking our language, we should at least bother to get stuck in.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Be Careful What You Wish For

Everything in the Cameron garden looked so rosy. The Tories would open up to those of independent mind, there would be less whipping of MPs, and everything would be, well, more pleasant and open. But then, as with a shower cloud on a warm summer day, along came Europe, and Dave didn’t look to be such a jolly nice chap after all.

The problem for the Tories has been superbly illustrated in a news item and follow up discussion on the blog of Iain Dale (and there is no blogger greater than he). The chairman of the University of York Tories has apparently encouraged voters to back UKIP. He has then ceased to be chairman, as he has been expelled from the party.

I mentioned the follow up discussion: this illustrates what I’ve said previously about the problem for the Tories over Europe. They, and those of similar persuasion in the media, have been demonising the EU so thoroughly, and for so long, that a mood of rabid Europhobia has become established. Nobody speaks up for the EU from the Tories: all that comes from Young Dave is how he’s going to reposition his party within the European Parliament, because it’s full of jolly awful foreign chaps.

So the emergence of people who are otherwise solid Tory supporters, voicing support for UKIP – remember Cameron’s description of that party: “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly” – cannot be a surprise, especially as Cameron will not tell his party, in unequivocal terms, his position on the EU. And there is one good reason for this: the issue is as potentially destructive to the Tories now as it was back in the dying days of “Shagger” Major.

Also, as I’ve already mentioned, more significant pro-UKIP noises have been coming from normally reliable Tory sources. Young Dave doesn’t want to push his luck with Norman Tebbit; he might come off second best, especially if Norm tells him to shove his authority, which would leave him free to openly support UKIP, and therefore do the Tories some real damage.

Cameron is not daft – he knows that there is no chance of him, or any other leader of any other party, even considering withdrawing from the EU. But he needs to staunch the wound of Europhobia. So he has one task ahead of him: stop demonising the EU, and start a sensible and reasoned dialogue on the subject.

On this, Young Dave does not have a Plan B.

Dave’s Four Year Fix

Today, David Cameron has – in an article in the Guardian, no less – told the world how he’s going to jolly well shake up Parliament. It’s all going to be terribly radical. And it’s going to be as short on substance as ever. What it is going to be, though, is more of the shameless opportunism I’ve discussed previously: the Guardian’s Jackie Ashley has now used the S-word, in a column today.

Cameron, as Ms Ashley has noticed, is making the right noises in the aftermath of Expensegate. He’s prompting enough of the old Tory guard to retire, either voluntarily or soon through open primaries, to enable him to bring in more young and like minded people. So far, so voter friendly. As I’ve previously considered, this works fine provided you keep up the barrage and don’t give the electorate time to think. Because if the Tories let that happen, the voters might start asking inconvenient questions.

Young Dave might be in favour of fixed term parliaments. But this is not a commitment, and nor is his advocacy unequivocal. Therefore he fails to give leadership on the issue. That’s not good enough. If he wants to pitch the idea, then we have to know where he stands. It is, as the Inquisition of Pax Jeremiah would swiftly establish, a straightforward question.

Dave would also, according to the Guardian, “open up the legislative process to outsiders by sending out text alerts on the progress of parliamentary bills”. Whoopee. Next, perhaps a spin-off series of “Britain’s got Tories”, voters urged to participate in “How’s my Legislating?” (with usual blurb on the cost of calls), or even an intellectual property deal with Simon Cowell. It ain’t going to happen.

What else? Well, Dave will also “publish the expenses claims of all public servants earning more than £150,000”. This follows from his idea of naming and shaming those in public service earning six figure sums. Great. Trying to dump on this small number of folks will have one effect: those who can do better elsewhere, and that may well be most of them, will leave. Moreover, the calibre of applicant willing to put up with such a regime will be that much lower. This is a most basic example of how not to do things.

And in the meantime, there on the periphery, but not mentioned too much – Dave won’t want to stir this pot any more than he has to – is the issue of the EU. His party is poised to ship an awful lot of votes to UKIP in the forthcoming Euro elections, and the whole European issue is potentially lethal for the Tories. It’s a very large elephant in an awfully small room. But he doesn’t seem to be keen on talking about it.

Perhaps that’s because he’s trying to move himself into a position where the elephant can’t crap on him. I’ll point up Dave’s Euro-problems next.

Monday, 25 May 2009

He Told Us So

The football season is finally over – yes, at the end of May. The end was marked by the Championship play-off final at Wembley – the match that decides the last promotion place to the Premier League. Earlier today, Burnley prevailed over Sheffield United, and so will play in the Premiership next season.

So what? Well, for many in the blogosphere, a widely read and by definition influential blog is written by Tony Blair’s former right hand man Alastair Campbell. Big Al’s a Burnley fan. He was at the match today. And as soon as he gets back to his blog, he’s going to be totally bloody insufferable.

Yeah yeah yeah. Your team won. We know. Look, I know this sounds like an odd request Al, but wouldn’t you like to talk about politics for once?

Peace Be With Not All Of You

The Church of England (CoE) may not be thought of as an organisation whose principals’ pronouncements are likely to provoke controversy, but this weekend they have done just that: as the BBC has reported, Rowan Williams and John Sentamu have urged voters not to endorse parties who might foster "fear and division within communities, especially between people of different faiths or racial background".

Who might they mean? Ah well. There’s only one party that does racial division in a serious and unequivocal way, and that’s the British National Party (BNP), an organisation born out of a split in far right politics some years ago. In the beginning there had been the National Front (NF), amongst whose leading lights had been Martin Webster and John Tyndall. Webster was outed as a homosexual by Private Eye, and Tyndall later split from him, allegedly because the latter’s vision of racial purity had no room for gays.

Nowadays the BNP is led by Oberscheissenführer Nick Griffin, who paints the party as being focused on British values, rather than the racist bigotry of old. However, the old far right creed lurks beneath the surface: their campaign for the Euro elections talks about the “Islamification of Britain”, which manages to be wildly inaccurate, potty, and total crap all at once. Also, Nick and his fellow stürmers do tend to bang on about “ethnics”, which is the latest hate word for anyone who isn’t white.

Griffin and his chums are not happy about the noises coming out of the CoE. Had those noises emanated only from Archbishop Rowan, they might not have been so miffed. After all, he’s just a wishy-washy intellectual, and they can easily shrug off his comments. But with Archbishop John, well, it’s different: Archbishop John wouldn’t be easily let into a BNP meeting, but he’s a charismatic and very popular bloke. Nick Griffin and his pals clearly don’t like being preached to by a mere “ethnic”.

Tough. Griffin would like us to accept his right to free speech, and I do. What he must do in turn is to accept the rights of Archbishops Rowan and John to their own freedoms. The two of them – the head and heart of the Anglican Church – make a formidable team, and merely whingeing that they should “stay out of politics” is not good enough. The CoE intervention has exposed the BNP for what it is – just the old bigoted race-hate masquerading as mainstream politics.

That can only be a good thing.

Station Sellout – Take 6

In the old days, had Network Rail (NR) or any of their predecessors put forward proposals for taking the station out of Crewe and putting it somewhere in the nearby countryside, there would have been one source of dissent, and that dissent would have invariably made NR think again. That source would have been Gwyneth Dunwoody.

But Ms Dunwoody was no longer with us; her death in early 2008 had resulted in the byelection won by Tory opportunist Edward Timpson (the man with marginally more charisma than a Burton’s dummy), and he was an unknown quantity. Timpson had shown support for the workers potentially affected by the closure of the Royal Mail sorting office – some would have to move to Warrington, or commute – so hopes were initially high that he would lend his support.

Those hopes were soon dashed. Timpson sat on the fence, asking the electorate for their preferences, rather than giving leadership. Instead, opposition to the NR proposal was provided by CREAM, a convocation of elected representatives, trades unions, and independently minded citizens. This opposition soon had to counter a campaign of misinformation, much of it originating from NR.

Crewe station was said to be “just not suitable for modern trains”. How could this be? There was nothing wrong with the platform length, height, width or curvature. The signalling was sound, although it might require renewal in the future. Power supplies for electric trains were in good order.

There was more. The station was held to be “slowing the trains down”, with the speed limit of 80 mph being cited. What was not mentioned at the same time was that this limit could not be raised until the curvature to the north of the station was eased, and that would mean significant remodelling of the track layout, plus a bridge rebuild and taking the east side off the Tesco car park.

Then there was the argument about trains crossing over the layout – what are known as conflicting movements. This mainly applies to services running between Manchester, Crewe, Shrewsbury and Cardiff. But the facility already exists for trains to pass under the north end of the station, with land available to the west side of it for new platforms.

CREAM countered these arguments, and gained valuable publicity. But Edward Timpson MP did not come on board. His ultimate excuse was that the campaign had become “politicised”. Hell’s teeth. He’s a politician: politicised is his business. So the opposition to NR had to move forward without him. And we were none the wiser about NR’s motivation for the exercise.

I’ll shed some light on that, with a few sums, next.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

It Was Thirty Years Ago – Part 6

If Margaret Thatcher the party leader was undisputedly first in one subject, it would be on her approach to the media – particularly the print media. Others coached and briefed her, but someone had to provide the end product. Thatcher and her team went out of their way to get the papers on side, and their landing of the Murdoch flagship tabloid, the Sun, caused other significant right of centre titles to follow: the Daily Express (actually a serious newspaper in the 1980s, rather than the joke publication of today) and Daily Mail were also strong supporters.

So far, so productive. But, whereas the papers could, and did, flagrantly fail to separate news and comment, routinely to the Tories’ advantage, the broadcast media, by law, could not. If Thatcher had any doubts about the determination of the broadcasters to be not merely even handed, but ask inconvenient questions, her appearance on the BBC’s news magazine Nationwide in the run up to the 1983 General Election put her straight. Her ambushing by a singularly determined viewer over the minutiae of the Falklands conflict had husband Denis spitting into his tincture about “pinkos”. It’s highly likely that this incident set off the Thatcher vindictive circuit, ready to give the broadcasters payback the next time.

And so it came to pass. The ITV London weekday franchise, Thames TV, broadcast “Death on the Rock”, an investigation into the shooting dead of three IRA members in the British enclave of Gibraltar by what were believed to be soldiers of the SAS. The central thrust of the broadcast was that the IRA members were unarmed, and had not been given the opportunity to surrender. I saw the programme: the feeling was that the UK had wasted a chance to arrest the three, put them on trial, and therefore prove that we were the good guys.

There was no sign that evening of what was to follow: the following morning, in a disturbingly concerted attack, every Tory supporting tabloid rounded on Thames. So did the supposedly quality Murdoch Times. Witnesses who had appeared in the broadcast were not merely abused, but repeatedly libelled, most famously housewife Carmen Proetta, who the Sun called “The Tart of Gib” in a routinely defamatory front page spread.

Mrs Proetta later won hundreds of thousands of pounds in damages, and to this day it is clearly something that journalists involved in the smearing of people like her find difficult to discuss. But for Margaret Thatcher there was no discomfiture or difficulty. The broadcast media had been shown who was boss; she had got her payback – or, rather, part of it. That vindictive streak demanded more: Thames TV lost their franchise.

Thus Margaret Thatcher set new benchmarks for not only courting the media, but also for keeping it compliant. The lessons were not lost on her successors.

If the Clown Fits

Fast becoming his own comedy genre, Silvio “Duce” Berlusconi is back in the news again. This may be because the media outlet making the running is not one of those under the Italian Prime Minister’s control: La Repubblica, the title suggesting that it may not be part of any right wing glee club, has had the temerity to question “Duce” over his conduct. Worse for Berlusconi, there is not one question being asked, but ten, as the Guardian has reported.

The object of the questioning, as I previously posted, is an eighteen year old aspiring actress called Noemi Letizia, who calls her Prime Minister “Daddy”. “Duce” doesn’t like the probing, but if there is no dishonesty or other impropriety in his conduct, he should not have a problem with it. Instead, he tells the hack from La Repubblica that he’s a “disgrace”, and falls back on his opinion poll ratings.

So far, so comical: Berlusconi’s relationship with Ms Letizia and her family, and his interventions on her behalf, will continue to attract scrutiny, and any evasiveness will merely make things worse for him. But the Guardian article also has a disquieting and revealing nugget of information deep within it.

In a speech to employers last week, “Duce” told that the Italian Parliament was a “useless” institution that was stopping him running the country. That’s a place where no country in the EU ought to even consider going.

I was right to call him “Duce”. And he’s still a clown.

The Bingo Caller

François-Marie Arouet, known as Voltaire, put it thus: “I detest what you write, but I would give my life to make it possible for you to continue to write”. The concept should not be a difficult one to grasp – that no-one should object to free dissenting speech. This idea, however, has not impressed the proprietors of the Daily Telegraph, that same paper that is presently engaged in prolonging Expensegate (now also Suspensiongate, Stepdowngate, and Prematureretirementgate).

Thus far, there had been little dissent from the Telegraph’s attack, though the targets cannot have found it pleasurable. On Friday, however, the ranks broke when Tory MP Nadine Dorries, whose “Zimbabwe moment” I covered earlier, dissented in some style. Such was the vehemence of Ms D’s dissent that the Telegraph’s proprietors, David and Frederick Barclay, aka The Fabulous Bingo Brothers, instructed their lawyers and had the Dorries blog, where the dissent had been forthrightly aired, taken down. The Guardian has the story here.

So what caused the lawyers to get involved? Ah well. There has been a wider discussion for some weeks now about the motivation for the Telegraph campaign, which I considered recently. Ms Dorries has now had her ninepence worth: her target was not the paper, but its proprietors. The Bingo Brothers didn’t like that. Thus the intervention.

The specifics of the Dorries attack are therefore not easily repeated. What is possible to say is that the motivation of the Bingo Brothers is not only being analysed, but questioned. And on this, they have previous: their investment in the island of Sark. The Bingos backed candidates in elections at the end of 2008; those thus favoured lost and so their backers took their bat home, making around a hundred workers redundant. The message from the electors may not have been well received, but it was a clear one: live among us, invest here, but don’t expect it to buy you influence.

What parallel may be drawn with the Bingo Brothers’ stewardship of the Telegraph? My own conclusion is that they wanted to have their money buy influence on Sark, and that they would like to have influence elsewhere, while remaining very much in the background. But getting influence after overseeing the shafting of Parliament is highly unlikely. More possible is that present and future political leaders will treat them as pariahs.

And the idea of remaining in the background? Stuff that for a game of soldiers!

Saturday, 23 May 2009

Lies, Damn Lies, and Election Leaflets (Part 2)

The time has come yet again for “Election Communications” to land on the doormat. The only saving grace this time is that there will be a lot less of them than during last year’s byelection. First to catch my attention is that from the Tories. It is a superbly crafted missive. And it is brim full of the most shameless drivel.

In the leaflet, a group of Tory hopefuls is pictured apparently addressing a range of issues. First up is “defending local services”, opposing Labour and Lib Dem cutbacks. This has nothing to do with the Euro elections, and where the Tories would find the money not to do the cuts is not told. Because this is mere posturing.

We are then told that the Tories have “campaigned successfully against EU rules banning the sale of goods in pounds and ounces”. Utter crap. There is no EU rule, nor has one been even proposed, that would ban sales in pounds and ounces, so there cannot have been a campaign against it. I bought fresh fruit on the market only this morning sold in pounds. This was a wholly legal sale, and no prosecution of either party will occur.

What next? Ah, the car industry. The Tories want aid for it. Like heck. A quick photo opportunity outside the Vauxhall plant without having to get too close to all those horrid workers.

And to round things off, another shameless misrepresentation of the Working Time Directive: “Efforts by Labour MEPs to restrict the hours people can choose to work”. Also, the leaflet is confused: it says that individual people opt out of Euro-regulations, which they do not. The Working Time Directive, as I considered previously, does not stop anyone working over 48 hours a week of their own volition: it’s all about stopping employers forcing workers to do so.

Also, the leaflet is totally negative: no plus points from Europe enter, something I’ve previously urged. So what’s the point? Ah well. As I mentioned recently, the Tories want to stop folks drifting off to UKIP, while pretending to come over all hard with the dastardly foreigners in Brussels. This leaflet is designed to do just that. So the title on the front page – “Vote for Change” – is a wholly false proposition, as is the idea that a future Tory Government would give the electorate a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, or indeed on anything European.

But on the inside of the leaflet is one hopeful sign of coherent direction, and it comes from Young Dave himself. He says simply that “Conservatives have a clear plan for bringing down Labour’s debt ... “. Leaving aside the mildly inconvenient fact that debt is not owned by political parties, but all of us, there is now the sign of a “clear plan”.

So, Dave, as it’s so clear, how about telling us what it is?

Friday, 22 May 2009

What a Waste

I’ve previously mentioned IR35, the measure introduced in 2000 to close what was seen as a loophole, most significantly for freelance workers to reduce the amount of their National Insurance payments. It’s a move much disliked by those targeted, and has not endeared the New Labour Project to them.

Previously, a typical freelance worked through a limited company – and one very good reason for this is that the Inland Revenue pointed them in that direction in the first place. This enabled those freelances who were company directors – which, for one man companies, read all of them – to take money out of the company in the form of bonuses. Those bonuses were liable to income tax, but not National Insurance. Thus the saving, and the alleged advantage.

However, there was an unwritten quid pro quo at work. Those same freelances taking payments as bonuses would also be far less likely to claim benefits when out of work: typically they would use the time to take holidays, brush up on their skill set (through training), or merely catch up on house, garden, car, family or hobbies. So the Government would not be out of pocket; rather, it’s entirely possible that the arrangement worked in their favour.

However, such arguments cut no mustard with a Treasury that has identified what it sees as an additional source of tax revenue. There may also have been some thought that the Friday-to-Monday freelances appearing across Civil Service departments (permanent employees leaving and then reappearing as contract workers) were typical of all freelances. This was denied by the Inland Revenue when IR35 was challenged by the Professional Contractors Group (PCG), but as Mandy Rice-Davies might have observed, they would say that, wouldn’t they?

Well, IR35 has been with us for almost a decade, and so it is possible to examine its success in raising what was estimated to be an additional 200 millions each year for the Treasury. The PCG have helpfully put in a Freedom of Information (FOI) request, which has revealed that the total additional revenue raised by the measure between 2002/3 and 2007/8 – six years – has been 9.2 millions. That’s a little over a million and a half each year. Put another way, it’s a lousy three-quarters of one per cent of the amount that the measure had been expected to raise.

Just how much money is being expended pursuing IR35 related cases is not clear, but you don’t get many actions for 1.5 million. More likely is that the amounts being chased are less than those spent pursuing them.

As Ian Dury put it, what a waste.

Top Marx

Twenty years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and collapse of the Eastern Bloc, it might be thought that all those countries that had been satellite states of the Soviet Union would by now have wiped away the traces of their former régimes, becoming good western facing states. But it isn’t so.

Last year, it was still possible to ride a Tatra tram along Berlin’s Allee der Kosmonauten (Cosmonaut Avenue), past lines of middle rise apartment blocks from the 50s and 60s. The Czech built Tatra, ubiquitous east of the Iron Curtain, also rumbles on in Budapest, where the monument in tribute to Soviet forces survives, though fenced off and permanently guarded.

This approach to the former ruling orthodoxy has produced interesting spin-offs, and one fun reminder of the past is provided by the excellent Marxim pub and pizzeria, situated just off Margit Körút in Buda. Here, almost every item on the menu has a Soviet era name – I particularly liked the Red Commissar, but the garlic might not be to everyone’s taste – and there are symbols of Communism and Soviet “Realism” everywhere.

Normally, I avoid pizza, but here it’s done very well – well enough to stand favourable comparison with anywhere in Rome, for instance. And it’s not expensive: a large pizza and an equally large beer will set you back less than 2000 forint, so that’s well under seven quid. And the staff speak English.

I did say that almost every menu item had a Soviet era name: the unforgettable exception on the list of pizzas was the “Pussy-pussy Monica and Bill”. I kid you not. From memory it had mushroom, cheese, salami and hot paprika.

Food fit for a President. That’s a hell of a recommendation.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Hold for a Minute

My own fault, I know: I didn’t pack a paperback. So even if it was only two one and a half hour flights each way, at some point I had to end up with the in flight magazine. And it threw up an interesting thought on the extent to which airlines can pursue a green agenda.

I was flying with Swiss, or more correctly a Swiss partner (Helvetic), but the blurb is universal: the fleet is held to be getting “greener” as new aircraft are delivered, these emitting less carbon dioxide than their predecessors. Well, it can get as green as it likes, but one aspect of air travel stops attempts at greening in their tracks, and that’s the increasingly congested airspace.

Departure from Manchester was delayed by congestion somewhere between there and Zürich, but fortunately the engines had not been started. On the way back from Budapest, we were well into the journey, and descending into Zürich, when the congestion meant entering a holding pattern, which means spending a lot of time turning left while not getting much nearer the destination airport.

Having spent an extra fifteen minutes going round in circles on the approach to Zürich, we were then treated to ten minutes’ more of the same before arriving back at a typically wet and chilly Manchester. So that’s 25 minutes of fuel burnt just to hang around (not burning the fuel being off the list of practical options). More of that is probably enough to wipe out any greening effect.

Just how that particular circle gets squared, without a reduction in the number of flights, is not an easy one.

Why Dave’s in a Hurry

Just in case anyone hasn’t heard, Young Dave wants a General Election. And this time he may not be play acting. There is good reason for the urgency.

Looking beyond Duckislandgate, Capitalgaingate and Yetanothernonmortgagegate, there are more permanent issues for the Tories to address. The economy is one. And the threats from other parties another.

While Cameron and his cheerleaders have been shamelessly talking down the state of the country’s finances – something that, if they were in Government, would have them screaming blue murder at their opponents – those finances have not been deteriorating in turn. True, borrowing remains a worry, but the FTSE numbers have been rising steadily, and Sterling is right now near its highest level this year against both US Dollar and Euro.

Moreover, even the IMF have been less than totally condemnatory towards Pa Broon in the past week. Although they want to see a reduction in debt – who doesn’t? – they admit that the interventions by the Government have stabilised the banking sector and steadied markets. And when the IMF give merely grudging agreement, it is praise indeed.

Were the economic indicators to continue to show more favourable news, opinion may move swing voters back into the Broon camp. And then there are other parties ready to tempt the waverers. The Tories’ worst nightmare is a revived UKIP. So much conservative (note small “c”) opinion is anti-EU: worse, much of it is forthrightly Europhobic. And this is the Tories’ own doing: they’ve been demonising the European Project for so long that the idea has taken root. UKIP have addressed the issue by staking out a position of outright hostility and withdrawal. The Tory problem is keeping the Europhobes on side while knowing that leaving the EU is not a credible option. It’s a difficult one to finesse.

But, more seriously, there is an increased threat from the Lib Dems, with Corporal Clegg at last getting himself heard, and moreover demonstrating the leadership of which Young Dave talks, but does not provide. For the Lib Dems to gain traction with the electorate could seriously muddy the waters come a General Election. Hence Cameron wanting to get that Election done and dusted before Clegg can eat into his poll advantage.

So Dave would really like a General Election. He’s even got a petition on the go, which he calls a “petition for change”. Yes, Dave wants some of the Obama magic to rub off on him.

Fat chance.

The Deli Counter

The era of Communism in Eastern Europe conjures up a variety of images. And well to the fore is inevitably the architecture. It is generally held to be inferior to whatever the West achieved, benefitting as it did from capitalism and democracy. The truth, as ever, is that the two may not have been so different, and this can be seen in the city of Budapest.

As ever, we transport aficionados check out the local infrastructure. And what is found shows that Communism did not necessarily sweep away the old, and nor was the new as bad as might be imagined.

Standing proudly on the fringe of the city centre is Nyugati Pályaudvar, the West station, built by the Eiffel company in the late 1870s. The facade has been retained and restored, and only on close inspection can the nasty add on be seen: the West End shopping centre, a forthright slice of capitalism in action (the centre is out of shot, well back to the left of the view shown).

This may not accord with stereotype, so perhaps new build will prove more fruitful? Across the river in Buda, there is just that: Déli Pályaudvar, the Communist era South station, a study in concrete and glass, with an accompaniment of a sunken centre roundabout and a slightly brutal office block to round it off. This, surely, is proof of the poor architectural standards of the Communist East.

However, on brief reflection, this conclusion does not stand serious analysis. Consider the new build that the railway gave the UK during the same period: stations like Stafford, also with much concrete and glass, and now looking faded. Or, more significantly, Birmingham’s New Street, with its accompanying shopping centre and tower block so large that it covers the concourse completely, removing any natural light.

Budapest’s new build station has perhaps one flaw: it has many flights of steps and little level or ramp access. But then, so do many of its UK contemporaries, or at least they did before the installation of lifts.

Communism may have had its unpleasant aspects. But architecture isn’t necessarily one of them. I’ll revisit the subject later.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Speaker Up, Nick!

It might not trip off the tongue too easily, but from immediate personal experience, a long weekend out of the country is a long time in politics. Hardly had I dodged yet another shower on the walk back from the station, got a brew on and loaded the washing machine, than it became all too clear that the credibility of Mr Speaker Martin was in serious decline. It was also becoming clear that only one party leader was up to telling him directly.

I considered some time ago the problem facing Corporal Clegg and his motley platoon when it came to making himself heard. He has subsequently proved more than equal to the problem, as I noted later. Now he has beaten Young Dave to the punch as well, this last point being reinforced by the number of Tory cheerleaders who have started to sneer at him. This is not a bad thing: on the contrary, it means that you are to be taken seriously.

Clegg now has the legitimacy to have real influence in the process by which the next Speaker “emerges” (for want of a better term to describe the event). All manner of names have been put forward, and some can be ruled out in short order. Frank Field may be of independent thought, but in the Speaker’s chair would not be able to campaign or call the Government to account as he can at present. Sir Alan Hazelhurst may be a name that satisfies Tory demands for one of theirs to take a turn after two successive Labour Speakers, but as a Deputy Speaker himself, may be too closely associated with Michael Martin’s reign.

And then we get to Ming Campbell. Yes, I know, the star of Redecoration, Redecoration. But it’s hardly on the scale of Nomortgagegate, Moatgate or Helipadgate. Ming may have been thought too old to lead the Lib Dems, but he’s quite capable of keeping discipline in the Commons. Pa Broon will respect him – the two look after adjacent constituencies – and Clegg would have the fillip of being kingmaker as well as dethroner.

But what of Young Dave? Well, he could have spoken up earlier, but what alternative could he offer? John Bercow? Patrick Cormack? Some Tories have put forward another Lib Dem name – Vince Cable – but this, too, should not be taken seriously: it’s another way of admitting that he’s too effective in his current role for their liking.

No, the opportunity and the momentum is with the one party leader who didn’t merely talk about leadership on this issue, but actually showed some. So come on, Nick, let’s have some more.

Train not for Timpson

A little knowledge can be dangerous, so the saying goes, and to prove the point is another ill-informed utterance from Edward Timpson (the man with marginally more charisma than a Burton’s dummy). Eddie has taken the news of more job losses at Bombardier Transportation, who run the Railway Works, badly. So badly, in fact, that he has become apparently unable to figure out that Bombardier do not build or maintain trains at Crewe.

Here’s the latest pearl of unwisdom from Timpson: “We were so hopeful before the Government’s ‘British jobs for Japanese workers’ scandal a few months ago, when the Department for Transport awarded a key rail contract to Hitachi, not Bombardier”.

So what? Well, Eddie is plain flat wrong on just the three points.

First, even if Bombardier had got the nod over Hitachi, that would not have brought one single job to Crewe – and neither would it have been of any use to the company’s UK manufacturing plant, at Derby, as the trains would have been built abroad.

Second, the Hitachi deal is actually better for British jobs than the Bombardier proposal, as it brings at least some assembly work to the country.

Third, the Bombardier bid was significantly more expensive than the Hitachi one, so it’s good to see Eddie is in favour of wasting public money, as well as not bringing any more jobs to Crewe or the wider UK.

Meanwhile, the Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) David Williams has at least figured out what goes on at Crewe Works. He has commented “Crewe Works needs Bombardier to win more repair and refurbishment work”. He is right, because that is what function the Railway Works has within the Bombardier empire right now.

Meanwhile, what has Eddie actually achieved with his comments? A few column inches, name in the paper again, electorate misinformed, no jobs saved. But not to worry, because he’s also said “I will do my bit in fighting Bombardier’s corner”.

Judging by his track record so far, it won’t amount to much.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Situation Norman

One fallout from Expensegate (or Redecorationgate, Capitalgaingate, or Taxiforgeorgegate) has been a little indiscipline on what is now the fringe of the Tory Party. It involves arch Thatcher ally and former Chingford MP Lord Tebbit of Onyerbike, and it’s one area in which David Cameron would do well to tread carefully before pulling the trigger.

Norm is clearly unimpressed with the expenses business. So he has suggested that the three main political parties are not worth the vote come next month. Those three parties include the one of which he is a member. He has also decided that, whatever voters’ disgust at the progress of the gravy train, they should not vote for the BNP. This leaves few options. One is the Greens, but Norm doesn’t radiate green friendliness, so the only party left fielding candidates on a national basis is UKIP.

If I agree with David Cameron on one thing, it’s his assessment of UKIP: “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists, mostly”. So he may not be impressed by anyone in his own party urging voters in that direction.

And so it came to pass: Young Dave has suggested that Norm may find himself sitting in the Lords as an Independent, which is another way of telling him to keep schtum or face expulsion. For someone of such long and dedicated service to the Tory Party, this might appear enough to keep them in line. But if the subject is Norm, I’d say don’t bet on it.

Why so? Ah well. Many years ago, when an ageing Harold Macmillan was making one of his occasional visits to Westminster, he remarked in astonishment that he’d just seen a Tory MP “with a Cockney accent”. The MP so characterised was Tebbit. He wasn’t impressed: moreover, he would re-tell the incident with a clear dislike for old Mac, the subtext being that this was a sign of the old Tory party that had now gone for good.

Except, of course, it hadn’t: the Old Etonian cabal that Macmillan represented has now returned, rejuvenated, in the shape of Young Dave and his fellow jolly good chaps. Norman Tebbit is, ultimately, his own man, and if he wants to make the point, will tell Cameron to shove his discipline.

It would be an interesting one to watch, but probably not on WebCameron.

[there follows a long weekend break on Zelo Street, but I’ll be back soon, with more on Station Sellout, the vindictiveness of Mrs T., things European, and another look at the USA. And whatever events may occur in the meantime.]

Shameless Dave

All the world’s a stage - and yesterday David Cameron proved the sentiment in spades. His acting ability I’ve considered previously: this time it was taken to a new level in the aftermath of Expensegate (now also Poolgate, Wisteriagate, or Helipadgate).

Cameron’s cheerleaders have applauded yesterday’s press conference as showing decisiveness, and contrasting it with Pa Broon and Corporal Clegg, if only because Young Dave got in first. They missed the play acting, and haven’t asked what appear to be rather obvious questions. Perhaps a reminder is called for.

Dave was jolly angry. Further, he wanted you to know that not only was he jolly angry, but he really meant it. This was another example of the faux anger that Cameron does very well, but all it demonstrates is a shameless lack of real sincerity. Tory supporters lap it up; anyone else should beware. It’s an easy way to encourage swing voters – and next time round there might be a lot of them – into the Blue Corner.

Dave has said he’s going to pay back the money he claimed for clearing up the wisteria on his house. On the face of it, this appears a straightforward and honourable gesture, until the obvious question is put: why did he claim for it in the first place? Was it a mistake? If so, why not say so directly? If it was deliberate, then it appears that Cameron did it because he believed he could get away with it – just like so much of the stuff that’s been filling the Maily Telegraph these last few days.

And there seems to have been little probing of what Dave is not going to pay back: a whole 24k of mortgage payments. Cameron represents Witney, hardly a place out in the sticks, yet he’s up for the second home money as much as anyone else. The town is around 65 miles from London – rather less than the 76 of Peterborough, 77 of Swindon, or 83 of Rugby. So what? So, many commute from these last mentioned centres to London on a daily basis, without the ability to claim for a second home.

Moreover, Cameron and wife Samantha are reckoned to be worth a double figure number of millions of pounds. So, once again, if he’s such an upstanding chap, why does he need to claim a penny in second home allowances?

He doesn’t. But he can. Perhaps the difference between Young Dave and his fellow Aston Villa fan Jacqui Smith is not so great after all.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Republican Wrong

Last autumn – or fall, if you prefer the Stateside vernacular – the USA elected a new president. Democrat Barack Obama defeated Republican John McCain, taking the Electoral College by 365 votes to 173. Obama became the first African-American President, and even took southern states such as North Carolina and Virginia. That appears, on the face of it, a convincing victory. So it might be expected that the defeated Republicans would accept the result and start their planning for 2012.


Since Obama’s election, there has been an attempt within the Republican right to show that the new President is not legitimate. This process has shown itself mainly in one idea: that Obama may not have been born in the USA. So what? Well, the President must have been born in the country. This is why Arnold Schwarzenegger can be Governor of California, but cannot run for President, as he was born in Austria.

So there have been a number of attempts to prove, usually, that the Obama birth certificate, showing that he was born in Hawaii, was false. In fact, by mid February, there had been nine noted by the Real Democracy blog. You can count them in this post which provides a summary of each.

This might leave Democrats quietly confident that their Republican foes are so concerned with this mean spirited behaviour, they won’t be providing a serious opposition any time soon. In the immediate term they are correct. But for this to carry on would not be good for the democratic process.

Having one party in power, providing a coherent programme for government, and with clear objectives and purpose, is good. Having, additionally, an opposition that keeps those in power honest is better. While the Republican right is trying to kid itself that salvation can be brought through a constant litany of lawsuits, the party will inevitably be distracted, and therefore less able to be an effective opposition.

I’ll revisit things Stateside a little later.

An Electoral Caution

Many potential voters took a sceptical view of political parties, even before Expensegate. This is not surprising, given the methods sometimes used by parties to get themselves into power.

Not long after I arrived in Crewe, the council decided to relocate the War Memorial from its site by the town centre Marks and Spencer to a new and more prominent berth opposite Municipal Buildings. There was an outburst of indignation: petitions were drawn up, the council was accused of “desecration” (although no evidence that the site near M&S was sacred ground or the location of human remains was produced), and there were the usual accusations that anyone in favour of the move was not supporting our armed forces in their various deployments around the world.

And then came a round of council elections. Not surprisingly, given the hot air that was being generated on the subject, the War Memorial issue was raised by some voters. Labour and the Lib Dems did not major on it, but the Tories, shamelessly opportunist as ever, smelt an advantage. They, the electorate were assured, would “review” the move, and it would be referred to a panel of the great and the good if the Tories gained a majority on Crewe and Nantwich Borough Council (CNBC).

The elections were held, and the Tories got their majority. Referral of the War Memorial move followed, and then came the all too predictable result: the panel considering that move confirmed the original decision. The statue of Britannia was duly refurbished and re-dedicated on its new plinth opposite Municipal Buildings.

Otherwise, the new Tory council changed enough of the small free car parks – situated in areas with little on-street parking and originally put there for locals – into Pay and Displays to hack off many voters. Their last electoral performance in St Johns ward, at a time of national unpopularity for Labour, saw them not even make the top six. One of the locals’ car parks that became a P&D was in the middle of St Johns. Nowadays it spends most of its time empty.

That CNBC election was a bit like 1979 in miniature: the Tory promise was empty, and masked something rather more petty. Plus ça change, and all that.

Monday, 11 May 2009

The Vanishing of Agent Orange

Next month sees more elections, this time for the European Parliament. A party that may be fortunate to hang on to even half of its present MEPs is the UK Independence Party (UKIP): last time round, they polled enough votes to send twelve representatives to Brussels. Part of their popularity at that time was the endorsement of minor sleb Robert Kilroy-Silk, former daytime TV presenter and failed Labour MP for the Merseyside constituency of Knowsley North.

Kilroy resigned the Knowsley North seat in 1986, claiming that there had been interference from Militant. But Frank Field over in Birkenhead also had to deal with Militant: he appealed to the national party and stood his ground. He is still there. Compare and contrast, as they say. Perhaps UKIP didn’t know Kilroy’s form. They should have.

So what happened after Kilroy became an MEP for the East Midlands now looks all too predictable. He tried to become leader of UKIP and failed. Then he left UKIP and set up his own, pretentiously titled party – Veritas – which proved less than successful. He then left that party and since the end of 2004 has sat in the European Parliament as an Independent. The impression is given of a vanity beyond even David Owen.

So what have UKIP done about Kilroy not being here? As far as they are concerned, he’s apparently no longer one of their MEPs. But he was elected on their ticket (and UKIP nationally benefited significantly from his profile and endorsement) – so isn’t this attempt to distance themselves just a little too convenient?

Fortunately for the electorate of the East Midlands, Kilroy will not be submitting himself for further electoral scrutiny this time round, and so will cease being an MEP. Perhaps he will now retire to his villa in Spain, a right of the EU membership that UKIP would, for the UK, like to end. Much of modern day Spain was, for centuries, occupied and ruled by Muslims, leaving a legacy of sights that, if his tirade in the Daily Express is to be believed, does not register on the Kilroy radar.

But maybe he allows the Arabs into his world when it comes to counting all that money. After all, he’s probably accumulated enough to make the sums a bit more challenging than II plus II equals IV.

The Carbuncle Thingy

It may have been the rail enthusiasts’ version of an urban myth: that Prince Charles, at the opening of Croydon Tramlink, approached the driver, took one hand out of its pocket, pointed characteristically, and asked “So what is it that you do, then?”

The heir to the throne gets his fair share of stick. But his speeches and comments provoke controversy, and more importantly, he forces others to think. And on one subject – architecture - he exercises others’ grey matter significantly. Charles has notable previous on architectural matters: significantly, his 1984 speech to the Royal Institute of British Architects (Riba), when he described a proposed extension to the National Gallery as “like a monstrous carbuncle on the face of a much-loved friend”. The scheme was later rejected, which hardly endeared Charles to the profession.

Now, he’s at it again, as the Guardian has noted. Charles has intervened over a scheme to redevelop the site of the former Chelsea barracks. Further, he’s giving a speech to – guess who – Riba, tomorrow. Some of the architectural snobberati have called for a boycott of the speech, but as the event has already sold out, they may not be missed. One wonders why, if they’re so certain of their ground, they can’t take what may be a measure of sincerely held criticism.

Like Charles, I find some modern architecture quite dreadful: a look across the skyline of Manchester nowadays reveals the hideous Beetham Tower, and there are more high rises to come. Similarly in London, where there are a number of towers set to redefine the view across the City. But the approach is different in some mainland European countries.

Paris features modern architecture, but much of it is concentrated in its own areas, such as La Défense – well away from the historic centre. There is also the clever extension to the Louvre, with the strikingly modern “glass pyramid” working because it does not stop the viewer seeing through to the original building.

Having an area of modern architecture has also been a success in Valencia, where the City of Arts and Sciences, with the Palau de les Arts Reina Sofia as the centrepiece, is one of the city’s best known, and most visited, sights. Madrid, too, has some modern, but out of the centre: visible from many miles away are the four Chamartín towers.

Of course, London also has its modern area out of the centre – Docklands. But this, for some, is not enough: modern has to come to the City. On this, I predict there will be continuing controversy. And Prince Charles, love or hate him, will be in the thick of it. The architects may not like it, but someone has to make them think through what is being proposed.

And consider this: all of us, not just the architects, have to live with the result.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Axes of the Graph

As Expensegate (or Flipgate, Johnlewislistgate, or Tudorbeamgate) rumbles on, the question returns: what is the motivation of the Telegraph? When the top story was Smeargate (or whichever alternative style of gate is preferred), there was much speculation that the papers formerly known as the Torygraph were leaning towards Labour. Now that Labour is on the end of the first round of expense allegations, that seems unlikely. So who are they supporting?

Put directly, they aren’t. At least, not any particular party. As is so often the case, the rationale behind the Telegraph titles has been correctly identified by Private Eye, where the exodus from what Alastair Campbell calls “The Dacre Lie Machine” in favour of the Torygraph has earned it the moniker of the Maily Telegraph.

And the whole expense story bears the hallmarks of a typical Daily Mail exposé. Most significant is the suggestion that a significant sum of money was paid over in exchange for the information – the Mail is always first to get out its chequebook. Then, the story has been pursued, not from the angle of public interest (although that would seem an obvious and easily justifiable approach) but with the kind of mean spirited righteousness that the Mail has made its trademark. Proof, if any were needed, of the pedigree is that the Mail has been in such blowhard form over the story: they didn’t get this one, but they certainly wish they had – and they’re going to make sure they sit in judgment on the whole affair.

So those in and around the Tory and Lib Dem parties should not think that they are going to get away without being splashed all over the pages of the Telegraph. The only saving grace for them is that both parties have less MPs than Labour, so the potential for bad publicity is proportionally less.

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail is reduced to the more mundane business – which it does with some vigour – of sneering at the famous: the paper is being taken to court by leading actor Kate Winslet for yet another piece of nasty, mean spirited character assassination. Ms Winslet is discovering what many in the public eye already know about the Mail: they won’t stop the lying and other unpleasantness unless and until they are forced to do so. For pedalling this kind of drivel, the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre enjoys a remuneration package worth around a million and a half pounds a year.

With that kind of money available to routinely trouser, who needs to haggle over the odd bathplug?

Ladies in the Pink

Equality laws can work in unexpected ways. Not far north of Crewe is the (still) industrial centre of Warrington, where two enterprisingly minded women have set up a private members’ club to provide cabs for other women. Why? Because many women – understandably – find being in a cab driven by a man, especially late at night, and even more so when travelling alone, an unsettling experience. The club – called Pink Ladies – gives reassurance, and arguably gets more of the area’s female population out and about than would otherwise be the case.

So that’s alright, isn’t it? Apparently not. The local council has now decided to take the club to court, claiming that it is an unlicensed private hire company, as reported by the Guardian. The problem for Pink Ladies is that, if it were operated as a private hire company, it would then be unable to turn down male custom. It may also be unable to offer its members the reassurance of women only drivers.

I am usually supportive of local government, especially when it comes under fire from an uninformed tabloid press with its agenda to pursue. But on the face of it, this case gives the appearance of being a pointless waste of public money. Pink Ladies is set up as it is for one very good reason: to provide a service to its members that the rest of the taxi and private hire industry cannot.

It would be interesting to hear what the council concerned has to say in its defence. Also, it would give some reassurance if representatives of taxi and private hire operators in the area were to state unequivocally that they have no interest in the case.

I may be in for a long wait on both counts.

A Day at the Races

In this part of the world, there is one event that tells you Spring has finally arrived. This is when the trains heading towards Chester of a morning become filled by hordes of very well dressed people after a good day out. But they are not sightseers.

For them, the motivation is not to look over Eastgate and its clock, to see the cathedral, walk the walls, or look over the Old Dee Bridge, but to visit the racecourse. There, they consume vast quantities of food, mostly of a suitably dubious quality, and wash it down with heroic amounts of drink, while enjoying a usually unsuccessful punt on the horses. It brings lots of money into the city, and generates an amount of overtime that members of the police and other emergency services find financially rewarding.

Each to their own. Days at the races are one of those experiences I’ve never tried, and moreover, have never felt inclined to try. But I do know to avoid Chester on race days, especially in the evening. For this is the time when racegoers have to negotiate the streets en route back to the station.

On reaching the station, those who are travelling back to Merseyside then face the obstacle of the footbridge. For the averagely able bodied person, this presents little problem – when they are sober. A racegoer who has worked him or herself into a state of advanced alcoholic derangement finds the footbridge a challenge of a different order.

For not only is there the difficulty of the climb up the steps, but the realisation that this is followed by working their way down the steps at the far side. And then comes the short but crucial stagger across to the Merseyrail service, which cannot and does not wait for stragglers: the trains need to make their slot through Birkenhead to be in position for the circuit of the “Loop” under central Liverpool.

This year, it appears that days at the races are as popular as ever, so the overtime opportunities will continue. Including for those clearing up afterwards.

Friday, 8 May 2009

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today – Part 5

Well before Margaret Thatcher became Prime Minister, it was known to any economist willing to agree that the earth was round that there were no new ideas in economics. There were no magic bullets available to cure economic ills, no miracle cures in the cupboard. So when the new Tory Government embraced monetary policy as the mainstay of its economic strategy, the lessons had already been learned.

The over-use of the monetary instrument had hobbled Richard Nixon in his battle with Jack Kennedy: it had earlier induced the post-1937 slump in the USA, and soon after Thatcher came to power, it did for Jimmy Carter. Over reliance on monetary policy works against those businesses that need to borrow to establish themselves and then expand, whereas larger firms can often finance growth from reserves, and have the clout to be able to secure finance when it may be otherwise scarce. Those such as Professor Milton Friedman, the greatest prophet of monetarism, did not trouble themselves with such trivia. They asserted that this was the way to cure the economy of inflation, although the UK economy inconveniently dissented by posting inflation rates that peaked at over 20% in 1981.

Also, the Thatcher Government moved to try and balance the books, despite the clear lesson from pre-war USA. The result was broadly similar: the economy slumped. Thatcher repeated her mantra of “world recession”, and no doubt some believed it. But much of the slump was deliberately induced. And the rounds of spending cuts brought more unemployment.

Meanwhile, scarce and more expensive finance – interest rates were jacked up to an eye watering 17% - meant increasing numbers of small and medium sized businesses went to the wall: the manufacturing sector contracted by 30% in the early Thatcher years. Thus there was yet more unemployment.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom that suggests entrepreneurship comes only from those with the highest incomes, most start-ups use borrowed money. If the entrepreneurs cannot secure backing, there is no entrepreneurship. One of the sources of new jobs in Thatcher’s Britain was being hobbled by her own policies, and therefore did not make significant inroads into the mounting total of unemployment.

By 1983, the economy was growing once more. Inflation had come down, but only just into single figures. And there were now well over three million unemployed. Before the 1979 Election, the Tories ran a poster campaign showing a queue of unemployed people, with the slogan “Labour isn’t working”. At that time, there were around a million unemployed. Thatcher tripled that, but there were no regrets. And still there were no new ideas in economics.

But propaganda could now offer the sickest of jokes.

Station Sellout – Take 5

One thing is as true about Crewe station as it was forty years ago: the trains themselves get renewed, but the station remains a patchwork, and mainly a good hundred years old. We’re now on the third generation of trains since the electric railway arrived, yet most of the station’s fabric is pre-World War 1. And the exposed breeze block of the 1960s concourse not only looks tatty, but demonstrates a mindset of doing work on the cheap.

So when, in early 2007, Network Rail (NR) held an exhibition at the Alex Stadium, to showcase the “Crewe Rail Gateway”, it looked as if real improvements were at last on the way. There was to be a new concourse, the car park would be doubled in size (and moved to remove the need for users to make a frontal assault on Nantwich Road to reach it), and the unsightly and leaking overall roof structures would go. The roof work had already been completed on Platform 12, at the West side of the station, and new canopies and lighting had been installed.

To complete the refurbishment could only be a good thing – it would benefit businesses and residents in the Nantwich Road area, give easier access to the station for those arriving by car, and be a good advert for Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) who by now had a growing campus in the area close to the station. Also, arriving by bus would be better, with stops opposite the station – rather than one tucked away by the roundabout.

Then the critics started. Most were the usual suspects: those who write in to the local paper, any paper, when something new is proposed. The scheme was a “disgrace”, it was bad for taxi drivers, motorists, bus passengers, pedestrians, and anyone else. Much of the criticism was petty or ill-informed, and the thought entered that it might be unhelpful. But there was no suggestion that the work already completed on Platform 12 would not continue across the rest of the station – in any case, the state of much of the overall roof had deteriorated to the point where something would have to be done soon.

Then everything went quiet. Until, that is, during a meeting some months later, when an NR representative just happened to mention that the station was to be moved to a greenfield site at Basford. The critics went to ground.

It was a nasty shock. But things were to get nastier still.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today – Part 4

Up until the 1970s, Trades Unions exercised considerable power: they contributed to the downfall of Sailor Heath’s Government, and there was a widespread perception that they were more powerful even than elected politicians. One cover of Private Eye from the 70s shows the late Clive Jenkins being asked when the next General Election is going to be. Jenkins replies “I haven’t decided yet”.

The Unique Selling Point of Labour Governments at this time was that they alone could work together with the Unions. That is, until the “Winter of Discontent”, when the Union movement shot itself in the foot with some style: there were widespread strikes on the watch of Jim Callaghan, and Margaret Thatcher profited enough from the fallout to get a comfortable Commons majority in 1979.

Thatcher had been in Heath’s cabinet when the miners and power workers had gone on strike, resulting in a General Election being called in the midst of power blackouts and a three day working week. Here was another example of her vindictive streak: this lot were going to have their noses rubbed in it. Union reform, unlike the all-at-once approach which had proved the undoing of the Heath administration, was enacted one step at a time, to make it look less threatening and keep opposition to a minimum. And any confrontation was avoided until the time was right.

So when the miners threatened a strike in 1981 over proposed pit closures, more money was found for the industry, despite spending cuts elsewhere. Some said that this showed Thatcher respected miners’ leader Joe Gormley. They were talking out of the backs of their necks. She hated Gormley as much as the rest of them. The problem in 1981 was that she was not yet strong enough to carry public opinion, there wasn’t enough coal at the power stations to withstand a long strike, and legislation on picketing wasn’t yet in place.

Gormley was later succeeded by Arthur Scargill, giving Thatcher allies in the media a convenient hate figure. And after the “Falklands Election” of 1983, the Tories were stronger. Coal stocks at power stations were piled up, more Union legislation was put on the statute book, and then the provocation was engineered: Ian MacGregor was appointed head of the National Coal Board (NCB) and pit closures started.

The ensuing strike lasted almost a year, and the miners lost. Many got into debt as the National Union of Mineworkers (NUM) did not have the resources to make payments to them, and entitlement to state benefits had been cut. Mining communities became islands of chronic unemployment; many moved out to find work elsewhere. Margaret Thatcher didn’t care: she had her victory. The Unions were effectively, from this point on, a busted flush.

And there were many more without jobs in the 1980s. I’ll look at the economics next.

The Savage Sausage

Home Office press releases – they’re dull and boring, right?


The release earlier this week of 22 names has turned up a new comedy genre. For these names were the UK’s least wanted: a few Islamists, a couple of Nazis, a token Ku Klux Klan representative, and other paid up members of the Fruitcake Fringe. And one of those is Michael Savage.

Who he? Savage is one of a growing Stateside media niche, that of the “Shock Jock”. He has, in the recent past, offended Muslims, Gays, and those working with Autism. He is also vain to the point of changing his name: his real surname is Weiner. Yes, he’s a Weiner!

Mr Savage Weiner has taken grave exception to Jacqui Smith’s proscription, and has called her the “lunatic ... home secretary of England”, as the BBC has reported. His rant continues “What does that say about the government of England?”. Well, Mikey baby, it says that your grasp of geo-politics is pretty crap, that’s what. Perhaps he thinks that the Scots, Welsh and Northern Irish will welcome him with open arms, but more likely is that he’s just a clueless idiot.

Actually, I’d like to see Mr Savage Weiner come over to little old Englandland, so he can experience some proper debate. Half an hour one on one with George Galloway for starters. An extended slot on The Inquisition Of Pax Jeremiah to follow. And a confrontation with Joanna Lumley and her kukri to finish the SOB off. This would show us what the ranting rightie is really made of.

Otherwise, there’s only one conclusion: he’s just a Weiner!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

It Was Thirty Years Ago Today – Part 3

Any gathering of Tory cheerleaders will agree on one aspect of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership: that she fought our corner with the rest of the EU, resisting the attempts by those dastardly foreigners to re-brand our sausages and straighten our bananas.

Unfortunately, that’s not what really happened.

Thatcher was part of Sailor Heath’s 1970 election winning Government. Part of the platform on which they were elected was to take the UK into the then EEC. They duly did so, in 1973. Thatcher would later prove combative over contributions, and made suitably defiant noises in her Bruges speech, but she did not dissent from continuing UK membership of the EU.

The UK, in the early 1980s, held out for a rebate on its EU contributions. Thatcher was certain of her ground, and it’s possible that the estimates behind the figures to which we signed up in 1973 needed adjustment. At first, other countries’ representatives didn’t see things her way, but rather like John McEnroe, she knew how far the umpire could be pushed. The UK got its rebate.

Otherwise, there was none of the vindictive streak that marked her approach to local government or the trades unions: she played hardball, but got along rather well with the likes of François Mitterand and Helmut Kohl. Thatcher signed up to the Single European Act and later was persuaded by her last Chancellor of the Exchequer, “Shagger” Major, to allow Sterling to become part of the Exchange Rate Mechanism (ERM).

So what of the Bruges speech? Ah well. It was just that, a speech. Also, her later assertion that she could never have signed up to the Maastricht Treaty was inconsistent with her earlier pro-European actions. She went along with the European Project: the rebate merely meant that we paid less for the journey. There was never any thought that our membership of the EU would be ended, or even that our status within the Union might be modified – inconvenient facts that those anti-Europeans who praise her legacy are unable or unwilling to confront.

Next, I’ll look at Thatcher and the Unions. In the meantime, here’s how Guardian cartoonist Steve Bell remembers that Downing Street address.