The invitation to appear on “Politics Today” last Sunday required some thought. The opportunity to address and reassure ones constituents in North West Hants via the television was not to be lightly cast aside. People tend to remember if they have seen their MP on television, though they don’t usually remember anything he or she said.
On the other hand, it meant driving to Southampton at lunchtime. And it was about the railways. The Prime Minister, we are told does not do “God”. For different reasons, I tend not to do railways. Having done little else for two years as Secretary of State for Transport, I take the view that the country has probably had the necessary dose.
Politicians are fair game on these politics shows, and the best advice to follow is to answer the question. Nothing irritates the interviewer or the audience more than a politician who answers the question he would have liked to have been asked, as opposed to the one actually asked.
The easiest interview I have had was when some technicians went on strike at the BBC. Their job was to move the chairs and tables around the set; and they had walked out. The cameramen, who belonged to a different union, were not on strike. But they would walk out in sympathy if any black leg so much as touched an item of furniture. Just before we went on air, I whispered to my interrogator, who was sharpening up his questions “If you get too heavy, I’ll move my chair – and that will be the end of your show.”
So the invitation to appear on your screens last Sunday was politely declined, and I watched someone else being grilled about Saver tickets instead. When the railways were privatised, Saver Tickets were safeguarded and it appears that my successor now wants to interfere with them.
Although he comes from a different party, I feel some sympathy for him. Every motorist believes he or she has the solution to the country’s transport problems and an opportunity to share these views with the Secretary of State on every social occasion is one no motorist can ever resist.
I leave my successor with this story of a journey on a pre-privatised railway.
It was one of those journeys where everything went wrong. When the train was scheduled to leave, there was a public announcement appealing for the driver to present himself at the controls. Then the train had lost its “path” and was further delayed. Subsequently it stopped at every red light, taking thirty minutes to get from Waterloo to Wimbledon.
The ticket collector turned up and asked the first passenger for his ticket. He didn’t have one and was invited to pay a penalty and purchase a ticket.
“Half from Waterloo to Woking” he said. Challenged by the ticket inspector to prove he was under 16, the passenger replied that he had indeed been so when his journey started.