It was a pleasure to go to Kingsclere a few days ago to open the skate ramp, commissioned by the far-sighted Parish Council. These occasions contain their risks, as the local press want an action picture, hopefully of the local MP, arms outstretched, travelling at speed on wheels in a hemicycle made of concrete, displaying rare skills of equilibrium; or, scoop of scoops, legs outstretched, having taken a parliamentary tumble.
Twenty six years in the House have taught me to be cautious about posing for the Press.
As Transport Secretary, I was invited by a contractor to witness progress on the construction of the Southern Derby Relief Road, doubtless a key part of my integrated transport strategy. I went to the East Midlands by train, and was driven to a muddy field to the south of the City, occupied by slow-moving contractor’s traffic. I was ushered into a hut on site, where three walls were decorated, in accordance with the best of civil engineering traditions, with scantily clad ladies. On the fourth wall was a large scale map of the new road, showing a few villages along the route. “Just to orient myself” I said, looking at the map, “where exactly is Derby?” The photographer captured the jabbing finger, and his accomplice, the local reporter, took great interest in this harmless exchange. The chartered surveyor in charge of the visit pointed to a place near the light bulb, to indicate where the City was. We went to look at the embryonic road; I sat on a dump truck; I put on a hard hat; I examined the freshly laid surface, but the hounds from the local paper were not interested in these photo opportunities. I returned to London.
My office acquired a copy of the local paper. In bold headlines across the front page was the question “Where is Derby? asks Transport Secretary”.