You have to feel sorry for Gordon Brown. Well, perhaps not. But threatened with a challenge from the right for the Labour leadership, Brown is ever more desperate to hug his Blairite adversaries.
For a start, the chancellor gave his full backing to Monday’s far-reaching overhaul of welfare-to-work policy which came not from his own department, the Treasury, but from David Freud, ex-investment banker and former Financial Times scribe. Brown even congratulated John Hutton, work and pensions secretary, for “leading the project”. That must have stuck in Gordon’s gullet – only a few months ago the two were sworn enemies in the battle over pensions policy.
But Brown was at his most munificent when praising Blair’s “stewardship of the economy and employment policy over the past 10 years”.
Come again? The prime minister has claimed credit for many things, but the economy is not one of them. Indeed, whenever he is being goaded on the subject of Brown, Blair’s cracked record response is that the chancellor has “delivered us the strongest economy of any major country”. Perhaps Brown is already practising his one nice thing to say about his predecessor.
Across the Tamar
Monday, for those who failed to notice, was St Piran’s day. And, St Piran was? Why, the national (note the word) saint of Cornwall. To most, perhaps, a rather obscure saint. But to the Cornish, and especially to the tin-miners among them, St Piran is their champion and his day merits a public holiday. Indeed, Bodmin Town Council did give their staff a day off, enabling them to enjoy a procession through the town.
Cornish MPs have rushed to sign an early day motion asking the government to make March 5 a holiday in Cornwall. After all, St Andrew’s day was a holiday in Scotland last year. And while we’re at it, what about St George’s day?
Time for Brown to return to his idea of an extra bank holiday to celebrate Britishness – before the union falls apart completely.
It’s for you-hoo
Early day motions are a method for MPs to raise an issue without having to go to the onerous task of actually debating it. Many are put down every day, some serious, some frivolous. But we should be grateful to the several dozen MPs who signed a recent motion highlighting BT’s iniquitous plan to penalise people who don’t pay their phone bill by direct debit or monthly payment plan.
The motion calls BT’s move “financial blackmail” and points out that it is the poorest members of society who will suffer most, since they are least likely to have bank accounts. Many more of us prefer not to let BT dip into our bank accounts at will, whatever the promised safeguards of direct debits. If BT gets away with this, other utility companies will no doubt follow, a point not lost on the MPs.
On your left…
If taking money and knowing the route weren’t enough to cope with, bus drivers in north-east England are adding a new skill – bird spotting. Local bus operator, Go North East, has launched a “red kite” bus service to run through Gateshead’s Derwent Valley where the species has been reintroduced in recent years.
Drivers have had “kite awareness training” so that they can point out the birds to passengers as the bus trundles from Newcastle to Consett. Pictures of the birds of prey have been put on the sides of the buses in case passengers aren’t familiar with their distinctive size and shape.
Red kites used to be common but were killed off in the 19th century when they were regarded as a threat to livestock. Colonies of the birds have been re-established in Wales, and it is rare not to see some around junction 5 of the M40.
The Northern Kites Project brought the birds to the region in 2004, quite a challenge so close to a large urban area. Last year red kite chicks hatched there for the first time in nearly 200 years – an event which the project’s manger Keith Bowey couldn’t resist calling a “feather in the region’s cap”.
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