Listen to this article
Now that time travel looks feasible, thanks to the faster-than-light experiment with sub-atomic particles at the Opera project in Gran Sasso, Italy, who will exploit the commercial opportunity?
Ah, I hear you object, the UK’s shrunken manufacturing industry could not hope to compete with the giants of the US or China. Have more faith. British innovation is a match for anyone: I am sure BAE Systems could produce a time machine better than the souped-up DeLorean car that featured in the 1985 film Back to the Future.
A time travel project would certainly spice up George Osborne’s growth review. It puts into the shade the efforts of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and others to offer private space travel. Think of the options: trips to the future, trips to the past; visitors from both. There are pitfalls: no Tardis-like careering to unexpected destinations, otherwise you might end up in the Black Death. Some visitors might have to be barred, such as Adolf Hitler.
There may be limited attraction in tickets for, say, the 1966 World Cup final because the result would be in no doubt. But plenty would pay to attend the first performance of a Beethoven symphony.
You would need assiduous tour guides to stop the travellers messing with the past or the future. Science fiction has been obsessed with the “grandfather paradox” – what would happen if you went back in time and killed one of your ancestors, thus preventing your own birth – but there are other possibilities.
What if a charabanc of Keynesians travelled back to 1929 – could they persuade the authorities to adopt a stimulus that would have prevented the Great Depression? If we went back five years, could tighter capital requirements have prevented the credit crisis?
SNP and business
Alex Salmond may be lord of all he surveys but his Scottish nationalist government suffered a dent last week to one of its cherished claims – to be friendly to business.
A row broke out when a think-tank said the Budget of John Swinney, finance minister, contained a £493m rise in business rates by 2014. It warned some companies would go to the wall. Mr Swinney hit back, saying the figure represented inflation and expected future business growth rather than higher tax on existing businesses. But the damage was done. The Scottish Chambers of Commerce said it could not make Mr Swinney’s figures add up. CBI Scotland attacked a planned £40m levy on large supermarkets selling alcohol and tobacco. Iain McMillan, director, added: “Here is a Scottish government that has argued that corporation tax should be devolved to Scotland, but their action on business rates shows that they cannot be trusted on corporation tax.”
None of this stopped Mr Salmond from urging the UK government to adopt his “Plan McB”, which involves switching current spending to capital projects. His claim of superior economic performance is based on one month’s volatile employment data. Such interventions make some English people want to punch Mr Salmond, which he will not mind, but it would be more serious for the SNP if a pillar of its broad appeal were eroded.
Will Unite, the largest union with 1.5m members, merge with the 292,000-member Public and Commercial Services Union? “Watch this space,” says a senior Unite person. The speculation arises in part because of the close relationship between Len McCluskey, Unite general secretary, and Mark Serwotka of the PCS – both left-wingers. Not everyone in Unite is enthused by another merger so soon after the fraught amalgamation between the TGWU and Amicus that created it – especially if Mr Serwotka became deputy general secretary.
Liverpool expects to make £15m from hosting the Labour conference, more than the £10m from the Lib Dems last year – vindication of the decision to build its £165m convention centre on the waterfront. It is stretching the infrastructure, though. There are 11,000 delegates and 2,000 media staff but the city centre has only 5,000 hotel beds, so many are staying in Southport or the Wirral. And on Monday there were half-hour queues to get past security.