Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Column, October 4, 2005

WHEN the Tories’ enthusiasm for selling off state assets reached its height even their own elder statesmen blushed.
Lord Stockton, Harold Macmillan as was, neatly exposed the Conservatives’ car boot sale, accusing them of selling off the family silver.
But at least they were selling off things like railways, telephones and gas suppliers.
Even they drew the line at radioactive material – but perhaps only because they hadn’t thought of it.
Now, we hear, that the decommissioning arm of BNFL is up for grabs and this will affect ownership of Wylfa nuclear power station.
Splendid, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water because Wylfa and others were being decommissioned, BNFL decides to flog off the operation to clean the place up.
Because that’s who you want decommissioning a nuclear power station isn’t it? Not a company answerable to government, but a private sector firm answerable first and foremost to its shareholders.
After all, hasn’t the private sector just covered itself running the rest of our former nationalised industries?
Trains for instance, they might not run on time, they might run on a clapped-out network that causes horrendous crashes, they might cost you an arm and a leg to travel on – but hey, you can plug your laptop in while you travel, so that’s alright.
And while we’re on the subject of trains, have you noticed the way they announce trains earlier now. The station announcer will tell you the train approaching platform 5 is the 10.15 to Auchtermuchty, thus fooling you into thinking it’s on time. Of course it’s not approaching at all, it’s still 20 minutes away, having been delayed by loose leaves or the wrong kind of snow.
Recently I heard an announcer say that a train was late ‘because of a late departure from Edinburgh.’ Wonderful, so it’s late – because it’s late.
Wildebeest, it’s about the only excuse I’ve not heard them use for train delays – the 4.15 to London is late because of the annual migration of wildebeest across the line in Coventry, we would like to apologise to all passengers for the delays caused by migratory beasts beyond our control. It’s only a matter of time though.
And can anyone say they pay less now for their gas, electricity or phone and they get better service as a result of it all being hawked off the back of a lorry by Thatcher’s Traders?
I know you’ll be told that ‘in real terms’ you’re paying less. You’ll be told that ‘in real terms’ the power companies are practically paying you to take their gas and electricity.
Here’s a little tip about the phrase ‘in real terms.’ It is a phrase that is only, ever, used by politicians and that should tell you something about it for a start.
It means ‘I’m lying but I’m going to use this important sounding little phrase in an effort to keep a straight face and not give away the fact that I’m telling contemptible porkies.’ You watch the next politician who uses the phrase, I swear their nose grows when they do.
So no, my heart does not leap with joy when I hear the private sector will be bidding to do the clean-up at Wylfa.
This is how a private sector company will deploy the cash set aside for the clean-up, all £1.7bn of it.
“One billion for the shareholders, half a billion for the directors’ bonuses….erm…what were we meant to be doing with it again? Ah yes, the clean-up, can it be done with a really long brush?”
You see though, for politicians this is a no-brainer, clearing the Wylfa site will take another 30 years and none of them will be around to deal with the mess, but our children will.
Whoever is in power at that time can blame it on the previous, previous, previous Government. And then they’ll find something else to sell.

THE treatment of heckler Walter Wolfgang is depressingly typical of a party that has lost the plot.
There was a day when a Labour politician in the bear’s den of conference would have shrugged off a heckle like Mr Wolfgang’s exclamation of ‘nonsense.’
There was a time when a politician on the conference platform would not have even been able to hear such a heckle above the near-riot going on as the extreme left wing of the party tried to storm the platform and turn it into a burning barricade.
So it’s really rather a poor show that someone, somewhere, at conference felt Jack Straw needed protection from a solitary pensioner telling him he was talking nonsense.
Of course the frustration felt by Mr Wolfgang and others is understandable. We are, after all, involved in armed conflict in Iraq and it’s not unreasonable to expect the party that sent our forces there to be prepared to talk about that.
It wasn’t.
But then Jack Straw did not order the stewards in to deal with Mr Wolfgang, he probably hadn’t even heard him.
Nor do I believe that the stewards decided of their own volition to turf out a pensioner.
Someone within the ranks of the party made that decision and it tells you quite a lot about the calibre of person this party is attracting now.
People who care nothing for free speech, the sort of person happy for our Army to fight a war, but unhappy to hear it even talked about, the sort of person who cannot even handle someone saying they are talking nonsense.

CAN anyone explain the collective madness that seems to have gripped Plaid Cymru over the Olympics?
One would have thought that Plaid, given its failure to exactly set the polls alight recently, might have been focusing on matters closer to home and closer to the hearts of voters.
I don’t think many people wake every morning in Wales with the thought “If only we were fielding our own Welsh Olympic team, my life would be a whole lot better.”
Yet that is exactly what Owen John Thomas is suggesting should happen when the Olympics comes to London in 2012.
Mr Thomas points out that, if you judge medals gained per head of population, Wales came fourth at the Commonwealth Games in Manchester in 2002.
Because that’s how people judge Olympic success isn’t it? You can just hear David Coleman’s voice as he tallies up the medal tables and announced that brave little Azerbaijan have trounced the mighty China and the USA put together.
Yet another pointless idea that will never happen from Plaid.

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