At least the Number 94 to Bath is brilliant

`When we refer personally to politicians, we talk about them as if they were characters in a soap opera'
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The Independent Culture
IT STRIKES me that a lot of the discussion of Mr Prescott is pretty personal.

"I like Mr Prescott," I hear people saying in pubs. "I think he's got integrity and honesty. I trust him."

"Yeah, but I'm not sure he can hack it," I hear other people saying. "I'm not sure he can stand up to all the people trying to water him down. What happened to his lower speed limits? He forgot those very quickly, didn't he? Lobbied into oblivion..."

"Yes, but it's nice to have at least one honest-to-goodness rough diamond in the Cabinet."

"Rough diamond? Old Two Jags Prescott?"

"Come on! One of the Jags is his official car - it's only the other one that belongs to him! Surely a man may have one Jag if he wishes?"

And so on and so forth. Occasionally they mention the famous incident at Bournemouth, where Mr Prescott took his limousine a couple of hundred feet instead of walking, and he then claimed it was to keep his wife's hairdo from being blown about. He got a lot of stick for that, although I thought it was probably a joke on his part.

As I said, a lot of the discussion of Mr Prescott is personal. That is to say, completely uninformed. I haven't met Mr Prescott. And he never impinged on my life at all until last year...

In a very tangible way, as it turned out. Last year Mr Prescott gave out some money to the counties to improve local bus services, and one of the county areas that found itself with more cash was West Wiltshire. Someone with initiative at West Wilts got together some interesting people to advise him on bus routes (you can tell that I'm not very sure of the details) and lo and behold, a bus has started going through our village where it never went before, and it goes at such a time that our son can get on it to go to his new school, and several other times too, between Trowbridge and Bath. It's a No 94 and it is owned by Bodman's of Devizes, and it's a godsend.

I even used it myself the other day, to get to Bath in order to catch an earlyish train to London. Normally if I am trying to get a train from Bath, I catch the local branch line train in from Freshford, the next- door village, but I thought, Well, if there's a bus coming past my door, let's get it.

In London I used to jump on buses and Tubes all the time, but here in the country I had let it slide. Now, buses are coming back into my life and I remember now what I had forgotten about buses in the early morning - that is, that nobody ever talks on them. It's like a family breakfast. Minimum conversation. Grunts. Groans. Turning of papers. The only sign of cheery life is from the driver, who has a mobile phone and is sometimes rung up by passengers ahead who want to know whether he is on time, or want to tell him that they won't be at the bus stop so not to wait for them.

Not that there really are bus stops; as often as not, he stops where he knows people live, and where they are likely to be waiting. It is customer care on a scale that is undreamt of by the big corporations.

Of course, when we normally talk in a personal way about politicians, such as Blair and Prescott, we are not talking about them as people but as characters in a soap opera. After all, everyone in New Labour is a character in a soap. You couldn't invent a plot twist such as the story of Mrs Prescott's hairdo and the limousine. You only get things like that in soaps. You only get characters like "Doctor" Jack Cunningham in soaps - smooth, artful and universally disliked. You couldn't invent Mo Mowlam in real life, now could you? Well, then.

But when conversation turns to Mr Prescott these days, and people say that he may have big ideas, but he hasn't really done anything, has he? I am able to say from personal experience that, oh yes, he has; he has been behind the major thrust to get the No 94 running through the lanes of West Wiltshire, and even over the Somerset border into Bath, so I am all behind Mr Prescott!

And what else has he done? they ask.

That I can't answer. My knowledge is limited to the brilliant No 94 from Trowbridge to Bath. There is only so much that an investigative journalist can know.

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