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Plane strain? Go by train ...

Now, everyone agrees our MPs are vastly underpaid and deserve far more for their arduous workload. And here's a good example of just the sort of work that we pay them for.

The MP for Workington, Dale Campbell-Savours, has garnered the support of 11 colleagues, including the former transport minister Peter Bottomley, for an Early Day Motion castigating London Underground over its ticket- selling arrangements at Heathrow and the bad impression these necessarily make on visitors to the United Kingdom.

But is it really visitors to the UK that Mr Campbell-Savours is concerned about; or is it Mr Campbell-Savours? Forget all the guff at the end of this very long motion about the "appalling service ... providing the first experience of the United Kingdom" for foreign visitors. The sunnier climes the MP for Workington is really referring to are clearly those of Workington.

He states: "This House notes the extraordinary arrangements for the sale of underground tickets at London Heathrow; notes travellers from Manchester to London, including the honourable member for Workington, frequently spend more time waiting in a long, winding queue to buy an underground ticket than they do on the aircraft flying...."

To which one replies, (a) come off it, (b) we all have to queue from time to time without provoking a parliamentary debate and (c), how very interesting to learn that our elected representatives find it necessary to fly from Manchester at great expense when there is an InterCity train service that would get them to Westminster in pretty much the same time.

Now there's a good subject for debate.

Clinton snubs lilac fairy

The fascinating BBC fly-on-the-wall series on the Royal Opera House missed a little nugget this week when it showed the Royal Ballet company meeting President Clinton in Washington. Unrecorded by the cameras was the encounter between Mr C and the delightful ballerina Fiona Chadwick.

Having read up on the political and sexual scandals besetting Clinton at the time, Miss Chadwick told a bemused president in front of his even more bemused First Lady that he needed a lilac fairy, the dispenser of good fortune in Sleeping Beauty. Clinton looked none the wiser. Sadly, any lilac fairies hovering over the conversation picked the wrong target. Clinton remains in office. Miss Chadwick's contract was unexpectedly terminated at the end of the season.

Observer man ups stakes

The editor of the Observer has a problem. His staff. They exasperate him; and what is a poor boy to do? Andrew Jaspan, current holder of the top job at the troubled newspaper has reacted in unusual fashion. He has decided to moan about his bolshie journalists, not to their faces nor to his board, but to the readers of another newspaper 400 miles from the Observer's base, but well within the sights of the eye of the eagle.

Interviewed in Scotland on Sunday, which he used to edit in happier times, an emotional Jaspan gives the following cry for help.

" 'But what do I do?' asks Jaspan with exasperation. 'I can't just go out into the newsroom and say, right, from tomorrow there will be no more factions. Over a period of time I have to demonstrate to people that there are other ways to work, that they have to play as a team.' "

The article paints a byzantine picture of "three separate and mutually suspicious camps vying for editorial influence and control," and quotes Jaspan bewailing the fact that "seemingly it's the game in town among journalists to bitch about their papers and their editors."

Shocking. But at least the bitching by staff about their papers and editors is done in town, unlike the bitching by editors about their staffs, which doesn't even take place in the same country.


An unfortunate misprint, I assume, in the Tablet, the international Catholic weekly. Reviewing Mervyn Blatch's book, A Guide To London Churches, Felix Barker wanted, I suspect, to say that he "slumped back" in his chair "happy to be conducted through 150 churches", and not that he "slumbered back" in his chair, as printed. Of course, I could be wrong.

Potty Neil

After Paul McCartney telling the would-be rock stars at Liverpool's fame school to lay off drugs this week, I see that the American crooner Neil Diamond is telling Q magazine how he founded the pressure group Performers Against Drugs. In fact, he originally called the outfit Musicians Against Drugs, until a friend pointed out that the acronym did him no favours.

Eagle Eye