Diary: Ed and David put us on fast track to boredom

Prime Ministers' Questions yesterday featured an unenlightening argument between Ed Miliband and David Cameron about who allowed the rail companies to put up fares by 11 per cent. Cameron alleged they were given that freedom by the Labour government. Miliband claimed, on the contrary, that Labour removed that freedom but the Coalition gave it back.

Cameron then came back with the claim that Labour changed the rules for "one year only – for an election year – there was no intention of making that permanent".

The argument dragged on long after the Commons chamber had cleared. Tory spin doctors produced copies of a franchise document signed in January 2010 by the then Transport Secretary, Andrew Adonis, which restricted the train operators' right to raise fares during the calendar year 2010, but specifying that the old rules would automatically apply after 1 January 2011 "except as may be contained in a further notice".

But Lord Adonis countered that with a statement saying that of course he would have issued another notice restricting fare rises for another year, if Labour had been returned to power.

What this mind-numbing argument illustrates is the farcical nature of the "privatised" railway system. In Victorian times, the railways operated in a genuine free market without state subsidy, but back then there were no cars or lorries to compete with. If the railways were left to the mercy of market forces now, all but a few lines would vanish. They are kept going for social and environmental reasons under government supervision.

Therefore, it is a political decision how much of the cost comes from tax, and how much from rail passengers. Labour decided to shift part of the cost in one direction and the Coalition, in its anxiety to limit public spending, shifted it back again.

Still the fares debate produced this priceless quote from the Transport Secretary, Justine Greening: "The real long-term way of reducing the pressures of relentless fare rises is actually to tackle the underlying driver..."

Music scene getting too heavy for Diane

Some rappers have set a bad example to the young by being overweight, unlike the slender rock stars of previous decades, says Diane Abbott, Labour's shadow health minister, in an interview with Food Manufacture magazine.

"A generation ago, pop stars – particularly in America – tended to come from working-class communities and be quite skinny. Now you have these rappers who are obese, which points to obesity being more of an issue for poor people who, perhaps, live in food deserts where it is harder to get fresh foods," she remarked.

It is customary to quote Ms Abbott only when she has put her foot in it, but if anything, this observation is dated.

Darren Robinson, known as the Human Beat Box, of the New York group, The Fat Boys, reputedly weighed 450lb when he died in 1995, aged 28. Christopher Lee Rio, alias Big Pun, also from New York, who also died at 28 from a heart attack, in 2000, weighed a reputed 780lb. In other words, some time in the past 20 years, junk food supplanted illegal drugs as the main threat to the lives of young music stars. Whether that is an improvement is a matter of opinion.

Name the men from the mountains

"I spent a happy Christmas indulging myself in the 24-hour existence of Carpatho-Ruthenia," said the Tory MP Paul Maynard during a Commons debate on the schools history syllabus – in tribute to the latest volume by the historian Norman Davies.

"It's not something I'd want to inflict on a group of 11-year olds," he added. People can laugh about Ruthenia, on the western slope of the Ukraine's Carpathian mountains, but from this small place sprang two of the most famous names of the 20th century.

One, to be precise, never visited Ruthenia; he was an ethnic Ruthenian, whose parents emigrated to Pittsburgh shortly before he was born.

The other grew up there, in a family of poor Hasidic Jews from a Ruthenian village, and left when he was a teenager. If you don't know who they are, check this column tomorrow.

Trench warfare over independence

Scotland has been promised a referendum in "autumn 1914", the SNP MP Pete Wishart told the Commons yesterday. Will the soldiers on the Somme get a postal vote, I wonder?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent