Reports of a death may be premature

From Our Wrong Correspondent... Annabel Freyberg (Deputy Obituaries Editor) watched John Prescott announce the demise (he hopes) of the traffic jam
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The Independent Online
The long-awaited death of the old transport system will mark the end of a number of cherished British institutions: traffic jams, polluted air and excessive bus queues to name but a few. Still, it hasn't quite come to that yet.

Yesterday's consultation document was launched by the tough-talking, if sometimes jovial Deputy Prime Minister John Leslie Prescott (born Prestatyn, North Wales ,31 May 1938), aided by Gavin Steel Strang (born Dundee 10 July 1943) and Michael Hugh Meacher (born Hemel Hempstead 4 November 1939). All looked disappointingly robust, though Strang spent most of the meeting gazing disconsolately into the distance. There was no disguising it. This was a wake.

Ever since William Huskisson MP was mown down by a train at the opening of the Manchester and Liverpool Railway in 1830, there has been a deliciously dangerous frisson when ministers play with new forms of transport. The signs were excellent. The room where the conference was held was tomb- like - windowless and painted an unexciting shade of grey.

Prescott (educated Ellesmere Port Secondary Modern School, Ruskin College, Oxford and Hull University) spoke proudly of his encounter with a C2 bus earlier in the day.

"There has been a sea-change in public opinion", he intoned, referring to his time on the ocean wave (Steward, Passenger Lines, Merchant Navy 1955-63), and then he was off at express-train rate, rattling but not rattled, never glancing at his notes, reaching for yet more upbeat words - integration, improvements, holistic.

Jeers and counter-attacks by heartless journalists were parried with a smile. Prescott (married 1961 Pauline Tilston; two sons) spoke movingly of his honeymoon period, of how in 17 weeks Labour had had more success in pushing Transport forward than the Tories in 18 years.

As he bounded along, punching out challenging ideas, I found myself wondering: how long can this man last? In his current role that is. Certainly till he has rung the death knell for over-dependence on cars.

The traffic jam, travellers' scurge: born Western world, early 20th century; died, hopefully, end 20th century.

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