Strike sends Lady Olga into a road rage

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Transport questions in the House. And the main transport question, given yesterday's London tube strike (the third in three weeks), was how did our various heroes and heroines get to the House?

Clare Short, she told Sir George Young, Secretary of State for Transport, had "walked from Euston [where her train from Birmingham had terminated] with a very heavy bag". But was there no passing motorist who could have assisted her? Is chivalry dead? I would far rather believe that, given London's traffic speeds, they were all travelling far more slowly than the determined Ms Short, whose majestic progress down Tottenham Court Road, as captured on short-circuit television, should now be made available on video for hire.

Lady Olga Maitland (Con, Sutton and Cheam) must have travelled most of the way by aeroplane, having just been the recipient of some hospitality (chronicled in this newspaper) on the part of a chap called Joe Toblerone (or something), head honcho of Maltese Tourism. She had clearly been looking forward to joining the democratic throng, lugging her weekend bags on to the Piccadilly Line and then straight to the House. Unhappily the industrial action thwarted her plans and forced her into a vehicle of some description (probably some appalling Jag or vulgar Merc).

To Labour cries of "look, it's the Maltese Falcon", a somewhat restrained Lady Olga (only one string of pearls, her more severe pair of glasses, no swimsuit) told MPs that the strike was forcing people to use their cars, "making road rage more likely" (this is incontestable: if no one was on the roads there would be no road rage. Critics of Lady Olga should bear such insights in mind). More controversial was her suggestion that it was "all because the party opposite will not condemn strikes". Lady Olga must be forgiven her lapses of memory (she travels abroad a great deal, apparently), but most of us old things know that the worst strikes happen precisely when Labour does condemn them. "Someone give 'er a ride 'ome", said Dennis Skinner, unhelpfully.

The transport minister Steve Norris (whose wit and urbanity will be missed when he retires at the next election) replied that he thought that road rage was as old as motoring. "In the 1920s they used hit each other over the head with starting handles," he said. Motorists needed "patience and calm". Which were qualities that appeared to desert William O'Brien (Lab, Normanton).

Mr O'Brien was once a coal miner and, with his craggy features, looks as though he was himself hewn from a very deep seam. Reddening with anger Mr O'Brien condemned those who committed violence in road rage cases, especially where killing took place. "The penalty should fit the crime!" he thundered. Personally I look forward to public executions on the M25 when New Labour comes to power, but I should warn Mr O'Brien that this pledge wasn't in my copy of New Life for Britain.

It is widely believed that the erratic Dame Elaine Kellett-Bowman (Con, Lancaster) does not have long distances to travel to the House, since she probably occupies secure accommodation in a small apartment just above Big Ben. Nevertheless, she had thoughts on road rage. "In my day", she said firmly, "it would have been known as temper tantrums." So here's today's challenge: pounds 10 to any reader who can tell me when Dame Elaine's day was. And pounds 15 for anyone who dares stop Clare Short next Tuesday (when Aslef strikes again) and offer her - and her bag - a lift.

Union barons, page 6