'The problem is that Steve is very sore'

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Indy Politics

Extract of a conversation between Alastair Campbell and Martin Sixsmith at 12.45pm on Sunday 17 February.

AC: How are you doing?

MS: What is happening on the compromise deal?

AC: Well, it has run into a problem in the shape of Steve Byers. The problem is that Steve is very sore. The wounds are very fresh. He promised Jo that if she went, you would go too. Now it's going to be very hard for him to see the second part of that equation unpicked so quickly after announcing it. My own view is that we need to get this resolved as quickly as possibly and with the least collateral damage.

MS: So do you think Steve is just asking for a day or so to cool down and then he'll agree to the compromise deal? Or is he dead set against agreeing it?

AC: Well, at the moment he's pretty against it, for all the reasons I just mentioned. I think we need to give him a day or so to think about it and calm down a bit.

MS: I am not worried at all about the presentation of this. I would be happy to see the public announcement delayed and made in a very low-key way. What I am very concerned to do is to get my own position clarified as quickly as possible. So would it help if you said to Steve that we should agree the compromise deal now, get it down on paper and signed, but put off announcing it until the heat has all died down?

AC: Yes. That could be the way forward. Part of the problem is that Steve's relationship with Mottram is pretty bad, isn't it? Steve thought Mottram was going to deliver his half of the resignations deal and he didn't. So I'm not sure Mottram is going to be able to convince Steve that he should sign up to the compromise deal. Steve really does think a lot of people are out to get him, including ­ to be quite frank ­ you and Mottram. So he's being pretty robust about all this at the moment. So I think perhaps the way forward is for Mike Granatt and Richard Wilson to get more directly involved in trying to persuade Steve. I'll be talking to Wilson later today.

Should Stephen Byers remain in office? The verdicts of passengers on the 14.48 Paddington to Oxford

Ray Hocking, a first-class passenger, drew a distinction between the standard of rail travel and the ethics behind the scandal surrounding the Transport Secretary. "All I'm concerned about is the issue of rail travel and if and whether the system provides the service that I expect," he said. "I don't like those who lie but it's a fact of life.''

Mr Hocking, 55, an accountant, was generally satisfied with the rail service, but added: "I am lucky to be travelling on an efficient line."

Geraldine Beaufils, born in France, has lived in Britain for the past four years and commutes from Oxford to London occasionally.

She is stunned by how stoical Britons have been over the state of the service and the Byers row. "The British public is extremely forgiving," she said. "In France, we would have had a second revolution over this.''

Ms Beaufils, 23, a PR executive, said it was easier to fly to France than to travel by train to London's West End.

Pip Frankish, 40, a marketing manager making a business trip to London, is uncompromising in her attitude towards both Stephen Byers and British standards of rail travel.

"I hardly ever travel by train, because I work five minutes from home, but I'm absolutely appalled with the stories that I hear," she said. "It does not really bother me what Mr Byers is doing within his political sphere, but I really want him to get on with the job of running the transport system."

Katharine Halstead, a 19-year-old student who moved from DurhamUniversity to University CollegeLondon, said one of the best things about the switch was that it reduced her contact with the rail system. "The crashes in the past few years have left few people feeling confident. In the light of the Byers story, I think there is too much emphasis on personality and not enough on the job. But having said that, lying is just not acceptable, and itreflects his inability to manage people."

Andrew White, who occasionally travels to London for meetings, said his distrust of Labour had been consolidated. "It makes me angry to think about what little has been done to improve Britain's transport and I'm still coming up against the same problems that are not being addressed whenever I travel," said Mr White, 39, a marketing manager from Worcestershire. He said Stephen Byers should "knuckle down to sort out the system'' but probably did not have long in the job.

Cheryl Norfolk, who has a daughter aged four, not only finds the railway system inefficient but thinks a lack of childcare facilities makes it unsuitable for family travel. While the 33-year-old conceded that backbiting may be in the "nature of politics", she said that Mr Byers should now face justice. "I appreciate this kind of scandal lies in the nature of politics but his case has been highlighted to us and I think his image has become tarnished to a point of no return."

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