What's more frightening than John Prescott in a bate? Prescott on full charm offensive, as demonstrated on the Today programme on Wednesday. I nearly choked on my high-fibre oats when I heard our Deputy Prime Minister exchanging jocular pleasantries with John Humphrys along the lines of: "I'm back, John, and I want to make
our case, report some of the good things we've done. People should be talking up a Labour government, not talking it down." Commendable, positive talk, but this was a smokescreen to disguise the fact that Prezza was setting off on a whistle-stop tour of Kent to announce something he's already announced before.
Five development areas have been selected for 120,000 new homes to be built in the dreariest place in Britain, just beyond the car parks at Bluewater shopping mall and now renamed by PR consultants the Thames Gateway. As Blair goes on holiday, Prezza's giant ego demands that we all know who's running Britain; You only have to consider the 1,200 mentions he's had in the press over the past year to appreciate how badly he feels the need to keep a high profile. But in June and July his personal appearance count dismally slumped from its peak.
Old comrades (now disloyal turncoats, free from the constraints of office) such as Clare Short and Robin Cook have been making all the running in the press. Hence his blistering breakfast panto turn, exhibiting all the concern for those without an affordable home you would expect from a man who currently runs four, including one very affordable rented flat in London that he is refusing to leave. He is facing eviction proceed- ings on 24 September in Wandsworth County Court, as the RMT union seeks to reclaim a flat it rented out to him 33 years ago.
Of course, the Government is right to worry that the number of first-time house-buyers, squeezed out by high prices, has slumped to its lowest figure for 20 years. And essential workers, from teachers to nurses, face long and expensive journeys to work. But politicians themselves are doing little to stem the concentration of work in the South-east, as the number employed in running government spirals out of control. It was recently announced that new offices under construction for the Home Office and the Treasury in Whitehall are already going to be too small by the time they are finished. Do not blame the architects, but blame the ministers who don't feel effective unless they are shored up by a huge workforce. This is testosterone-fuelled politics, and I find it deeply unattractive. Did anyone ever tell Messrs Brown, Prescott or Blunkett, that "small is better"? Can you ever imagine one of these people downshifting?
In his last Budget Gordon Brown announced plans to move thousands of government workers out of London, but not, it seems, within his own department. Prescott has consistently rubbished the idea of moving work to the North and focusing his building plans there, even though he represents a northern constituency. On Wednesday he was waffling on about "keeping people near their families". I wanted to laugh. What kind of families does this man know? People in Britain go where there's work and a decent, affordable, safe and attractive place to raise their children. We've built enough motorways to link every family in Britain within a two-hour drive. Prescott should listen to the influential Institute for Public Policy, which proposes that the whole of Prescott's own ministry, which has responsibility for regional assemblies, should move to the North-east, taking 3,500 jobs out of Whitehall.
It is extraordinary that insurance companies, banks, private medical care providers and call centres can all be run from north of the Humber, but a minister whose job is to promote the wonderful diversity of our regions can only do so from a London postcode. And someone who is nominally in charge of the environment doesn't hesitate to place the precious green belt at risk in the Thames Gateway proposals, by allowing the Thurrock Development Corporation power to rule on what happens to the unspoilt land in its area of regeneration.
In spite of Prescott's insistence that transport and essential services will be fully funded and integrated into these ambitious plans, we are right to be worried. I have walked the length and breadth of Britain, and our track record at this kind of blanket development is pitiful. Even with a higher density per acre, all we will be building is smaller semi-detached boxes with pitched roofs and car-ports. There will be acres of Tarmac and little or no character. Prescott seems impervious to the idea of organic growth. Exciting places to go home to after work are mixed communities with old, new, posh and basic housing. It's not been achieved since the construction of Welwyn Garden City, and I see no evidence that it will work now. And the failures are catastrophic - from Thamesmead to Sheffield, from inner-city Manchester to the soulless estates of Tottenham and Eltham.
The Thames Gateway is sadly just another expression of testosterone-inspired political thought. The alternative - carefully regenerating the neglect- ed inner cities (from Middlesbrough to Darlington and Barnsley to Carlisle) and suburbs of the North while providing financial incentives to persuade companies to relocate - is far more worthwhile. It's cheaper, and easier to achieve. But it's not what we used to call in the world of the media a "dick on table" proposal that will get you into headlines.
Anthea hits reality
How short is a career in television? In the case of Anthea Turner, about six years. It seems only yesterday that the perfectly coiffed one was hosting The National Lottery, GMTV, and Wish You Were Here ...? You couldn't turn on the box without seeing Anthea, culminating with her crowning achievement, being awarded BBC personality of the year. An affair with love-rat Grant Bovey and a disastrous chocolate-licking photo opportunity at her wedding soon reduced her royal perkiness to the humble status of step-mum and home-maker. Now it seems she is setting out on a new career as a party planner. "It gives me the chance to have more control over how I want things done," she is told a reporter last week after organising a successful charity event at her multi-million-pound mansion. I admire this dust-yourself-off fighting spirit, especially in one so mocked. But the idea of Anthea planning a buffet, running the waiting staff and dealing with decorators - it's a disaster waiting to happen. A reality TV series must beckon.
BA telephoned 8,000 gold executive club members to apologise about their strike last week. They sent grovelling letters to another 9,000 executive club members. It was described as "a chance for us to open up a channel of communication with the public and let them express their feelings". When I tried to change one tiny bit of a ticket, I was told to get lost. Even though personal circumstances mean I am nowhere near Heathrow airport at 6am on the day I need to travel, a bossy operative told me where I can shove my pathetic pleas for clemency. "If you don't use every single leg of your ticket you will forfeit the whole ticket". I was told to put up or shut up. Why is it that BA still acts as if it is doing you a favour every time you fly? Rod Eddington has a long way to go on the PR front. You're a valued customer if you've a gold card. But where does that leave the rest of us?Reuse content