One of the things I missed when I left London to live further west was the Evening Standard, London's last remaining evening paper. Somewhere along each railway line out of London there must be a point where the traveller moves out of Evening Standard country and can no longer buy it. On the Bristol line, I guess that it comes between Reading and Didcot, that magic point at which you can no longer be a Standard reader, almost as if it were a radio station that had become too faint to pick up.
Even when I do see the Standard, it still isn't the paper that I used to know. No more Jak (the cartoonist) and his shameless seducing of commercial sponsors... Did you know about that? I can't remember which other cartoonist it was that let me in on the secret, but apparently Jak had found that, whenever he used a brand name in a topical cartoon, that firm would want to buy the original.
So, for instance, if he had a building site worker with "Bovis" writ large on his coat, someone from Bovis would inevitably ring up with an offer. But he did not stop there. He then discovered that if you mentioned more than one brand name, you could get more for it. He would, for instance, draw three building workers, one with "Bovis" on his coat, one with "Taylor Woodrow" and one with "McAlpine", and the three companies would have an auction to secure the drawing from him, thus getting a much better price.
But I did see the Standard on Wednesday. Having been to London for the day and wishing to indulge in a spot of passing nostalgia, I picked up a copy from the train's first class carriage (it's distributed free in first class) and settled down with it, when I discovered a pretty little juxtaposition that I wish to draw to your attention now.
There was a piece by Andrew Rawnsley summarising Blair's messianic speech to the Labour Party conference, in which Blair announced some of the global tasks that he was setting himself. And immediately preceding it there was a double-page spread on how fearful the people of Uckfield are that the floods from which they suffered last year will come back to wash them out again 12 months on.
What has Blair's world vision got to do with floods in Uckfield?
Well, just this. According to the writer Peter Gruner, Tony Blair said, when the flooding devastated many areas last year, that he would make sure it wouldn't happen again.
"They know the river Uck could break its banks again, causing more damage to property and possessions. Yet it was only 10 months ago that the town's leaders were promised by Tony Blair, over wine and canapés at No 10, that there would be no repeat of the devastation. Something would be done, they were promised. The Prime Minister reassured those present that there would be money available for repairs with the £51m allocated to flood relief that was announced by the Government within weeks of the deluge. To date, however, the entire county of Sussex has received only £960,000, for basic emergency work.
"In the words of Uckfield's deputy mayor Barry Murray, 'We were promised everything by the Government, but nothing has happened. Two public meetings and that's it.' "
You get the picture. If Blair promises to save the world, how much can we trust him when he has not yet even tried hard to save Uckfield?
I am sure that Blair is sincere and believes what he says. All the best salesmen are and do. But it may well be that that is what he is best at – doing the sales pitch. After-sales service, however, not so good. He is great at getting elected, much less good at governing. His speeches and visions are wonderful, but where are the results? Why aren't the trains working? Why was foot-and-mouth dealt with so incompetently properly etc etc?
There is, deep down, something of Jak about Blair's operations. Into each speech he carefully inserts such competing brand names as Care and Compassion and Community, and in the resultant rush to buy a copy of the speech, nobody notices that that's all they are – brand names designed to sell the speech.
I hope I'm wrong. But I worry.Reuse content