Richard Ingrams' Week: Sorry, Boris, but bendy buses are here to stay

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The Independent Online

I well remember Red Ken Livingstone announcing at an Oldie literary lunch that the first thing he would do, if elected as London's mayor, would be to bring back conductors on the buses. There was wild applause.

Of course, when push came to shove, nothing of the kind happened. Not only did the conductors fail to reappear, the buses themselves – the famous Routemasters – were sent to the scrapyard to be replaced, in many cases, by the new-look bendy buses.

Now the would-be Tory mayor, Boris Johnson, is pledging that he will, if elected, bring back the Routemasters and presumably the conductors as well. It is a safe bet that, once again, the solemn pledge will remain unfulfilled. Besides which, one wonders if Boris, who rides round London on a bike, is all that familiar with the new buses. Bendy buses may get in the way of cyclists but they have the advantage that travel on them appears to be free. Passengers can get on and off without having to show a ticket. Even on the new-style double-deckers, drivers show not the slightest interest when you wave a ticket in front of their noses.

Boris, along with American tourists, may look back in nostalgia to the old Routemasters. But I suspect the voters of London quite like the new free bus travel arrangements. I suspect, too, that they have no love for arrogant cyclists who ride on the pavements, ignore traffic lights and slow down the buses in the bus lanes.

Sensationalism and police smears

"Such flaky evidence could never lead to a conviction in a British court " was one of a clutch of new headlines yesterday about the Madeleine McCann story. The report went on to quote unnamed British police sources casting aspersions on the way their Portuguese counterparts do business.

This has been a continual refrain in the McCann coverage – the idea that British police methods are in every way superior to those of the bungling Portuguese. Likewise, the Portuguese press is accused almost daily of unwarranted sensationalism and printing stories with no factual basis. The reality is that, in both cases – the police and the press – there is absolutely nothing to choose between Britain and its oldest ally Portugal.

If flaky evidence is to be the criterion, we have only to recall the case against Barry George, the convicted killer of Jill Dando, when the only evidence against him was a tiny speck of something or other found in his jacket lining.

The Portuguese police are also dismissed as bunglers for failing to seal off the McCanns' holiday flat after Maddie's disappearance was first discovered. Precisely the same charge has been made against Essex police over the Barrymore case, after Stuart Lubbock was found dead in his swimming pool. British newspapers rely in these cases on tip-offs from police, which they tend to print without question – exactly what is now happening in Portugal. A similar thing happened to Colin Stagg, falsely accused and then cleared of murdering Rachel Nickell on Wimbledon Common. Papers like The Daily Mail continued to insinuate he was guilty. They did so because that was what police were telling them.

* There are now more mobile phones in this country than there are people. Apparently, 9 per cent of the British population owns four or more phones.

They will all have been reassured this week by a report which concluded that mobile handests pose no risk of cancer – although, if you read it more carefully, the researchers admitted that it was too soon to know for sure.

Ever since mobiles were introduced, there has been a steady trickle of reports linking them with adverse reactions of one kind or another – not only cancer but memory loss, damage to the immune system, heart and kidney damage, headaches, fatigue, dizzy spells etc. The public has managed to live with all these alarming possibilities. And yet, despite the continued danger warnings from government scientists that children should not use mobiles, nobody takes a blind bit of notice.

With sales of mobiles worth billions of pounds, it isn't hard to estimate the disastrous effect that any proven link with brain cancer would have. In the meantime, along with the reassurances in the latest report, we are asked to accept that the fact the research has been part-funded by the mobile phone industry has had no bearing whatsoever on the findings.