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Last laugh on the Citizen's Charter

WHEN John Major settles down to write his memoirs next year, or perhaps a bit later, he will devote several pages, I suspect, to the tremendous success of the Citizen's Charter. William Waldegrave, no doubt, will receive the odd mention on the acknowledgements page, along with the secretaries who type the documents. There is someone else, however, who should be given top billing, according to Lady Wilcox, the former businesswoman from Plymouth who ran a fishing company and now chairs the National Consumer Council.

Yesterday, Lady Wilcox recalled how at a meeting at Chequers she stiffened Mr Major's weakening resolve to go ahead with his big idea. Addressing a group of people with expertise in consumer affairs, the Prime Minister had asked for ideas to show that he meant business with the charter.

'I was new and not behaving as tactfully as I have learnt to do now,' Lady Wilcox told me at her office in Victoria. 'I said he could prove it by lifting the Crown immunity protecting government. He roared with laughter, and asked whether I had anything else to contribute. I came up with this research we had already done at the NCC about the performance of the public sector. From that, he formed the charter unit.'

Ultimately, Lady Wilcox may not want to be credited with keeping this legislation on the road, but for the moment she is putting most of her energies into the project, chairing the Citizen's Charter complaints task force. But she doesn't want to be linked with the charter for ever: yesterday she told me she had not ruled out the possibility of returning to fish.

THE POSTMEN delivering letters with last week's issue of Roman Britain stamps have clearly been taking Latin lessons. To test them, Dr Leonard Rubenstein of Edgware, north London, dispatched 20 letters addressed in Latin with roman numerals, including one to his niece, Joanna Atkin, of 7 Erskine Hill, Temple Fortune, near Golders Green. It duly landed on her doorstep the following day, addressed thus: VII Suessiones Collis, Templum Fortuna, NWIX VIHA.

Robin's tips

ROBIN COOK, Labour's trade and industry spokesman, has gone up in my estimation following my discovery (via the mistransmission of a fax he had addressed to the sports editor at the Glasgow Herald, but which ended up on my desk) that he is a racing man. A racing man, furthermore, who knows his stuff sufficiently well to hand out tips in a racing column.

Until the last couple of weeks, as he reminds the editor, he had enjoyed a good run of winners, but then came last week. 'On Friday, I mistakenly thought that the overnight declarations line had said that Nordansk was running at Ascot, and convinced myself that he would win. This was stupid of me, but even so I am not sure that I deserved what happened next . . .' His tip was printed as Norstock - the only name among the runners that looked anything like it. 'Sadly for me,' comments Cook, 'Norstock was an outside no-hoper, who trailed in a convincing last.'

To avoid any future difficulties, Cook has supplied the paper with the number of his bleeper: 'I carry this with me everywhere except the bath.'

This wasn't Cook's only problem. Suggesting that he writes to an agreed length in future, he said he had noticed that 'you have had difficulty getting all of it in, and have tried to keep it down to 325 words. On Friday, the last paragraph had to be dropped. This was unfortunate, as it contained my tip for White Muzzle, which, damnably, was the only tip to win on Saturday.'

WHATEVER happened to April Glaspie, the former American ambassador to Baghdad who went on holiday on the eve of the invasion of Kuwait, having apparently briefed Saddam Hussein on the US indifference to Iraq's border disagreement with Kuwait?

Having taken leave of absence at a university in California, I gather she is back in diplomacy, this time advising Jonathan Howe, the UN special envoy to Somalia who sent in the troops and ordered the arrest of General Mohamed Farah Aideed, the Somali warlord. I'm glad she is taking no risks this time.


22 June 1893 Joseph Primoli writes in his journal: 'Gounod came to spend the day at Saint-Gratien with his old consort. He had come back to her one day, after all his escapades in England with Mrs Weldon. I put Gounod among the four greatest charmers in Paris. They are for me: Alexandre Dumas fils, Sardou, Alphonse Daudet and Gounod. Dumas has the most wit and depth, Sardou, most erudition and vitality, Daudet the most verve and poetry, Gounod has most eloquence and youth. The composer of Mireille is astonishingly young. With his blue eyes and white beard he looks like Faust in person: (you feel) his false beard is about to fall off and he'll be 20. He says things which seem to be engraved on some oriental talisman, and they fall, perfectly chiselled, from his lips. 'One is attached to people according to what one gives them. Debtors are often ungrateful, but benefactors can never be.' '