Eat British beef, Mr Hogg? What a charming idea!

Share
Related Topics
REPORTS in some of last week's papers suggested that Douglas Hogg, the Agriculture minister, would soon get the sack because of his abject performance over the beef affair, and in particular his failure to convince other countries in the European Union that Britain had taken - that hopeful phrase - all the necessary measures to obliterate mad cow disease. It was, according to the Daily Telegraph, a failure of "style, substance and probably fatigue ... Mr Hogg failed miserably to woo the Europeans with Old Etonian charm".

I wonder about that last idea. Is there some form of charm that is recognisably Etonian? Would you know it if you met it in the street? I know some charming old Etonians. Alexander Chancellor, former editor of the Independent's Saturday magazine, is delightful and Charles Moore, the Telegraph's editor, equally so (though maybe not in the eyes of some people who have recently left his staff, the "wobbly thinkers" - pinkoes, liberals - whom the proprietor, Conrad Black, had on his Blacklist). There are even a couple of Old Etonian charmers on the next page: Neal Ascherson (away this week) and Craig Brown in the shape of Mr Wallace Arnold. But would they have been charming in any case or is it something they learnt with the Boating Song? Does their charm have any uniformity? I can't think it does, other than in one respect that when you have finished your delightful evening/lunch/weekend with them, you're left with the worrying suspicion that they may have found you less charming than you found them.

That was never my problem, however, with Douglas Hogg. When the Telegraph reported that "the Europeans got a false impression and thought he was arrogant", I had a quick bark of laughter. Twenty-odd years ago, Hogg as a young barrister used to do freelance work for another Sunday newspaper, reading proofs for potential libels. Journalists such as myself would bring their stories to him and ask his views on this or that hazard. Although you were on the paper's staff and he had just popped over from chambers in his braces to earn some dosh, you were never left in any doubt about his view of the relationship. Arrogant is a kind way to put it. He was insufferable. If the future of the British beef industry hangs on his powers of persuasion, have pity for the farmers, hard as that may be.

IT IS now very difficult to travel by train. I don't mean that the experience is unpleasant, though it sometimes is. I mean that the experience is becoming difficult to have, because the railways, in their sad and fragmented state, do not want you to have it. Last week we went to a wedding in Clitheroe, Lancashire, and I thought it would be sensible to take the train, which I knew you could do by changing at Preston and Blackburn. We tried to book tickets on the phone to Euston. This was such a stunning request (Clitheroe = Omsk Tomsk) that the booking clerk couldn't cope. In our first call, he was able to trace a connection as far as Blackburn then came a long silence before the phone went dead. The second call had the same result. At the third call another clerk did manage to locate a train to Clitheroe, though she implied that our project was unwise ("It's not an easy place to come back from"). Then came some lengthy negotiations about the tickets - which trains allowed Apex returns, which would let you on with a Superadvance, whether we would need to shell out the standard fare. The clerk sighed in her confusion.

The journey itself was entirely predictable. You will have read many similar accounts in this paper's column on the absurdities of railway privatisation. The concourse at Euston had the usual religious feel; crowds waiting in front of the departures board, praying for a sign from God. Trains to Birmingham, Liverpool and Manchester had been cancelled; the local service to Watford had been wiped out for the day. Our own train was late - a points failure at Watford, another at Preston - and we missed our connections. Sitting among the bleeping video games in Preston's platform bar, it was easy to resolve to take the M1 and M6 next time. And that, for someone who still believes in the social and environmental good of public transport, is a very sad resolution to make.

THERE are still many fine things about Britain's railways. The food and service in the restaurant car to Preston were good; Clitheroe, when we got there at last, turned out to have a beautifully restored little station - thanks to local government enterprise, it was reopened a couple of years ago - which was staffed by a young man who had an old-fashioned knowledge of train times and connections. Why can't it all be like this? The answer is lack of investment and political commitment. The Labour Party has promised to rectify both, but the doubts grow over how much money or commitment can be read into Tony Blair's pledge to restore a "publicly owned, publicly accountable railway". Probably not very much; perhaps even nothing at all. The pledge might just be a complicated exercise in linguistics, or a downright lie like "read my lips, no new taxes".

IN THE meantime, I have a suggestion. The Labour Party, as a racing certainty as the next government, should raise money in the City and buy Railtrack in a single bid. About pounds 2bn should do it. Then, when it is the government it can hand back the pounds 2bn and be the proud owner of the railway system, if not the trains. Of course, there will be interest charges and you may raise the objection that the Labour Party is not the same entity as the British government, and in any case doesn't stand a cat's chance of raising pounds 2bn through Lazard Bros. But shouldn't somebody - if not the Labour Party then a lobby group such as Transport 2000 - be thinking of something along these lines? Even the tiniest shareholding would allow them to embarrass annual general meetings. Do we believe in this famous stakeholder society or not?

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Office / Sales Manager

£22000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Established and expanding South...

Recruitment Genius: Administrative Assistant / Order Fulfilment

£14000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join a thrivi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped OTE: SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consulta...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Syria's Kurds have little choice but to flee amid the desolution, ruins and danger they face

Patrick Cockburn
A bartender serves two Mojito cocktails  

For the twenty-somethings of today, growing up is hard to do

Simon Kelner
Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones