David Banks: The SNP are standing for Berwick. I offer myself to Plaid Cymru

Journal columnist David Banks on a political twist in Northumberland and a spot of controversy on the railways

David Banks
David Banks

If a ScotNat MEP can contest Berwick in the coming General Election I feel bound to announce that I am considering standing for the seat on behalf of Plaid Cymru.

The SNP’s Christine Graham, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale has declared (as if her current chunk of Caledonia isn’t enough for a body) that she wants to represent the Berwick seat at Westminster when the old warhorse Sir Alan Beith retires next year.

It’s more than a one-horse race: the Lib Dem veteran is grooming Julie Pörksen to replace him, the Tories have Anne-Marie Trevelyan saddled up and hot to trot while Labour’s Scott Dickinson currently carries the outsider tag.

Ukip, meanwhile, have made a serious miscalculation: in choosing Alnwick politico Nigel Coghill-Marshall they spurned that bibulous ex-Tory the Byreman; as a result he has offered to be my political agent when the Godzone branch of the Welsh Nationalists makes its move.

From campaign HQ at the Red Lion I am making U-turns faster than Cameron and Jeremy Clarkson put together: first I would contest the seat, then I wouldn’t, now I might. Is THAT prime ministerial enough for you?

There are problems, you see. The boys in the domino bar are all behind me: Farmer Morebottle has agreed to organise a team of canvassers from his tattie-picking squad, Klondike is making his marquee available for a press conference following the Barmoor windfarm’s champagne launch and Lawnmower is organising a rather rural collection of Election Day transport.

But the stumbling block proved to be the campaign motto. What could be more appropriate than the Welsh Nats’ own ‘Cymru am Beth’ (Wales for Ever)?

It wasn’t that the Byreman couldn’t get his teeth around it (in truth, he hasn’t got any teeth!); it was when we pronounced it phonetically.

“Cumry-am-beethe?” repeated the Byreman. “Doesn’t that sound like ‘Beith for ever’?”

Ah well, back to the drawing board.

I WAS a part-owner of the best-run railway company in Britain until yesterday.

Using senior railcards, Gemma and I can travel first-class for the price of standard, enjoy at-our-seat meals and, airline-style, free wines and spirits whenever and wherever we want in our pre-booked, spacious seats.

My most frequent journey between Berwick and London – even allowing for a pre-prandial snifter and an after-dinner snooze – provide the perfect amount of time for me to research, write and submit a Journal column using the train’s free wifi.

The onboard staff are invariably helpful and charming and, at either end of the journey, the use of a first-class lounge pass purchased with my loyalty (rail miles?) card makes a day’s travel more like spending four hours in a Pall Mall club.

But it all hit the buffers yesterday. That was when our ideologically right-on government announced that East Coast, the nation’s most successful and profitable rail company since we taxpayers saved it from private operators who pulled out because they couldn’t make it pay, was to be re-privatised by a consortium formed between Virgin and Stagecoach.

Now it would be wrong to prejudge the outcome before Virgin Trains East Coast comes into operation next March; suffice to say, however, that I currently operate my own boycott of the Virgin Cross-Country service with its cardboard sandwiches and insufficient carriages, and that colleagues who use the Virgin West Coast service to London actually become misty-eyed when recalling the ‘bad old days’ of British Rail.

The fact is that East Coast, since being taken under the taxpayer’s wing, has been an embarrassing success for old-style public ownership as far as the UK Conservatives currently running the country are concerned.

They prefer to characterise all national-owned utilities as wasteful, cash-guzzling outfits; in the case of East Coast nothing could be further from the truth.

The company requires less public subsidy than any of the 15 privately run rail franchises and since 2009 – when the most recent private owners bowed out (dis)gracefully - has proved a lucrative cash cow for the state, bringing in around £1bn to the exchequer.

So exactly what IS the point of privatising if not for blind political vanity?



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