Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Journal of Lynton Charles. (Columns)

Magazine article New Statesman (1996)

The Journal of Lynton Charles. (Columns)

Article excerpt

Friday A BBC person calls in the early hours. Would I take part in a discussion with Bert Beria, the new general secretary of the Footplate and Rail Catering Union? Why me, I ask. "Because", says Shakira, in a Scottish accent, "they're withdrawing their sponsorship from 20 Labour MPs who they consider to have let them down."

This is bad news, I tell her, but I don't quite see...

And then it suddenly hits me that I am one of those MPs. I think I inherited all that from my predecessor, who, although a professor of politics at Oxford, was also an honorary rail worker. Indeed, I now recall that somewhere, in a forgotten drawer, I have an FRCU tie and a little badge, both depicting a crossed whistle and a sandwich knife in gold on a red background.

"Of course," I tell her. And we setup to do a phone interview in an hour's time on the Radio 5 Breakfast show (we are allowed to do that one on our own say-so; the Today programme requires clearance). It'll be me versus Bob Beria.

So 7.45 arrives and Tam patched into the programme, listening in to a conversation about how everything is fucked in yet another way that I hadn't thought of. Shakira checks that I am on the line and, within minutes, I hear myself and Beria being introduced from afar, me from London and him from his union conference somewhere in the north.

Beria's line is that he is mightily disillusioned with Labour because it hasn't nationalised the top 250 monopolies, like what it says in FRCU policy, or pulled out of Nato, and he'd rather spend the dosh wisely on people like that Hackney woman, Dana Monk, and one or two other completely isolated and influence-free far-leftists. When it's my turn, I riposte that if he was so bloody keen on Labour back in 1997, how come he was a member of the Workers' Socialist Party, campaigning under the slogan "Don't back Blair, Class Traitor"? …

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