Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Echoes of 79 in Labour's Union Woes

Newspaper article The Journal (Newcastle, England)

Echoes of 79 in Labour's Union Woes

Article excerpt


WITH the election drawing ever closer, it is hard to say which of the three stories which have dominated the political agenda this week will have done Labour's chances of a fourth term the most damage.

In a Budget week that was never going to be an easy one for the government, its cause was hardly helped by the revelations surrounding North Tyneside MP Stephen Byers last weekend.

The former Cabinet minister was forced into the humiliating position of having to refer himself to the parliamentary standards commissioner after describing himself as a "cab for hire" to an undercover reporter probing political lobbying.

As the headline on Monday's Journal editorial succinctly put it: What a way to finish a political life.

By admitting that his initial claims to have persuaded Transport Secretary Lord Adonis to go easy on National Express after it defaulted on the East Coast rail franchise were fantasy, Mr Byers effectively fell on his own sword.

In one sense, he did the honourable thing. Not to have done so would have triggered a far bigger scandal that would certainly have forced Adonis's own resignation.

Yet although Mr Byers is a politician who, in the words of the former rail regulator Tom Winsor, has an "ambiguous relationship with the truth," there remains a nugget of suspicion that his claims may not have been entirely groundless.

The idea that he may have brokered a deal with Adonis over National Express does not seem all that fantastical to those of us who know how government really works.

By contrast with Mr Byers, Chancellor Alistair Darling is certainly not a man given to hyperbole or flights of fantasy - although he has occasionally been known to blow the whistle on his own government.

He did it when he spoke of Number 10 unleashing the "forces of hell" against him following a candid interview about the recession, and he did it again this week with his comments about the 'Thatcherite' scale of the cuts that will follow the election. …

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