Tuesday 4 September 2007

Princesses and pontificators

I’d like to begin by offering a few words of consolation to all those readers who are still mourning the demise of the people’s Princess. Unfortunately, however, I am completely unqualified to do so, because I’ve never once set foot on the Tuxedo Princess in all its 23 years tied up at Gateshead Quay.

You may think that it would be impossible for anyone to confuse a rather tired leisure venue by the Tyne Bridge with the sainted ex-wife of Prince Charles, but stranger things have happened. My lunch last Thursday was marred by accidentally sitting next to the ultimate pub bore, who was set off by a passing mention of Diana to deliver a defect-by-defect account of the Austin Princess he had owned in the 1970s, with special reference to the fundamental error in the production process that made the model particularly susceptible to rust. I was so crazed with boredom that, if a completely paralytic Frenchman had staggered in and asked if anyone fancied a high-speed run through the Tyne Tunnel in his Mercedes, pursued by a white Fiat Uno full of paparazzi, I’d have been the first to volunteer.

Diana’s end may have been tragic and untimely, but at some point it was inevitable. Indeed, people used to say that nothing in this world was certain apart from death and taxes, though admittedly that was before our beloved hedge fund managers and non-domiciled billionaire community found a way round the little local difficulty of handing over money to the Government. I believe they’re still working on death, though they may have found the answer to that, too. Let’s face it, if they have, they certainly won’t be sharing the secret with the likes of us.

Nevertheless, one still finds a lot of rather dim people pontificating about things being “inevitable”. Not so long ago, we were told that about Britain’s entry to the euro, fans of which seem to have gone strangely though delightfully quiet in recent years. I am old enough to remember when the global triumph of communism was widely considered to be inevitable. So too, in their day, were the triumphs of Hitler, Napoleon and the invincible Spanish Armada.

Last week the North East Chamber of Commerce weighed into the battle on unitary councils, calling on the district authorities not to pursue a legal challenge that could only “delay the inevitable”. The phrase “Chamber of Commerce” may conjure up for you a room full of well-fed and faintly comical local businessmen in the mould of Captain Mainwaring or Arkwright the grocer, but this body is one of the “key stakeholders” whose views apparently count for so much more with Government than those of ordinary electors.

The Chamber is no doubt right in saying that unitary councils are what the Government wants, to entrench its own party political advantage and destroy proper representation of those irritating people who live in rural backwaters and stand in the way of what the French call “grands projets”.

But that doesn’t alter the fact that it is one of the two most outrageously anti-democratic decisions of our time. The other being the denial of the promised referendum on the European Constitution on the grounds that re-branding it as a Reform Treaty makes it something completely different. This is what is technically known as a big fat lie.

If politicians persist in doing precisely the opposite of what we have voted for, how on earth do they ever expect to recover public respect or encourage greater participation in elections?

It behoves all of us to just say no, as frequently and loudly as we can, to these fundamental denials of our rights. I’m not known for my optimism but, if we make a big enough fuss, they may yet turn out to be no more inevitable than a grimly maudlin tenth anniversary memorial disco night to commemorate the Tuxedo Princess being towed down-river.

Originally published in The Journal, Newcastle upon Tyne.

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