Diary

ConHome Diary: Washington Beckons, Trumpery & Why Southern Rail Is Not Fit to Run a Franchise

13 Jan 2017 at 13:53

Next week I’ll be writing this diary from my favourite city in the whole world, Washington DC. It’s my first visit there since the autumn of 2012 when I covered the re-election of Barack Obama. This time I’ll be there as Donald Trump will be sworn in as President during my LBC Drivetime show. Washington in January can be a very cold and bleak place, but on a sunny winter’s day it can be very beautiful indeed. My great fear is that we get one of those famous east coast snowfalls, though. Normally I’d regard such a thing as a great adventure, but seeing as my Dad’s funeral takes places on Monday I have this natural fear of not getting back in time.
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Regular readers will know that I don’t have a massively high opinion of America’s new president. However, even I had some sympathy this week when he had to deal with unverified and rather lurid allegations involving Russian and activities which The Sun described as ‘cavorting’ – one of those words beloved by tabloid newspapers but rarely used by normal people in real life. What has it come to when so-called reputable news organisations publish what can only be described as tittle-tattle? The BBC’s Ten O’Clock news programme on Wednesday was among the worst offenders, revelling in providing viewers with full details of all the single-sourced allegations and their reporter Paul Wood sounding as anti-Trump as you could be. Contrast that with the ensuing saccharine-based report from Chicago on President Obama’s farewell speech. It was as if he had died. The reporter did everything but break down in tears at the departure from office of this allegedly titanic figure. The contrast in the respective treatments of Donald Trump and Barack Obama could not be more stark. BBC television news editors should look at their own editorial guidelines, for I am pretty sure they breached them on Wednesday.
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I come into London most days by train, using the Tonbridge line into Charing Cross. It’s run by Southeastern Trains. By and large the service is not bad, with most trains running to time and with relatively modern rolling stock. Southeastern is run by the same company as Southern Rail, Govia. How this company can run one franchise area quite efficiently, while appearing to be completely incompetent in the neighbouring one is something only they can explain. It may well be the case that the two rail unions, ASLEF and the RMT continue to hold them to ransom over the operation of Driver Only Operated Trains, but Southern Rail has been a shambles for some time. Passengers on Southern are at the end of their collective tether. The Transport Secretary is a man who prides himself on being knowledgeable about the railways, and indeed I can vouch for the fact that he is. As a commuter himself, he will also be familiar with the frustrations of passengers who cannot rely on their trains to get themselves to work each day. I think the time is rapidly approaching – and some would say it passed a long time ago – for him to intervene and relieve Govia of the Southern Rail franchise. Their management have proved themselves to be complete and utter failures. The only thing stopping him is the fact that he couldn’t be seen to be giving into the rail unions over DOO trains. But this situation cannot be allowed to continue for much longer, as the local MPs are no doubt telling him.
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Over Christmas we bought a rather large new television. Since then I’ve hardly watched any normal TV and instead have been binging on series via Netflix and Amazon Prime. On Wednesday night I finished watching THE CROWN, a ten episode drama detailing the early years of The Queen’s reign. It’s one of the best things I have seen on TV in years. It must have had a massive budget given the lavish sets. The acting is brilliant, especially on the part of Claire Foy who plays The Queen and Matt Smith who plays the Duke of Edinburgh. The stars of the show in many ways are the two actors who play Princess Margaret and Sir Winston Churchill. It’s worth a subscription to Netflix on its own. The other series I’d recommend is DESIGNATED SURVIVOR, if you like politically themed dramas as much as I do. Kiefer Sutherland is the star, and he plays a junior US cabinet minister who is thrust into the Presidency after the entire US political establishment is killed in a terrorist attack on Capitol Hill during the President’s State of the Union address. Rather like an MP is held hostage during the Queen’s Speech, a member of the US cabinet or Congress has the same experience during the State of the Union, and on this occasion that duty falls to Sutherland. The series then tracks the aftermath and the challenges Kiefer Sutherland faces as a rather hapless and inexperienced politician who has greatness thrust on him. It’s preposterous in many ways, but hugely entertaining. Finally, if you have Amazon Prime, take a look at THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE. It’s a counterfactual drama set in the United States in the early 1960s with Germany having won World War Two. The USA is split into three with Germany occupying the eastern and central US, the Japanese the West Coast and a neutral zone in between. It has a bit of a slow start, but once you get into it, it’s quite gripping. And if you don’t like that there’s always THE GRAND TOUR, starring Jeremy Clarkson and his two mates!
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If you haven’t already done so, do download my weekly BREXT BRIEFING podcast on iTunes. It’s posted each Friday morning and this week features a sparky debate between Nicky Morgan and UKIP leader Paul Nuttall.
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That awkward moment when you’re cabinet minister meeting an ex cabinet minister for breakfast in a posh Westminster eatery, and the waiter decides to sit you at the next table to two of Westminster’s biggest gossips. All I’ll tell you is that Andrew Pierce and I weren’t the cabinet ministers… Suffice to say they insisted on moving to a table over the other side of the restaurant. Was it something we said?!

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