Francis Beckett

So sad to see the AV campaign going down the tubes. It is - or perhaps was - our best chance in 100 years to stop the big parties blackmailing electors.

At the TUC last week, we were invited to discuss the difference it makes not having any labour and industrial correspondents any more.  Here's one big difference.

To the TUC to talk about how trade unions manage now there are no specialist labour and industrial correspondents to report on them, and the answer is: with difficulty.  Peter Hitchens, John Lloyd, Paul Routledge et al.

Here in Barnet, I've just had a letter from my three Conservative councillors.

They tell me the Council can't any longer give any financial help to Avenue House - a much valued local amenity, with pleasant grounds which on fine weekends are full of families relaxing. Without money, the building and grounds will swiftly become unusable through lack of upkeep.

I don't know if I've managed to get this story into a single national paper, yet it seems to me to be one of the biggest scandals of the past year or two.  The London Fire Brigade is placing its whole fleet of fire engines in jeopardy ny insisting on contracting them out to a firm which may well be wound up because of unpaid tax bills.

A very smooth young man telephoned me.  He said he worked for the company to which the Daily Telegraph had outsourced the production of a supplement for older people, and he was contacting me because I do media relations for the University of the Third Age.

I said I'd be delighted to help any journalist on the publication with an article about any aspect of the U3A's work, but we were not in the market for buying advertising space.

"Ah" he said.  "I don't think we could mention you without an investment."


I wrote earlier about former MP David Chaytor, now languishing at Her Majesty's pleasure for dishonestly obtaining £18,000 in expenses.  This morning I hear that wealthy bankers will once again, despite all the rhetoric about curbing them, be taking home bonuses of up to £9 million this year.


Former Labour education Secretary Estelle Morris, often a voice of reason, got it completely wrong last night on Front Row, when she was sniffy about the new political play, Little Platoons.  We've forgotten what radical political theatre is supposed to be like, and Steve Waters' play  Little Platoons has arrived at the Bush Theatre to remind us.

Just back from Egypt, after ten days touring the monuments left by the ancient Egyptians, stunned by the engineering marvels that these people who lived 3,000 years before Christ could build. Vast underground tombs, with several huge rooms, carved into granite mountains, every inch of their walls decorated with careful, intricate, technically perfect pictures carved into the granite walls; the graves packed with marvellous furniture and ornaments made from precious metals; bodies preserved forever by processes which required detailed knowledge of biology.

And none of it designed to benefit a single human being. They made their tombs, they hid them skilfully, and they buried their kings and priests in them. No one was ever supposed to see them. All these wonders were designed only for the Gods and the dead. It was a religion for the dead, not the living.

I've turned away broadcasters wanting to interview me about David Chaytor tonight, and I wouldn't be writing this if I weren't flying out of the country  tomorrow for two weeks, so that no one will be able to ask me any follow-up questions.

I like David Chaytor. I did not recognise the old, ill, white-haired, haunted man whose gaunt, terrified face stared out of tonight's papers.  I have happy memories of a tall, erect, dapper, kind and occasionally rather amusing man, and of an intelligent and able politician, who knew, understood and cared about the environment and education; a politician of some integrity, held back by his independence of mind - if he'd been more willing to toe the Blair line, he'd have been in government.