John Street’s Diary

Written By: John Street
Published: January 13, 2018 Last modified: January 13, 2018

­­­The secrets that you keep
The annual release of sensitive official files threw up such gems as Margaret Thatcher’s refusal to share a flight to Washington with a panda. Still under wraps from the same era, however, are around 100 files covering the creation of the euro, the marriages of the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York, the Lockerbie bombing, the Scott arms-to-Iraq inquiry, and the basing of US cruise missiles in the UK. The Cabinet Office said the files were held back to safeguard national security and protect the privacy of people who are still alive.

Do you want to know a secret?
The culture of secrecy is also still very much alive. MPs have demanded the Government release another set of confidential studies looking at the potential economic impact of Brexit. Twenty-five Labour MPs have written to Philip Hammond after he revealed the work was being carried out during a session of the Treasury Select Committee in December. The Chancellor told the committee that officials had “modelled and analysed a wide range of potential alternative structures between the European Union and the United Kingdom”. Labour supporters of the Open Britain group, which campaigns for a “soft” Brexit, said the information was vital if Parliament was to hold the Government to account effectively.

The cat crept in
Those whom the gods wish to destroy… Leicestershire Tory councillor Renata Jones blogged: “I am a Conservative with a pet cat. Whilst she can’t speak to me in words, I can often understand what she is thinking or indicating, and she definitely knows her own mind. I know, for instance, that given the choice on Brexit, she would have voted Leave. She has strong opinions on immigration and the sharing of habitat resources. I like to think she’d vote Tory, and maybe one day technology or our understanding will grow enough to enable votes for cats. If she lives long enough for things to change enough for her to begin some suffragette-styled votes-for-cats movement, I’d support it. Because I truly believe she has feelings and knows her own mind. That’s sentience. And that’s the point of recent debate and outrage. I don’t own a dog, but I’d say the same for dogs. I’m sure most pet owners are responsible, love their furry, four-legged friends, and could feel the same.” Except dog-owners who felt that way would be completely barking.

­­­Oh Lord, won’t you buy me…

Adolf Hitler’s 1939 Mercedes-Benz, is up for auction on January 17. The automobile has been fully restored, and could sell for about $7 million, according to estimates. It could go for much more if there is a bidding war between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin.

Can anyone ask for more?
The wonks at the BBC research unit totted up the 162 questions Jeremy Corbyn asked at Prime Minister’s Questions last year. There were 19 on the economy, 18 on health, 14 each on welfare and Brexit, 11 on education, five on tax avoidance, four each on Grenfell Tower and foreign affairs, three on home affairs, two on business and three on unrelated topics. Not a bad spread.

Down at the doctors
The ear, nose and throat consultant Professor Arnold Maran, who has died aged 81, counted opera singers, pop stars and dictators amongst his lucrative patients. He persuaded Saddam Hussein to slow down his speech and “sound more like Jimmy Carter”. He later treated Uday, Saddam’s psychopathic son, for nose problems. “I had no idea he was a lunatic,” Maran said. “I could have been fed to the lions, when I think back.” After becoming president of the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh, Maran took a six-figure salary from NHS funds despite holding only one clinic a week. Mother Theresa almost persuaded him to do good works in India. He recalled: “Then I came back home, went to the private hospital, took out tonsils and sent an invoice.” Makes you proud of the NHS, doesn’t it?

Milk and alcohol
Merger and acquisition activity (M&A) involving UK companies showed a rare recent burst of activity. There were a total of 163 successful domestic and cross-border acquisitions and disposals involving UK companies worth £86.4 billion in the third quarter of 2017, compared with 241 valued at £33.2 billion in second quarter. Outward M&A – UK companies acquiring foreign companies abroad – was the main driver for the overall value of M&A activity during the third quarter. The value of outward M&A was dominated by one high value transaction. In July, British American Tobacco confirmed it had paid £41.7 billion for the 58 per cent of US rival Reynolds that it didn’t already own. There were 52 completed inward M&A transactions (foreign companies acquiring UK companies) in the third quarter worth £16.8 billion, a 331 per cent increase on the £3.9 billion for the second quarter. One deal involved Punch Taverns, which owns around 3,200 sites leased out for bars and pubs, which has been sold in a £1.8 billion deal. It was acquired by pan-European institutional investor Patron Capital, which specialises in property-backed investments, valuing the pub company’s equity at around £402 million.

It’s not easy being green
Paul Salveson, the Northern socialist, railways fanatic and occasional Tribune contributor, writes: “We now have a Tory Government that is limping along and should be put out of its misery as soon as possible. I remain highly ambivalent about Corbyn and his team. I’m sorry but Corbyn policy makers Andrew Murray and Seamus Milne don’t represent the sort of radical politics which appeals to me, which is decentralist, co-operative, green and inclusive. Their stance on Europe is ambiguous and verging on the dishonest. It’s a pity the Greens seem to have suffered as some of their activists have switched to Labour. A strong Green Party is needed to put pressure on Labour and ideally go into coalition with them (along with other progressive parties). So, we need a more equitable voting system, real devolution for the North, strong local government which really is local and a vision of a society and economy which isn’t controlled by civil servants in London. But we also need a vision of a future society that isn’t about centralised state control but about local and regional empowerment, new models of social enterprise, and a less car-dependent way of living.”

The power of love
Salveson also addressed the thorny problem of male/female flirting in the wake of the Westminster/Weinstein/Trump et al scandal: “Another minefield is use of the term ‘love’ (or ‘luv’). It’s a good Northern tradition but many women really don’t like it. Context is everything. So choose your ground very, very carefully before using the ‘L’ word. Again, emotional intelligence is necessary here. In South Yorkshire the blokes call each other ‘luv’. How odd is that? But that’s what they do, while if I called a bloke ‘luv’ in a Bolton pub I might get a less than sympathetic response. In Cornwall, women have an endearing habit of calling men they’ve never met before ‘my lover’. Nice, but not recommended in Wigan. And men should be careful about use of the term ‘lady’ unless there is a good specific reason. The modern woman, at least the ones I know, prefers to be called just that – a woman. A possible exception is when you are chairing a conference and you identify a female who wishes to speak. ‘That woman with the red hat’ sounds a bit blunt, whereas ‘the lady on the end row holding her pet Chihuahua’ sounds perfectly OK. Would I say that about a man holding a pet dog? Hmmm. Perhaps not a Chihuahua. So, there you are. Mind how you go.”

About John Street

John Street is Tribune's diary columnist.