THE MOLE

How to run the railways

The Mole decided that morning to let Oswald the chauffeur have the day off on Monday and set off to London by train, alighting at Vauxhall where the Secret Intelligence Service owns a rather large building. The 06.30 was running about two hours behind schedule because of a signalling catastrophe somewhere near Woking and as no trains had previously passed down the line to London, as each station was reached another 1000 commuters tried to climb aboard. If there had been ladders on the outside of the carriages there would have been people on the roof, in the finest traditions of Third World railway systems.

Inside there was much grumbling about this not being the way to run the railways. For those of you not familiar with the British transport system, things have been a complete disaster since the old British Railways was privatised. All the money made was given to shareholders and the system fell into rack and ruin and ended up with trains crashing into one another and falling off the tracks. The whole system is now on the verge of collapse and people look back with nostalgia to the days when the trains were horrible and grimy and the staff was always on strike. With some much time to think about life, The Mole concluded that there are some things which really should be run by governments rather than private individuals.

This thought process came in the wake of the announcement that the British government has decided to appoint its own man to look after the Great British motor racing industry. This is probably a good idea because motorsport has been remarkably poor at running itself. The individual companies involved in the sport are doing all right (at least those at the sharp end where the money is) but the plethora of people claiming to represent British motorsport have been tripping over themselves to such an extent that the poor old government has no idea who to listen to.

The problem has been that the British Racing Drivers Club, the Motor Sport Association, the Motorsport Industry Association, Octagon Motorsport and all the other quangos have been getting in the way with their independent lobbying schemes and as a result no-one is being listened to. The person who appeared to have got closest to the seat of power is Sir Jackie Stewart who lives next door to Chequers, the Prime Minister's country residence. He and Tony Blair presumably discussed matters over the garden fence while conversing on the subject of daffodils.

The only problem with this approach is that Wee Sir Jackie is probably not the man best-placed to ask for government money given that for about 30 years he lived as a tax exile in Switzerland. The Mole can imagine that such a thing might irritate His Righteousness Tony Blair.

For a very short period The Mole was thinking about trying to unify all these worthy organisations by establishing the Association of Speed Sports in England and Scotland and calling up Lord Hasbeen of Drongo and asking him to represent the interest of ASSES in the House of Lords but in the end The Mole concluded that there were too many egos involved. The Blair Government has tried to avoid the industry since the 1997 scandal which resulted from a donation of 1m from Bernie Ecclestone to the Labour Party. Unfortunately this coincided with the Labour Party's decision that Grand Prix racing should be exempted from any tobacco advertisement ban and so only people who believe that Lee Harvey Oswald killed President John F Kennedy were of the opinion that everything was as it should be.

Faced with the potential loss of the British Grand Prix, Blair decided that rather than risk losing the motorsport vote (he has always loved minority interest groups) he would save the day and thus win the eternal gratitude of all concerned. Unsure as to who he should talk to (and who he could trust) and unwilling to be seen dealing directly with anyone who ever lived within three miles of Bernie Ecclestone, Blair's only real option was to create someone to do the job for him. A suitable candidate was found in the form of MP Richard Burden who happens to be both a government man and a car nut.

Burden's burden is to sort out the mess surrounding the British Grand Prix (which will involve some solid Wellington Boots and lots of conversations with men in yellow hard hats who are making a horrible mess building the Silverstone bypass). Once that job is out of the way he can look at ways in which the government can help (and/or take advantage of) the British motorsport industry.

The advantage for Blair is that Burden wants to sort out the problem although it is fair to say that if everything goes wrong Blair can blame his man on the spot and not have to shoulder the blame himself.

That aside having an MP for Motorsport is a good thing for the industry and The Mole hope that attitudes inside the government towards the sport will now soften. There is strong claim that the industry should receive more investment from government schemes aimed at building up new industry rather than trying to squeeze money out of sport budgets. Motorsport is, after all, a major export earner and a source of enormous national pride.

Click here to read previous Mole columns: The Mole Archive

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