Crow forgets the peace message

AT the weekend I went along to the Burston Strike School Rally near Diss, one of the biggest events on the calendar of the Trade Union and Labour movement - in East Anglia at any rate.

AT the weekend I went along to the Burston Strike School Rally near Diss, one of the biggest events on the calendar of the Trade Union and Labour movement - in East Anglia at any rate.

Tony Benn was the biggest-name speaker at the event, and singer songwriter Billy Bragg - an icon of the Labour movement - provided the entertainment during the afternoon.

I have to say this was one of the nicest events I've been to for many year.

There was a slightly surreal quality to some of the stalls - the Communist Party was there, the Communist Party of Great Britain, the Socialist Party, and the Socialist Workers' Party.


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Remembering Monty Python, I almost felt tempted to rush up to them and shout “splitters!”

But while the rally certainly attracts what used to be referred to as “Loony Lefties,” it now has a far more mainstream element as well.

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Labour Euro-MP Richard Howitt was there having a great time with his family, and half the Labour group from Ipswich council seemed to be there too.

The march which launched the event was led by Mr Benn on a horse and cart and the banners were a truly colourful sight.

My eye was especially caught by the banner from the Hoxne Labour Party - you can't help but admire the people who keep the Labour fire burning in places like Hoxne which are only ever fought over by the Tories and the Liberals!

Of course the weather helped to bring the people out - a perfect late summer day after an indifferent season.

People kept saying they hadn't seen so many there before, and a clear indication of how well the day went was that the beer tent ran dry shortly after lunch - and supplies of fresh bread rolls had to be collected from Tescos in Diss to keep the hotdogs coming!

Tony Benn's speech concentrated on the peace issue, and frankly I'd heard much of it before from news reports and his one-man show at the Ipswich Regent a few years ago.

But it went down very well with the audience - as did Billy Bragg whose songs with a political message hit the spot perfectly.

Seeing Richard Howitt joining in the chorus of Bob Marley's “One World” re-worked with a message about third world debt was a real treat.

This was the first time I'd been to an event like this since I was a student more than 25 years ago, and what struck me about this was that it attracted a wide age range and political mix - from the left of the political spectrum of course.

The final “big name” speaker was firebrand Rail Maritime and Transport union leader Bob Crow who seems determined to become the Arthur Scargill of the 21st century.

He made a blistering speech calling for private education and health to be banned and hit out at the sale of council houses.

The Ipswich Labour councillors I saw after the speech were far from impressed - one was even wondering why he had been allowed to pick up the microphone in the first place!

And in fact Mr Crow's message seemed totally at variance with the mood of the day. Everyone else there seemed to be talking about peace and co-operation, and there he was talking about class war and smashing the “system.”

But then by the time he got up to speak, not many people were listening anyway!

THIS week saw the fastest ever train from London to Paris, completing the journey between western Europe's two greatest capitals in just over two hours.

On time alone then the train is now by far the quickest way of travelling from London to Paris - St Pancras to the Gare de Nord really is city-to-city far more than Heathrow to the Charles de Gaulle airport.

The completion of the high-speed rail route from London to the Kent coast has speeded journeys up considerably and shows that we can have a high-speed rail service in Britain.

Is it too much to ask that in the future similar high-speed rail links can be created between cities in Britain, from London to Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, and Newcastle.

It would be good to have a high-speed link from London to Ipswich and Norwich - but somehow I don't think a 40-minute journey time from Suffolk to Liverpool Street is going to happen in my lifetime!

I CAN'T help thinking there are some real lemmings in the Conservative Party - and now former deputy leader Michael Ancram has joined the lemming faction!

So long as there are influential people in the party prepared to spout off nonsense that what is needed is a good dose of Thatcherism, the party will never regain the position it had 20 years ago.

What people like Mr Ancram and other stuck in the mud Tories need to realise is that they didn't lose the last three elections - very badly - because they weren't Thatcherite enough.

They lost the three elections because Britain has moved on since the 1980s - and the solutions that may have been needed then are not palatable now.

David Cameron is the first leader the party has had since then to recognise that Britain is a different place and he is the first to offer them a real chance of a revival in fortunes.

He's still got his work cut out if he is to beat the prime minister in the next general election - but with him and modern policies the party stands a chance.

If it listens too much to the siren voices of the right, like Mr Ancram, then it is facing a certain fourth election defeat!

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