The other day my bike appeared in The Sun. Like any proud owner, I have carefully kept the cutting.
The reason for this was a colleague needed a prop for his anti-pothole campaign, catchily called “Pot Trumps”. Each day he features a large and terrifying pot hold on Instagram in a forlorn attempt to persuade Essex County Council to do something about it.
I mention this because potholes, the bane of a local councillor’s life, are about to become big news. Tomorrow [Thurs] many of us are going to the polls in local elections. In our area potholes have become one of the top items on the agenda, and I doubt we are alone. Our ward has been Conservative since the Ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, but the signs are that we will usher in a Green Party candidate. And potholes are one of the main reasons for this extraordinary uprising.
Put aside for a moment the irony of this. The Green Party’s preferred way of dealing with potholes would, after all, to be an outright ban on cars. But it does suggest that the Conservatives have forgotten a prime political rule – that (in the words of Tip O’Neill, the former US Speaker) all politics are local.
All of us have experienced the dreadful deterioration of our roads. Drivers and cyclists have all had flat tyres and worse to show for it. It is now estimated it would cost £14bn and take 11 years to fix them. But the Government is barely interested – The Chancellor did provide an extra £200m for potholes in his Budget but this is such a derisory sum he may as well have poured it into – ahem – a hole in the ground. Instead, they prefer flashy huge infrastructure projects like HS2, when most people simply want to get to work or school without having their transmission ripped out.
Potholes matter – for many they are a visible symbol of national economic success or decline, as well as a safety hazard. I predict potholes will have a significant effect on voting tomorrow. The only question is whether anyone in local or national government will take notice.
Over the Bank Holiday I met a leading script writer. “I have to go,” he said suddenly, “I have to be on strike by midnight and have a scene to write before then”. When I realised this was not a reference to a Cinderella remake, but an edict from the Writers Guild of America I was part impressed but puzzled. Impressed that an American union can impose its will globally. Puzzled, because surely a blanket strike is a blunt instrument that will take months to have any real effect. If the writers really wanted to cause disruption, surely they should simply withhold the scripts of the final, shattering episode to each series? That would bring us all to the table.
Following Richard Sharp’s resignation as Chair of the BBC, the bookies are busy preparing the board on the race to succeed him. I am not sure it will be a packed field. After all who would want a job with enormous responsibility but little power and where you are expected to resign the moment something bad happens, even when it is unlikely to be your fault?
One thing strikes me though. Given that the BBC is facing existential challenges in an era of digital streaming and vast budgets, wouldn’t it for once we good to have a Chair who really understands the media industry? Only one of the past six Chairs was a real media pro and that was Lord Grade, who rather than resign was poached after only two years to go to ITV, which says it all.
Through the fog of time
Among my various extra-curricular, I am proud to be a Trustee of the Charles Dickens Museum. I am therefore keen to recommend you all pay a visit to the Museum’s latest exhibition Fog, which examines the author’s repeated references to London’s murky pea soupers, both literal and metaphorical, through his novels. It is a sharp reminder of just how grimy our city used to be and the work we still need to do to ensure we have air fit to breathe.
Until 22nd October, 48-49 Doughty Street, WC1
Can I quote you on that?
‘The British Lion may not quite be roaring for the Coronation. But it is holding its head up high.’
Simon Wells from HSBC predicts a modest economic boost to the UK from this weekend’s Coronation.
Neil Bennett is global co-CEO of comms and advisory firm H/Advisors