For some years I’ve only subscribed to one conspiracy theory. It allows me to claim that I don’t dismiss them out of hand for being conspiracy theories but ensures that I don’t come across as some nutter who believes everything I hear.
No doubt one or two people want to know what this amazing conspiracy theory is, so…
The Withered Arm was a perfectly good and generally profitable rail network closed down by the Western Region in 1966 because they wanted to get rid of their old enemy.
(By way of explanation – skip this bracketed bit if you want to get to the point – the Withered Arm was the London and South Western Railway’s network of lines in the West Country – generally those beyond Exeter, serving (or purporting to serve) such wonderful places as Mortehoe, Ilfracombe, Torrington, Hole, Bow, Okehampton, Bude, Tintagel (ok, this was accessed from another station – why it didn’t just have one named after it isn’t clear, since Port Isaac Road station was happily named after somewhere three miles away), Padstow, Tavistock, Gunnislake and Bodmin. The mainline finished up in Plymouth. It was built to compete with the Great Western’s mainline along the Devon Riviera. There was a sort of truce for many years whereby the LSWR’s successor, the Southern Railway, allowed the network to wither away with minimal investment and the Great Western didn’t object.
After nationalisation created British Railways, the Great Western became the Western Region and the Southern Railway became the Southern Region. The conspiracy theory is somewhat undermined by the fact that in 1963, while the network was still under Southern control, Beeching suggested shutting the lot (with the exceptions of the lines to Okehampton and Barnstaple). In 1964 there was a minor argument over modernisation of the network and whether Beeching’s idea was actually going to be implemented; the result was that the Southern lines west of Salisbury were passed to the Western Region. Tavistock to Okehampton plus the lines to Bideford, Bude and Padstow went pretty quickly, despite suggestions from one Gerard Fiennes that Bodmin to Padstow was an example of a branch line that should be kept and promoted better. Tavistock to Bere Alston, Barnstaple to Illfracombe and Yeoford to Okehampton followed a few years later. A few bits survive and there is a long-running feeling that much of the network should be brought back. The Western Region rather bungled the closure process, with various timetable changes driving away most of the passengers by adding unnecessary timetable padding (for example, the 20 minute journey from Tavistock to Okehampton was followed by 20 minutes at Okehampton before the train proceeded to Exeter.) This bungling was part of the basis for the theory; the rest is based on the idea that the GWR never really liked this awkward competitor in its territory which for some years around 1900 offered better London to Exeter journey times.)
So what’s this apropos of? Mostly the events of the last few days. Not Gaddafi (though it is most convenient for the UK and US governments that he’s not going to get to talk except with the help of an Ouija board) but the enthusiasm in the three main political parties for sitting on a referendum on EU membership.
This “debate” has been precipitated by a petition on the Government’s petitions website calling for a referendum. The Tories have been vaguely keen and the Lib-Dems had it as a policy. But it seems it didn’t make it into the Coalition agreement and naturally this can’t be disrupted just because some people have other ideas. So a party in favour of a referendum is now going to whip its MPs to vote against.
So much for direct democracy.
This has prompted me to subscribe to another conspiracy theory:
The UK is in fact run by a tribe of giant lizards who seem to have a fondness for empire building and red tape.
It explains everything. There has been a suggestion of removing red tape from business but the lizards said no so we’re going to get more red tape instead. We consider a referendum on EU membership and the lizards duly call the three party leaders into their lair to say the following:
The public voting to get out of the EU would mean our empire shrinking and reduce red tape. We can’t have that. If you hold a referendum we’ll eat your children.
(This is the problem of having younger party leaders. Wilson, Callaghan, Thatcher and Major would have known that their children were big enough to stick up for themselves against a few reptiles. Heath, of course, would have had to be threatened with something else. Maybe they would have played Beethoven’s Fifth out of key on his piano.)
The response is quite reasonable. The leaders sit on the referendum despite the fact that the British public, being a bit conservative in outlook and opposed to fussing too much about anything, would probably vote for the status quo and allow the Government to shut up its rebels. And the perception of politicians in the public eye continues to shrink and Cameron’s opportunity to look good in the wake of Gaddafi’s death (though why killing barking defenceless old men in rural locations makes politicians look good I have no idea) is generally blown on an entirely unnecessary row with his own party.
Cameron has great political nous. He can see a scandal coming from ten miles off. But he never does anything about it. He could apply the brakes, take the next right, do a U-turn. Sometimes he does do these things, but generally not until he’s halfway through the storm. He seems to lack political will and drive. Unless he thinks brassing off his party counts as political will…
I once had a discussion with a friend on the EU where I supported it on economic grounds, he opposed it on political grounds and we both agreed that the other had a point. It would be helpful all round to have a general discussion on the point, particularly if the Government wants to renegotiate our relationship. Shutting down the debate is Bad and starts to get Cameron close to ticking the boxes he says were ticked by the various leaders who were chucked out in armed revolts earlier this year (primarily “not listening to the people” – always tricky, but generally includes discussing petitions on your petitions website when you said you would).
Still – if that’s what the lizards want…