- Sunday 15th December 2019, 12:23am [Edited]
- United Kingdom
- 6,946 posts
Late 1990s to 2005 - 34 to 42 (ii)
It is worth recalling too that the Lib Dems at this time were to the left of Blair on many issues, not least in their opposition to our involvement in Iraq. I still believe that Blair was considerably more Thatcherite in many ways than Margaret Thatcher. But sadly, the Kennedy era was to end in tragedy. I didn't especially welcome the brief leadership of Ming Campbell because while he had seemed reasonable enough earlier on, I found the way in which he effectively outed Charles on his alcoholism unpleasant. Behind the scenes, various people who I barely knew then were working on what was called the Orange Book. This mysterious document sought to shift the Lib Dem direction. It also ushered in Nick Clegg and people like David Laws. And just at the moment when most of the public who hardly thought about the party saw Clegg and thought "he sounds good and looks pretty" I decided it sounded extremely right wing and I didn't like it at all.
Not that in the years leading up to these events I had little time to think. On what was less than the average London salary, I was part of a very small team : I would say smaller than 25 people who were coping with a massive study which lasted years and the biggest public consultation exercise this country had ever undertaken. We along with eight temps and a bit of help from an agency were trying to cope with and in many cases respond in writing to 500,000 responses. I was the joint manager of those temps, I was in and out of technical meetings week after week after week. I was in MInisters' offices so frequently at one point briefing MPs, often on my own, face to face that I could have moved there and set up home.
We were often out at airports including on weekends. I was at ten hour long exhibitions there answering questions from a generally angry public on 20 separate occasions while the likes of opposition MPs such as Peter Lilley wandered around to observe critically what was taking place. I was in the Kent marshes at 7am with professional environmentalists being taught about bird habitats. And alongside all these things on £26,000 per annum, it was me who had to decide what to do on who to invite to tender for a crucially important study into the safety risks of birds to aircraft, then do the tender exercise, then set up the meetings, then chair the meetings including with video links to Bristol and then write the reports of the meetings, all of which was more or less simply signed off. Yes. This was New Labour's infamous six year long airports expansion study which was subsequently just ditched. I will say one thing for them. They were thorough in a way that no one has ever been since the financial crash and cut backs. In fact, I doubt few have ever done detail like it. I feel that I was working about three grades above my true grade. Being junior, I was expected to be a jack of all trades but equally when it came to environmental mitigation I was often expected to be the chief spokesman "as that's your area of interest"
Early on, the "names" were fairly unknown. David Jamieson MP. Anyone? No. I thought not. Then it was me and Tony McNulty. Then me, him and the people he wanted to bring in. McDonnell. Yes. We have to him on side. What about the opposition? Tell you what. Would you go over to the Commons and have a word with them. They have got a bit of a gathering. Who? Oh Soames, Letwin, Maude, two or three others. Yeah, right. We're all going down to the village of Cliffe for the day to tell them why we are considering building a four runway airport there. Population? Oh, I dunno. A few hundred. It's a village. Very quiet. You'll have security. Look - you know how much I rate your written notes. I know it all. But last year I was at a function at breakfast time and it was just nibbles. I had to stop off on the way back for a fry up. So could you just get onto them and say it would be appreciated if they could do bacon, egg and something this year.
And this was pretty much how it was constantly. I have to say that while I was frightened of McNulty who was later in disgrace I had no reason to be as he was very nice to me. Most of them were, whether Labour or Tory. I think they realised I was doing my best while also being out of my depth. But sometimes there were challenges not without a moral dimension. Stop what you are doing guys. Geoff Hoon is here. He wants to discuss what you are doing. What? The Geoff Hoon who was so often mentioned in the same sentence as Dr David Kelly? Hi, I'm Geoff. Oh my god. I've got to shake this man's hand. Yes. Hi.....erm, Geoff. When people talk of privileged civil servants they assume that everyone is in the senior civil service. They have absolutely no idea what it can be like as just one of the troops. My situation was very unusual and to be honest often fun but it was manic for year after year and always tough with an anxiety condition.