A Blackpool Cab drivers story
The longest-established taxi firm in Blackpool is called Streamline. They’ve been around forever, almost as long as the internal-combustion engine and since long before the days of radios. Streamline used to have call-boxes at various locations. The phone would ring, the driver of the first taxi on the rank would take the call and go to wherever his services were required.
Time went on and the major political parties began holding their annual conferences in Blackpool. With the politicians came the media. Television people famously like to have a drink or two, so they tend to use taxis. Independent Television News (ITN) entered into a contract with Streamline Taxis, whereby their personnel would be driven to the places they needed to be and would sign a docket for the fare. The account would be settled at the end of the conference.
One day, one of Streamline’s taxi-drivers received a call to pick up Julie Hall, who was then ITN’s chief political correspondent, from the Winter Gardens and take her to Liverpool. Julie got into the front of the taxi, a Nissan Bluebird. She was accompanied by two Labour MPs (We’ll call them Knowsley North and Knowsley South, for argument’s sake) who climbed into the back.
On the day in question, Ron Todd, the head of the Transport and General Workers Union had made a speech to conference, saying that he didn’t agree with the Labour party leadership’s stance on unilateral disarmament. Obviously the party had to do some damage limitation and pretty-damned-quick.
On the way to Liverpool, Julie lent her mobile phone (a rarity, in those days) to one of the MPs and he phoned somebody and arranged for the camera crew, which was following the taxi to ‘doorstep’ the person he was talking to. The person in question, a lady, was to act as a local resident and was told what to say.
The driver was then instructed to drive to Halewood Labour club. Halewood was the nearest place to Blackpool that had a large concentration of TGWU members, as the Ford plant used to be there.
Julie Hall worked the room, bought drinks for the people she needed to. She actually tried to pay with a credit card. In a working-men’s club, in the eighties. The taxi-driver had to lend her £50 to save her embarrassment.
Then, Julie carried out a “vox pop” (in no sense of the expression that you would recognise, since the “pop” had been hand-picked and the “vox” was pure Labour party)
Julie got a load of TGWU members (plus the lady that had earlier been ‘door-stepped’ as a local resident) to disagree with Todd and imply that he was a lone voice in the wilderness and when it didn’t suit the Labour leadership, the block vote meant nothing.
At the end of the filming, they had one of those (then) new-fangled signs which were used to advertise bingo and so forth, in flashing lights. It had ‘You’re All Wrong, Ron’, programmed into it and all of Julie’s fed-and-watered, ‘union members’ raised their glasses and cheered.
This item, which, make no mistake, was a Party Political Broadcast, went out on News at Ten, the same night. Yep. News at Ten. The flagship of ITN (the ‘I’ stands for ‘Independent’, don’t forget.)
The taxi-driver got to appear on the program and managed to get a shot of his taxi, bearing Streamline’s phone number, on there.
You may wonder what would make a highly respected political reporter like Julie Hall sell out the good name of ITN. What was her price? That all became clear at the start of the ’92 election campaign, when Neil Kinnock introduced to the world his new press secretary, the lovely Miss Julie Hall.
As things turned out, Julie backed the wrong horse because Kinnock managed to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but if he had won, as everyone assumed he would, she would have been as rich as Alistair Campbell is now.
At the time, this story was brought to the attention of all of the mainstream media, every newspaper, the BBC, even the fearless ‘Private Eye’. Their silence was deafening. None of them would touch it with a barge-pole. It seems clear that our current crop of politicians and the media are all the same breed. They won’t grass one of their own, in case they’re next.
To paraphrase Hank Williams: “Friends, this story is true. Because that taxi-driver was me.”
I won’t patronise you, the way Julie and the MPs patronised me. Google is your friend. Check it all out. If any part of my story doesn’t hold up, then go back to voting the way you always have.
Clearly the political/media elite, this greasy collusion between our elected leaders and the opinion-formers is not a new thing.
We, as a matter of urgency, need to make it a thing of the past.