Toyah and cancer

'Perhaps the Travelodge likes to list the first name of every employee on these badges and then bene

I spend a good portion of my year on the road and so have much experience of this country’s cheaper hotels. This week I stayed at the Manchester Ancoats Travelodge. Can my life get any more glamorous?

It's a fairly basic hotel, but right next door to the Frog and Bucket where I was performing and thus very convenient for the drunken stagger back from the club. The venue had booked me in, but when I got there there was no record of the booking. Luckily there were rooms available, but I was at reception for a good ten minutes trying to sort out what had happened.

I noticed that the receptionist was wearing a badge with her name on it. Her name was Toyah - I imagine her mum became impregnated whilst "I Want to be Free" was on the radio.

Toyah was written in large letters in the centre of the badge, but beneath it in smaller letters was the word "Cancer".

I wondered what this meant. Was her name really Toyah Cancer? I suppose it's possible, though that makes her sound like a punk from quite a poor band from 1976. So if not that then what?

Does Travelodge put the star sign of each of its employees on their name badges? This would seem like a very odd thing to do, almost like imposing a religious philosophy on everyone who works there.

What if you don't believe in astrology? Wouldn't it be pandering to people who think they can lump you into one of a dozen groups of types of people? Surely there must be some law against labelling people in this way?

Alternatively perhaps the Travelodge likes to list the first name of every employee on these badges and then beneath it list any disease that they are currently suffering from.

This would seem a bit more intrusive and I hope it's not the case as Toyah was young and it would be a shame for her to be stricken down with such an awful condition and then be forced to wear a badge letting everyone know.

At least, if this is the case, I could be sure that she didn't have herpes. So there are some advantages to the system. But if that's the case then the Travelodge organisation is akin to the Nazi regime. Surely it would be illegal to do this, even were it voluntary.

I was tempted to ask her why her badge said "cancer" on it, but was more concerned with getting a place to sleep sorted out so it slipped my mind. But in a way it's more fun not knowing. Did she just have an unusual surname, was she born in late June or early July or did she have a tragic illness? Or is there some other explanation I hadn't thought of?

Possibly the Travelodge likes to put the latitude of birth of each of its employees on their name badge, usually this would be a number, but as this woman happened to be born 23° 26′ 22″ north of the Equator, right on the Tropic of Cancer, they have been able to use the word rather than the numbers. No, that doesn't seem too likely.

It's good to have mystery in one's life and I guess one of you may be able to answer this conundrum, but I am not sure I actually want that.

Mystery can be better than knowledge.

Richard Herring began writing and performing comedy when he was 14. His career since Oxford has included a successful partnership with Stewart Lee and his hit one-man show Talking Cock
Getty
Show Hide image

Forget the progressive alliance - it was the voters wot won it in Richmond

The Labour candidate on how voters have acted tactically for decades.

The Richmond Park by-election is both a triumph and a setback for the concept of an anti-Tory progressive alliance. As the Labour candidate, I was bombarded with emails and tweets saying I ought to stand down to prevent Zac Goldsmith being re-elected long after it was technically impossible for me to do so even if I had wanted to. I was harangued at a meeting organised by Compass, at which I found myself the lonely voice defending Labour's decision to put up a candidate.

I was slightly taken aback by the anger of some of those proposing the idea, but I did not stand for office expecting an easy ride. I told the meeting that while I liked the concept of a progressive alliance, I did not think that should mean standing down in favour of a completely unknown and inexperienced Lib Dem candidate, who had been selected without any reference to other parties. 

The Greens, relative newbies to the political scene, had less to lose than Labour, which still wants to be a national political party. Consequently, they told people to support the Lib Dems. This all passed off smoothly for a while, but when Caroline Lucas, the co-leader of the Greens came to Richmond to actively support the Lib Dems, it was more than some of her local party members could stomach. 

They wrote to the Guardian expressing support for my campaign, pointing out that I had a far better, long-established reputation as an environmentalist than the Lib Dem candidate. While clearly that ultimately did little to boost my vote, this episode highlighted one of the key problems about creating a progressive alliance. Keeping the various wings of the Labour party together, especially given the undisciplined approach of the leader who, as a backbencher, voted 428 times during the 13 years of Labour government in the 1990s and 2000s, is hard enough. Then consider trying to unite the left of the Greens with the right of the Lib Dems. That is not to include various others in this rainbow coalition such as nationalists and ultra-left groups. Herding cats seems easy by contrast.

In the end, however, the irony was that the people decided all by themselves. They left Labour in droves to vote out Goldsmith and express their opposition to Brexit. It was very noticeable in the last few days on the doorstep that the Lib Dems' relentless campaign was paying dividends. All credit to them for playing a good hand well. But it will not be easy for them to repeat this trick in other constituencies. 

The Lib Dems, therefore, did not need the progressive alliance. Labour supporters in Richmond have been voting tactically for decades. I lost count of the number of people who said to me that their instincts and values were to support Labour, but "around here it is a wasted vote". The most revealing statistic is that in the mayoral campaign, Sadiq Khan received 24 per cent of first preferences while Caroline Pidgeon, the Lib Dem candidate got just 7 per cent. If one discounts the fact that Khan was higher profile and had some personal support, this does still suggest that Labour’s real support in the area is around 20 per cent, enough to give the party second place in a good year and certainly to get some councillors elected.

There is also a complicating factor in the election process. I campaigned strongly on opposing Brexit and attacked Goldsmith over his support for welfare cuts, the bedroom tax and his outrageous mayoral campaign. By raising those issues, I helped undermine his support. If I had not stood for election, then perhaps a few voters may have kept on supporting him. One of my concerns about the idea of a progressive alliance is that it involves treating voters with disdain. The implication is that they are not clever enough to make up their mind or to understand the restrictions of the first past the post system. They are given less choice and less information, in a way that seems patronising, and smacks of the worst aspects of old-fashioned Fabianism.

Supporters of the progressive alliance will, therefore, have to overcome all these objections - in addition to practical ones such as negotiating the agreement of all the parties - before being able to implement the concept. 

Christian Wolmar is an award winning writer and broadcaster specialising in transport. He was shortlisted as a Labour mayoral candidate in the 2016 London election, and stood as Labour's candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016.