Disappointing Virgin

The Northern Rock nationalisation, teasing Woy Jenkins and the happy story of the goose that loves L

Alistair Darling has bowed to the inevitable and nationalised Northern Rock, even if he will not let the ‘n’ word pass his lips. On the news he pretended to have a cough at the vital point whenever the interviewer backed him into a corner where he was forced to use it.

Westminster insiders told me last week that Darling was determined on two points.

The first was that he was not going to take Northern Rock into public ownership and give Vince Cable the chance to say “I told you so”. Well, that one has gone by the board.

The second was that he is determined to scotch Tory attempts to portray him as a ditherer. Those insiders also told me he has not made up his mind how he is going to do it yet.

Nationalisation was obviously the right thing to do, but the government is not out of the wood yet.

It had seemed certain to give the Rock to Richard Branson. His relations with ministers were so cordial he even accompanied Gordon Brown on his trade mission to China.

But then if I had been offered Northern Rock at such generous terms I would also be reluctant to let the prime minister out of my sight.

Now Gordon Brown may come to grasp a truth I learned long ago: there is nothing more dangerous than a disappointed Virgin.

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Roy Jenkins ended his days surrounded by Liberal Democrat activists who got their fun by trying to make him say “Muroroa”.

He deserved better than that.

Didn’t those fools know what a great reforming Home Secretary he had been under Harold Wilson?

Jenkins transformed British society by decriminalising the wearing of denim jeans, repealing the hated Corned Beef Act and abolishing transportation as a punishment for all but a handful of offences.

Yet he always had his critics, even on the Labour benches. They said he was lazy.

No doubt Aneurin Bevan thought himself very clever when he pretended to defend Jenkins with: “How could a boy from Abersychan who ends up with an accent like that be called lazy?”

It happens that I used to dabble in seaweed futures and, as a result, visited South Wales from time to time. If Bevan had taken the trouble to go to Abersychan, as I did, he would have found that everyone speaks like Roy Jenkins there.

I still remember with pleasure an evening in the bar spent listening to the locals discussing the fortunes of their rugby team in the accent and with the exquisite hand gestures made famous by the village’s most eminent son.

And to this day I buy my claret from the South Wales Federation of Working Men’s Clubs.

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I don’t read newspapers any more. There is never anything in them and Mr Patel made such a fuss when his paperboy tumbled down an abandoned mineshaft on the way to my gate.

But I make an exception for the Shropshire Star, which is full of the most interesting facts. It tells me, for instance, that last year more UFOs were sighted over Shrewsbury than any other town in Britain.

I am not surprised. It is probably those Michelin-starred restaurants in Ludlow. The county has been inundated with visitors ever since they opened.

The Star also reports that Colin -- a lovelorn gander whose fortunes it has been following -- has finally found a partner in the comely shape of Lucy from Much Wenlock.

Which reminds me of the old joke:

“My wife comes from Shropshire.”

“Much Wenlock?”

“I get my share.”

Jonathan Calder has been a district councillor and contributed to speeches by Paddy Ashdown and Charles Kennedy. These days he prefers to poke gentle fun from the sidelines. He blogs at Liberal England