Nobbut laiking: Ross Brewster

Date: Wednesday 4th January 2017

POLITICAL big hitters will be heading north to Cumbria once the line-up is announced for the by-election in Copeland, prompted by the resignation of Labour MP Jamie Reed, who is swapping the Commons for Sellafield Ltd., the biggest employer in the constituency.

A close call is forecast, especially given Reed’s slim majority and the fact that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn is no fan of Trident and, as far as we can tell, the nuclear industry. Will this election turn into a referendum about Sellafield or indeed about long awaited recognition of the North, and what part will Brexit play?

Mr. Reed refers to “cordial” relations with Corbyn, but the two are about as far removed politically from each other as it’s possible to get within the Labour movement. Any criticism of his resignation, which could well see a Tory or even a UKIP MP in situ by the summer, is tempered with the likelihood that Mr, Reed would have been deselected or at best isolated, by the time the next general election comes round.

In any case, the parliamentary boundaries are due to change again, leaving us all confused. Keswick, which is part of the Copeland constituency, will be looking east, towards Penrith and North Cumbria, rather than to the west.

Political commentators reckon that Jamie Reed’s departure has been in the wind for a while and Theresa May’s hit squads are already primed to turn this part of Cumbria blue. It’s said that voters are fed up with traditional parties. In West Cumbria they voted Brexit by a large margin. Is red, white and blue Brexit the winning ticket in this particular raffle?

Given the events of the past year, no outcome would be an absolute shock. One good thing, at least all those party political heavy hitters will finally get to know where Cumbria actually is. For some, leaving the cosy warmth of the sarf, it will be an experience they won’t forget in a hurry. A few might even discover that Cumbria is not in Scotland.


REGRETS, I’ve had a few, as the famous song begins. But, like Sinatra, they’ve been too few to mention.

I had already been at work for four years by the time my contemporaries from the grammar school were contemplating their first year at university.

Regrets are useless. They are invariably in the past, and the past is something none of us can change. However, I did on more than one occasion envy the opportunity that university life offered those who had stayed on and passed the relevant exams. It sounded like a lot of fun.

But nowadays I wouldn’t care tuppence for a university education. Just what has happened to our great seats of learning? I always imagined them as places of free speech, free thinking and great debate, but more and more, we hear the very opposite.

Political correctness is rife in universities across the country. When Germaine Greer is regarded as an unwelcome speaker, when students campaign for the removal of images and objects from campuses and when history and tradition are being rewritten, then these places are becoming the very antithesis of free expression.

Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, are latest figures to fall foul of the equality and diversity activists. In fact, these students offer neither diversity nor equality, well not unless you accept their view of life unquestioningly.

Portraits have been taken down from the King’s College alumni “wall of fame” following a campaign by lesbian and gay students. In George Carey’s case — actually I might disagree with him, but I respect his right to stand up for what he believes — he had the temerity to oppose same sex marriage. Once they would have called a debate, but now lily-livered officials merely grovel to these enemies of free speech.

As if this wasn’t enough, some of Britain’s leading universities are now accused of anti-Semitism. Baroness Deech, a cross bench peer and higher education adjudicator, speaks of hatred against Jews because universities are “afraid of offending” potential benefactors from the Gulf States.

In my day our universities merely turned out Cold War spies who betrayed our secrets and our agents then buzzed off to spend their final days freezing in Russia. Now we have claims that Jewish students feel unwelcome and unsafe in certain of our universities and this casts dark and sinister shadows across history.

It’s ironic that those who represent the values of the so-called liberal Left, the ones wearing the right-on T-shirts who go on demos, are usually the most extreme when it comes to banning people, changing the past to fit with their political posturing, and threatening those who take a different view. Freedom is only allowable when it’s their sort of freedom.

I have no more lingering regrets about lost opportunity. I doubt my face would fit in any of our universities these days. I just don’t “capture the diversity of the community”, you see.


DID Sir Arthur Conan Doyle once visit the Lake District and find inspiration for one of the lesser characters in his Sherlock Holmes detective stories?

What tickles me is that Langdale Pike, who is consulted by Holmes about the identity of a society lady in The Adventure of Three Gables, was a gossip columnist. Not quite Nobbut Laiking perhaps, but part of the columnists’ union nonetheless.

In the episode shown on TV last week, the role of Langdale Pike was taken by Peter Wyngarde, better known to those of a certain age as dilettante dandy Jason King in the 1970s series about a novelist who is distracted by beautiful women and real-life adventures involving international intrigue.

Dr. Watson has no regard for poor Pike. He writes for the “garbage papers”, he blusters. However, Holmes has a certain empathy with his old college contemporary, for both cut isolated figures.

In times gone by most newspapers had noted columnists who wrote under pseudonyms. The Herald’s Silverpen, Tom Sarginson, editor from 1913 to 1951, was one of the great exponents of the art — “a man of influence and fine words” wrote my own mentor, John Hurst.

Indeed, aged just 11, I already had my pen name. I was Mid Wicket, submitting weekly cricketing contributions to the local press. Yes, they sent us out to work early in those days.

Should I require a pseudonym, Conan Doyle’s character Langdale Pike has given me pause for thought. Raughton Head has a ring of authority to it, so do Harter Fell, Birkett Beck, Hogget Gill and Hartsop Hall. Kirk Stone could easily pass for a rugged American film star and Bram Crag as a horror story author. Red Screes would no doubt be an expert oil rig troubleshooter.

Short of something to do over what remains of the holidays? Grab a Wainwright, or an OS map, and start searching out the place names that must once have inspired Sir Arthur. See if you can do better than me.


THEY’RE changing guard at Buckingham Palace. The Queen, heavy colds apart, remains remarkably fit and on the ball at 90, but she has decided to pass on some of her roles to other members of what she terms “the firm”.

Whether you believe in the monarchy or not, it would be extremely churlish to suggest that the Queen does not give value for money. She’s only shed 25 of her roles and remains patron of more than 600 organisations. A royal visit can prove priceless in raising the morale of volunteers and boosting fund-raising appeals.

Those of us who have reported on royal visits know well that the Queen has an understated, but very evident, charisma about her. Yes, there have been times when the royals have got it wrong, but the Queen’s devotion to duty is beyond question. Even at 90, Her Majesty is most definitely value added.


NOW and again it’s good to see a politician get their comeuppance, as former education minister Nicky Morgan thoroughly deserved when she aimed that cheap jibe at Theresa May’s £995 leather pants. Ms Morgan was pictured 24 hours later, a £950 designer bag on her arm. If you have to be a hypocrite, at least be a smart one.

Morgan pulled out of an appearance on TV’s Have I Got News For You, no doubt aware that Messrs. Hislop and Merton were already sharpening their acerbic wit. In her empty seat was placed an expensive handbag. Very clever.

She should have recalled the time when Labour’s former deputy leader Roy Hattersley withdrew from a TV appearance at the 11th hour and the program makers filled his seat with an unflattering tub of lard.

Having been sacked by Mrs. May, Nicky Morgan probably felt spiteful and angry. In the event she just looked stupid.