OPINION: It’s the charge of the opportunist brigade

The burning question of the week is whether it’s the season or they were mad already. I refer to Alastair Campbell and the banks and building societies which form the Link ATM network. Both have certainly been behaving like mad March hares. The Prime Minister’s press secretary has always been idiosyncratic, but to announce, via the Guardian’s Polly Toynbee, that he is to make a full-frontal attack on the press - ’the prime force of conservatism’ - at a time of his choosing is going it a bit, especially since the media have been amazingly indulgent towards this Government for nearly three years.

The burning question of the week is whether it’s the season or they

were mad already. I refer to Alastair Campbell and the banks and

building societies which form the Link ATM network. Both have certainly

been behaving like mad March hares. The Prime Minister’s press secretary

has always been idiosyncratic, but to announce, via the Guardian’s Polly

Toynbee, that he is to make a full-frontal attack on the press - ’the

prime force of conservatism’ - at a time of his choosing is going it a

bit, especially since the media have been amazingly indulgent towards

this Government for nearly three years.



Heaven only knows what he hopes to achieve, since editors have a

monopoly on the last word and umpteen scores to settle by now because of

his chronic favouritism, bullying and contempt for the Fourth Estate. I

had a pretty rumbustious relationship with the Lobby but never in 11

years did I declare war. The only charitable explanation is that Mr

Campbell has lost his marbles or sees a free press as a luxury Blair’s

Britain can’t afford.



As for the banks and building societies - all 34 of them in Link - one

wonders whether they are in touch with anything other than a cash

calculator.



It isn’t as if they have no connection with real politics. After all,

Sir Peter Middleton, the big wheel at Barclays, was Chancellor Denis

Healey’s press secretary before becoming permanent secretary at the

Treasury during the Thatcher years. So it cannot be that they’ve never

heard of PR. It must be that they don’t listen to their PROs or regard

them as part of the decorations.



It simply beggars belief that not one of the 34 PROs involved failed to

counsel caution before the Link met to consider charging their customers

to draw their cash out of machines which have automated out of the

business the cost of paying them manually over the counter. To any

ordinary account holder, it is a blithering outrage that they should

have to pay anything at all for the privilege of withdrawing their cash

which they have lent to banks at miserable current account rates of

interest when the banks have made a pile out of slashing staff and

branches. And if the Link banks were in the business of service they

would think twice about ’disloyal’ charges to non-customers when they

are offering a linked service.



This is not to mention the prima facie evidence of a cartel at work in

the form of Link itself. But what can you make of any business which

contemplates milking the public of up to pounds 2.50 every time they use

a ’foreign’ cashpoint when they know that ’rip-off Britain’ is the

fashionable news story and that our opportunist Trade Secretary, Stephen

Byers is pursuing supermarkets for ’ripping off’ customers even when

they are engaged in cut-throat competition?



What’s your verdict? Barmy? Arrogant? Or, as the Express put it:

’Greedy, Greedy, Greedy’. I despair.



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