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
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.