Stephen Byers: just how far a £5,000 cab fare gets you

3:15 pm - March 22nd 2010

by Dave Osler    

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Nine times out of ten I get the bus home like everybody else. But on those rare occasions when I pile out of Ronnie Scott’s or the 100 Club and it’s a bit too late or a bit too cold to be hanging around for the N73, I jump in a taxi to Stoke Newington. There’s change from twenty five quid, even after the tip.

So when Stephen Byers – who would have regulated the taxi trade during his stint as transport secretary – compares himself to ‘a cab for hire’ at £5,000 a day, the obvious question is just how far that fare would take a punter.

That kind of cash might even be enough to overcome any lingering traditional reluctance to go south of the river after midnight, guv’nor. Despite the extortionate rates charged by London cabbies, five grand must be sufficient to drop you off in Rome or Vienna, just in time for a bollocking from the missus for staying out late.

The irony here is that Byers’ words precisely echo the remark made by disgraced Tory lobbyist Ian Greer during the cash for questions scandal of the 1990s. It was Greer who famously told Harrod’s owner Mohamed al Fayed that people can rent an MP like they can a London taxi.

For socialists of the period, that formulation seemed to encapsulate everything execrable about the discredited administration of John Major. It summed up precisely why the Tories had to go. Those of us who then yearned for a Labour government would never have imagined that a prominent Labour politician could sink to the same depths.

How wrong we were. Perhaps it is a good job that the public is no longer all that engaged with politics anymore. Because if it was, it would surely be disgusted.

Yet Byers’ outburst somehow serves as a final shameful metaphor for New Labourism, which ultimately created a taxi party from which the super-rich could rent a law or a peerage or a passport or a lucrative PFI deal or pretty much anything else they wanted, at prices starting from a bargain basement £1,000,000 upwards.

Byers started out in politics as a member of the Militant Tendency, an organisation still regularly reviled as exemplifying all things problematic about Labour in the past. He ended up as a Blairite, representing a school of thought that exemplifies everything problematic about Labour today.

The contrast between the two is that Militant supporters were famously puritanical. Where they did bend the rules, it was to advance what they regarded as the wider interests of the working class, rather than to line their own pockets. Blairism doesn’t even have that excuse.

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About the author
Dave Osler is a regular contributor. He is a British journalist and author, ex-punk and ex-Trot. Also at: Dave's Part
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Reader comments

I was amazed to read this too in today’s news:

“LONDON – Former Prime Minister Tony Blair is to play a key role in Labour’s election campaign with a brief to target Mr David Cameron’s ‘failure’ to modernise the Conservatives.”

If the likes of Blairite ministers such as Prescott, Blunkett, Patricia Hewitt, Stephen Byers and Geoff Hoon reflect what modernisation brings to government, I suspect an awful lot of voters are going to think the less of it the better.

2. Alisdair Cameron

He’s being hung out to dry though,by the rest of New Labour who have been ever so quick to vilify him, and stress thatapart from that bad apple, everything else is just tickety-boo…

Ask a cabbie to take you home and he will. Go up to a random motorist and ask him the same thing, and nine out of ten times he won’t. Why? Because he’s got a place to get to and plans to keep to. The wilingness of Labour politicians to be hired out reflects, more than anything, how detached they have become from any greater purpose, and any sense of why they are in parliament as representatives of what was oncea great party of working people.

Pre his existence as an MP I worked with him for a short while, a more odious, grasping careerist you could not have invented.

Some others saw it too. From 2001:

“Spotting silly stories, seeing through a wimp like Byers masquerading as a cowboy, is an important addition to 21st-century literacy, like laughing at snake oil salesmen.

If Stephen Byers is given the elbow then shed no tears. He never really existed, except as a hologram, a face and glasses, nothing else. Both the person and the type must be consigned to history. He should be sacked not for a single lapse of judgment but simply for being Stephen Byers. That in itself is cause enough”.

Yes, all very well, but he ascended to high office with all the power that entailed. What does that say about New Labour, Parliament and the other institutions of government?

Dave Osler: “The contrast between the two is that Militant supporters were famously puritanical.”

Cough, splutter, Degsy.


He’s now selling golf courses in Spain, from what I remember Alexei Sale’s documentary about Liverpool said last year. So much for socialism…

News update late on Monday 22 March:

“Three former cabinet ministers are to be suspended from the parliamentary Labour party after being recorded for a documentary on political lobbying. Stephen Byers, Patricia Hewitt and Geoff Hoon will be suspended following reports in the Sunday Times and a Channel 4 Dispatches programme.”

It seems that after 12 yrs in power, any party starts becoming somewhat rotten.

@6 @7
Derek Hatton’s a reprehensible piece of shit, but he being so doesn’t discredit the wider bulk of the Militant Tendency. Although, in the public imagination, I’ll admit he’s done more to do so than any political condemnation could ever do.

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    RT @libcon: Stephen Byers: just how far a £5,000 cab fare gets you

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    Agree with most of this RT @libcon Stephen Byers: just how far a £5,000 cab fare gets you

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