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Metro Mayor, mind-reading and more

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October 31, 2014

Senior Partner Marilyn Stowe was a guest on BBC News to talk about today’s headlines, appearing twice on The Papers.

During the appearances, she talks about the North/South divide in Britain, the possibility of a new Metro Mayor being appointed for Manchester and the development of a machine that could read people’s minds.

Transcript from Marilyn Stowe’s appearance on BBC News

P:                     Presenter

MJS:                Marilyn Stowe

AA:                  Anne Ashworth

P:                     Hello and welcome to our look ahead to what the papers will bring us tomorrow morning. With me are the solicitor Marilyn Stowe and Anne Ashworth of The Times, welcome to both of you and we will have a look at tomorrow’s front pages. First, The Guardian’s main story is a dispatch from the paper’s correspondent in Sierra Leone, the headline is “The world is not safe while Ebola remains anywhere”. An investigation by the Telegraph is claiming those rail passengers are routinely being denied the cheapest fares when they buy tickets at stations. One of the FT’s main stories is the Apple boss Tim Cook saying “I’m proud to be gay”. The Metro says Tony Blair has warned it would be a disaster to curb migration and told labour not to chase UKIP votes at the General Election. A report in to foreign aid spending dominates the front page of the Daily Mail with the allegation that UK cash is doing hard by making corruption worse. According to the Express, ground-breaking research has come up with five golden rules to live longer, and they include regular exercise and sensible eating.

P:                     Well let’s begin with the Metro this evening which has the story with regards to Tony Blair, “It would be a disaster to curb migration”. Anne, take us into this one and the significance of what the former prime minister is saying.

AA:                  We’re seeing perhaps the most controversial modern figure in politics Tony Blair weigh into this great row that is raging throughout the whole of politics, immigration. What Tony Blair is saying is essentially telling Miliband how to do his job; don’t follow UKIP. There is no point in you trying to be a sort of UKIP light and oppose immigration because that is not the way to go. Remember, whatever you might think of Tony Blair, he does know how to win an election; he did win three of them. I think this great senior statesmen, this controversial figure stepping back the debate and saying to the leader of his party, “don’t”, it isn’t all about immigration, he is almost about to say that it’s the economy, stupid; which is what it will be all about. Elsewhere in this magazine feature he has said something critical of Cameron but it is interesting that everybody is mostly focussing on what he thinks Miliband is getting wrong.

P:                     Interesting timing as well, Marilyn.

MJS:                 It is very interesting timing. I have to say I loathe UKIP with a passion. I think they are dividing people. I think we should be an inclusive society, I think we should welcome diverse people from different backgrounds, I don’t think we should encourage people to dislike other people simply because they speak differently or they or they look differently and I think Tony Blair here is absolutely right. I think there is completely a misunderstanding about free movement within the EU; there are regulations which cover it. I think we have to accept that there are terrible things going on in the world and we as a society have a very proud record of welcoming people to this country. What we do need is to encourage people to want to be part of the society though.

P:                     Which is fine, until you go to places where UKIP are gathering a great deal of support at the moment, where people do have serious concerns about the impact that so many new arrivals are having on job prospects, on services and that is why they are doing so well.

MJS:                I think that, again, it is dangerous to look at a minority and attach a minority. We have people here, and we have to welcome them. There’s nothing we can do about it.

P:                     And the politics of this, particularly with regards to Ed Miliband as well and how he’s doing and particularly how well he is doing in Scotland which is of such interest at the moment.

AA:                  It’s not been a great day for him, there’s been a pole which essentially would suggest that labour might be close to wiped out in Scotland at the general election given the extraordinary resurgence of the SNP. They always says it is to the victor the spoils but in this occasion is though the SNP is garnering strength since the referendum it is gaining new members, it is gaining support and gaining support from the traditional labour voters in Scotland.

MJS:                That might be a backlash though, that might actually be a backlash from the referendum. I think that perhaps the Scottish people might be thinking things haven’t quite worked out as we thought they might do and so they are going back to the SNP.

P:                     Let’s move on. Marilyn, take us to the telegraph, a scandal of rip-off rail ticket machines.

MJS:                Well, as somebody who travels regularly from north to south and south to north, I never know what a rail ticket to London and back is going to cost me. It can be several different prices and when I’ve made enquiries into how much it is, I keep getting told different prices. So, I absolutely say that this needs investigating.

P:                     Well, just to go into the details of what they say they’ve investigated successfully, the Telegraph, “customers buying from a machine can pay more than £200 for the same destination when a ticket elsewhere at the station for £100 cheaper”. This is specifically Leeds station.

AA:                  Marilyn travels a great deals and I think the message from this is that first class can be an awful lot cheaper if you go to another machine at Euston and also, there are family discounts and other ways of saving seem to be entirely hidden from you if you use one of these machines. Also the advisability of stopping short, that is actually booking a ticket to a place further, not the place you want to go to, and get off half way would be cheaper than going to the place you’re actually going to.

MJS:                 I went to two different places at Leeds station and was offered the same ticket to London at two different prices within a few minutes.

P:                      Louise Ellman, chairman of the transport committee called for the unfair system to be overhauled, “the industry needs to put things right and if it doesn’t, the government must get involved. Passengers are being treated unfairly and being forced to spend more than they should”. I sense we have heard that before.

AA:                   I find this profoundly disquieting. It doesn’t look as if any of the consumer legislation is being properly applied here in the purchase of quite expensive travel. These are not cheap tickets.

P:                      Let’s stay with the Telegraph. Marilyn take us to the other story I know both of you were keen to comment on which is the idea of interest rates staying at rock-bottom, well forever which the prime minister said would be lovely.

MJS:                 I think from the perspective of first-time buyers, keeping interest rates as low as possible is a very good thing because certainly in the north of England, people are finding is very difficult but there is a north/south divide, there’s a huge north/south divide and I think anything which encourages people to be able to afford to get onto the housing ladder has to be a good thing.

AA:                   It is interesting though isn’t it? He’s called it the home buyer boat, but what about the grey boat? There are a huge number of people out there; there are more savers than there are borrowers out there. People are growing very, very weary of there being really, really niggardly rates of return on their savings and will want somebody to blame for it.

MJS:                 Are there other forms of investment?

AA:                   There are other forms of investment but for an awful lot of people they want to have a safe cushion of money in cash, it is one of the many things I do at the paper and we get a lot of unhappy letters from people who thing even when interest rates go up, which may not now be until after the election, their rates of return won’t improve. So it is interesting. Here we have Cameron going for the homebuyer vote.

P:                      And when you’re talking about the grey vote, you’re talking about people who have saved over extensive period of time, they now want to live off some of those savings but hose savings are gaining almost nothing because of the current interest rate level?

AA:                   It is a very interesting issue isn’t it? He could also claim that these record low interest rates have helped economic revival and he doesn’t want to see that derailed by a sudden rise in interest rates. We know there isn’t going to be one of those; it is now expected not to happen, like I said, until after the election anyway.

P:                      Let’s move on because I know the Financial Times, for both of you, has got a couples of stories you’re keep to talk about. Marilyn, kick us off with, although they’ve got it at the top of the page, it is not quite the lead, it is always difficult to judge from the layout of the FT but “I am proud to be gay” says Apple’s Cook.

MJS:                  When I saw him standing on the stage, I was very much reminded of the late Steve Jobs. It was a very similar thing and the first thing that went through my mind was, fabulous PR for Apple, absolutely fabulous. Worth a fortune. But he is a brave guy. He has done something, he has come out and said who he is and good luck to him.

AA:                   It is extraordinary and it has become the biggest business story of the day. People in the business community knew but he has written an essay, come out and broken through what the call the ‘glass closet’ but it also comes at a time when Apple is resurgent. They were slightly playing catch-up with Samsung, they’ve been competitive for a while, now they want to be more resurgent in this hugely competitive sector. But it is also very interesting as to who will feel enable to follow his example.

P:                     Going back to the theme you struck a moment ago, Marilyn. Interesting point made by the FT, it came at a time when the industry faces intense criticism over its lack of diversity so there is bound to be that sense of ‘how will this look’.

MJS:                Well, I am a lawyer and I am cynical. So I go back to my point which is fabulous PR for Apple and it is following in the Steve Jobs mould, it is a similar look, similar kind of style, “here I am, this is who I am” and I thought, well, fine.

AA:                  It is interesting how it has dominated business news throughout the day. In a day where there has been quite a lot happening, quite a lot of market stuff. Interesting that, isn’t it. The human interest story will always capture the imagination.

P:                     That is the impression you get. Take us to the other one you’ve looked at. ‘Manchester to get ‘metro mayor’ as Osbourne plans extra regional powers’.

AA:                  Devolution, it is the word of the year almost. This idea that George Osbourne almost wants to create great cities outside London, the dominance of the capital over Britain’s political and economical life will no longer do and Manchester gets a ‘metro mayor’ with fairly extensive powers and that comes as though a kind of infrastructure, I think that this is a very interesting development. In the midst of everything else that is happening, are we being split? Are we staying a part as a nation following the Scots’ vote?

P:                     A ‘metro mayor’, we are talking about a mayor for the whole of Greater Manchester?

MJS:                Yes, I think that actually the theory sounds great; there is very much a north/south divide and I think that anything we improve and make it more equal with London will be great. However, concentrating power through one man or men is dangerous.

AA:                  I just think, what an amazing job that would be. Can you imagine? If constituted properly it would be as good as being prime minister; to be ‘metro mayor’ of Manchester.

P:                     I think the other interesting aspect of this, Anne going back to what you were saying earlier about devolution being the theme of the moment or one of the major talking points at the moment. It’s that sense however much London appears to want to devolve; there will always be that tension wont there between how much it allows other parts of the country to do of their own relation and how that tension will play itself out. Particularly if the political view of this particular mayor was different to that of the person occupying number 10 Downing Street.

AA:                  I kind of sense that the tectonic plates are moving. I do not think we have heard the last of the Scots’ independence, I think there is going to be more interest in what is concentrating more power in the regions. Whether that works out to the long term benefits of the UK, who know but I sort of think that’s the way things are going and it’s almost an unstoppable force.

P:                     Thank you both very much for your time. That’s it for the papers this hour.

To watch the full appearance, click here.


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