Roses for the Minister

thoughts_20_aIn her autobiography Fighting All the Way in 1993, Barbara Castle, Minister of Transport at the time of the 1968 Transport Act wrote:

"A source of satisfaction was what I was able to do for the canals. I had always been fascinated by inland water­ways. I had been on a couple of canal holidays with Jimmie and had been struck by how quickly one could escape from drab industrial surroundings as one slipped between the hedges lining the towpath in a flat-bottomed boat. I believed that messing about in boats was a leisure activity which should be increasingly available to everyone.

"I was therefore horrified to discover that one of the Treasury's money-saving exercises in 1967 involved closing down miles of inland waterways which were no longer commercially viable. I was alerted to the danger by a vocal band of canal enthusiasts led by a certain Mr Monk, whose main political weapon was verbal vitriol to be thrown in the faces of all politicians. I did not need any kind of threat to launch me into the attack because my heart was in their cause.

"Getting money out of the Treasury at that moment of economic crisis was like the proverbial getting of blood out of a stone, but when I moved in on Jack Diamond, who as the Chief Secretary to the Treasury was responsible for cutting public expenditure, I found he was human after all, or as human as his job allowed. I got him to agree to give me enough subsidy to keep open 1400 miles of non-commercially viable canals for pleasure cruising; we called them 'leisureways'.

"Jack stipulated, quite rightly, that the job of opening up and maintaining further stretches of disused canal would have to fall on the voluntary bodies. In fact the voluntary canal societies have responded magnificently, as I found when as Euro-MP for one of the Manchester area constituencies I was made president of the Huddersfield Canal Society and attended their annual canal festi­val.

"When my White Paper on inland waterways was published I enjoyed one of the few rewarding moments in a minister's battle-scarred life. I walked into my ministerial room to find my civil servants staring at a large bunch of red roses from the vitriolic Mr Monk, who had been a thorn in all our sides."
Thoughts_20_bMaking just a few changes to the words, it could all have been written recently. We don't know whether Captain Lionel Munk, Chairman of the IWA at the time, would have been flattered to have been thought 'vitriolic'. In IWA's Bulletin 86 in January 1969, Captain Munk wrote:

"The principle of a Waterways Trust to run the amenity canal network has been rejected by the Government, which does not mean that it has been officially abandoned by IWA"

"Our present intention is that the attitude of IWA to the authorities in the immediate future will not be continually antagonistic. Nor will we be following a policy of complete and blind co-operation"

"We for our part must appreciate that, particularly in the present most difficult circumstances that finance is of almost over-whelming importance."

"We are obliged for the letters writtten by our Members to their MPs and we are grateful to the Members of each House of Parliament who supported us so well." "John Dodwell [IWA Honorary Assistant Treasurer] has got through a tremendous amount of work and has been of the greatest help to me in the drafting of letters to the Ministry and Members of Parliament".

But there was nothing about anyone but Captain Munk contributing to the whip-round for the roses for the Minister ...
Thoughts_20_cJohn Dodwell, in IWAs Waterways 235 in Spring 2012, recalled working on the 1968 Transport act for IWA, and now as an interim trustee for C&RT wrote

"The long standing IWA slogan of 'Waterways for All' will continue to strike a chord ... Gone are the days some of us remember when BW gave the impression they didn't need help. ... I see the waterways continuing to need a vigorous IWA. ... We have a good background for working together and taking the best out of BW and its management, and the voluntary movement."

The C&RT legislation still has some parliamentary debate to go through before the June transfer from BW is possible. When that's complete, somehow we have all moved on from the age when red-roses for the Secretary-of-State was the thing to do; even if it would be fun to be asked to contribute twice, forty-three years apart.

Comments to peter.scott@waterways.org.uk

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