[Update at end of post]
For many observers of the domain of the legendarily foul mouthed Paul Dacre, the first name that comes to mind when asked to nominate a pundit unable to penetrate the mysterious world otherwise known as “five minutes’ Googling” has to be Richard Littlejohn. For Dicky Windbag, research is as foreign as all those nasty people he routinely demonises in his tedious and unfunny column.
Harry Potter and the Transport of no delight
But now Littlejohn has competition from the deeply unpleasant Quentin Letts (let’s not), whose inability to garner a number of facts greater than zero has landed him in moderately hot water with Labour MP Jamie Reed. As the ever watchful Tabloid Watch has noted, Letts was so keen to put the boot in on Commons Speaker John Bercow that he told a significant porkie about the Member for Copeland.
While Reed pursues the odious Letts and his permanently angry editor – and good luck to him say I, given the lengths that many have had to go to over the years to extract a retraction from Dacre and his hackery – it seems that Letts’ whopper about Reed’s relationship with Speaker Bercow was not an isolated occurrence, as a look at his latest underwhelming column demonstrates.
Quent has latched on to a Government consultation on the future of Motorway Service Areas (MSAs), and has discovered to his horror that 21 of these are still publicly owned: “There are 21 of them, including such celebrated specimens as Newport Pagnell, Membury and Watford Gap. Why on earth does the state own motorway service stations? They are the object of special Department of Transport regulations and circulars”.
Very good, Quent. All Motorway service stations are subject to special Department of Transport regulations, as a few minutes’ Googling reveals. So operators have to provide free parking for all, free access to toilet facilities, disabled access, pay telephones, and a fuelling point. It’s on the Highways Agency website.
What is also on that very same website is this nugget of information that answers Letts’ question on ownership: “Prior to 1992, the Department of Transport was responsible for developing MSAs by acquiring land, funding construction and leasing the completed sites to operating companies. 21 MSA sites are still owned by the Government”. So there you have it.
And when Letts drones on “some Tory MPs want him simply to sell the sites altogether”, he shows once again that he can’t be bothered checking his facts. Many of them have already been sold off – there were a lot more than 21 of them in 1992 – and you can’t just flog the things without first consulting. It’s a Government, Quent, not a car boot sale.
Letts, you’re just making it up. Try adding the odd fact to justify your wedge.
[UPDATE 28 March 1630 hours: Jamie Reed MP has confirmed via Twitter the good news that he has obtained satisfaction from the Dacre empire. "They've behaved very honourably - apology, letter and even a lovely postcard".
Twitter watchers may also note that he did not dissent from my characterisation of Quentin Letts as "odious". Now there's a surprise]