Thursday, January 01, 2015

Just one amazing detail from Gyles Brandreth's Westminster Diaries

2015 is going well. I'm in front of a fire with Breaking The Code: Westminster Diaries by Gyles Brandreth, which is the most candid parliamentary memoir you're ever going to read.

I'm not one of those people who believe MPs are up to their necks in bribery and corruption but the entry for February 3rd 1993 contains a wonderful illustration of how people in institutions - all institutions - design things to make live easier for themselves.

Brandreth was a member of the Heritage Select Committee, which was chaired by Gerald Kaufman. He writes:
"Gerald and the Select Committee are off to the U.S. at the weekend, gathering evidence for our enquiry into the cost of CDs. Gerald explained to us that if we all went, the Budget wouldn't stretch to us travelling Business Class. He felt that those going would want to travel Business Class (murmurs of assent), so was anyonready to volunteer not to go? I put my hand up."
Was there ever a time when rational human beings thought that Parliament could make the slightest difference to the price of compact discs? And in that time was it really felt that a bunch of Parliamentarians could rock up in New York and be given access to some information about CD pricing that they couldn't have got back in Westminster? And how did Gerald Kaufman manage to keep a straight face while asking that question about Business Class?


  1. Nice work if you can get it!
    Mind you, wasn't it in 1993 that The Beatles' 'Red' and 'Blue' compilations were priced at £30 each?
    Begs the question, are the people who paid £60 for those CDs the same people who are prepared to pay extortionate prices for ho-hum 'vinyl' product in 2015?

  2. Good point. They probably are. Course the reason the Beatles Red and Blue albums were so expensive was because the Beatles and Apple insisted on charging full double album price for them.

  3. Another reason for the price of The Beatles albums is that "they" and we know The Beatles will sell enough to (jargon alert) "turn a profit".

  4. And the Red album could actually have fitted on one cd!

  5. There's a kind of grim 'comedy gold' aspect of this CD fact-finding-mission isn't there? It's The Emperor's New Clothes in the Court of Kim Ill Un and the first face to crack at the thought of the sheer self-entitled absurdity of it will be sent packing sat atop of a multi-pad rocket launcher.

    We can only imagine, can we not, the furrowed brows and sage-like nods as the cost of CD production is explained to our juncketeers. An hour well filled they must have thought before returning to their first-class hotel rooms and the dispersing for a weekend in the Big Apple.

    And as they stepped onto the Heathrow tarmac, went home and scoured the newspapers the mantra of 'I think we got away with it' must have ever to the fore of their thoughts. Until that is that pesky Brandreth ruined it for every one.

    In Chris Mullins's published diaries The 'swan's legs' of hysteria that enabled Kaufman's straight face is glaringly evident on almost any page; The Thick of It could only have been made at that particular moment of our political history. Public service indeed.