Succession must be tackled soon

WWE may be five months away from the General Election, but the media is already making preparations to ensure that whenever Gordon Brown fires the starting pistol, everything will be in place to cover the biggest news event of the year,The Press Association, which supplies newspapers and broadcasters with campaign speeches and constituency results, last night ran test election result transmissions of its election night services from about 100 constituencies.

Graham Dines

W

WE may be five months away from the General Election, but the media is already making preparations to ensure that whenever Gordon Brown fires the starting pistol, everything will be in place to cover the biggest news event of the year,

The Press Association, which supplies newspapers and broadcasters with campaign speeches and constituency results, last night ran test election result transmissions of its election night services from about 100 constituencies.


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It came with a health warning - the voting figures were randomly generated and in some cases are expected to widely differ from the previous results.

The BBC, ITN and Sky will all have had initial run throughs on a real time basis, starting at 10pm when the polls close and the results of the exit polls are known, with commentators and experts giving their views on the possible outcomes as well as mock declarations from around the country.

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This year's election is expected to be a protracted affair. Not only has campaigning started, but the outcome could be delayed by more than 12 hours because of late declarations caused by concerns of returning officers over verification of postal votes.

This week, one MP moaned to me that her count would not start until after lunch on the Friday following polling day, with the result not expected until early evening.

Apart from the economy and the need to cut back public spending, there will be pressure on the incoming government of whichever party to complete reform of our Constitution , and especially the discriminatory rules of the royal succession.

As the law stands now, if Prince William and his wife produce a first-born daughter and a younger son, the male will take precedence.

However, if the son decided to marry a Roman Catholic, then his sister would go to the top of the queue, unless a second male offspring came along.

These are touchy subjects which the UK government is powerless to change on its own. It cannot repeal the Act of Succession dating from 1701 unless the other 16 countries of which the monarch is head of state - from the dominions of Canada, Australia, and New Zealand to tiny crown colonies such as St Helena - also agree to alter the law.

However, it will be easier to change these primogeniture rules than the ban on the Catholic succession, which dates from 1688 and the accession of William and Mary, when the English upper classes vowed never to let the Pope's writ run large again on these shores.

As supreme governor of the “established” Church of England, the sovereign's Coronation oath states demands: “Will you to the utmost of your power maintain in the United Kingdom the Protestant Reformed Religion established by law? Will you maintain and preserve inviolably the settlement of the Church of England, and the doctrine, worship, discipline, and government thereof, as by law established in England? And will you preserve unto the Bishops and Clergy of England, and to the Churches there committed to their charge, all such rights and privileges, as by law do or shall appertain to them or any of them?”

And the Act of Union 1707 requires the sovereign to “preserve” the Church of Scotland.

Times changes and fear of domination by the papacy no longer stands. However, as long as the Church of England remains established, there could never be a Roman Catholic on the throne - and that's a debate likely to lead to bitter and heated debate.

RAIL VERDICT SHAMES OPERATORS

MEDIOCRE reliability - that's the damning verdict of the Department for Transport on the supposed InterCity route from Norwich through Ipswich, Colchester and Chelmsford to London.

The line has had little nurturing from British Rail, Anglia Railways, and National Express East Anglia over the decades, and its inferiority is well catalogued in the franchise consultation document issued by the DfT after NXEA was summarily sacked from bidding for a franchise extension.

It was National Express's misfortune to have Ipswich MP Chris Mole appointed as a minister. He was in a powerful and knowledgeable position to help draw up the franchise document.

The region has had to make do with second best for far too many years. The document says: “The locomotives used were built in the late 1980s for British Rail's InterCity and freight sectors and were extensively refurbished prior to their transfer to this route in the mid-2000s.

“However, even after this refurbishment, their reliability remains mediocre, though this is not helped by the stop-start nature of many of the Norwich main line calling patterns, which are not optimal for a mainline locomotive. “The passenger vehicles (carriages) are not fully compliant with the recent regulations associated with accessibility of rail vehicles for persons with reduced mobility, and in particular the passenger coaches have non-powered outward opening door.”

“New rolling stock could result in better performance and reliability, greater capacity and would be more accessible.

“A particular area of concern relates to standards on trains. Passenger perception of train cleanliness, train capacity, the helpfulness of staff and information provided during disruption when compared to the London and South East average.”

Commuters and passengers who pay dearly for the “privilege” of travelling by train - �67 return from Felixstowe to London in the peak period - want reliable, comfortable, clean and modern trains. And why not?

The new franchise starts in 2011 and hope must be that whichever bidder is successful will be forced to invest in new trains to give East Anglia gets the service its deserves.

THE GUMMERS - A POEM BY MARTIN BELL

I AM deeply indebted to Suffolk-born Martin Bell, one time Independent MP and sleeze buster and a 2004 candidate in the European elections for the East of England, for sending me the following ditty about John Gummer, who is not seeking re-election in Suffolk Coastal, and his son Ben, the Tory candidate for Ipswich:

John Gummer MP's undisputed role

Is that of a Conservative grandee

He's also famous, unfairly perhaps

For having sought to claim for his mole traps.

So Suffolk people find it rather neat

That his son Ben is trying to unseat

The MP for Ipswich, who is Mr Mole.

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