I am currently reading Decline and Fall by Chris Mullin, his diaries from the years 2005-2008, when he had ceased to be a government minister and had returned to the backbenches. It charts the last days of New Labour.
Monday 20th October
In the Tea Room (of the Commons) this evening Des Browne told me the following tale about a constituent, a signalman on the railways, who early each morning took a short cut to his signal box across the estate of the local laird. One day he was intercepted by the said laird on horseback.
‘What are you doing on my land?’
‘I’m on my way to work,’ replied the signalman, adding insolently, ‘a concept that may be unknown to you.
‘You’re on my land.’
‘How did you come by it?'
‘My ancestors fought for it’
‘Well,’ replied the bolshie signalman, ‘if you come down off that horse, I’ll fight you for it.’
At this the laird, recognising that he had met his match, rode away.
Chris Mullin was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Sunderland South from 1987 to 2010. His early working life was as a journalist at Granada TV where he was a member of the influential team that made World in Action, arguably the most important ever investigative series, in the days when British broadcasters saw such things as part of their responsibility.
One of the many subjects covered, in several editions, was the case of the Birmingham pub bombings in 1974, in which 21 people died. Six Irishmen had been convicted for this crime. In 1985, the first of several World in Action programmes casting serious doubt on the men's convictions was broadcast. In 1986, Chris Mullin's book, Error of Judgment - The Truth About the Birmingham Pub Bombings, set out a detailed case supporting the men's innocence, including his claim to have met with some of those actually responsible for the bombings.
Chris Mullin was pivotal in keeping alive the campaign to prove the men’s conviction was a miscarriage of justice. At their third appeal in 1991, evidence of police fabrication and suppression of evidence, and flawed forensic evidence, led to the Crown withdrawing most of its case against the men. The six were released in 1991 but had to wait a further ten years to be awarded compensation.