I Do Not Describe Myself As A Reporter From Modesty (24 August 1973)
During my newspaper life it has been my duty to write hundreds, perhaps thousands, of so-called leaders or opinion columns. You might think “Gosh, what power! What a chance to influence events!” and so on. All I can say is that for most of the time I would have been happier to make no comment at all and leave readers themselves to take advantage of the ever-present opportunity to be a Thunderer or Cassandra through the correspondence columns.
But do not mistake me. Do not assume I was uninterested in the chosen topic. I was and still am interested in nearly everything from grand strategic plans to village whist drives. But on too many occasions I doubted my qualifications to judge. I also knew not too little but too much about the matter in hand. I realised there was a good deal to be said for the other side. I felt I had to be equivocal and equivocation is disastrous in such columns. There has to be a punch somewhere.
There was another aspect to the problem. Over the 20 years during which the Gazette’s then editor, Carl Moser, helped by myself, was building up the paper’s circulation to five figures we were in complete agreement about one principle. This was that there was no substitute for news in a newspaper, be the news “hard” or “soft.” To achieve that with a small staff everything else had to take a back seat and it did.
As for myself, you may or may not have noticed that in this series of notes I do not describe myself as an assistant editor, or a leader writer, or even as a journalist. This is not from modesty. It is from my opinion that in the final analysis all such descriptions are inferior to that which I prefer to use – reporter. If a man consistently presents the facts as accurately and fairly as he can, he performs the most of his duty not only to his present community but to posterity. It is a unique kind of service.
I am writing this the day after the announcement of the government’s suggestions for the development of a third London airport at Maplin and an associated new city there. Inevitably I am reminded of the fight against such developments taking place at Cublington or Thurleigh. That really did get me going.
I admit that I personally looked upon the Cublington proposal with horror. It spelled the destruction of everything about the local environment which appealed to me. Rather than wear it I would have made every effort to return to the comparative salubrity of the West Riding for my old age.
Despite the efforts of Bernard Kettle and others, Bletchley’s reaction to the proposals seemed to me to be apathetic and not to be compared with the thorough-going protests of villages which would have been affected no more than the Water Eaton area of Bletchley. For instance, people seemed blissfully unaware that the stacking process would have rendered the expensive Lakes schools useless.
I was in real fear about the outcome of the struggle and my fear was deepened by the possibility that Thurleigh was even more threatening for North Bucks as a whole, just as the previously-scrapped Silverstone suggestion had been.
The only practical strategy was to oppose the establishing of the airport on any inland site whatever. We can thank our lucky stars that this was the strategy finally adopted and that it succeded(sic).
The unpalatable aspect was that this meant foisting onto others something we did not want for ourselves. I know it was with deep sincerity that the first public act at Stewkley on hearing of the reprieve was to pray for those others. I still hope the third airport will be found unnecessary anywhere at all.
During the campaign I took what might have been a last look at Stewkley Church. In the porch I found a local character not noted for piety calmly rolling a cigarette. Asked what he thought about the affair, he pointed one finger aloft and simply said: “There’s Somebody Up There won’t let ‘em!”
In the course of the WARA campaign I was asked whether some writings of mine on the subject could be used. I do not know whether any was used. In the upshot, it did not matter. Commission member Professor Buchanan did the job for all of us with his killing description of the Cublington proposal as “an environmental disaster”.
He should be made the first freeman of the new city. Without question it was he who saved it, or at least prevented it from sprawling all over North Bucks, which it has less chance of doing now.
But what worried me at the back of my mind was the fact that there was actually a precedent of sorts for the proposal. Whether the airport’s proponents knew of it or considered it irrelevant because of a difference in scale I don’t remember.
However, in March, 1946, when the so-called Greater London Plan was published, the Bucks County Council approved.
They then added the observation that “provision should be made for reservations of sites for aerodromes to service the expanded towns of Aylesbury (60,000 people) and Bletchley (also 60,000) and it is suggested that certain of the wartime aerodromes should be considered for this purpose.”
Where else could those airfields have been except in the very area proposed for the third airport, which the County Council did their utmost to prevent?