Clearing through some old papers last weekend I came across two old copies of The Times, one for Saturday 20th January 1996 and another for Friday 4th February 2000. I must have saved them for some particular reason though looking through them now I can’t now imagine why.
Thirteen years is not a long time but it does make you realise how issues that seemed so vitally important at the time were not with the benefit of hindsight. I’m not saying that the ones I’ve highlighted were important, clearly they were to those involved, but here are a few that caught my eye.
The front-page headline from 1996 read “Maxwell brothers are cleared.” Many of you will remember Robert Maxwell who was, for a time, a Labour MP, owner of the Daily Mirror and Chairman of Oxford United Football Club. I’ve no doubt that in those capacities he had some influence in the country’s affairs but he is now but a footnote in our history. The headline referred to the trial of his two younger sons who were cleared following a long investigation by the Serious Fraud Office into the pension funds of his companies.
On the political pages one of the headlines states “Lilley orders clampdown to cut £730m housing benefit fraud.” Peter Lilley was, in 1996, the Government minister for Social Security. Had that headline appeared in the paper’s of today it would have surprised none of us.
In the 2000 edition I note that Manchester United were top of the Premier League followed by Leeds, Arsenal and Liverpool. United and Arsenal are still in the top four and Liverpool could still finish there despite a run of poor results, but Leeds fell on hard times a year or two later. But looking through the league as a whole things are still pretty much as you will find them today.
Elsewhere the paper includes stories about the minimum wage, worries about miss-use of databases and a Government minister claiming that there was a whispering campaign against her.
The minimum wage story was an announcement by the then shadow chancellor Michael Portillo that a future Conservative Government would not reverse the minimum wage legislation. That remains our policy by the way, and the minister concerned about the whispering campaign was the late Mo Mowlam. Interestingly enough the letters column contained one from one Alistair Campbell – Tony Blair’s press secretary – denying that such a campaign existed!
Change the name of the worried minister to whoever Gordon Brown and Peter Mandelson have in their sights and the story could be running this week
As regards databases – there are now thousands more of them open to miss-use. This Government alone has created scores of them, all containing the most personal information about us and, over the years, managed to lose laptops, disks and memory sticks containing far too much of it.