Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Third Time Lucky

Sophie and I had the great pleasure of meeting Sir John Major last night at a reception at Lakeside Country Club in Frimley Green.

Sir John spoke grittily to the assembled audience about the current political situation. He pointed out that when the Conservatives left office in 1997, almost every economic indicator was positive and by every economic measure, Britain was a highly successful and dynamic economy. He contrasted the position now, after 13 years of Labour government, with how it was then after 18 years of Conservative government.

He went on to disassemble the political positioning of the Labour party talking about the fallacy of the idea that Gordon Brown is some kind of economic genius, that the Conservatives are there to support a privileged  elite and that Conservatives are all posh!

He made a very strong case for absolute honesty about the economic situation - making it clear that his view is that it is both wrong to avoid telling the pure unvarnished truth about the perilous state of the nation's finances and politically suicidal. His theme was very similar to my previous post The Clock is Ticking - in that his concern was that if the Conservatives form a government without having clearly communicated the true economic circumstances prior to the election, then they will simply be blamed by the electorate for the remedy  they have to put in place - rather than those who made the remedy necessary being blamed.

As Sir John was walking around the room he wandered towards Sophie and I and a small group of others. He seemed curiously shy and seemed not to know what to say.

So I thrust out my hand and said, 'A pleasure to meet you Sir John - it's third time lucky for me actually'.

'Oh really.' he said, 'What do you mean?'.

I explained that in 1994, Sophie and I had been on honeymoon and had arrived in Fiji late at night. When we checked into our hotel, the receptionist noting our British passports had said, 'Oh I see you are British - Well your Prime Minister is in the bar!'

At this point Sir John, slightly disconcertingly asked, 'What on earth was I doing in Fiji?'

I went on to explain that whilst I had intended to go down to the bar to investigate the receptionist's wild claim  in fact I had gone to our room, lay down for 5 minutes (the intention anyway) and then awoke the next morning to discover the hotel full of TV news crews who all confirmed that he had indeed been in the hotel but had just left!

Sir John seemed quite interested in the story at this point although he was still trying to work out what he had been doing in Fiji, as if as PM he had just wandered absent mindedly over to Fiji in the way he wandered over in our direction earlier.. but undeterred I continued with the story of the second time we had nearly met.

I explained that in 1996 I had been asked to attend a meeting at a large IT company in Reading that I was doing business with at the time but, as they regularly asked me to attend meetings without explaining what the purpose was, and as there very often wasn't one, decided not to turn up. I was telephoned the next day to be told 'Oh you should have come along - you would have met the PM!'.

Sir John grinned broadly at this and I said I guessed it was security concerns that had prevented them from telling me the purpose of the meeting. His three MI5 security officers (who were surrounding him throughout his visit to Lakeside) shuffled their feet..

Sir John didn't seem to feel the need to move on to speak to others so I asked him if he remembered the visit. I asked him if he recalled visiting the main attraction at the IT company, a 3D virtual reality visualisation suite called the 'Reality Centre'. I thought I would jog his memory by referring to one of the most popular parts of the usual demonstration in which there was an opportunity to fly a virtual reality F15 jet fighter over the Golan Heights (Israel) but instead it seemed to jog another memory.

'I flew over the Golan Heights with Yasser', he said.

'Who Sir?' I said

'Yasser. You know. Arafat' (He missed the joke) 'Before he died', he added and then looked at me sharply is if concerned that I might think that a foolish and obvious point and said, 'obviously, before he died'.

I nodded in what I hoped was a serious and sage manner as if there had been some perfectly realistic chance that he had flown with the Palestinian leader's corpse over the disputed Israeli territory and that he had kindly clarified the matter to avoid an obvious misunderstanding..

At this point Sir John smiled warmly and wandered off in the direction of Ray, my next door neighbour, and his father-in-law who coincidentally had worked with Sir John at Standard Chartered Bank in the 1970's.

'Ah Lionel!', I heard Sir John exclaim, 'So you are still alive then!'



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