A think-tank, the Adam Smith Institute, recommends scrapping “The Knowledge,” the world-famous exam for which London taxi drivers memorise the streets and landmarks of the capital. The institute says there is no reason to keep the test in an age of GPS and traffic-mapping systems. Traditionalists would doubtless lament the passing of a legendary part of London life. But some of us take another view.
I am not a regular visitor to London, nor a great user of black cabs. And yet on two occasions I encountered cabbies whose grasp of The Knowledge was dire. One got us lost in Camden Town, the other had no idea where to find that great watering hole The Groucho Club (it's in Dean Street, Soho). Wossat, guv? No tip . . ?
Far be it from me to knock any organisation that pays for massive double-page advertisements in newspapers. However, when the message from Talk TV features an enormous image of Piers Morgan with the caption: “Love him or hate him, you won't want to miss him,” I feel we are losing touch with reality.
Most people neither love nor hate Piers Morgan. They're just indifferent. According to reports, the audience for his evening show has collapsed from an average of 317,000 viewers on its launch night to 62,000 viewers a week later. Looks like lots of people are quite happy to miss him.
Why did Labour initially say its deputy leader Angela Rayner was not at the Beergate meal, only to admit, some months later, that she was? According to the ever-loyal Guardian (which virtually ignored Beergate for days) the error was “a fairly standard press office cock-up”. Now, that rang a bell.
I was reminded of interviewing Tony Blair's former spin doctor Alastair Campbell on the “dodgy dossier” of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. In it, Saddam Hussein was accused of “supporting terrorist groups in hostile regimes”, even though the original documents used the much milder term “aiding opposition groups in hostile regimes”. Campbell was adamant this was not a lie: “It was a mistake,” he told me. “How many mistakes of that sort get made in newsrooms every day? A lot, right?”
So it seems the old cock-up-in-the-newsroom excuse is still going strong after all these years. It is durable, defiant - and deeply unconvincing.