Express & Star

Peter Rhodes on Downing Street's gates, Blair's spin-doctor and British troops welcomed with open arms

The rather half-hearted attack on the gates to Downing Street inevitably reminds some of us of the days when there were no gates.

Alastair Campbell – EU fancier

That's right. Well within living memory it was perfectly possible to stroll into Downing Street, chat to the copper on duty at Number Ten and have your photo taken outside the famous black door. Understandably, the street had to be barred against the terror threat from the IRA and, later, from the suicide bombers. But is there any long-term plan to re-open the street to the citizens? Or have those days gone for ever?

While you kids are still gasping at the prospect of an easy-access Downing Street, I should mention that in the 1970s holidaymakers would regularly break their trip at Stonehenge where you could walk right up to the stones and even sunbathe on them.

The Queen's Own Hussars, on exercise in Estonia, report that the locals have greeted them with open arms. That's hardly surprising. If the choice is between the gentlemen of the QOH camped on your lawn or a regiment of Putin's unspeakable orcs, well, there's no choice, is there?

Estonia proves there is nothing quite like what the Army calls an AFV (Armoured Fighting Vehicle) to reveal the state of local politics.

I recall a press trip to West Berlin in 1983 when the British Army of the Rhine was on Sovereign's Day Parade through the divided city. Back then, Berlin's population was composed largely of old people who had seen the nastier side of Soviet forces, and young left-wing students who chose to live in Berlin where they were exempt from the national military service which applied in the rest of West Germany. As our troop carrier rumbled past the crowds, the old Berliners, without exception, smiled, waved and cheered the Brits. The younger ones, without exception, gave us the V-sign or the finger, or both.

Speaking at Hay Festival, Tony Blair's old spin-doctor Alastair Campbell asked the audience if they believed Brexit was going really well. Only one person put their hand up. If we only had a time machine we could go back to 2016 on the eve of the EU referendum and ask how many people believed our membership of the European Union was going “really well.” About one in a roomful, perhaps?