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Lawrie Quinn Dirty politics

The business of prediction is always a risky exercise. If I revisit my own personal predictions for 1997 I seem to have been overly (and uncharacteristically) conservative by not foreseeing my own career change ..... and indeed the need to write this article every six weeks or so. But despite these past failures I'll take a deep breath and speculate on the next 12 months.

By this time next year I believe that Britain and our construction industry will be viewing the future with a greater level of optimism than recent generations have ever dared contemplate.

The reasoning behind this bold statement is simply because I expect considerable progress on the national programme of re-building. In project management terms, by January 1999 the Blair-Brown Project will be a good 30% down the time axis. Progress will be accelerating beyond the confines of the Westminster machine as the new horizon of Millennium Britain shines forth.

The first few weeks of any year have always been problematic for me. Always a preamble to what the rest of the year holds and memorable for attempting to catch up after the inevitable construction slippages of the pre-Christmas period. There was an air of near panic as crucial site milestones loomed before the end of the financial year and new opportunities for squeezing in a few jobs to ensure we didn't have a budgetary underspend made themselves plain. If I'm honest the new job has produced these same feelings, although the consequences somehow appear less serious. I do have a fixed four to five year contract here after all.

Having said that, the first week back after Christmas did cause me seriously to compare and contrast the new job to my former January tribulations. I suppose it all boiled down to how the job smells! Let me explain.

After the holiday break, but before Parliament reassembled, I spent what remained of the Recess 'in the constituency'. As well as numerous home visits, factory visits, school visits, a trip to County Hall and even an enjoyable briefing session from the Civil Engineering Contractors Association (Yorkshire & Humberside), I visited farms.

Representing the 50th largest constituency by area means I have several hundred farming business on the patch. I travelled hundreds of miles through delightful North Yorkshire visiting hill farmers, beef farmers, dairy farmers, pig farmers and many who survive by doing a bit of everything. I freely admit that my previous experience of agriculture was focused on boundary or land disputes next to numerous sites. The cry 'gerrrrr orfff me land' was give added emphasis on more than one occasion by a double-barrel shotgun. So I've felt it essential to get the real flavour of farming around Scarborough & Whitby and I know local NFU members will always give me a typical Yorkshire welcome, even if it is set against the background of the current crisis in the rural economy.

I will never know if what happened to me on 7 January at Cherry Tree Farm, Danby was simply the intervention of the Gods - if not the MAFF - but it does convince me that the depth of the smell surrounding my new job distinguishes it from civil engineering.

Cherry Tree Farm is at a dale-end in the heart of the North Yorks National Park. To get there I had to drive my bright red, and recently cleaned, Astra through a pretty clean and fast flowing ford. After a thorough briefing on the concerns of the local farmers I casually drove down the dale, back through the ford. Although my return journey was a mere 40 minutes later, the colours and speed of water were quite different. Greens, tasty browns all interlocked with the pale yellows of bedding straw. I had no way back and pressed my sickened Astra through.

Not only had I been convinced that local farmers feel they're in the mire, I spent the rest of my constituency week reinforcing the point far and wide with my non-agricultural electors.

However, despite four trips to the car wash, a steam clean valet and finally another two car washes, I remain optimistic about what 1998 will bring for both the country and civil engineering.

Lawrie Quinn is the MP for Scarborough & Whitby

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