A man of action

Bob Crow, the late railway union leader, may have been the Number One Hate Figure for the British travelling public - especially Londoners - but his attitude to his job could serve as a lesson to the country's dithering, party political leaders.

Mr Crow, who died suddenly last week at the young age of 52, may have upset millions with his industrial action, but he always did what he considered best for his members, and they were lucky to have such a forthright leader.

Crow did not deal in spin. Subtlety was not his game. He seemed able to run rings round authority, and invariably got his way.

Thanks largely to pathetic weaknesses among officials, Crow secured astonishing pay-offs for London Underground drivers for working during the Olympic Games and on Boxing Day. Officialdom seemed simply to cave in his demands.

What a contrast to David Cameron, who seems to produce a U-turn as soon as there is a squeak of protest; or Ed Miliband, who, despite his fine words, seems to still be in hock to the trade unions; or Nick Clegg who, some would say, is leading his Liberal Democrat party to ruin.

Why should we have to wait until 2017, for instance, for an in-out EU referendum which Cameron has "promised" yet which many people suspect may never happen?

At the same time, Miliband, in a torrent of gobbledegook, has seemingly ruled out such a referendum at all, if Labour with the next general election.

Things have reached a pretty pass if the electorate cannot either trust or understand what their political leaders are talking about.

Whatever view you took about Bob Crow you could never accuse him of not acting on his word.

A man of devotion

And in the same week, another mighty figure of the Left dies - Tony Benn, a politician who actually changed the face of British political tradition.

It was his triumphant campaign as a member of the House of Lords himself, to enable hereditary peers to "disown" their peerages and thus - as he did himself - become eligible to enter the House of Commons.

Without this campaign, Alec Douglas-Home would probably never have become Prime Minister and Lord Hailsham would never have entered the House of Commons.

Benn was often derided by the very same people who were forced to admire him for his persistence, patience and powerful campaigning. He was a thorn in the side of Labour's Right Wing in his heyday, but that was all to the good: a healthy restraining influence.

Harold Wilson once cruelly said that Benn "immatures with age". And certainly he never lost, even in his last few months of life, his boyish enthusiasm for his beliefs and his unswerving devotion to the common man.

But he was highly suspicious of the media, especially the BBC. He possessed some kind of electronic device which would wipe out the words on a tape of a reporters' interview if he did not like the way the interview was going.

But, call me old-fashioned, and to use the old cliche: he did not possess a device which would eradicate a trusty shorthand note in a reporter's notebook.

Technology, I am glad to say, has not advanced that far.

The curious case of the Prince's letters

The Attorney General Dominic Grieve epitomises the dry-as-dust lawyer. He sometimes leaves you with the impression of a bloodless individual for whom the law and its application is paramount, even when it conflicts with the natural emotions of ordinary (and, indeed, extraordinary) people.

He has ruled that the spidery letters Prince Charles sends to government ministers, should not be made public for the sort of reasoning that would not be appreciated in the Dog and Duck.

But now that ruling is under threat of being overturned thanks to pressure from Fleet Street.

If the Prince of Wales writes to a minister, he will get a reply direct from the minister. If you or I write to a minister, we are likely to be fobbed off with a reply that is simply the meaningless mumbo-jumbo of an obscure official in the department.

If the heir to the throne wants to influence ministers, he should have the courage to do it openly, so we can all see what is going on. It is not as though there is any question of national security involved.

If, as has been argued, disclosure might adversely affect him when he does accede to the throne - then hard luck.

The Prince of Wales should not use his privileged position to try to influence ministers in this hole-in-the-corner way.

Actually, I may have done the Attorney General a disservice. Apparently in his youth he was quite a lively spark. When he was a student at university, his bicycle was stolen. A day or two later, he was walking down the street and saw his bike up for sale in a shop window.

He marched into the shop, said, "that's mine" and wheeled it out - leaving the shopkeeper clutching his fevered brow.

Chris Moncrieff, the Press Association's reporter emeritus, has stalked Westminster's corridors of power for over 50 years.

This article is the opinion of Chris Moncrieff and not necessarily that of BT.