There was a new YouGov poll reported yesterday in the Sunday People which shows a reversal of the previous increase in the Conservative lead and the best figure for the Lib Dems from YouGov for some time:
Conservative 40% (down 2%)
Labour 25% (no change)
Lib Dem 20% (up 2%)
The poll was conducted before the results of the Norwich North by-election were announced.
Hat tip: UK Polling Report
Few people I have spoken to realise that this weekend was the 50th Anniversary of one of the greatest British inventions of the 20th Century – the hovercraft. As with so many British inventions we have failed fully to capitalise on its potential.
Sir Christopher Cockerell was the inventor of the hovercraft, in a shed, in a boatyard, in Norfolk. He tested his theories using a hair-dryer and tin cans and found his working hypothesis to have potential, but the idea took some years to develop, and he was forced to sell personal possessions in order to finance his research. By 1955, he had built a working model from balsa wood and had taken out his first patent. Cockerel found it impossible to interest the private sector in developing his idea, as both the aircraft and the boat-building industries saw it as lying outside their core business. He therefore approached the British Government with a view to interesting them in possible defence applications. This led to Cockerel being introduced to the NRDC (National Research Development Corporation). In the autumn of 1958, the NRDC placed an order with Saunders Roe for the first full-scale Hovercraft.
For a while it was kept top secret, as the government wanted to explore the military potential but in June 1959, the SRN-1 was finally unveiled to the world’s press, at the Saunders Roe boatyard at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. The SRN-1 made its maiden voyage on 11 June 1959, and crossed the Channel from Calais to Dover five weeks later on 25 July. A commercial service was also later launched across the River Dee in 1962.
From the late 1960s until 2000 two larger hovercraft, the Princess Anne and the Princess Margaret, regularly carried passengers and cars across the Channel, at record speeds. The service was axed after it became uneconomic due to competition from the newly opened Channel Tunnel. The only remaining passenger hovercraft in the UK now work between Portsmouth and Ryde on the Isle of Wight.
Despite the lack of demand for passenger-carrying hovercraft in the UK, a number of British firms continue to manufacture the craft to meet demand from other countries, such as Indonesia and India. Swamps, deserts, mudflats and river deltas are perfect territory for the hovercraft. One British company, Griffon Hoverwork, boasts that more than half the operational hovercraft in the world were made at its factories on the Solent. The UK has sold more commercial hovercraft than any other country in the world and the UK leads the world in design, manufacture and operation of hovercraft.
One spin-off of Sir Christopher Cockerell’s invention has been the hover mower. Like its counterpart, it works on the principle of a cushion of air. The leading brand, Flymo, has a 40% share of the British lawnmower market. Although gardeners in the UK have adopted the hover technology in their millions, very few of the mowers are exported. Flymo is owned by a Swedish company, but the mowers are still built in County Durham, where the factory supports hundreds of jobs.
Having grown up on the south coast, I remember seeing hovercraft and being amazed by their flexibility and ability to operate equally well on land and sea. Sadly they are a much rarer sight nowadays but many nations use them militarily and the US Navy and Marine Corps have taken to hovercraft as the perfect amphibious landing craft and they operate LCAC’s (Landing Craft Air Cushion) in their thousands.
It is good to know that another British invention has been adapted for use around the world and that at least some are still made in the UK supporting British jobs and the British economy.