Gale`s View from Westminster – February 2014
February. With no EU referendum Bill,
for the moment, some tough negotiations lie ahead. Holland eats
humble pub pie and Frau Merkel gets the red carpet treatment. Voles and birds
before homes as the winter storms rage and floodwaters continue to rise.
Also rising is the temperature of the Scottish referendum campaign. Bob
crows and Boris blinks. Ukraine burns while Britain watches from the
sidelines. Is it Brookes in the dock, or Blair? Mad Hattie and the Salford
Broadcasting Corporation both decline to comment as Civil Liberties come under
pressure. And another three bite the dust as Conservative grass-roots activists
flex their re-selection muscle.
During a meeting with Man David at Brize
Norton airfield, followed by a pub snack at the nearby Swan hostelry, Mr.
Holland, the crash-hatted President of La Belle France, opines that the EU
cannot be expected to follow the example of just one country”. That`s as maybe
but with his poll ratings having plumbed a record low at 19% (Sarko was
recording 37% at the same stage in his presidency) and with his country`s
eurozone finances under not a little stress, M. Legauver might consider
looking at at least one Country`s example of how stringent conservative fiscal
prudence can begin to pull a nation`s balance-sheet out of the inherited
Socialist manure. The sad Presidente will, though be able to take some comfort
from the fact that the delectable Mlle. Gayet, to whom he has turned for
comfort during these troubled times, has received an Oscar nomination for the
film Quai d`Orsay. As best supporting actress.
Later in the month Frau Merkel will be
embraced and grimaced by Man David but her Foreign Minister states
unequivocally that British eurosceptics could `put peace at risk`. UK judges
rule, in defiance of the Commission, that `whole life` sentences will mean life
while in Brussels the Eurocrats determine that our proposals to demand that
immigrants must have earned a minimum of £149 per week for at least three
months before being allowed to claim benefits is `illegal` under European law.
It should surprise nobody that St. Nicholas of Clogg , with impeccable timing,
chooses this moment to threaten to veto a Cameron Commissioner to fill the
boots vacated by the Baroness Ashton who, mercifully, is coming to the end of
her reign as Europe`s High Panjandrum. Man David is reported to be considering
`Badger` Paterson, Dr. Fox or Peter Lilley as a replacement but The Clogg wants
someone who will `actively engage and work hard`. Like a corporate businessman
who will almost certainly go native within five minutes of inserting his or her
snout into the Berlaymont trough. Talking of that trough reminds us of
President-aspirant, Commissioner Viviane Reding, who would like us to know
that Britons are too ignorant” to participate in an in/out EU referendum,
boasting that 70% of UK laws are made in Brussels”. Of
course, without British funding the trough would be nothing like as full.
It is reported that the Prime Minister is
embarking upon a charm offensive with a view to wooing the Dutch and the
Ireland`s Enda Kenny to the cause of EU reform as well, of course, as laying
out the welcome mat for an Angela Merkel still suffering from après-ski
injuries. In the event it`s Cold Comfort Farm for any hopes of an easy
re-negotiation of the terms of our membership of the European Union.
Addressing both Houses of Parliament in a Royal Gallery dominated on one side
by a vast painting of the aftermath of the Battle of Waterloo and on the other
by a matching if historically inaccurate portrayal of the Death of Nelson
the German Leader effectively dismisses much hope of a deal save, possibly for
some restriction on immigration. Speaking on crutches she tells the assembled
company that the European Union has put an end to wars (well, big ones anyway)
within Europe and that the concept of ever closure union” which is the
Brussels euphemism for a Federal United States of Europe, is not negotiable”.
None of which bodes well for our continued EU membership following the
referendum that Young Lochinvar has promised following General Electoral
success in 2015.
North of the Border the referendum process
is gathering pace with even the Tory Toffs from Down South” venturing across
what remains of Hadrian`s Wall. Whether it was wise for the Cabinet to
hold an awayday” meeting in Aberdeen, just a few feet away from where Jock
Salmond`s government was also meeting, only time will tell. For one St.
Michael of Gove, of course, it was Old Homes time as he was reared in the
granite city of Aberdeen that played host to our wandering Executive. In a
pitch for the maintenance of the Union the Prime Minister deploys that golden
Scot Sir Chris Hoy, he of the Olympic cycling medals, during a return to the
Velodrome to promote the cause. Brit Award-winning David Bowie
supporting the United Kingdom cause from New York by satellite, the Pedalling
Knight, what next? Well, some hard-nosed business intervention and an
interjection from the EU, that`s what. First, a large question mark from the
Treasury over an independent Scotland`s right to keep the pound sterling as Mr.
Salmond`s currency, next the thought that the whole future of North Sea Oil
might be put at risk, then a major Scottish-based insurance company indicates
that it will pack its bags and close down its offices and jobs if there is a
yes” vote and finally the President of the European Union, Jose Manuel
Barrosso no less, suggests that it would be difficult if not impossible for an
independent Scotland to join the EU. Faced with all of that I should think it
could well be a racing certainty that the tartan army will vote to go it alone!
On the plus side, if you view it that way, Scotland might also lose the
The Salford Broadcasting Corporation (that`s
called a segue in the cue-writing trade) continues to make rather more news
than is good for its tattered reputation. Fresh from his comfortable
newspaper offices on the far side of the Atlantic the former Director General
of the BBC, Mark Thompson, apologises to the Public Accounts Committee for the
Corporation`s £100 million Digital Media Initiative” fiasco while Caroline
Thomson, erstwhile Chief Operating Officer at Broadcasting House, concedes that
her employers could have made a misjudgement” over the unwise investment of
licence-fee payers` money. Those same licence-fee payers, in fact, to whom
Auntie felt compelled to fork out another £100 thousand in `goodwill` payments
to some 2500 people `bullied` by fee-collectors. I don`t know what
the collective noun for former Directors General and Chairmen is (A Luvvie”?)
but Greg Dyke, Gavyn Davis and Michael Grade have waded into the licence-fee
renewal fray to suggest that the SBC`s services should be slimmed down
and some of the dosh handed over to the alternative public service broadcaster,
Channel Four. It may be hard, soon, to know who is the Official Broadcasting
Opposition and who is the pretender.
The BBC has not smothered itself in glory
either, over its coverage, or lack of it, of the Paedophile Scandal”, a trail
blazed by the Bourgeois Women`s Tabloid or, as The Mail likes to trumpet,
Britain`s second-largest selling newspaper”. The Mail`s relentless
headlines screaming for Harriet Harman, her husband Jack Dromey and Patricia
Hewitt to apologise for presiding over what was then called the National
Council for Civil Liberties while the infamous Paedophile Information Exchange
was an associate member almost reached persecution level. Instead of
fessing up and acknowledging that her judgement, in the 1970s, might have
slipped a little Mad Hattie first said nothing and then went on the offensive
to attack the messenger. Other media outlets had by this time taking up the hue
if not the cry and it was left to the former Nation`s Nanny, La Hewitt,
returning from abroad, to acknowledge that the NCCKL team had been naive and
wrong in believing that the PIE was a harmless facility designed to help those
with `tendencies`. Throughout most of this time a British Broadcasting
Corporation with news outlets streaming out of every available medium declined
to cover the story until it was embarrassed by its silence into so doing.
Would the same line have been taken had those involved been Tory, rather than
Labour, Members of Parliament? Work that one out for yourselves. As a footnote,
the `impartial` Chairman of the Trustees, Lord (Chris) Patten, used an
appearance on Vatican Radio during a visit to come out in support of the
newly-enthroned Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Nichols, in his criticism
of the Coalition`s efforts to curtail the benefits bill. That latter appears to
be one Government policy that has really struck a chord with hard-working
people” who not infrequently are paid less after tax for a working week than
others receive in state handouts for doing sweet nothing.
We cannot avoid mentioning the weather
again, I fear. I know that it is a British obsession but February has been the
wettest recorded since Fred Flintstone was in short trousers and torrential
rain has been accompanied by high tides and 80mph winds and sodden ground has
led to inundation in (whisper it softly) Berkshire and Surrey as well
as most of the West Country as a months` rain fell in just two days.
Indeed, I have just seen a satellite photograph that shows the Bristol Channel
and the Severn Estuary encroaching over miles of Herefordshire and
Somerset. The kennel that passes for the home in which the Gale household
is allowed to reside is knee deep in mud and mud-turned-to-dust while the main
occupants, who as Newfoundlands were mercifully born with webbed feet,
have left what was one known as the lawn” looking as if a herd of cattle has
over-wintered in it. Eight socking great paws and four slightly smaller
Labrador ones can do a lot of ploughing. That nonsense aside the blame-game has
been in, if you will pardon the expression, full flood. The hapless Lord Smith
of Finsbury, he of the eleven paid and unpaid jobs who is otherwise known
variously as Chris” or the Chairman of the Environment Agency”, has born much
of the heat. Ian Liddell-Grainger, one of Queen Victoria`s
great-grandchildren, the MP for the Somerset levels and a man whose
capacity for understatement is legendary, said of Lord Smith that He is a
little git who never even called me!”
The simplistic answer to our
drainage problems is dredge it” but I am advised by those who know what
they are talking about that that can in fact do more harm than good and can
either exacerbate local flooding or cause more flooding in villages and towns
further downstream. There are indeed solutions but they are complex and there
are no quick fixes. None of which, of course, has dissuaded the growing
phalanx of Princes of the Realm, Ministers In Boots and Opposition Front Bench
Spokesmen from paddling around Somerset and the Home Counties, looking utterly
ridiculous and uttering platitudes. The Wellies and wallies” show. The
Prime Minister`s pledge of a £100 million pound fund to help alleviate the
worst of the aftermath will have been welcomed. I just hope that it was cleared
with the Chancellor of the Exchequer before he announced it. The Met Office may
be ruing the day when they proclaimed, back in November of last year, that
Winter will be drier than usual” and Ken Clarke probably best
summed up the whole situation when he said, with great perception, It is wet.
It has rained”.
As is so often the case it has been a month
of two halves separated by a brief school-holiday recess. I spent much of the
latter in Mauritania (look it up on a map of Africa) where the charity whose
Trustees I chair, the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad (SPANA) is
helping to provide veterinary care for the 100 thousand donkeys that haul
water, daily, around the capital city of Nouakchott. I did not know, until I
visited, that the Sahara desert starts a couple of miles inland from the
Atlantic Ocean and stretches to the banks of the River Nile several thousands
of miles away. As my travelling companion so elegantly put it there`s miles
and miles of not a lot with donkeys eating it”. At least, that is the
expurgated version of what he said. Either way, there are places in the
world where just a little of the UKs surplus rainfall would not go amiss.
I left peace behind and flew back to find Kiev in flames.
The Ukraine has been on a knife-edge for
some time, probably since the last election when I travelled as an observer to,
of all places, Sevastopol in Crimea. President Yanukovych squeaked into
office by a narrow margin over the imprisoned Yulia Tymochenko and his political
antics and emperor-style squandering of wealth on palaces and exotic
larders on four feet” have clearly not endeared him to even the most Soviet of
his electorate. Poland, France and Germany visited The Ukraine to offer the
good offices of the European Union in these troubled times while William Hague
visited Brussels and Borat O`Bama met the Dalai Lama. For the third time. The
`Bear in the Woods`, Russia, growls that Putin`s neighbour is facing armed
mutiny” as Viktor Yanukovych leaves the helm, flees his country and turns up in
Moscow. By the end of the month there are 150 thousand Russian troops on
manoeuvres” and ships and aircraft massing on the border of the enclaved
Crimean peninsula, the former home of the Soviet nuclear submarine fleet
that was gifted to The Ukraine by a President Khrushchev who of course never
dreamed of the break-up of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
Forget the conspiracy theory that the snipers murdering protestors from the
rooftops surrounding Independence Square were agents provocateur placed
there by the very Maidan upon whom they were firing. My eyewitness from
the President`s palace tells me that he watched the teams of three, one
spotter, one cover with a Kalashnikov and one sniper with rifle and telescopic
sights, being kitted out before leaving to pick of their virtually defenceless
targets. What kind of Head of State is it that orders the slaughter of his own
people? Some would say one who is a Kremlin puppet. All of that
said it was, perhaps, not a little unwise of Mrs. Commissioner (Baroness)
Ashton to be photographed embracing Yulia Tymochenko after the latter`s release
from prison following a vote of the Ukrainian parliament. Ms. Tymochenko is a
potential presidential candidate in the forthcoming election to secure a
replacement for Mr. Yanukovych and it surely ill-behoves Europe`s High
Representative” to be seen to tacitly offer support to any one
There is other news. Before all hell broke
loose our Winter Olympics team in Russia`s Sochi showcase equalled the previous
best medal-tally with Jenny Jones picking up a first bronze medal on snow in
the slopestyle contest, the male and female curling teams picking up silver and
bronze respectively and Kent`s Lizzy Yarnold from Sevenoaks belting down the
fearsome skeleton course at 80mph to snatch a gold medal.
No prizes for three sitting Members of
Parliament who have failed to be re-adopted by their respective constituency
Conservative Associations as candidates for the 2015 General election. Unless there`s
a change of heart Tim Yeo (South Suffolk) and Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) will
be vacating the green benches of the House of Commons as will Anne McIntosh
(Thirsk and Malton) who becomes the fifth of Dave`s Babes destined to leave the
House in May next year.
Rebekah Brooks has been starring in Number
One Court at the Old Bailey where jurors in the Phone Hacking trials have been
hearing the details of what she herself has described as a car-crash private
life. Perhaps one of the most damning revelations to date, however has
been the emergence of the fact that Mr. T. Blair, ex-Prime Minister of this
glorious United Kingdom, was giving advice” to Mrs. Brooks only
weeks before her arrest and charge. Let`s keep this between us” The
Legacy is recorded as having said. No such luck. The dirty linen is being
washed in public and Blair may have a little explaining to do to Mrs.
From a sunny island somewhere in the
Caribbean Bob Crow, rail union boss and bon viveur, masterminds misery for
commuters as London`s Underground system is brought to a grinding halt by
strikes. The reason for this action is the `threat` that workers in
ticket offices rendered largely redundant through the introduction and
widespread use of Oyster cards might be re-deployed to some more useful
function. Will Bob meet Boris? In Rio de Janeiro for the game? Apparently not.
The robust Mayor of London blinks first, the tube stand-off is over and
Transport for London will conduct a review” of the situation.
The Plebgate row continues to cause
embarrassment for the Met police. The Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe,
apologises to former Government Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell and PC Keith Wallace
is sent to prison for his creative reporting of Thrasher`s behaviour. Two other
officers involved in the case are sacked. The curse of the Home Office
then falls upon the Immigration Minister, Mark Harper, who identifies himself
as having inadvertently employed the services of an illegal Columbian immigrant
as a house cleaner. Young Mark” has been looked upon as a possible future
Prime Minister. In resigning quickly and honourably (a rare thing these days)
once his error has come to light he attracts far more sympathy than opprobrium.
He has been an excellent, courteous and effective Minister of State and come
back soon” seems to be the general sentiment, at least on the Conservative
Not a great month for The Milipede. Writing
in the Catholic newspaper The Tablet former Labour Home Secretary Charles
Clarke declares himself pessimistic” about the current Leader`s chances of
success at the next election. Talking tough, Red Ed claims himself to be ` a
conviction politician like Margaret Thatcher` and vows to give parents the
power to sack headteachers when he is Prime Minister. That will go down a storm
with the NUT but at least he manages to avoid being photographed with Mr.
This month`s Court Circular records that
Prince Charles has taken time out from paddling around in the wetlands to team
up with Prince Wills in an assault on the illegal poaching and slaughter of
wild animals, using a summit at Lancaster House to berate Tanzania`s
nauseating President Kikwete about the murder of some 11,000 elephants a
year in Kikwete`s country. The Princess Royal comes out with a planning policy.
Instead of building new towns in Kent and Buckinghamshire, says P. Anne, why do
we not allow lots of villages to expand and breathe a little life back
into them? Far too common sense an idea, your Royal Highness. No chance.
The London Array wind farm enterprise have
withdrawn their proposal to build an additional 65 turbines to serve their
establishment off the North Kent Coast. We are, of course, desperate to
see the creation of alternative and sustainable sources of energy but the
Red-throated Diver has won the day.
The radio personality Mr. Chris Moyles has
fallen foul of the tax authorities. Utilising, presumably on the advice of his
accountant, the Working Wheels” tax avoidance scheme he has presented himself,
for taxation purposes, as a second-hand car dealer”. Surprisingly, this
low-profile broadcaster`s submission was rejected. A bloke like that
could give second-hand car dealers a bad reputation.
Equally surprising and unjust, clearly, is
the refusal of a tax tribunal to accept, for VAT purposes, the game of Bridge
as a sport. The supplicants averred that the card game was a sport of the
mind”. Croquet, Darts and billiards are indeed classified as sports” already
because there is an athletic element” to the competitions. If your mind
is as easily distracted as mine you will be able to think of a number of
other pastimes that might, on that basis, also classify as sports”.
The Coalition for Marriage has warned, as I
did myself many months ago, that references to husbands, wives and widows
would be airbrushed out of the dictionary following the passage of the Same-sex
marriage” legislation. The necessary procedures will be slipped through the
Commons by secondary legislation in the immediate future. Watch out for The
Merry same-sex partners of Windsor” and the remake of the movie as 7 partners
for 7 partners”.
The House of Lords has passed an amendment,
subsequently also carried through the Commons, to ban smoking in cars
containing children. No sane person would want to kipper their kids with
nicotine but this is a piece of politically-correct tokenism of the worst
possible kind. Parliament should not be passing laws that are
unenforceable. I approached the debate with an open mind and with every
passing minute it became apparent that this was drivel that had to be
opposed. The nanny-statists in all three parties carried the day, of
course, but it will be interesting to see how and when the first prosecution of
two seventeen year olds smoking in a car will take place. Think about it.
The EU has banned cheese and yoghurt from
school meals. Dacian Ciolos, the EU Agriculture Minister” opines that this is
an important measure for bringing about change in children’s` eating habits”.
Mr Ciolos is going to shell out one hundred and ninety million pounds to
provide fruit and veg. Out of your pocket, of course, not his own. And in
Eurospeak bankruptcy” no longer exists. The terminology now used by Brussels
is debt adjusted”. The people whose accounts have not been audited thoroughly
within living memory are clearly in a position to know.
The prison and probation ombudsman has
awarded compensation to a prisoner. £5 for lost socks because it causes
frustration and leads to complaints”. I don`t know the answer but hazard
a guess at how much in bureaucrats time that little puzzle cost to
David Cameron is reported to have said that
when Mr Holland was facing questions from the British press he was asked to
comment on his private life and the French economy. He declined to answer the
Mr Green Belt” Farridge, whose party`s
candidate in one seat is financially supported by the porn movie star Lord
Lust” has seemingly built a double Garridge without planning consent.
This will no doubt feature prominently when he signs his party`s new skeletons
in the cupboard” declaration. The Populist Party Leader has
described his last election manifesto as drivel”. This burst of honesty may
come back to haunt him as he has engaged the services of much of the last
manifesto to write the next one.
Shirley Temple, at the age of 85 in Woodside
California. There is a generation for whom, like Peter Pan, she has never grown
And finally..... (with
apologies to the Feast of St. Valentine)
Roses are red,
They sell them in shops,
My love is like the rain,
It never bloody stops!