Gale`s Westminster View – February 2013
February. A Conservative majority votes against same sex marriage; stormy times ahead as a liberal, labour, government coalition votes in favour but no tax-breaks- even for gaily married couples .Hell hath no fury like a Liberal Democrat scorned: Huhne pleads guilty to perverting the court of justice and resigns. A by-election looms in Eastleigh. Has Rennard been outfoxed by the vixens? Man David promises an in/out referendum on Europe and the EU budget increase gets the chop. In the interests of transparency will MEPs now vote by secret ballot? The mane course turns out to be equine, chaos in the European food markets. The deaths of hundreds in Stafford`s hospital are overshadowed by the horsemeat scandal. Dead Dobbins sell more newspapers than dead grannies. The black pencil comes out at the BBC as the Savile report is censored. A bad month for whistleblowers. The Mantel piece falls upon Princess Kate”, the free press fights to defend power without honesty and Ofgem warns that the lights may once again be going out all over England.
Whatever your viewpoint just one in fourteen electors believes that same-sex marriage is a political priority but every dogma has its day. The House of Commons votes. The bill is given a second reading by a massive Labour/coalition margin but on the Conservative benches only one hundred and twenty six Members support the measure with one hundred and thirty four voting against and thirty-five abstentions. Within his own ranks the Prime Minister has no moral majority for this unloved measure and it remains to be seen what will happen in Their Lordships` House. If the Peers chuck the bill out will the Government really try to use the Parliament Act to force it through? That, surely, would be an unprecedented abuse of a procedure designed for constitutional measures. Young Lochinvar believes that voters will have forgotten and forgiven by the time that the General Election comes around in 2015. He may be right but it is certainly the case that the membership of the Conservative Party has diminished as a result of a policy that was not contained within any party`s manifesto, is unnecessary and not regarded by the public at large or even the homosexual community as a must. This Parliament still has two years two run but an early indicator of reaction may be this year`s County Council elections preceded, at the month`s end, by a by-election due to be held in bizarre circumstances in Eastleigh.
Eastleigh, for those whose knowledge of the geography of Southern England is rusty, is an unremarkable railway town close to Southampton in Hampshire. Embracing a section of the Hamble river, the parliamentary constituency has, for some time, returned a Liberal Member of Parliament in the form of Mr. Christopher Huhne. The aforesaid Mr Huhne, students of politics will recall, lost a contest for the Leadership of the Liberal Democrat interest to St. Nicholas of Clogg and under the Coalition government became the Secretary of State for Energy. Some years ago, while a Member of the European Parliament, the Huhne persuaded, or maritally coerced” if you believe the former Mrs. Huhne, his ex-wife to take some speeding points for him to prevent him from losing his driving licence. This, apparently, is common practice amongst the boy racer community and the ruse might have remained undetected had not the Huhne then, post-election, dumped his delectable wife in favour of his lover, a lesbian. Still with me?
The Huhne protested his innocence up to the fifty-ninth minute of the eleventh hour and then, faced with the appalling threat that his son, who knew the story, would spill the beans he pleaded guilty and now awaits what most expect to be a custodial sentence. While in this age of electronic communications it is probably possible to respond to constituency casework and even the interminable e-mails sent out in support of 38-Degrees campaigns from chokey even the brazen Huhne realised that his position in parliament was no longer tenable and he resigned. Hence the need for a by-election to be held in Eastleigh, called by the Liberal Democrat Party (they held the seat so it was their shout) with indecent haste in order to prevent the competition from challenging the bank of postal votes that they had built up over the years. A wise move, as it turned out, but more of that anon.
Back to the man in the dock and the Huhne is unable to comment while his ex-wife, the shrinking violet who was so compliant that she did as she was told by her ex-husband, faces similar charges of attempting to pervert the course of justice. She would, in fact, probably quite successfully (unless the defence of marital coercion holds water) have concealed her actions had she not decided, in a get-your-own-back” moment, to confide in a hackette from the Sunday Times. The hackette, it seems, encouraged the view that it was possible to bring Huhne down without seriously damaging your own reputation” The former has been achieved. For the latter we have to await the result of a re-trial because a quick witted jury did not appear to comprehend the duty that was being placed upon them. Difficult to see which bit of beyond reasonable doubt” they did not understand but they had to be dismissed. Ah well. It`s only taxpayer`s money!
Technically, the result of the Eastleigh by-election, announced in the small hours of the morning on 1st March, ought to appear in the next Epistle of Old Windy to the Insomniacs but polling day was on the last day of February. Consequential human sacrifices and an examination of the entrails can wait for a later day but for those who were on Planet Zog at the time the Liberal Democrats held their seat with a fifty per cent cut in their majority and a loss of fourteen per cent of their vote. The Conservative candidate, Maria Hutchings, who fought a brave campaign for which she will no doubt be in due course roundly criticised, suffered a similar loss of fourteen per cent of the votes cast and was beaten into third place by an effective UKIP candidate selected when that Party`s Leader, Nige Farridge, decided not to risk losing. The Labour Party, it is reported, also fielded a candidate who came a distant fourth as his contribution to The Milipede`s determination to make inroads south of Watford. On the morning after the night before the Education Secretary, St. Michael of Gove, appeared on Radio Four to courteously explain to the Inquisitor General, Mr. John Humphries, that same-sex marriage was not an issue on the doorsteps”. I don`t know how many doorsteps St. Michael polished and I freely concede that other business kept me off the streets of Hamble but I did spend a little time on the Bell Telephone and certainly had my ear well and truly bent on the subject. In all honesty, though, it was Europe” and too many bloody foreigners” and a general plague on all your rotten houses” that drove scores of punters into the arms of Mr. Farridge.
As a bit on the side of this strange and precarious campaign there has been L`Affair Rennard. The Fox” , as he is imaginatively known, who has been the fertile imagination behind many Liberal Democrat election campaigns, vigorously denies that he has groped” a string of what the Bourgeois Women`s Tabloid describes as Lord Rennard`s Red Hot Babes” in spite of the fact that a coven of vixens has emerged to point the finger. St Nicholas of Clogg, the illustrious leader of the Liberal Democrat Party, appears to have shifted his position from I didn`t know nuffink guv`nor” through well I knew a bit but not the detail” to I was told but nobody made a formal complaint”. In the febrile atmosphere of an election campaign The Women`s Tabloid pursued this story with all the rigour of a newspaper seeking to prove to Lord Leveson the importance of a free press. Currently, the constabulary may or may not be taking an interest in the matter, the issue is the subject of a Party inquiry that may or may not prove to be conclusive and the Party`s President, Tim Farron, has conceded that We haven`t handled this very well”. The bottom line, if that is a correct expression to use under these circumstances, is that the sex scandal without any sex” broke too late to influence the postal votes of thousands of Liberal Democrat supporters who had already loyally done their stuff and mailed completed ballot papers back to Father Christmas.
With the Prime Minister leading a 159-strong Trade delegation to the Indian sub-continent and every rank of parliamentarian of every party burning rubber up and down the A3 and the Motorway between London and Hampshire to spend a few hours annoying the electors of Eastleigh you might be forgiven for wondering who was around to notice that, after months of expectation, Britain`s triple-A credit rating was downgraded. On the Richter scale it read as small economic earthquake, not many people killed” because the markets had all seen it coming but Chancellor George suffered from egg-on-face disease as the news channels delighted in re-playing news footage from a year ago in which he told us how vital it was to......... keep our credit rating. He does, though have a secret weapon. It`s called Ed Balls”, the Shadow Chancellor who can always be relied upon to make George look good if the going gets rough.
Plenty of advice for the government on the EU front. From The Colonies, the American Veep, Mr. Biden, tells Number Ten that Britain ought to stay in Europe. This is helpful. The White House has clearly found its atlas. From Germany comes the encouraging thought that Romanians may pose a threat to social peace”. They do have a broader point. In a spirit of generosity we are one of only five countries that fork out child benefit for the non-resident children of EU immigrants. About a million pounds a week of child benefit! Given that the other twenty-two countries require children to be resident before paying benefits is it not, perhaps, time that we risked the wrath of the Commission and imposed a similar rule here in the UK? We have, in fact, overtaken Spain and Germany and France to become, with 590,950 jobseekers” from the EU during the past year, the Number One destination of choice for economic migrants. It is not, therefore, surprising that our Government is now advertising job vacancies in Polish, now our second most commonly used language, on its websites. We should not, though, overlook the fact that at the European Summit Man David secured, for the first time in the history of that bloated organisation, a real-terms cut in the European Union budget. Of course, thanks to the fact that The Legacy surrendered part of our rebate the UK will still end up paying the EU more and Martin Schultz, the EU Parliament`s high-spending socialist President” wants MEPs, in a spirit of transparency, to be allowed to vote in secret to block the Ministerially agreed budget. Nevertheless, Cameron`s achievement is significant. Significant enough, at least, for Mr. Holland to slope off in a hissy fit while the PM hammered out details with Frau Merkel and Herman Van Rumpy Pumpy.
The other matter of modest interest on the European front has been the horseburger scandal. In France, of course, horsemeat is accepted as part of a culinary artist`s repertoire but the idea that our own high-quality supermarket beef burgers, beef lasagnes and beef bolognaise might have been adulterated with other” meat and, worse, fed to hospitals and schools and, perish the thought, even prisons, is abhorrent. For two and six a pound one is, surely, entitled to prime steak? And talking of One” there is the awful thought that Her Maj may have inadvertently consumed a little cheval provided by the suppliers of pies to Royal Ascot. Did The Queen Eat Horse”? screams the tabloid headline. (Probably not.) People do, of course, have a right to know that what they are buying is literally what it says on the tin” but at dog food prices is there not a modest case for `caveat emptor` in all of this? The really serious issue, surely, is that we continue to impose, rightly, upon our own farmers the highest standards of husbandry and food production while allowing our markets to be flooded with cheap imported food produced from animals and birds reared under conditions that would never be permitted in Britain?
Either way it ought to be, but is probably not, surprising that infinitely more column inches have been devoted to the meat scandal than have been given to the coverage of ill-treatment and hundreds of deaths at the Mid Stafford and other hospitals. Associated with this is the discovery that potential NHS whistle blowers” have been paid significant sums of money in return for legal contracts binding them to silence. Mr. Gary Walker, we are told, received £500,000 in return for his discretion. Having taken the lid off the Staffordshire story he is now regarded as a hero by the popular press for his courage in risking a challenge for the re-payment of half a million pounds in the light of his breach of contract. A small voice inside me cannot help asking where was his conscience when he took the money in the first place”?
There has yet to come a month when the Salford Broadcasting Corporation is not in the news and this month is no exception. Set aside the ongoing umbrage over Ambridge and the fact that The Archers have shut down their message board, presumably because the producers are fed up with criticism of their dreary, politically correct, metro centric not-village-life story lines and you are left with the same old navel-gazing Management-obsessed organisation that is crazily incapable of understanding that the listening and viewing public no longer trusts the BBC. This ought to have been the month during which, with the publication of the Pollard Report into the Savile Affair and the censorship of Newsnight, the men on the sixth floor recognised that real people in senior positions were actually to blame for this debacle and that cans had to be carried, demonstrated a degree of contrition and humility sand began to move on. The trouble is that contrition and humility are neither in the Corporation`s lexicon nor its DNA. So the report produced by former Sky News editor Nick Pollard was subjected to heavy redaction or, in plain English, censorship. Jeremy Paxman`s harsh criticisms of people in high Beeb places, along with many other salient comments that have, of course, begun to leak, were struck out with a black marker pen and aside from the hapless George Entwistle, the shortest-serving Director General in history, not a head has rolled. Instead, those who might have been expected to take some burden of responsibility for the shambles have been re-shuffled in a series of unattractive lateral arabesques. With a view to strengthening its clearly under-staffed management team the BBC has, additionally, appointed James Purnell as its new £300K a year Strategy Chief”. Mr. Purnell, some may remember, served under Legacy Blair as a Minister, rising to become Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Having previously been employed by the BBC the door of Broadcasting House revolved once more and, without an open recruitment process, John Birt`s former Head of Corporate Planning has his snout back in the trough on Auntie`s Farm. Now there`s a new line for Ambridge.
The Public Accounts Committee, short of a headline or two, intends to crawl over the Royal Accounts. As Her Maj offers rather better value for money than most, if not all, public bodies including Parliament and the BBC, I doubt if that is likely to lose The Queen much sleep. The great lady may, though, have been Not Amused by the publication of yet more photographs of a markedly pregnant and bikini-wearing Duchess of Cambridge – or Princess Kate” as the Prime Minister has taken to calling her – in a tatty Italian rag owned by Italy`s revolting fugitive from justice. Mr. Berlusconi. The vulnerable Duchess, meanwhile, who cannot of course respond to her critics, has been described by a woman who writes books as appearing to have been designed by a committee and built by craftsmen with a perfect plastic smile....designed to breed and have good manners”. Coming from a person who herself appears to have been designed by a naval architect, the remarks were, perhaps, a little unwise. The publicity seeking authoress, whose name and books I to not propose to grace with a further name check, made her remarks during a London Review of Books” lecture and, following a storm of protest from such luminaries as Young Lochinvar and The Milipede, suggested that those who sought to criticise should first read her whole diatribe. No, thank you.
The lights will, shortly, be going out all over Britain. Those of us who have, for many years past, been urging investment in a new generation of nuclear power stations will take small comfort from the fact that as coal-fired power plants are phased out in the rush to Green we shall be faced with a massive energy shortfall and held largely hostage to the whims and prices of foreign suppliers of gas and oil. OFGEM, whose responsibility embraces energy regulation, has now stated the blindingly obvious. Nuclear power stations take time to plan and build and commission. You can talk wind and wave and solar power all you like but if our schools and hospitals and industries and homes are to be powered by anything other than glow-worms at the back end of this decade – yes, decade, not century – then Her Majesty`s Loyal Coalition is going to have to swallow its aversion to enriched uranium and fire the starting gun for not one but twenty new nuclear power stations immediately. Many of us may be pushing up daisies by the time that the real crunch comes but I do not want my grandchildren to have to build a fire and rub twigs together in order to keep warm during a climate-changed winter.
The Britannia Coconutters have been dancing an annual 12-hour Morris marathon in Bacup for about 150 years. The side, with scant attention to political correctness, blacks up and calls at in the region of twenty public houses to perform, their activities seem to have been brought to a grinding halt. Not because the local authority finds their minstrel” appearance offensive, the conclusion that you might immediately have leapt to, but because `elf `n safety requires six hundred quid’s worth of training so that road closures can be manned (or should that be personned”?) by properly trained stewards.”
The Justice Secretary has plans for Spartan prisons”. No Sky TV, no lifestyle frills”, Prison overalls instead of casual clothing and a bar on gay prisoners in partnerships sharing cells. Presumably Chris Grayling is already preparing his case for the inevitable appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Topically equine-sensitive sign in our excellent local village butcher`s window: So you think supermarket beefburgers are bad. You should try their Quarter Pandas”!
It was King Richard the Third, recently discovered buried under a public car park in Leicester, who is reputed to have famously said My kingdom for a horse”. How would you like it cooked, Sire?
Man David, visiting Africa, was asked if there was truth in the rumour that the SAS was to be disbanded. We shall be reading headlines saying that the Red Arrows Aerobatics Team and the Trooping of the Colour are for the chop next” he quipped. Headlines the following day? Don`t bother to ask.
Those young people reared in the tough Australian outback have been told, by the National Health and Medical Research Council, not to blow out candles on birthday cakes in case they spread germs. Hard balls can cause injury as well. Not much future for The Ashes then.
Still Down Under, Ken and Katia Dwarte, MacDonald’s franchisees, have hit upon the novel idea of offering their customers knives and forks as an experiment”. People get quite excited” they say. Cutlery has been used in Britain since the time of Henry the Second (It may save washing your hands but you have to wash the knives and forks – I don`t see the point”). New-fangled gadgets clearly take a little longer to reach the southern hemisphere.
In the High Court a thirteen year old young lady, the victim of a serious road accident, is cleared of contributory negligence for not wearing hi-viz jacket while walking on the verge of a country road at night. The driver`s insurance company is nevertheless fighting the damages claim, presumably on the grounds that motorists have a right to drive on grass verges. Not very Churchillian.
Her Majesty`s Courts and Tribunals Service has found it necessary to apologise to Sylvia Middleton of Basildon, in Essex, because she was barred from attending a disability tribunal hearing. In a wheelchair. She should not have been turned away by security staff on the grounds of in case fire broke out” as this was a misinterpretation” of the rules. Any chance of a ground-floor disabled accessible facility for Tribunals? Not if experience elsewhere is anything to go by.
Garden gnomes have been banned from the Chelsea flower show, along with fairies, pixies, balloons and flags, for more than a century. The Royal Horticultural Society has now relented and this year Her Maj will be able to review an array of a hundred of the little people. That`s if they`re not nicked by drunks and left outside the Town Hall, of course. In other news from the floral department we are told that fresh roses keep longer if displayed in a vase full of vodka. If you drank the vodka, of course, the flowers would probably look just as good.
The Leader of Havant Council in Hampshire wants to change the name of his town because, he feels, it sounds too negative” The Haves and Haven`ts of the good burghers of the ville that has born its name since the Domesday Book are not said to be positive about the proposed change.
After Two Hundred and Fifty Eight years in business the Axminster Carpet firm, purveyor of fine floor coverings to the gentry and royalty has gone into liquidation. The end of an era.
The star of Marriage lines” and The Good Life”, the much-loved Richard Briers has gone to the great Green Room in the sky.
And Royal Marine and Falklands War veteran James McConnell died, at the age of 69, in the Bluebell Care Home in Southsea without known family. His Vicar, the Reverend Bob Mason, went onto facebook to seek some support to give the old soldier a decent send off. The Royal British Legion motorcycle flag bearers and more that two hundred people from all over the country turned out to do the honours.
Visiting a hospital recently His Royal Highness Prince Philip is reported to have said to a Philippino nurse, with his accustomed tact, Your country must be half empty. You`re all here running the NHS”. With Her Maj in the King Edward V11 hospital suffering from gastro-enteritis at the time of writing the old boy must be glad that she is in good hands. Get well soon, Ma`am.