Gale's Westminster View - August 2014
August. The silly season turns sour. Now does the summer of
our discontent bring war, terror, death, division, disruption, disease, chaos
and little joy. We are not All Going On A Summer Holiday. The inevitable
demands for the recall of parliament but it is the first of September before
parliament sits again to consider its impotence in the face of turmoil.
All-pervasive gloom paralyses the satirist with writers' block. Hard to quarry
even black humour from such a month but that has never yet stopped us trying.
The lamps are going out all over Europe" said Sir Edward Grey as Foreign
Secretary in 1914, "and we shall not see them lighted again in our
lifetime". It was in commemoration of the start of the 'war to end all
wars' that Britain extinguished its lights between ten and eleven o'clock on an
August night. A modest but possibly a suitably futile recognition of the
fragility of peace. By the middle of the month Russian convoys
"stray" into Eastern Ukraine and more than a thousand Soviet - sorry,
" Russian" - trained rebels are deployed against their compatriots in
a move described with glorious understatement as ' dangerous and provocative'.
Provocative, certainly, but dangerous to whom? Vlad "ras" Putin
scarcely bothers to maintain the pretence that those are anything other than
invading Russian Special Forces deployed to liberate" their Ukrainian
comrades from Western imperialism. Now where have we heard that line before?
Hungary in 1956, Prague, Georgia and Moldova? With 'novorussian' tanks rolling
through Eastern Ukraine it will be interesting to see whether a Europe
dominated by a Germany dependent for its industry upon Russian gas supplies and
a France that is still hell- bent on selling arms to the Kremlin will have the
balls to do anything other than make whimpering noises. Russia is a
member state of the Council of Europe, for heaven's sake. When, following the
neo-soviet annexation of Crimea, some of us within the Parliamentary Assembly
of the CoE sought the removal of the Russian delegation we were told that we
needed them inside and talking". With the next plenary session of the
Parliamentary Assembly due in September we now wait to see whether appeasement
is still the order of the day or whether what passes for the combined might of
European Union 'external policy', The Council of Europe, NATO and Borat O'Bama's
White House can come up with anything more threatening than the removal of
privileges from a handful of Putin- supporting Oligarchs. I am not convinced
that Frau Merkel calling for a ceasefire is likely to cut even as much ice as
the anger and grief of Mothers of some Russian Special Forces, presumed killed in
action while " "accidentally" straying into Ukraine and I doubt
that Man David's description of Putin's armoured brigades' incursion into that
country as "unacceptable" will shake the foundations of the Kremlin
any more than will the proposed removal, from Russia, of the 2018 World Cup.
With the battle of the key town of Mariupol looming and Putin reminding
schoolchildren that the neo- Soviet Union still has nuclear weapons it will
take more than a little sabre-rattling to put an end to the former KGB
officer's territorial ambitions. If the 'Bosnia-isation ' of 'Republica
Donetska' is proposed and agreed at some future location near Dayton Ohio or
Leningrad or some other god-forsaken outpost then you can kiss the future of
anything resembling democracy in the post-soviet republics goodbye for a
generation and more.
If nuclear war does break out, however, it is more likely to be in the Middle
East than in Eastern Europe. The point of a nuclear deterrent, as it is
understood even in Red Square, is to deter the use of nuclear weapons in the
certain knowledge that action will lead inexorably to reaction and mutual
self-destruction. Those who are prepared to engage in acts of savagery
that include genocide and the severing of an American journalist's head filmed for
the benefit of 'social media ' publicity are unlikely to be put off
their stride by anything remotely resembling reason. Whether the hapless Mr.
Holland, the beleaguered 'President' of France is right or not, failure to
implement concerted policies in Syria has clearly sown the wind and the
whirlwind is now being reaped. It may well be the case that the sooner that those
who are prepared to bury Christian and Yazidi women and children alive are sent
to meet their inexhaustible supply of virgins in the hereafter the better but
in the interim we have to recognise that we are facing something that has
little or nothing to do with " faith" and everything to do with evil
and international criminality and the power-crazed terrorism of a bunch of
control-freaks on an industrial scale. The self-styled 'Islamist State of
Iraq and the Levant '(Isil) is well funded and out of any form of sane and
negotiable concern. The UK's new Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, was
right to describe ISIL as " a threat to civilisation" Add to
that the Hamas-based rocketing of Israel, that organisation's deployment of
women and children as human shields and a disproportionate Israeli response
that may yet be indicted as war crimes and you have the perfect storm. It
is almost a question of not which nuclear nation but when and who will push the
red button first. Sir Edward Grey’s lamps could yet be going out all over the
Reverting, as a footnote, to the murder and decapitation of the American
journalist, James Foley, there has been copious press analysis of who may have
committed the atrocity, and where and when, and how the net is closing
in" on his killers. Setting aside the thought that the Daily Torygraph and
The Bourgeoise Women’s Tabloid and other such chip-wrappings probably have no
better access to sources of information than you or I it seems to me that if
the net really were to be "closing in " on a gang of British
jihadists known as " The Beatles" led by " John" then the
less said and publicised about it the better. It would be good to think that
one day the thugs that executed this crime might be brought to justice but
unless and until that happens a period of speculation- free journalism might
just be in order.
In the shadow of what might properly, for once, be described as an
international crisis, our own parochial squabbles pale into insignificance.
There have been domestic consequences of course. The Prime Minister has
had to once again curtail his Cornish holiday and return to Downing Street to
chair COBRA meetings, describing the situation as a generational struggle
against a poisonous ideology". The Commissioner of the Metropolitan
Police, Bernard Hogan- Howe, calls upon HMG to strip jihadists seeking to
return to the United Kingdom of their passports. Mayor Boris, never one to miss
an attractive passing bandwagon but who clearly has some legitimate interest in
the matter as his city is a prime terrorist target, dances to the same tune.
The former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, sacked in a classic case of
shooting the messenger who brings bad news, points out that while those with
dual nationality might be relieved of their UK citizenship there are serious
legal impediments to rendering British-born subjects stateless. The Darling Bud
of May nevertheless assures us that her Home Office is examining every
possibility to tighten still further the powers available to combat terrorism
up to and including the reinstatement Lord (Michael) Howard`s Control
Orders, removed as part of the coalition deal at the behest of the Liberal
Democrats. As we all know, though, we can prevent a thousand terrorist attacks
but it only takes one to get through the net to cause mayhem. That's a thought
that concentrates the mind when you remember the prominence of the building
that we are privileged to work in and most of us are eternally grateful for the
tireless efforts of those who seek to protect us. There will always be a
tension, in a democratic society, between freedom and access on the one hand
and security in the public and national interest on the other.
And so to domestic issues. Mayor Boris and Mr Farridge are on manoeuvres and
The Speaker of the House of Commons is under siege. The Mayor of London is
gravitating towards the seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, due to be vacated
at the general election by the excellent Sir John Randall, as his preferred
option for a return to parliament and a not-the-Tory-leadership bid. There is
also a current vacancy in Clacton, of which more in a moment, but Mr. Johnson
might consider the UKIP challenge too hazardous to stake his reputation upon
the possibility of losing a by- election. Who dares wins, Boris, and there are
those now suggesting that the sibling Jo might prove to be the Johnson that
finally makes it to the top of the greasy pole.
It has been an interesting month for the braying mantis of the European
Parliament. For an elected representative who enjoys a salary, handsome pension
package and not inconsiderable unchallenged expenses in return for representing
British interests and constituents in Brussels, Mr. Farridge spends an
inordinate amount of time on home soil promoting his own interests and those of
his party. Following the charade of a selection process" in the
parliamentary seat of South Thanet, where my neighbour and dear friend Laura
Sandys is, for entirely proper personal reasons, retiring from her position as
the Conservative Member of Parliament, Farridge has been confirmed as the UKIP
candidate for the 2015 general election. I have said before that I do not
believe that the Leader of his Party, having been a large fish in a small
birdbath, actually wishes to " do a Lucas" and, like the former MEP
and Green Party Leader, disappear without much trace onto the back benches of
the House of Commons to sink under a sea of constituency casework with which he
is not at present troubled. Farridge talks grandly of winning many seats and "holding
the balance of power" in a hung parliament. The reality is that he and his
motley band of Tory rejects and fellow travellers could, at best, split the
Conservative vote and deliver The Milipede as the occupant of Number 10 Downing
Street. That, of course, would put the kibosh on any in/ out referendum on the
UK's membership of the European Union and consequent ability to control the
level of immigration that has risen to the top of the pile as a prominent issue
of electoral concern.
Forget the moonshine about taking votes from Labour". A Lord Ashcroft
poll, which is usually accurate, indicates that UKIP will hit Tory marginal
seats. Accusations of racism and xenophobia were highlighted recently by the
newly- elected South East UKIP MEP Mrs Janice Atkinson, who as Janice Small was
a failed Tory parliamentary candidate. Ms Atkinson described a Thai constituent
as a "Ting-Tong from somewhere" within the hearing of a BBC
microphone which did not appear to trouble the Farridge-voting former BNP
supporters in certain coastal areas a great deal. That a UKIP youth
meeting was treated to the suggestion that young members should emulate Adolph
Hitler, who one Mr. Bill Etheridge apparently admires as a magnetic and
forceful public speaker" that "achieved a great deal" ought to
be of at least some concern, however.
And so to Mr. Douglas Carswell, at the time of writing the former
conservative Member of Parliament for Clacton in Essex. The Clacton
constituency also embraces Harwich, which was formerly a Labour seat in its own
right, and the sleepy and rather genteel seaside resort of Frinton on Sea off
which, many years ago, the good ship Radio Caroline South, from which I once
broadcast, was moored.
It is not possible for a Member of Parliament to resign. Aside from the
slightly draconian exit- route of death the main option is to take an office
of profit under the Crown" which automatically bars a person from sitting
in the House. Thus Mr. Carswell applied for and was granted "The
Stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds" and has left parliament to fight the
resulting by- election in the UKIP cause. As one who believes in the democratic
process I have always felt it appropriate to fight my battles within the
system: if your arguments carry the day you win and if not then you accept he
will of the majority and move on. What you do not do is let down those to whom
you owe your position, sulk, take your bat and ball away or rat on your former
colleagues. Unlike many commentators, including the press who regard this
as a good story", I do not find Mr. Carswell's actions either honourable
or courageous. That this clandestine move caught the Conservative Party
by surprise is beyond doubt. Not even Mr. Roger Lord, the UKIP candidate
already selected to fight Mr. Carswell in 2015, benefitted from the
courtesy of prior consultation with the Braying Mantis and understandably Mr.
Lord is not best pleased. He has described the Farridge gleeful welcome of his
new recruit as a big mistake" and for those with long political memories
believes it to be an opportunist coup on a par with that of the defection to
UKIP of the former TV presenter and Labour MP Robert Kilroy Silk. It is
suggested that Mr. Lord will not stand aside to make way for the Tory turncoat
who now wishes to usurp his position in breach of his new party' rules . A
person has to have been a member of UKIP for six months to be eligible to stand
as a candidate and unless Mr. Carswell is even more duplicitous than we have
been led to believe he does not meet that requirement. Only recently he was
welcoming and endorsing David Cameron's commitment to an EU referendum
following the election of a majority Conservative Government as the only way to
achieve that desired result. We now understand that the former Tory backer
Stuart Wheeler has been quietly whining (sic) and dining a handful of
Conservative MPs in an effort to suborn them. Win or lose the Clacton by-
election I doubt that Carswell will warrant more than a sad footnote in the
parliamentary history of the twenty- first century.
Mr. Bercow, the current Speaker of the House of Commons, has, it seems, a
tigress by the tail. Mr. Speaker Bercow heads and assembled the selection
committee tasked with the duty of picking a successor to the retiring Clerk of
the House, the physically and intellectually impressive Sir Robert Rogers.
Rumour has it that Sir Robert had a falling out with Mr. Speaker Bercow and
decided that he had other, better and happier things that he wished to do than
to preside - such has the role of the Clerk changed - over the refurbishment of
the lavatories ( well, the whole building to be fair) of the Palace of
Westminster. Ordinarily the Clerk of the House role would have been
handed on to another and experienced member of the team, in this case probably
the equally impressive David Natzler. Speaker Bercow's committee, which
unusually did not include the Chairman of Ways and Means, Senior Deputy Speaker
Lindsay Hoyle, decided to go out to tender and selected the current Deputy Head
of Parliamentary Services in Canberra, Australia, one Carol Mills. Most of us
have not had the opportunity to meet with Ms. Mills and it would be quite wrong
to malign the beleaguered woman but former Speaker and hugely respected
Baroness, Betty Boothroyd, has suggested that she is likely be "
completely out of her depth" in the £200 thousand a year job and the Clerk
of the Australian Senate, Rosemary Laing, who presumably knows what she
is talking about, says that Ms. Mills has " no real experience of
parliamentary procedure" which might be a bit of a drawback in the job.
Ordinarily the appointment would be approved by the Prime Minister and formally
signed off by Her Maj but Sir Alan Beith, Chairman of the Commons Liaison
Committee has called for the appointment to be halted and former Home Secretary
Jack Straw, a lawyer, former Leader of the House of Commons Dame Margaret
Beckett, and the Rt.Hon. Andrew Mitchell, former Secretary of State for
Overseas Development have all called for the candidate to be subjected to a US-style
selection hearing. Just to compound the difficulties David Natzler has
instigated a case against Speaker Bercow on the grounds of 'gender
discrimination'! Downing Street has indicated that the appointment has
not yet been formalised" which suggests that the Speaker's preferred
choice faces rough water. Watch this space.
It has not been a great Summer Holiday for Sir Cliff Richard either.
While relaxing in his second home in The Algarve he learned that in
a full glare of BBC live coverage the South Yorkshire constabulary , whose
Police and Crime Commissioner is one Sean Wright, a former Labour Councillor,
had been busy raiding his home seeking evidence following allegations of an
historical abuse. Sir Cliff had been made aware of the allegations in the past
and had not deemed it appropriate to dignify them with comment. However, with a
BBC helicopter hovering over his UK home following a tip- off from Mr.
Plodthwaite, the ever- youthful singing knight found it necessary to issue an
emphatic and forceful denial. Subsequently, Cliff returned voluntary to the UK
to speak with Yorkshire's super-sleuths but in the meantime other questions
were being asked. Former Attorney General Dominic Grieve, until recently
the Government's most senior lawyer, considered South Yorkshire's handling of
the matter to be " highly questionable" leading to an unseemly "
who told who what and when" spat between the Salford Broadcasting
Corporation and the Police, with the latter claiming, but unable to explain
how, that the broadcaster had already got the story of the investigation and was
bought off to "preserve the evidence" with a promise of prior
notification of the raid! As a result the illustrious Lord (Tony) Hall will be
dragged from the comfort of New Broadcasting House to join the Chief Constable
of South Yorkshire, David Crompton, to face a Select Committee grilling.
The committee may just not be minded to accept Lord Hall's assertion that
the Corporation had acted appropriately" in "protecting editorial
independence". Sir Cliff, meanwhile, is back in the Algarve.
Not a good summer, either, for South Yorks' Police and Crime Commissioner, the
aforementioned Ex- Councillor Sean Wright. Mr. Wright was Rotherham's
Councillor with Responsibility for Children's Services for much of the time
when, according to a devastating and excoriating report produced by Professor
Alexis Jay, up to 1400 under-age girls were, over a sixteen-year period, being
groomed and sexually abused and in some cases tortured by gangs of mainly Asian
men. Professor Jay, in her own words, describes "failings of
Leadership" on the part of local government and the police that, because
of a desire not to be seen as "discriminatory" , led to complaints by
young victims, parents and some social workers, going unheeded and unpunished.
Reading Rotherham's website, following publication of Professor Jay's report, a
visitor from Mars might have been forgiven for believing that these
"historic" accusations were all" in the past" and that all is
well. All is not well. Those responsible, including senior Council staff,
senior police officers and the Police and Crime Commissioner have to be held to
account. They surely cannot continue to be allowed to hold public office?
The Nanny State, in the form of National Health England, believes that we
should eschew the demon drink for two days in every week. It is not clear upon
what authority this advice is given or how it squares with the a glass of red
wine is good for you" thesis but Matron knows best.
Royal Mail's attempt to "improve" its service (to shareholders,
presumably) involves the scrapping of 'late collections' to require posties
engaged in what are now late deliveries to collect mail from boxes in the
course of their rounds.
And The Legacy has particular cause to be ungruntled with RM's philatelic
services. Their stamp issue of eight Prime Ministers includes William Pitt the
Younger, at the age of 24 in 1783, long before Rowland Hill's penny postage was
a gleam in Queen Victoria' young eye in 1840. Also featured and
pre-Rowland Hill is Charles Grey of 1832 Reform Act fame. Robert "
Bobby" Peel, Gladstone, Churchill, Attlee, Wilson and Margaret Thatcher
are all getting licked but there is no room in this collection for Mr. Blair.
No stamp with a million-pound face value, perhaps?
Inheritance tax used to be paid on one in twenty estates. Thanks to rising
house prices that figure will, by 2018, have fallen to one in ten. Given that
homes are bought with earnings upon which tax has already been paid this is an
issue that Chancellor George might do well, in an election year, to
Immigration judges have determined that a fifteen year old Ethiopian girl must
be admitted to the United Kingdom on the grounds that, under Ethiopian law, she
is married. Even by the standards of perverse decisions frequently perpetrated
by the judiciary this seems to be, in the context of British law, a trifle
Gardener's Question Time, the much- loved hoe-addicts' programme, has been
branded as racist by an academic sociologist at the University of Westminster.
It is, it seems, unacceptable to refer to native and non-native species"
in a manner that is apparently "feeding fascist fantasies".
The Chancellor's Number 11 cat, Freya, was run over by a taxi in Whitehall. On
World Cat Day. Freya, who is something of a liability, escaped relatively
unscathed from between the wheels but her remaining lives are diminishing at an
In a desperate endeavour to "keep up with the times" the Chief Guide,
Gill Slocombe, has announced that her girls will be swapping their traditional
uniforms for fresh, young and versatile" hoodies and jeans. Is there a
badge for dumbing down?
After a losing battle with large seabirds the St. Ives Council, in Cornwall,
has given up trying to prevent herring gulls from ripping ice creams from the
hands of unwary tourists saying we will just have to learn to live with
them". They swoop to conquer".
Google vets are killing pets. So says the British Veterinary Association. The
Vets' trade union is concerned that Dr. Google" is giving advice that
leads the layman to mis-diagnosis and inappropriate treatment, sometimes
resulting in fatality.
One hump of cheese or two? In a move reminiscent of the wonderful
"giraffe's milk" spoof broadcast from Paignton Zoo by Farming
Today, a Dorset firm is producing "Godminster Cheese" made from
camels' milk. And this time it’s not All Fools Day.
UK Industry now has its own flag. Made in Taiwan. Have they not heard of the
wonderful Wales-based firm called Mr. Flag? Or is the principality deemed to be
too "foreign” for English tastes?
A blow for French cuisine. Hard on the heels of a severe shortage of mussels
from La Rochelle and the need to import fish to meet the demand for Moules
Frites we are now told that the so-typically French escargots do not belong to
France at all. Spanish cave-dwellers were eating snails ten thousand years ago.
The European Union Department of Meddlesome Affairs is demanding that the 'world's
finest beer', so good that it is sold unlabelled, must henceforth carry details
of the ingredients on the bottles. The Monks of St. Sixths Abbey who, with
divine assistance, brew Westleferen ale, must be wondering which idiot, in the
good Lord’s name, dreamed up this particular gem of eurocracy.
'Elf ' n safety strikes again. It's the bottom of the barrel for lucky dips.
Shredded paper may cause a health hazard. Of course. Hospitals are overwhelmed
with the treatment of summer-fete acquired disease arising from wallowing in
tubs of bran.
The Liberal Democrat wing of the coalition wants to reduce the age at which sex
education is enforced in schools from eleven to seven so that children can make
informed decisions". About precisely what?
And pity the poor triathlete who, having run the 86 miles from London to Dover,
was about to commence the 21 mile swim across the Channel as part of his
record-breaking attempt when he was challenged by Kent police. An over-zealous
anti-immigration campaigner had assumed that he was an illegal immigrant trying
to get ashore and reported John van Wisse to our eagle-eyed Border and
Chapman ' Harry' Pincher, spy catcher extraordinaire and doyen of the
black Lubianka", Fleet Street home of the old Daily Express, having scored
his century, has made his last shorthand note.
At the age of 63 the star of Mrs. Doubtfire and Good Morning Vietnam,
immortalised in Mork and Mindy, Robin Williams has shot his final scene.
The voice of Radio Two and Radio Five Live classified football results, the man
whose intonations have excited and disappointed generations of football pools investors,
James Alexander Gordon, has signed off for ever.
John Major has paid tribute on the passing, at the age of 81, to Albert
Reynolds who, as Taoiseach of The Republic of Ireland was instrumental in
orchestrating the start of the peace process.
Richard "Darling Dickie" Attenborough, film actor and director who
starred in The Great Escape and picked up an Oscar for Gandhi in 1982 has
called "cut" for the last time in his 91st year.
Or will this prove to be "valete"? Next month we shall know
whether we are still a United Kingdom or whether Scotland under Alex Salmond has
voted to quit the Union and go it alone at whatever cost to the economies of
both sides of the argument and with the future of Scotland's new currency still
undetermined. Alasdair Darling thrashed Salmond in the first of two televised
(curiously in Scotland only) debates but in round two Salmond came out fighting
and reduced a "no" vote predicted poll lead to just 6 points.
Paraphrasing the Dog's Trust catchphrase the vote is forever, not just for
Hogmanay”,the argument for maintaining the Union is unassailable but will
Braveheart rule the head? There could be the Mother of all financial hangovers
if Scotland buys into Salmond and gets it wrong.