Gale`s View from Westminster November 2014
November. The Darling Bud faces an arresting challenge. Does The Legacy Save the Children? A computerised petition says "no". Selective education back on the agenda and FIFA on the rack over Russia and Qatar. NATO warns of more Russian troops in Eastern Ukraine, 'Ras' Putin sends a gunboat to Canberra and throws his Russian dolls out of the pram. "Leg less" Reckless takes Rochester but not by storm. A good month for Lewis Hamilton, a bad month for "Tory Grandees" and worse still for the fortunes of the Virgin Starship. An army cadet plants he 888,246th ceramic poppy at the Tower of London. We Will Remember Them.
The Home Secretary, Theresa “The Darling Bud" of May, has extricated the UK from dozens of superfluous European criminal justice regulations. She now wishes, in accordance with procedure, to opt back into a handful of them and includes in the bundle the controversial European Arrest Warrant. This measure is opposed by the libertarian Tory right and backed by that former Home Secretary, not known for his liberal views, Michael (now Lord) Howard. As we face what has to be the most dangerous security challenges for many years (Theresa has indicated that a jihadist attack on the UK is " inevitable") it seems to me to be a no- brainer to suggest that now is not the moment to discard any measure of international co- operation that might just help us to combat the threat of cross-border terrorism but then when has such a minor consideration deterred a Conservative head-banger?
Man David may, with hindsight, possibly regret that he promised a vote on the EAW prior to the Rochester by-election caused by the defection to The Tory Turncoat Party of Mr. "Leg less" Reckless. Anything with the word " European" in it is at present toxic. An “International Arrest Warrant" would have attracted small, if any, attention but he EU provokes a dog- whistle reaction from some of my colleagues and otherwise friends who will pull out he Cross and garlic at the mention of a Brussels sprout. At Man David’s behest the debate is scheduled and turns out to be a procedural and non- legislative shambles. The Government insists that while he debate may take pace a vote is not, in fact, really necessary at all. Mr. Speaker Bercow, coming as perilously close to being overtly partisan in favour of the Opposition as most of us can remember and synthetic outrage is the order of the day. In part two of this fiasco an Opposition Day debate causes little embarrassment and a damp squib fizzles out. Is Mrs. May poised to take over the Tory leadership in the event of a vacancy occurring? On Desert Island Discs she says that she hopes that our excellent Prime Minister remains at the helm for many years to come, a line that convinces very few.
Our fragrant non- leadership contender, who has an awesome back- story, is clearly poised. Cometh the hour, Cometh the Lady. EU red tape is damaging the economy, she says. She agrees with Sir Michel Wilshaw at a hint of a return to selective education and, with Defence Secretary Michael Fallon( the dark horse in the not- the- Leadership race) and the Chairman of that Tory cauldron the 1922 committee, she campaigns for a satellite grammar school in her Maidenhead constituency.
It is not all plain sailing for 'Britain's Angela Merkel' though: immigration remains the hottest of political potatoes, the Prime Minister's pledge to reduce the number of net in comers to under one hundred thousand is missed by a country mile and this blot on the May escutcheon will have to be dealt with if she is to remain in the running. Her problem, of course, is that the EU commitment to the freedom of movement of people, which is where she emphatically parts company with Frau Merkel, prevents the UK from exercising real control over who comes and goes from the sceptres isle. Indeed the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, a veritable first-among-eagles in the flock of hawkish raptors, says that we cannot control our borders while we remain within the EE and in a sharp turn towards the exit door indicates that this is a definitive red line in his approach to re-negotiation of our membership terms.
The Rochester by-election, which at the end of the day is another opportunity for the electorate to give the government a kicking, has a disproportionate effect upon political rhetoric. The re-emergence of the last Tory Prime Minister to win a majority at a General Election, Sir John Major, to describe UKIP, widely perceived as a refuge for former supporters of the British National Party, as “borderline racists and bigots" does little to calm the hysteria. Perhaps it was the use of the word " borderline" that confused the issue.
The French Interior Minister, M. Bernard Cazenove, chooses this moment to announce that British Police forces are needed in Calais “to put off migrants" and it is suggested, unwisely, that the UK should fork out some £2 million towards the construction of a migrant centre in Calais. What is needed, of course, is proper border controls far beyond the shores of La Manche but that would place a burden of responsibility upon the Schengen countries that they clearly have no appetite to bear. Faced with this barrage of concern Prime Minister Cameron suggests that the EU is reaching the point of no return. Germany, it seems, would prefer the UK to leave the EU rather than give ground on the freedom of movement issue, Chancellor Osborne says that “the EU is not working for us". James “vacuums cleaner" Dyson announces that it is time to quit the EU “to avoid German bullies and the old technology of the old guard" and in France Sarko, with an eye on a Presidential comeback, calls for "widespread reform" of the EU.
Will "widespread reform" embrace the spendthrift economy of Brussels? Don't bank on it. Heading for stormy seas himself, “President" Jean-Claude Juncker attacks David Cameron for “having a problem with other EU Leaders”. Anyone might reasonably “have a problem" with an organisation whose own Court of Auditors has failed, for a nineteenth successive year, to sign off the accounts for the Berlaymont trough. Snouts £5.5 billion in mis-spent funds, which the auditors describe with glorious understatement as 'a material error’, EU taxpayers nil. That is unlikely to trouble Herr Juncker, however. He will be still less interested, no doubt, in the claim that during his 18 year tenure of office as Prime Minister of the Grand Larceny of Luxembourg some three hundred companies were mysteriously avoided paying their tax bills. A good apprenticeship for the man who is ultimately now responsible for what passes as a " budget" within the European Union. Even his Holiness the Pope, addressing the European Parliament during one of its wasteful and wholly unnecessary excursions to the beautiful watering hole that is Strasbourg, describes the European Institutions as suffering from 'weariness and ageing' which, coming from that venerable young man suggests that Europe in its present form has sailed past its sell- by date.
Meanwhile, back on the muddy banks of the River Medway in Rochester, the political oddball enjoying his five minutes of fame in the eye of the storm, Mr Reckless, wins his by-election with a majority of under three thousand votes. Depending upon your political orientation this either represents “the overturning of a Tory majority of nearly ten thousand" or it means that " Legless" has contrived by jumping ship and joining UKIP to reduce his own majority to within comfortable striking distance of a win by the Conservative Kelly Tolhurst, at the 2015 General Election. Perhaps the last word should go to the unidentified elector in Rochester and Strood who said "I'm voting UKIP. That bloody Tory has done nothing for us for the last ten years"!
The Milipede can have found no comfort either in the Rochester election result which saw a strong Labour candidate in a previously Labour held seat marginalised. His Shadow Attorney General, one Ms. Emily Thornbury of the patrician wing of the socialist party, found herself having to resign after tweeting, under the slogan “Image of Rochester”, a picture of a white van parked in front of a house bedecked with crosses of St. George. This act of ill-judged scorn caused outrage within the local community and a media firestorm. With friends like that a candidate can ill- afford enemies.
It has been, though, his own standing that must give David's little brother Ed most cause for concern. It began badly when he was photographed self- consciously tossing a 14- year old beggar some coins. This image was followed with the dreadful image of the Milipede and Mad Hattie wearing “this is what a feminist looks like" T- shirts which were, it is revealed, manufactured in sweat shops employing women at 62 pence per hour! It worsened as his Party'ranking in the opinion polls fell below 30 per cent. The Labour Party's " house magazine" the New Statesman, helpfully suggested that young Ed was " running out of time" and what inevitably became known, on November 5th, as " the bonfire night plot" revealed a move to oust the Milipede forcing Andy Burnham and Mrs. Ed Balls , two mooted replacements, to deny that they were in contention. Labour Party machinery makes it well- nigh impossible to remove an incumbent Leader of the Opposition and to do so within spitting distance of a General Election would probably be politically suicidal but Alan Johnson, the best Leader that the modern Labour Party never had, once again has had to rule himself out of the 'White Knight' stakes with yet another " I will not ever stand" statement. Attacking Mylene Klass, who most people probably find rather more attractive that the Milipede, on the twitter sphere might just not have been terribly clever either. The gloom deepens further for the hapless Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition when the Sunday Times reveals that 42 per cent of Labour voters believe that Milipede should go and, North of the Border, just 2 per cent of the population believe I Ed while 24 per cent believe in the Loch Ness Monster! The "Nessie for PM” movement may or may not gain traction but Milipede's reaction is to suggest that “what doesn't kill you makes you stronger”. There are readers that may be old enough to remember the muscle builder Mr. Charles Atlas who the Milipede is seeking to emulate. Milipede speaks of “powerful forces ranged against me"
As the late and great camp actor Kenneth Williams once said: " infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me". Sadly, in the light of his renowned and undying loyalty to his former parliamentary colleagues, Mr "Legacy" Blair announces that it is "not my job to save Ed".
The timing of that latter comment might just come back to haunt a Legacy who could find his own self increasingly isolated. The Save the Children Fund, are charity that seems to enjoy more money than sense and whose executive includes a former Number Ten advisor, decides to honour Mr. Blair. This prompts a backlash from some 200 SCF employees who clearly feel that the man has not earned his recognition, a backlash that is backed up by a petition that has attracted tens of thousands of signatures from those who clearly believe that the Global Legacy is found wanting. That, however, may prove to be a pinprick beside the elephant that is starting to trumpet in the room. Copies of the findings of the very long awaited Chilcott inquiry into the Iraq war have been delivered to those subject to criticism and Mr Blair finds himself amongst that number. This suggests that publication of the report might take place in the fairly immediate future and that, at last, might allow a little of the light of truth to shine upon a matter that has been obscured for far too long. I am not, of course, privy to any of Chilcott's findings but the evidence sessions suggest that it may make uncomfortable reading for some.
While most western eyes are focused upon the twin threats of ISIS and Ebola and with Borat O'Bama facing political difficulties on his home front following the loss of control of both Houses of the American legislature the cause of the neo- Soviet Union marches on. NATO warns of further Russian Federation incursions into Eastern Ukraine and of the threat posed by Russian aircraft encroaching into EU airspace without the safety of air traffic control approval. How long before another innocent passenger airliner is brought down by “not Russian" error?
As a precursor to the G20 talks in Australia "Ras" Putin sends Russian warships to prowl off the coast of Canberra. In pre- talk talks with Putin Prime Minister Cameron accuses the former KGB Colonel and his cohorts of “behaving like Nazis" while Stephen Harper from Canada confines his dialogue to describing Putin as a liar. Putin departs early from the G20 leaving other world leaders to discuss the possibility of further sanctions against the aggressive Federation's regime. At a subsequent meeting in Brussels Germany's corrugated iron Chancellor declares that “the time is not right" to instigate further action. For some, of course, the time will never be right which is precisely why Putin, who anticipates a possible further ten years in power, to say of Crimea that that part of another sovereign state has been annexed because “we are stronger. Stronger than anyone”. And of course if others, like Germany and France, stand by and do nothing then he will be proved to be absolutely right. Not for nothing has former President Gorbachev warned of another Cold War with the EU as “an arena of political upheaval"
In other news the European Space Agency Philae / Rosetta spacecraft successfully lands on the Churyanov/ Gerasinenko 67P comet some three hundred and sixteen million miles from earth at a converging speed of forty-one thousand miles per hour. There is still something incredibly romantic about these long- planned and beautifully scientifically orchestrated rendezvous so far away and that the craft's power units failed prematurely once landed has not, apparently, detracted seriously from the quality and quantity of data sent back to earth before the lights went out.
While Britain dithers over the provision of more runway capacity in South East England it emerges that Dubai has now overtaken Heathrow as the World's largest airport - an event that some of us have been predicting for some time. It will take time to increase the operational ability of Heathrow and/ or Gatwick and Stansted but in the interim there are measures that can and should be taken to better utilise existing facilities. Like Manston in Kent, now shamefully closed and destined to be re- developed for industrial and housing use while those with the local authority power do intervene either fail to act or, worse, support the unacceptable face of capitalism.
Painful times for Tory luminaries Andrew Mitchell and former Home Office Minister David Mellor. In the “Plebgate" trial in which a policeman sued Mitchell for libel while Mitchell himself sued The Sun newspaper the judge came out in favour of the police officer and against Mitchell on the balance of probabilities, leaving the latter with a potential bill for costs in the region of 2-3. million pounds. This in spite of the fact that at an earlier but related hearing another police officer was found guilty of gross misconduct and described as “a thoroughly dishonest witness". Proof, if proof was needed, that the main beneficiaries of libel actions tend to be the lawyers. Meanwhile, David Mellor, having imbibed unwisely, found himself not only engaged in a rant with a London Taxi driver but recorded and therefore all over the media as well. A contrite Mellor has vowed to stick to H2O in future but knowing the man as I do I would give that about as much chance as a New Year's pledge to give up smoking.
Ed Richard, square- eyed after eleven years with OFCOM declares on departure hat swearing is now okay on television but racism is not. It seems that we have become desensitised to the former - presumably as a result of the influence of television.
The Greencore Group, purveyors of sandwiches to Tesco and Marks and Spencer, uses the EUwor employment agency in Budapest to recruit its staff. Brits, we are told, are “too lazy" to undertake the arduous task of making sandwiches.
The UK taxpayer, meanwhile, hands out £5 billion a year in tax credits to migrant workers.
Andy Coulson, convicted and sentenced to prison for his editorial involvement in phone hacking, has been released. NoW editor Rebekah Brooks, cleared of such charges, has been accused of making payments to police officers in respect of information provided. Will she face further charges before the courts?
The Houses of Parliament constitute a World Heritage site. The buildings, stuffed full of asbestos and other nasties, now requires a £ 3 billion refurbishment which may involve moving the inhabitants to other buildings. The work will take at least five years so if the decanting option is chosen there could be a generation of MPs who will never get the chance to sit in the Commons Chamber.
Valerie Trierweiler, Mr. Holland's First Mistress, found that her kiss-and-tell memoirs, “Thank You For The Moment" was cold-shouldered in France, has received a warmer reception in the UK. The Brits have a more liberal attitude towards discarded arm-candy in public life Han our French political counterparts apparently.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt disarmingly but perhaps unwisely confesses to taking his children to a hospital A &E rather than wait days for a GP appointment. This is known, in my family, as an 'ouchie'!
Richard Harries, turbulent left- wing priest and Peer, believes that readings from the Koran should be including in the coronation service for the next 'Defender of Faith' (sic). Will Hindus and Sikhs also be included? And may we expect that representation will be made for the King and the Armed Forces at Friday Prayers?
Girl Guides have been banned from washing cars to raise funds. There are, of course, insurance and 'elf. 'n safety implications. Curious, though, that Scouts are still allowed to wash cars - and a quarter of all Scouts are now girls!
Scouts, though, whether young men or young women, are no longer required to learn how to tie knots. Scouting is “very different" from the days of Robert Baden Powell. The emphasis is on youth work and woodland crafts are 'not relevant'.
Ellie Goulding, the chanteuse who performed for the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, has been castigated for wearing a Red Indian outfit. Her Halloween party headdress is described as 'racist' and 'insensitive'.
An 85 year old lady has been denied a mobile phone account (lucky woman!) She has had a bank account for 60 years and still employs three people but she has never found the need to borrow and therefore has no credit rating.
The Hampshire-based Waterloo bonfire society created, this year, an effigy of Alex Salmond. It is believed that the 'guy' was not ignited but it s not certain that the same is true of the likeness of Vladimir Putin.
George Osborne's cat, Freya, has been evicted from Number 11 Downing Street for bullying the Osborne's Bichon, Lola. The puss, who has had 'a tendency to roam around Whitehall and Trafalgar Square and was once found 'South of the River' has been exiled to Kent.
Politically correct Germans in Dortmund have had trouble with their pedestrian crossing policy of 50/50 male and female crossing icons. The little Green Men are okay but the 'Ampelfrauen' allow light to shine through the skirt leading to what is delicately described as “an enlargement of the illuminated area’. “Does my bum look big in this"? Not in Berlin where the idea is regarded as too clichéd.
Liverpool Council is taking a 'more robust' approach to parking infringements as one motorist discovered when he returned from collecting a parking permit from his parents home to discover that his car had been 'observed' for just twelve seconds before a ticket was issued. “Contraventions are penalised to reflect the 'robust' line is the Council's cheery excuse. Welcome to Merseyside.
Tesco, Sainsburys, ASDA and Morrisons have been selling as "fresh" fish that is fifteen days old. Nine days is, it seems, acceptable. Culinary note from Old Windy's Almanack: the best fish with chips, which are expensive but delicious, are Faroese cod caught, filleted and frozen at sea while fresh out of the water. Most such fish is filleted and frozen once landed and is nothing like as good.
Band Aid, who first recorded “Do they know it's Christmas" to raise funds for Ethiopian famine relief have been back into the recording studio to help out with Ebola in Sierra Leone. The diva Lily Allen declined to participate on the grounds that there was something smug about the project and that it perpetuates negative stereotypes of Africa. Those of us who have been to West Africa know that there is nothing stereotypical about the image. It is, sadly, still all too real. All power to Band Aid.
The DCMS are agonising over how to celebrate the bi- centenary of the Battle of Waterloo without upsetting the French. Her Maj, however, is nothing like as squeamish and will be staging a display at Windsor Castle.
Modern parents are becoming frightened of chastising their children. They don't want to run the risk of being ridiculed on social media.
So far as the driving test is concerned the three-point turn has reached the end of the road.
Satnav is now considered to be more important than road signs as is the ability to operate a heated rear screen mechanism while driving.
During the Rochester by-election Legless Reckless hinted that all EU migrants ought to be sent back home after a modest period of time. That idea was smartly slapped down by Farridge whose wife, of course, is German.
And Douglas Carswell, now of UKIP, has been glowingly described as 'to politics what Aldi and Lidl are to supermarkets. Both of the latter are also German.
A Stranger on the Shores of heaven. At 85 Acker Bilk has packed away his clarinet for the last time.
Lord Barnett who, as Chief Secretary to Harold Wilson's Treasury invented the 'Barnett Formula' that given such largesse to the Scots has closed his Despatch Box at the age of 91. Joel, one of nature's true gentlemen, recently lamented the fact that his formula had been allowed to survive long past its sell-by date.
Dalziel and Pascoe are no more. Warren Clarke, who created the detective on the small screen and in 1971 was one of the stars of Clockwork Orange, has died at 67 after fifty years in theatre, on screen and on television.
And actor/ director Mike Nicholls, the genius behind Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf and The Graduate has shot his last scene and, at 83, gone to the Great Green Room in the Sky.
We shall never know how great a cricketer the Australian Phil Hughes might have been. At a shocking 25 the player was struck a freak blow by a ball unscreened by his batter's helmet. The tributes that he received from colleagues and opponents said all that needed to be said about a great young player.
P.D. (Phyllis) James, crime writer and creator of the legendary Adam Dalgliesh was made a life Peer in 1991 after years in literature and as a Governor of the BBC. Described as a Christian and wise she was 94 when she closed the book.
The honour of planting the final poppy on the anniversary of Armistice Day in The Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red installation at the Tower of London, fell to army cadet Harry Hayes whose Great Great Great Uncle gave his life during the First World War. Sneered at by the left-wing press , the display was admired by literally millions of visitors and in very short order came to epitomise the sacrifice made by so many of the nation's finest in defence of Britain. We will always remember them.