Gale`s Westminster Viewed from Afar – April 2015
April. All Fools` month. A fitting start to a “Short Campaign” that seems to last interminably. The General Election dominates the news agenda to such an extent that the man from Mars could be forgiven for thinking that outside this Sceptered Isle there is no real world where people are living and dying and facing triumphs and disasters on a global scale. Navel-gazing is the odour of the day. Talking of odours, the Director of Public Prosecutions has decided not to pursue action against Lord (Greville) Janner, former Labour Member of the Commons for Leicester, on the grounds that his dementia would make a trial for alleged sexual assaults upon young people impossible to bring to a conclusion.
A gem of a heist in London`s Jewellery quarter, Hatton Garden, is dwarfed by the five hundred billion Wall Street crash allegedly precipitated by one man with a laptop computer living in a semi-detached house in Hounslow. There is Black Gold In Them Thar Downs if you believe the geologists. While an earthquake rocks Nepal and the foundations of Mount Everest, destroying more lives and artefacts than the grisly `Islamic state` has managed to ravage in Iraq and Syria, the World`s press is camped out on the doorstep of a London hospital awaiting the arrival of Prince George`s sibling. The Southern shores of the Mediterranean are awash with the few survivors and many bodies resulting from the people-trafficking of immigrants from North and East Africa and the European Union engages not in a resolution to this tide of human misery but in a blame-game and buck-passing on a scale that could only have been designed in Brussels. Greece is wooing Russia in a manner that may well end in many tears but nobody much apart from the Chief of the American Forces in Europe seems to either notice or to care. Another Clinton stakes her claim to the Presidential bed in the White House. And the publication of the report of the Chilcot Inquiry into Blair`s Iraq War is delayed. Again.
Back to the election. The fishy business continues with the resurrection from the political undead of Salmond and the rise and rise of Sturgeon. With what glee does Mr. James Naughtie, that paragon of Salford Broadcasting impartiality, trample the highways and byways of his native land predicting the meltdown of every political life-form North of the Border that is not Scottish and Nationalist. There are welcome, or otherwise, interventions from “The Legacy” Blair and a Sir John Major whose former Prime Ministerial campaign soapbox has been brought out and dusted off for the purpose of once again addressing the Nation. Milipede Minor, the Leader of Her Majesty`s Opposition and lead contender for the keys to Number 10, is doing such a good job of self-destruction that attacks on what is visible of his personality are likely to generate more sympathy than harm while the Deputy Prime Minister , St. Nicholas of Clogg, is clearly torn between trying to prepare his Party to leap into the tart`s bed of coalition with whoever seems likely to form the next administration and having to recognise that he may well lose his own parliamentary seat . Still, there`s always “God`s Waiting Room” and a little touch of ermine as a consolation prize. The Leader of the United Kingdom Introspection Party, Mr. Farridge, may just be regretting his avowed intent to quit the Fuhrership if he fails to win a seat at Westminster (not that he would have much choice) but he has carefully preserved his membership of the European Parliament, with its salary, pension rights and expenses, in case he needs a lifebelt to keep him claret-in-hand and off the dole.
At the time of writing, which is just into May but several days shy of the election, the opinion polls are stuck in a rut and all of the pundits` balls of crystal are happily pointing to either a Tory/Liberal Coalition or a Labour / anything-but-the-SNP deal or no deal. Or something. The fact is that those who are paid far more than the Prime Minister of the at present United Kingdom to know and write about these things quite simply do not have a clue what the effects of rampant nationalism in Scotland or National Socialism-Lite in England coupled caught in the slipstream of the Fixed-term Parliaments Act are going to have upon the ability of anyone at all to form, let alone sustain, a government. Will Her Maj`s Gracious Speech be voted down? If so will any putative administration fall? Will there be – God help us – another General Election in July? Or August? Or next year?
The combined might of Mr Andrew Marr, Mr Andrew Neil, Mr Adam Boulton, the earthly remains of Strictly-Dun-Dancin` John Sergeant, young Mr. Snow`s Dad Jon, a brace of Dimblebores and a plethora of overpaid hacks from a diminishing circulation of national newspapers are collectively and severally unable or unwilling to commit themselves to anything remotely resembling a predicted election result. We might as well rip out and read the entrails of a live goat or consult Cassandra as listen to any expert on this subject. Only The Sun`s Tom Newton-Dunn has taken a leap of faith and expressed the belief that on polling day the Great British Public will choose the path of prudence over profligacy, forgive five years of austerity and stick with the Cameron/Osborne Combo in 10/11 Downing Street.
What is clear though is that “It`s the economy, stupid”. Not exciting, but the bottom line, literally, is that however you choose to spend taxpayer`s hard-earned money, be it on health or education or defence or overseas aid or welfare payments or subsidising the Flat Earth Society, you cannot do it at all if you do not have the boodle in the bank. Unless, of course, you are Mr. Edward Balls in which case you know just how to run up the Nation`s debts, borrow today what our children and grandchildren will have to repay tomorrow and leave behind another note from a Labour Treasury Minister saying “There`s no money” and another mess for a future Tory government to have to clear up all over again. If you stir into that Ms. Nicola Sturgeon`s Scottish plans to “lock out” Young “ Lochinvar” Dave from Number Ten and to squander more, even, than Mr. Balls would spend, you have a cocktail that might be described as “toxic”.
Which is why Mr. Newton-Dunn, with a faith that in a journalist is little short of touching, believes that in the privacy of the voting booth Britain will see the light, resist the temptation to choose the Yellow Bird Road or the Purple People Beater and, if grudgingly, stick with the team that is winning on the economic front.
The Millipede’s “weaponisation” of the National Health Service has failed to gain real traction. Certainly, Accident and Emergency services are in many cases overwhelmed and equally certainly there is an unacceptable wait for an appointment to see a General Practitioner for anything other than an emergency. The cut in GP`s hours generated by `Legacy` Blair`s insane 2004 GP contract has led to an inexorable rise in the number of people using hospital A&E services as a first port of call. Some no doubt well-remunerated genius has observed that if you offer a seven-day-a-week GP service attendance at A&E clinics falls! Unfortunately, though, that Medics` Trade Union, The British Medical Association, has determined that 65% of their Members will reject the seven-day opening of the practices for which we currently pay them, individually, in excess of a hundred thousand pounds a year. We can, and most certainly should, take steps to prevent the “health tourism” under which those from overseas are able to secure free treatment at our taxpayers` expense but requiring every patient to produce a passport when 20% of Britons do not own such a document might just not be the best way forward. There are a number of cases that can be made for a basic ID card and access to the health and other benefit services are several of them.
If the Doctors` Trade Union does not want to have to, as part of their duties, police rights to access the NHS then it is not likely, either, that they are going to want to ask those over 75 (as has been suggested for inclusion in NHS guidelines) if they would care to sign a non-resuscitation agreement in the event of life-threatening conditions. I don`t know about you but while a cull of Wrinklies might seem superficially attractive to the Treasury and the Health Service some of us approaching a certain age would like to opportunity to spend a few years enjoying our grandchildren before we go to the check-out counter!
But I digress. The Tories, chased by some others, are promising to spend billions more on health and billions more on various other vital services while at the same time reducing taxation. . Not to be outbid, The Milipede and several minority parties are also betting the House on buying votes. Setting aside Farridge`s Isolation Party, which will pay for absolutely everything by leaving Europe and slashing our Overseas Aid Budget – savings that at a Conservative estimate he has spent several times over – no party has really come up with a plausible explanation as to exactly how the manifestos will be funded. That being so, I can only say that I would sooner place my trust in the current occupant of 11 Downing Street than anyone else. His ability to produce rabbits out of flat hats must qualify him for full membership of the Magic Circle and each and every one of the alternatives is too grim to contemplate without completely anaesthetising sense and sensibility with vast quantities of over-taxed alcohol. Chancellor George has, remember, created the second-largest economy in the EU with a growth rate in GDP that is seven times that of Mr. Holland`s socialist France and the highest number of people in work in UK recorded history. Give all that up? I hope not.
While The Milipede is protesting, in the face of all likely electoral arithmetic, that he will not do a deal with the SNP to take office as Prime Minister, “Nicky, Queen of Scots”, as she has emerged from the stultifying 7-way TV “debate”, clearly believes that, having wiped Labour (and everyone else) off the electoral map in Scotland she will call the shots in any future left-wing government with or without a seat around the Cabinet table. Nicky The Red is not, of course, running for UK office but Mr. Salmond most certainly is seeking election to the Westminster parliament where, it is grandly assumed, he will lead his party on the Green Benches. This could be interesting because, when asked the straight question, Queen Nicky said very bluntly that “I am the leader of the SNP and I will determine the policy”. Mr Salmond is known for many things but playing second-fiddle to political colleagues is not on his radar. His announcement, albeit in private and in jest, that “I`ll be writing Labour`s budget” has an awful ring of truth about it that might yet set the alarm bells ringing in voting England.
We shall know very soon whether “Bandwagon Farridge” has finally managed to gain election to the Westminster parliament or whether he has lost both South Thanet and the Leadership of the United Kingdom isolationist Party. It is noticeable that instead of committing himself to the parliament of the United Kingdom he has less than courageously retained his Membership of the European Parliament, that club that he claims to so deride that has paid into his salary, his pension pot and his expense claims for too many years. A nice insurance policy if you can get it and while M. Jean-Claude Juncker might like to see the back of him there are very many in the seat that he is fighting next to mine who would dearly love to send him back to Brussels with his tail between his legs. The danger, of course, is that the anti-Farridge vote will split and that he will slip through the middle. That said, Farridge has already found it necessary to suppress one opinion poll suggesting that South Thanet is a fight between the Conservative Party and Labour with UKIP in third place and there are other polls that indicate that the Braying Mantis has hit a glass ceiling and that not one of his ten target seats will actually slide into his clutches. His blokeish “Not-The-Racist-Party” approach to UK (as opposed to European) politics has not been enhanced by the support of the `East Kent English Patriots`, apparently a euphemism for the EDL, and the comparison between the UKIP battlebus and “a rugby club on tour”, made by party Chief Patrick O`Flynn, might have been apt were it not for the fact that rugby clubs are, generally, nice people.
Away from the election the discovery of deposits of oil beneath the South Downs that could rival the resources in the North Sea has sent shockwaves through Sussex, Surrey, Hampshire and West Kent that make the prospect of a little light fracking pale into insignificance. Dallas has more space and lower property prices.
With negotiations with the IMF on a knife-edge there remains a question mark over Greek membership of the Euro-zone but the sight of Alexis Tsipras cosying up to Comrade Putin and seeking `financial co-operation` with the `rouble-zone` is unattractive enough to prompt the General Commanding US Forces in Europe to describe Putin, rightly, as “the real threat”.
Borat O`Bama seems pleased with the outcome of a deal with Iran over nuclear resources that will “stop that country getting a bomb”. He may not value, or even know of, the opinion of the National Council for Resistance in Iran and as an organisation that was until recently proscribed in the UK our own Government, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, may not pay much heed to the NCRI either. The Pentagon and MI6 might, though, do well not to set too much store by an agreement with a regime that hangs dissidents from the jibs of cranes on an almost daily basis. The West may have had burned fingers over non-existent Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq but Iran is in a different and much more dangerous league.
Closer to home the plight of those trafficked by people-smugglers in unseaworthy boats across the Mediterranean from North Africa to Southern Europe is a problem that has been shamefully ignored by a European Union that does not want to know for far too long. The flow of would-be immigrants, from Libya via the Italian island of Lampedusa to mainland Italy and beyond has largely been treated as a local difficulty. The Mayor of Calais, Philippe Mignonet, may describe the creation of a “Sangatte Mark 2” holding centre for illegal immigrants as “Britain`s Problem” but the root cause of the matter lies much, much further south. The Milipede sought, idiotically, to blame Man David for “The Mediterranean Crisis” as “a direct result of Libya policy” in a manner that was disgraceful and cheap. First, does Milipede believe that we should have stood by and ignored the potential slaughter of thousands of people enclaved in Gadhafi’s country? And second, and far more important, the immigrants and refugees hail not, in the main, from Libya at all but from the poverty-stricken areas of Ethiopia and Somalia to the East and from Mali and Northern Nigeria in the West and South . Farridge`s demand that we “must take control of our boarders” (sic) while the Schengen Agreement over which, whether we like it or not, we have no control is in place is equally fatuous. Comparisons with New Zealand and Canada and Tony Abbot`s “Send a gunboat” Australia are not relevant to a European Union of which, at least at present, we are still a Member State.
As it happens, and faced with hundreds if not thousands of drowning women and children as well as adult males, the United Kingdom is “sending a gunboat”. A bloody great big one! HMS Bulwark, a capital ship that I happen to know particularly well, is ideally suited to both humanitarian and enforcement activity. Cameron`s decision to immediately ask the Defence Secretary to commit her was the right one in the short term. In the long-run, though, the populist and dog-whistle “solutions” of the European far-right are not only dangerously unattractive: they will not work. There has to be a concerted and long-term European and global effort to address the needs of those at present compelled to live in squalor, not through migration but in their own lands. It is in the interests not only of humankind but of our own security so to do and instead of “cutting aid” we should be encouraging all other relatively wealthy States to join with us in seeking to target assistance properly and to bring about real change on the ground. It is poverty that provides the fertile ground in which the seeds of radical extremism grow so fast.
Interviewed by Julie Etchingham Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton has described the former Governor of Arkansas and President of the United States as “A hard dog to keep on the porch”.
Vicars have been warned that, because it `discriminates against the poor` Church of England Schools may no longer select pupils on the basis of faith.
Work to prevent future flooding of the Somerset Levels has necessitated the relocation of 55 water voles. At a cost of £ 135 thousand?!!!
The WI wished to distribute 5000 cakes during a function at London`s Albert Hall. Charge for so doing? £2500 in `cakeage`
Kellogg’s. Purveyors of breakfast cereals to generations, reached £622 million in UK sales. Registered in the Irish Republic they have paid no corporation tax. A quick change of brand, perhaps?
A passenger on an internal flight from Newcastle to Gatwick was accused of carrying semtex. “No. It`s Pease pudding. Taste it!”
Visiting the fishing port of Grimsby the MEP who failed to back our inshore fleet in the euro voting lobby, one Mr. Farridge, was photographed “on site” for the local press. In the maritime background, a sign. “Caution – Slippery”!
Were he to be in a position to introduce his “Mansion Tax” The Milipede would find himself paying some£3000 a year to HMRC. The Leader of the Opposition has said that his £2.7 million house is “a home, not a mansion”. So now we know. It`s not a Mansion tax at all – it`s a Home Tax.
Goldsmiths University Student Union in London has barred men from attending an “equality” meeting to discuss the curriculum. The reason? “It`s a black and ethnic minority women event”.
On the basis that it `corrupts social morals` China`s Ministry of Culture has banned strippers from performing at funerals. The “burlesque dancers” were hired by wealthy relatives of the deceased to `encourage mourners`. Makes you weep, doesn`t it?
And at the St. Pauls Cathedral service to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Waterloo another ban. No gloating as it might offend the French.
Misao Okawa, born in Japan on March 5th 1898, at 117 years of age the World`s oldest woman and a widow since 1931, has departed this life. Her mantle was taken, briefly, by young Gertrude Weaver of Arkansas. Born on Yankee Doodle Day, 4th July, 1898, Gertrude held the title for just one week before passing the baton to Jeralean Talley from Detroit. Born on 23rd May 1899 Jeralean is approaching her 116th birthday. Many happy returns!
Ronnie Carroll, Britain`s Eurovision Song Contest entry in 1962 and 1963 was standing as the `Eurovisionary` election candidate in Hampstead and Kilburn when he passed away. Curiously, and unlikely though such a result may be, the late Mr. Carroll is technically still electable.
And Richie Benaud, given `out` at 84, retired from the field of cricket in 1964. The wrist-spinner captained his country in 28 of his 63 tours, took 200 wickets and was the first to pass a career total of 2000 runs before becoming the man that Wisden has described as “Cricket`s finest commentator”.
Paula Radcliffe, Women`s Marathon World Record holder, has run her last London Marathon. Prince Harry presented her with a lifetime achievement award at the end of the 26.2 miles which she completed in just 2 hours and 36 minutes. And from the hare to……
Toby the tortoise. Toby, aged 109, strayed from the West Kent home that he shared with Wendy Stokes, was picked up by a driver who took him to a rescue centre from which he was re-homed. His new `owner`, in East Kent`s Margate, noticed that he had the name `Stokes` painted on his shell and rang every Stokes household in Kent until she found his rightful place of abode. Wanderlust satisfied, Toby is now back where he belongs.
Lance Corporal Josh Leakey, who fought the Taliban with “complete disregard for his own safety” is one of very few living people to receive the Victoria Cross from Her Majesty the Queen. Presenting the highest award for valour Her Maj is reported to have told the recipient “I don`t get to give these out very often”!