Gale`s View From Westminster – January 2017
January. New Year`s gongs for stars of stage, screen and sports. A hangover for the Health Service. Press freedom in the headlines. The O`Bamas bow out as the Chinese Year of the Cockerel and the Year of the Tramp begins. The new President is sworn in and sworn at. By-elections looming in Labour`s heartlands as Comrade Jeremy goes into Brexit tailspin. The Supreme Court finds against the Government, the Royal Prerogative is over-ruled and the House begins the legislative process to trigger Article 50. No consultation required with the devolved legislatures say the Law Lords and the air is thick with Scottish toys flying out of prams. The Prime Minister announces a 12-point plan, a White Paper and a vote on the outcome of negotiations. Opposition and rebel Tory foxes largely shot. Mrs. May holds hands with an ageing billionaire lothario and invites him to visit Britain and The Queen. Then all hell breaks loose. The Presidential pen may not prove mightier than the sword. America is not used to government by tweet and decree and while Britain`s premier flies in to Ankara to do business with the heir to Ataturk The Tramp bans “visitors” from six Muslim countries The month ends with the world on the streets in protest, demands to un-invite The Donald from Britain and a hurried re-calibration of what passes for foreign policy in the American colonies. Hail to the Chief is drowned out by the sound of marching feet.
The new President of the United States “writes things down” because, he believes, “no computer is safe”. Given the unfortunate experiences of his opponent during the American election campaign he may well have made a wise choice. An ingénue occupant of the White House with no previous military or political experience who has managed to rub his secret services up the wrong way before he has even crossed the threshold would do well to keep such cards as he still holds very close to his chest. Choosing to back the Swedish alleged rapist and Ecuadorian resident , Wikileaks` Julian Assange, against the CIA may just prove to have been a move that The Tramp will live to rue. Tweets, his preferred choice of communication and tool of government, are a source of joy to the media that he loathes so much and, of course to the secret services of the world. One hundred and forty characters will probably in time be enough to prove his undoing, but in the meantime it is his relationship with Russia that has given both salacious and real cause for attention. Did the man who now has his finger on the nuclear button spend a perverted night with neo-soviet tarts in Leningrad while being filmed by the successors to the KGB? Those who want to believe that the Commander-in-Chief has been compromised by Vlad Putin`s spooks will do so and the former MI6 operative Christopher Steele clearly feels that he had a public duty to blow the whistle. An ex-KGB Colonel with the ability to organise a full-blown Olympic doping operation is, after all, more than capable of setting up a narcissistic , womanising, self-aggrandizing billionaire American businessman on the off-chance that leverage might come in handy one day. Comrade Putin`s assertion that “Russian prostitutes are the best in the world” did not add much credibility to his denial that the bear-in-the-woods does not hold the dirt on Donlad.
The O`Bamas leave the White House with dignity and the seamless transfer of power proceeds as The Tramp takes the oath and dances to the tacky strains of “My Way”. (Clearly an oversight to leave Mr. Farridge off the guest list for the Inauguration Ball .) There is a brief moment of conciliation and the incomer sticks to his carefully crafted script. Then the purge of officials and Ambassadors appointed by the former administration begins, the tweets recommence and it is clearly `business as unusual`. Executive Orders make the first dents in the Obamacare programme upon which some twenty million US citizens now rely for their health services, pave the way for oil pipelines and a return to carbon fuel pollution and to hell with global warming, and tear up the painstakingly negotiated Trans Pacific Trade Partnership agreement in the interests of anti-globalisation. The last of these measures opens the gates for China to step in to fill the gap and develop trade with the remaining partners in the East.
The Washington Metro records 193 thousand passenger trips on Inauguration Day and 275 thousand for the “pussyhat” protest against The Tramp in Washington a day later. Around the world from Australia and New Zealand through Asia, Africa and Europe hundreds of thousands of people are singing “We Shall Overcombe” with an estimated 100 thousand of them annoying London`s taxi drivers. In response to this humiliating start to his Presidency Team Tramp offers “alternative facts” which one clearly deeply corrupt, biased and ill-informed American national television presenter describes as “falsehoods”.
The `White House Summit` with “My Maggie” looms large on the agenda. Mrs. May, who does not relish comparisons with Margaret Thatcher and privately may not care much for the No-Longer- President-elect either, needs to be in a position to do business post-Brexit with a country with which we still, peculiarly, have a `special relationship` and The Tramp is desperate for a `full Monty` State Visit to the United Kingdom . Her Maj is well used to having to sit next to minor and transient despots in the State Coach as it trundles up The Mall so there shouldn`t be any difficulty is accommodating a photo-opportunity for the current President of the United States and although these events are usually and properly reserved for people who have been in office for more than five minutes needs must when the devil drives. I do not doubt for one moment the ability of the great British public to courteously but firmly indicate to a State Visitor their disdain for the more odious of his policies.
The Tramp can probably claim a no-score (and I use the double-entendre deliberately) draw with Theresa May during her visit to the Colonies. Our Prime Minister clearly registered a palpable hit with the Republican party`s elected representatives at their Retreat in Philadelphia. No quarrel, of course, with the thesis that “Together we can lead again” or with the “no more Bush/Blair foreign wars” line but many Congressmen and Senators within the Grand Old Party have grave concerns about the direction of travel of their new administration and are not over-keen on the apparently relaxed Presidential attitude towards the re-introduction of `waterboarding` as a means of soliciting information from suspected terrorists. Neither are many on the American right too happy with the blossoming bromance with Comrade Putin and the prospect of a Reagan/Gorbachev –style Trump/Putin summit in Reykjavik or with the heralded downgrading of NATO. The Darling Bud had been briefed to “tread carefully with a novice President” and the man is known to have a terminally thin skin but she pulled no punches over torture. At the Retreat she received a standing ovation. Then on to Washington.
The Tramp as hitherto alluded to “a fantastic” relationship with Mrs. May. “Fantastic” can mean many things to many people and taken literally the President is probably on safe ground. The Prime Minister, in turn, has suggested that “opposites attract” and two more opposite people it would certainly be hard to find. A touching hand-holding photograph turns out to be Theresa`s solicitude for an old man who is not only a “germaphobe” but also has a fear of steps and after another selfie in front of the bust of Sir Winston Churchill, restored to his rightful place in the oval office, it is not too difficult to extract, at the inevitable conference with The Tramp`s much-hated Press, both re-affirmation of US commitment to NATO and an indication that the subject of torture will be left to General James Mattis who does not share the President`s view of toenail extraction. An undertaking that “it is far too early to be talking about lifting sanctions on Russia” is the icing on the cake and the received wisdom is that “the girl done well”.
A pity, then, that while the Prime Minister was in the air and on her way to Ankara to discuss Trade Deals, Human Rights and the occupation of the northern part of Cyprus with President Erdogan, , The Tramp was busying himself signing another Executive Order to exclude from the USA travellers from six Muslim countries including war-torn Syria and John Kerry`s new best friend, Iran, but curiously omitting some other states with known links to terrorists. The Prime Minister was quite clearly bounced at a post-Erdogan press conference and could only say on the spot that “Immigration into the US was a matter for the US”. By the time that the girl had flown back to London passengers from Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Somalia were being turned back at US airports while Green Card holders were being rejected also. In the UK our parliamentary colleague Nadhim Zahawi, the Member for Stratford-upon-Avon who has dual nationality children at university in the United States, was having to question whether or not he would be allowed into the US to visit his family. And Mo Farrah, the Olympic multi-gold-medallist, used to training in Portland, Oregon and separated from his wife and four children resident in the UK, was also pictured querying his status as an `alien`. `Clarification` from Number Ten, once the PM had been properly briefed, indicated that Mrs. May was not supportive of the decision taken seemingly in haste and without thinking the consequences through, by the Commander in Chief and Boris of the FO and Home Secretary Forever Amber Rudd were despatched to talk to Team Tramp and sort out, at least, the status of dual-nationality UK citizens. It has been pointed out that in addition to the construction of a two-thousand mile border wall `for which the Mexicans will pay` the man who now bears the title President of the United States of America was elected on a platform that included the banning of Muslims from the States and that President Borat O`Bama (remember him?) had also placed a short-term ban on immigration from a similar list of countries. No matter, the world is on the streets and Americans are in the Law Courts challenging their President`s right to rule by diktat.
Boris of the FO confirms that dual nationality Britons like the Zahawi family and Mo Farrah will still be allowed to enter the US and `clarification` being the order of the day we now know that “this is not an exclusion aimed at Muslims` , just Muslim countries from which terrorists might emerge, and that holders of Green Cards will be allowed to return to the US following travels abroad. That visitors may be required to reveal their mobile phone details and social media contacts is not regarded as an infringement of human rights in the Land of Liberty and “your huddled masses yearning to be free” are, frankly, no longer welcome. President (yes, in America they are permitted to use the title for life) O`Bama backs the protest against the ban as “a threat to American values” and in the UK, to date, about a million and a half people have signed a petition demanding that parliament re-considers the decision to invite the US President to participate in a State Visit. It takes just 100,000 signatures to precipitate a Commons debate so it looks as though there will be an interesting parliamentary event ahead.
And then there is Brexit. That “Wee Lassie in the Tin Hat,” Nicola Sturgeon is “not bluffing” over her threat to hold a second referendum to determine whether or not a post-Brexit Scotland should remain within the United Kingdom or seek to re-join or remain within the European Union. My kilted friends tell me that she is indeed bluffing, that the Scots will not “Vote Leave” the UK, that their finances would not withstand the separation and that the First Minister will not risk a referendum that she cannot be certain that she will win. She is, though, in some danger of boxing herself and her Scottish Nationalist Party into a corner from which there is no escape.
Pressed to make a major statement on the course of our departure from the European Union the Prime Minister first trailed her speech by sending out strong signals that we are heading for a `hard Brexit` outwith the Customs Union, bringing to an end the Single Market, re-taking control of our own borders and extricating the UK from the judgements of the European Court of Justice. Agreement to publish a pre-negotiation White Paper and to guarantee the House of Commons and the House of Lords a vote on the final Brexit deal left the Opposition in general and Red Jerry in particular in open-mouthed disarray. Writing in the German publication Welt am Sonntag Chancellor Philip Hammond underscored this tougher line with a clear indication that any attempt to “punish” Great Britain through a `trade war` would lead to the creation of an offshore UK tax haven and the revelation of Theresa May`s twelve-point plan for Brexit has led to further speculation about an early general election. No deal, she has said, in terms described by Donald Tusk as realistic, is better than a bad deal while emphasising the fact that “we are leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe
The Parliamentary Labour Party has called upon Comrade Corbyn, to spell out his position on immigration only to be faced with a morning-to-afternoon flip-flop of alternatives. The re-launch of his leadership turned into a shambles of confusion over Brexit, Tax and Immigration policies with U-turns faster than a dodgem car. “I am not wedded to freedom of Movement”, morphed into “managed migration” followed by “I do not rule out keeping free movement” within a matter of hours and Indecision Day ended with an indication that the Leader of the Opposition was prepared to join much-derided striking Rail Union bosses on the picket lines. This leads, inexorably to a threatened “Brevolt” on the Labour benches, as Red Jerry next agonises over whether to whip the Article 50 vote or not and then, with the imposition of a 3-line whip, to the resignation of Shadow Front Bench spokespersons. As expected all but three of the eleven Law Lords that make up the Supreme Court determine that Parliament must be consulted before Article 50 is invoked and this leads very swiftly to the introduction of a pre-prepared one-clause bill. Their Law Lordships also determine that the Government shall not be required to consult the evolved legislatures in Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland, generating fury north of the border and an SNP promise to table fifty amendments to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill as it will seductively become known. As the month ends the bill has its` second reading debate, your scribe is appointed as one of the team who will take the measure through its committee stages on the floor of the House of Commons and becomes instantly impartial and non-combatant. Not that this column is ever prone to offering “alternative facts”.
In other news, the resignations of Mr. Jamie Reed, the Member of Parliament for Copeland and of Mr. Tristram Hunt, the Labour historian who is leaving his Stoke on Trent Central constituency to take up a post as Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum have generated two unwelcome by-elections for the Labour Party. The Tories fancy their chances in Copeland and in Stoke-on-Trent there will be a tough challenge from both the post-Farridge UKIP Leader, Paul Nuttall, and from the Conservatives. The loss of either Labour-held seat would put Mr. Corbyn`s continuing Party Leadership back into intensive care with Labour`s most effective front-bench performer, Sir Keir Starmer, the former Director of Public Prosecutions and Frank Dobson`s successor in London`s Holborn and St Pancras, perhaps having to stoically fend off calls for him to step up to the plate.
Following the departure, first from his post and then from the Civil Service, of Our Man in Brussels Sir Ivan Rogers, Sir Tim Burrow is appointed to the job. Sir Tim is described as `a hard-headed` Kremlinologist`, assets that may come in handy if Comrade Vlad seeks to cyber-meddle with elections in Germany and France as he clearly did in the United States.
The resignation from government, in Northern Ireland, of the IRA Veteran Martin McGuinness, has sent shockwaves through the province. McGuinness quit, it turns out, because of ill-health but his loss has thrown the DUP-led administration into turmoil as a replacement is sought. In the end the Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire has to exercise his legal duties and, at the risk of re-writing the past, instigates an election for the Assembly.
The month began tiresomely for Her Maj with a bout of flu keeping both The Queen and her husband confined to barracks and missing the traditional New Year`s church service at Sandringham. She was, though, soon back in harness and undertaking a list of engagements that would be daunting for a lady half her age. Prince William has announced that he will be giving up his job as an air ambulance helicopter pilot and be moving with his family back to Kensington Palace in London to become a `full-time Royal` which suggests that the youngsters are preparing to take some of the burden of public engagements off Granny`s shoulders. It will also enable the Duchess of Cambridge, now a lifetime Honorary Member of the Royal Photographic Society and a keen amateur snapper, to add an urban dimension to her growing portfolio. Her Maj, meanwhile, has other activities on her mind. While no doubt steeling herself for the joys of another State Visit she has adopted the dogs belonging to her 95-year old gamekeeper, Bill Fenwick. Perhaps she could train one of them to bite visiting colonials?
In addition to the pending refurbishment of Buck House one of The Queen`s other stately homes is in need of attention. The Palace of Westminster, on permanent loan and better known as The Houses of Parliament, is riddled with mice and asbestos and the wiring, probably devoured by the aforesaid rodents, is shot. The Elizabeth Tower, general called incorrectly “Big Ben” (Ben is the bell not the clock tower) is due for immediate renovation and the necessary scaffolding alone will take six months to erect. The rest of the multi-million pound project, though, is the subject of fierce debate. Common sense and economics say that the only way to undertake this task, as the asbestos and the pipes and cables run from end to end of the Commons and the Lords, is to vacate the entire edifice and do it in one hit. That of course could mean, given an enterprise that will inevitably run over budget and over time as more and more nasties are discovered in the course of investigations, that an entire intake of MPs might never get to sit or speak in the historic Commons Chamber. (Well, historic since its` re-build after the bombing during the Second World War). Instead, therefore, of decanting the Commons to the ghastly Richmond House in Whitehall and the Lords to, probably, the QE2 Conference centre just off Parliament Square, the suggestion is to move the Commons into the Lords Chamber, where we sat following the destruction of the Commons by bombs, and to do the job piecemeal. If that sounds barmy then it probably is but there`s another consideration that, given her impish sense of humour, will probably have had Her Maj laughing like a drain. The Queen is ninety years old. The work is unlikely to start until at least 2020 and will probably take six to eight years to complete. The law of Anno Domini suggests that Her Maj will not live to see the task through and that means that she will have to lie in State. Without access to Parliament`s Westminster Hall, the traditional pausing place for deceased monarchs, where will she repose while the anticipated hundreds of thousands (her Mother attracted a two-mile queue) file past to pay their respects? And you thought the Brexit problem was difficult to resolve!
Julie Bentley, the CEO of that `ultimate feminist organisation` The Girl Guides has determined that in the interests of “self-identified gender` and in conformity with the Equality Act, boys may join her organisation. That news has clearly not filtered through to Torquay in Devon where eight-year old Eloise, a Beaver, has been told that she cannot join the Cubs because she `cannot be put in a tent with young men`. Roll over Lord Baden-Powell.
Mein Kampf, described as an `autobiography` with its copyright in Bavaria has had its publication ban lifted. Adolf Hitler`s magnum opus is being printed by the Institute of Contemporary History eighty-five thousand times at £49 a book. A snip if you are a member of Alternatif fur Deutschland.
The University of Glasgow has found it advisable, under is `duty of care` to place `trigger warnings` upon copies of The Bible. Students may, apparently, find the description of the crucifixion `disturbing`.
A University Students` Union has proscribed the use of the terms “he” and “she” in favour of `gender-inclusive language` and to avoid the possibility of young minds `jumping to conclusions`.
Fish, birds and crustaceans face the hazard of some eighty tons of plastic microbeads discharged into the seas every day. The bureaucrats of Brussels known for their devotion to environmental concerns, have delayed a UK ban on the use of the beads because `it might interfere with the free movement of goods`.
Mondelez, the owners of the once-proud Cadbury chocolate name and generator of profits of some £448 million in three months, are raising the price of Freddos from twenty five to thirty pence per frog. I know a grand daughter who will be changing brands immediately.
Miss Thailand, on a journey from Bankok to Manila, took with her no less than seventeen suitcases weighing a total of six hundred and sixty-six pounds (or 300 Kg for younger readers) at an excess baggage cost of two thousand pounds. That`s a hell of a lot of bhats for a few bikinis.
Is nothing sacred? Dressage arenas will look rather different in the future as `elf `n safety have decreed that from henceforth stylish top hats are out and helmets will be worn. How long before they ban those dangerous four-legged things that participants are required to try to stay seated upon?
“Much Ado About Muffin”. A Treasury “Wellbeing Workstream “official from the “Mental Wellbeing Network” wants to ban cake and biscuits from the tea and coffee agenda. God knows, the poor beasts working for HMRC have little enough joy in their lives but this policy has been thought up to assist “those who have difficulty in resisting” the odd slice of celebratory birthday bun. My colleague Robert Buckland, the Solicitor General and something of a Great British Baker is reported to be having none of this,. He will carry on baking treats for his private office. The way to a Permanent Secretary`s heart is, it appears, through her taste buds.
At 105 Claire Hollingworth has sent her last despatch .It was on August 29th 1939 that the young journalist delivered the “scoop of the century” when she broke the news of the outbreak of World War Two.
Graham Taylor has left the dugout at seventy-two. The England soccer manager from 1990 to 1993 is credited with restoring the fortunes of Watford football club under the ownership of Elton John .
Lord Snowdon, who as Anthony Armstrong-Jones married Princess Margaret in 1960 photographed just about anybody who was anybody – Marlene Dietrich, David Bowie, lots of Beatles and the crowned heads of Europe – during his long career behind the camera has snapped his last at the age of eighty-six.
The Canadian-born Professor Anthony King became, with David Dimbleby, one of the best-known faces of general election night coverage for some twenty years. Statistically, he reached eighty-two years of age.
Victor Lownes, who has downed his last bottle of champagne at eighty-eight, is credited with the dubious distinction of having entertained two thousand guests who consumed eight thousand bottles of fizz over twenty five hours at his Stocks retreat was the louche force behind the London Playboy Club from the swinging sixties until it lost its gaming licence in 1981.
Gene Cernan was the third astronaut to walk upon the moon. He took his stroll from Apollo 17 on December 13th 1972 having also flown in Gemini 9 and Apollo 10. He was eighty-two.
Sir Christopher Bland (78) was the Chairman of the BBC between 1996 and 2001. He also chaired the Royal Shakespeare Company and British Telecom.
Sir John Hurt, who received his theatrical knighthood in 2015, at seventy-seven has died of pancreatic cancer. He was a `hell-raiser` and a quite extraordinary actor. He will probably be remembered for his role in the Harry Potter films rather than, deservedly, for The Elephant Man, Alien, A Man for All Seasons, as Caligula in the I, Claudius television series or as Stephen Ward in the film “Scandal” based upon the `Profumo Affair` .
And Tam Dalyell, Member of Parliament for West Lothian and subsequently Linlithgow, was in the Commons for forty-three years serving the last four as Father of the House. The Old Etonian Scottish Laird and socialist was an opponent of devolution until the end of his eighty-four years and was the originator of “The West Lothian Question” posed to query why his Scottish constituents could be allowed to vote on legislation affecting England while his colleagues south of the border might have no vote upon Scottish matters. Tam, who tormented Margaret Thatcher with incessant questions about the sinking, during the Falklands War, of the Argentine battleship Belgrano, once described Mr. Blair as “the worst Prime Minister that I have ever served under”.
The last ABC movie house in the Britain has closed its` doors. The final curtain has come down on the Bournemouth ABC cinema where so many generations of young people have canoodled in the back rows. For those of a certain age ABC Minors was the Saturday morning highlight of a weekend but the silver screen is now dark and in the face of advancing technology an era has ended.