Gale's Westminster View - May 2013
"Farmers fear unkindly May. Frost by night and hail by day" Plus, depending upon your location, rain, snow and tornadoes. Fog in the Channel, Europe ought to be cut off. Storm clouds over Westminster. Trouble in the Shires for the Tories. Re- positioning in High Places. Grief in the polls for The Milipede. Blood on the streets of London. Joy for the swivel- eyed and life in wedlock will be unholy but gay.
At the start of the month there was just one story. By the Late Spring bank holiday that same story warranted barely a column inch. If a week is a long time in politics then thirty-one days can seem like a lifetime. Back in those heady days leading up to the County Council elections His Royal Populist Prince Farridge MEP makes the running. A minor embarrassment over a UKIP candidate's "nazi salute" but with that old polecat Lord Tebbit urging the plebiscite to "vote UKIP to stop Labour" and pint of undrunk warm beer seemingly permanently in hand there can have been scarcely a cloud on the European Member' s horizon.
Talk of "fruitcakes and closet racists”, to coin a phrase once used by a young Prime Minster, is off the agenda. Personally I have never felt that UKIP was closet about anything. Blindingly unsubtle in telling The People whatever it is that they want to hear would be a more accurate description, surely, of the UKIP style, but that aside they have, it is clear, for the moment at least replaced the Liberals as what Cecil Parkinson's once colourfully described as " the dustbin for disgruntled votes". A lot of disgruntlement was in the political wind as voters trudged through the rain to the polling stations. There is never a high turnout at local elections but about a quarter of the relatively few votes cast went, in some places, against a harsh economic climate, against a government perceived as "elite", against the immigration that has, in fact, been cut dramatically on Mrs May’s watch, against same-sex "marriage", against the weather, and against just about anything that "I don't like".
What those who did vote were actually voting for is rather more obscure, if not cunningly concealed, but vote in they did and in the seaside towns, particularly, Tories and Labour both lost seats to the influence of Mr. Farridge. Not to him personally of course. He would not dream of standing in anything other than the European elections, at least until he knows that his Euro-salary and pension are secure. But to – well, who? The dispiriting thing for ousted former Councillors is that on the day after the election hardly anyone could remember the names of the people that they had actually supported and most of them did not care. This was a chance to kick the Government in the ballots, and kick they did. Hard.
The sadness is that a great deal of hard work on the economy that looks as though it may be beginning to bear fruit, a one-third cut in net immigration since 2010 brought about by Mrs. May’s polices, the first serious attempt to reform the welfare and benefit system for decades and a number of other significant successes have all been overshadowed by The European
Problem" and by "gay marriage" and the latter, most certainly, has been an entirely unnecessary and self-inflicted distraction from the main event.
That Tory activists are fed up to the back teeth with the party in Westminster is as indisputable as is the fact that very many staunch and loyal members have, while not crossing to " the other side", certainly voted in protest at the direction, or lack of it, of our Party. The grass roots feel that they have been taken for granted or slighted and that is a matter that is not necessarily going to come right by the next General Election. Those of us who have been around the circuit for a bit know that it is not bright young metrosexuals, who aspire to the candidates list and who have been courted by the Party leadership, that come election time will be stuffing the envelopes and pounding the streets and telling and dragging recalcitrant out to vote. It has been the old and bold, the die-hards, who have been there when needed. Tarquin will be too busy doing the next deal on the road to parliament. Bill and Enid have been there for you, come rain, come shine since the beginning of time. But will they still be there in 2015?
A flit north of Watford to speak in support of a colleague who will be seeking, and I hope securing, re-election reminded me, as the waves of the "swivel-eyed loons" saga crashed on the beaches of the Sunday press, that if you sacrifice the poor bloody infantry carelessly then pretty soon there will be nobody left to defend you up there on your high horse. These are not people "sniping from the sidelines”.They are playing straight down the middle of the pitch.
Not that the County elections offered much solace to Mr. Clogg or the Milipede. An opposition that cannot in mid-term, land a punch on an unpopular coalition, is not likely to cut much ice come the Big One.
In a You Gov poll taken after the County results were in Man David and Milipede were about even-Stevens with St.Nicholas of Clogg bringing up an embarrassing rear. A "nice but dim" tag around the neck Miliband Minor is not going to see him through to the finishing post at the next general election. Throw into this mix what has become known as The Milishambles interview" when, on Today, the leader of the Labour Party was forced to admit that he would have to borrow still more to cut VAT and you can see despair in the eyes of those on the Opposition benches. And Andy Coulson, sometime Editor of The News of the World and Number 10 spin doctor, describing my chum Ed Balls as "the gift that keeps on giving" doesn't inspire much confidence in Her Majesty's Opposition either.
Her Maj was, at the time, of course burning the midnight oil writing Her speech for the State Opening of Parliament. We are led to believe that the Government has a hand in this but I like to think of her, in the still watches of the night, musing "upon The Queen....let us our lives, our souls, our debts, our careful wives, our children and our sins lay on The Queen. We must bear all......." and so on. Anyway, Black Rod did his stuff and there we all were, summoned as usual. "My Lords and Members of the House of Commons", which is a euphemism for "Us and the riff raff beyond the bar", were called to hear about the deportation of immigrants and The Armed Services and Landlords checking their tenancies for illegals, and anti-social behaviour and making forced marriages even more of an offence and single-tier pensions and retirement age at 67 (Her Maj must have allowed herself a bit of a giggle at that point) and capping care costs and High Speed Two ( does it go near Windsor?) and "other measures will be laid before you". Not much foreign travel this year. Her Maj. and Prince Phil are not going to Sri Lanka for CHoGM (the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting), an astute move given the political sensitivities. Prince Charles, now almost openly spoken of as "Prince Regent", will do those honours and Other Royal Personages will be deputising around the globe, which should take the pressure off Prince Philip's 92-year old feet
No mention, either, of an EU Referendum Bill or of "Same Sex Marriage”. At least the Queen was spared that embarrassment. (Write what you like. I am not saying that"!)
It is customary, following The Speech, for the proposal that a loyal address be presented to Her Majesty, to be proposed by an Old Fart and seconded by a Rising Star. What is less customary is for Government backbenchers to table an amendment to the speech. This year, however, it was a little different. The absence of a "paving bill" for an EU Referendum (you have to pass an Act of Parliament to hold a referendum) led to an amendment regretting the omission. Mr. Farridge will probably seek to claim credit for this and if I was in his "Man of the People " working-class brogues then so, probably, would I, but the truth is that many of us, while welcoming Dave's promise of an in-out” referendum under a next Tory government, have been saying for months that we want to see the paving bill brought forward during the lifetime of this parliament to ram home the point that we mean business.
Young Lochinvar is said to have been very relaxed -"chillaxed" even -about all this but the Whips found it prudent to suggest Ministerial abstention on the vote. A couple of senior Cabinet Ministers were quick to say were there to be a referendum tomorrow"
(which of course there won't be) then I would vote to leave Europe". Not, of course, that Mr. Gove has any leadership ambitions. We know that because he has told us so. This positioning, in turn, led to the unusual step of Conservative Campaign Headquarters publishing a draft (a back of an envelope" rather than a "back of the chair" ) EU Referendum bill that a Tory backbencher might want to pick up as a Private Member's measure if lucky in the ballot for Private Members` Bills. The reason for this subterfuge, if you have not by now lost the will to live, is because our illustrious Liberal Democrat "partners" in what is still described risibly as a "coalition" would not permit a Government bill. In spite of the fact that prior to the last election one Mr. Clogg promised.......yes, you guessed it!
The media opposition of course, led by the Salford Broadcasting Corporation, took great glee in describing those supporting the amendment as "a rebellion" although how you can rebel on a free vote is, even after thirty years in parliament, beyond my procedural comprehension. Anyway, the Queen's Speech was carried unamended and James Wharton, a Tory MP from Stockton on Tees, with a majority that you can count on your fingers and toes, has the cheerful and numerically impossible task of trying to take the Tory Referendum Bill through the House. This happy circumstance causes Mr. Clogg, in the light of his referendum pledge, some embarrassment while the Labour front bench, under pressure to be seen to be "correct" on Europe, is, as usual, dithering.
We should not make light of the UKIP County successes but neither should we over react. Foreign Secretary Hague has rightly described Mr. Farridge's motley rag-bag of opportunists (my words, not Hague's) as "a fringe party with no agenda for practical government" and he might have added that they are not over-endowed with talent either. While a Nadine Dorries MP, freshly re-admitted to the Tory party after her escapades in the jungle, might wish to fantasise about a "Conservative and UKIP" election slate, presumably on the lines of the current Conservative and Unionist Party, and while Farridge may claim to be in discussions with "up to 20 Eurosceptic Tory. MPs " about an electoral pact, the harsh reality, as Farridge knows, is that come the next election the choice will be between handing the keys back to the socialist team that crashed the car or a majority Conservative Government and a consequent in- out referendum on our membership of the European Union. A UKIP vote under those circumstances can only, and would only, split the Tory vote and deliver another spendthrift and Europhile Labour administration.
As it happens, that section of the public that did bother to turn out to vote and to indicate their unhappiness in the usual manner appear to be rather less exercised by "Europe" than those living inside the Westminster bubble. The real issue, certainly for those in the seaside towns of England, remains immigration and it is here that the populist if not racist appeal of some minority parties is at its strongest. Lord Foy of That Persuasion, the former Peter Mandelson, now publicly acknowledges something that many knew but few dared to state openly: Blair's Labour Party, in the 1990s, went actively searching for immigrants to fill low-paid jobs, drive down union power and ultimately turn into New Labour voters out of gratitude to the ruling party of the day.
Labour's current Shadow Home Secretary, Mrs. Yvette Balls, now finds herself compelled to admit that the level of immigration has been too high and that her party, in government, should have exercised controls over economic migrants from within the European Union. Problem: you cannot now control immigration from within the member states of the EU without leaving the Union, which takes us right back, whether the electorate is bored to death with the issue or not, to where we started with the great "In-Out" debate!
As a footnote to his heady if transient dose of public acclaim , on ice until the European elections next year when no doubt more cigarettes will be chain-smoked in a blokish fashion and more beer will remain undrunk, Mr. .Farridge headed north of the border to 'defend the Union'. Attacked by some wishing to protest at his presence in Scotland, he was reduced to describing his vociferous assailants as "fascist scum" The thought that they might have been anti-UKIP rather than just anti-English Nationalist does not seem to have permeated through his electorate-inflated ego. Another who can dish it out but who does not like to take it? The ex public schoolboy's common man veneer might just be about as genuine as the cigar-smoking Harold Wilson's pipe.
Political sorrows, like Number 11 buses, always seem to arrive in convoy. No sooner is the Queen's Speech vote behind us than along comes the report stage and third reading of the Same Sex "marriage" Bill. Trailed by headlines screaming "Gay Marriage Meltdown ", the former and excellent Children's Minister, Tim Laughton, tables an amendment that, with considerable support, is designed to extend civil partnership to heterosexual couples. This is, broadly, the measure that I advocated during the second reading of the bill and which is designed to give, for example, brothers and/or sisters the same legal protections over property rights as is currently afforded to homosexual couples. Originally tagged as "Gale promotes incest" by a hysterical Labour MP, the administration has now woken up to the fact that this aspect of the equality that the "gay" lobby seeks to deny to others would, if permitted, cost the Treasury some money in avoided inheritance tax. "Equality", you see, is not a matter of principle but a matter of price.
In the event the Prime Minister is forced to rely upon the Labour Party to defeat a measure that has suddenly become a "wrecking amendment", the debates reach their inevitable conclusions, Labour and the Liberal Democrats join with some of the government front bench, several senior Ministers oppose the bill and more than half of the government's own back bench vote against a measure that does not have the support of the Conservative Party in the country. It is now left to the Lords to sit through a night or two and decide whether to allow the bill to become an Act of Parliament. Cameron could, in theory, invoke The Parliament Act designed for constitutional measures if the Lords do kill his bill. But would he?
There will be no more divisive policies like gay marriage to distract us from the big picture" (David Cameron). It's taken time, but just perhaps the message has reached the dizzy heights of Notting Hill.
It is at this point that the Deputy Prime Minister, fresh from a less than glorious performance at the Despatch Box while standing in for his boss, suggests that the Tory Party should "end it's infighting and get back to governing". When we need lessons in governing from a man who has never governed we will ask for them but in the meantime. Mr. Clogg has probably contributed significantly to the restoration of Tory unity through mutual loathing of a treacherous "partner", which may not be a bad thing.
On the education front the studious and saintly Michael "I do not want to be Leader of the Conservative Party” Gove tells us that "opponents of planning law are undermining social mobility". Not half as much, St. Michael, as Education Ministers who pursue the path of elitist "Free Schools" while denying to many the opportunity to attend the selective Grammar Schools that did so much for real social mobility over generations. It seems that the current head teacher of Eton College, Mr. Tony Little, shares this view. There were about 1200 grammar schools until the 1960s but the number has been shamefully capped at a current 164 by a doctrinaire administration unwilling to return to selection by an honest route. Described as "one of the greatest successes of this government", the Free School policy now offers eighty-one establishments with another one hundred and nine in September and a further one hundred and two approved by the Secretary of State and in the pipeline. That makes, if realised, a total of just two hundred and ninety two schools creating, perhaps, something like a hundred and thirty thousand places. Imagine the impact if all of that effort was put, instead, into generating selective grammar schools.
Back to the Head of Eton, Mr. Little. He is leading a drive to create more state boarding schools in the belief that busy parents have stimulated a demand for such facilities and that students benefit hugely from the camaraderie and the collegiate atmosphere made available through extra-curricular sports, music, drama and other activities enjoyed at school after the academic day is done. Hardye's School, in Dorchester in Dorset, was, until comprehensively dismantled, one such establishment. I know because I was a boarding pupil there myself and I owe a very great deal to that school and to those who taught me. Hardye`s was, of course, a grammar school. I know of two surviving such schools, Cranbrook and Sir Roger Manwood`s, in Kent, and there remain, apparently, a total of thirty-five similar boarding establishments within the state system. My guess is that most of them are grammar schools also. Why, Mr.Gove, do you wish to deny to others the opportunity that the Headteacher of Eton College, believes to be of such value?
Jo Swinson, the Liberal Democrat Women's Minister, has no children of her own but on the basis of her status as an Aunt says to mothers "don't tell your daughter that she is beautiful”. As part of something that the Government Equalities Office calls the "body confidence campaign" Ms Swinson suggests that mums should instead congratulate their children for "tasks completed or being inquisitive”. Like asking "Mummy, why do Ministers come up with such nonsense" perhaps? Not to be outdone Nick Boles, the Member for Grantham ("Mother, art thou listening there, above?"), and who wants, so far as I can see, to cover this once green and pleasant land with development, believes that "houses, not green fields, create happiness". I know that people need homes to live in but I cannot help feeling that the population density of the beautiful County of Lincolnshire, might just be a little lower than some other areas of the United Kingdom. Until Mr. Boles, a Planning Minister, has finished with it, that is!
The Labour Party is split over the re-nationalisation of the railways, with Transport Shadow Maria Eagle reported to be in favour while Shadow Chancellor Balls says that at multi-billions it would be too expensive. It would be wrong, also, to think that Labour does not have its own problems over membership of the EU. Many within the parliamentary Labour Party, including former senior Ministers, are putting Milipede Minor under pressure to support a referendum. Whisper it softly but there is also considerable support on the Labour benches, and grudging admiration, for Duncan Smith's benefit reforms in the wake of the last government's financial disaster and the recognition that, notwithstanding their Shadow Chancellor's preferences, borrow and spend is no longer a politically marketable option.
Shall we talk about the 111 NHS " not the 999" telephone service? Probably not, in polite company, for fear of generating too many unprintable expletives. Not surprisingly the Royal College of General Practitioners is trying to rubbish Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt for daring to call into question the GPs out-of-hours "service". The GPs, of course, grabbed the ludicrous deal offered by the last government with both hands and now it's a case of "What we have, we hold". That the head of the NHS Confederation is reduced to suggesting that patients should "e-mail your GP" instead of visiting a hospital casualty department that is overcrowded and in meltdown beggars belief. What? And wait until Monday morning for an e-mailed response telling a sick patient to call and, if they can get through, make an appointment to see a doctor in two week's time? I know some very good and very dedicated GPs and I know that they are in despair at the depths to which their Royal College has allowed the esteem, the trust and the reputation of their profession to be dragged. Pretty soon they'll be sharing ratings with MPs, just above journalists and just below prostitutes!
In the Upper House Lord Lawson, former Chancellor of the Exchequer, wants to leave to EU, The Legacy's old tennis-playing chum, Charlie Falconer, is in hot water for "spinning" his Right to Die bill as "assisted death" rather than the "assisted suicide" that many believe it to be and Lord Leveson is now reported to be seeking a "respected mediator" to try to broker a deal over the future regulation of the Press,
The ex- Attorney General, Lord Goldsmith, together with Baroness Kennedy and the former Director of Public Prosecutions, Lord MacDonald have joined with Cherie Booth QC of the Matrix Chambers to write to the press to complain of government proposals to restrict access to legal aid for judicial review. It seems that this reduction in potential work might cost some chambers their serious money.
With former Iraq arms inspector, Hans Blix, saying that he "could have made a declaration about weapons of mass destruction" that might have headed off the war but that he "would have lost my credibility" had he done so you cannot help wondering where that leaves one Sir John Chilcott, whose report into the background to the Bush/Blair military excursion is now heading for its fourth overdue year. There are many, and I am one such, who voted for the war on the basis of information given to Iain Duncan Smith on Privy Council terms by Prime Minister Blair and relayed to us in good faith by the then Leader of the Opposition. Surely Blair could not have lied, could he? Perhaps Chilcott knows the answer. In the meantime, Lord (David) Owen is asking some searching questions. A troublesome lot, those in God's Waiting Room.
Then there was the Woolwich murder and everything else on the news agenda paled into insignificance. Broad daylight, a quiet afternoon in a South London street and quite suddenly all hell broke loose. Drummer Lee Rigby of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, twenty five years old and a father, wearing a Help for Heroes shirt and going about his lawful business, was first mown down deliberately by a car and then literally hacked to death. Following the attack his two assailants, awaiting the arrival of armed police, stayed held in conversation by one incredibly brave woman while two others prayed over the body of the dead soldier. Those who "it is alleged" committed the crime ( strange how, in spite of dozens of witnesses and self-confession this is still, in law, an "allegation" and must remain so until conviction) are "said to be " radicalised extremists. The assailants, shot by the police, have received the medical treatment at taxpayers’ expense that they needed to save their lives. They will stand trial, they will be convicted and sentenced and held in a high security prison, again at taxpayers' expense, until their terms are, if ever, served. That is how things are done in a civilised country and that is what is expected by a community that will close ranks and stand firm, as we have done in the past, against any threat to our way of life. Not in anger but in indefatigable determination. It is called "democracy” and we shall go on defending it. Please recognise the bravery of those ladies who attended the scene while others stood on the sidelines just watching. And please, not a minor honour. We are surely in George Cross territory, are we not?
For the rest, there will be inquiries and no doubt there will be those who, from armchairs, will criticise the security services. As the Prime Minster said, though, when he visited MI5 to thank them for their work and to reassure them of his personal confidence, there are very few (but he is one of them) who know of the planned terrorist attacks that their work has prevented. It is not possible, in a free democracy, to keep every suspect under 24-hour surveillance and the terrorist has to succeed only once to hit the wanted headlines. A long time ago I had to give a vote of thanks to a former security chief following an after-dinner speech. Our guest told us nothing, of course, that he did not want us to hear. There will always be politicians who believe that we need to know more”, even at the cost of our security and the possibility of placing the lives of our operatives in danger, but I am not one of them. I said, quite simply, " I do not know what you do and I do not know how you do it and I do not want to know but I thank God that you are doing it" There are, of course, those trusted with the detail that rightly have to hold, in private, our security services to account. For the rest of us, I stand by my vote of thanks.
The Salford Broadcasting Corporation is trying to ban office plants, along with microwaves, fridges, coat stands and other titivations on the grounds that these might create
a "sense of ownership”. This is not an official ban" says a Corporation spokesman. "We'd just prefer it".
How much did the Corporation spend on flowers for Executive dining rooms last year? I think we should be told.
And speaking of ownership, who would like to take possession of the responsibility for the waste of at least £100 million of licence fee payers' money on the "Digital Media Initiative " extravaganza that has now been written off? Not, it seems Deloittes or Siemens, the external contributors to the project and not, either, the BBC executive responsible for perpetuation of the DMI (Don't Mention It") shambles. Never mind. It's only your money that they are squandering.
It probably has nothing much to do with long lunches at the BBC but "Well-Being Salford" has been launched to bring the glow of good health back to an "unhealthy city". The council also wants to ban the sale of chips before 5 pm to discourage overweight juvenile consumers. No butties before the watershed, please.
Her Maj impersonator Dame Helen Mirren has fallen out with actors outside London's Gielgud Theatre where she has been playing "The Audience" to packed houses. When the racket from street performers became intolerable Dame Maj stormed out in full kit and, depending upon whose report you read, said either "Be quiet. I'm trying to do a play in here and a lot of people have paid good money for tickets" or, slightly less in character, "Shut the fxxx up".
The Association of Senior Plods (ACPO) is offering helpful advice to dog owners. Tie them up in case they bite a burglar" they are quoted as saying. Well, yes. They can't handcuff intruders because dogs do not have thumbs.
Kent constabulary are on the trail of an offending officer. Lily-May Allen of Ramsgate, in neighbouring South Thanet, was told that she might be "guilty of criminal damage" for chalking out a hopscotch pitch on the pavement. (It was Thanet chalk, for heaven's sake, not spray paint)
As the constabulary are now being trained in the use of Wasserwerfer (water cannon to the uninitiated) perhaps they could exercise them on the pavements. In Thanet they might wash away more than just hopscotch pitches.
In Abergavenny, Gwent, there are red faces in blue uniforms. Having cordoned off a suspected explosive device seen lying in the road, the bomb disposal team discovered that it was, in fact, a police training dummy that had fallen off the back of a constabulary lorry.
My Father, Dick Gale, must be sitting on a cloud somewhere in fits of laughter. When Ruth Levy tried to send an online M&S card for Dick" it was rejected as "profane". "We have to take robust action to protect our content standards” says an M&S spokes thing. Sorry about that, Willie.......
A Somerset village (population 5620, 16 Muslims) has sought to ban an "offensive" the flag of St. George. A Labour councillor says that the flag has "links with the crusades". And the housing association Places for People has asked an ex-soldier to remove a painted cross of St. George from his own front door. The flag, in Preston, has been there for the past 10 years without complaint.
Teachers in a failing school in Upper Norwood have threatened strike action if the Headteacher sits in on classes to monitor performance. Of course.
The U-turn of the month award goes to the Romanian EU Agriculture Commissioner, Dacian Ciaclos. After great deliberation and much lobbying on behalf of Spanish olive oil producers by the powerful Copa-Cogeca Association , Commissioner Ciaclos introduced a ban on the olive oil served in restaurants for customers to dip bread into. The cunning plan, with the producers' vested interest in mind, was to only permit the use of oil contained in sealed and non re-usable containers. This was effected through the secretive system of "comitology" under which a law can be introduced without a majority. Labouring under the belief that this was a food labelling measure" Britain did not vote against this nonsense but sent a civil servant to Brussels to abstain in person. Following an outcry from Europe`s restaurateurs Mr. Ciaclos withdrew his edict as "it cannot attract consumer support". Cosa Copa Copega, with many lobbying Euros no doubt flushed down the fosse, are outraged. "It is ludicrous" they say that the Commission withdraws due to political pressure". Actually, my comrades, it's called "democracy" Something that Europe may yet have to get used to.
Retiring from Manchester United, Sir Alex Ferguson. From Paris St. Germain, and professional football as a player, David Beckham. And very tragically, Olympic sailor "Bart" Simpson who lost his life trapped under the hull of his Artemis 72' catamaran. The Formula One racing yacht capsized during training for the Americas Cup series in San Francisco Bay.
A reprieve for arguably the greatest aircraft ever built. Barring miracles a Concorde will never be restored to fly again but with £4.4.million of Lottery funding out of a total of
£13 million required, one of the planes has been rescued from the scrap heap to grace the planned Aerospace Centre to be created by the Bristol Aero Collection Trust. Our grandchildren who never saw the magical bird fly or had the good fortune to travel inside her will at least be able to share in a little of the aviation experience of a century.