Gale's Westminster View - November 2008
Obamamania has gripped Westminster. As apparatchiks erect the "Please do not walk on the water" signs around the White House duckpond, in the Houses of the Mother of Parliaments Members who have hitherto expressed no known interest in what happens in the colonies are to be found sporting button badges and proclaiming the new dawn of civilisation. A lone curmudgeon, the author of this column, sports a republican party tie. I wish the President-elect and his family well and I am genuinely pleased that his daughter will receive her new puppy but please God, this time do not let it all end in tears.
Tears of joy, for some, North of the Border where in Glenrothes NuLabour holds onto the seat, albeit with a significantly reduced majority, in the by-election. Alex Salmond, a normally cute politician, has now learned the Neil Kinnock lesson the hard way: the fat lady may end up singing the Red Flag and not The Flower of Scotland!
This is the month in which my "Farming Today" Mister Man from Brussels, announces that in the interests of food conservation it is now politically correct to market bent cucumbers and knobbly carrots and potatoes; we discover that schoolchildren singing Christmas carols on our doorsteps require a license to collect sweet money; ID cards for immigrants are introduced ; science destroys the myth that if you cut a worm in half both parts survive as only the head (Organ Grinder please note) carries on living; our train operators announce fare increases on a highway robbery scale that would make a Somali pirate blush; the resignation of former political correspondent John Sergeant from Strictly Come Dancing causes public outcry; and agriculture Minister Jane Kennedy, a normally sensible and amiable lass, announces with a straight face that "Ministers cannot engage in a straightforward "Buy British" campaign". Can you hear a French agriculture Minister saying the Gallic equivalent of that? I think not!
It is, though, the economy (stupid!) that has engulfed the Palace of Westminster for all but the last few grim days of November.
The illustrious, if unelected, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom has said, relentlessly, that the economic crisis "started in the United States" and was born of the sub-prime mortgage market. This mantra is reiterated, presumably, upon the well-tried School of Propaganda principle that if you say something often enough, people will believe it. Unfortunately for The Big Organ Grinder, while America has its own very home-grown difficulties, the state of Britain's public finances and the largest personal indebtedness in the Western world has been Made in Britain on his watch while Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Spool forward to the Pre-budget statement and it seems that having recognised that we have a huge debt problem this government's solution is to borrow and spend and to encourage a nation at it's credit-card limit to go out and spend still more! I am a bear of little economic brain but even I can work out that those faced with a loss of jobs and, in many tragic cases, a consequent loss of home are unlikely to want to rush out on a Christmas spending spree. I simply do not accept that the widely pre-leaked (and more of that in a moment) reduction in VAT or even Marks and Spencer cutting prices by 20% for a day are likely to generate a resurgence of confidence in a shattered financial sector!
MFI and Woolworths are in administration and in the latter case there are thirty thousand jobs and eight hundred and fifteen retail outlets at risk. BT announces a reduction of ten thousand jobs. Sales in all High Streets are falling as the unemployment figures rise to and through the two million mark. The figures for repossessions are at their highest for years and also rising alarmingly. The payment of benefits, as a consequence of financial collapse, is on the increase while the income tax take is simultaneously reduced. Banks bailed out and in whole or in part now owned by the State still seem reluctant to advance monies for the finance of business or house-purchase while inflation is heading south towards deflation and those whose incomes are based upon interest on money invested are seeing their incomes fall.
Chancellor Darling's response to all of this has been not a pre-budget statement but a budget in all but name that, upon close examination, reveals not only the hidden tax increases that we have come to expect but the stark reality that the future of our children and our grandchildren now lies in the national pawnshop. We are, Mr. Brown, in the worst state since the end of the second world war. And it is, to a very large extent, a situation over which you, personally, have presided.
As I write, the first British survivors of the dreadful events in Mumbai are straggling home and in Thailand both Bangkok airports are still occupied by demonstrators. Demonstrating that at times we tend to focus upon matters that affect us personally I have a deeply particular interest in the latter situation. Our youngest son and his bride, taking a belated honeymoon and `holiday of a lifetime` are, along with thousands of other young Britons, marooned and unable to get home. Unlike those who have been terrifyingly incarcerated in India they are, at present, safe and well and accommodated but we find ourselves watching the news, as the picture unfolds, with growing apprehension. I can, I hope, help to take care of my own but the Minister of State at the Foreign Office and I are both aware that the situation could kick off at any time. I have to trust that we have plans to evacuate stranded tourists in short order if necessary.
Curious, is it not, that drama erupts while the House of Commons is not sitting and it is not, therefore, possible to question Ministers! As the month ends my Kent parliamentary colleague, Damian Green, the MP for Ashford, is arrested on arcane and archaic charges that stem, so far as we can at present tell, from the fact that he has embarrassed this dictatorial government.
Damian is accused, note this, of seeking to procure the leaking of government secrets. These secrets include, of course, the fact that illegal immigrants were employed in a number of sensitive posts in establishments up to and including the Home Office. The Home Secretary, who is the head of the investigating Metropolitan Police, has denied that she knew in advance that no less than nine members of the anti-terrorist squad were going to raid Damian's home while others would search his London home and even his parliamentary office. She is either lying - there is no other word for it - or she is incompetent. Either way, she has to go.
There is also a huge question mark over how and why the constabulary were allowed access to confidential files and computer information contained within the Palace of Westminster. People in very high places indeed are going to have to answer some searching questions.
Finally, there is the question of "leaks". This was the system by which one Gordon Brown made his parliamentary name and, most recently, it is the manner in which the BBC’s economic correspondent would appear to have gained access to Treasury information and in which advance notice was given to the Press of the 2.5% VAT reduction contained within Darling's pre-budget statement. One law for Downing Street and another for everyone else? The State opening of Parliament on December 3rd leads to the opportunity for some rather important issues to be addressed!