Gale’s (Belated) Westminster View - October 2008
Lulu, our Newfoundland, Westminster Dog of the Year, Pets as Therapy Dog, fundraiser extraordinaire, campaigner and friend has this week gone to the Great Kennel in the Sky. Devastatingly prematurely she was diagnosed as having bone cancer and the rest was swift and predictable if mercifully painless (thanks to excellent veterinary attention) at the end. In the great scheme of international misery this event does not warrant a footnote but those readers who have loved and lost animals will understand why this column is a little late: the end of the month was not a good time for satire.
The Party Conferences, Season of Musts and Mellow Forgetfulness. A time to take the yarn and spin. This year found the blue corner in Birmingham for the first time and the City treated us kindly. My own appearance was fleeting but the journey to an out-of-town hotel found me on a train travelling through what had once been known as "The Austin". The Longbridge car factory used to lie at the heart of the Northfield constituency in which I fought, and so narrowly lost, a by-election in 1982. In those days we were pilloried for a reduction in the number of car-manufacturing jobs. Today the site is nine parts razed to the ground and the British car industry is, effectively, no more. We are all global now. How times change!
Young David played a blinder. I am not known as the greatest fully paid-up Cameroon but you have to give due credit and it was a class act. "David Cameron reveals his conservative colours" said a press describing him as "a Prime Minister in Waiting". Not easy for a Leader of the Opposition to seize the political high ground during economic meltdown and when all the levers are in the hands of the man in Downing Street but Dave managed it.
This first week of the month was the week when Peter Mandelson, at that time still merely a highly-paid European Commissioner came out, if you will forgive the expression, in favour of Gordon Brown and told the Big Organ Grinder's critics to toe the line. With glorious hindsight the reasons for that intervention are now apparent. How long the newly- ermined Trade supremo will last in the Cabinet this time is, of course, a matter for speculation and modest wagers. The arrival of Lord Foy, as the Prince of Darkness must now be known, does not appear to have gone down too well in the Upper House and their Lordships do have a reputation for putting arrivistes in their place!
Back at school and as colleagues swap tales of summer holidays that already seem a long time past while simultaneously weighing the political odds the boat is rocked further by the resignation, or sacking depending upon your vantage point, of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair. This event, precipitated by a short and apparently sharp conversation with Boris the Mayor, has been a long time a-coming but was probably inevitable. It just took a man with rather more steel than he is generally given credit for to hand over the black spot.
As banks have fallen like leaves in autumn the Labour Party's summer revolution has folded also. Milipede is back in his box and will probably take his place alongside Michael Portillo and other leadership contenders who failed to contend. The Revolt is on hold. Official!
The month was, of course, dominated by economic events that have been so widely chronicled that they do not deserve to be repeated here. What is significant, though, is that "Superman" Brown has at least for the moment pulled off a fiscal and political three-card trick and, to mix the metaphor still further, played a Get-out-of-Gaol card. Quite how the man chiefly responsible for creating the country's economic woes is now able to claim "credit" for offering, at my expense and yours, "solutions" is beyond me. It is, as I have said to anyone prepared to listen, roughly comparable to a dangerous driver knocking down a pedestrian and then being congratulated for summoning the paramedics!
As local authorities, including Kent and Canterbury City within my own terrain, are found to have lost several millions in money deposited in Icelandic banks and as many ex-pat investors face up to the fact that the Government bail-out of failed bankers and UK depositors does not extend to an Isle of Man in which many had placed their life's savings ( a matter to which we shall certainly return when more of the smoke and mirrors has cleared) the hitherto embattled Prime Minister is handed another diversion or two on a plate.
While in the Upper House the Government's proposals for 42-days detention is scuppered and the Home Secretary is compelled to come to the House of Commons and run up the white flag it transpires that Boy George and Lord Foy, as we must now refer to him, have been dining and wining (whining?) on board a superyacht owned by "A Russian Oligarch".
I do not know many Oligarchs but the one in question certainly seems to have a colourful reputation and the fact that the Shadow Chancellor did not ask him for a few bob (in zillionaire terms) and that the Tory Party did not receive a donation from the aforesaid Oligarch did not, of course, stop a gleeful press from creating "Corfugate" to the fleeting embarrassment of all concerned.
And then came "Rossgate" or "Brandgate" or "Beebgate" or whatever you choose to call it. ("Drossgate"?) The manner in which a couple of over-paid and foul-mouthed broadcasters used our airwaves to cause distress to an elderly and highly-regarded actor who has done no wrong has been so over- reported that it bears no further comment save this: I hold to the view that it is the man at the top, the BBC’s Editor-in-Chief, who is paid some £700k a year to pilot the concrete battleship in Portland Place, that ought to carry the can. If you cannot deal with heat and deliver a palatable menu why should we, the BBC’s license-payers, continue to fund your sojourn in the editorial galley?
Month’s end. Unemployment is rising and, with it, more people are losing their homes. The banks are now getting CashAid from that generous charity known as the taxpayer but mortgage rates appear to be rising ("in the interests of the restoration of the market") in order that losses can be recouped. So we are now paying to bail out the banks so that they can charge homeowners more so that still more homes can be repossessed. Have I missed something? Nice one, Gordon!