Gale's Westminster View - October 2009
October. Another not-the-end of-the-recession month. Crunch time for Mad Hattie and the Presidential trains run into the buffers.
First, though, we need to recognise, as the House of Commons sits again after the summer recess, that during the time that we have been away another thirty-seven British service personnel have paid with their lives for our adventure in Afghanistan. More have returned home shattered in body and in mind. Each one has been a man with a family, many of them with young children. We know that we have to see this through but until the forces are equipped with the helicopters that they need in the numbers that they need them more will die unnecessarily. I don't know if the Prime Minister sleeps easily at night but there are times when I wake up in a sweat just thinking about it.
The posties vote to strike. It's a very moot point who is the more idiotic. The Neanderthal leadership of the communication workers union led by Billy Hayes or the overpaid, arrogant and ineffectual management of the Post Office under Adam Crozier. Is this Mandelson`s revenge? Having seen his bid to privatise the post office scuppered before it was even debated in the Commons the word is that The Lord Foy of that Persuasion is quietly masterminding the assisted suicide of an institution that has proudly engaged in universal postal delivery since the days of Rowland Hill. Those "leading" the Royal Mail are, of course, too full of their own self-importance to realise the nature of the game (no, Mr. Crozier, this is not the national sport) that is being played around them while the Union's leaders are digging in to fight to the last penny in their members` pay-packets. We are told that the cost of the postal dispute to UK limited is likely to be in the region of 1.5 billion pounds and at the month’s end there is no sign of a resolution in sight. My own postmen, for whom I have a high regard and a very great affection (try persuading some of the private operators to undertake universal delivery throughout rain and snow and hurricanes) will, with the small businesses that I represent, be the poor bloody infantry that get mown down in the crossfire.
We now know what Young David and Boy George stand for. The last Conservative Party National Prayer Meeting before the General Election promises, mainly, tears, toil, sweat and blood and even an opinion poll giving the Official Opposition a 14 point lead over Labour cannot disguise the fact that we are going in to bat on a very unpleasant wicket that could see us skittled out after just one innings. Never mind. That's how it is and that's how we will have to take it on. "We will" says Cameron "reward those that take responsibility and take care of those that cannot do so" and that, to me, sounds like a Conservative talking. Whether we can, as he suggests, change the kind of people that are the British nation and "shape our destiny" (not another hand on the shoulder, please) only time will tell. Rapturous applause, standing ovation, cue reality. First, we have to win an election and that is no foregone conclusion.
"I'm Harriet Harman. You know where you can get me". The reported words of Mad Hattie following a shunt with a stationary car that was clearly travelling far too fast to avoid someone who was not talking on a mobile phone. Failure to stop and report an accident is, of course, an offence as Hattie's sister Sarah, the solicitor, will no doubt have told her. A word of advice; plead guilty and take the rap. And don't let Cherie Booth represent you!
An odd month for the Commander in Chief of the United States Forces. Kicked in the Presidential teeth over Chicago's bid to host the Olympic Games and awarded the Nobel Peace Prize all in the space of days. This latter the Clinton diva describes on television at interminable length as a "great honour". Honour, the prize most certainly is but Obama seems almost as surprised that he had won it as is most of the rest of the world. As one commentator put it, rather like being awarded an Oscar for a film that might have quite a good script but that has yet to be made! And hasn't Morgan Tsvangerai done some rather courageous things in the interests of peace, mankind and humanity?
Talking of President's, this was supposed to be the month when Boney Blair and Cherie Antoinette, having marketed their former Sedgefield home for £330k (bought, 1983 for thirty thousand) and believed to be house hunting in Brussels, were to be anointed as Europe's First Family. Setting aside the fact that with the Lisbon Constitution still to be ratified there is, technically, no post for a President of The United States of Europe, the fact that little Milipede has been scurrying around the Rathauses of the continent drumming up apathy while the Big Organ Grinder has given the Lazarus Blair project the kiss of death - sorry, "seal of approval" - must have left The Legacy weeping into his communion wine. It is Halloween and the undead may yet rise again but for the moment it looks as though that nice Mrs. Merkel, the Miss Marple of European politics, and Nick Sarkozy have joined forces to wave the garlic at the door. Funny how one can feel a warm glow of appreciation for a German Chancellor.
I would like to be able to ignore Legg and Kelly, the mandarin double-act appointed to muck out the parliamentary stables. I would like to be able to ignore them but I cannot do so. With troops dying in Afghanistan, with three million unemployed at home, the economy in meltdown and the Polar icecap diminishing by the day the issue of MPs pay and expenses ought to be so far down the list of priorities as to be out of sight. The folly of parliamentary colleagues, however, coupled with the obsessive hypocrisy of the press and an electoral call for blood that makes the crowd in the Coliseum look like a WI convention, have meant that from the day that the "Legg letters" landed on MPs doormats until now and beyond when the heavily leaked report of that arbiter of public standards Mr. Kelly is published, this is the issue that has dominated the Westminster month.
Many of Legg`s calculations would appear to be inaccurate. He has chosen to take a rule-book and not to interpret it but to re-write it retrospectively. As a result dozens, probably hundreds, of MPs (I may yet be one) have received demands for the repayment of wholly properly claimed and approved expenses. No matter. Off with his head! Madame Desfarges would have been proud of Legg. If you don't pay up, you don't stand as an MP. Justice? Fair Play? You are a Member of Parliament. Forget it! I appreciate that this is an unfashionable line to take and that any MP (I may be the only one) who sticks his head above the parapet in the cause of caution is likely to have that head blown off but I am clearly now so far beyond the Pale that it scarcely matters.
What does matter is the long-term effect. If, together, Mr.Legg and Mr.Kelly (or "Sir Thomas" and "Sir Christopher" as they like to be known in Whitehall) are allowed to so restrict the facilities available to Members of Parliament that most people can no longer afford to even entertain standing for parliament then the Country will not benefit. It would, I believe, be highly undesirable if only those very rich people with Trust Funds and family businesses, or a mediocrity that regards Government not as a vocation but as a job, were left to run the country. "There is a queue of people waiting to get into the Commons" says the press. True. But who will be in that queue? Those of us who are nearing the sunset of parliamentary careers have, I think, a duty to try to hold the ring for those good men and women who would wish to follow after us.
Some of those aspirant parliamentarians will have made history when, for the first time, the Youth Parliament conducted debates in the chamber of the House Of Commons presided over by Mr. Speaker Bercow,. Word is that the standard of debate and the attendance were appreciably better than that experienced on normal weekdays! Hopefully, their leaders will have shown rather more sense of purpose that the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom who, following an interview for that global forum "Mumsnet" took twenty four hours to decide that his favourite biscuit was "something with chocolate on it". (For the record, Young Lochinvar unsurprisingly likes oatcakes and Mr. Clegg likes Rich Tea, but only if he can dunk them. Otherwise, his taste is for Hob Nobbing!)
Speaker Bercow joins the Clunking Fist in believing that it would be a good idea if government Ministers in the Lords and, specifically, Lord Hartlepool of That Ilk, were to answer questions in the Commons. Given that there are now more Lords Ministers than at any time since the Commons chamber was created you can see the point. Mr. Bercow offers three choices: a session in Westminster Hall (the "second chamber" used for adjournment debates), the Bar of the House, or the Despatch Box. My personal preference is for the Bar. It is to the bar that miscreants are brought to be interrogated by Mr. Speaker before being appropriately incarcerated in one of the two oubliettes that we have available in the Palace for the purpose. I like the prospect of The Foy Person, preferably in ermine, being dragged to the bar and made to kneel and to answer for his sins!
Not for the first time the economists and the bankers have all got it wrong. Here we are, poised for the Big Organ Grinder to announce that The Recession Is Over (Official) and up pop the figures to show that in fact we are still in decline. Will Gordon plead ill-health and duck out before the general election? The mood at the government end of the tearoom is very ugly. It could still happen.
Children should not face formal school until six, says an inquiry. Balls says four. Ofsted says that children are now going to school unable to drink from a cup, speak, or use the lavatory. "significant language delay" is the euphemism used. The Criminal Justice Act is having an effect upon crime: in Evesham a 21 year old is required to produce ID before she can buy a teaspoon in Tescos. And a 71-year old pensioner is ordered to pay £50 costs after a court appearance. She was charged with "prodding" a hoodie who had been throwing rocks at her house. A ten year old amputee has her DLA cut because she is "not disabled enough". Her school report said that she was "doing really well" and the authorities clearly feel the need to put a stop to that!
We are heading for 5-bin households as Hilary Benn drives towards "zero waste". With containers for landfill, paper, recyclables, food and compost we shall soon need separate accommodation to house the wheelies.
After last months outcry Ed Balls has announced that parents can, after all, look after each other's children and that "this is not a matter for regulation". What is still a matter for regulation is ISA checks before a person may accommodate a child from overseas. That means that every family wishing to put up a Girl Guide or a Boy Scout visiting for a jamboree will need to have a police check. It will, of course, do nothing to protect British children travelling abroad. The authorities would like it known that they wish to ensure that the "practical operation of ISAs does not impede youth gatherings". With ten thousand scouts usually attending a jamboree and requiring two thousand volunteers I see a fair bit of impediment on the horizon. Perhaps if they were "woodcraft folk" it might be different?
Ed You Kayshun. Top job preferences used to be teaching, banking, medicine and veterinary work. Now the ranking is Sports Star, Pop Star, Actor and Astronaut with teaching at no.9 and veterinary at no. 10 and banking not on the list. And in place of rugby football our preferences are those well-tried Olympic disciplines of yoga, circus skills and cheerleading!
Wessex ambulance trust takes `elf n safety seriously. So seriously that when a 9 year old car crash victim needed an ambulance the 999 operator advised that the crew could not have their lunch break interrupted. Fortunately the crew downed knives and forks and went anyway, so expect the disciplinary notices to be in the post, if there ever is any post again.
The BBC will be pushing the watershed back to 10 pm, putting new programme guidelines out to consultation and cutting 25% of managerial pay. Cbeebies has decided that the Humpty Story is just too gruesome and changed the final line to "made Humpty Dumpty Happy Again". And Dixon of Dock Green, were elf n safety to allow him out on the beat today, would no longer be allowed to say "evening all". This is banned as it is, apparently, subjective and might cause "cultural confusion".
Tesco boss Sir Terry Leahy, a member of Gordon Brown's National Council for Educational Excellence, has described some schools as "woeful" and says that there are "too many agencies and bodies issuing instructions". I have a suggestion. Scrap the whole damned self-opinionated doctrinaire politically correct interfering lot and bring back grammar schools.