Gale's Westminster View - February 2007
Abu Bakr, one of nine men arrested during anti-terror police raids in Birmingham at the beginning of the month and subsequently released without charge, describes Britain as "A police State for Muslims". He is, of course, quite wrong. I do not wish to be too pedantic about this but if Mr. Bakr was indeed living in a police state then he would in all probability not have been released at all and if he had been he would certainly not have been permitted the freedom of speech to express his point of view to the nation's media!
Mind you, with a battery of snoopers to be hired and trained to make sure that nobody puffs on an illicit fag in the snug of the Bull and Bush, with speed cameras flashing like the paparazzi at the Oscars, with valuers acting for the Revenue set to pounce on any careless soul seeking to sell a house in which he or she has installed an extra downstairs loo, with political correctness run amok and recalcitrant staff sentenced to "diversity training" the poor bloody native-born British churl might be forgiven for thinking that he ( or she or a mixture of the two) is indeed living in a police state.
Without the policemen!
Yes, I know that "we now have more policemen than at any time since Sir Robert Peel" and all that but the problem is that they aren't on the beat, they are filling in forms. As one who has briefly but proudly worn the blue uniform (and the body armour and the baton and the spray and the quik-cuffs and the pocket notebook) but retired too soon for the advent of the pocket computer, I have watched the frustration of men and women trying to do a job of work out on the pavement as they queue for the custody sergeant to examine the wrists of the toe-rag (to ensure that we haven't bruised the little darling's flesh while he's trying to play Jonny Wilkinson with what hangs in our groins) before settling down to a comfortable night`s filling in forms in quintuplicate.
Which leads me, by the Rolling English Drunkard's route, to the small issue of gun gang warfare on the streets of South London and other points East and North.
Some years ago, you will recall, we banned handguns. To be more exact, we removed, with inadequate recompense, the pistols used by licensed, authorised and responsible shooters in the course of what had hitherto been a respectable and Olympic sport. This piece of knee-jerk reaction to some appalling crimes, a law campaigned foe by the illustrious Daily Mirror, was supposed to take weapons of mass mayhem off our streets. As usual, the law-abiding paid the price and the hoodlums carried on buying or stealing and modifying weapons to the extent that we now have armed teenage gangs blasting each other to kingdom come while an equally armed, but effectively powerless, police force tries to prevent Clapham North from turning into Dodge City. Blair's response to all of this is to talk about passing some gun law that he appears to fail to recognise is largely already in place.
There has been much joy this month. In the wake of the Big Brother House Row, a TV show that threatened to require United Nations armed intervention to resolve, Blair and many of his senior Cabinet members found it appropriate to meet with a Bollywood starlet but could not find the time, as Young David did, to meet with robbed company pensioners protesting in Parliament Square. No doubt the pensioners will have taken some comfort from the fact that they cannot afford to fly abroad on holiday and are therefore unlikely to find themselves paying British Airways` new suitcase tax of £120 for a second checked-in bag.
Young David himself has faced renewed interest in the "did he or did he not smoke pot" question that first reared its head during the Conservative Party leadership campaign. As one who is so dull that he managed to survive the Swinging Sixties and an early career adjacent to the music industry without so much as a sniff of an illegal substance I have to confess to having once been to an X-movie under age to give myself any street-creed at all. The fact of the matter is that if every teenager who has been into a pub and bought pre-eighteen alcohol or conned the tobacconist out of a pubescent packet of Player's Weights was nicked John Reid's current custody problems would pale into insignificance. I think, though, with glorious hindsight, that whoever advised YD during the leadership tryst ill-advised him. As journalists were unkind enough to point out, you cannot convincingly plead the "private life" defence on the one hand while parading your wife and your children for the cameras and exposing your washing-up on a web log. And so the gun unnecessarily sits there smoking, if not inhaling.
Turmoil. The Archers is losing audience. Two hundred thousand listeners at home and on long-wave at the far corners of what remains of the Empire (well, we are, plot by plot, buying back Aquitaine) have turned off at the thought of marital infidelity and break-up. In the real Ambridge of East Anglia bird-flu strikes, Bernard Matthews` product is suddenly no longer "bootiful", in scenes briefly reminiscent of foot-and-mouth thousands of turkeys are slaughtered and cremated. And while the nation reels from those grim televised scenes the best part of two million peasants revolt, via an internet petition, against this Government's proposals to tax motorists by the mile off the road. In Central London Ken Livingstone's Congestion Tax Zone spreads West through the millionaire's Groves of Kensington and Chelsea freeing up shackled housewives to pay the diminutive Resident's annual fee and once again hit the road in the 4x4 Urban Tractor to take Tarquin to school. Snow is forecast, arrives and schools close immediately. Snow melts in minutes and leaves us to February crocuses, primroses and daffodils.
Blair tells us that `The Boys will be coming home` Well, a few of them, anyway. Just in time for some R&R, a little re-training and swift despatch out to Afghanistan. "Blair's Wars" do not recognise overstretch or reality. And while we're on the subject, this was the month when the Americans were banged to rights by a courageous Coroner demanding admission of hitherto denied footage of the "friendly fire" incident in which one British serviceman was killed and others injured as a result of US pilot error. Tabloid newspapers printed pictures, TV showed the footage but our `friendly` allies went on trying to prevent the awful truth being shown in the coroner's court. We must not blame the American people but we have every right to blame their shoddy and tarnished political administration.
And while we're discussing Iraq, this was also the month when, after more than 20 weeks of prosecution evidence a judge ruled that Colonel Jorge Mendonca, DSO, of the Queen's Lancashire's, had no case to answer. The press pointed out that the £20 million cost of this farcical `show trial` would have bought body armour for 15,500 men and might have prevented more deaths of the kind suffered by Sergeant Steve Roberts. Somehow, our Prime Minister omitted to mention the servicemen and women who have come back in boxes when talking about bringing the troops home. And neither did he mention his failure to keep his promise to provide legal facilities for the bereaved families of those service personnel at their inquests.
Back from Blair's fantasy world and in parliament Jack Straw does somersaults over an insane proposal to rig the Commons voting system in order to secure reform of the House of Lords, the Lords themselves demonstrate precisely why, in Government terms, this is so desirable as they rightly rip to shreds the iniquitous Mental Health Bill. The Guardian publishes a poll putting the Tories 13% ahead in the polls, panic in No.11 Downing Street, those with grey or no hair urge caution on the "one swallow……" basis and Young David announces that he hopes to send little Nancy to a faith (Church of England) School. Now, if we can just persuade him that, later on, a teenaged Nancy will thrive at a good state grammar school then the month will have ended well!