Roger and his views > Archive of earlier articles > Westminster December 2011
As our friends resident in the American Colonies would say
 
“Sir Gale`s Westminster View” – December 2011.
 
(that`s more than enough of that: Ed.)
 
December.  Lord Justice Leveson casts swine before pearls. Man David throws down a gauntlet, the Merkozy summit ends with a whimper, not a bang, while storms sweep across northern Europe. Windfarms catch fire. The Russian ship of State sails on with adjusted rigging; and talking of rigging, our supermarkets` “cut price” offers are revealed to owe more to creative presentation than customer service.  Prices are slashed, though, in High Street stores desperate to attract pre- festive custom. Shop Late for Christmas is the order of the season.  Too many Christmas gifts for big companies from Revenue and Customs says the PAC. Premier to Primate: “Stand up for Christianity” shock. Primate to Flock: “Rioters are no worse than bankers”. And the month that began with a Union day of inaction ends with a London Underground strike designed, no doubt, to “help” travellers reach the sales. For 2011 the end is nigh and we have heard the chimes at midnight as Boris lights up pre-Olympic London.
 
 
For those prevented by statute from engaging in blood sports the Leveson inquiry into the customs and practices of The Press provides an interesting alternative.  The sight and sound of one Alastair Campbell describing his media adversaries as “putrid” is wondrous to behold while to hear from the lips of The Legacy`s spinmeister the accusation that the Diaspora of Fleet Street has been guilty of “bias and spin” is quite breathtaking in its hypocritical audacity. No surprise, really, that an apparatchik from the Grauniad newsroom should believe that “phone hacking can be justified” It gets livelier , though, when that same paragon of all journalistic virtue and probity stands itself in the dock for, allegedly, “sexing up” the revolting Millie Dower phone hacking story that precipitated the demise of the Granada’s bête noir, the News of the World. Sanctimonious howls of anguish as the luvvies favourite tabloid finds itself on the rack. It takes one to tell one, does it not?
 
Then there is former Mirror and NoW editor Piers Morgan, live down the line from his exile in The Americas. This, you will recall, is the man who did not engage in insider trading but who , in 2004, did authorise the publication of what turned out to be faked photographs of “British Servicemen” “Ill-treating prisoners in Iraq”.  Was Morgan lying during his “evidence” or was he telling the truth?  We may never know for sure but his lips were certainly moving.  “A robust defence of his position” if you believe his friends within what we must now come to know as the Salford Broadcasting Corporation. Others were less charitable in their assessment of Morgan`s contortions.
 
In this New Year the Press will make their case. There will be weeping and wailing and the shredding of records and credit cards as we are reminded that without the freedom to distort the truth, or if necessary to make it up, freely, then democracy in the UK will resemble something out of Cairo.  Remember the ditty: “It is not possible to bribe, or twist, thank God, the British journalist……… For given what the knave will do, unbribed, there`s no occasion to”! 
 
Old Windy’s Almanac suggests that there will be much huffing and puffing and posturing, a long period of “reflection” and “analysis of the evidence” and then the publication of a recipe for inaction.  With mounting distrust and the resulting falling sales it  s probably not necessary to take secateurs to a fruit  that is already withering  on the vine.
 
From the fantasy world of journalists to the make-believe world of Brussels and the “Merkozy” summit.  This is not exactly Cloth of Gold stuff.  More of a pantomime horse with Frau Chancellor Merkel at the front end and M. Sarkozy more or less where you would expect him to be.  “France and Germany must take charge of Europe” asserts Sarko in pre-Presidential election mode as he engages in “crisis talks with Merkel to save the Euro”. This is known as “fiddling while the Euro burns “ as the credit rating agencies, Poor`s, Moody`s and Fitch, consider a possible downgrade of the Eurozone’s  triple-A rating.
 
The Prime Minister arrives at the OK Corral with a clear mandate, agreed with his Liberal Democrat Deputy Sheriff, to defend Britain`s interests and to protect the City of London as the World`s Number One financial centre. Sarko, raising himself to the top of his lifts, says that the UK`s demands are “unacceptable”..There is no sound of revelry by night but  in the small hours of a bleak midwinter`s morning David Cameron vetoes European Union demands for treaty changes.
 
The Wee Man refuses to shake Cameron`s hand, Mr. John Humphries, on behalf of the Salford Broadcasting Corporation, presents the outcome as a disaster, Milipede the Younger declares that Britain will “have no say” in Europe, The United Kingdom Improvisation Party tells us  that the UK has “gained nothing”, our LibDem coalition partners do a spin-turn on their agreed negotiating position, Mr. Clogg does the Invisible Man act while the Prime Minister reports to the Commons of the United Kingdom in Parliament assembled and the cheers of the electorate can be heard from Lands End to Hadrian`s Wail.
 
This is possibly not the best moment for Mme Christine Lagarde, the new improved version of Dominic Strauss Khan, to announce that the IMF would like another thirty billion quids from Britain, please, while simultaneously predicting that we are all heading for a second Great Depression.  As France criticises the UK`s triple A rating (look at the beam in your own eye, Jacques) it becomes clear that once away from the communitaire allure of Brussels a number of the 26 countries that left Britain standing alone are having second thoughts about the European treaty proposals that they had been so eager to endorse.  Fine over the Champagne and Cognac possibly, but not so easy to sell to their own electorates. Far from “plotting revenge on Britain” as the SBC suggests, a number of Leaders have arrived back on their home soil with very cold feet indeed.
 
The sad bottom line under this charade is that not one jot of progress towards reaching a solution to the financial and structural problems of Southern Europe that may well have devastating effects for us all in 2012 was made by any of the Eurozone leaders. Man David stood his ground vigorously but he cannot protect us from the economic plague from which no country will be immune if it takes a real hold.  The £400 billion of loans from the European Central Bank to help prop up failing currencies is only likely to delay the almost inevitable by a very short time. Even in Germany only 41% of the electorate want to remain in the Eurozone while in the French Republic – Citizen Candidate Sarkozy please note – that figure falls to just 33%.
 
The Gender Agenda gets a boost from Mrs. Miriam Clogg, the wife of our Dear Deputy Leader, who calls for quotas for women in the boardroom. Not to be outdone Mrs. Legacy (if you remember the fragrant Cherie) is reported as using Chatham House to praise Tunisia for securing an equal number of male and female candidates to stand in their assembly elections. Had Cherry Booth, as she was known in Thanet when she stood for Parliament in 1983, dug a little deeper she would have discovered that that “parity” was only sin-deep. As one who was there I feel qualified to report that while it is literally correct that there was an admirable number of ladies offering themselves for election the construction of the voting and party list system meant that very many of them stood no chance of success whatsoever. Like too many of the causes that the Blairs, collectively and severally, have endorsed.
 
My favourite cartoonist, Matt, who offers the only possible justification for being seen in possession of a Daily Telegraph, captioned a Yuletide offering “Snow – and a war of words with the French. A perfect Christmas”. In fact it turned out to be high winds and rain that preceded an almost balmy holiday period.  The Procedure Select Committee , upon which I have the privilege to serve, arrived by air in Edinburgh almost sideways as 100 mile an hour winds battered Scotland so hard that in Ardrossan, in Northern Ayrshire,  an over-cranked  wind turbine burst spectacularly into flames. Now what would Shakespeare`s Hags in The Scottish Play have made of that?
 
Shortly before the Christmas recess the Retail Consortium holds a briefing session for MPs to extol the virtues of shopping.  Now, I like the Retail Consortium and I accept entirely that the retail sector is worth tens of thousands of jobs and shedloads of money for the economy.  So when Brand-name stores on the High Streets and out in the Shopping Malls that have killed off the High Streets start slashing their prices not for what used to be called “The January Sales” but before Christmas then we have to acknowledge that there is a problem.  Word on the street is that two or three well-known chains might go to the wall early in the New Year and although the rush to the shops has been talked up you do not have to be a rocket scientist, or even Robert Peston, to work out that money is tight.  So what is it that we are to be spending?
 
I have been criticised by some Conservative market-oriented colleagues for daring to suggest this but was it not the credit-card spending, encouraged throughout the Blair years, of money that we have not earned, have not saved and do not possess that racked up personal debt and that has led to at least some of the problems that we now face? With the Chickens of Spendthrift coming home to roost it seems to me that thrift and saving ought be encouraged and even if that means less squandered in the shops simply trying to spend our way out of recession, whether as households or as a nation, is something not to be encouraged.  Call me old-fashioned but Mr. Micawber did have a point.
 
What has been revealed is the extent of duplicity to which some supermarket chains – or should that be all supermarket chains? – are prepared to travel to fleetingly mark up prices in some obscure branch in order to “cut” those prices and make “special offers” later.  “Every Little Helps the Profit” seems to be the appropriate slogan.
 
Mary Queen of Shops, as the retail guru likes be known, has launched a report suggesting a number of measures designed to “help the high street”. The publication of this report followed, as it happens, Mary Portas` visit to Margate where much of the hitherto shopping centre has been boarded up as major stores have moved out of Town to a gleaming, if windswept, new shopping mall .  I thought that a reference to Ms. Portas as “an angry redhead” was a little feline in its spite but It will, I fear, take more than a tax on car parks or the introduction of street markets, to regenerate  old stores.   Locally, though, the success of Margate`s Turner Contemporary gallery, opened by Her Maj earlier in the year,  has had a salutary effect.  Rodin`s “Kiss” of Life, you might say.
 
It has been the 400th Anniversary of the King James version of the Holy Bible.  To mark this truly auspicious event the Prime Minister, speaking in Christ Church Cathedral,Oxford,  called for a “return to the moral code of the bible” and had the temerity to suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury might stand up and defend Christianity in a Christian country.  As John Major found to his cost with “Back to Basics”, politicians in the pulpit take great risks and that is why throughout the Campbell/Blair years, and notwithstanding The Legacy`s professed Catholicism, the mantra was “we do not do God”.  It must surely, though, be reasonable for the Prime Minister to suggest that the Primate of All England should “Do God” and the celebration of the King James Bible was a reasonable platform to highlight the moral code contained within The Book.  That the Archbishop was subsequently reported as having suggested that the summer`s rioters were “ no worse than bankers”  is a pity.  Rowan Williams is patently a devout and decent and scholarly man  but if the Church in which some of us still choose, at least on Christmas Eve, to worship is to survive then a Christian Soldier is needed to carry the standard onward.
 
A year that began with such high hopes for democracy has ended in some considerable disappointment. Tunisia still holds promise although the spectre of Sharia law and a swing towards oppressive fundamentalism casts a shadow over any premature celebration.   I did not observe the Russian elections myself but those who did report a steal and if the massive subsequent crowds of Muscovite protestors are anything to go by then Putin may have to use the dark arts that he learned with the KGB to secure his “re-election” to the Presidency. And in Cairo`s Tahrir Square opposition to the Interim Military Administration is still powerful: if the prolonged elections do not deliver democracy and the relinquishing, by the Generals, of their hold over the process then the outcome could be a bloodbath in 2012.
 
Strange how a strike is described as “A day of Action”. December began with a “general strike” by some members of public service unions protesting at proposals for revised terms of service and conditions and pensions. Given that negotiations were, and still are, continuing and that dates for further meetings between employers and unions had been arranged it is very hard to see any justification for this disruption of, particularly, the education of thousands of children and the working lives of their parents across the land.  We are told, though that the shops had a mini-boom in pre-Christmas present buying as schoolteachers and others took the opportunity of a `day off` not to protest but to engage in retail militancy.
 
If the first strike was unwarranted then the strike, by London Underground staff, on Boxing Day was beyond the pale.  How,  particularly in the present economic climate, any union leader other than a completely Neanderthal Class Warrior on a fat salary and huge pension scheme  could seek to demand, on behalf of his members, triple time and an additional day off for working on Boxing Day beggars reality. Many ordinary Londoners, shoppers and sports supporters alike, who had their day ruined in this unworthy cause, must have been left wondering upon what planet the strikers live.  And this, please note, is the proud army upon which we will, in 2012, depend to help to facilitate a triumphant London Olympics.  If they want to redeem any vestige of dignity and public support they will tell their ill-advised leaders which stop to get off at and deliver.
 
 
 
Ballswatch
 
The Permanent secretary for Tax, Mr David Hartnett, who has presided over much of the chaos surrounding a myriad of faulty tax claims and the exemption of business from what the PAC has identified as some £25 billion of due taxes, is, at last, to resign.  His place will be taken by Lin Homer, currently with the Department of Transport and before that Chief Executive of the Borders and Immigration Agency that exercised such sterling control, during the Blair years, over the flood of economic migrants that entered the United Kingdom as asylum seekers.  Comforting, is it not?
 
Meanwhile, bogus asylum seekers are slipping through the “Lille loophole” via the Eurostar from Brussels to London Paddington. Those, already within the borders of the Schengen countries, booking tickets from Brussels to Lille (where there are no border checks), simply stay on the train and walk through, or claim asylum, upon arrival in the UK. Although Belgian police are reported to have threatened to arrest UK border staff trying to intercede, Immigration Minister Damian Green says  that “we are working closely with our Belgian counterparts to resolve the problem”
 
Ending a one-hundred year old tradition, ladies are to be allowed to serve on our submarine.  HMS Astute will presumably have to be adapted if the time-honoured practice of hot-bedding below the waves is not to take on a wholly new meaning.  At what cost?
 
One in ten banknotes in circulation carries traces of cocaine. (possibly more in some households). Kent Police, my local constabulary, report an increase from 4% to 10% in six years.  Mervyn King says that we have £500 billion invested in European institutions.  If that were all in banknotes it would probably add up to enough cocaine to solve the Eurozone crisis.
 
The National Secular Society is backing a complainant who objects to Council meetings in Bideford, Devon, commencing with Christian prayers. The Commons commences each daily sitting with “Speaker`s Prayers”. How long before some clown tries to change that?
 
I have not seen the Edinburgh Pandas but I have driven past the zoo in which they are now residing (As close as it gets.). FedEx, who specialise in these things, flew Yang Guang and Tian Tian from China to Edinburgh over 12 hours.  Their names ,translated ,mean Sunshine and Sweetie.  I hope Sunshine learns from the Prime Minister`s experience. Whatever you do, don`t say “Calm Down Sweetie”!
 
I cannot think why but we seem to get a lot of “news” from Salford these days. The Morrison`s branch there is having to send new recruits back to school for “remedial pre-job training”. Which says a lot about their pre-remedial training training, does it not?
 
In an Edwina Currie style “egg moment” the Food Standards Agency tells us that three out of four oysters might carry novovirus.  Presumably they “might” carry bubonic plague or transmit warts as well but is that a reason to gratuitously undermine the Whitstable Oyster industry?  Adding that “It`s hard to assess the risk” doesn`t really help much .  Time for a senior Minister to suggest that “The Food Standards Agency is a costly waste of resources and might be abolished”?  Only “might”, you understand.
 
But at last Stilton can be made in Stilton. Until now, under a “Protected Designation Order” the cheese has only been made in Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire but now that the research has proved that the stuff originated at the Bell Inn in Stilton (Cambridgeshire) the pub will be marketing it. As Stilton?  No. As “Belle Blue”.
 
Jeremy Clarkson`s cheerful aside, made in the interest of “balance”, to the effect that he would have strikers taken outside and shot in front of their families induced a Number 10 spokesman to observe that “Execution is not Government policy and we have no intention …….etc”.
 
The Season of Goodwill has prompted the minions acting on behalf of Royal Mail boss Moya Green to announce that postmen and postwomen may not accept Christmas donations of more than £30 as to do so might be construed as an offence under the Bribery Act.   Oh come off it; at the present rate £30 will soon barely cover the cost of a stamp. It might, though, just help hard-pressed posties to afford the cost of tickets to nativity plays for which some schools are now charging.
 
Pumpkin is in care.  Pumpkin is the brave dog owned by the equally robust Dominick Chilcott, Her Majesty`s Ambassador in Tehran.  Following the sacking of the British Embassy, presumably  by State-sponsored rioters, Pumpkin had to be rescued and re-located with a friendlier nation`s diplomatic corps. Hopefully  dog and Ambassador will soon be reunited but the incident underscores the real perils of service in the national interest.
 
The Salford Broadcasting Corporation has revealed, following a “Diversity Survey” that the SBC hires more Atheists and Non-believers than Christians.  This is because the SBC hires on the basis of “Skills and experience alone”.  That, of course, has nothing to do with “Hiring in the interests of Diversity”.  Maybe the SBC should both re-visit some of its adverts and consider advertising posts in a newspaper other than the Grauniad.
 
A report has reached me suggesting that in Brooklyn Graveyard in New York the Press Club secured, in 1874, facilities for the interment of “friendless journalists”. There are still 250 plots available but then with so many journos at present trying to bury themselves perhaps that`s not as surprising as it first seems.
 
Under an EU equality ruling car insurance is to be increased for girls and lowered for boys following an ECJ determination  of the Lisbon Treaty and the Charter of Human Rights designed to “eliminate equalities and promote equality between men and women”.  I`d like the genius that dreamed that one up to stand in the middle of Herne Bay Seafront and subject himself to death by souped-up Ford Fiesta doing wheelies and handbrake turns. Before he expires he may just have time to notice that Boy Racers are usually chaps – which is why on an actuarial basis ,which has nothing to do with  equality, lads have hitherto been charged more than ladies.
 
And talking of equality, that wonderful toy emporium  Hamleys in Regent Street has succumbed and abandoned its pink and blue areas ( boys toys and girls toys) in order to rid itself of any suggestion of “gender apartheid”.
 
At the Grand Theatre of Wolverhampton (the last time that I went there was to see the Motown  Review  - Martha and the Vandellas, Stevie Wonder, The Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the rest of the stable in the presence of Berry Gordy, circa 1964)  this year`s pantomime offers Snow White and the Seven Schoolchildren Dressed Up as Dwarves with the kids miming to taped Dwarf voices. A spokesman is quoted as saying “dwarves are expensive”.
 
Britain’s Strategic Health Authorities and Primary Care Trusts are being abolished in the Bonfire of the Quangoes. They will be replaced with “Public Health England” offering a “true wellness service”.  “Work on the detail is continuing” but I would hazard a guess as to who will be staffing PHE……..
 
Sarah Teather, a Minister with responsibilities for young people, says that they “need to be able to read and write and use numbers as a vital foundation for future success”.  Kids are expected to be able to count to twenty by the age of five which has got to be an improvement on a Morrison`s experience that suggests that some school leavers cannot count to five by the age of twenty.
 
Good sports, the Aussies.   Olympic three times gold medallist sailor  Ben Ainslie was disqualified by the authorities, while racing Down Under for , after the end of an event, diving from his boat, swimming to a Press boat that had been interfering with his efforts to win the race and offering some “friendly advice” to the offending cameraman.  Note that it was Mr. Ainslie that was penalised.  Was the Press team punished?  You can bet your best boomerang that they were not!
 
And finally,
 
On my office wall I have a black and white photograph of the late Vaclav Havel who has died at the age of 75.  The playwright/politician who became President of Czechoslovakia after the Velvet Revolution and presided over the subsequent division of the Czech and Slovak Republics in 1993 should be remembered and revered as one of the great figures of modern democracy.  Imprisoned after the Prague Spring in which he featured alongside another almost forgotten hero, Alexander Dubcek, he was the banned author of the mythical Soviet State of Absurdistan.  Through mockery and derision, reflected in huge personal courage,  Havel  demonstrated once again that the pen can be mightier than the sword.  His was the sort of writing that democracy relies upon – a fact that Lord Justice Leveson might contemplate as he writes his report,
 

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