Gale`s Westminster View - October, 2012
October. Boris delivers the gags in Birmingham but it is Cameron that delivers the meat. In Downing Street bicycles depart and arrive. The BBC is on the rack over Savile. A bad week to bury good news” as the Government spins off course. Millipede goes on a sponsored walk and gets the bird. The American Colonies get Hama but not McKinnon. Brussels is running out of money but Britain will not cough up and a Nobel Prize will not help to plug the black hole in the budget. Teenagers may vote in Scotland`s referendum but only on one question. Who will next run the Bank of England? Adair Turner loses ground. Agriculture Secretary Mr. Patterson gets badgered. As Levisohn prepares his report the Daily Mirror is sued for phone hacking and Trinity Mirror shares fall. And Tories divide over Europe – again.
Ask not for whom the bicycle bell tolls. The fallout from erstwhile Government Chief whip`s unedifying altercation with the police at the gates of Downing Street persists. Possibly the less said about this incident the better and the timing, almost immediately following the murder of two women police officers, could not have been worse. In an endeavour to mend some fences Thrasher’s meeting with the West Mercia Police Federation ends up with the hatchet buried in the Chief Whip`s head and the Police Fed. spokesman calling for his resignation. Such is parliamentary antipathy towards the leadership of The Fed. that this almost saves him. With parliament sitting again, though, the Prime Minister finds himself in the unenviable position of having to indicate either that the abused Downing Street police are lying or that his own Chief Whip has been telling porky pies. Gatherings of the Conservative 1922 Committee are held in secret and, saving those who tweet and text the outcome of discussions from the hallowed sanctuary of Committee Room 14 itself, it is not proper to reveal the discussions that take place on these occasions. (It is sometimes said that if you want to keep a secret you make a speech in the Chamber and if you want to publicise something you raise it at the `22.) The Vermin waiting outside the committee room door are onto the living corpse like a flash and the rest is political history. Another salutary reminder that if you have to go, go quickly and with political dignity intact. Those who have tried otherwise find that it always ends in tears. As one bicycle bell tinkles off into the distance another appears over the horizon attached to the machine ridden by the lanky form of the Bicycling Baronet, Sir George Young. Man David`s Old Etonian replacement as Chief Whip is regarded as `a safe pair of hands`. You will hear nothing more from, or about, the Government Chief Whip” says a Minister. Like the Head of MI5 or the KGB they are better working in the shadows, neither seen nor heard.
Back to the Party Conferences that now seem a very long time away. Who suggests spending £3 billion of revenue generated by the sale of Fourth Generation (4G) transmission spectrum? Why, without a word of apology for past extravagances it is that guru of the borrow-to-invest” party. It is Balls. Described as a pointy-headed policy wonk”, the son of the Marxist academic Ralph Miliband, and owner of a mortgaged two and a half million pounds worth of desirable real-estate in bourgeoise London`s Primrose Hill, rolls out his comprehensively educated pedigree as a political badge of honour. Sadly, even though Milipede the Younger has learned his speech by heart and delivers it without notes in a manner described by the Salford Broadcasting Corporation as a tour de force”, by others as a slick performance” and with heavy borrowing of One Nation`s Benjamin Disraeli, it still in the end, adds up to more Balls. The most exciting thing to come out of the Assembly of the Brotherhood, apart from the Unite Union Leader`s threat of An Arab Spring of Civil Disobedience”, was a threat from beyond the political grave. The prospect of the undead Alastair Campbell rising to stand for parliament in 2015 will have sent shivers down many a spine on the Opposition benches.
The following week, and in Birmingham, there was Waiting for Boris. During that wait the Overseas Development Minister, Alan `Hunky Dunky` Duncan, offered the political revelation that The European Union is squandering millions in euro-aid, Cabinet Office boss Francis Maude introduced the novel thought that civil servants would be required to implement Ministers` decisions, new Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, fresh from Olympic Gold, wants abortion time limits cut to eleven weeks while Women`s Minister Maria Miller calls for a reduction to twenty weeks. Chancellor George kicks the LibDems desired `Mansion Tax` into touch and Home Secretary Theresa May upsets the supremacy of the judiciary by suggesting that, from a pre-determined menu, the victims of crime should be able to select the punishment meted out to convicts. The stocks? A ducking stool? tarring and feathering? It could catch on. And talking of tar, in the Official Justice corner Chris Grayling, new to the post of Lord Chancellor And All That, confirms the right of householders to use lethal force to deter criminals interrupted while trying to invade an Englishman`s home and castle. Boiling oil over the parapets in dead of night?
This goes down well with Old Windy who, as some may recall, picked up the wreckage from an ill-judged BBC stunt to generate a People`s Bill” and, being less squeamish than their tame Labour MP, tried to introduce the legislation that Today” listeners had voted for in overwhelming numbers. It failed, of course, but it looks as though my Householders` Right to Protection Bill may yet reach the statute book via another route. The Tories are also pledged to cut the Benefits Bill by ten billion pounds and with 50% of the households in England and Wales and 90% – yes ninety per cent – of households in Scotland receiving more in benefit than they pay in tax there might be some room for manoeuvre!
The man that some regard as the Tories` King Across the Thames Water breezed into the city exuding bonhomie and received a rock star`s welcome. Girls who, a long time ago, had once been groupies swooned over those dishevelled blond locks and calls for the reintroduction of grammar schools had them drooling with pleasure. Pure theatre of a kind not seen since that other goldilocks, Tarzan of the Conference Hall, Michael Heseltine. Those who were looking for a thinly-veiled leadership bid, though, will have to bide their time. The Boris speech was suitably loyal to the Prime Minister and predictably amusing. He needs to beware of becoming a caricature of himself, though, and a hostage to comedy, if he has other future ambitions.
Cameron himself was workmanlike, thorough and in control. He almost totally eschewed the traditional sideswipes at other parties and their leaders and concentrated on what the Country needed, if not wanted, to hear. Omissions on the referendum front, certainly, but an austerity speech for an austerity economy which did the job. With the phrase `an aspiration nation` ringing in their ears the Tory faithful left Brum as Kenneth Clarke admitted for the first time that Britain is better off outside the eurozone.
From the Ken Clarke era Adair Turner, now Chairman of that box-ticking watchdog The Financial Services Authority, uses a Mansion House speech to admit that the FSA failed the UK in September 2008 and did not enough to head off the banking crisis. Adair Turner is one of three contenders (Lord Gus O`Donnell has dropped out) for the post of Governor of the Bank of England to succeed Sir Mervyn King when he retires. The others in the running are Sir John Vickers, of Independent Commission on Banking fame and the present Deputy Governor, Paul Tucker. I doubt that Adair Turner`s candid admissions have enhanced his chances although the manner in which some people seem to move seamlessly from one failure to another in high places is astonishing, is it not? The Royal Bank of Scotland has been told by our European Masters (who else?) that in return for a State bailout it must divest itself of three hundred and sixteen branches. A hoped-for deal with Spain`s Santander having been abandoned at the altar leaves RBS in the mire once again. The £1.65 billion price tag was, as a dowry, too much for some poor quality IT systems it seems so it looks as though the 83% of the bank that you and I own may well find its way into the hands of Virgin Money, no doubt at a bargain-basement price. Never mind. It`s only taxpayer`s cash. Such is the state of business finance that, notwithstanding the Chancellor`s best efforts to get money into the hands of businesses that need it to expand, Rolls Royce has found it necessary to lend to its own suppliers to keep them afloat. You are the oil in the engine” RR`s Finance Director tells the British Bankers Association and the dipstick is running low”. It could, of course, be argued that it is the dipsticks that have been running our banks for far too long that are the cause of many of the problems.
What is bad for business is bad for us all, of course, but those who enjoy a little schadenfreude will have observed with interest as, thanks to the push of a wrong button at the wrong time and the consequent premature release of market sensitive information, Google saw £15 billion wiped off its share value in eight minutes! The press are not immune from a loss in value either. The news that Piers Morgan`s holier-than-thou Daily Mirror (he was in the driving seat at the time) was to be sued by victims of alleged Mirror phone-hacking saw Trinity Mirror Group`s shares plummet also as the nation awaits the publication of the Leveson report into what passes for ethics in the Diaspora of Fleet Street. There has been furious lobbying and self-righteous grandstanding as the printed-word media tries to get its retaliation in first and put a damper on calls for statutory regulation of the press. It is, of course, not only a political cliché but a truism that a free democracy needs a free press” but if those who are now screaming like stuck pigs at the prospect of a little discipline had put their own miserable publishing houses in order they would not be where they are today. The Press Complaints Commission has been, and in my view remains, the creature of the press and not fit for purpose. I am personally loathe to see legislation if it can be avoided but there needs to be a mass clearout of the Great and the Bad at the top of the profession together with the creation of a genuinely independent regulator and arbiter if a Press Regulation Bill is to be avoided. They have not managed it so far and I am not wildly hopeful that they have the will to do what is necessary without having it done to them.
Interestingly, some of the tabloid newspapers that so resent the intrusion of Lord Leveson into their literal and metaphorical affairs would be very happy to see His Lordship extend his remit to investigate the darker, dirtier and unwashed laundry of the Salford Broadcasting Corporation. Perhaps, following the determination of L `Affair Savile, the White City Studios will be razed to the ground and expurgated from memory leaving only the burial place of Blue Peter`s Petra as a memorial to cleaner and more decent times. The fact is that the BBC, or Auntie” as she used to be fondly known, is in a beggar`s muddle. The man who once Fixed It” for the nation, pulled in millions of pounds for charity, was a Knight of the Realm and household icon , Sir James Savile, former wrestler, disc jockey, television presenter and philanthropist is now revealed an appalling and serial molester of young girls and, if the mood was upon him, boys. That many of these offences appear to have taken place in dressing rooms on BBC premises is, in itself, bad enough. That nobody appears to have known anything at all about what was apparently going on not just fleetingly but over many years, is simply not credible. The Chairman of the BBC`s Trustees, Lord (Chris) Patten tried to put a warning shot across the bows of the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, telling her in a published letter that she would not wish to interfere with the independence of the BBC, would she? As it happens, she would not and she has made no attempt to do so. I would, though. I believe, and have said publicly, that I believe that Lord Patten`s crass approach, which I note with some gratification has been modified, epitomises the arrogance and aloofness of a BBC elite of overpaid senior management that has taken an Auntie knows best” approach while not seeing the manure on its own doorstep. As I said in one interview (and was asked to re-record it because it was due for transmission before the watershed!) Auntie has been caught with her knickers down”. While the Editor of a planned Newsnight expose of Savile was hung out to dry publicly for pulling the programme, I strongly believe to preserve Christmas scheduled programmes extolling the virtues of one Jimmy Savile, and while the new Director General, George Entwistle, who has been in the job for five minutes, was in the chair when the music stopped, the real buck has to stop with Entwistle`s predecessors, John Birt, Greg Dyke and most particularly with Mark Thompson. Mr. Thompson says that he knew nothing” and does not recall” the Newsnight issue or the rumours surrounding the activities of Savile. Were that to be so then one has to ask why Mr Thompson was paid the best part of three quarter of a million pounds of license-fee payers’ money, as Editor in Chief, to not know what was going on under his own roof. The BBC Press Office suggests that in fact he was indeed told about the Newsnight programme before Christmas 2011. So perhaps before he takes up his new post as Executive Director of the New York Times he would like to come back and tell the Media Select Committee exactly what he did know about this revolting episode in the history of the Corporation. And while he is in the House of Commons he might also want to explain the background to the `off the books` tax deals enjoyed by BBC contract employees and identified by the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, Margaret Hodge. As Lord Patten now says with glorious understatement The BBC has questions to answer” and must face the painful truth”.
In other news the proposed Badger Cull, designed as a measure to help to eradicate bovine TB, has been put on hold: too late in the year to proceed, more badgers than estimated, not enough marksmen to shoot them and costs escalating. New Agriculture Secretary Owen Patterson says the project will go ahead, in the teeth of opposition, next year. Time will tell. The Beer Duty Escalator, introduced by the last government, continues to push up ale prices. My local brewery now pays about thirty one million in duty, as well as corporation tax and national insurance, on a turnover of somewhere in the region of £150 million while Starbucks, the coffee shop chain, is allowed to organise their affairs to pay virtually no tax on about three times Shepherd Neame`s turnover. Now where is the sense of fairness in that? Some of my parliamentary colleagues are back in the news for letting out mortgaged flats in London and then claiming for other rented property under the Parliamentary scheme. This is entirely a result from the IPSA regime that has banned the use of funds to pay mortgages (in most cases entered into in good faith years ago) while paying more taxpayers` money for MPs to rent property. Another bureaucratic own-goal. Milipede the Younger visited the Trades Union Rally (known as the sponsored walk” because of TU financial support for the Labour Party) and is booed for saying that there would still be cuts” under a Labour Government. Ed Balls has yet to apologise for the debt left to the country in 2010. It is the end of the line for the Manganese Bronze company that has made London`s iconic Black Cabs. The TX4 `Hackney` carriage that in one form or another has been carrying passengers for a hundred years has lost out to `eco-cabs`. While the coalition government led by Man David blunders on towards same-sex `marriage` we learn that socialist France has gone cold on the same policy. Sacre Bleu! Gay couples hoping for `married` tax breaks are going to be disappointed however. Our manifesto pledge said that married couples would be allowed to share tax allowances before 2015. Ken Clarke now tells us that there will be no tax breaks `until after the election`. And in the United States the election campaign is put on hold as Hurricane Sandy engulfs the West Coast. With New York in lockdown , no power, hospitals closed and all flights cancelled and with Atlantic City under water and the famous boardwalk, under which generations of teenagers have made love, in pieces, Borat O`Bama sits looking Presidential in the White House while Mutt Rimney looks around for something useful to do. Politics is about luck and Borat has got lucky but why Mutt stayed in Ohio instead of hauling his butt off to the flood zone and getting stuck in is beyond me. Elections are about pictures and Borat got the shots. Will it affect the results? I believe that it will.
There is good news also. The latest figures reveal that Britain is out of recession, that the private sector continues to create large numbers of new jobs and that unemployment is falling, Abou Hamza has been deported to face trial in the USA and the surviving Desert Rats have celebrated the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein.
I flew back from election monitoring in the Ukraine`s Sebastopol just in time to courageously abstain in the vote on the EU budget. Basically the argument is pay up the increase (LibDem preference), freeze at the present level (Official Conservative policy) or cut (Tory right and Opportunist Labour). That a Labour party that has never either put forward or supported a budget freeze and that in government surrendered a chunk of our rebate in return for nothing should suddenly undergo a Damascene conversion over European funding should surprise nobody. The Balls/Miliband axis is about populism if is about anything and the chance to jump on a Tory rebel bandwagon was just too good to miss. I personally endorsed an amendment that would have called for a veto on any proposed financial services tax together with a freeze or cut but, sadly, that amendment was not called to be moved and so we could not vote on it. The fundamental argument is very simple; we are cutting budgets across the board in an effort to repair the damage bequeathed to us by The Legacy and The Clunking Fist. We have to demand that a Europe that has not had its accounts audited for seventeen years should, first, open the books to show where the money has been spent over that entire period before asking for a penny more. The EU should then be required to abandon many of its futile budgets – including ill-directed and ill-spent overseas aid and foreign embassies – and should submit to the same austerity that not only Britain but many other European countries are facing. Frau Merkel can put on hold her desire to create a Budget Tsar” to control national budgets until Europe`s own accounts have been signed off. All that said, the government`s own motion was less than perfect and while I was not willing to join the Labour party in the lobby with many of my own friends with whose view I have great sympathy, neither was I prepared to vote down the government line. The government, as you now know, lost the vote and, in a curious way, it is possible that that may actually strengthen the Prime Minister`s negotiating hand but there will be bruising times ahead. Inevitably, I suppose, the Salford Broadcasting Corporation broadcast the news that more than fifty Tory rebels joined the Labour party in the voting lobby”. In fact, it was of course a bunch of socialists that piggy-backed on a Tory resolution (they did not bother to table their own) and joined the Tories. Believe the BBC? I don`t think so!
Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles has won his battle to remove the requirement for the European flag to be flown over public buildings throughout the year. . Rightly so. You cannot fly the European flag upside down to indicate a eurozone in distress.
The Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Europe. The Norwegian committee wishes to recognise `Peace, reconciliation and democracy and Human Rights` That would presumably be the same Europe
that detains people in breach of the convention on human rights (France, Spain, Greece, Malta and others) for long periods without trial, the same Europe whose democratically elected governments in Greece and Italy have been removed by Brussels edict, the same Europe in which mobs dress as Nazis and burn the Nazi and German flags, the same Europe that has generated riots on the streets in many countries, including Britain, and the same Europe that faces the worst recession for generations and is in financial chaos. Clearly a worthy recipient of the prize.
One fifth of our adult population apparently believes that parsnips grow on trees, that melons grow in the soil, that tomatoes have to be dug up and that a Granny Smith is a potato. For those old enough to remember the BBC`s great Spaghetti Harvest April Fool spoof consider this: loofahs grow on bushes. True or false?
EU regulations are placing jam, if not Jerusalem, under threat. The Churches` advice is that because of the risk of chemicals contaminating food” it is no longer permissible to use second-hand jam jars the Food Standards Agency can generate a five thousand pound fine or six months in prison for offenders. Try telling that to my wonderful neighbour in France who makes pate and preserves. You don`t enquire about the contents, you just eat5 and enjoy them.
A male student midwife was rejected from breastfeeding classes because the issue was too sensitive”. Backed by his course tutor at Bournemouth University (or Bournemouth Poly as it was when I was at school there) and has to date delivered five healthy babies solo.
WH Smug have decided that The Shooting Times may be sold to adults only. Page Three Guns? I don`t think so – and motoring magazines, including Top Gear are still available to minors who cannot drive.
It is reported that the chanteuse Sarah Brightman is willing, as a space tourist, to pay £30 million pounds to be rocketed into orbit. If we all club together I can think of a few other people that we might send up as well. No re-entry, though.
The Commissioner of the Met. Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe, has introduced a ban on visible (hands, above the collar line, face) tattoos. Kent`s constable who the taxpayers fork out to employ as our illustrious local Police Federation representative does not deign to wear a uniform, apparently even on ceremonial occasions, but he regards tattoos as an icebreaker”.
The Scout Association regards the use of nicknames as bullying”. Not sure where that leaves the Chief Scout, `Bear` Grylls. Or Windy Gale.
God does not only listen to Radio Three”. The Vicars` guide to modern marriage includes tips on bikers` weddings and underwater weddings as well as modern music choices which include the theme tune for Test Match Special. I wish I had thought of that.
NHS officials have decided that magazines in dentists` waiting rooms constitute a health risk. The CQC failed one dental practice upon inspection for carrying a copy of Gardeners World. In fairness, it was dated 2004 but there`s another question: why does the CQC inspect dentists at all when the General Dental Council already does the job? Time for an extraction perhaps.
Her Maj is looking for a maid. If you`re interested, the job pays £273 a week and the tasks include cleaning antiques, running baths, care of jewellery and a willingness to travel to Balmoral.
Twas the night before Christmas” you will recall from Clement Moore`s poem, and The stump of a pipe he held tight in his (Santa`s) teeth”. Not any more. A Canadian publisher has decided that pipes are not a suitable accessory for a 21st Century Santa – so no smoking. I guess that probably rules out the mince pie (fattening) and the glass of whisky (driving a sledge) as well.
Brighton and Hove Council supports, I am sure, same-sex marriages but they have a problem with the terms Mr.” and Mrs”. The words offend transgenderism says the Trans Equality Scrutiny Panel” and offers no options for non-binary genderqueer people”. Whatever that means.
Essex County Council declined to provide a lollipop lady for a local school. Parents got together and enterprisingly offered to provide their own. Essex wants fifty-five thousand pounds to pay for a Set up fee and running costs” and installation, safety enhancements, recruitment and training”. Perhaps local Councillors would like to cough up out of their now generous allowances.
About three hours ago, if you have got this far, I referred to The Milipede home in Primrose Hill. There is a Wheelie Bin War in Primrose Hill where the owners of these multi-million pound houses do not have space to store the bins which are referred to as clutter”. I never thought that I would find myself siding with the Soviet Socialist Republic of Camden but not enough space” for a bin? Are Camden`s LibDems opposed to efficient waste collection and recycling?
We are within a couple of weeks of Remembrance Sunday and we shall turn our minds to the fallen of earlier wars and current conflicts.
Like Daniel Wade of the Third Yorkshires whose Military Wives Choir I had the privilege of listening top in the Speaker`s House a couple of weeks ago. Daniel Wade fell in Afghanistan. His girlfriend, Emma Hickman, receives no compensation or support for her baby because the Ministry of Defence has refused to release proof of parentage”. Miss Hickman, you see, is not Daniel Wade`s nominated legal representative” and this is a complicated legal issue” that cannot be resolved without a Court order. So get one before Remembrance Sunday.
(The massed Military Wives Choir recording is, by the way, available as a CD and is tipped to be the Christmas Number One. Decca records make a profit out of it, of course, but some of the profit goes to support the Choirs who give so much encouragement to each other and to their partners serving in war zones overseas).
Malala Yousafzai is the fourteen year old schoolgirl shot by the Taliban for daring to promote education for schoolgirls. In spite of terrible injuries she is now recovering in Britain thanks to the expertise of those in Birmingham who also patch up our sometimes terribly injured servicemen and women. Each one of our own losses is personal, individual and terrible for family and friends but because of their sacrifice one day, perhaps, the Malalas of this world might be able to go to school without facing attempted execution.