Gale's Westminster View - August 2007
Water, water everywhere nor any drop to drink. As the floods recede the taps start running throughout Gloucester and Worcester but although sixty-five thousand homes are soon `back on` potable water is hard to come by as whole systems have to be cleaned through. The real cost of the deluge will not be known for months and many are likely to be away from their homes until Christmas but in Gloucestershire they are saying that four thousand dwellings are affected, fifty schools have been under water and the bill to the County is likely to be between fifty and fifty five million pounds. Not surprisingly it becomes clear by the end of a month of rain that this August has been the wettest for decades.
Were we talking of global warming? As politicians clock up the air miles British Airways is fined £121 million in the UK for fixing ("rigging"?) fuel price surcharges with more penalties to come in the USA. At the same time the Foreign and Commonwealth Office reveals that it is facing increases in calls for consular assistance arising from lost passports and Britons overseas involved in "incidents". The hotspots are, apparently India, Thailand and Australia with Prague the favourite for riotous "hen nights". Memo: Don't go to Prague at the weekend!
Most of Westminster is sur mer in August but having taken his Dorset seaside family holiday the Big Organ Grinder flies off for his first meeting with George Bush. America, he tells the World with stunning originality, is the United Kingdom’s "most important bilateral relationship". Meanwhile the United Nation decides to send a twenty-six thousand strong peacekeeping force to Darfur. This ties in neatly with the Prime ministers talks with D George Dubbya but why has it taken so long to wake up to the reality that hundreds of thousands of mortals have been out of sight and largely out of mind, dying?
Not all of Westminster is asleep or abroad. The Summer Recess is a prime time for select committees to release their reports in the knowledge that with a shortage of news in the "silly season" good coverage is likely to follow. The Education committee chooses August to savage the government's ludicrous "Train to Gain" programme. This gimmick, which costs you and me the taxpayer megabucks, provides subsidies for employers to offer their workforces training that in most cases they would have offered and paid for anyway!
Our armed services continue to fight, get injured and die in Iraq and Afghanistan. It is therefore comforting to know that they are so well appreciated that while Gordon Brown and his cronies have reduced the military medical services in the UK to a woeful inadequacy no less that 86 patriotic residents in the Ashtead region of Surrey write letters to object to a planning application to create a facility that would allow the relatives of injured servicemen being treated at the stunningly excellent Headley Court to stay close to those who have given so much, Happily, the local authority chooses to ignore those mean in mind and spirit and the project will go ahead.
By the middle of the month we're into grown-up politics again and the publication of the report of John Redwood's tax and competitiveness competition report and the emergence of Conservative policies. On the list of recommendations are the creation of a Cabinet Minister for de-regulation, the sweeping away of miles of red tape that is stifling our industries and services, the scrapping of HIPs, the abolition of the inheritance tax that is already affecting so many more families as house prices put hitherto modest estates into the tax bracket and a curb on that unwarranted poll tax known as the BBC licence fee.
Not surprisingly, perhaps, the BBC uses a clip of John Redwood not singing the Welsh National anthem a dozen years ago to illustrate its customarily "unbiased" coverage of Redwood's report. Forced to apologise we can now add this to the growing list of incompetences, inaccuracies and downright dishonesties that put a question mark over the whole future of this once-proud organisation. The Chairman of the BBC Board of Trustees, Sir Michael Lyons, is talking of axing BBCs Three and Four Channels, largely unwatched at a cost of something like £140 million a year. Time, I think, to cut still further and reduce the Corporation back to its core services. It has grown overweening and out of hand.
But back to politics. Young David and Boy George both confirm that under the next Conservative government Inheritance Tax will go and although the months-end opinion poll from YouGov does not reflect this fact, we're on a roll again.
The Leader of the Conservative Party hits out at the youth crime, anti-social behaviour and yob culture that the administration of which Gordon Brown has been a member for so long has failed to curb. Young David stresses yet again and so very rightly the importance of the family in a series of policy statements, emerging largely from Duncan-Smith's report, designed to address the UK`s Broken Society. The phrase "Zero Tolerance" is back in fashion. We must repeal Labour's hideous and damaging drinking laws, support marriage, curb violent video games and internet sites, make minimum gaol sentences mean something and, yes, we also do have to address the question of levels of immigration. Cameron excels on Newsnight and, as a footnote, we learn that Alistair Campbell's book "The Blair Years" tops a list- of publications left behind unwanted in hotel rooms! Now isn't that alone enough to raise a Conservative smile?
There is no denying that June and July belonged to the Big Organ Grinder and his Labour administration. We expected a "Brown Bounce" and, with the help of a mere thirty-nine billion pounds of taxpayers’ money - no doubt a bagatelle by the former Chancellor's standards - we got it in spades. Aided by a few spectacular own goals scored by Young David and his team the B.O.G roared away into a poll lead that has created fevered speculation that he will ride the wave and go for an election in October or even, just possibly, this month.
Gordon Brown's Scottish Presbyterian background militates against a flutter but there must be, in his mind, the thought that things can only get worse. House repossessions are already running at seventy-seven homes a day and the omens are not good. That figure is set to rise as fixed-interest mortgage contracts come to an end and borrowers find that they cannot meet the new and much higher interest rates that they are required to pay. The extension of Yvette Cooper's ludicrous Home Information Pack scheme to embrace all three-bedroomed houses is not going to assist those needing to sell homes in a hurry. The Big Organ Grinder has, though, waited for ten long and frustrating years to get his mitt on the door handle of Number Ten and he has up to the best part of three years to run. The Shadow of the European Constitutional Treaty hangs over this present government and Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition want the promised referendum that Brown so fears. A general election would, of course, be just such a referendum.
Yes, June and July belonged to Labour but August ends with high scores for Young David, John Redwood, Iain Duncan Smith and David Davis. September begins with the introduction of Labour's new gaming laws. To gamble, Gordon, or not to gamble? Some sleepless nights, I think, in Downing Street.