Gale`s Westminster View – May 2011
May. A lusty Month. The birds, and their lovers, are twittering. Gagging orders abound alongside breaches, or otherwise, of privilege. AV gets the bird and the Liberal Democrats` fluttering emblem receives both barrels in the local government elections. The Deputy Leader of that Party scores few points for speeding. Scotland takes another tentative step towards Home Rule and the euro zone totters under the weight of debt while the International Monetary Fund finds itself in the headlines for all of the wrong reasons as Le Chef becomes a jail bird. Hail to the Chief as he visits the land of his ancestors from the Emerald Isle and drops by Great Britain as well. And there is, it seems, a Fee Fa` everything.
The Couple” continue to fill the pages of the press as the month begins but with the main participants now trawling the supermarket aisle in Anglesey it is The Whirling Verger that first steals the headlines.. TV footage reveals scarlet-cassocked Ben (for it is he) cartwheeling down the nave after the caravan has left the Cathedral. While athletic young Ben is being red-carpeted by the Head of Decorum we find B`s top and P`s bottom vying for further attention. Having worn a teletubbies` fascinator to the wedding Princess Beatrice extricates herself from what is widely reported as a fashion faux-pas by placing the article on e-bay in aid of charity and raising a cool eighty-plus thousand pounds for the Good Cause. Pippa Middleton`s posterior, meanwhile, has generated an altogether different kind of fascination and will clearly be a poster-stopper adorning the bedroom walls of men of a certain age for years to come. The secret, Ladies, seems to be Pilates. The Greeks have an answer for everything.
The clear-up after the Party continues as the Palace (Westminster not Buck House) endures a couple of days of surreal non-politics in the run-up to the local government elections and The Referendum. The Labour Party maintains a wrecking crew to pin down coalition troops while the comrades are off spreading apathy and gloom amongst their constituency flocks.
A good day to be a Scottish Nationalist, a fair day to be Prime Minister, a disappointing day to be Edward Milipede and a dreadful day to be a Liberal Democrat, May dawned with the No To AV” campaign polling eighteen points in the lead and in the ballot box the actual result was 70/30 against changing our electoral system – so that`s that Jack back in his box for a year or two. A Tory-led coalition” as the socialist pundits of the BBC like to dub it, might have been bad news at the polls for Man David. A Government saddled with penury and having to do horrid things could reasonably have expected a pasting but, in fact, the Conservatives actually gained a few seats. The Liberal Democrats, authors of the AV Referendum that nobody wanted, bore the brunt of the voters` ire. Counting through election night is a tedious and wearying task.. Bad enough if you look as though you are winning. Those of us who survived the 1997 General Election know just how bloody it is if you are getting trashed. By mid-day on Friday 6th of May there were a lot of very heavy Liberal hearts. North of the Border Alex Leaping” Salmond notches up the first outright party victory in the history of devolution. A pyrrhic victory? No longer any excuse for not holding a referendum on home rule. No longer a reason for not being able to implement your wilder election pledges. You are the rulers now! Those who subscribe to the Rebuild Hadrian’s Wall” movement have a Machiavellian plan: we, the United Kingdom, hold the referendum on Home Rule for Scotland – and everyone in the UK gets a vote! With subsidised care for the elderly, free prescriptions and free university education for those hailing from the Highlands and Islands the result of such a referendum might cause an eyebrow to flicker.
The House of Commons is not family friendly”. Mumsnet says so, so it must be true. I doubt that there is any employment involving working in excess of eighty hours a week that makes for the ideal home. Why anyone expecting either a quiet or an easy life should thrust themselves forward for election as a Member of Parliament is beyond me. We have no cause to complain, although of course we all do. Nobody holds a gun to your head and says you will be a candidate”. You do it, rather like becoming an actor, because it is in your blood. Why else would any sane person give up a good job, take a monumental cut in income, work all of the hours that God sends and subject self to abuse, vilification and possible humiliating rejection not less that every five years? No. It is not family friendly” but as one who, with the tireless support of a heroic spouse has managed to raise three reasonably normal children while holding down a seat in parliament and, at least at the edges, achieving passable success as an unqualified social worker I can only say to those who don`t like the heat, stay out of the sunshine”. It is, of course, very hard on the family dogs – but Muttsnet does not publish the results of surveys.
With the advent, following the passage of the Human Rights Act, of the introduction of Super-injunctions has also come Trial by Twitter with what some might feel was the Abuse of Parliamentary Privilege as a side-dish. The Press believes that everyone has a right to know everything about everyone (except Andrew Marr, of course). This is in the Public Interest” which is that time-worn euphemism for It Is Interesting to the Public” and which, in an age of declining circulation and falling advertising revenue helps to boost the sales of tomorrow`s litter-tray liners. So the Super Rich take out Super Injunctions to protect their Super Affairs from Superattention and Twitter has a Super Time publishing the names of the Super Rich that Anyone who is Anyone knew all along Anyway. And just to make sure that the law is shown to be a complete bewigged donkey along comes a Member of one or other House of Parliament and, as a Liberal Democrat (Peer or Commoner) feels obliged to blow the gaff. With all the self-righteousness and courage of a person who knows full well that if he says the same thing outside the Chamber he will be up before the Beak before you can squeak Privilege”.
Following the LD election debacle much sabre-rattling takes place as turkeys see Christmas over the horizon. This leads to what is now known in the trade as an ice cream moment”. Reminiscent of the day back in 2005 when The Legacy (remember him?) bought The Clunking Fist a Flake or some such, Man David and Mr Clogg gather together at the Olympic Handball (surely that should be hardball”?) Arena and say nice things about each other and the strength of the coalition.
As an admirer of Horatio, Lord Nelson, I am all in favour of a degree of compassion after victory but when the Deputy Prime Minister is preparing to try to rip to shreds the desperately needed reform of the NHS – a reform agreed in a White Paper and brought forward in a bill that he and his party voted for in the Commons – there is, it seems to me, a limit upon just how much Good Buddy stuff we should be prepared to swallow. Were I the Prime Minister we would probably have seen the coalition disintegrate before our eyes by now, so it`s just as well that the Man in the Moon is ahead of me in the Downing Street stakes.
Those – both of you – who have loyally followed these meanderings from the beginning know that from the moment that he rose above the political horizon we (that`s the editorial, not the royal we”) put the apostrophe back into O`Bama. Truth and reality eventually catches up with fiction, especially in election years, and so it should come as no surprise that having established his American birthright the President and Commander in Chief of The Most Powerful Nation On Earth should have rediscovered his Irish ancestry. And so it is, to be sure, Paddy O`Bama that flies back to his roots in Moneygall. Personally I thought that the lower key and very dignified visit made by Her Maj to the Irish Republic a little earlier struck exactly the right note but it was good of her to put herself out and to pave the way for Borat`s homecoming. Queens do not drink Guinness, so my friends in Brighton tell me, so while Her Maj left the glass daintily on the bar and her husband looked longingly at it, it was left to President Paddy to down a jug of the black stuff. A pity that his much-heralded visit was truncated by the volcanically enforced revision of his travel plans but by the time he arrived early at the American Ambassador`s residence in Regent`s Park, London and Westminster were ready to welcome him back to the Mother of the Colonies.
Not many people get to speak in Westminster Great Hall. Not least because it is frequently freezing, a great barn of a place and the acoustics would have caused Laurence Olivier grief. The hammer beamed ceiling is, though, one of the finest examples of its kind in the world. Justice has been meted out from the stone steps, sentences passed, impeachments dispensed, and Kings and Queens and Statesmen have lain in State in this vast chamber for over a thousand years. With his 41-gun salute still echoing in his ears and following in the footsteps of Charles de Gaulle, Nelson Mandela and the Pope I am sure that the President of the United States felt, to coin a phrase, the hand of history on his shoulder” as he reminded his audience of the bond that endures” between the USA and Great Britain.
When I show the Great Hall to friends from Over There I remind them gently that the building in which they are standing is four times older than America but even I would probably have restrained myself and not told the Head of State of the Federal Republic that for many years Oliver Crowell`s head was impaled on a spike above the huge window at which he would have been staring at the far end of the Hall. Enduring monarchy makes some people nervous. As an aside we have to live in hope that Mayor Boris will now receive his requested cheque for £5 million in US diplomats` unpaid congestion taxes.
It upsets me to have to mention Europe but mention it, I must. That High and wannabee Mighty Representative, the Baroness Ashton, desires still more money. Europe, let us remind ourselves again, is not a State. It is a pretty motley collection of sovereign countries cobbled together by some fairly odd treaties in the self-interest of trade. It does not have, or merit, a common defence policy or a collective armed force. It is funded by consent, not as of right. It certainly does not require its own foreign policy or a foreign service. And yet that is precisely what Mme Ashton and her growing army of apparatchiks are seeking to create, on the back of the Lisbon Treaty, through their bid for `enhanced status` for the EU at the United Nations.
We need to be clear about this. The Eurozone is in deep doodoo. We are spending, courtesy of Chancellor Darling in a de-mob moment, far too much hard earned non-eurozone taxpayer`s money bailing out financially incontinent states as if they were High Street banks for God`s sake. The majority of the members of the Schengen open-borders countries want out of it because of the wave of migration flooding in from the South. The EU finances have not been signed off for years and Brussels bureaucrats have instigated a Fish Fight through demands that we continue to dump, under their quota system, the best part of 90% of some catches.
Instead of mucking out the stable the lunatics in charge of this asylum waste time creating the `Arc Manche` transnational emblem” and flag, fund vanity projects that would make the user of a UK Government Credit Card blush, and, with EU debt spreading” , can still find hundreds of thousands of euros to spend on limousines and flights and hotel bills and, of course, Lunch. It is in the context of a Belgian who, at a conference in Geneva, tried to display an EU representative” sign in a manner that was way outside his authority, that William Hague has ordered British diplomats to be on guard against competence creep” . Incompetence creep might be a better description of an organisation that, through the European External Action Service or European State Department” as it likes to self-style itself, employs some seven thousand staff. Telling the diminishing number of people still prepared to listen to her that you have to pay people” Ms. Ashton, High Rep. now wants an inflation-busting 5.8% increase in her four hundred and five million slush budget. The Hague (that`s the Yorkshire one) has rightly suggested that she should concentrate upon doing less, better ”. Or,we would suggest, preferably not at all.
All of which, in a roundabout way, brings us to the FIFA. So named, it is said, because there is a Fee fa` securing the favour of its officials, a fee fa` for securing the venue of future World Cup tournaments and a fee fa` ensuring that the flow of sponsorship money continues to move seamlessly into the bank accounts not of local football clubs but of national football associations. Mr. Sepp Blatter, who has presided over a regime that has spent thirteen years denying accusations of corruption, has entirely unsurprisingly been re-elected for a further term by the myriad of minor but enfranchised organisations still prepared to turn a blind eye to the elephant in the room. With Mr. Bluster denying that Qatar bought the rights to host the 2022 World Cup tournament and his Secretary General asserting that we are only in some difficulties” it must be left to sponsors such as Coca Cola to realise that their investment has become counter-productive and to pull the financial rug out from under this whole rotten pyramid built upon desert sand. Or they could, I suppose, turn the whole miserable organisation over to those in whose transparent hands rests the management a rather more credible Eurovision Song Contest.
Bush fires in Surrey, Berkshire and Yorkshire as well as Scotland. The warmest Spring since 1659. Farmers facing disastrous crops and cattle short of grass. But people go for fantasy” says the Chelsea Flower Show. Never mind the multi-storey vegetable patch under the sponsorship of B&Q. For those who still use a spade and wheelbarrow to tend the garden a spot of rain and a surviving tomato plant would be fantasy enough!
Déjà vu all over again. A volcano erupts in Iceland. There should be no disruption to European or Atlantic airspace” but O`Bama takes the precautionary route and leaves Ireland early for the UK while Ryan Air’s Michael O`Leary fumes and some 1600 flights are grounded.
Men may have landed on the moon and shinned the few small steps down the ladder in protective clothing but Lancashire`s Pendle Council has barred its wasp squad from climbing ladders in the appropriate wasp proof garb. Wasps will now be required to nest at ground level, presumably. Not to be outdone by Pendle `elf n safety conscious Darlington Council will no longer cut grass on greater than twenty-degree inclined verges. Good for the habitat, no doubt, and of course it hides the beer cans thrown from car windows.
Eight hour old Zac, suffering from potentially fatal meningitis, is taken by desperate parents to Leicestershire Royal infirmary, where his life is saved. Master Zac then receives a personally addressed letter informing him that visits to A&E are expensive and that he should have made an appointment to see his GP. He will, I am sure, enjoy reading that letter in years to come.
Is Ed now running education in Scotland? If not, his legacy lives on. The Scottish authorities have upheld a claim that a young lady has to listen to an I-pod during exams as the only way to concentrate” and has required her school to not only buy the necessary kit but to download her favourite tunes as well. Dunno much about history, dunno much about bi-ology…….”. Edinburgh has decreed laptops for students because to compel them to use longhand and paper is unfair. And 25% of 10-12 year old children cannot, apparently, read an analogue time piece. They tell the time, instead, from their mobile phones – so let`s not bother to re-wind the clock below Big Ben.
Nuneaton Primary School has reprimanded two seven year old boys for playing army games”. The jollity, or threatening behaviour”, involved was the time-honoured boy`s ploy of making pistol shapes with their fingers” and, one supposes, shouting Bang Bang”. Cowboys and Indians are, presumably,also now politically incorrect.
David Blunkett has been required to undertake jury service, an experience that he has described as a sheer waste of time and public money resulting from the chaos in our courts”. This, as my favourite magistrate reminds me, has nothing whatsoever to do with the Home Affairs and Judicial systems over which Mr. Blunkett and Jack Straw and others presided over for so many recent years.
The Gnome Guard has descended on an eighty-two year old grandmother whose proud display of cheery garden ornaments might distract motorists”. That being so, perhaps local authorities will now remove all of the sponsored roundabout” advertising signs that, while they may generate spondulicks for the Town Hall are supposed, presumably, to be read by motorist taking their eyes off the road so to do.
The splendid stationmaster of Lymington pier in Hampshire, Mr Ian Faletto, has been censured by the management of South Western Trains for a serious breach of safety”. The award-winning Mr. Faletto`s crime, with thirty years of railway experience and knowledge to fall back on, was , having turned off the power and put on protective shoes, to remove a shopping trolley from the tracks. His Line Manager” (ho-hum.) clearly believes that a metal trolley in the path of an oncoming train would not cause a serious breach of safety”.
Let`s hear it for the People`s Trust for Endangered Species. They are seeking to preserve Sheep’s` Snout and Slack My Girdle which, as every fule no,” are species of apple. They might also spare a thought for the Cox`s Pippin which has almost disappeared in favour of Golden Tasteless on the supermarket shelves.
I almost did not include the IMF but have to report the escalating descriptions of M. Dominique Strauss Khan as applied by an alleged former victim of his predatory nature. Mlle Tristane Banon, A Young French Author”, started, following the great man`s arrest, with Chaud Lapin”. The Hot Bunny , clearly too potentially evocative and attractive for a salacious press, quickly metamorphosed into A rutting chimpanzee” and only three days letter had become a gorilla.” We now await the trial of King Kong.
With football in the news Ms Tracey Crouch, the excellent and feisty young Member of Parliament for Chatham and Aylesford, has been banned from playing alongside men in the Parliamentary Eleven. Tracey is, in addition to being a player, also a football coach and referee but since the FA have taken over the running of the Westminster squad (why?) they have ruled that only girls under thirteen can play in mixed teams. Sweet FA.
We do not do obituaries but all those of a certain age will recall that night in 1963 when Cassius Clay hit the canvass on the end of `Enery`s Hammer and mourn the passing of Sir Henry Cooper. In an age when sporting celebrities” are two a penny (or more probably one for two hundred million quid) the great gentle man of boxing will be hugely missed. A genuine role model.