Roger and his views > Westminster October 2014
Gale`s View from Westminster – October 2014
October. The beginning of the month, the end of the Party Conference Season. Forces flying out of Camp Bastion and into Northern Iraq – but no boots on the ground. EVEL or evil? Europe dominates the agenda through immigration, the Eurozone crisis, the ECHR and Barrosso`s last stand. Some are more pre-occupied with Ebola , nobody notices the largest fall in the number of jobless for 40 years and if “Ras” Putin is again on manoeuvres in Eastern Ukraine  and Novorossiya is on the march is anybody out there interested? Probably not. Introspection is the order of the month.
“A real Tory Premier” screams the Bourgeois Women`s Tabloid as Man David takes to the Tory conference stage.  The climax to this year`s political media fest is the Prime Minister going in to bat, unusually, before the junior partners in the coalition.   “Tax Cuts for Millions”. “40p tax threshold to rise to £50k”. “A UK bill of rights”.  “Parliamentary over-ride”. ”English Votes for English Laws”. “Home Rule for England”. “Go to bed with Nigel, wake up with Ed”!  Good grief, Penfold.  Anyone would think that there`s an election in the offing. There is, of course, and the straightforward pitch to eight hundred thousand middle earners, including many nurses, teachers and police officers, freed from the 40p tax rate, ought to score a brownie point or two but the sad fact is that in political life it`s not what you`ve done but what you are going to do that counts. Yesterday is yesterday and what might happen in 2020 is too far ahead to be persuasive. In spite of personal popularity ratings plummeting, in the marginal seats the polls say that The Milipede will be handed enough Tory votes courtesy of Farridge to put him into Downing Street. You crashed the car, guys, but have another spin at the wheel!
Home Secretary Theresa May is described as “Thatcherish” and the Mayor of London, tells the assembled faithful that “You`ve thrown Salmon(d) overboard, now eat Kippers for breakfast”. Benny Hill for Prime Minister? Possibly not. By the middle of the month the “Kippers” have seen their Tory turncoat re-elected under their banner in Clacton upon Sea and have come within a 617-vote whisker of taking the northern Labour seat of Middleton and Heywood, vacant following the sad death of the delightful Jim Dobbin, as well.   All is not entirely sunshine out of the Farridge posterior, however. While Carswell was making a dignified thank-you speech for the benefit of his voters in Clacton, Farridge was calling upon Britain to “ban immigrants carrying HIV” from entering Britain.( Populist, of course, but quite how this would be achieved is left undefined).  The contrast did not go un-noticed and then, of course, Carswell became the first elected representative of his new party to take a seat in the House of Commons. Under UKIP rules that should have given him the leadership, as the sole MP and therefore Head of the Parliamentary team, of that party.  Farridge, noticing this probability however, has had the rules changed and Farridge-watchers have reported that he is becoming increasingly paranoid about challenges to his one-man-band supremacy.  Who appears on the TV shows? The Chippy Chappie, not his sidekicks and minions.  Others (David Campbell-Bannerman MEP, for example, who re-joined the Conservatives) have found themselves marginalised in the past and it remains to be seen how long the romance between Dougie and his fuhrer lasts. As one wag in the press circus that moved from Clacton seamlessly to the next by-election in Rochester and Strood put it to me “If Farage is the answer, what is the question?”
Back on the last conference platform  in Glasgow St Nicholas of Clogg and Danny “Red Squirrel” Alexander are telling us how, in government after the next election , the Liberals would “soak the rich” and seek to put a yellow river between their policies and their Conservative coalition partners, it is” immigration…. Immigration….immigration” that is driving the political agenda. In rhetoric designed to frighten Middle England and making “Rivers of Blood” sound like Little Red Riding Hood, political heavyweights and press gallery lightweights are slugging it out with “I will be more draconian than you” messages.   We all know that the Darling Bud of May has done a good job of reducing net migration from non-EU countries and we also all know that while we remain a Member State of the European Union we cannot control inward migration from other EU countries. That very many Polish and Romanian migrants, for example, work hard and do jobs that Britons will not take, is neither here nor there. With the Mayor of Calais, Natascha  Bouchart, bleating to a Commons Select Committee that “Britain is like an El Dorado for migrants” because of our benefits system and complaining that her town is being inundated with “asylum seekers” hell bent on storming lorries and ferries to reach our shores, a small voice has to ask “is it not the porous borders of the Schengen countries that pose the real problem”? 
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon suggests in an interview that Britain is becoming “swamped with migrants”, a remark which he was obliged by Number 10 to “clarify” but with which, as a Channel Coast MP and colleague of Michael`s, I have great sympathy.  Former Home Secretary David Blunkett helpfully confirms that from his own experience there are indeed parts of England that are “swamped with migrants”. This gets mixed up with terrorist and security issues as well, of course, but with the superannuated President of the European Commission, Barrosso, saying that a “migrant cap would be illegal” and both he and Frau Merkel asserting in unison that “freedom of movement is an essential principle” of the EU it`s hard to see how Man David`s “red line” on this as a re-negotiation issue is a line that is going to be held.  Which, all knee-jerk reactions aside, brings us back to the Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, who proclaims that “The Common Market has morphed into a putative super-state” and to  Iain Duncan Smith whose simple soldier`s line is “curb migrants or leave the EU”.
Britain calls upon Europe to block the entry of returning jihadists who might pose a domestic threat. Fat chance. Manuel Valls says that the EU is too busy with the crisis in the Eurozone to deal with reforms of any kind. France, you see, is putting the euro at risk through its failure to curb high state spending while Chancellor George Osborne says in turn that a slump in the EU may lead to another recession in the UK. With the French facing £16 billion of cuts as the euro drops to 77.6p   Not surprising then that Barrosso`s parting shot as a Commissioner is that Brussels wants another £1.7 billion from Britain because our economy is recovering faster than that of the Eurozone and with the German economy stalling and France going bust it`s time for the successful to support the failures – although I doubt that Mother Merkel would put it quite in those terms.  Understandably the man in Downing Street is not best pleased. At £56 per head of population,   “off” is likely to have been the second of a Prime Minister`s pithy two-word answer. As there is no explanation as to from which bit of the sky M. Barrosso and his comrades plucked the £1.2 billion figure this is tantamount to a declaration of war. The UK may well be heading for the exit door.
Trouble still brewing on England`s Northern Border. The Clunking Fist, as Gordon Brown, sometime Chancellor of Britain and the Prime Minister that flunked an early vote and almost single-handedly lost the 2010 election for Labour, is exercised by EVEL. English votes for English laws, in response to still greater devolution for Scotland and the need to answer the `West Lothian Question`, will, he says, `neuter Scots MPs`, drive a wedge between England and Scotland and create a form of `political nationalism`. There are those who feel that for Scots MPs to be allowed to vote on matters affecting education, for example, in England while English MPs are barred from voting on that `devolved` issue in Scotland has always been a nonsense.  That the Prime Minister chose the morning after the Scottish Referendum to announce that he intends to address the matter as part of the payment of Mr. Brown`s Dane geld might have been a tad insensitive but addressed the matter must be. When The Fist proclaims that this is `threatening the Union` what he actually means is that this is `threatening a possible future Labour majority in the House of Commons` as, with a disproportionate number of seats North of the Border his party relies heavily on the support of Scots MPs for its voting power.  With no sense of irony he says that EVEL would create “two classes of MP”.  There are, of course, precisely two classes under the existing system.
The Milipede has to decide by December which way he will lead the Parliamentary party on the EVEL issue. If he runs with the `Scottish veto` over English laws he will alienate scores of his supporters in the Labour heartlands of Northern England and if he takes sides with  English Votes he risks vital support that could still just allow him to squeeze through the back door of Ten Downing Street after the May 2010 election.  He is caught between an Edinburgh rock and a hard place and with the Tory party having taken a national poll lead for the first time in two years and Lord `Punchy` Prescott describing the Milipede as “far too timid` a leader it`s not surprising perhaps that Andy Burnham and others are reported to be eyeing up the top job in the Labour Party. Could former postman Alan Johnson, the best leader that the Opposition never had, be in the running?  My friend Alan has declined my offer to run his leadership bid campaign but cometh the hour, cometh the man. You just never know.
The first RAF missile strikes Northern Iraq and Alan Henning, former taxi-driver held hostage, probably in Syria, is murdered by ISIS. This is a particularly perverse act of brutality as the aid worker was known to be apolitical and a friend of the Muslim community.  An IS flag flies over Kobani, on the Syrian border with Turkey as women and children fight in street battles for control of their town.  The Turks park tanks and armoured vehicles on the border but do not intervene.
Does the Ebola epidemic pose a greater threat to the world than ISIS?  It is certainly serious. While still mainly confined to three states in West Africa, where hundreds have already died, there have been isolated cases and fatalities in the developed world. This, inevitably, generates parliamentary response and the self-appointed Statesman of the Liberal Democrat Ministerial team, the Home Office`s very own Norman “Wisdom” Baker, confronts the House with proposals for the screening of disease-prone arrivals at our airports.  It looks, to a sceptical Chamber, as though this screening is likely to consist of asking arriving passengers how they are feeling with, initially, only passengers volunteering at Heathrow being `tested`. This is `do something` politics at its most crass. My parliamentary question seeking to know what measures are being taken to interdict potential carriers seeking to reach Britain via Calais and the cross-Channel ferry reveals a response that suggests that it is a well-known fact that those potentially infected with Ebola travel only directly and by air to our major airports. The busiest sea link with mainland Europe does not constitute a threat.  With the Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt predicting ten cases in the UK before Christmas Ebola is clearly a serious matter but the answer that emerges seems to be, while operating some sort of clinical “Home Guard”  complete with pitchforks and Lee Enfields, to hammer in the resources to try to contain and eliminate the disease at its source. To this end Man David suggests that Brussels should shell out some £800 million (about a billion euros at today`s prices) in support of the efforts of brave men and women already working through charities and through the British Government to get help to Sierra Leone. As IKEA is at present pumping more into the crisis than Spain, for example, it seems a not unreasonable request and prompts even Herman Van Pumpy Rompuy to agree that “Europe is not doing enough”.
Never fear, “The Navy is here”.  By Trafalgar Day the Royal Fleet Auxiliary Argus is steaming towards Freetown and at the month`s end is anchored off the West Coast of Africa to dispense medical and logistic support to those on the epidemic front line. Without an iota of sarcasm it makes you proud, does it not, to be British?
All of this has created an open goal for President `Ras` Putin. The overlord of the neo-Soviet state, enjoying a spell out of the political limelight while continuing to stir up mischief in East Ukraine must be feeling that all of his Orthodox Christmases have come at once.  An uneasy ceasefire in the Donetsk and Luhansk, agreed with Ukraine`s President Poroshenko and in reality not a ceasefire at all, has allowed the occupants of `Novorossiya` to regroup and to bide their time pending the outcome of Ukraine`s early parliamentary elections and then their own unauthorised and, except by Putin, unrecognised plebiscite.  From personal experience I can report that while in Donetsk and Luhansk the official election day was something of a charade,  in the `high risk` town of Kharkiv, a little to the north and on the Soviet border, all was calm and, at least on polling day, efficiently democratic. (And at this point my Irish companion and I owe a vote of thanks for the dedication of our driver and our interpreter, two young ladies of considerable courage).   Kharkiv has, apparently, a football team called – I hope that this is approximately correct – the Mettalistes, who are big in the European game.  That being so, the electorate of the Kharkiv Oblast, mindful of their sporting prowess, look towards Europe rather than Russia for future glory.  Of such influences are political fortunes made.
What goes around comes around.  It is the first time since the Second World War that German troops have set foot on Ukrainian soil. The 200 peacekeepers and 56 paratroopers may have received a rather more friendly welcome than their predecessors.
In other news Culture Secretary Sajid Javid, who post-Paxman has taken to switching off Newsnight,  suggests that the BBC licence fee might be reduced by £50 a year  generating calls for tonic without gin all round. The popular fundraising Children in Need  programme promoted by the Salford Broadcasting Corporation has raised some dainty eyebrows within the Charity Commission when it is revealed that the funds enjoys some £90 million in undisbursed investments. Are there not enough children in need? Surely the orphans of Sierra Leone could use a bob or two? Children in need of telly at home may have to ask Mum and Dad to fork out if Rona Fairmop gets her way. The post- Fat Pang Chairman of the BBC Trust has it in mind to charge for premium shows while carrying the Youth Channel on-line only. And the Home Affairs Select Committee excoriates Auntie for damaging that national treasure Sir Cliff Richard. The Beeb is accused of “premature and disproportionate reporting” following a squalid deal with South Yorkshire Police which enabled `journalists` to hire a helicopter to cover Ee By Plod`s raid on Sir Cliff`s home while the owner was on holiday in Spain.
The Bourgeois Women`s tabloid has mounted a Trial by `responsible` Media campaign against Fiona Woolf, the City `member of the establishment` appointed following the departure of Baroness Butler-Schloss to conduct an inquiry into child sex abuse.  The campaign, which will prove successful, asserts that Ms. Woolf socialized with Leon (now Lord) Brittan, Home Secretary at the time of many of the allegations and is therefore unfit to conduct the investigations. This calls into question whether or not any one of calibre and experience will be prepared to take on the task. 
The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaking in Washington, has offered the startling revelation that the bankers who created the crash have got away with it without sanction and “are still playing on the best golf courses”.  Does that include Fred “The Shred” Goodwin?  Perhaps as a result some 1.2 million customers have switched their bank accounts under a process now known as “saver`s revenge”.   Is it a coincidence that 10 million hospital visits a year apparently arise as a result of heavy drinking?  NICE guidance now suggests that those who drink two glasses of wine a day have a drink problem and should be regarded as `mild alcoholics`. Forgive me while I pop out to drown my sorrows………….
After 93 years the car tax disc has been phased out. On the first of the month the DVLA website and phone lines crashed under the weight of those asking why they could not pass on unexpired tax when a car was sold. Ask the treasury.
Trouble at t`Palace! Her Maj has been warned of the possible security implications of amorous staff taking `Dating App` partners into their living quarters at Buck House, St. James`s Palace and the Royal Mews. Rumour has it that the horsey team have been the most energetic of the lot. (Sorry, Ma`am).
Her Maj will, though be pleased to know that Queen`s English or `Received pronunciation ` to give it its` proper name is still favourite in spite of the BBC`s best efforts to dumb it down. Edinburgh-speak rates second and, perhaps surprisingly, `Strine` comes third.
Auntie BBC has spent £220K of licence fee payer`s money to train staff how to use I-phones. This is on top of the £2.5 million invested in the phones and pads and is designed to promote the “harmonising of new technologies”.
The Belgian Chocolate Company has left a sour taste in Coventry. The firm seeks to lay claim to the Lady Godiva brand name notwithstanding the fact that it was in protest against the raising of taxes upon his tenants by Leofric, Earl of Mercia that prompted the delectable Godiva to stage her undressage event. Stick to TinTin, Willy Wonka, and get your grubby hands off our noble nude.
The National Union of Students has refused to condemn ISIS in order not to `pander to western imperialist intervention` in Iraq that might be seen as `blatant Islamaphobia` The NUS has not changed much since the days of “Poor Jack” Straw has it?
Geriatric Deejays and Top Twenty anoraks will be pleased to know that “vinyl” is enjoying a renaissance. In the first 9 months of this year some 800 thousand discs have been sold which is the largest quantity since the heady days of 1996 (1,083,206).
A British Airways advertisement for Leeds carries a picture of Leeds Castle, which is in Kent.  BA describes this as a “silly mistake”. Fortunately their pilots can tell the difference.
The Mayor of Paris is seeking to introduce a smoking ban in the city`s parks. Sacre Disque Bleu?  
The RSPCA has spent £22.5 million of donated funds on what some fear are politically motivated prosecutions in just two years. If you want to make sure that your money reaches animal welfare there are other giving options.
In 2012 I failed to persuade the North/South Committee to award their prize to the schoolgirl campaigner Yousafzai Malala who was shot and left for dead in Pakistan. The EU Permanent Representative opined at that time that this was an award to be given for a “lifetime`s service” to human rights, implying that the fifteen-year old was too young to warrant recognition.  I am gratified to note that Yousafzai, who nearly gave the whole of her short life in the cause of human rights has, at the age of 17, been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival Mr. Andrew Marr, sometime Salford Broadcasting Company presenter and political pundit, suggests that would-be MPs should be at least 40 before seeking election to parliament. The requirement to have `done something` before taking a seat is sound, but  then how many of the commentariat  have done anything other than scribble a bit or read an autocue? A dangerous precedent, Mr. Marr.
Warner brothers Tom and Jerry collection has been branded as tarnished with `ethnic and racial prejudice`. Described as a case of “reading history backwards” it would be interesting to know just how differently the witch-finders would make the iconic series today. On the other hand, Sam Mendez, the director of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, is to re-visit the Faraway Tree and Enid Blyton`s outcast `sexist and racist` Famous Five which must be a setback for the revisionist cause.
I have my differences of opinion with much that emanates from the EU but there is one issue upon which I agree wholeheartedly with the Commissioner for the Digital Economy, Gunther Oettinger. Speaking of those who have had the nude photos that they have placed on line by hackers he says “Stupidity is something that you can only partly protect people from”.
At the age of 64, Miss Lynsey de Paul, “Rock Bottom” Eurovision chanteuse and who, in 1985, was the Jeans` Industry “Rear of the Year”.
Dame Peggy Fenner, at 91, the former MP for what was then called Medway and who, having left school at 14, rose to become  Margaret Thatcher`s Food Minister. Much loved far beyond the Garden of England.
Lord Bannside, better known as Antrim`s firebrand Ian Paisley, whose memorial service packed Belfast`s Ulster Hall to the rafters.  When we entered the House in 1983 Sir Jeremy Hanley (Richmond) and I sat on either side of Ian on the Conservative benches. To Jerry`s observation that “I didn`t realise that you were on our side” the Reverend Doctor`s response was “Just because I`m sitting on your side doesn`t mean that I`m ON your side”!
Lynda Bellingham, 66, known as “The Oxo Mum” and star of “All Creatures Great and Small” and “Loose Women” who opted out of chemotherapy, some say to spare her family what might otherwise have been a grim Christmas.
Old “Aussie Bastards” are hard to kill but at 98 Gough Whitlam`s boomerang will not be coming back. He was his country`s Labour leader from 1972-1975.
And Ben Bradlee, Editor in Chief of the Washington Post throughout the Watergate Saga that ended with the fall of President Nixon has sent his copy to the stone for the last time in his ninety-fourth year. The doyen of the Washington press corps, he was that rare thing, a journalist regarded with affection.
And finally……….
While one national  newspaper has sneered at the “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” installation in the moat at the Tower of London , describing it as an “anaesthetised, petrified, toothless war memorial”, the field of 888,246 ceramic poppies representing the sacrifice of every British and Commonwealth serving man and woman killed during the First World War has been visited by Her Majesty the Queen, Prince Philip and four million other people and rising, with queues stretching in the pouring rain around the and beyond. Respect and remembrance may be held in low esteem by the editorial team at The Guardian (of what?) but it is clear that a vast and overwhelming number of people, that dwarfs the readership of that miserable tabloid, still wishes to pay proper regard to the memory of those who have given their all in the defence of freedom and democracy.

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