Gale's Westminster View - September 2007
To gamble or not to gamble.
It is the 29th September, our wedding anniversary, and the Big Organ Grinder dithers on. His troops have this month been marched up the hill and down again and are at present "neither up nor down". It may all change in the next few windswept Blackpool days but in the meantime back to the start of the month. And back to Westminster.
I have some forty child tax credit cases on my books. Each one of them involves a demand, from the Revenue and Customs, for the return of benefits overpaid as a result of the incompetence, usually, of the Department and the inability of the Treasury to get its sums right.
This scheme was invented by one Gordon Brown as Chancellor, a man who famously then hid behind the skirts of his Paymaster General, Dawn Primarolo at the time, and bravely refused to come to the despatch box to answer for the chaos that he had created.
This man is now the big Organ Grinder with his finger on the nuclear button! The tax credit scheme was presided over by Mr. David Varney. Mr. Varney took his Treasury knighthood and, rewarded for his inability to make Brown's scheme work, moved on. I therefore find myself in Whitehall discussing with his successor my view that the Revenue and Customs should bear the cost of its mistakes, preferably out of the salaries of its mandarins, wipe the slate clean, sue the genius that installed its failing computer programmes and start afresh. This view does not entirely find favour but to be fair I am given a courteous hearing and the promise that the system is being reviewed and simplified. I shall advise my frightened constituents not to hold their breath.
Young David wants to bring back national service. Well, no. Not really. The excitement is over a proposal to offer sixteen year olds the chance to do six weeks of "national citizen service". Not compulsory. Nice try, Dave, but a little wide of the Sergeant Major's mark!
This proposal, though, is pure brilliance when compared with the gimmick launched by Ed Balls, who describes himself as, amongst other things, "Children's Secretary". We are to have "Citizen's Juries" that will meet to discuss "issues that effect children" and usher in "a new kind of politics". Come back Madam Defarge. All is forgiven.
September is harvest time but the Big Organ Grinder is busy sowing. "A British Job for every British Worker" is one of many autumn golden headlines designed to pitch to the Tory vote and convince us that Mr. Brown is not Scottish but British, wants to control immigration, clean hospitals, cut crime, lower taxes, fill the land with milk and honey and do all the things that he has signally failed to achieve during his ten years already in power!
Meanwhile Young David pledges to force a Commons vote on whether or not a referendum should be held on the draft European Constitutional Treaty. The Big Organ Grinder and Little Organ Grinder Miliband are determined that "this is not a constitution" and that no referendum is needed. Interesting. I print and deliver, with a few chums, forty thousand leaflets and deliver them to every home in my constituency. The response is outstanding. Ordinarily politicians will claim a "huge response" meaning that we have received three or for replies. This really is different. The "We want a Referendum" reply cards really do come in - and are still coming in - in hundreds. Not only that, many of them are hand-delivered to my office or bear first class stamps, such is the eagerness to reply. If there is to be a snap election let it, please be a referendum on Europe.
In the real farming world there is something approximating despondency. Relieved that the Government Vet, Debby Reynolds, has announced that the foot and mouth outbreak is over and returning to market we are shattered to face a fresh outbreak of the disease at the worst possible time in the farming calendar. By the end of the month we have added the first case of blue tongue to this litany of disaster and those of us who are not farming can offer little but sympathy for our friends that are. It is, to be sure, a hard and cruel life.
Mid month and Northern Rock. The banks, jittery, are refusing to lend each other money. This leaves one of our largest mortgage lenders short of readies and having to go to the Bank of England for emergency financial support. Not entirely surprisingly this causes a run on funds, queues around the block, computer systems and shares crashing.
And a rise in the Government's popularity!
Notwithstanding the fact that this administration has presided over rocketing house prices and a huge and unsustainable increase in public and private debt, facts effectively highlighted by Young David and Boy George, the Bank of England (wholly unprompted by Brown and Exchequer Darling, of course!) steps in with huge largesse and saves the day. The smell of roses all round and, No, the Governor of the Bank, Mervyn King, tells the Treasury Select Committee, he was not leaned on by the Government. Ho. Jolly Ho!
In Brighton the Liberal Democrat Conference press coverage seems dominated almost entirely by the age/experience/wisdom/senility of the Party's leader, Ming Campbell. A pity, really, when you want to talk about climate change.
Election fever hits a high. Brown is "believed to be holding weekend talks to decide whether to hold a snap poll".
In Kent with have other fish to fry. The Gale's eldest son is getting married and our eyes are taken momentarily off the political ball. Incredibly, at this equinox, we are blessed with sunshine. Bride and Groom will shortly be honeymooning off to trek through the Andes in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust and for a brief moment we remember that there is a life beyond the ballot box and a world where real people live and love and laugh!
Back to earth with a bump. The Labour Party invades Bournemouth sending my aged Mother and other residents into hiding for the week. Remember Blair, the "pretty straight kind of guy"? Well Brown remembered him, fleetingly, after about forty minutes into a turgid speech designed, we are told, to appeal to wavering Tory voters. It was an election speech, of sorts. Full of more promises to mend education, the police, the health service, the armed forces, Iraq, pensions, and all the other things that, as one half of the Blair/Brown team the Big Organ Grinder has spent the last ten years helping to break! Gordon Brown, it seems, wants to be regarded as a "pretty Son of The Manse kind of guy". Unfortunately, political leopards do not change their spots and electoral memories are not that short. You really cannot spend a decade at the very heart of a grim and failed administration and then expect the voting public to give you another ten years in office to try to put right all of the things that you, personally, Mr. Brown, have contributed to damaging.
To call an election or not to call an election? You decide.
Cut and run or dither and look ridiculous? I'm driving off to the seaside. A lot may depend upon what happens in Blackpool in the next few days.