Gale's Westminster View - January 2009
New Years Day found me sitting on the shores of the Red Sea reading Quentin Letts` recent book entitled "50 people who have buggered up Britain." Mr. Letts is the parliamentary sketch writer for the Daily Mail and I commend his writing to you. You will not agree with all of it but I suspect that it may strike a number of chords. It is, perhaps, a sadness that it was published last year: had he been writing it now then I am confident that a number of Bankers and Industrialists, as well as some additional politicians, might have made the record and I confidently expect that their names will appear in Volume Two!
Suzy and I were snatching some post Christmas sunshine within about 300 miles of the invasion of Gaza. Curiously, that was rather closer than the "Middle East Envoy", Legacy Blair, who would appear to have been several thousands of miles away while much of the carnage was taking place. Whatever your slant on this I think I can safely say that it was and remains a humanitarian nightmare. By the end of the month the BBC had managed to get itself embroiled in yet another row by refusing to carry a Disasters Emergency Appeal for aid for the civilian victims of the conflict. Setting aside the obvious fact that the controversy generated a lot more publicity for the appeal, which was a happy by-product but not the BBCs intention, this was, I think, yet another spectacular own goal for Auntie's hapless Director General Mark Thompson. Nice guy, wrong job.
At the start of the year political correctness stamps its credentials on 2009. Traditional New Year's dips in the freezing briny fall foul of `Elf and Safety regulations (although this did not prevent my local Greek Cypriot community from thrusting a young boy into the North Sea in celebration of the Feast of the Epiphany and the Blessing of the Waters!), Lancashire's County Council is considering plans to `tag` pensioners living in Sheltered Housing. Lewes, in Sussex, has decided to outlaw risqué place names such as Hoare Lane, 100 watt light bulbs are a thing of the past (official), five year olds are being expelled from kindergarten for "sex offences" and an establishment in the Socialist Republic of Sheffield announces that it is no longer a school but wishes to be known as "a place of learning". "I only wish it were so" did I hear someone say?
Attempts to use the weakness of the pound and the bankruptcy of the UK to generate fresh enthusiasm in the Euro would, I am personally delighted to say, seem to have failed. On the tenth anniversary of the currency an opinion poll indicates that 75% of UK citizens are opposed to Monnet Money. That said, my growing contact with the ex-pat community as a result of my campaign to persuade Her Majesty's Government to respect the ruling by the European Court of Justice and to pay Disability and other entitlements to those UK citizens resident in Europe has brought home the fact that low interest rates and the fall in the pound against the Euro are causing palpable hardship.
The House of Commons has not yet even returned from the recess and billions more in taxpayers` loot is being handed over to the banks. Was it Dick Whiittington or Dick Turpin who was the Lord Mayor of London? Either way, I know some fat cats who have been living high on the cream! Alongside this the Big Organ Grinder and his Cabinet have, we are told, only managed to spend a paltry £600,000 on awaydays and a three-day "tour of the regions" designed to tell them what life is like. With 200 shops a day projected to close and old-established firms like Waterford Wedgwood going into administration, Marks and Spencer's closing 27 stores and shedding 1,200 jobs, interest rates at a three hundred and fifteen year low and car sales (and the 1200 Nissan jobs that depend on them) off the bottom of the graph paper I do not think that the Prime Minister really needed to travel much further than his own front door to find quite a few people who, for less that £600k, might have put him in the picture. Never mind. With four thousand Civil Servants apparently costing £133 million a year and absorbed in what are euphemistically known as "people action teams, pre-surplus staff and re-deployment pools, priority mover and transition centres" it's good to know that at least they won't be artificially inflating the unemployment figures!
In America President Blair receives the Prime Ministerial Medal of Freedom but for some reason still has to pick up his Congressional Gold Medal of Honour for services to war. The Freedom Medal has been awarded to a number of illustrious people, including Nelson Mandela. If I was the former tenant of Robben Island I think I would be sending it back.
Back to Skool. One of Lord Foy`s sidekicks at Industry, Baroness Shriti Vadera, seizes the headlines with the claim that the first green shoots of recovery are upon us. Now where have we heard that before? (Answer, for younger readers. Chancellor Norman Lamont and the "Green shoots of economic Spring". 1991) Unfortunately this remark is made as the country is wrapped in ice and snow, Jaguar announces the loss of 450 jobs and foreign investors prepare to buy Royal Mail. While her Ladyship is busy green-shooting herself in the foot in the Upper House in the Commons chamber the Honourable Member for Hayes and Harlington, in protest that a third runway will be built at Heathrow, seizes the Royal Mace and is sent, by the Deputy Speaker, back on holiday for a few more days.
I missed this little drama myself, unfortunately. While Mr. John McDonnell was being escorted from the House by the Sergeant at Arms I was myself at Heathrow heading towards Johannesburg and onward to Zimbabwe. That will be the subject of other scribblings but suffice it to say that as I arrived Mr. Mugabe was in the process of releasing his country's first ever one hundred trillion dollar note. That scale of economic chaos made me feel almost at home.
Fifty travelling hours later and with my personal airframe feeling a little the worse for wear I was back in the Chamber to hear a soporific Chancellor, making Geoffrey Howe sound hyperactive, announce that my debt (well, alright, some of it is yours too) is to rise by another 200 billion in luncheon vouchers for the banks and that pledges and spending since 2007 is reaching skywards towards £1000 billion or, to put it another way, one trillion pounds. Only another ninety-nine trillion to go and we'll be competing with Uncle Bob!
Like something taken from the stage directions of a Shakespearean tragedy, outside we face gale force winds and snow as Sir Fred Goodwin announces that the Royal Bank of Scotland has lost £28 billion and his company's shares fall by 70%, Northern Rock (if you remember them) is to pay £9 million in bonuses, presumably paid for out of the bailout fund, to its staff and Jobs Minister Tony McNulty, helpfully tells us that there is "light at the end of the………." Blow wind, come rack, for we and our grandchildren will die with Darling on our back.
Somewhere in all of this gloom, far, far away in another land, a candle flickers. The BBC despatches a veritable army of reporters and correspondents at licence fee payers expense and we find ourselves in the grip of Obamamania. On the "do you remember where you were when……" principle I lock myself in my office in the House and in the interests of accuracy prepare to listen to Barrack Hussein Obama 2 take the oath of office and address the world as the 44th President of the United States of America. I hate to say this but I feel the hand of history on………….well, the division bell as a matter of fact! With a sense of immaculate timing some clown the Government Whips Office managed to orchestrate matters so that as the President began to speak every last, breathing, Member of Her Majesty's House of Commons found ourselves panting down to the division lobbies to vote at the end of the debate on The Financial Crisis. Just about sums up January, really. Unsurprisingly, the Government won!