Gale's Westminster View - July 2008

Phew! What a scorcher!  No, not the mini-heatwave that has ended what passes for a globally warmed summer in the United Kingdom but rather the political temperature at Westminster which has, during this past month, soared through the top of the thermometer.

It does seem a tad hard to believe that it is barely a year since The Big Organ Grinder entered Downing Street with a grin almost as wide and phoney as that of his predecessor and proceeded to walk across the floodwaters of Britain with his head and his poll ratings held high while Young David, caught on the wrong foot, found himself isolated and not a little derided in Rwanda.

How times have changed!

But back to the beginning of a spell when unusually for me, I seem to have spent a lot of time living out of suitcases and on aeroplanes doing my bit to stamp a carbon footprint across the globe.  A couple of days in Trinidad during the rainy season on post-election training seminar watch, a quick flit to a Home County for a Party bonding love-in, off to Haltemprice and Howden for the Old Knuckleduster's by election, Germany for the inside of a week with the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme (The German navy has, by the way and not surprisingly, some very good new U-boats!) and then, after a few days R&R in the House of Commons, to The Seychelles where, in the teeth of the South East Monsoon and under palm trees bent double by the wind and rain we did more post-election seminar work. Very Tropical (but I did get to see the famous CoCo de Mer in its natural habitat).

At home we discover that The Organ Grinder's increased car tax on all cars not powered by sewing machine engines will hit 2.3 million families.  The Scottish badger temporarily occupying the role of Chancellor of the Exchequer seems to think, or is told to think, that more people will be better off than will lose out. Unfortunately this position, like that on the abolition of the 10p tax rate, swiftly unravels as it becomes clear that in fact 9 million motorists will be hit by the increase in, to give it its proper name, vehicle excise duty.44% of vehicles will attract more tax as against 33% that will attract less - but then Revenue, Customs and the Treasury are, under the present administration, not very good at sums.  Unkind, really, of Young David to suggest that somehow the Government had misled the House and the public.

This is the month when we, as a breed, really excel at projecting the worst of all images.  Having been lambasted for weeks by those paragons of virtue and rectitude, the Press, for having snouts in the trough we manage to make a Pig's Ear of votes on salaries and allowances. As the scribblers rush off to pen a brief column before spending rather more time engaged in the creative writing of their own expense accounts we find ourselves no further forward in the struggle to try to persuade the public of the monkeys/peanuts argument and to once and for all sort out Members` pay and allowances.  It was practically the first thing that I was required to vote on when I came into the House in 1983 and I confidently expect that we shall still be dealing with it when I celebrate my golden parliamentary anniversary in another 25 years time!

Enter, Stage Left, the Little Organ Grinder.  The Milipede comes out in support of Nicolas Sarkosy’s revitalised dream of a European Army.  Out of touch with reality, that is the Foreign Secretary's problem.  Not a good leadership move any more than is, at the month's end, the article in The Guardian in which he seeks to rally bedraggled Labour troops without once mentioning the Prime Minister by name.  As my friend and Special Constabulary Labour chum Brian Donohoe points out, the little Milipede has no great support in the Trades Union movement and precious little in the constituencies either. He may be regarded (why?) as a wunderkind by the chattering classes of the Westminster Village but he’ll need a lot more than that if he is to topple the Big Organ Grinder.  Remember, also, that the assassin that wields the knife rarely gets to wear the crown. Miliband, of course, denies it all, as do Jack Straw, Harriet Harman and all the other not-the-leadership contenders waiting in the wings.

For if Crewe and Nantwich was a nail in the coffin of Gordon Brown's premiership, Glasgow East, the by-election brought about  by the "ill health" of sitting Labour Member David Marshall, was the stake through the heart. To manage to lose a Scottish Labour heartland seat with a 13.5 thousand majority to Alex Salmond’s Scottish Nationalists on a swing of 22.5% really does take some doing.  The cost of food and fuel is pushing people to the edge of bankruptcy, house sales are at their lowest since records were first kept in 1978, the month's fall in House prices is the highest since records began , while oil companies announce rises of squillions of pounds in windfall profits the gas and electricity cheerfully announce price rises of up to 35% and inflation is at a ten-year high and set to rise again.  The Treasury re-writes the fiscal rules and Prudence is dead (official) and buried in a cemetery, presumably in Glasgow East! That electorate, at least, has taken its revenge early.

If I have been doing my own bit for CO2 emissions, Obama has done air-miles better. Barracking for the world, you might say, as he has trotted from Head of State to Premier and back to  Head of State being photographed with more celebrities that the Pope (if you recall that old joke).  In London we have enjoyed the holiday snaps of the putative President taken in identical poses with just about anybody who might be, or become, the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.  Has nobody told him of Neil Kinnock (Who?)  and why it is quite a good idea to win the election before you begin to act as if your address was No.1 Pennsylvania Avenue.   Come back Hilary, all might yet be forgiven!

Which brings me back to the reality that we, also, have a long way to go before we have won the next election.  The present incumbent of Downing Street is doing his level best to lose but the fact remains that for Young David to form the next Conservative administration with an overall majority we have to take an additional 130 parliamentary seats and that is one hell of a mountain to climb.  Were all those seats Labour-held it might be a little easier (my more prudent Labour chums with majorities of less than 10,000 are, remembering the Tory meltdown in 1997, looking for retirement or alternative employment) but they are not.  Liberal Democrats are very good at shovelling paper through letterboxes and creating an impression of hyperactivity. Winkling them out of seats that they should not have been allowed to borrow will take some doing.

Never mind.  We have the killer policy.  We are, I gather, when next in government, going to make it easier for local authorities to ban lap-dancing clubs.  These establishments, populated I suspect mainly by males of a certain age who find themselves refugees from non-smoking pubs and who need something to take their minds of the craving for a cigarette while trying to enjoy a drink, are at present in the same planning basket as pubs and coffee shops. That concern will, I suspect, not be foremost in the minds of David Cameron or Gordon Brown as they holiday with their young families in, respectively, Cornwall and Norfolk.  I do hope that the paparazzi allow them all at least a little peace.

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