Roger and his views > Westminster May 2014

Gale`s Westminster View – May 2014 

May. The Police Federation is tongue-lashed by the Darling Bud. Storm clouds over Chilcot as The Legacy  denies trying to delay the Iraq War report and  Cold War clouds over Eastern Ukraine as Putin engages in brinkmanship while that country elects a new President.  Jobs are lost in Thanet as in an act of corporate vandalism Manston`s historic wartime airfield is closed with an offer of the full asking price on the table. Convict Clifford gets some unwanted self-publicity and a lengthy stretch inside. The knives are out for Clegg. Or Cable. Or both. It`s back to the future with Comrade Milipede the Class Warrior. The far right is on the march in Europe and in Britain the bragging rights go, at least for the moment, to Mr. Farridge. 

The United Kingdom Independence Party would appear, Mayor Boris-like, to be Teflon coated. At the beginning of the month, and faced with a by-election in Newark precipitated by the resignation of a disgraced Tory Patrick Mercer, Farridge is presented with the opportunity to stand for the Westminster parliament. He bottles it and leaves it to another re-cycled Conservative, the MEP with the WW2 moustache, Mr. Helmer, to make the running.  This is a poisoned chalice. If he loses he loses and if Mr. Helmer wins then he has to surrender his newly refreshed European mandate, with all its perks, to pick up a Westminster MP`s  mailbag.  There are those who are unkind enough, and I am afraid that I am one of them, to suggest that the last thing that Mr. Farridge actually would welcome is a personal Westminster win.  That famous former MEP and Green Party Leader, Caroline Lucas, was a nine-day wonder and media darling when she first arrived in the House of Commons but now hoes a rather lonely row on the Opposition benches. To have to surrender an MEP`s salary and pension rights together with expense allowances that are, to say the least, both generous and largely unaccounted for, in order to become a minnow in a very big pond is not every self-publicist`s  idea of advancement.  Add to that the minutiae of constituency casework, of which most MEP`s do not begin to know the meaning, and the job suddenly becomes not a little unattractive!  My own guess is that the Farridge will choose a seat that he can shine in briefly (possibly even my own North Thanet location), damage the Conservative vote sufficiently to deliver a Europhile socialist MP, lose and poddle off back to the Brussels that he claims to loathe but that provides a comfortable billet and the odd glass of claret as an alternative to the ever-full and much-photographed pint of bitter. 

It does seem, though, that for the moment nothing can derail the Kippers` bandwagon. A succession of embarrassingly , sexist and homophobic tweets and Facebook posturing have left the shorelines of Albion littered with the wreckage of embryonic ships of political state and the Farridge has had a busy time disowning those who have caused the chaos around him through the deployment of loud mouths and minds largely untroubled by thought.  No matter. The wagon rolls on. UKIP`s British-born Indian poster-girl, Sanya-Jeet Thandi, quits the party that she now feels is racist, Farridge himself proclaims, in a car-crash interview, that he would feel uncomfortable living next door to a Romanian, and even the allegation that the anti-migrant party has employed those self-same migrants to deliver party leaflets seems to wash over the heads of an electorate that is determined to give the government of the day a “right good kicking” and will use this new home for disgruntled votes as the vehicle for so doing.  In the British sector of the European elections the Braying Mantis takes the laurels, while elsewhere the far right dominates. Beppo Grillo`s Italian Five-Star Party proves that clowns can win elections, Germany`s Alternatif fur Deutschland , and the Greeks` Golden Dawn fare well. The Danish Peoples` Party scores over Social Democrats led by Neil Kinnochio`s daughter-in-law and as Marine le Pen`s Front National sweeps like wildfire across France in response to Mr. Holland`s inadequacies the latter`s Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, describes the outcome as “a grave moment for France and Europe.   One casualty of this carnage is the British National Party`s sitting MEP, Nick Griffin, who learns the hard way that UKIP is sufficiently far to the right to offer a comfortable home to his own erstwhile supporters leaving him without his traditional vote.  All of this leads to a degree of hubris in the Lounge Bar of the Swine and Klaxon. Ex-Dulwich College alumni Mr. Farridge, who is not quite as Common Touch as his spin doctors and the bourgeois women`s tabloid would have us believe, proclaims that “British politics has changed for good”.   Whether that means “for the better” or “for ever” is open to question but those with long memories will recall one Dr. Owen, of an outfit called the SDP, saying something not dissimilar about thirty years ago. The laurels are on the victor`s head but whether they will take root or whether the wreath will wither only time will tell. 

The fallout from The Eurovision Poll Contest has left Man David describing the Union as “too big and bossy” which is a paraphrase of what some of us have been saying for rather a long time, while the Leader of the junior partner in the UK`s coalition government, St. Nicholas of Clogg, is reported to be “gutted” that his party`s representation in the European parliament has been reduced to a solitary one.  This led St. Vincent of Cable, distancing himself from the unfortunate results as a Trade Secretary visiting the Far East, to mount a not-the-leadership challenge. In any less civilised country Cable would, by now, be swinging from a gibbet with the raven`s pecking at his eyes but sorrow, rather than anger, is Clogg`s way of doing things. Using his personal media platform on the London Broadcasting Company (not to be confused with the higher, mightier and much more profligate Salford Corporation)  he takes a stoically British “oh well, never mind” approach in the finest traditions of what ought to be our national motto. The real fall-guy was one Lord Oakeshott who, having funded some “helpful” research in the constituencies currently if not for much longer represented by Mr. Clogg and Mr. Cable, (without, of course, Mr. Cable`s knowledge) and having then seen the damaging results of this research mysteriously leaked to the press, found himself cut adrift by an ungrateful Mr. Cable and resigned from the Liberal Democrat party. The results were so bad that there is now a clamour within the Liberal family to rehabilitate that election wizard, “Take a pair of wandering hands.....”,  Lord Rennard in a desperate attempt to restore electoral fortunes before the LD parliamentary party is decimated. One out, one in, I suppose. 

As a footnote to all of the above I notice that the wealthy Mike Nattrass has rained on Bruvver Nige`s parade.  Mr. Farridge is not best pleased because Mr. Nattrass funded sixty candidates to run for his “Independence from Europe” party in the European Elections and stole votes that Nige believes belonged to him.  This, we are told, split the vote and cost UKippers a further two seats. A sense of irony is clearly not Mr. Farridge`s strongest suit. 

There has, of course, been another election taking place that, in the great scheme of things, may prove to be rather more important than those delivering fresh snouts in the eurotrough.  If you believe, as I do myself, that the rise of the New Soviet Union has potentially far-reaching consequences for us all then what has been happening, and continues to develop, in Ukraine matters a very great deal. During the first two weeks of May and faced with what he and his advisers regarded as feeble response from the West, Putin parked his tanks if not on the lawn then perilously close to the border Ukraine and Russia and Ukraine. The message from Kiev at that time was “Putin intends to wipe Ukraine off the map”. And with Ukraine gone, what price Georgia? Or Moldova? Or any one of a number of former Soviet Republics in the East and in the Balkans?

The prospect of having a few more expendable “poligarchs” proscribed by the USA or the EU must have scared the daylights out of The Kremlin. Nevertheless, it is just possible that international opprobrium – and in this context the Council of Europe was rather more effective than the European Union – and the threat posed to an ailing Russian economy by further  trade sanctions may have persuaded the Comrades to literally pull back from the brink.  I doubt that many were beguiled by Putin`s exhortation that the “referendum” to create the “In dependent Republic of Luhansk/Donetsk” should be scrapped and, of course, that secession-vote circus went ahead anyway as anticipated. 

In spite of dire predictions and prophesies of doom the real Presidential elections went ahead, with a list of candidates as long as your arm, in relative peace and calm. Visiting a still occupied “Maidan” was moving. The freedom-fighters have largely been replaced by the homeless who are living in a tented shanty-town surrounded by the inevitable car tyres and paving blocks lined up for use if required.  Alongside are the candles and flowers and photographs that make up the impromptu shrines in memory of those murdered by ex-President Yanukovitch`s Russian backed sniper teams. Shades of Wenceslas Square and Jan Palach. At some point the protesters will have to move on and that will cause problems and immediately after the result of the Presidential election and a decisive first-round victory for Petro Poroshenko was announced there were anticipated outbreaks of violence in Donetsk in the East.  At the time of writing Donetsk Airport, although re-taken from pro-Russian separatists by Ukrainian Government forces, is still closed but there is now little or no attempt to disguise the fact that the `rebel` forces are not Ukrainian at all but Russian `mercenaries` and `volunteers` who have come to help `liberate and protect` their brothers in Ukraine.  Now where have we heard that before? Hungary? Czechoslovakia? Perhaps. 

In Kiev there were elections for the President, for the Mayor of the City (Vitaly Klitchco, former heavyweight boxer and now heavyweight politician) and for the local council. That resulted in complete chaos as counting crawled on through election night and well into the dawn of Monday 26th May but by that dawn it was clear that about 60% of the population had voted and of that percentage about 55% had chosen the “Chocolate King of Ukraine” as their new Leader. The closest pretender, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko managed to secure only such a small slice of the vote that protest and cries of foul play were ludicrous. As elections go it was, as it turned out, about as exciting as a wet November Saturday on Scarborough seafront but it was worth being there. Unexciting is infinitely better than the civil war that some had feared and all that Mr. Poroshenko now has to do is build the peace. Restore calm to the East of his country. Secure his energy supplies. Rebuild the economy.  And then sort out the problem that is still Crimea. Not much to ask, really. 

Is it really just a year since the Home Secretary, Theresa May, was subjected to verbal assault and intimidation at the Police Federation`s annual conference?  Apparently so. “The Fed” has so lost its sense of pride and purpose, under some appalling leadership, that even those members of the force who came to see me to express very real and well-founded concerns at some of the reforms proposed by Tom Winsor cringed with embarrassment when reminded of the performance of their exalted representatives.   Prior to this year`s conference I was asked to record an interview to be shown in the hall and explaining why I believe, as I do, that the Constabulary need a strong and responsible Federation. As one who has, albeit briefly, held a warrant as a Special Constable (I am not, it seems, a natural “thief taker”) I have some understanding of the very real dangers that the boys and girls who patrol our streets face, on our behalf, on a daily basis. Rightly, they cannot withdraw their labour in support of even just industrial claims.  They therefore need a strong voice to speak for and to represent them and time was that The Fed was so well respected that it even had its own spokesman in Parliament. Recently, however, The Fed has allowed itself to appear as little more than a bunch of thugs and the esteem in which the public once held Mr.Plod has, as a result of a number of scandals and inadequacies and not least the “Plebgate” affair, fallen to an all-time low. The Fed needs, and hopefully will get, new brooms prepared to muck out the stables and restore the credibility of the Copper`s Voice. 

But back to the Bournemouth conference hall, where Mrs. May was in no mood to take prisoners. Recognition of “bad apples in the barrel” were, she said, “no more than platitudes. “. “Bad behaviour” was “a significant problem”.  The Fed. must change. Its bank account will be published and the Home Office will no longer pay the salaries of its full time officials. (That will hurt: some of us in Kent who turned up to see the Chief Constable present the Queen`s Jubilee medal to selected officers still recall that the Fed. Representative for our County was the only policeman who could not be bothered to put on his uniform when he sloped up to receive his gong. “You will either be a copper or you will be a trades` unionist, brother”). The Fed, said the Darling Bud, has to decide whether it is the authentic voice of the constabulary or a reactionary trade union. Irrelevance or reform. No choice.   What one senior member of her audience described as “unexpected severity” was this time received by two thousand  officers not with the applause that has greeted some populist Home Secretaries, nor with the boos at catcalls of yesteryear but in stunned silence.  It needed saying, and if Theresa May has helped the forces of light at the top of the Police Federation – and there are some good people coming forward – to instigate the necessary reforms and restore public confidence in the constabulary then she may have done the cause of the police force and of those that they seek to protect, a huge favour.


Governments are seldom popular and this one, which some of us have difficulty in explain is a coalition and not a Conservative administration, is no exception.  Notwithstanding the fact that George Osborne is, with good reason, the most popular Chancellor of the Exchequer since Geoffrey Howe in 1980 the fact of the matter is that in order to salvage what Blair and Brown bequeathed to the nation as an economy we have had to do some fairly beastly things and, as George never tires of telling us, there`s more where that came from.  That being so you would expect, would you not, that Her Majesty`s Opposition, and its Leader, Milipede the Younger, would be riding high.  Not so.  The team that failed to mend the roof while the economic sun was shining apparently cannot make hay either. The solution to our housing needs, The Milipede`s instincts tell him, is rent controls. The Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors swiftly points out that this is a tried and failed proposal that will reduce the supply of rentable accommodation, worsen the crisis and lead to urban decay and greater homelessness. Add to this “nanny state” proposals designed to control the lives of anyone who smokes or drinks or even eats and you begin to see why instead of being ahead in the polls by a country mile the Opposition is struggling to maintain any kind of a lead at all.  The glimmer of light, after a grim European election night, is Lord Ashcroft`s survey suggesting that Labour is ahead by a few percentage points in key marginal seats. Another indecisive election result, which UK Limited seriously does not need, is on the cards. 

In other news the “publicist to the stars” and kiss-and-tell salesman Mr. Clifford is convicted on many counts of sexual assault spanning equally many years. There may well be those who now fear further revelations from his prison cell but the eight years to which he was sentenced reveal the Court`s view of the seriousness of his offences.  Would it be uncharitable to say that he is now in precisely the place where he ought to be? Not surprisingly Mr. Clifford`s wife is now filing for divorce.  

The Salford Broadcasting Corporation has declined to publish details of so-called “fat cat meals” consumed by senior staff at the license fee payer`s expense on the grounds that management’s “dietary preferences are confidential”. Following a heart operation Lord (Chris) Patten announces that he is to quit his post as Chairman of the BBC`s Trustees, prompting speculation about his successor that includes Lord Coe of gold medal and 2012 Olympics fame. Seb might, though, prefer to take his chances and carry the torch as Olympic President rather that drink from the poisoned chalice that is Broadcasting House.  Sir Ernest Bevin may have told Lord Reith, in 1936, that he had “the biggest job since the creation” but is it a job that, today, anyone wants or is capable of doing? 

Not a good month for Auntie. Radio Devon, the Corporation`s much loved West Country outpost, has lost the services of 67-year old David Lowe who had the temerity to spin a recording made , when God was a boy, by Ambrose and his Orchestra. The original version of “The sun has hot his hat on” apparently contains words that are not acceptable in today`s climate and Mr. Lowe was invited to “fall on his sword”.  The presenter duly quit, the BBC realised belatedly that they had made asses of themselves and had handled the situation “terribly” and the traumatised Mr. Lowe decided to remain off-air. 

Pfizer, the American pharmaceutical giant that shut its Sandwich operation with the loss of thousands of jobs in East Kent some time ago, made a bid for the UK`s Astra Zenica. This sent shockwaves through the Government as the predator revealed that AZ might be broken up if acquired.  Calls in parliament for a block on the Pfizer bid as thousands more jobs in British science appear to be placed at risk. Select Committees and Number Ten become involved. Bid collapses.


While much of the rest of the world is ostracising Putin and avoiding the St. Petersburg Economic Forum Lord Foy of That Persuasion, the former Peter Mandelson, heads off to the Moscow Summit branded, by the popular press, as a “Kremlin Lackey”. No doubt he will, in Moscow and St. Petersburg, have had the opportunity some friendly Oligarchs.  On the other side of the Atlantic Prince Charles, visiting Canada, tells a refugee from the holocaust, now resident in Halifax, Nova Scotia,  that Putin`s actions in Crimea were akin to those pursued in Nazi Germany.  This prompts Vladimir to accuse HRH of “unroyal behaviour” and that “it is not what monarchs do”. Setting aside the fact that HRH is not yet a monarch I am not entirely certain that Vlad, as a beneficiary of the inheritance  of those who exterminated the Czar and his family, is best placed to comment on the finer points of royal etiquette. “We were guided by the interests of the Russian people” is not a very modern excuse for marching in and annexing part of another sovereign state and while Putin may have a point when he says that sanctions are “counter-productive” or at least ineffectual, his assertion that “isolation is impossible” may yet be put to the test. 

On safer soil Her Maj visited the Chelsea Flower show and seemed to enjoy the exhibition, created by the City of Birmingham Parks Department, created in tribute to the trenches of World War 1.  It looks as though the Duke of Cambridge may be putting his skills as a search-and-rescue helicopter flier to good use again if, as reported, he takes to the skies as a volunteer air ambulance pilot. And many of the Royal family will be on duty to recognise the anniversary of the D-Day landings. Her Maj, in Paris for a dinner, will no doubt be as intrigued (discreetly) as anyone else to see which of the women in his life Mr. Holland chooses as his consort. She is also scheduled to participate in `un bain de foule` which is a Gallic version of a `walkabout`. 


Ballswatch 

Five people fainted at the opening of Shakespeare`s Titus Andronicus at the Globe Theatre in London. The scenes of rape, mutilation and murder are particularly graphic and a theatre spokesman is quoted as saying “Will did not pull his punches – not one for the squeamish.”! 

Lord Baden Powell may or may not be pleased to know that fifty percent of the members of the Boy Scouting movement that he founded are now girls. With 550 thousand participants they still trail behind the Girl Guides, however, who have 553 thousand enrolled members. 

Cheshire West and Chester District Council have used the full force of the Highways Act to restrain the activities of a Northwich couple. The husband-and-wife team have, for fifteen years, been planting the verge outside their house with flowers to prevent parking on the grass. They are now charged with “damaging the highways” and ordered the offending blooms. Good to know that the spirit of the Chelsea Flower show is blossoming in Cheshire. 

And East Devon Council has fined a 68-year old pensioner £80 for feeding pigeons in Sidmouth.   The gulls, you see, eat pigeon food. When I played at the Manor Pavilion in Sidmouth in the 1960s the Herring Gulls used to raid the dustbins and feed on discarded chips but their habits have clearly changed in the intervening years. 

Across in East Anglia Ipswich Borough Council has ruled that employees must `disclose personal relationships between staff, including short-term trysts”. Does nookie under the Christmas Tree at the office party constitute a “tryst”? In Ipswich, probably yes. 

No trysts, one trusts, at Ashford Borough Council`s team-building day out for traffic wardens.  Ashford has just spent £1260 on the outing to the zoo where, one assumes, the Wardens learned of behavioural characteristics displayed by irate and ticketed motorists. They enjoyed lunch and “mucking out” and this clearly team-builds on the success of an earlier 2011 adventure when ten of Ashford`s housing officers were treated to a visit to “Go Ape”.


North of the Border, Edinburgh`s trams are on track at last. Five years late, three hundred million pounds over budget and going nowhere, save for the 8.7 miles between York Place and the airport, the project must be vying with the Scottish Parliament Building as a monument to civic extravagance.  Remind me. How much would England save in subsidy were Scotland to vote “yes” in the referendum.  As a good Unionist I could not encourage it but the thought did cross my mind. 

Traffic lights are to stay on red for longer. The setting was fixed in the 1950`s when acceleration was slower and people were younger. The permitted crossing time used to be fixed at a walking pace of 1.2 metres per second but with 7.5 million pensioners staggering across the roads at a mere 0.5 mps. A safe crossing takes much longer.  Another excuse for road rage. 

The European Court of Justice has ruled that people can instruct Google to remove postings about them that they do not like. The `Internet Laundering` will only include lies but the `right to be forgotten` is now part of the Freedom of Speech landscape and all manner of dubious customers are queuing up to have their entries and past misdemeanours sanitized. The European Commissioner, Viviane Reding, describes this as “a victory for the protection of personal data”, a view that is curiously shared by The Old Knuckleduster, David Davis who thinks that it is “a sensible decision”. 

A driver on the London Underground has been suspended pending investigations for displaying a poster of Her Majesty The Queen. This, complainants say, creates a `hostile environment` and amounts to `bullying and harassment`. Yes. If you are a republican I suppose it might. 

The BBC has spent £29 million in three years on hotel rooms.  None of that comfort, though, bought success at the British Association of Film and Television Awards presentations this year. The Corporation picked up just four of 24 BAFTAs which included none for Entertainment, Comedy, Documentaries, Current Affairs News or Sport. A Beeb spokesman said “It was a very strong field”. 

Mr. Holland`s Train a Gros Visage has hit the buffers, almost literally. SNCF/TGV is spending £40.5 million rectifying a design fault. Their new trains are too wide for the one thousand three hundred stations that were built fifty years ago. That, milord, is what is known as a “faux pas”. 

Valete 

The presenter of the BBC`s Newsnight, Jeremy Paxman, will be leaving after 25 years having hosted the programme since 1989. He wants to “get more sleep”. 

Bob Hoskins, the film actor, has died at the age of 71. The star of The Long Good Friday and the 1995 film Nixon is less well remembered for his charming performance in Wind in the Willows. 

Reece Piddington, at the tender age of eleven, gave up his fight against Neuroblastma just down the road from here in Whitstable in Kent. Described as “a hobbit, a pirate and an all-round inspiration” he put his disease on the map and raised thousands of pounds in support of the relevant charity. 

Wimbledon and her thousands of friends and fans will miss Elena Baltacha. Born in Ukraine she reached the third round of the grass court tournament in 2000, was the UK Number One between 2009 and 2012 and in spite of her indefatigable battle against a terminal liver condition still ranked at 49 worldwide. 

The four crew of the yacht Cheeki Rafiki, returning from a regatta in Antigua, lost their keel and their lives when their boat turned turtle on the way home.  Those of us with young sailors in the family can only feel for theirs in the knowledge that, for all its sophistication, ocean sailing is still a hazardous game.


And Stephen Sutton, who at the age of 19 was discharged, briefly, from hospital before succumbing to the cancer that ended his life. His “bucket list” has become legendary and the cheery “thumbs up” that he offered to the world from his bed and which was repeated by the thousands that celebrated his funeral, helped him to raise well in excess of four million pounds for his charity, the Teenage Cancer Trust. A short life but a seriously merry one. 

And finally…………………….. 

“Waiting for Chilcot” may yet become the title of a play.  The Prime Minister has called for “an end to the excuses” and his patience is said to be “wearing thin” over the report into the inquiry relating to the Iraq war.  Mr “Legacy” Blair has said that he wants the report published so that he can defend his position, Andrew Murrison MP, who clearly has inside information, avers that `the report will not be very kind to Mr. Blair`. The “Blair-Bush” letters are said to be centre of the controversy and the prevarication and it now looks as though Blair`s Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, will have his way and “in the interests of protecting the privacy of communications between Heads of State” some of the most relevant material will be censored.  It may take time, but the truth will out.







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