Gale`s View from Westminster - December 2014
Who polices the policemen? Royal Mail on the rack but it is the private carriers who fail to deliver. Commuters head for fare increases while Railtrack heads for the buffers. The election campaigns have started – elections for Party Leaderships, that is. The Clunking Fist will quit the Commons in 2015 and Salmond is fishing for a seat back at Westminster. Jim Murphy takes over as Labour`s Leader in Scotland but his “honeymoon” looks more like the start of divorce proceedings. English Votes for English Laws? The Milipede will hear no EVEL. Farridge in a traffic jam over immigration as the “Not-The-Racist” UKIP party runs into local difficulties with its elected representatives. Labour MPs are instructed not to talk about immigration at all. In the Law Courts the Shiner comes off Public Interest Lawyers.
Britain has its first female Anglican Bishop, “Ras” Putin turns to drink to prop up his faltering position, Sony Pictures `gives in` to cyber-threats, pulls “The Interview” from distribution and falls foul of Borat O`Bama. The Kim Jong Un spoof film is subsequently reinstated and becomes an overnight box-office hit. Mass murder in Pakistan and a siege in Sydney herald a sombre New Year.
I am not certain of the exact political provenance of the creation of the elected Police and Crime Commissioners that replaced the County Police Authorities but whoever sought to claim credit for this “flagship” Government policy must by now be seeking to put some clear blue water between themselves and the idea. The trouble with political flagships is that they tend to get holed below the waterline and it looks as though the PCC policy is no exception to the rule. We are told that 23 out of 41 elected PCCs are in fact under police investigation themselves for `wrongdoing`. In Kent, Ms Anne Barnes, who was actually the (unelected) chairman of the Police Authority has, as our illustrious elected PCC, presided over not one but two chaotic appointments of “Youth Police and Crime Commissioners”. The first had to resign from this appointment founded on political tokenism following an unfortunate social media comment and the second was alleged to be “in a relationship” with an older and married County Councillor. Ms. Barnes then proceeded to expose herself to ridicule by television in a programme designed to self-promote her role in a screening that indicated that she was not entirely certain as to what that role was supposed to be. Having left me, at least, with the view that I would not allow her to take charge of a kindergarten nature walk she then found herself in a spot of bother over a potential motoring offence. Note to those drawing up the 2015 Conservative Election Manifesto: could we repeal the PCC legislation please?
Sir Richard Ottaway`s Foreign Affairs Select Committee is barred from visiting Hong Kong. Sir Richard, who is what is described in the tabloid press as a “Top Tory” or a “Grandee”, presides as Chairman over the high-powered body of men and women charged with the duty of scrutinising Foreign Affairs, wanted to visit the former colony to take evidence from the leaders of the province`s protest movement but was told that his team are “unwelcome” which is F&CO speak for “mind your own business”. Sir Richard is not alone in his Far Eastern difficulties though. The Sony Picture Corporation of America announced during December that it would not be releasing its spoof about the North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un, “The Interview” following threats of cyber attacks against distributors. US President Borat O`Bama was little short of scathing in his criticism of the might Sony empire, accusing the Corporation of caving in to blackmail. It`s not clear whether or not Borat`s declaration of a proportionate response to Boy Kim`s threats led directly or not to an internet blackout in North Korea but the timing was certainly highly coincidental if not. Either way “The Interview” is now being screened by a company appropriately named Alamo and in its first few days has become a box office smash hit as patriotic Americans flock to support their freedom to express themselves. There is, it seems, no such thing as bad publicity – unless you happened to be a paranoid North Korean dictator in which case you will no doubt by now have found a scapegoat to execute.
Talking of dictators, not a good month for “Ras” Putin, either. In riposte to Man David`s comparison with Adolf our friendly ex-KGB Colonel has announced that it is, in fact The West that is “behaving like Hitler” and has likened Crimea to “Our Temple Mount”. Moving seamlessly on from the Jerusalem simile, eighty-three year old Mr. Gorbachev, if you can remember the glorious days of glasnost, warns that “we may not survive” a new cold war between Borat O`Bama and Vladymyr and that the civilised world could be facing Armageddon. With sanctions biting the Russian currency hits an all-time low and the King Rats of the Oligarchy rush to shift their spoils from the sinking ship to safer havens in the form of property investments in, for example, London. On his home front the President of the Russian Federation and Occupied Crimea finds himself facing expensive medicines and a population confronting the reality that essential medical treatment is now beyond its grasp because of the slump in the value of the rouble. A Presidential order to cut vodka prices “because expensive vodka encourages bootlegging” is a thinly-veiled attempt to drown the sorrows caused by sanctions in alcohol but will not buy more than a moment of respite. Is this the end for Putin? Probably not. As a fresh round of sanctions is under consideration the cry goes out “don`t chain the bear”. Ukraine`s expressed wish, under its new parliament, to move towards joining NATO is seen, by Dimitry Medvedev, as another US-inspired provocation that “risks war”. “Beware the rat that is cornered”, certainly, but Europe and the United States will need to not only maintain but strengthen sanctions if the necessary and resolute message is to reach the Kremlin. In January 2015 The Council of Europe will choose to either lift or maintain its restriction upon Russian participation in its proceedings. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe is a little-understood and to some extent a symbolic platform but how its forty-seven member states vote may have an influence upon the advance of the neo-Soviet Union out of all proportion to its perceived importance. I will say again that it is not ISIS or Ebola that poses the greatest long-term threat to stability but Russia under its present leadership.
Not that all is joy and sweetness and light on the other side of The Pond either. The United States Senate Intelligence Committee has found that the CIA has been complicit in unauthorised, unorthodox and unacceptable methods of interrogation, otherwise known as `torture`. I am not sure just how surprised we are expected to be by this and it seems to me that security services are between a rock and a hard place. Tread softly softly and you risk another 9/11 with every bleeding heart in the land saying “why didn`t we know`? Do whatever is necessary to extract, fast, information from people who may have no information or who may even be the wrong and wholly innocent people and the world screams blue murder. It has to be the case that if we lower our standards to those observed – I use the word loosely – by the extremist fanatics of AQ, ISIS and the like then we place ourselves on a par with all that is evil. That said, I do not think that the intelligence `game` has ever been or ever can or will be played by the Queensbury Rules. What emerges from what many of us have either known or suspected for some time is the lengths to which the British Establishment has gone to ensure that the United Kingdom does not feature prominently or at all in the US Senate report. Between them the Admiral Lord West, “Legacy” Blair`s Security Minister between 2001 and 2007, The current Home Secretary, Theresa May and the Lord High Diplomat Sir Peter Westmacott have had 24 meetings with US counterparts in respect of protecting the interests of MI6 and all its works. The Milipede has for once been staunch in defence of big brother David, Foreign Secretary at the relevant time and then there is the question of how much The Legacy himself did or did not know. There are those with no love for the Milipede dynasty or Blair who believe that there should be a full judge-led inquiry into how far Britain was steeped in `extraordinary rendition` and torture either directly or carried out at the UK`s request or on our behalf. It is said that while Big Brother David was claiming efforts to secure the release of a Briton from Guantanamo Bay our then Foreign secretary, now employed to head up a major US Human Rights organisation, was in fact secretly negotiating to have the man handed over to the Saudis for, presumably, more “interrogation”. “Poor Jack” Straw, an earlier Blair Foreign Secretary, is on the record as saying that Britain has “never knowingly authorised or allowed rendition” but it is the word “knowingly” that gives cause for concern. Certainly Craig Murray, Deputy High Commissioner in Ghana when I first met him and subsequently Our Man in Uzbekistan, is in no doubt that we were up to our armpits in skulduggery. Mr. Murray is `colourful` to say the least but is, I can vouch from first-hand experience, no coward in the diplomatic stakes. When he sought to `blow the whistle` he was, he claims, smeared and fired from his Ambassadorial post. “The Nelson Touch” has its place in war but “something is rotten in the state” and at the risk of opening a can of stinking fish the swift publication of the Chilcot report, prior to the General Election and possible further equivocation and suppression, would be a good starting point. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has said that Blair must expose his hand in all of this and Fallon is right.
Michael Fallon is, possibly, the potential dark horse in a “future Leader of the Conservative Party” race. While it is probably true that most members of the Parliamentary Conservative party, including those who, like myself, have never been fully paid-up “Camaroons” and most members of the Party in the Country want to see Man David thrive, prosper and lead a majority Conservative Government after May 2015 it is inevitably the case that potential successors, with an eye on possible electoral failure, are jockeying for position. The Darling Bud of May is the current bookie`s favourite while it is said that the Friends of Chancellor George are using dark arts to de-stabilise the Home Secretary and her team. In this contest Mayor Boris, who fancies himself and his chances hugely, seems to be out on a limb that he is busily sawing away at but of course things can change. Timing is everything. After the election there will be a new team of MPs and new and rising stars may emerge, as Cameron himself did, to make today`s pretenders to the Tory throne seem like yesterday`s men and women. What should matter most to us is that we dump the luxury of infighting, bind together and present a united front against all challengers.
Tory pre-election woes pale into insignificance compared with some others. Suggestions of a Liberal Democrat wipeout are, I think, wide of the mark. While Nick Clegg himself might have to continue his parliamentary career from the House of Lords having lost his marginal Sheffield seat nobody should under-estimate the power of incumbency. The LibDems are nothing if not good at playing the local card and a diligent sitting Member ought to enjoy a useful electoral advantage. I shall be surprised if very many existing LibDem MPs lose their seats although several are vulnerable.
The Labour Party is in real trouble. It is possible that The Milipede may be bailed out by a UKIP vote that, while not delivering a single seat, could deprive the Conservatives of an overall majority but the promise of votes for 16-year olds if elected is unlikely to save his bacon and he has several devils on his back. The ever-helpful Peter Mandelson, now Lord Foy of That Persuasion, writing in Prospect magazine, avers that Labour will not win a majority. “Legacy” Blair, ever-wedded to the New Labour project, has hit out at “MPs who lack real-world experience” a breed that of course embraces Milipede Minor. While this is a little rich coming from a man who, while claiming that as a barrister he “learned about business and people” in fact spent about five minutes doing what he now calls “a real job, the criticism, emanating from a multi-millionaire who has certainly learned how to cash in on his former position as Prime Minister, is likely to stick. Blair has also stated publicly that The Milipede is too left-wing to win and has alienated business. With `friends` like that The Milipede does not really need enemies but he has plenty within his own parliamentary party and beyond.
After more than thirty years as the Member of Parliament for Kirkaldy in Fife the Clunking Fist, Gordon Brown, has announced that he will be standing down at the General Election. That means that his seat, rock-solid Labour under his tenure, is vulnerable to the Scottish Nationalist Party as are all but about three of Labour`s seats North of the Border with polls in Scotland at their current levels. Not surprisingly The Milipede, recognising that he may well be dependent upon Scottish MPs for a majority in the House of Commons, is opposed to the concept of `English Votes for English Laws`. `EVEL` is a by-product of the Scottish referendum and the wild promises made, without parliamentary consent, by Gordon Brown and all three major Party Leaders (Farridge was so unpopular that his word cut no ice at all in Scotland) to grant a Scotland within the Union greater powers. There are those of us who feel very strongly, and will vote accordingly, against giving another inch or another groat to Scotland without consecutive powers to England. The Milipede`s dilemma, therefore, is that with Alex Salmond, having relinquished the Leadership of the SNP and now seeking almost certain election back to Westminster, Salmond could, with control of a majority of Scottish seats in the House of Commons, find himself forming a coalition with Labour and as Deputy Prime Minister demanding more powers for Scotland than that country has ever dreamed of. If Farridge splits the Tory vote then that scenario is not a pipe-dream but a real nightmare-in-waiting.
Which brings us to the Populist-in-Chief, Mr. Farridge and his motley band of Tory turncoats and political mis-fits. It has not been a great month for the man that the opinion polls tell us is now not likely to win South Thanet but who may split the Conservative vote and deliver a Labour candidate whose claim to fame is that he was the youngest Town Mayor in the Country. Farridge is less than popular in Thanet, an area in which he has fought and failed to impress, while denying a Conservative majority, before. The Leader of the “Not-The-Racist” Party reportedly missed a drinks reception while stuck in a 25-mile an hour traffic crawl on the M4 (not headed for Thanet, you will note). Fuhrer Farridge is said to have blamed the traffic on “too many immigrants” presumably hinting that half of Hyderabad was now car-owning and clogging up a motorway built for his personal and British use. His skirmish on Question Time, more or less presided over by a Dimbleby and broadcast from Canterbury, was a fiasco. True, he shared a programme with the appalling Russell Brand but it was, one assumes, the self-publicist`s right to say “no” to the invitation. Those marking the contest say that Farridge came off marginally less worse than Brand but it was a close-run thing. Just across the Thames Estuary, in Basildon, Farridge found himself facing another foot-in-mouth moment when Kerry Smith, a Farridge placeman for the UKIP parliamentary candidacy of Basildon South, was recorded making references to “pooftahs and Chigwell peasants”. UKIP was apparently aware of the existence of this recording but was so eager to dump the former Tory MP Neil Hamilton, the subject of expenses claims allegations, that they turned a blind eye to the fact that the pin was out of the grenade.
Farridge must just love Thanet. Reeling from the Kerry Smith backlash he found himself having to deal with the “Not-The-Racist” Party`s elected local Councillor, Trevor Shonk who has made some fairly hair-raisingly unacceptable remarks and then came the case of Thanet District Councillor Rosanne Duncan representing a seat in Cliftonville in Farridge`s own South Thanet back yard. The programme has yet to be aired but a UKIP “minder”, clearly failing in the task that he had been set, felt compelled to report a “jaw-dropping” recorded interview with Ms Duncan, elected for UKIP in May 2013, of a kind that has led to her suspension from the party to which she, thank God, eloped from the Conservatives. And to cap the perfect end to a perfect year Farridge is at loggerheads with a group of Canterbury school students. The enterprising electronic wizards have devised a computer game involving one Nigel Fromage kicking migrants off the White Cliffs of Dover. The pseudo-genial pint-in-hand cigarette-smoking original is reported to have suffered a severe dose of sense of humour failure. One almost begins to feel sorry for Douglas Carswell, Britain`s “First Elected UKIP MP”. A strange man in many ways but not a racist. He must be tearing what remains of his thinning hair and wondering what kind of cowboy outfit he has joined. UKIP has, it claims, proscribed previous membership of The BNP, The English Defence League, Britain First, The British Freedom Party and UK First. Pretty soon it will have to include the N-T-R-P on that list as well!
In other news EU Green Fuel rules are threatening Cross-channel ferry services as fares are likely to rise by £50 per head per crossing to reflect the cost of low-emission fuel. That will have little effect on the scores of potential illegal immigrants now being housed in “Sangatte Mk. 3”, a 1500 bedded forty-thousand square foot former warehouse on the outskirts of Calais. The £3million EU backed centre is located conveniently close to the lorry parks! Frau Merkel continues to be committed to the “free movement of people” within the European Union. She would do well to examine the porous borders of the Schengen countries.
Ironically, with ferry fares due to rise, oil prices are currently at a five-year low and petrol is heading for less than £1 per litre. And with rail fares increasing as a gesture of seasonal goodwill Network Rail reduces Christmas holiday rail traffic to chaos in London by allowing “planned” rail works to over-run by getting on for 48 hours. The boss of Railtrack, Mark Carne, has graciously declined to take his £135 thousand bonus, which means that he will have to struggle by on his £675 thousand annual salary. Oftrack, or whatever the rail regulator is called, is cross and threatening to fine Network Rail “millions of pounds” which is completely fatuous because the company is nationally owned. That means that while Governments are allowing fares to rise to reduce taxpayer subsidy the taxpayer will pick up the tab for the fines. Brilliant! The only sympathy I have with Mr. Carne arises from an absurd TV interview conducted by somebody called Murnaghan who accused him of not having faith in the railways because he travelled back from his own Christmas holiday in Cornwall by car. With a wife, children, dogs and luggage in tow only an idiotic Sky TV “personality” would attempt that kind of journey by train.
OFCOM has roughed up the highly-remunerated head of Royal Mail, Moya Greene, and determined that increased competition will not place the universal delivery commitment at risk. That may be so but the many local collections from boxes now timed at 9am make a mockery of any pretence of a 24-hour First Class service. How can people working from home in villages receive mail and reply on a same-day basis if there is no collection until the following day? By e-mail, of course. Silly me. Kill off letters and concentrate on parcel profit. On which note Ms. Greene must have taken great satisfaction from seeing her rivals from Hermes, Yodel and CityLink struggling under the weight of pre-Christmas on-line shopping. Her schadenfreude will have been heightened when, on Christmas Day, CityLink`s employees learned that their company was being placed in the hands of receivers and that they were out of work.
The Navy is back. The Defence Secretary and the Foreign Secretary have announced that Type 45 Destroyers and our new Aircraft Carriers will be based East of Suez again for the first time in decades.
Malala Yousafzai, the schoolgirl nearly murdered in Pakistan by extremists and rehabilitated in the United Kingdom has become the youngest ever Nobel Peace Laureate. This is the same Malala that the EU “Ambassador” to the Council of Europe blocked from receiving the North/South Prize two years ago on the grounds that she had not given a lifetime`s service to human rights. Happily the Nobel committee understand that nearly giving your life is a pretty good qualification at the age of 14 and it should surprise nobody that Malala was one of the first to publicly condemn the murder of 148 schoolchildren and teachers by the Taliban in Peshawar.
Defence Secretary Michael Fallon has demanded an apology from lawyer Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers and from Leigh Day following the collapse of cases against British Service personnel. The Lawyers are said to have made a £3million killing in fees paid in pursuit of dubious “human rights” cases. How about donating the money to charities supporting disabled ex-servicemen? Not a hope. Greed before integrity, clearly.
On a more Christian note the Country`s first Anglican Bishop, The Right. Reverend Libby Lane, has been appointed to the See of Stockport. The saxophone playing vicar`s wife is described by The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, as leading “a Christ-centred life with calmness and a clear determination to serve the church”. Amen to that.
And at the year`s end a Virgin 747 returned to Gatwick to make an emergency landing following the realisation that the aircraft`s wheels had jammed in the stowage compartment. After hours of circling and the dumping of fuel a self-effacing “just doing my job” pilot brought his cargo safely down. A happy ending but Gatwick was brought, unnecessarily, to a standstill. There is a perfectly good runway at Manston`s former RAF station and, until it was shut last May by Ms. Ann “Stagecoach” Gloag, civilian airport. We need a major diversion field in the South East and we should not allow our structural heritage to be sacrificed on the altar of commercial greed. A point that I hope will not be lost on the Transport Select Committee when they take evidence on this subject early in the New Year.
New Labour`s former Health Secretary , Andy Burnham, has said that the probe into the Mid-Staffs hospital scandal was “a mistake” and that it would be better if the Francis Report had not been published. Better for whom, Mr. Burnham? As the present state of the Health Service indicates we have yet to recover from the decline that the last Government bequeathed to the country.
In spite of the ruling of the ECHR there will be no law passed, says the Justice Secretary, in time to allow the inmates of British prisons to vote in the 2015 General Election. If the right Government is formed there will then be a repeal of the Human Rights Act and a British Bill of Rights that will over-ride the ECHR ruling.
A Labour Government, says The Milipede, will campaign to protect Christians in trouble spots. The Milipede is presumably thinking of places like Syria and Iraq and Egypt but what about those here at home who feel threatened by the “rights” of minorities to insist upon access to faith institutions such as marriage?
In a seasonal post-prandial piece of gratuitous Christmas information it has emerged that Britain is the second fattest country in Europe. Top of the obesity steaks (sic) is Hungary.
An unkind reception for the Blair family Christmas card prompting one recipient of the image of the grimacing couple to observe that “the teeth seem to follow you around the room”.
Three out of every 100 one-pound coins in circulation are, apparently, fake. The replacement version, based upon the old 3d. bit design, will be harder to replicate although no doubt diligent forgers will be hard at work on the project. The cost of the switch-over, measured in vending and self-service machines and parking meters, is likely to exceed £50 million.
Human Rights lawyers in Brussels have determined, following a case against the Dutch Government, that it is unlawful for a Member State to require claimants to prove their sexuality when seeking asylum on the grounds that they are subject to persecution because they are gay. Quite how such proof would have been established anyway does not, perhaps, bear too much consideration.
Departing President of the EU, Herman Van Rumpy-Pumpy, will continue to receive 55% of his basic pay until 2017 to “ease the ex-President back into life outside the EU”. Is that what is meant by “quantitative easing”? Anyway, it adds up to about £600,000 for doing nothing. So what`s new?
It emerges that 11 BBC “executives” still take home twice the pay of the Prime Minister while a further 80 trouser more than the PM of the United Kingdom. Nice “work” if you can get it.
In a sad sign of the times it has become necessary to ban members of school Combined Cadet forces from wearing their uniforms in public. This follows and attack with a flame-thrower upon a young uniformed cadet who was selling poppies for the Royal British Legion.
About 50% of local authorities are reported to have airbrushed religion out of Christmas opting for “All the Best for the Festive Season” or somesuch as a greeting on cards. Some school plays now reflect `Winter Celebrations` rather than the nativity of Christ.
And the burning question to which, of course, we all need an answer is “did Margate artist Tracey Emin actually sleep in her “My Bed” installation”? The work was first purchased at auction by in 2000 by Charles Saatchi who paid £150 K for the item and it last changed hands for £2.5 million. That`s a lot of money for some crumpled sheets that Ms. Emin did not sleep in and quite a lot even if she did!
At the age of 85 Jeremy Thorpe, once leader of the Liberal Party who ended his political career mired in the Norman Scott affair, has gone to the great voting lobby in the sky. As a mark of respect and affection his funeral was attended by every living leader and former leader of the Liberals and Liberal Democrats.
Mandy Rice Davies, star of Number One Court at the Old Bailey alongside Christine Keeler, good-time girl made good and immortalised by the phrase “he would (say that) wouldn`t he “ has headed onward if not necessarily upward.
John Freeman reached the grand old age of 99 before he was out. A Member of Parliament for Watford in 1945, he was the last survivor of that post-war administration before becoming a diplomat and television interviewer. Those who remember small-screen black-and-white TV will expect that he is now Face to Face with his maker.
RADA-trained Billie Whitelaw will be long remembered for starring appearances in The Omen and The Krays and much loved and missed by her many professional friends and admirers, as will Jeremy Lloyd who has written his last script aged 84. The creator of `Allo `Allo and `Are You Being Served` is one of few who made it to Hollywood via the route that our Colonial cousins regard as humour.
Sheffield-born Joe Cocker, who those with a mis-spent youth will remember from the heady days of the Woodstock Festival, has departed prematurely at the age of 70. His cover version of “With A Little Help from My Friends” was recognised by some of The Beatles as being an improvement on their own original.
The name Graham Richards is not widely known outside a select circle but, having died suddenly over Christmas, he will be hugely missed by the ex-pat community for whose rights he fought so bravely and so hard. The cause may have lost a champion but his work will be continued.
The ever-prescient Old Windy`s Almanack predicts that there will be a General Election in May 2015 but is not placing bets upon the outcome although another hung, and possibly brief, parliament is on the cards. If you are bored with it already take time out and spend the year celebrating the centenary of the signing, by King John, of Magna Carta in 1215 , or that of The Battle of Agincourt in 1415 or of Wellington`s victory at Waterloo in 1815. For those requiring a reason to throw a party 2015 should be a good vintage. For the rest, have a healthy and a happy New Year.