Roger and his views > Westminster June 2017
Gale's Westminster View - June 2017

June. Not a satirist`s month. A lethal fire, murder by terrorism, a mis-managed election and a bad start to Brexit, Osborne sulks from behind the boy-editor`s desk at the Evening Standard. Rumours of Leadership plots sweep through the Westminster village, Macron wins a landslide in France and immediately loses new Ministers to scandal. The State Opening of Parliament is delayed while the Queen`s Speech is re-written on goatskin parchment. Henry Blofeld announces his retirement from Test Match Special and in spite of Ben Ainslie`s heroic efforts with Landrover BAR the Kiwis sailed all other competitors out of the water to win the Americas` Cup. Never mind. At least The Tramp will not be paying a State Visit to Britain in the near future.

The Twin Towers collapse was the result of a terrorist attack. The Grenfell House fire was an Act of God with negligence as, possibly, a contributory factor. (Most might say “probably” but this is the subject of civil and criminal inquiry). There are, though, the horrific similarities of people being burned alive or hurling themselves to their deaths to avoid the flames while the whole scenarios were played out like some ghastly reality drama on live television streamed around the world. Modern communications have many benefits to offer but I am not certain that instant access to other peoples` intimate and individual tragedies is one of them and the media obsession with final phone calls made on mobile phones as human beings are about to gasp their last toxic breaths is grimly reminiscent of the final moments before a hijacked aircraft was piloted into the Pentagon. This, surely, is ambulance chasing at its most extreme.

We believe that the number of people who lost their lives in Grenfell House that midsummer`s night will probably reach at least three figures with many more injured and hundreds losing their homes and every last possession. I say `we believe` because there is and will probably never be an exact figure for the number resident and sleeping in that tower block. That an amnesty has been offered suggests that there may well have been those present without lawful right and as a result the total number of those who perished will possibly never be known. In the almost immediate aftermath of this tragic event there were those, appallingly picked up upon and supported by some politicians, shamelessly claiming that “The Government has issued a D-notice to cover up the number of dead” and at a demonstration at Kensington and Chelsea Town Hall banner-waving members of the Socialist Workers Party, mingling with genuine former and understandably traumatised residents of Grenfell House were calling for “the facts” within hours of the fire breaking out.

It is a grim reality that Grenfell House turned into a monstrous crematorium. The scale of this inferno dwarfed even the Piper Alpha oil rig fire and it will take months of painstaking forensic work and DNA testing to establish and identify the remains of those once living on the top floors while some may simply never be recovered or identified. Those emergency service personnel, the firemen, the policemen, the medics and other individuals who showed such tremendous and selfless courage and determination on the night have now been replaced by others who have the awful task of sifting through what is left and we owe them all a huge debt of respect and gratitude. The “facts” that were so immediately and inappropriately demanded by those seeking to exploit this tragedy will eventually emerge as the result of science and independent civil and criminal investigations and it behoves us all to reserve judgement until the findings of those investigations are, as they will be, made public.

In the interim, of course, the political blame-game and point scoring has commenced. It began almost immediately. The Prime Minister, alerted to the conflagration and having telephoned to courteously brief the Leader of the Opposition, swiftly visited the site, spoke to those in charge of the rescue and recovery operation and returned to Downing Street to instigate such action as was appropriate and practicable. It is a moot point whether those residents in shock and coming to terms with the loss of the lives of relatives, loved ones, friends and neighbours would have welcomed a meeting with Theresa May within the first two or three hours after the event but she was inevitably criticised for not `talking to the residents`. In contrast Mr. Corbyn arrived alongside a battery of television cameras and press photographers to be recorded `empathising` with the victims and hugging some of them. Red Jerry`s demands that “the empty homes of the rich” be seized to house those so recently made homeless had nothing, of course, to do with political opportunism. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who both in his current and previous incarnations has some responsibility for these matters, was swift the pass the buck and to criticise others. The Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer, Comrade Mc Donnell, has unwisely referred to `murder` in a manner that may prove damaging in court if criminal prosecutions are ever to be brought. The newly-elected Labour Member of Parliament for Kensington and Chelsea has been significantly reserved about the matter not least, perhaps, because she was a member of the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) that instigated the £10 million insulation and cosmetic cladding of the building thought to be one of the causes of the rapid spread of the blaze. The local authority, one of the wealthiest in the Country, clearly has not covered itself in glory. While no local council could properly be expected to anticipate and be prepared to re-house, in the locality and permanently, a couple of hundred families in short order it is already clear that contingency planning was inadequate and the response in the immediate aftermath was at best disjointed and at worst woefully inadequate. This has led to the resignations of, first, the Chief Executive and, subsequently, of the Leader and Deputy Leaders of Kensington and Chelsea. Mayor Khan`s demands that the local authority be put into Administration, though, smacks more of politics that of practical assistance and the departure of those oat the top of K&C will possibly in time be seen to be no more than tokenism and scapegoating.

The fire has, of course, led to understandable concerns about the safety of the residents of the many hundreds of re-furbished tower blocks up and down the land. While K&C were accused, initially, of cutting corners and of using sub-standard material to save costs it has emerged that very many other similar developments under the control of both Labour and Conservative local authorities have also been treated with similar and potentially inflammable materials. The cost of a complete overhaul of these and other public buildings such as hospitals is likely to run into many hundreds of millions of pounds. The obliteration, in the 1970s, of `slum terraces` of perfectly serviceable and modernisable cottages and their replacement with the `slums in the sky` of then-fashionable concrete tower blocks may be seen to have been one of the greatest social follies of the twentieth century. In the meantime the residents of Grenfell Tower are being re-homed and endeavouring to pick up the pieces of shattered lives, a retired Court of Appeal judge, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, has been appointed to lead the inquiry into Grenfell Tower in tandem with other and ongoing police investigations and the burned-out shell of the building itself stands over West London as a terrible monument to what will go down in history as a political and life-changing event.

While Grenfell House is still very raw there are those other families, relatives of those who died in the Hillsborough football crush, who have felt that they have `walked alone` for much of the past twenty-eight years since that disaster took place, The Hillsborough Inquiry has taken far too long, a lesson that will have been learned by those looking into Grenfell House, but finally six people, including the Match Day Police Commander, The South Yorkshire Chief Superintendent David Duckenfield and the Chief Constable Sir Norman Battison, will face charges. Closure may, for the Hillsborough families, at last be in sight.

How low can you get? I suppose nobody should be surprised that ticket touts sought to cash in on the planned Ariana Grande fundraising concert in aid of those injured and the relatives of those killed in the suicide bomb attack on her Manchester concert. While Ariana Grande herself was visiting survivors of the massacre in hospitals, on London`s Tower bridge other terrorists drove a van through crowds of innocent tourists before pursuing a murderous rampage through nearby Borough Market leaving a total of seven innocent people dead and many more taken injured to St. Thomas`s and the Evelina Children`s hospitals. Mr Corbyn , the man who has opposed `shoot to kill` policies and a supporter of terrorist organisations, sought to place the blame for this event at least in part upon `police cuts` but in fact armed police were on the scene and the three terrorists shot dead within minutes of the start of the attacks, Mrs May was right to say that in the past the United Kingdom has been `too tolerant of extremism`.

The Ariana Grande concert went ahead as planned, commencing with one minute`s silence for London`s victims, at Manchester`s famous Old Trafford cricket ground and an audience of fifty thousand, including many who were present when her earlier concert was bombed, heard Take That, Coldplay, The Black Eyed Peas, Robbie Williams, Miley Cyrus, Katy Perry, Liam Gallagher and, of course, Ariana Grande herself, perform. I belong to a different and geriatric generation of ageing rockers but it was a splendid celebration of what is good in the face of evil and the performance of a young lady called Natasha Rose-Smith and her friends from her local Manchester primary school, with Ariana singing along, will have moved many around the globe to tears.

The `tale of two cities` had left twenty-two people killed and sixty-four injured but it was not over. It was after the General Election, of which more later, that a right-wing extremist drove another vehicle into crowds leaving London`s Finsbury Park Mosque in Mr Corbyn`s own Islington constituency. This time one person was killed and another ten people were injured. The perpetrator was taken alive and might have been lynched but for an intervention that was little short of heroic by the Imam, Mohamed Mahmoud. Terrorism is not the prerogative of Islamists or the far left but while the hard right `celebrated` this attack and the militants call for a `day of rage` at least one assailant will face trial.

While London Mayor Khan`s response to Grenfell House plumbed some low depths his response to terrorism has been exemplary. With an eye, clearly, on the City`s vital tourist industry he advised Londoners, following the Bermondsey Market attack, to “stay calm and vigilant` reminding his fellow citizens that “we are the safest city in the world` which is not far short of accurate. This statement goaded The Tramp and Son of Tramp to hit the twittersphere and accuse Mayor Khan of political correctness with the assertion that “if we don`t get smart it will only get worse” “The Mayor of London is pathetic” said the Tramp prompting the aforesaid Mayor to call for the cancellation of The Tramp`s planned State Visit.

It has not been plain sailing for the Commander-in-Chief this month. His `America first, World last` announcement that he was going to abandon the climate change commitment and to renege on the Paris Agreement which was supported by 195 out of 197 of the Word`s nations has not gone down well. The decision, allegedly taken in the interests of the preservation of `2.7million American jobs` is probably largely responsible for the fact that in a recent poll of thirty-seven leading nations including Mexico, Canada, Germany and Spain The Tramp`s approval rating has fallen from 64% to 49%.
There was some thought that the White House might use Executive powers to prevent James Comey from giving evidence to a Senatorial Committee of Inquiry. In the event Comey appeared to describe the President of the United States, who still protests that he is the victim of a `witch hunt` as “a liar. Pure and simple”. Well, perhaps not quite so pure. The Tramp has been forced to concede that his suggestion that Comey “had better hope that there are no tapes of our (White House) conversations” was so much hot air and that “I did not make and do not have any such recordings”. Sounds rather like Slick Willie`s “I did not have sex with that woman” Monica Lewinsky assertion. What price the probability that there were recordings but that mindful of Tricky Dickie Nixon`s fate they have been consigned to the garbage can? President Vlad Putin has offered Comey asylum in Russia. It is not clear whether this was a joke or a genuine offer. Fearing hostility, the Presidential State visit to the United Kingdom has indeed been put on ice, which will no doubt have pleased Mayor Khan. He will, though, be meeting President Macron in Paris on Bastille Day en route to the G20 in Germany where Frau Merkel has the Paris Agreement and climate change firmly on the agenda. An assignation with Mme. Guillotine might be more comfortable for The Tramp who, as an aside, has been asked to remove counterfeit copies of a front cover of the Time Magazine edition for 1st March 2009 from his premises in Florida, Ireland and Scotland. There was no Time edition published on that date. Fake news? Surely not!

And then there was the general Election. Compared with other events this month it was not as bad as it might have been. A few political reputations perished and some sacred cows were slaughtered but at least nobody died. Contrary to an impression given throughout the European Union, overseas and to some extent at home while Mr. Corbyn won the campaign he did not win the election. His bag was half a century short of an overall majority and unlike The Tramp in the United States The Darling Bud and the Conservative Party won more seats than any other in the House of Commons and , by a couple of million, a clear majority of the popular vote. ( 42.4% and the highest since `Legacy` Blair`s landslide with 43.2% in 1997). Mrs May did not, though, achieve her desired aim and far from strengthening her hand with a clear mandate to negotiate Brexit we Conservatives, from a seventeen point poll lead, managed through some really hard work, to snatch defeat from the jaws of what should have been a clear victory and ended up with fewer seats than before and no overall majority. Why?

Theresa May is a devout, principled, able and courageous woman. She has emerged from a long spell in the Home Office, for some a political graveyard, with some successes and her reputation intact. She was a natural choice to lead the Conservative Party and to become Prime Minster following Cameron`s resignation and she started well. Her decision to go to the Country and to seek her own mandate was both brave and right. It was a U-turn, certainly, but it should have been in the national interest and she was able to secure more than the necessary two-thirds majority in the House of Commons to break free of the Fixed-Term Parliament Act and to call a general election. From there on she was, so far as I can see, badly advised and it all began to go wrong.

First, for a `snap` election the campaign was far too long. For a single-issue (Brexit) platform it should have been short, sharp and to the point. Second, and unlike the Leader of the Opposition who was brought up on a diet of left-wing rabble-rousing tirades, Mrs. May is not an on-the-stump populist performer. That is simply not her style. Neither is it her natural instinct to blow her own trumpet and whoever persuaded her, probably against her own better judgement, to embark upon a “me,me,me” Presidential-style campaign ought to have his or her head on a spike outside Conservative Campaign Headquarters. Third, and the real turning point in the election, was the generation of a manifesto that appears to have been drawn up by some possibly brilliant but politically inept Downing Street insiders which was then published without Cabinet scrutiny and which chopped the legs from under most of us out on the doorsteps of the Country.

Let us be clear: the document contained some practical, sensible, necessary and brave proposals designed to confront very real issues that are still going to have to be addressed. If, though, you wish to go down that path then you have to stress-test your ideas widely and against reality and you then have to prepare the ground very thoroughly before releasing the fruits of your genius upon the electorate. You do not, please, ever spring unwelcome and ill thought-through surprises upon your party in the middle of an election campaign. I have, for example, long said that it is ridiculous that I, as a higher rate taxpayer, or Mick Jagger or Bernie Ecclestone who earn rather more than I do, should receive Winter Fuel Allowance. Much better to `means test` the benefit and use the money where it is really needed. Had we just said, therefore, that Higher Rate taxpayers would not receive the money then there might have been a few grumbles but people would have seen the logic of the proposal. We managed, instead, to give the impression that most people would lose this money and there are, frankly, no votes in taking away from the electorate a benefit that they already enjoy.

Similarly, we are going to have to deal with the funding of Social Care in retirement. Unfortunately we have allowed “saving for my old age” become “saving to leave my money to my grandchildren while expecting someone much younger and still working to pay higher taxes to fund my care in my dotage”! At present anyone with assets going into a residential or nursing home has to use those assets, including the sale of the family home during their lifetime if necessary, down to £23,000 to pay for their care. At the same time somebody receiving domiciliary care in their own home may make a contribution to costs but the value of the property is not taken into account. Where is the fairness in that? We cannot go on requiring a diminishing percentage of the working population, young people who want to save to buy their own first homes for example, to pay higher taxes to pay for us so that we can leave the entirety of our estates to our own children. There is no justice in that equation whatsoever and when I have had the opportunity to take fifteen minutes to explain the thrust of that to an elector they have generally accepted the argument. So we indicated that we would increase the bottom threshold, including for those in residential care, to a minimum of £100,000 guaranteeing that sum as a bequest. We failed, though, to present the case properly or to indicate that there would be a cap on the amount that any person, whether in residential or receiving domiciliary care, would be required to pay and as a result all hell broke loose and we managed to alienate a significant portion of the Conservative vote.

Finally, we failed to appreciate the importance of social media and the manner in which Momentum was using it to market the youth-friendly bribe of free University fees extending, even, to those currently on loan-funded courses. That, and what appears to have been some illegal dual voting (postal vote at home, vote in person on campus) almost certainly cost us seats in university towns like Canterbury.

So for some of us – and I warned HQ of the way that the wind was blowing a week before polling day – the exit poll at 10.00pm on the evening of Thursday June 8th was unwelcome but less of a shock than for others. People expecting the predicted `Tory landslide` when they went to bed woke up on the Friday morning woke up to find themselves with a Prime Minister with no overall majority and a hung parliament.

When you compare what the Conservatives were offering with the “garden tax”, “inheritance tax”, “higher rate income tax” and the other effects of Corbynomics there is no contest. Add to that other policies – the effective abandonment of the nuclear deterrent for example - and the election should have been a wipeout. Not for nothing did the Institute for Fiscal Studies say that Labour`s spending commitments did not add up and were those commitments to have been put in place the UK would once again in Carey Street in short order. Electors, though, tend to ask “What`s in it for me”? That is human nature. So if you promise students and doctors and nurses and teachers and the fire brigade and the police and the armed forces and local government and just about any other special-interest group that you can think of more money then they are likely to look not at the totality of the bill but at their little slice of this non-existent cake. Mr Corbyn would have needed not only the mythical money tree at the bottom of his garden but a goose laying daily golden eggs to pay his bills or, as is the reality, it would be not just or even `the rich` but those on relatively modest incomes that would end up paying much higher taxes. We, though, managed to give Mr. Corbyn a “Get out of Gaol” card by shooting ourselves in both feet.

In addition to too many Conservative colleagues who lost their seats there were other casualties of the election. Nick Clegg, former Leader of the Liberal Democrats, is no longer a Member of the House of Commons. Tim Farron has resigned as Leader of the LDs following a conflict between his personal faith and party policy and Mr. Paul Nutt-All, having failed to win his own seat or any others for UKIP, has resigned as the leader of a party that no longer appears to have any political relevance. Jo Swinson was tipped to be the new leader of the Liberal Democrats but has ruled herself out of the running paving the way for the coronation of St. Vincent of Cable as the reincarnated Member of Parliament for Twickenham.

It is widely agreed that the real winner to emerge from the wreckage of the 2017 general Election is Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland, who gave Nicola Sturgeon`s SNP a bloody nose and seized enough seats for the Tories north of The Border to enable the Prime Minister to form a Government and to continue in office. Without Ruth there would now be a Corbyn-led Momentum administration in Britain.

We are where we are. It will be hell but we have been here before under John Major`s non-existent majority and Jim Callaghan survived for a time between 1974 and 1979 without a majority as well. The deal has been struck with the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland and as has been pointed out the expenditure promised will benefit not the DUP but all of the people of the province. Theresa May has formed a Government with a working majority of about fourteen including the Unionists, we have had and survived two votes on the Queens Speech and we now have to get on with the business of running the Country. It will not be easy, particularly for those of us who have parliamentary business that takes us overseas. We shall be pinned down in Westminster when we may need to be away. There is, though, no appetite for the further General Election that would almost certainly be the inevitable consequence of a significant (Budget or No Confidence) Government defeat. Theresa May has addressed the Conservative Back Bench (1922) Committee with contrition, taken responsibility for the loss of the majority and has said, in terms “I got us into this mess and I will get us out of it”. She has also indicated that “ I will lead the Party for as long as you want me to”. Although there has been dark talk of challenges to the Prime Minister from within the Tory Party those that would like the job know that they might well not have the support of many members – myself included – if the Prime Minister is forced from office by her own kind. That, of course, would precipitate the very election that is not wanted and on that basis it will be hard but by no means impossible for the Prime Minister to see Britain through Brexit and run full term.

The State Opening of Parliament was delayed for the bizarre reason that the contents had, in the light of the election result, to be slimmed down and re-written to include only those issues that are likely to win sufficient support to get through the House. The speech itself has to be written in longhand and in ink and on goatskin parchment and the ink apparently takes the best part of a week to dry! In the event Her Maj. turned up not in jewels but in civvies before dashing off to Royal Ascot. The parliamentary programme will run for two years to take us through Brexit so there will be no speech or State Opening until 2019. Out from the Tory manifesto have gone the social care, winter fuel payment and the means-testing of free school meals proposals together with the ending of the now largely academic ` triple lock` on state pensions, proposals to increase the number of grammar schools and a fresh vote on the Hunting Act that only a lunatic would have included in the manifesto in the first place. In the programme is The Repeal Bill that will facilitate the implementation of Brexit and allow the transfer of nineteen thousand EU laws, initially, into British law. This measure was known as the `Great Repeal Bill` but the parliamentary draughtsmen have concluded that the use of the word `Great` is `argumentative` and therefore cannot be included in the title! There will also be a post-Brexit Trade and Customs Bill, an Immigration Bill to end free movement, a Fisheries Bill to impose quotas and restrict foreign fishing access to British waters, a Nuclear Safeguards Bill, transport, courts, armed forces, mental health, data protection and tenants` rights legislation “and other measures will be laid before you”.

In case anyone should begin to believe that Mr. Corbyn has, arising from his election `victory`, a firm grip on the Parliamentary Labour Party, on a Labour amendment to the Queen`s Speech tabled by Chuka Umunna forty-nine Labour MPs, including three front-bench spokesmen, voted against the “Party line” on a pro-Remain motion. For all of his blustering Corbyn`s position on Brexit remains desperately unclear.

It would be hard to make the case that our General Election has enhanced our chances of achieving a better Brexit deal. Of course, former Chancellor Osborne`s patriotic assertion that the Prime Minister is a “dead woman walking ” will not have helped any more than his undisguised glee as a television commentator on election night. I have a feeling that `Boy` George`s tenure as `editor` of a failing newspaper that has to be given away because, presumably, few would buy it might be rather shorter than that of the Prime Minister`s grasp on office but time will tell. Her meeting with the newly-elected French President Macron , leader of the Republique en Marche (REM) suggested an entente that was pretty cordiale which, for the one thousand three hundred and sixty three British ex-pats now applying for French citizenship ( a 254% increase since Brexit) might bode well. Proposals for reciprocal rights for EU citizens in Britain and British ex-pats living in the remaining 27 countries of the EU have not gone down as well as might have been expected however. Frau Merkel described Mrs. May`s offer as `a good start` but the President of the European Union, Donald Tusk said that `The Uk offer was below our expectations` Coming from a man that still believes that it is “not too late to reverse the referendum decision” that is scarcely surprising. Does nobody called Donald live in the real world? Dream on. Meanwhile the former Leader of Luxembourg County Council, Herr Druncker, tells the world that it is “incredible that the European Courts of Justice will not oversee European Citizens Rights”. No, Jean Claude, it is incredible that you should think that post-Brexit the EU will be allowed to arbitrate over any aspect of British law. So ” I think that went rather well really, don`t you”?!
On the ex-pat front I think that the pensions of those living in the EU will continue to be uprated (The issue of `frozen pensions` is a separate matter) and that a deal on healthcare will be struck but the future of `exportable benefits` is less certain and for the moment at least, because of parliamentary arithmetic, securing ex-pats` voting rights is going to be an uphill task.

In other news Britain`s largest ever warship, the sixty five thousand ton aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth has sailed from Rosyth to start her sea trials shadowed, inevitably, by the Russians who have described the vessel enviously as “a floating target”. Prince Harry has rocked the Royal Barge by declaring in an interview that nobody really wants to be King or Queen but he adds that even though he `wanted to quit` he will loyally carry on with his royal duties `for the Queen`.

Hinckley point has again been described as an out-of-date white elephant and EDF are bracing themselves for a three billion euro cost overrun because the project is behind schedule. At the Glastonbury festival labour stalwarts Tom Watson, Ed Balls and, of course Red Jerry received a rapturous welcome and much publicity from the Salford Broadcasting Corporation who turned the event into a prolonged party political. In the wings that `impartial` Channel Four journalist Jon Snow was overhead exclaiming “F**k the Tories”. Time to melt, Mr. Snow. In the House of Commons Chamber, on the anniversary of her murder, a shield has been unveiled in memory of Jo Cox bearing the motto “More in Common” as a reminder that “we have more in common than that which divides us”.


Mr Speaker Bercow, re-elected as Speaker of the House of Commons, has responded to a hot under the collar Mr. Peter Bone, a Conservative backbencher, by opining that it is in order for Mr. Tom Brake, a Liberal Democrat Member of Parliament, not to wear a tie in the Chamber provided that he and other honourable Members wear “business-like attire”. The Speaker who decided that the Clerks of the House should no longer wear wigs might pause to reflect upon the implications of a determination that clearly depends upon the nature of the “business” of the Member!

Apart from the necktie (which does not feature at all) the list of greatest inventions now includes the wheel (3500 BC), the clock, penicillin, the refrigerator and the teabag. The latter was first produced in silk for use in a tea shop in 1908 and was introduced commercially in the 1920s.

Boys at the ISCA Academy in Exeter, Devon, have circumvented the requirement to wear long trousers even in hot weather – by wearing skirts. The wheeze was dreamed up by fifteen year old Ryan Lambeth and adopted by fifty of his fellow students. As it happens the plaid skirts, which are of course permitted as official school uniform, are indistinguishable from kilts and the school has intelligently agreed to permit a uniform pair of shorts for the next summer of the school year.

`Elf `n safety has hit at the very heart of freedom of speech. For one hundred and fifty years orators at Speaker`s Corner, off London`s Hyde Park, have used stepladders and soapboxes to raise themselves above the crowds – or sometimes just individuals – that they are addressing. The soapbox speechmakers have included Karl Marx, Engel, Gladstone (1872) Max Mosley, and between 1906 and 1914 a succession of Suffragettes. George Orwell spoke there during the Spanish civil war and a twenty-something Roger Gale harangued a crowd following the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1966. Now, following `concerns for public safety` Mr Plod has intervened. An accommodation has, however, been reached and 2-step only ladders will be permitted which, provided that you do not start with the stature of a Ronnie Corbett, ought to be sufficient.

And at its annual conference the Doctors` Trade Union, the BMA, has accused the Government of engineering a crisis in the health service to pave the way for the privatisation of the NHS. Their contribution to the solution appears to be to give every child under five a free NHS toothbrush to help to teach them how to clean their teeth.


Nigel Foreman has gone to the great voting lobby in the sky at the age of seventy-four. He was the Member of Parliament for Carshalton in Surrey for twenty-one years.

He has been joined by John Taylor , a year older than Nigel, who was the Member for Solihull from 1983 to 2005. The Great Imbiber was a Government Whip and a Minister in the Department for Trade and Industry and the Lord Chancellor`s Department. He became known as “The Member of Parliament for Land Rover” when he took on Margaret Thatcher in 1986 over her plans for the car plant in his constituency. He won.

And Bill Walker (88), the Member of Parliament for Perth and East Perthshire, served for eighteen years before he lost his seat to one John Swinney in the 1997 wipeout. The Macdonnell of Glengarry tartan kilt-wearing former RAF gliding instructor opposed the disbanding of the Scottish regiments and was the Chairman of the Conservative EU reform group.

Ray Barraclough (81) was Alec Gilroy, the landlord of The Rovers Return in Coronation Street. The Actor, comedian and pianist began his career in Huddersfield repertory company.

Peter Sallis (96), once an RAF radio instructor, worked as an actor with Laurence Olivier, John Gielgud and Orson Welles. He became the voice of Wallace in Nick Park`s Wallace and Gromit, taking on the job as a favour and for a £50 fee which he gave to charity. He received his OBE in 2007.

Anita Pallenberg, who has died at seventy-three, was the original 1960`s `Rock Chick` and had liaisons with three of the five Rolling Stones. Her agency described her as “too beautiful to get out of bed”.

Helmut Kohl (87) was Germany`s longest serving post-war leader. The architect of a united Germany led his country from the dictatorship of the GDR to freedom.

Brian Cant, who was eighty-three, was with the BBC`s Playschool, for twenty-four years from 1964. His was the voice behind Trumpton and Camberwick Green and he was granted a BAFTA award following Jackanory for his services to Children`s Television in 2010

Countess Mountbatten of Burma, Colonel in Chief of Princess Patricia`s Canadian Light Infantry* and the Duke of Edinburgh`s first cousin has departed as has Gordon Wilson, famous for his assertion that “It`s Scotland`s oil”, who became leader of the SNP in 1979.

And at ninety one Michael Bond, the creator of Paddington Bear has published his last book. A BBC Cameraman who worked on live broadcasts of Dixon of Dock Green and This is Your Life, he published the first of eighty books “A Bear Called Paddington” in 1958. The last, fittingly entitled “Paddington`s Finest Hour” came out in April 2017.Michael Bond received the OBE in 1997 and the CBE in 2015.

And finally………

George “Johnny” Johnson, the last of the 617 Squadron “Dambusters” has received the MBE. He has dedicated it to all of those of Bomber Command who gave their lives during the Second Word War.

Twenty-four year old Captain Megan Couto of the 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia`s Canadian Light Infantry, has become the first women to command the Queen`s guard in the one hundred and eighty years of its existence.

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