Gale's View from Westminster - April 2014
April. Early birds get the joke on All Fools` Day. “It`s the economy, stupid”. The Tory Party “Does God”. George, Wills and Kate go Down Under. UKIP and the Culture Secretary on the rack and Max Clifford gets some unwelcome publicity in the dock. St. Michael of Gove and Mayor Boris at loggerheads, Trojan horses and murder in the Classroom and a brave young man does more than a bit for charity.
For those of us who rise earl, “Farming Today” kicked off a jokey start to the month with a splendid interview from Paignton Zoo featuring the marketing of surplus giraffe`s milk. Like all good spoofs it was believable until the listener remembered the date but the giraffe`s (genuine) keeper played along splendidly with the reporter and we are left to wonder how many Devonians dutifully trundled off to the local organic farm shop in search of an “expensive, of course, but very healthy” something to put on their cornflakes!
The Milipede clings ferociously to his Shadow Chancellor as what passes for Old Labour`s economic policy sinks beneath him. It is true, certainly, as those who live in the real world outside the Westminster Village are all too aware, that the British public have paid a considerable price for the profligacy of the Blair/Brown years and the avarice and incompetence of some banks. As a result, living standards as defined by disposable income against prices and taxes have fallen. This has persuaded the Milipede/Balls axis to concentrate on the “Cost Of Living Crisis” as not just the major but the only plank in Labour`s election platform. Trouble is that a tiresome economy, far from faltering, is moving steadily ahead and it is during this month that, for the first time in six years, salaries begin to move ahead of inflation. It will, of course, be some time before the true effect of the success of Chancellor George`s policies is felt in people`s pockets and he is right to urge continued caution and to point to the need for further and future spending cuts. Nevertheless, when an International Monetary Fund that was not so long ago criticising the Chancellor`s austerity points in the direction of the fastest growth in the developed world George Osborne has a right to allow himself a degree of the satisfaction that comes with being proved right against the odds. The cut in the top rate of tax from 50 to 45 pence in the pound has boosted revenue to the tune of £9 billion, lower fuel duty (it would have risen under Labour`s escalator) has boosted the economy and roughly fifty per cent of those facing Iain Duncan Smith`s capped benefits are now seeking work. Man David`s launch of the Coalition`s “Help to Work” programme suggests that, in line with the “Workfare” system that some of us have been calling for over decades, those on benefit will be required to do community work for their money or see benefits cut. What is slightly curious is the idea that the unemployed should also be required to visit the Jobcentre daily to explain what they have been doing to find work. If they spend all of their time visiting the Jobcentre the opportunity to go job hunting might be not a little curtailed!
With Big George on the up Little Prince George has been Down Under with the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, stealing his Mother`s limelight and causing grief amongst Australian Republicans as the monarchy`s poll ratings have hit the ceiling. The Duke`s brother, meanwhile, has had a bumpy ride with his girlfriend, Cressida Bonus, who has broken off their relationship, for the moment at least, because it seems that she cannot be an actress and a future Duchess. A space to be watched as those on the inside say that the couple will be back together before you can say “turn over”. (That`s a film instruction, by the way).Her Maj and Prince Philip have popped over to see Pope Francis and to present him with a useful bottle of Balmoral Scotch (“you can never have too many bottles of.........”) which probably slipped down rather better than the pair of white bootees presented to him earlier by Argentina`s Cristina Kirschner. The Pope himself, of course, has had a busy time canonising two of his predecessors in front of a million or so people, although whoever invited Robert Mugabe along for the show must have been stirred by an excess of Christian zeal. Her Maj. Herself must have been more than a little Christian to dine at Windsor Castle with and to shake the hand of one Mr. Martin McGuiness, formerly of the IRA.
Man David has been engaged in Christianity in a pretty big way that appears to have struck a chord with many who had been concerned by his liberal view of, for example, gay “marriage”. Writing for the Church Times in a pre-Easter message the Prime Minister has eschewed the Blair era`s “We don`t do God” and called upon Christians to be “confident in a Christian country”. This received a predictably sour response from humanists and atheists and The Secular Society, goads the Deputy Prime Minister to express the view that the church should be disestablished and the Queen`s role as the head of the Church of England ended. The attorney General, Dominic Grieve, himself a devout and practising Christian believes that “moderate Christians are afraid to speak out” in support of their faith, former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey says that marriage has been treated shamefully by politician and Lord Oystermouth, otherwise the lugubrious Dr Rowan Williams and Justin Welby`s immediate predecessor as Primate of All England, tells the Prime Minister that we are in fact living in a “post-Christian Country” and that “the days of widespread and regular worship are over”. Sitting awkwardly on the fence the Milipede avers that “I am a Jewish atheist. God does not exist but faith is part of who I am “. Opinion polls suggest that fifty six per cent of those questioned believe that Man David is right and that we remain a Christian country and my very favourite cartoonist, Matt of the Daily Telegraph sums it all up with the caption “A great sermon, vicar, but you should really leave God to the politicians”.
Not much Christian charity in the press treatment of the Secretary of State for Culture, Maria Miller, of the braying mantis and Leader of UKIP, Mr Farridge or of the “publicist to the stars”, Max Clifford. Mrs Miller, found wanting in her claims for parliamentary allowances, found herself in the court of public opinion following a thirty-second apology to the House of Commons which the Bourgeois Women’s` Tabloid, amongst others, considered derisory. With the Hacks Pack in full cry and baying for blood it was only ever going to be a question of time before Mrs. Miller was compelled to resign and it would have been less painful and more dignified had the emulated my friend Mark Harper, former Minister of State for Immigration and gone swiftly and cleanly. Long drawn out parliamentary departures always end in tears. Mark Harper will, I trust, return to high office in due course but I suspect that Mrs. Miller`s Ministerial days are over. Her role as Secretary of State has been taken by former Treasury Minister and rising political star Sajid Javid. At Southwark Crown Court a convicted sex offender, Mr. Clifford, showed contempt for the court and no remorse and has paid the price of his braggadocio with the receipt of an eight year gaol sentence. Even the supportive testimony of that ageing variety artiste Des O`Connor, who described Mr. Clifford as “a man of integrity and charm”, failed to help the groping publicist There will be few who will miss him during his time inside. And Mr. Farridge has had to swat away a series of PR disasters that would have completely derailed a major political party`s election campaign. Speaking at Chatham House (where the rules ban publicity unless, of course, you are a self-publicist) Mr. Farridge has indicated that he is “proud to be attracting votes” from a BNP a third of whose supporters are reported to have switched their allegiance to UKIP. In just one week UKIP`s European Election posters have been described as racist, a “UKIP voter” featured in campaign material turns out to be a paid assistant in the Farridge machine, a “jobless British builder” also featured is revealed to be a far-from-jobless Irish actor, and some of the party`s “BNP in blazers” council candidates have to be removed following overtly racist twitterings. At the months` end the Member of Parliament for Newark, Patrick Mercer, steps down following revelations about a “cash for services” sting and causes a by-election. Ordinarily an eager-t-get-to-Westminster Nigel Farridge might have been expected to throw his hat into the ring but a man whose own European expenses have been questioned and who employs his German wife while complaining of EU immigrants taking British jobs might just not be the ideal candidate. There has to be a question mark over whether Mr. Farridge actually wants to be an MP at all. As an MEP his presence in Brussels is rarely required, he has no constituents whose needs require attention, he receives a salary, a pension right and very generous and apparently unaudited allowances and is free to grandstand his way around the United Kingdom. It is no longer permissible to hold a dual mandate as both an MEP and a national MP. A Mr. Farridge MP would have to surrender his European job and would find, having been elected, that he would metamorphose from a large fish in a small birdbath into a small fish in a very big pond. It`s called “The Caroline Lucas effect” if you remember the Leader of the Green Party from her days before she was elected to parliament. Nige may enjoy doing damage in a Westminster election and might even deliver another Labour MP in an otherwise Tory seat but want to do the House of Commons job himself? I think not.
The spat between St. Michael of Gove and Mayor Boris spilled out into the open following what is reported to have been a well-lubricated private dinner party at which St. Michael was speaking. It appears that the guest speaker was less than complimentary about BoJo`s parliamentary and Prime Ministerial ambitions, prompting a caustic riposte from the Man Who Would Be King. St. Michael is, of course, carrying a standard for Chancellor George whose star is definitely in the ascendant. In the event of a Conservative defeat at the nest General Election or of a Government that cannot hold a referendum on membership of the European Union Man David has indicated that he would step aside. At present, however, there is no vacancy in the top job and Cameron has a distinct advantage: he is Prime Minister and looks and sounds like one. Mayor Boris is not and does not.
Aside from the Village gossip there is a more sinister matter occupying the Education Secretary`s attention. The so-called “Trojan Horse” campaign to radicalise some twelve of Birmingham`s schools by securing the removal of key teaching staff and their replacement with Muslim Fundamentalist. This is sinister and it looks as though there is not only smoke but fire. The issue is serious enough to have prompted St. Michael to appoint the former head of counter-terrorism, Peter Clarke, to investigate the campaign that seems to be based at the city`s Park View Academy. This prompts West Midlands Chief Constable Chris Sims to describe the secretary of State`s action as “a desperately unfortunate appointment”. St. Michael, though, believes that Mr. Clarke`s forensic skills will equip him well to root out a problem if there is one. At the time of writing six of the schools alleged to be involved in the `plot` are in special measures.
The murder, at the month`s end, of a much-loved teacher, stabbed by a fifteen year old pupil in front of her class at Corpus Christi School in Leeds, has led to an outpouring of grief from students and teaching staff and for the inevitable knee-jerk “ban knives” response. In fact, knives are already banned and the prospect of screening every youth attending every school is simply not realistic. For family and colleagues this is a terrible and absolute tragedy but mercifully, in spite of rising violence against teachers, this kind of incident is rare. The teacher, who was regarded as a Mother-figure by many of her charges, sounds like the last person who would advocate an over-reaction that might insert a wedge between teachers and those taught.
In other news, while Sir Howard Davies continues to ignore the potential of Manston Airport in Kent London Heathrow is overtaken by Dubai as the world`s number-one hub airport. The legislation to enable the High Speed Two rail project to proceed passed through further stages with considerable opposition from a significant number of Conservatives including some senior Ministers. It is difficult to see how the Europe Minister, David Lidington, for example, will be able to remain in office unless the Government makes unlikely and major concessions. George Osborne described the HS2 project as “an engine for growth” but the Institute for Economic Affairs says that the figures are questionable. St. Nicholas of Clogg comes out in favour of onshore wind farms and takes flak from the Tory bit of the energy department for so doing while St. Vince of Cable faces unpleasant music as it becomes apparent that the sell-off of Royal Mail was underpriced and might have lost the taxpayer some £ 2.3 billion on a deal that is alleged to have benefitted some very close to Government. Following revelations of drug use the Domestic Goddess, Nigella Lawson, is banned from entering the United States. Interestingly, in the light of past experiences, Sir Mick Jagger, Sir Paul McCartney and Russell Brand face no such action. In France the Government resigns amid chaos following grim local election results. The General Secretary of the Police Federation, Ian Rennie, and the Fed`s Chairman, Steve Williams, both quit with public trust in the police shaken by `Plebgate` and other scandals. Mr. Holland hangs on as President as Marine Le Pen rides high in the polls in the run-up to the European Elections. The location of the missing Malaysian airways aircraft MH 570 remains an enigma although some pings from a possible black box briefly excite interest. Ukraine teeters on the brink of civil war as sabres rattle on both sides of what used to be the iron curtain divide. Very dangerous. And talking of `peacemaking`, which we almost were, The Legacy continues to play the `Waiting for Chilcot` game as the report into the start of the Iraq war looks like being kicked into the long grass until after the general election. The former Deputy Speaker of the House of Commons, Nigel Evans, is cleared of the charges of rape and sexual assault that he has faced prompting questions about the efficiency of the Crown Prosecution Service. Our parliamentary colleague describes his ordeal as “eleven months of hell”. Meanwhile calls for an independent inquiry into the “who knew what and when” about the alleged paedophile activities of the late Cyril Smith, sometime MP for Rochdale, fall on deaf ears but cause rifts and embarrassment within the Liberal democrat party. The Salford Broadcasting Corporation is accused of dumbing down the Henry Wood Promenade Concerts by including pop stars and theme tunes from Television series within its forthcoming programme. Jeremy Paxman uses a Guardian article to hit out at the smugness of the Corporation`s output and Auntie manages to accommodate sixty-five staff in a £279-a-night hotel to cover the Spring Lambing; even with a claimed 50% discount that`s still a hell of a lot of license fee payer`s boodle and a vast number of people to shoot a few lambs.
The man who helped to crash the economy and gave his name to this item has crashed the car. Shadow Chancellor Ed was driving in west Yorkshire when he did not notice that he had hit another vehicle. Election note: don`t give the keys back to the team that crashed the car.
How serious are we about trying to control immigration? Border guards have been told that they may no longer ask visitors how long they intend to stay in the United Kingdom.
Susanna Reid, poached from BBC Breakfast to host ITVs “Good Morning Britain” found herself sitting behind a table that concealed the legs that made her a star attraction on “Strictly Come Dancing”. “Like owning a Ferrari and keeping it in the garage” is how one observer so delicately put it.
Ed Milipede has hired Borat O`Bama`s election guru David Axelrod to help to propel him into Downing Street. Given Milipede the Younger`s concerns about energy prices this cannot, presumably, be the same David Axelrod that lobbied for the Illinois Power Company?
Britain is such a Christian country that a street preacher was arrested and held in custody for nineteen hours for quoting from the Bible. The words, taken from Revelations, upset two gay teenagers who felt that the words, which were presumably not supportive of homosexuality, were “insulting”.
And the St. Stephen`s Theological College has had its Passion Play banned by an official working for Oxford Council. An apology has been offered because the apparatchik “did not realise that it was a religious event” and thought that a passion play was an obscene sex show!
One in ten children do not know that we live on Planet Earth. (In our part of Britain we live on Planet Thanet so that comes as no great surprise).
Nine out of ten children know Mr. Tumble and Simon Cowell. Which means that one out of ten does not. Which by my miserable maths means that the same percentage does not know about planet Earth or Simon Cowell or Mr. Tumble. I wonder how much that stunning piece of research cost!
Sophie Vaughan was fined £100 and had three points placed on her license for drinking from a slush puppie in a not-moving car. It has now been suggested that “she was not wearing a seatbelt”. This will have nothing to do with the fact that following reports of the offence a police officer was photographed drinking while driving. Mr. Plod was not charged.
In Port Isaac AS Parking fined a Mercedes driver £100 for parking 8” over the demarcation line between bays. Most inconsiderate of the driver of course, particularly considering that the Car Park was just 5% full.
The Constabulary does have just cause to complain about holidays. The number of young police officers with families means that they cannot all take a break during school holidays. And, of course, if they take the kids away during term time they get fined.
Not so for a Primary School Headteacher in Wigston, Leicestershire, however. She is taking a whole month off for a post wedding holiday – during term time.
It has been revealed that Arthur Ransome, the author of the “Swallows and Amazons” series of children`s books, was regarded as a possible Russian spy during World War One. The information is released in files made available by MI5. Arthur Ransome was, in fact, working for MI6.
The Times Educational Supplement tells us that not content with inflicting classroom hamsters on parents for care during school holidays and at weekends (They live forever because nobody will admit to killing them. This results in a Monday morning rush to the pet shop to buy a replacement lookalike) schools are now sending Classroom Teddies home to have a weekend diary written about their “activities”. This madness has led to middle-class panic as parents try to outdo each other with fun “exploits” and is, of course, grossly unfair to working families. Teddies could, of course, reveal all sorts of things – like the one third of householders who, according to the Royal Horticultural Society, throw their snails over the garden wall into neighbouring properties while tending the flowerbeds at weekends.
It`s Deja Vu all over again. Euan (Son of The Legacy) Blair is seeking election to parliament in the Bootle seat currently occupied by my old friend Joe Benton who will be retiring in 2015. Stephen (Husband of the Danish Prime Minister and son of those good Europeans Glenys and Neil) Kinnock will be pitching for Aberavon and Will (Young Man of) Straw, Jack`s little boy, is to have a go at Rossendale and Darwen.
The sole surviving member of Mr. Holland`s first administration, the President himself, will be boosting his cash strapped economy by cutting the retirement age, reducing the working week to 35 hours and denying employers the right to make contact with staff after 6pm. Pure genius. His newly appointed Minister, one Segolene Royal, former Presidential candidate herself, has banned the display of cleavage by her staff. I do not wish to appear unchivalrous but reviewing some pictures of the Queen of France herself one has to assume that she does not welcome competition.
Dr Karl Polkolainen, formerly of the World Health Organisation, has said that it is okay to drink a ten unit bottle of wine a day as the drink only becomes harmful after 13 units of consumption. Julia Manning of 2020 Health says that this advice is “unhelpful”.
Mark Shand, brother of Camilla dies in a fall after a New York charity party. The fundraiser was a success up to that point.
Ann Maguire is the much-loved teacher who was murdered in her Leeds classroom. She leaves a widower, hundreds of grieving students and a huge legacy of achievement over many years of teaching behind her. The card on all of the newspaper front pages said “Simply the best”.
After ten years at the helm of Strictly Come Dancing the 86-year old Sir Bruce Forsyth is heading for the last waltz. Will he make “occasional appearances”? You bet he will! Literally a hard act to follow.