Westminster View - August 2017
“There is no chaos in the White House”. Official. The World hovers on the brink of Armageddon as Kim `The Young Un` whacks an ICBM across Japan and the Commander-in-Chief says that “all options are open.” There is no chaos in the White House. Red Jerry cannot bring himself to condemn the regime in Venezuela, in France President Macrobe`s poll ratings are in freefall although The Tramp would enjoy his 40% level of support. There is no chaos in The White House. UKIP threatens to re-invent itself. Again. Jacob Rees-Bandmoggan supports a cut in stamp duty on house sales. After the press and many others have called for a cut in stamp duty on house sales. A flood of biblical proportions hits Houston as Storm Harvey, downgraded from hurricane status, dumps the Gulf of Mexico on Texas. The Trumpette dresses in `disaster chic` to visit the waterlogged city with her husband but there is no chaos in The White House. Britain does mawkish re-grief and flowers are once again laid at the gates of Kensington Palace to mark the twentieth anniversary of the car crash in which Princess Diana died. A chemical haze rolls across La Manche to hit sun seekers on the Sussex coast, Barcelona and Finland are this month`s targets for terrorist murders by vehicle and by knife. The Leader of Scottish Labour, Ms Kezia Dugdale, denies that she has jumped before she is pushed by Comrade Corbyn as she resigns, Big Ben Bongs for the last time until the next time, The Darling Bud, emulating Harold Wilson when asked “what is going on?”, announces that “I am going on”. And there is no chaos in The White House.
The visitor from The Planet Zog, our intergalactic cousin of the Man on The Clapham Omnibus, might be forgiven for asking what does constitute `chaos in The White House`. Ten days after appointing `The Mooch` to his inner circle the man is sacked. His appointed Witch Finder General, Robert Mueller, summons a Grand Jury that may well lead, ultimately to the impeachment of The President of the United States of America. Hail to the Chief as he promises “fire and fury” in response to the Dictator of North Korea`s barrage of missile tests in the Pacific which will have been of great comfort to the six thousand US service personnel station at an airbase on the island of Guam and within easy-peasy reach of Kim Jong Un`s considerable and growing rocket-borne firepower. “Just think of the tourists” says the Commander-in-Chief in the fond belief that visitors will be queuing up to enjoy the prospects of being on the idyllic beaches of KJU`s Number One target. While Defence Chief Jim Mattis is busy warning KJU from the Pentagon the FBI are busy raiding the home of The Tramp`s former campaign chief, Paul Manafort. The President`s mouthpiece, Steve Bannon of Breitbart `Alt Right` website fame, is booted out of the tied cottage on Pennsylvania Avenue vowing that he can do more good, which probably means more harm, from the outside than from within. There will be more US troops sent to Afghanistan. Acting on military advice and in a reversal of yet another election pledge the Commander-in-Chief does not, it seems, was to go down in history as the man who lost the peace. He does, though, blame his Republican party in Congress for his Country`s economic crisis which should go down well with GOP candidates in the run-up to the next round of congressional elections and might give a broad hint of the reason why the Republican John Kasich is looking to mount a cross-party challenge to The Tramp in 2020 with a Democrat running-mate. The President`s business company was, we learn, negotiating to build a Trump Tower hotel in Moscow during 2015 and 2016 in the run-up to the presidential election which might be a further source of interest to Robert Mueller`s Grand Jury as they examine links between the Trump Machine and the Kremlin. In this context the launch of another North Korean ICBM, this time traversing Japan and described by The Tramp as “a tipping point” is almost a minor distraction. With “all options on the table” The Tramp and Melania, sporting designer trainers and a FOTUS (First Lady of the United States) baseball cap, visit the human tragedy that is unfolding in the capital of Texas, Houston. Only the “Princess Royal”, Ivanka, is missing from this endeavour to comfort grieving and homeless Texans. But there is no chaos in The White House.
The good news is that provided that the unhinged ruler of North Korea and the erratic President of the United States have not, between them, delivered the end of the World as we know it by the termination of this American administration, either through time or impeachment, the game may move on. There is still a very special transatlantic relationship, `there is more that unites us than divides us` and with a fair wind even the current erratic course of history may be seen as exactly that – a ripple in the sands of time.
Given the enormity of the significance of world affairs you might expect that there would be little room left for relative trivia within the political agenda. We have been, nevertheless, dealing with the media`s `silly season` and this represents a playground of opportunity for those dial-a-quote politicians still around to seize a headline or at least the odd column inch. The silencing of the Bongs of Big Ben have accordingly captured the futile imagination of those who might otherwise be sitting in a deserted press gallery making corn dollies of Honourable Members into whom they would like to stick pins. The background to this is that what used to be known as The Clock Tower and that was re-christened The Elizabeth Tower in honour of Her Majesty`s Jubilee, is, in company with the whole of the rest of the Palace of Westminster, in need of serious renovation. Because the work does not involve decanting Members of Parliament to Richmond House or The Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre or Solihull or some other place of exile and because the price tag is only a relatively few millions (£29m to be fairly precise) of the squillions that the taxpayer will be billed for if and when a decision is taken to do the big job, work will be starting on the edifice that tourists like to refer to as `Big Ben`. This task entails the scaffolding of the whole tower from ground to the very top. The process will, by completion of just the scaffolding, have taken half a year and involves piling in new foundations to support the temporary structure from which the renovation work will be carried out. Now that the preliminary stages of the work are complete thought has to be given to the hearing of those working on the project and their interests it is said that it is necessary to silence the main bell known around the world and historically (named after either a famous prize-fighter or the Clerk of Works who was responsible for the hanging of the bell – take your pick of the myths) as Big Ben.
A splendid gentleman who comes, at an early hour every Thursday morning, to wind the George V1 wall clock that hangs in my office and who also has responsibilities for the Elizabeth Tower clock, has told me of the plans and progress over many months. Others, denied my privileged source of information, waited until mid-August to wake up to the realisation that there would be a period of time during which Big Ben would fall silent. This ignorance has been maintained in spite of the fact that there has been a fairly public debate about what bell - an Oxford college was suggested I recall – or recording might be used by the BBC and others while Ben was resting. And so Shock! Horror! The fourteen-ton Great Bell that has hung and sounded for 157 years will cease to strike the midnight (or any other) hour. Well, more or less. The bell will sound at midnight on New Years` Eve and on remembrance Sunday but “MPs were not told” and that, of course, is a hanging offence. Worse still, the `Ayrton light` at the top of the Tower that shines when the house is sitting will be turned off, for the first time in the 70 years since it was extinguished during the blackout, as well. Mr. Ayrton, The First Commissioner of works who lighted his lamp in 1885 must be revolving in his mausoleum.
Step forward my old friend Stephen Pound who sits for somewhere in the Metropolis and has a great sense for both `London` and self-publicity although I am sure, knowing the gravitas of the man, that the latter never crossed his mind when he took up cudgels on behalf of Ben. It was, of course, a lost cause. Even with the support of Mr. James Gray who represents a shire seat in the West Country and who rode metaphorically and for all I know, given The Squire`s background, literally into the fray, the combined might of Town and Country could not deflect the Meister of `Elf `n Safety from his purpose. On 20th August (my birthday in the war year of `43 as it happens) a thousand bemused visitors from the Far East packed Parliament Square while in New Palace Yard a forlorn posse of those Members of Parliament who had not departed for Margate or The Maldives held a vigil as the last chimes of mid-day sounded.
The bell is tolling, though, for our membership of the European Union. The time has not yet arrived but the time will come when the centime will drop and M. Barnier and M. Druncker will realise that Great Britain is leaving their bureaucratic, meddlesome, spendthrift and corrupt club. It need not have been thus but it is becoming more clear since the referendum that people like myself who had hoped for reform from within were baying at the moon. This month`s revelation that the former leader of Luxembourg County Council, Herr Druncker, had run up a £24 thousand bill over two days for `air taxis` for a trip to Rome indicates very clearly why there are those – and the EU ` Foreign Affairs Minister`, Federica Mogherini, is another – who have very good reason not to want the EU accounts to be properly audited and signed off. In an article jointly penned by unlikely cabinet bedfellows “Spreadsheet Phil” Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, there is no prospect of Britain doing as some who, like former Chancellor `Boy` George Osborne, still have not understood the result of the referendum would wish and remaining in Europe by the back door. We are in the business of “re-shaping our economic destiny” to use the phrase coined by Hammond and Fox and any interim period of adjustment will be strictly time-limited. Yes, our departure from the EU will leave a sizeable hole in the EU budget but those like Barnier and Druncker who have become so very adept at squandering other people`s money are going to have to come to terms with the fact that the gravy train is heading for the buffers and that the UK has no intention of paying bills on demand and without a very clear account of what we are paying for and why those payments are justified under lawful agreements and contracts. Brexit Secretary David Davis has caused fury in Brussels by embarking upon a forensic line-by-line three-hour deconstruction of the Commission`s Brexit Bill but it is Barnier and Druncker, not Davis, who find themselves on the wrong foot. They may `play the man rather than the ball` and bluster like the bullies that they are but it is they, not Davis, who have failed to do their homework on the sums. This will be a culture shock for those unused to accountability but it is the real world in which they now live and their worst fears – that other nations are likely to follow suit – are probably soon to be realised. Denmark and Poland, for example, may not actually vote to leave the EU but the UK has shined a light into some very murky corners and they are certain to wish to ensure that the arrogance of Commission rectitude has had its` day.
Sir Keir Starmer, Labour`s `Mr. Europe`, has sought, during the recess, to re-position his party as the champion of continued membership of the single market and possibly of the customs union with all of the attached strings that so many of his party`s supporters voted to reject not only in the Referendum but, so they thought, in the General Election. The ever-opportunist Red Jerry Corbyn has u-turned and bought into Starmer`s line but there is surely a limit to the amount of duplicity to which an electorate may be subjected. Youthful Remainers who swallowed the “Free University Fees” bait only to learn after the election that the Labour MPs that they had multiple-voted to deliver in university cities were the representatives of “aspirations” and not promises are likely to be wary of yet another Corbyn volte-face.
That doughty former Olympian, Leave campaigner and South London Member of Parliament (Vauxhall) Kate Hoey has warned of a UKIP revival in some of Labour`s northern seats if her party sells the pass on Europe. Red Jerry`s plans to wreck the Brexit legislation in an attempt to bring down the Government and to realise his promise to be `in Downing Street by the Autumn` may well face a revolt from his own hitherto loyal grassroots supporters who voted to leave the European Union.
Europe is not Comrade Corbyn`s only headache. His historic support for the Venezuelan Solidarity Campaign has come back to haunt him as the people of one of the most oil-rich Countries in the World face literal starvation under the `radical policies` of Venezuela`s elected Dictator Nicolas Maduso. In 2013 Corbyn was praising the `huge contribution` made by Maduso`s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, and the best condemnation that the Leader of the Labour Party can manage in respect of the brutality currently rife in Venezuela is the say that he is `very sad` and that he `condemns violence from all sides`. Those of his young supporters busily tearing down the statues of eighteenth and nineteenth century `imperialists` are unlikely to pause to think of those suffering the joys of `Socialist Utopia` today.
And talking of Socialist Utopia, plans to purge Corbyn`s version of the Labour Party from those who do not share the Momentum view of his modern People`s Dreamworld and the Magic Money Tree have been exposed as one of his more feisty parliamentarians, Sarah Champion, is bold enough to criticise Pakistani men in her northern constituency for “grooming and raping white girls”. This results in Ms Champion being marginalised pending, presumably, deselection for referring to Mr. Corbyn as “Stalinist”. A poor choice of words`? No. Bang on target. David Blunkett, if you remember him, is backing Champion and the former Chairman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and Labour Party supporter, Trevor Phillips has declared himself “gobsmacked” that Ms. Champion should have been pilloried for stating the unpalatable truth that “Britain has a problem with Pakistani men grooming and raping white girls – a racist and horrifying problem”.
The Eccentric Fringe of the Labour Party has found a voice during the `Silly Season`. One Chris Williamson, responding to the very real need to protect women from harassment and violence during rail journeys, promotes, taking his cue from Saudi-Arabia presumably, `Women only` rail carriages. This not only pre-supposes that women are not capable of assaults on other women and that girl-on-girl attacks do not exist but also begs the question put to him by an ordinarily less than dynamic Today programme inquisitor. “Will you, then, also introduce racial segregation on trains to prevent race-hate crimes”? No answer from the blustering Mr Williamson but Stella Creasey, another irrepressible Corbyn critic, suggests in a dangerous outbreak of common sense that the solution is to `make all carriages safe`. Now there`s a novel idea.
It has been, this month, the turns of Spain and Finland to suffer from terrorist attacks. In the eighth vehicle attack in three years the now all too familiar pattern was repeated in Barcelona. Hired vehicle. Crowded tourist thoroughfare. No pity. Thirteen dead and about 100 people injured. In Cambrils, some eighteen miles away from the regional capital of Catalonia, another attack was intercepted leaving five terrorists shot dead. As the hunt for the Barcelona killers continued the President, Mariano Rajoy and King Felipe VI joined in an exceptional public demonstration of condolence, solidarity and defiance. The terrorist suspect was surrounded and shot by Spanish police while in Finland`s Turku another two people were murdered and six others injured in what was assumed to be a further act of terrorism. As the Acting President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe I found myself sending, to Presidents and Parliaments, expressions of condolence that however sincere and well-meaning can only ever seem trite and inadequate when ranged against the individual tragedies and loss of the bereaved. We voice our sorrow today. Those left behind live with their personal losses for a lifetime.
In other news it was reported that seventy thousand contaminated eggs have been imported into the UK from the Netherlands. While British Lion `shell eggs` are safe it has emerged of thousands of the eggs produced under illegal conditions have found their way into the UK food chain through processed foodstuffs. The Dutch, it appears, have been engaged in a cover-up but consumers will be relieved to know that the issue `will be the subject of an EU Commission Conference`. So that`s alright then.
At the start of her CDU campaign Frau Merkel has launched into an attack upon the car industry for producing contaminating diesel vehicles. Was it not Volkswagen, Mercedes, Audi and Porsche who were responsible for `enhancing` emission tests and are they not all German companies? Forgive me. I must have misunderstood or something has been lost in translation. Either way the purchasers of loan-financed diesel cars in Britain are finding themselves faced with negative equity as the bottom has fallen out of the second-hand diesel car market.
There has been a `Brexodus` of EU citizens from the United Kingdom and the numbers have fallen by more than one-third to some one hundred and twenty-two thousand. Net migration post-referendum is down by 25% and fifty-six thousand illegal attempts to enter the UK from France have been interdicted at a rate of one hundred and fifty-three per day. Which of course begs the question “who will do the jobs previously undertaken by EU nationals now that they are gone”. The 52% of the electorate who voted to leave the European Union will no doubt offer a simple answer to that question.
A night-time `assault` on the Palace of Westminster, carried out by security forces, from the Thames has revealed that terrorists could `board` the House of Commons, be in the Chamber and take out scores of Honourable Members within minutes. Talk now is of a river barrier, higher perimeter fences and an overhaul of the fifteen-thousand plus passes that are currently in circulation. Those of us who have been around this track a bit can only marvel that the IRA did not mount an assault in this way years ago. “Sitting ducks” is the expression that springs to mind.
Talking of which it is said that Prime Minister Theresa May was instructed to adopt a “duck and cover” drill should a ten-minute warning of an attack from North Korea have sounded during her recent visit to Japan. Armed with this useful advice the Darling Bud was emboldened to announce that she intends to see out this Parliament and to offer herself for election as Prime Minister for the next. The Lady`s not for quitting, nor ducking, nor covering any time soon.
And The Queen of the Sea has arrived in Pompey. HMS Queen Elizabeth, our newest aircraft carrier and the largest British warship ever built is described as a masterpiece of 21st century engineering. Her Captain, Jerry Kyd, steamed her into her Portsmouth harbour berth with just 65 feet of clearance on either side. The home of Richard Lionheart`s fleet and the port from which Lord Nelson sailed with his armada to Trafalgar now hosts what is described in military terms as “a balanced power projection capability”. Semper Eidem.
“There were seven priests in a bar…..” sounds like the start of a stand-up gag but when the seven venerable gentlemen walked into the City Arms in Cardiff for a celebratory pint they were chucked out by the barman who thought they were out on a stag night. Fortunately, the Landlord spotted the error in time and invited the vicars back in. Free drinks all round. There were twelve nuns……0h, never mind.
The Heritage Crafts Association has published a list of endangered trades. Amongst those many whose skills are a dying art are Clog makers, sieve makers and those who hand-stitch cricket balls. The manufacturers of leather footballs with a proper bladder are long gone.
The Tramp has described his official residence at Washington`s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, better known as “The White House” (where there is no chaos) as “a dump”. The fifty-five thousand square foot hovel with its thirty-five bathrooms is clearly not what the superannuated hotelier is accustomed to.
The Silver Cross perambulator company`s “doll buggies, which offer young ladies the chance to own something “just like mum” for a mere £300 has come under fire, of course, for being `sexist`. “Back to the 50`s “could be regarded as a unique selling point by some grandparents. And talking of `A yearning for an Imperial Past` St. Vincent of Cable, who has taken over the remains of the Liberal Democrat Party at the age of seventy-four (and I can vouch from first-hand experience for the fact that there is nothing wrong with being seventy-four) has attacked `the elderly` for voting Leave. The Young, says St. Vince, `have been comprehensively shafted`. We shall do our best to meet the expressed wishes of the British people but just for once I believe that St. Vince may have a point.
The former Labour Member of Parliament Tristram Hunt, now Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum has condemned the V&As edict that breastfeeding mothers must `cover up`, “Women may breast-feed wherever they like” says the modern parent.
Back to the 1970`s when there were a quarter of a million Jingling ice-cream vans plying their trade and enticing children to rush across dangerous roads to buy a lolly. Roll forward and triple-glazing has killed the Jingling business. There are now just two thousand five hundred vans left. Stop me and buy one while stocks last.
British `Fly the Flag at Half Mast` Airlines inflicts upon its ‘customers more flight delays than most low-cost airlines says the Civil Aviation Authority. Is anyone surprised?
Suffolk Council now refer to what used to be known as `cat`s eyes` as `road studs`. Mr Shaw`s 1934 invention is classed as one of the world`s top ten designs but it has taken the good burghers of Suffolk getting on for three-quarters of a century to decide that their name might be `confusing to tourists`.
Larry lives at Number Ten. Palmerston lives at the F&CO, Gladstone lives at the Treasury and Evie and Ossie have made the Cabinet Office their home. Now the splendid Penny Mordaunt has tried to introduce Titania to The House of Commons. This is in response to the discovery that the taxpayer is forking out £130,000 a year in a futile effort to control the rodents that infest the place.” Stop pussy footing around” says one dial-a-quote colleague. Clearly an old-fashioned Mogg is needed.
Nestle are apparently now producing a `nut-free walnut whip`. The naïve might be forgiven for believing that one of the essential ingredients of a Walnut Whip was walnuts.
Ludlow in Shropshire has rejected the offer of a gift of £2500 fundraised by men dressed as nurses. The costumes were described as “highly sexist and demeaning” by the cash-strapped authority.
One in ten staff at Labour-run Brighton Council work on pernicious zero-hours contracts. Ooops!
And Ooops! again. ASDA has had to withdraw ten thousand shopping bags from its new Newport store. You would have thought that someone might have noticed that “The Isle of White” was not quite correct before the bags were printed. (For the benefit of overseas readers it is the Isle of Wight)
President Macrobe, the glamour-puss of French politics, is reported to have spent twenty-four thousand pounds on make-up during his first three months in office. `Le Paint` is not working. Even though the figure includes the salary of The Macrobe`s Personal Make-Up artist, one Natacha M, the young man is still slipping in the polls. Must be using the wrong lip gloss. Oo La La.
The actress Jeanne Moreau has said adieu at eighty-nine. Remembered for Orson Welles` `Chimes at Midnight, The Lovers, and Jules et Jim she took the Best Actress award in Cannes in 1960 and won a BAFTA award for her 1967 film Viva Maria!
Robert Hardy has also departed at ninety-one. A historian and a longbow expert as well as a very fine actor, he was repeatedly called upon to play Winston Churchill in many of his guises. Henry V in The Age of Kings and twelve years of All Creatures Great and Small made his a household name and younger audiences have appreciated his Minister For Magic in four Harry Potter films.
Shelley, Virgin Soldiers, Pennies from Heaven, The Sweeney, EastEnders and Last of the Summer Wine have all occupied the late Hywel Bennett at one time or another. He enjoyed, if that is the right word, a roller-coaster of career and private life but I found him professionally more than kind and generous when I took over from him as Prince Hal in Henry IV at London`s Mermaid Theatre. Seventy-three is too young to lose such a man and such a talent.
It seems hard to believe that at eighty-two John Wayne`s co-star Elsa Martinelli is no longer with us but sadly that, also, is the case.
Kevin McNamara represented Hull North in Parliament from 1966 to 2005. He was Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland between `87 and `95.
And Gary Waller who represented Brighouse and Spenborough and subsequently the Keighley in Parliament, while also finding time to run nine London Marathons for charity, was just seventy-two when he died in early August.
Doug Insole (Essex and England) has ended his run at ninety-one. His innings for England against the West Indies at Trent Bridge will be recalled by many. He was one of the last amateur County Cricket Captains and President of the MCC in 2006 and also one of a legendary few that played both cricket and football at a national level.
The Eighty-one year old `Rhinestone Cowboy`, Glenn Campbell, will be mourned by many fans worldwide. Born in Arkansas, the Country and western singer of Wichita Lineman and Gentle on My Mind outsold The Beatles in 1968 with a tally of forty-five million records to his credit.
The creator of Doctor in the House, Richard Gordon, has hung up his stethoscope at ninety-five. The trained anaesthetist who studied his medicine at Cambridge was Assistant Editor of the British Medical Journal while installing Dirk Bogarde as Simon Sparrow and James Robertson Justice as Sir Lancelot Spratt in the mythical St. Swithins` Hospital.
Sir Bruce Forsyth, or “Brucie” to his friends, has finally shuffled off his tap shoes and gone to the great Green room in the Sky at a sprightly eighty-nine. The veteran entertainer, who was working until only a few months before his death, began his Vaudeville career as `Boy Bruce – The Mighty Atom` and incredibly took part in his first TV performance at the age of eleven in 1939 when a television was a small black-and-white box in the corner of a very few very wealthy living rooms. One of the longest careers in show business embraced `Saturday Night`, The Generation Game, Sunday night at the London Palladium and, of course, Strictly Come Dancing. He leaves a widow and six children. “Didn`t he do well”.
Jean-Paul Schlenger, born in 1925, was a teenage sub-lieutenant in the French resistance in 1944 when he took part in a raid on a V1 depot in Northern France, took the essential ingredients of the flying bomb to pieces and had them shipped by fishing boats to waiting Royal Naval warships for analysis. The depot was subsequently bombed by the RAF and the French Airforce and Schlenger`s actions are credited with saving hundreds of lives. He was condemned to death, transferred to Buchenwald concentration camp and was due to be executed when liberated by the 6th Armoured Division. He was awarded the Croix de Guerre with Palm and made a Knight of the Legion D`Honneur.
Jack Parry who has checked out at ninety-two was a founder member of Sir Archibald McIndoe`s “Guinea Pig Club”. When his Halifax Bomber crashed in flames in 1944 he suffered 80% burns before being rebuilt with pioneering plastic surgery. He served in the Air Training Corps and the Home Guard before joining the RAF in 1943 and was awarded the MBE in 2017.
And Fred Milward, born at Ticehurst in Kent, was at ninety-three the last surviving member of the 9th Paratroop Battalion. He was awarded the Legion d`Honneur at Merville in 2016.
His Royal Highness Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Her Majesty the Queen, has `retired` from solo appearances in public life at the age of ninety-six. He has undertaken 22,219 engagements in his own right and has made 5,496 speeches during his time as Her Majesty`s Consort. He was also the first member of `The Firm to give, in 1961, a television interview. His first official appearance since `semi-retiring` will be to accompany The Queen when she formally opens the new Forth Road bridge, The Queensferry Crossing, on September 4th.