Westminster View - November 2010
November. Ireland rocks the Eurozone, the Mama Grizzlies rattle O`Bama, striking journalists picket the BBC, rampaging “students” vandalise Conservative Campaign Headquarters, Alan Johnson shakes Ed Milipede, Man David`s personal photographer joins, snaps and leaves the civil service, Mr. Phil Woolas, MP, is out at the count , “You`ve Never Had It So Good.” (reprise). The Lord of the ring has slipped it onto Ms. Middleton`s finger. At last. And the BBC has probably scuppered our bid to host the 2018 Football World Cup. What you might call an “own goal”.
At East Midlands airport a suspect package, subsequently believed to be an Al Qaeda bomb bound for the USA ex-Dubai is unearthed on hallowee`n night. Spooky. As are a further 26 such devices subsequently discovered in the Middle East. With world so clearly a much safer place we place the UK/US alliance in jeopardy by canvassing a defence deal with the French. Not only the sharing of aircraft carriers but joint command. Brave some of them may be but it is hard to imagine communitaire control of the SAS.
The Lord Young of Graffham, onetime head of Margaret Thatcher`s Manpower Services Commission and sometime Trade Minister in the Upper House is rediscovered and appointed as ManDavid`s Enterprise Tsar. Given that the noble Lord was held responsible for the break-up and ultimate destruction of a once-thriving brewing and public house industry this seems likely to end in tears. And it does. Early and welcome noises heralding the severing of red tape give way to a repetition of SuperMac`s “You`ve Never Had it So Good” epithet. It may be true that those who have bought houses on rock-bottom mortgage interest rates ( a vulture waiting to come home to roost) are, for the moment, sitting comfortably but the middle of a war of austerity and with people losing jobs and facing re-possession is not the best time to suggest that life is rosy. Lord Young might just as well have said “Let Them Eat Cake”. So we witness the unedifying sight of the ermine disappearing through the revolving door of power
With hindsight it is not, either, the best time for the Prime Minister to allow his personal photographer to be taken onto the Civil Service staff while other public servants are facing receipt of their P45s. This issue follows the Man from Downing Street on his trade mission to the Far East and it is inevitably not long before common sense prevails and the unfortunate snapper is returned to the Party payroll. Meanwhile, in China, offense is taken as David Cameron, George Osborne, Liam Fox and Vince Cable sport Remembrance Day poppies. Something to do with the opium Wars, apparently. Quite properly, Human Rights remain on the agenda and poppies remain on the lapels.
Over in the Colonies there is much sport and some grim satisfaction to be had – if you happen to be a Conservative – from the American mid-term elections. Never before can the shine have come off a Presidency so fast. In spite of the best efforts of Borat O`Bama Middle America exacts its pound of flesh. The Mama Grizzlies storm the House of Representatives and even in the Senate there is little joy for the White House. At the Tory end of the House of Commons Tea Room the Tea Party is in the ascendant and the Sons of Hillary crawl away to lick their wounds and, of course, to fight another day.
University tuition fees are set to rise from £3290 to £9,000 a year. No matter that those who do not go on to earn big bucks will not pay a centime for their degrees, while those whose qualifications see them in good financial stead will make phased repayments of their loans. It should, say the students, be the taxpayer that picks up the tab for their studies. So let’s take to the streets again, kick in the plate glass doors of the Millbank Tower that houses the Tory Party, hurl fire extinguishers in lethal fashion from the rooftops onto police in the streets below and generally demonstrate very precisely why the law-abiding should not be expected to pay for the luxurious Right to Rampage. Diplomacy and the winning of hearts and minds this exhibition was not. That the police were caught on the hop was a scandal but a week later the next demonstration found itself “kettled” in Whitehall giving rise to Marxist accusations of an “ abuse of human rights.” To be fair, the President of the Students` National Union has urged restraint but that is not a view shared by the middle-aged revolutionary doubling as the London Students` Leader with whom I shared a few minutes airtime on the BBC. Condemn the damage and the rioting? No chance!
Workfare is on the agenda. It is some twenty five years since the Norfolk MP, the late Ralph Howell, sought to persuade Mother that those in receipt of benefit should be offered community employment instead of being paid for doing nothing. Even The Iron Lady bottled it but now the Quiet Man, Iain Duncan Smith, takes up the baton as part of a raft of proposals designed to roll back the dependant State and preserve welfare for those in real need. He certainly has the courage but will he have the support to see it through? Let`s hope so.
The hapless Phil Woolas, a Home Office Minister in the last government and re-elected as the Member of Parliament for Oldham East is found, by an election court, to have been guilty of “spreading smears” about the Liberal Democrat opponent who ran him a very close second. Stripped of his membership of the House he is currently contemplating an appeal while Mad Hattie loyally says that he will not fight the seat or join the Labour Party ever again. This, inevitably, rattles a few cages within the Parliamentary Labour Party and the twittering “Mrs. Speaker” Bercow urges her Labour chums to go easy on Phil while some hold a whip-round to help with his legal fees. Ho hum! The irony is that at election time it has – as those of us who have skirmished with them will testify – always been the Liberals who have been regarded as “the Dirty Party”. ( I recall that in the Birmingham Northfield by-election that I fought, with the help of Suzy and Major Bellamy, my black Labrador in 1982, they issued a leaflet falsely claiming “Bellamy Bit Me”! How low can a party sink?!)
In retaliation for the Prime Minister`s hard-fought £2.9 billion cap on the EU budget increase the French are now targeting Margaret Thatcher`s 1980s £3bn. rebate. Not a good moment. The EU`s accounts are rejected for the sixteenth year in succession, which must be some kind of record on the scale of administrative incompetence. Herman Van Rompuy, Europe`s charismatically invisible President, with faultless timing suggests that “the nation state is dead”. The Irish economy is belly-up and has to be bailed out by the Eurozone Countries and, out of residual affection and self-interest, by the British taxpayer as well. But are we bailing out Ireland or are we bailing out a euro that, as a currency, is a truly busted flush? Rompuy now helpfully says that Ireland could “kill the euro” and, asked if the euro could collapse our own Foreign Secretary, William Hague, reassuringly adds “who knows?”! We need to draw a line under this shambles. £7.5 billion pounds or, in real money £300 per UK family, to keep the Guinness flowing is one thing but if the Portuguese or the Spanish or the Italians or the Greeks or any other eurozone country comes around with the begging bowl it will be time to call time. It cannot go on forever, can it?
Prince William spends Remembrance Sunday with Defence Secretary Liam Fox at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan`s Helmand province. Two days later the waiting is finally over and with Kate Middleton sporting the engagement ring that Charles gave to Diana a future King of England and his girlfriend announce their engagement. That mops up the press for the next few days and allows all sorts of news, good and bad and ugly, to be buried in the Fleet Street scramble to sell “royal” editions of newspapers. Asked in an interview whether Camilla could ever be Queen one day Prince Charles muses quietly “that could be”. The date for “The People`s Wedding” (now where have I heard something like that before?) is announced as April 29th, 2011 which by happy coincidence is St. Catherine`s Day.
With the vote on University Tuition fees looming Liberal Democrats who, before the election, signed the pledge to freeze charges, are all in a two-and-eight. Do they support the Government of which they are unexpectedly a part? Or stick with the pledge and vote against the increases? Or, reverting to type, perch firmly on the fence in glorious abstention? Time will tell. All of this and the Alternative Vote campaign to look forward to while on the sidelines Ed Milipede, Leader of Her Majesty`s Loyal Opposition and freshly returned from paternity leave finds Alan Johnson challenging him over whether, if ever given the chance, to scrap or keep the 50p tax rate.. A frantic Buzz Lightweight re-launches his Leadership and his Party`s “National Political Forum” as “beyond New Labour” in Gillingham in Kent. He announces himself as “a proud socialist” and promises to come to the rescue of “the squeezed middle”. When asked by journalist he finds the “squeezed middle” impossible to define. Another Labour leadership challenge in the offing? Give it time but I would not put money on Milipede the Younger leading the Labour Party into the next election unless that event takes place much sooner than expected.
Then the snow arrives and the Country grinds to its usual frozen halt.
The constabulary is offered advice on how to treat witches. It is, they are told, “normal” to find them blindfolded. Bound and naked. Is this to be added to the 238 item hazard checklist that the boys in blue are now required to study before setting out to fight crime upon the streets?
Mrs. Legacy has herself painted in miniature in the guise of Eleanor of Aquitaine. It seems that Cherry admires the latter`s wealth and power. Come back King Henry and lock her up.
Purveyors of fine teas to Her Maj, Messrs Twinings, have hit a £10 million Euro Grant jackpot to build a new factory. In Poland. And at a possible cost of nearly three hundred jobs on North Tyneside. Crackers, or what?
Her Maj is on facebook. Court Circulars, news and engagements. Nothing vulgar. She might have a word with the Poet Laureate. A Royal Engagement poem would be nice – but apparently Ms. Carol Ann Duffy, the present holder of the office, does not have the muse for matrimonials.
The Scout Association is being given the C21 makeover as well, Gone are campfires and knots and semaphore. No need for “quartermastering” as the stores are empty. Baden Powell`s heirs will now receive badges for “entertaining” (don`t ask!) and “computer gaming”. This is known as “being of our time”.
In fashionable Battersea the Mish Mash bookstore receives complaints for stocking the publication “50 reasons to hate the French”. Good to know that the Race Relations Act is being honoured in South London. “What separates France from the civilised World”? “The English Channel!”. Mon Dieu! Now who said that?
And in Lancashire bakers are now required to sell politically correct “Gingerbread persons”. That must have spoiled the fun for the feminists who hitherto took pleasure in chewing the chaps` bits off.
Plymouth`s Army Cadet Force are, for the first time, ordered to parade on Remembrance Sunday without rifles. “There is” says their CO “no need to appear with weapons” because “we are a youth movement and rifles are not good for the image”. The MoD has instructed that cadets are “not to be seen with a weapon”. Seems reasonable, really. The Navy cadets have no ships and the Air Cadets have no planes so why should the Army Cadets be given guns? I cannot help feeling that in the heaven`s above some corner of a foreign field the spirits may be just a little bewildered by the turn that the land that they made the final sacrifice for has taken.