Gale's View from Westminster - November 2012
November. The BBC, ITV and the Twitterati in turmoil, Salford Broadcasting gets (another) new Director General, Canterbury gets a new Archbishop, Synod rejects women in mitres, A New Dusk settles over The United States as Borat O`Bama returns to the White House, Press hysteria as Leveson looms, The “parallel universe” that is the European Union plans to spend on, an ill wind blows through extreme weather and an electorate underwhelmed in its enthusiasm for Police and Crime Commissioners sends Two Jags to the car-breakers yard.
It has not been a great month for the Salford Broadcasting Corporation. “Auntie” was left reeling by the Savile Affair with former Director Mark Thompson accused of `wilful ignorance` and the ripples from a disastrous and unchecked Newsnight programme spreading out in ever-widening circles. The surmise is that having had one broadcast pulled from the schedules Newsnight, prompted by the “Bureau of Investigative Journalism”, sought to redeem its tattered reputation with an expose of abuse at a North Wales children`s home involving “Top Tories close to Margaret Thatcher”. That scourge of Murdoch, Saint Thomas Watson, spoke gleefully of “powerful politicians” and then discovered the hard way that web logs are not covered by parliamentary privilege. Having been “exposed” on the twittersphere the noble Lord Alastair McAlpine – for it was he whose name had been placed wrongly in the frame – came out spitting tacks and fighting. First target, the originator of the “story”, the BBC. Almost as The Grauniad was claiming that it was “a free press that exposed the smearing of an innocent man” and while others were getting as close as they legally dared to perpetuating the smear, one Phillip Schofield of ITV`s This Morning programme ambushed Man David with a list of `paedophiles` in a TV stunt that went very badly wrong. Questions might reasonably be asked as to why the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom was to be found perched on This Morning`s sacrificial sofa but that aside the perfectly formed and dapper Mr. Schofield made the mistake of allowing his gimmick-list to be readably in shot on camera and thus found himself on the end of a severe rebuke from ITV and the threat of legal action from Lord McA to boot.
With the great twitterette “Mrs Speaker” Sally Bercow in his sights and with Mr. George Monbiot (curiously of the Grauniad, the “free press that……etc) another likely libel target for Lord McAlpine, Mad Hattie sought to distance her Shadow Ministerial greatness from Saint Tom of Watson pretty damned quick. It seems like only yesterday that, after the first Newsnight debacle, I was to be found on the airwaves suggesting that the new Director General of the BBC, George Entwistle, might need to consider his position in the light of his dual role as Editor-in-Chief. And blow me down but there he is on the doorstep of the refurbished Broadcasting House alongside the Chairman of the Trustees, Lord Patten, and offering his resignation to the nation. Such was the incompetence with which this sad event was stage-managed that the BBC even managed to miss its own television news and the story was instead broken by ITV! Asked later, by the DCMS Select Committee, if he had sought Mr. Entwistle`s resignation Lord Patten replied “No. But I didn`t ask him to stay either”. Can Patten survive as Chairman? Jeremy Paxman, self-appointed Grand Inquisitor of Newsnight says that Mr. Entwistle was “brought down by cowards and incompetents” though whether he regards Chris Patten as one of these is as yet unclear. That highly professional journalist Peter Sissons is in no doubt. He thinks that Patten should go but Patten stays and appoints a man with no great experience as a TV journalist, Tim Davie, as Acting Director General. So who will get the full-time job? David Dimbleby says that he is “too old for the top job”. He is right, although there is some doubt as to whether his name was in the frame. Will Paxo quit Newsnight? No. In the end it is Tony Hall, Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden and former senior BBC Newsman who is the Chairman`s surprise appointment as the new DG. We have to wish him luck for he will most certainly need it.
Another Jack that jumped out of the box and caught everyone on the hop this month was the appointment of Mark Carney, currently heading up the Bank of Canada, as Governor-designate of the Bank of England to succeed Mervyn King. Widely perceived as A Good Thing, Mr. Governor Carney, as he will no doubt become known, has happily put a number of “well-informed” noses out of joint. The Salford Broadcasting Corporation`s Mr. Robert Peston, for example, was one such kept beautifully in the dark. For once the Treasury managed to guard a secret with the kind of efficiency that used to be reserved for The Budget and Chancellor George was thus able to spring his surprise upon the House of Commons and the Press Gallery alike. “Gobsmacked” is the inelegant phrase that springs to mind.
Elsewhere in the world, there was an election in the American colonies. At the start of the month it looked as though the Republican standard-bearer, Mutt Rimney, was in with a shout and expressions such as “on a knife edge” and “Romney can still win” were being bandied about. Then came Hurricane Sandy, the ill wind that ripped the East Coast of America apart and left Mr. O`Bama sitting prettily and presidentially in control of the crisis while Mutt was left on the edges of the television screens playing a walk-on part. The vagaries of an Electoral College system designed for the days of horseback travel did the rest and lo and behold Borat is back in the Big House on Pennsylvania Avenue and the New Dusk descends upon America. Man David, recorded reading from “spontaneous” notes, makes a phone call of congratulation to the Leader of the Free World.
Talking of ill winds, which we sort of were, a fair old storm has brewed up around the “To farm wind or not to farm wind” debate. Ned Ludd would have been proud of the Minister of State for Energy, John `ayes, who announced that there would be no more wind farms built onshore. Setting aside the fact that a major plank has been suddenly kicked out of the Government`s “green energy” credentials and that the whole future of investment in and subsidy of wind-generated power has been placed in jeopardy, it swiftly becomes clear that the Secretary of State, a Liberal Democrat name of Edward Davey, has vetoed his Minister of State`s line and does not share his view. While Mr `ayes`s planned speech on the subject is hastily re-written the Minister forgets to tell his Coalition master that the matter has been the subject of an interview that is already on the presses. The solids then hit the wind-turbine and the Prime Minister has to try to mediate between his newly-appointed and Conservative Minister of State and the Liberal Democrat Cabinet Member ultimately responsible for what passes for energy policy. All of which leaves the poor bloke who is actually responsible for implementing the Government`s future energy programme, that nice Gregory Barker, to try to mop up the mess with a forward looking statement at the month`s end. We have to live in the hope that a much-needed programme for the construction of essential new nuclear power stations has been given rather more thought than the windmills at which Mr. “John Quixote” `ayes has been tilting.
Europe, of course, probably generates enough wind to keep us in renewable energy until the crack of doom. It also generates little light but much heat upon the Tory parliamentary benches and so, at the beginning of the month, fifty-two Conservatives defy the whips instructions and vote to cut the budget of the spendthrift European Union. This was reported by the Salford Broadcasting Corporations as “Tories joining with Labour to defeat the Government” when it was, in fact, a party that has never knowingly saved a single Euro and that when in office gave away part of our budget rebate (Part of The Legacy`s legacy) that joined in an opportunist endeavour to give the coalition a bloody nose. With pressure building, even from some cabinet Members, for a vote on our status within or out with the EU, Frau Merkel, clearly alarmed, chooses this moment to tell us that we “won`t be happy alone”. We are not, though, “alone”. Spool forward a couple of weeks and you find a number of the net contributors to the EU budget, including Germany, taking a distinctly un-communitaire view of proposals to increase the funds available for Eurocrats to squander. Riots there may be in Spain and Italy and Portugal and Germany and Greece and France but the harsh reality that the Eurozone has to grasp is that if we are facing austerity at home then in the Last-Chance Bar Tabac the pork-barrels are empty. Even Christine Lagarde of the IMF seems to think that the Fifth Republic, under the helmsmanship of Mr. Holland, may land the Eurozone on the rocks. London`s dial-a-quote Mayor Johnson does not need to advise the Prime Minister to “do a Maggie” for it is Man David himself who, treading where even Mother only tiptoed, tells a Brussels living in “a parallel universe” that it’s time to not only freeze the budget but to cut the perks currently available to that vast army of apparatchiks and fonctionnaires whose wheels are so well-oiled with taxpayers` money. Following the ending of the budget talks in disarray we shall, of course, find ourselves back at the trough in the New Year when, no doubt over further £120 bottles of claret, the takers will once again seek to impose their will upon the givers. However, notwithstanding the Europhile St. Nicholas of Clogg`s cheap swipe at “false promises wrapped in a Union Jack” (which some of us prefer to refer to as the Union Flag) the “promises” seem to have gained enough substance to convince even St. Vince of Cable that a referendum on Europe looks increasingly likely. The euro pit may find that it has a bottom after all.
With never a puff of white smoke The Right Reverend Justin Welby emerges as the preferred choice as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. The ex-oil man`s selection is well received but his honeymoon is short lived. I recall a former vicar of Christ Church, Herne Bay , Adrian Bell, holding his own newly christened son in the pulpit and musing that he might be holding “a future Bishop of Durham – or perhaps even the husband of a future Bishop of Durham” in his arms. The lad, now probably in his early twenties, will have to wait a little longer if the second aspiration is to be realised. In Synod the Bishops and Clergy voted overwhelmingly to take the next logical step and, having permitted the ordination of women as priests, supported the removal of the stained-glass ceiling that prevents those excellent ladies from becoming Bishops themselves. The House of Laity, however, for angels-on-a-pinhead reasons, failed to deliver the necessary two thirds majority required to give the go-ahead to shove the Church of England towards at least the twentieth century. How they square this with the fact that the head of the established church, Her Maj, is a lady I am not sure but the concept of emancipation is clearly still too strong for some. Curiously, as it tends to be the women on Tory Party selection committees that seek to block female prospective candidates, so it was some of the churches women who campaigned most vigorously against women in mitres.
I cannot pretend that I share the view, expressed by Chancellor George, that “the Tories will not win the next election unless we back gay marriage”. I have hitherto regarded George as a sensible bloke with a very difficult economic task in hand that he is, against the odds, making a fair fist of. He might ponder the fact that a Christian employee of the Trafford Housing Trust, demoted for expressing the “offensive” view that the legalisation of same-sex marriage would lead to legal challenge and the demand for gay marriages to be held in church, won his case. I know not whether the Chancellor professes to support any faith or none, and that, frankly, is his own business and not mine, but in electoral terms his prediction would appear to be about as sound an idea as trying to put VAT on hot Cornish pasties. For the record, a recent ComRes opinion poll suggests that 62% of all voters and 68% of Tories believe that “marriage” is a term applied to the union of one man and one woman. And wish it to remain that way. Stick to the Exchequer, George.
Can you name a UKIP politician? Alright, now can you name another one? I ask because it strikes me as strange that a one man band riding a one-trick pony should find himself able to tour the television studios claiming huge “victories” on the back of some low-turnout mid-term by-election results. I appreciate that knocking the Tories into third place is “the story” and that as there is only one of him, and as he can exercise power without the responsibility of having to deliver on any promise, he is likely to attract a lot of coverage. I also understand, and happen to have great sympathy with, the view that “the public have had enough of Europe”. But what are his policies to salvage the economy from the mess that we have inherited? (in this grotesque context the money that we pay to Europe is about as relevant as Maundy money). What will he do about the Defence of the Realm? Or Education? Or Health? Or Social Services? Or, aside from “cutting immigration”, law and order? It is perverse, is it not, that those who support this movement deliver the effect of taking votes, mainly, from Eurosceptic Conservatives and help to deliver the election of Socialist Europhiles!
I would prefer to draw a veil over the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners but in the interests of completeness I feel obliged to point out that this life-changing influence over the cause of the fight against crime attracted the lowest national electoral interest ever recorded. The elections were held at what is acknowledged to be the worst possible time of the year – some say at the insistence of the Deputy Prime Minister – and a lack of information about the candidates standing delivered, in roughly equal proportions, Conservative, Labour and Independent Crime Commissioners with nary a Liberal in striking distance of success. So if it was indeed the idea of St. Nicholas to stage the joust in mid-November he must be parrot-sickened with the result. It is a matter of record that the Labour very heavy weight, Lord Two Jags of Prescott, was soundly thumped into second place on his Humberside home turf. By a Tory.
And then came the Leveson report into The Culture, Practices and Ethics of The Press. We have been subjected to weeks of self-serving and sanctimonious lobbying, pressure and intimidation by the Bourgeois Women`s Tabloid and the rest of the Diaspora of Fleet Street and we have been told that anything other than a total continuation of self-regulation would lead to the end of the world, or at least of democracy, as we know it. In a few well chosen sentences Lord Justice (Brian) Leveson spelled out the fact that “It does not mean that the price of press freedom should be paid by those who suffer, unfairly and egregiously, at the hands of the press and have no sufficient mechanism for obtaining redress”. Notwithstanding the best efforts of other tabloids and broadsheets to place the blame for the failure of self-regulation at the door of the Murdoch empire it is scathingly clear that Lord Leveson does not think much of the whole rotten edifice of ”self-regulation” as it stands. The Press Complaints Commission has been about as much use as a chocolate teapot and rather less potentially tasty. And so the Judge has concluded that what is needed is a wholly independent regulatory body, that does not include any serving editor or Member of the House of Commons or Member of the Government and that that independent self-regulatory body should be backed up by statute. That is not, as some are now seeking to claim, a recipe for “State Control of the Press”. It is a sound and common sense proposal for a way forward. The Prime Minister`s response has been to welcome independent regulation but to shy away from legislation. He needs to recall that over the last seventy years there have been seven inquiries into the behaviour of the Press, that each of those one-a-decade examinations has eschewed legislation and that each of them has ended in consequent failure. The BBC Charter is enshrined in statute as is OFCOM, the successor to the Independent Broadcasting Authority. Neither has led to Government control of editorial policy and there is no reason to suppose that an equivalent legal framework for independent regulation of the printed word would have any markedly different effect. We shall, in due course, have to address the problems posed by the internet and social media but that is a matter for another day. Immediately we need to secure the implementation of Leveson`s recommendations as fully, as swiftly and as practicably possible.
The spread of Ash die-back disease is not only threatening our woodlands. It is also placing in jeopardy the structural frames contained within each and every handmade Morgan car. Now that is a serious threat to a national institution.
As is the sale of the Branston Pickle company, after 90 years in business, to the Japanese. Branston and Sushi? I don`t think so.
The Public Accounts Committee has described as “immoral” the tax avoidance measures employed by Amazon, Starbucks and Google. They might also take a look at supply teachers reported to be employed through an Offshore Company based in Sark.
Outside the Christmas season fifty per cent of our posties` daily sack is made up of junk mail. Royal Mail wants still more of this lucrative businesses that stuffs our waste bins full of recyclable material but clearly pays handsomely. Never mind. If it helps to prop up the universal delivery service and means that occasionally we can still receive a 50p stamped birthday card then I suppose it`s a price worth paying. (This year a dozen cards will cost three pounds while eighty first class stamps will cost nearly fifty pounds).
The European Court of Justice has decreed that from December 21st it will be unlawful to offer discounts on car insurance to women. Sheila`s Wheels are about to come off the chariot – but Boadicea never could reverse into a parking space.
In Scunthorpe a street trading greengrocer has been taken to court for `pitching` his goods. “Who will buy my sweet lavender”? Not in Lincolnshire, sunshine.
The charity Age UK is launching a `no frills` mobile phone for the elderly. Christened `My Phone,` it will have push-button dialling. It sounds like what used to be called `a telephone’. Mine is already on order.
Angela Merkel wants Britain to stay in the EU “because the United Kingdom was there when we were liberated from National Socialism”. Think about that.
Marie McKinlay, appearing in court on vice charges, told His Honour that “my favourite things are sex and money and I got both when I became an escort”. She was acquitted.
A former Abortion Rights Campaigner and Family Planner, now Chief Executive of Girl Guides, is reported to have described the organisation over which she now presides as “the ultimate feminist organisation”. Those who don`t share this view, including a lot of heterosexual young men, will take comfort from the fact that girls can now join The Scouts.
The British Bankers` Association describes HSBC`s new small-printed thirty-thousand word current account guide as “a useful reference book”.
In Dubai a women has been jailed for having sex in the back of a taxi after drinking four vodkas and five glasses of wine with her partner who had in turn consumed some six or seven vodkas. `A triumph of hope over expectation` springs to mind.
Kindle`s “Youth Adventure” series has revived Enid Blyton`s “Famous Five” under the slogan “Children having an awesome adventure”. Is `elf `n safety aware of this dangerous intrusion onto their turf?
And Her Maj and Prince Phil have been road-testing a motorhome in Bristol. To think that it was only a couple of months ago that she was parachuting out of a chopper with James Bond.
Sir Rex Hunt, Governor of the Falkland Islands at the time of the Argentine invasion. His legacy is a line held until the cavalry arrived. Proud to be British? Most certainly.
SAS Sergeant Danny Nightingale, the war hero jailed by a Court Martial for keeping a 9mm. Glock pistol as a war trophy, following a public outcry which gained the support of the Prime Minister, has, following an appeal, been released . He will, one hopes, now spend a very happy Christmas with his wife and children.