Gale's View from Westminster - November 2013
November. Energy companies fuel the row over price hikes. A new meaning to Justice in camera as Rumpole of the Court of Appeal goes `live`. Searchers for the Pleb gate entry to Downing Street keep looking as Mr. Plod faces the Select Committee. We are “the most faith-based government` says Baroness Warsi but it`s still the Gay Pride of Lions 2, Christians Nil in court. The wait for Godot will have ended before the wait for the publication of the Chilcot report is over. The Legacy is relying on Cabinet Secretary Hayward, Blair`s Principal Private Secretary in 1999, to keep essential papers under lock and key. Do not let a thousand Flowers bloom. Which will unstick The Milipede first? The Co-op bank or the Falkirk selection scandal? `Marine A` is guilty of murder but will he also be a scapegoat? In Scotland Alex Salmond offers hundreds of pages of questions but no answers, gunboat diplomacy off The Rock as Spain plunders Her Majesty`s Ambassador`s sandwiches from the diplomatic bag, the Brussels-Strasbourg gravy train may be about to hit the buffers and the heir to the throne receives his bus pass.
While The Milipede`s “we will freeze fuel prices” cynical gimmick is clearly so much smoke and mirrors the whole offensive on fuel prices has struck a chord with the electorate and rattled the bars of the gates to Downing Street. Of the `Big Six` only EDF has not jacked up its prices by eye-watering amounts and our former parliamentary colleague Angela Knight, now spokesthing for the Power People must be wishing that she had stuck to representing the uncontroversial interests of the Association of British Bankers. Frying pans and fires spring to mind. With the Chancellor`s Autumn Statement now only minutes away the score on the Treasury song-sheet would appear to be being hastily re-written. Favourite for the chop is the `green levy` that pushes up prices to the consumer. “Cut the green crap” may resonate in some quarters but without care Young Lochinvar`s image as the “Go Blue-Get Green” polar-bear-hugging champion of the environment will lie in tatters. This is a hard circle to square. Man David believes in his environmental initiatives and he wants to see them through. Given a less-than-moribund regulator a better target would be the monopolies that account for twice the cost, to the consumer, of the Green levy but unless someone puts a fizzer under OFGEM a Prime Minister that patently cannot control the cost of the raw materials on the world market has precious little room for manoeuvre. The Liberal Democrat Ed Davey, who rumour has it is the Energy Secretary, says that there will be no cut in the Green Levy and we have to assume that he is in a position to know. Those who attended a `private` meeting with the Prime Minister in the Commons, and it is correctly reported that I was one of them, have sought to bolster the long-term drive for `green` and, in particular, to strengthen the case for what is certainly costly investment in offshore wind power. It is sad that it is apparently no longer possible for twenty or thirty MPs to meet with the man in Number 10 without a distorted view of the “row” that did not, in fact, take place being twittered before most of us had left the room but that`s social media politics 2013-style. Even a belated attempt to try to cut a deal with the Big Six is all over the airwaves before Downing Street can issue a denial, leaked on the basis, presumably, that the Power People want to get their retaliation in first. Those who have hitherto supported energy-price rises on the basis that vast profit would be necessary to fund the equally vast and to date almost non-existent investment in a new generation of nuclear power stations have a right, I think, to feel let down. I was no fan of The Clunking Fist`s raid on pension funds but Sir John Major`s proposal for a windfall tax on energy companies has a distinct appeal. We might also remind a Labour party hell-bent on treating 2010 as “year zero” for health, economic and fuel purposes that it was one Ed. Miliband, as Energy Secretary, that presided over the introduction of the green taxes that they now find so unacceptable.
If Milipede the Younger thought that he had closed down the Falkirk By-Election candidate selection vote-rigging allegations then he was sadly mistaken. I doubt that there are many that do not now believe both that Unite has not had a grubby hand in seeking to secure the candidacy, in that Union`s interests, of a favourite son (or daughter) or that the Trades Union movement, to whom of course The Milipede owed his triumph over his elder brother in Labour`s leadership contest, has not been systematically engaged in trying to secure union-friendly candidates as seats elsewhere become vacant. Signing up voting members, as was apparently the case with one Lorraine Kane, without consent is not a subtle way of trying to manipulate a ballot. At one level this might be seen as a “union village” matter but at another it strikes at the credibility of the man who wants to be the next Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. For St. Nicholas of Clogg to demand publication of the findings of The Milipede`s investigations into Falkirk is about as realistic as asking Sir Jeremy Haywood to hand over the Blair Cabinet`s Iraq papers to Chilcot but too many people clearly know too much for the issue to go away.
As is also the case over the Rev. Paul Flowers` treatment of the Co-Op bank as a private plaything. The fact is that while lots of small and very trusting co-op investors have lost money a wholly unsuitable and unqualified Man of God (or Mammon?) would appear to have been allowed to take control of the helm and to drive the once-proud vessel onto the rocks. It is hard to believe that the Leader of the Labour Party did not know that the man who was distributing largesse and support to the Shadow Chancellor and, via soft loans against constituency properties, to his party, was once compelled to stand down as a Labour Councillor because of misdemeanours. Len Wardle, the Co-Op Chairman, resigns over the issue but Ed Balls tells us that he is “proud” to have taken £50 thousand from the self-confessed abuser of `mind-altering substances` and sees “nothing wrong” in hanging onto the money which he has, of course, spent. Yvette Cooper, from Labour`s front bench, is equally “proud” of her party`s links with the co-operative movement but then, as Mrs. Ed Balls, that should come as no surprise. “Church links made us trust him” is really not an excuse for what The Milipede has sought to dismiss as “a Tory Smear”.
At the start of the month I found myself sitting on a breakfast TV sofa discussing, with Michael Mansfield QC, the merits or otherwise of televising our courts of law. Having opposed (I still believe rightly) the televising of the House of Commons it will come as no great shock to know that this one-time television producer, director and journalist believes that the law courts are places where justice should be done and not additional venues for grandstanding barristers and judges to take part in reality television shows. The case is made that it is “only the Court of Appeal” that will appear on camera but we all know that this has everything to do with entertainment and nothing to do with the much-vaunted cause of `democracy and justice` and that the Court of Appeal is just the thin end of the wedge. That said, I cannot help feeling that we ought, perhaps, to be allowed to hear Lord Neuberger, The President of the Supreme Court, say to an adoring public that short gaol sentences are not a good idea because “they could disrupt a prisoner`s job and family life” . Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division of the High Court, might have been able to use courtroom TV, rather than a post-prandial speech to the Society of Editors, to explain to the nation why he believes that it would be a good idea to shatter the sensitive privacy of the family courts and to make the most private affairs affecting the future of children`s lives “open to the world”. Lady Hale, in the Supreme Court, described the actions of a Christian couple, Peter and Hazelmary Bull who were Guest House proprietors, as “an affront to human dignity” because they had the temerity to believe, in faith, that couples who share a bed under their roof should be married. Gay rights are one thing in court, it seems, but Christian rights are of small consequence. Would Lady Hale have reached the same decision with the country watching her on courtroom TV? There are, perhaps, two sides to this devalued coin.
Christianity may be under pressure but, says Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, “Faith is at the heart of Government”. She then beetled off to the United States to tell that country`s television viewers that “the British are more worldly than the Americans....Fox news needs training in religious literacy”. Realising that she was on camera and off-piste she added “Oh dear. Did I just say that openly”? Yes, M`lady, you did and you were absolutely right.
If Britain`s first female Muslim peer is rather a good egg then so, also, I am now convinced, is the Most Reverend Justin Welby, padre of our local cathedral and Primate of All England. One of the better things about being a Member of Parliament is that we occasionally gain access, on a candid basis, to people that we might otherwise only see on television or read about in the press. So it was that Archbishop Justin, as the faithful refer to him, set himself up in the Jubilee Room off Westminster Hall, said a few words and then took a Q and A session. It was most refreshing. The Toy Retailers Association have been lamenting the fact that the loss of Child Tax Credits, by people earning at least double what in East Kent is the average wage, was hitting the sales of this season`s “must have” all-singing and all-dancing hundred-pound gizmos. From a Christian perspective Cantua clearly believes that parents should “show love rather than buy it” and with an average Christmas household spend running at around a thousand pounds adds “don`t make life miserable with debt. Showing love comes back with interest”. One of Justin`s predecessors, George Carey, who I first met while engaging in a plastic duck race on the River Stour adjacent to Canterbury Cathedral, used the Shropshire Light Conference, a sort of Synod-fringe event in Shrewsbury, to acclaim that if the Anglican Church did not attract more young people then it would face extinction within a generation. That is a view that is frequently expressed about the Tory party and one with which I have some sympathy but this year the Synod voted, following the withdrawal of Anglo-Catholic objection, by 378 to 25 in favour of women bishops. That puts the Church of England on track to enthrone its first woman sometime next year if all else goes according to plan. Not everyone will regard that as a step in the right direction but I most certainly do and it is rather more productive that agonising over whether or not vicars should be allowed to bless same-sex partnerships.
At least one European Commissioner has expressed the view that, far from being Christian, Britain is a “nasty country”. Why we should take lessons from a Hungarian whose nation`s track record on many issues relating to human rights leaves a very great deal to be desired I am not quite certain. His dog-whistle reaction was in response to the proposal that the UK could and should remove access to benefits, at least until they have made some contribution through taxes and national insurance payments, from the anticipated hordes of Bulgarian and Romanian migrants that are expected to land on our shores on New Year`s Day.
The mention of immigration brings out both the best of patriotic and the worst of xenophobia in most people and politicians are no different from the rest. Alongside those who are willing to recognise that, over the centuries and even over the last couple of decades, immigrants have brought much-needed skills and talent and a rich diversity of culture to great Britain there are those that simply wish to hang up a “House Full” notice on the White Cliffs of Dover and slam the door on any future incomers. Unless, of course, they are rich and preferably Caucasian. This is, though, an issue that is going to loom large at the next general election. With neo-National Socialism winning electoral support even former Labour Home Secretaries are now queuing up to say “we got it wrong”. Shades of “Rivers of Blood” as Blunkett warns of “riots in the streets” and “Roma unrest” while “I`m all wrong Jack” Straw concedes that The Legacy`s government made a hash over the matter of migration from within the European Union. It is, of course, this hash and the failure to impose the kind of controls over inward EU migration that France and Germany, for example, legally introduced at the right time, that is likely to set us at odds, now, with the European Court as we struggle to shut the stable door before the rest of the horses bolt. The “thirteen thousand Eastern Europeans” projected in 2004 has turned into a one-million plus largest wave of immigration in our history and the Office of National Statistics predicts 165 thousand a year until 2037 which totals a lot more people looking for homes and jobs.
It is against this background that David Cameron asserts that “free movement cannot be unqualified” while announcing proposed limitations on benefit payments to those who have made no contribution to our finances, prompting the European Commission to opine in mantra-style that “migrants will help the economy”. The aspirant President of the Commission, Viviane Reding, currently occupying the Vice-President`s chair, adds that “if Britain wants to stay a part of the single market then free movement applies”. She will not, therefore, have been best pleased to hear the new German coalition government also announcing its intention to `remove the incentives for migration`. Even Monsieur Holland, with the lowest opinion poll ratings since Marie Antoinette, looks set to swallow whatever remain of his socialist principles and act. The European Court may find itself quite busy.
The ECJ may also need to consider a proposal to rationalise the sittings of the European Parliament. It would, as the French have pointed out, require a Treaty change to end the “co-location” of that Parliament in both Brussels and Strasbourg. The travelling circus that is a mule-train of twenty-five articulated lorries carrying the four thousand trunks of documents needed to support seven hundred and sixty-six Members of the European Parliament, three thousand staff and interpreters for twelve four-day sessions a year is a ludicrous and impractical waste of money. It also burns twenty thousand tons of CO2 to occupy a parliament building in Strasbourg that lies empty for nine months of the year at a cost of £500 million and is immediately adjacent to the separate buildings that accommodate the Council of Europe and the European Court of Human Rights. This is the same EU, of course, that has miss-spent some 5% of its budget , or about six billion pounds equating to some £832 million of your money (if there was ever a proper audited account we might have a more precise figure) on fraudulent, illegal and ineligible projects. Whether the 4.5 million handed over by Brussels to the Salford Broadcasting Corporation`s charitable wing (did you know that it had one?) under its “Media Action” programme should be `eligible` is a moot point. Under the `EU Neighbourhood policy` Brussels apparently has a broad political strategy to train 1200 journalists in 17 countries to “encourage people to know their rights around an election”. Like the voting rights of ex-pat UK citizens for example?
And talking of the BBC, which we sort of were, one of Blair`s former spin people, has been hired as a part-time PR man. On a salary of only a little more than that paid to a full-time Prime Minister. This is part of the “small cheque” empire now presided over by Tony (Lord) Hall that also thinks that Mark Byford`s severance payment, made out of one million of your license-fee payer`s pounds under the risibly named `project silver`, is `fair and correct`. Lord `Corporation` Patten, the Chairman of the Trustees, says that the Tory party spends “more time bashing Auntie than (President) Hassad”, believes that “most sensible people support the BBC” which “is not a left-wing Trot organisation” and adds that “we are trying to cut back on bureaucracy”. Really? Lord Hall has indeed reduced the number of overpaid managers. From 437 to 415. One day we may learn just how much was paid off to those who masterminded the purchase, by BBC Worldwide of the “Lonely Planet” travel guide business for £90 million plus a further £42 million for a remaining 25% stake at the very moment when travel guides were going online. That business was sold for a mere £51.5 million to be added to the loss incurred as a result of the disastrous £95 million Digital Media Initiative and we have yet to discover – if we ever will – the true costs of the purchase and subsequent sale of the White City complex, the move to Salford and the refurbishment of Broadcasting House. All this for an organisation that, as Andrew Gilligan helpfully reminds us, has only won a news BAFTA award twice since it was created. Small wonder that the heir to BBC Royalty, David Dimbleby, should be reported as saying that it is time that the public service broadcaster defined its role, cut the gardening and cooking portfolio and merged its platforms into just two big channels.
One of the many strains that an excess of inward migration has caused is upon the National Health Service. That excellent medic, Professor J. Meirion Thomas, has warned long and often of the cost of `health tourism` to the British taxpayer and unregistered patients in need of healthcare and using hospital A&E departments as GP surgeries are exacerbating an already fragile situation. We are only at the beginning of winter and with really cold weather, and the ice and snow and falls and fractures that flow from it yet to come, many hospital beds are already full. Is the proposition put forward by Sir Bruce Keogh, the NHS Medical Director, for two-tier A&E units, the answer? Probably not. There is a strong view, held within the medical professions, that the 111 telephone service has led to more hospital admissions arising from risk-aversion. The Health Department`s suggestion that more patients should be treated by able and qualified paramedics and also by harder-working General Practioners and fewer taken to A&E would help but there are still far too many people clogging up hospital beds who really need respite, convalescent and “step-down” care that is simply not available. Professor Keith Willett, in a review of emergency care, has suggested that the NHS could take lessons from the retail sector when it comes to “predictive modelling” and, like supermarkets, it makes some sense to take evidence of demand from till rolls and weather forecasting but the bottom line is that unless patients are going to be stacked like cans of beans more non-hospital and affordable care is required.
In other news `Marine A` is found guilty of murder and awaits sentence. That the crime was heinous and in clear breach of the Geneva Convention is certain but should he face an exemplary punishment? General Sir Nick Houghton, the Head of the Armed Forces, thinks yes. Tim Collins and the Falklands war head of 3 Commando, Major General Thomson, think no. Seeing the body-parts of your comrades butchered by the Taliban and suspended in trees around you can have an effect upon the mind, it is suggested. Add to that the execution of an unarmed Bin Laden by an American Marine, Drone strikes designed to `take out` terrorists from thousands of miles away and Blair`s probably illegal war that killed scores of innocent civilians in Iraq and where do you draw the line? Not quite as sanctimoniously black and white as the purists might wish.
Booming Britain is, according to an OECD survey, getting happier even if we pay more property tax than any other Country in the world. The heads of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ have appeared in public before the Intelligence and Security chaired by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and have reaffirmed the damage done to our security by the antics of Edward Snowden and The Guardian prompting former Defence Minister Liam Fox to call for the prosecution of the newspaper. Pink Floyd`s Roger Waters thanks 93-year old Anzio veteran and non-voting resident in Italy Harry Shindler for help in locating the spot where the musician`s father was killed in action and The Who`s Roger Daltrey blames immigrants for “taking my mates` jobs”. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt promises a return to family GPs. The Catholic Church indicates that no new church primary schools will be built to help meet the demand for places unless Education Secretary Gove lifts his 50% cap on faith-selective places. A plaque has been placed on the church path to commemorate the spot where `Legacy` Blair delivered his “People`s Princess” speech following the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. It is claimed that this was scribbled on the back of an envelope and that “at the time I thought it was natural”. Cynics might suggest that nothing overseen by Alastair Campbell was ever impromptu. The prime Minister is calling on the services of GCHQ and the NSA as well as Google and Microsoft in his effort to crack the Internet porn `enigma code` and break the `dark web`. Meantime the founder of the World Wide Web, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, feels that the Web Index and state surveillance of the internet in 81 countries is placing democracy under threat. One man`s freedom is another man`s chains.
Commenting on a suggestion made by the Princess Royal in the interests of equine welfare David Cameron says that he is “not keen on eating horse”. In Kerala, Southern India, Prince Charles celebrates the 65th anniversary of his birth in the company of the Duchess of Cornwall with much singing of “Happy Birthday To You” and a cake, decorated with a bus pass, presented to him by his staff. And Prince Harry is in Antarctica for the South Pole Allied Challenge 2013 in which he is participating with a team of war-injured servicemen. Home, if all goes well, in time for a Happy Christmas.
People don`t know their conkers from their nuts. A Sky Rainforest research project has revealed that adults cannot identify trees, do not know where conkers and acorns come from and notwithstanding seasonal carols are unlikely to be able to tell the holly from the ivy. Just one in ten of knows that the holly is the one with the red berries and the prickly bits.
Treasure hunters have dug up the cricket square in Lacock, Wiltshire. Ms. Plod, the spokesthing for Wiltshire Constabulary, helpfully reveals that the suspect “is someone using a metal detector”. Nice one, Sherlock!
And Leicestershire police have reportedly left a twelve year old traumatised having hammered on the door at seven o`clock at night to interrogate the lout for “flicking an elastic band”. God help any lad with a catapult in Leicestershire.
Newcastle`s Labour Council have found themselves compelled to pay for the costs of a failed asylum seeker to train as a pilot and, additionally, will be required to pay him £10 thousand in living expenses until his leave to remain expires at the end of 2014. His brother is being assisted to study at Manchester University. A couple of high fliers – thanks to the taxpayer`s generosity.
The actor David Suchet reveals that he developed the Poirot mincing walk on the back of advice from Olivier who told him to try walking while holding a penny between his buttocks. When I was a young actor with appalling deportment a friend with whom I was working suggested that I imagined that I was holding a lemon in the same bodily space. Unfortunately I thought she said a melon – with disastrous consequences.
The Bishop of Hertford helpfully suggests that we should eschew e-mail Christmas greetings and 50p a pot second class postage stamps and instead revert to tradition and deliver cards by hand. Reaching my friends in the United States and throughout Europe might prove a little costly using this method, even by Ryanair.
Lower Hartshay in Derbyshire was short of a Fawkes Night bonfire this year. Amber Valley Council removed the accumulating pyre as “fly tipped rubbish” leaving a note describing the site as `an environmental crime scene`.
Receiving bad notices for the demeanour of its staff the Temporary Measure Tearoom in Keswick has hit back. “They don`t understand the Northern Way” says a spokesman. “We enjoy a good curmudgeon. Britain likes a good old-fashioned surly disposition”.
Oops! Russet faces at Bulmers` Cider Company. The firm though that they had tracked down a picture of the founder, The Reverend H.C.Bulmer. Unfortunately the photograph that they published turned out to be that of one Reverend Price Hughes, a Victorian Methodist and a teetotaller. Coin of the realm has been handed to the Chapel.
“Think before you ink”. Mr. Dimbleby, scion of the broadcasting family, has at the age of 75 acquired his first tattoo. Of a scorpion. With a sting in the tale (sic). He was clearly, as was I, unaware that this is a symbol used by the `gay` community to indicate that the bearer is HIV positive.
Three servicewomen compelled to march in step have been awarded £100thousand each in damages against the MoD for injuries arising from being made to `over-stride`. Women`s strides should not be more than 27 inches, apparently, so in the interests of equality I would like to know where that leaves height-challenged males.
`Elf n Safety have banned duck-feeding from the park in Longton, Stoke on Trent and duck-stuffers now face a fine if apprehended. Parents and even grandparents who for generations have taken children to distribute largesse to our feathered friends have been wrong so to do. “there has to be a cultural change. Bread pollutes the water”. Of course, how stupid of us. The European Commission must act immediately.
In Brussels sights already, though, is Thomas Crapper`s great Victorian invention, the flushing lavatory. A £72 thousand analysis of the custom and practice in 26 countries has revealed that the quantity of flushing water consumed “varies considerably”. At present the United Kingdom consumes up to 6 litres a pot. Brussels is minded to standardise that at a much lower level. They are also trying to introduce a new EU standard 1600 watt limit for vacuum cleaners, reducing to 900 watts for appliances sold after 2017, to replace the current 1800 generally used 1800 watt machine. An engineer who knows rather more about these matters than the average Eurocrat, who presumably has a person to do his hoovering for him, points out that “less power means less suck means longer use means more electricity”!
In the run up to Christmas Debenhams has dropped what are described as `sexist` toy labels and eliminated the Boys and Girls sections of their displays. “Let Toys be Toys” is the slogan.
The DVLA has banned x-rated number plates that might otherwise have been issued with effect from 14th March 2014. No BU14SHT.
In 1863 the Harrisburg Patriot and Union (Pennsylvania) newspaper dismissed Abraham Lincoln`s Gettysburg Address as “Fell below expectations – does not possess sense”. This was, of course, the speech that famously declared that “government of the people by the people for the people shall not perish from the earth”.
The Patriot-News of Harrisburg, as it is now known, wishes it to be known that:
“In the editorial about President Lincoln`s speech delivered on November 19th 1893 the Patriot and Union failed to recognise its momentous importance, timeless eloquence and lasting significance. The Patriot-News regrets the error”
The Patriot-News editorial board adds by way of explanation that the offending editorial “was perhaps composed under the influence of partisanship or of strong drink as was common in the profession at the time”
Who needs a Royal Charter?
Grace Jones, the last living Briton born in the Nineteenth Century, has died in London following a fall in her council flat. Born on 7th December 1899 she lost her fiancé during the First World War and never married. Robert Cecil, Marquess of Salisbury, was the first of twenty-two Prime Ministers whose administrations she experienced.
Prince Charles ` friend Sir John Tavener, remembered for “Song For Athene” performed at Diana`s funeral, the oratorio “The Whale” which he wrote at the age of 24, “The Protecting Veil” which topped the Classical Pops in 1992 and “A new beginning” performed for the opening of the Milennium Dome has died at his Dorset home in Child Okeford near Dorchester.
John Cole, described as “The BBC`s voice of the Thatcher years” for his political coverage of the Falklands War, the Brighton Bombing, and her resignation, was 85. Cole began his career in Northern Ireland with the Belfast Telegraph, worked for The Manchester Guardian and The Observer and took his Ulster accent to the BBC in 1981. For good or ill he is regarded as the first BBC political reporter to editorialise – a fact highlighted in his autobiography “as It Seemed To Me”.
Twice President of Cyprus, Glafkos Clerides has left us at the age of 94. A particular generation of British servicemen remembers him for his support for EOKA and his representation, as a distinguished layer, of those on trial for their lives prior to the independence of his island. They tend to forget that he flew in the RAF and was shot down, captured and imprisoned while fighting for Britain during the Second World War. It was a huge sadness to him not to have lived to see the reunification of Cyprus following the Turkish invasion and illegal occupation of his Country. He was a good and brave man and I am proud to have enjoyed his friendship.
It has taken Sean Conway, from Gloucestershire, one hundred and thirty six days to paddle a canoe the one thousand miles from Lands End up the West Coast and round to John O`Groats. The intrepid 32-year old had never paddled for more than three miles prior to this experience and suffers from seasickness. He lost so much weight during this ordeal that he had to size down in wetsuits three times. Rounding Cape Wrath one of his kayaks was smashed and his inflatable support boat carrying his `support paddler` Emily Bell, overturned but he made it. Afterwards he said “I have proved a lot of doubters wrong – but I`m not sorry that it`s over”. Makes you proud to be British, does it not!