December. The end of a `bumpy road` or the entrance to a cul-de-sac? Hope for the former but don`t rule out the latter! A General Election leading to an unexpected landslide victory for the Conservative Party as the `Red Wall` across Britain crumbles. Celebrations and a conference to mark the 70th anniversary of NATO end, in keeping with the spirit of 2019, on a bum note. More murders on London Bridge, strikes in France, rail strikes reminiscent of the 1970`s in Britain, a `Mafia State` in Malta and the impeachment of the Commander-in-Chief of the forces of the United States of America. Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, or `Auntie Su` as she is popularly known, finds herself up before the international court in The Hague defending her country against charges of genocide. At home `Auntie` BBC, the Salford Broadcasting Corporation, funds herself on the rack and may yet pay a fearful price for the self-indulgence of Mr Andrew `Brillo` Neil during the election. The first female Chief of the London Fire Brigade, Dany Cotton, quits in the wake of the publication of the report on the Grenfell Fire disaster, Mr. Speaker Bercow bows out without the customary elevation to the Peerage and Sir Lindsay Hoyle is elected as his successor and there is, just days before Christmas, a second State Opening of Parliament within a matter of weeks. The Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg is named as the Time magazine`s `Person of the Year` and journalists from all over the world add to the carbon footprint while jetting in to interview her. The Old Lady of Threadneedle Street, The Bank of England, acquires a new Governor to replace the outgoing Mark Carney in the form of Andrew Bailey, the head of the unloved Financial Conduct Authority. Prince Philip nips into the King Edward V11 hospital for the treatment of `a pre-existing condition` but is back home in Sandringham just in time to watch his wife, Her Maj, deliver the Christmas message at three o`clock in the afternoon and not, as Mr. Corbyn appears to believe, on Christmas morning. Red Jerry himself, still living in cloud cuckoo land, continues to claim that he `won the argument` during an election that saw the biggest political wipeout since Tony `The Legacy` Blair annihilated the Tories in 1997.The scramble to succeed Comrade Corbyn, who will presumably soon head off to retirement in Venezuela, promises to be the other big story, after the ongoing Brexit Saga (Part Two) of the start of the next decade but the year ends with the publication of the New Year`s Honours list. The list, which used to emerge on New Year`s morning, now slips out several days before the end of the old year and on this occasion Sir Arbuthnot Butterfingers, KCMG, in the Cabinet Office hit the wrong button on the computer keyboard and managed to publish on line the private addresses of some one thousand recipients of gongs. Oops! A fitting end to the twenty-teens.
I said in November that “we are facing the most unpleasant, dishonest, bad-tempered and divisive General Election within anyone`s living political memory” and so, largely, it has proved. It was also cold, wet and very dark. The Labour Party sought, from the moment that the election was called, to `weaponise` the National Health Service. The opening salvo from my own Socialist opponent in North Thanet was “Tory cuts will close the (local) QEQM Hospital. People will die”. This kind of ill-founded scaremongering, designed to frighten, particularly, the elderly and the mentally vulnerable is bad enough at best and when emanating from a woman who is also a General Practitioner is in my view unforgivable. Ordinarily it is fair to say that there is a degree of camaraderie between election candidates. We are, after all, in the same boat and while clearly our doctrines and our political beliefs separate us there is usually a common desire to seek to serve the public and to do our best by those that we hope to represent that gives us common cause. Not so this time. In this past election it appears that my own experience was replicated in some form almost nationwide. It was labelled by journalists as “The Brexit Election” and so, in large part it was. It was also, though, a Social Media election to a degree that has not been experienced previously and in the twittersphere it seems that anything goes and that there is little or no redress against the most outrageous claims and lies. The customary courtesies have been thrown to the four winds with truth and common decency as the first victims and when the dust has settled it will, I think, be necessary for the Electoral Commission to take a long hard look at what is permissible and what is beyond the Pale. I am not squeamish: I have a skin thickened as a candidate in ten General Elections and participation in many more such exercises at home and around the world and little any longer surprises me. If, though, our own democracy is not going to sink to banana republic levels and if we are not to see good and particularly female candidates deterred, through vilification and highly personalised abuse, from putting themselves and their reputations on the line in the interests of public service then we are going to have to review and revise the rules of the game to meet the requirements of the pitch upon which we are now required to play.
I have a friend who, as an amateur psephologist and professional number-cruncher, has called every election correctly since I first stood in a General Election in 1983. This time, with very heavy caveats, he predicted a Conservative majority of twenty seats but he did warn that it could be a lot more or a lot less. There will no doubt be those who will claim to have predicted the final outcome but for most it was, until the very last minute, too close to call and I do not think that many foresaw the degree of antipathy towards Mr. Corbyn personally or, particularly in the northern seats won by the Conservative Party for the first time in living memory, the capacity for an electorate to abandon the voting habits of generations and, albeit with a heavy heart, to vote to elect a Tory as their Member of Parliament. The analysis of the results will take and be argued over for years but certain facts are already clear. You do not need to be a particularly astute political observer to have seen that by and large the Liberal `Remain` vote was squeezed and the much – vaunted yellow surge evaporated, taking the new Leader of that Party, Jo Swinson with it. It was widely predicted that North of the Border the Scottish nationalists would make sweeping gains and so it proved, costing not only Ms. Swinson but many hard working Tory colleagues who has won their seats under the leadership of Ruth Davison, their majorities. It is true, also, that the collapse of Farridge`s Brexit Party, his decision not to contest Tory seats and the late-in-campaign resignations of four of his Party`s MEPs (including `Nancy` Mogg, the sister of the invisible campaigner) and his failure to secure more than `spoiling` votes in the seats that he did contest made a huge difference to the end result. In that sense if in no other Brother Nige, derided for his indecision, might justly claim to have contributed to the Tory majority that will finally deliver Brexit. Most of us standing as Conservative candidates canvassed voters who grudgingly voted for us as the least worst of the options and only then because they had no Brexit flag to salute. Farridge clearly faced up, albeit late in the day, to the reality that half a Brexit loaf, in his terms, was better than further dither and delay under a Corbyn-led coalition and then, very possibly, no Brexit at all.
Notwithstanding the overt support of the former Remain-supporting Tory Prime Minister, Sir John Major, those Members who had taken a principled stand, lost the Tory whip and stood as Independents also faced annihilation. Some, of course, like Margot James and Alistair Burt, took an early decision not to stand but it gives me no pleasure to say that the talented David Gauke is no longer a Member of Parliament. Others, the former Conservative Minister Anna Soubry and Labour members who had joined the Liberal Party, Chuka Umunna and Luciana Berger, also paid the price at the ballot box.
The campaign was generally regarded as lack-lustre, which is probably just how Tory High Command wanted it. Corbyn made no breakthrough and even shocking TV footage of a small, sick, boy lying on a hospital floor failed to give Labour the anticipated `NHS boost`. There is much wrong with the National Health Service, certainly but the promise of yet more billions of pounds from the orchard of money trees in Comrade McDonnell`s back garden will not solve the problem. At the risk of yet another ill thought-through reorganisation there has to be a root-and-branch examination of the reasons behind the failure of successive Governments to make vast sums in funding work to really enhance patient care. In television debates that excluded the Leader of the Liberal Party neither Mr. Johnson nor Mr. Corbyn landed knockout punches although most pollsters gave the two bouts to Johnson if only on points. It is a moot harm whether or not Johnson`s decision to decline an interview with Mr. Andrew Neil, who clearly regards himself as the Dean of the College of Television Inquisitors, did more harm than good. It certainly limited any potential damage and Neil`s self-indulgent “These are all of the questions that we would have liked to put to the Prime Minister (but which by implication he is not willing to answer” tirade to live camera revealed a great deal about Neil`s arrogance and sense of his own self- importance. On balance it almost certainly did more damage to the BBC`s reputation for impartiality than to the Prime Minister. In an age when increasing numbers of the next generation of consumers obtain their news and their entertainment from sources other than a patronising Nanny State Broadcaster it may be that Neil`s petulant tirade, described by the veteran broadcaster John Humphreys as `crass`, has done permanent damage to the future of license-fee funded public service broadcasting. We have to hope that common sense, cool heads and time to reflect will prevail and prevent the vengeful destruction of an organisation that still adds value to our national life. It is a fact that practically every developed state that does not have a Public Service Broadcaster has had to try to invent one and most have ended up as poor imitations of the BBC.
Up to polling day itself I still believed that the result was too close to call and that there was just as much of a possibility that Corbyn might form a minority or coalition Government as that Johnson might scrape home with a narrow but probably workable majority and certainly in the South of England where my own seat is located I believe that many felt likewise. On polling day, it is my custom to methodically visit every polling station and to thank the Presiding Officers and their staff for their what is a long and tedious day that starts at dawn and closes at 10.pm. From 7am onwards I faced the mounting realisation that I was in danger of believing in my own publicity. I was faced on the part of people, some on crutches or in wheelchairs and very many elderly, with a grim determination to exercise their right to vote in person of a kind that I have seldom if ever witnessed in Britain before. Although to mood seemed from my own point of view positive exactly how they had voting only begun to become clear with the broadcast, within almost seconds of the close of the polling stations, of the exit polls. That forecast gave the Conservative Party 368 seats in the House of Commons with Labour on just 191, the Liberal Democrats on 13, the SNP on 55 and others (Irish and Welsh and Green MPs) 23. A massive, almost unthinkable majority of a kind not seen on our benches since Margaret Thatcher`s early victories.
The new House of Commons contains 109 new Tories including eight who are under 30 and 12 new women – up from 208 to 220. 2% of the new Members attended comprehensive schools and not one went to Eton. The youngest new Conservative MP is 24 year old Sara Britcliffe representing Hyndburn and the `Baby of the House` is Labour`s 23-year old Nadia Whittome representing Nottingham East.
The new parliament sat for the first time on Tuesday 17th December to re- elect Sir Lindsay Hoyle as Speaker and to allow all of those returned to take the oath. Following the Queens Speech, the Speaker appointed a temporary Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means and two temporary Deputy Speakers to conduct business while the candidates for the permanent posts were nominated and elections held. As the temporary Chairman of Ways and Means it fell to me to announce, on Friday 20th December, the result of the historic vote on the Government`s Withdrawal Agreement Bill. The measure received its second reading with a majority of 124. It now goes into a Committee of the Whole House immediately when parliament sits again on Tuesday 6th January and is expected to complete all of its stages through both Houses (Lords and Commons) in ample time to meet the January 31st target date.
The stark facts and statistics do not, of course, reveal the human cost of an electoral landslide. Many, on my side of the House, have lost good friends who have sat on the Opposition benches and each of the fifty-nine former Labour Members has employed staff who, just before Christmas, have in most cases found themselves out of a job. That is the harsh reality of the political process and it is not surprising that almost within minutes of the exit poll being announced ex-MPs were queuing up to savage Labour`s campaign and the authors of it, John McDonnell and, particularly, Jeremy Corbyn. Alan Johnson, former Labour Home Secretary now retired and probably the best leader that that party never had, has said publicly that Labour will have to dump what he has described as the `Momentum Cult` or the party itself will be reduced to the level of a cult. The first post-election meeting of the Parliamentary Labour Party was, I am told, a grim affair with Red Jerry mauled over their worst General Election result since 1935. I remember too well the state of the Conservative Party, post Blair`s 1997 victory and it was not pretty. It takes painful time to re-group and to select a new Leader. A strong democracy requires a strong Opposition and we have to hope that, as we had to, so the Labour Party will learn from a bruising experience and not simply regurgitate under another Comrade the failures of the past three years. In the meantime, it falls to those of us on the Government back-benches to hold our own Ministers to account and to ensure that manifesto promises are honoured.
In other news NATO met at the start of December to review its performance over seventy years and to plan strategy and finance going forward. In ordinary times a gathering in London of this kind, with many of the Leaders of the free Western World present, ought to have been a gift for a Prime Minister to host in the middle of a General Election campaign. But these are not ordinary times. While the Commander in Chief of the United States supports Mr. Johnson his endorsement would have been, potentially, toxic. Memories of President O`Bama`s `helpful` intervention in UK politics are still raw and it was clearly vital to deliver a delicate message to all the President`s Men to indicate that overt `assistance` from The Man in the White House might prove counter-productive. While the prospect of an anti-American in Number 10 was clearly anathema to the United States eggshells were being walked upon. In the event Red Jerry took a swipe at NATO for `deepening the Cold War` which afforded the Prime Minister to observe that for seventy years the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation had been vital to our security. Compare and contrast. The presence of Turkey, a NATO member and currently enjoying a reputation as a pariah State while also purchasing military equipment from the neo-Soviet Union did not make for comfortable engagement, however, and The Tramp`s insistence on greater financial contributions from some States did not sit comfortably with the French Connection in the form of M. Macron and Canada`s Justin Trudeau. It was unfortunate that a rogue microphone picked up an aside at an informal gathering during which Trudeau poked fun at The Tramp for delaying proceedings by indulging in an inordinately long US press conference at the residence in Regent`s Park. The Tramp, who is not known for his freewheeling sense of humour, got the hump, threw his Presidential toys out of the pram, cancelled another press conference and flew out while still being mocked by some other NATO Leaders. Which does not bode well for the next seventy years of contribution to our collective security.
In his own backyard The Tramp has not been having an easy time either. While the President of the United States has been strutting, or more correctly, stumbling, the World State the Leader of the House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi who, by most reasonable standards presents as one tough cookie, has been preparing impeachment charges against him. Skeletons have been tumbling out of the cupboard and whistles shrilly blown and it transpires that within ninety minutes of a call between the President of the United States and the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, three hundred million of US dollars in State Aid to Ukraine was frozen pending the dishing of dirt on Democratic Presidential hopeful Joe Biden. As it was certain that the Democrat-controlled House of Representatives would vote for impeachment of the President so it is equally certain that the Republican-controlled Senate will vote against. Who, in election year, will benefit from this and who will lose is a very moot point. The diehard “Trump can do no wrong” of the Republican core vote will be further incensed and motivated by the fact that their hero is being `maligned. ` The “Trump can do no right` of the Democratic left have known all along that the sitting President is an anti-Christ who eats female babies for breakfast and there are probably not enough voters left outside those extremes in the key swing States that make up America`s electoral college to make the difference between win and lose. Nevertheless, the Tramp had wanted the exoneration of the Senate to tweet about and so the tactic of the House of Representatives is now to delay submitting the matter to the Upper House clearly annoys him and in US political terms is probably quite cute. There is just the possibility that further embarrassing details may emerge that will make it a tad harder for Republican Senators to simply endorse their Leader`s innocence of all wrongdoing. Big Nancy could yet get her scalp.
In California money can buy what passes for `justice` in that State. Vernon Unsworth was one of the men who successfully orchestrated the rescue of twelve Thai young footballers trapped in an underground cave in rising floodwaters. This, by most people`s standards, was a heroic and potentially life-threatening venture. Mr Elon Musk, of Tesla notoriety, offered the use of a mini-submarine to `assist` in the rescue. The vessel, in the eye of an experienced cave-diver, was clearly unsuited to the task in hand and would have been of about as much use as a chocolate teapot. Mr. Unsworth had the temerity to dismiss this `generous` offer as a publicity stunt on the part of an attention-seeking entrepreneur. Mr. Musk`s response, on social media, was to dub the real rescuer `a paedo guy` inferring, presumably, that the rescuer was really only interested in the boys for the wrong reasons. Under Californian law it is necessary to prove `negligence`, whatever that means, in order to get a libel action to stick. And so, because the case was heard in California and not in Britain, Mr. Musk walks off scot free. Not unreasonably there are those who say that this has created open season for libel on social media unless and until what many regard as a perverse judgement is reversed.
To end on a lighter note – and we desperately need one – it is fifty years this yuletide since all television, BBC1 BBC2 and ITV, was first shown in colour. The offerings included “Carry On Christmas”, Des O`Connor, The BBC Panto starring Anita Harris, Jimmy Tarbuck and Basil Brush, Christmas Night with the Stars including Val Doonican, Cilla Black and Lulu and the first Morcambe and Wise Christmas Special. In order to `avoid over-exposure` there was no Christmas Message from the Queen but the summer-scheduled film of the Royal Family was repeated. This year we did have Her Majesty`s message, recorded for the first time at Windsor, and Mackenzie Crook`s delightful reincarnation of Worzel Gummidge. Who says that things cannot get better?
Greta Thunberg, the Swedish wunderkind and doyenne of the environmental movement, sailed across the Atlantic in the good ship La Vagabode to attend the COP 25 Climate change conference in Madrid.
Unfortunate but of practical necessity that her skipper, who hails from Guildford in Surrey, had to fly by carbon- burning aircraft from the UK to the United States to pilot her vessel back to Europe. We need practical answers, surely, and not lip-service to the very real issue of climate change.
With the environment presumably in mind the yuletide trend is away from the real thing and towards artificial Christmas trees. Not just the four-foot trees of ten years ago but supersize nine-foot pre-lighted giant trees.
At Broadcasting House in London`s Portland Place, however, the BBS`s beautiful and newly-installed Christmas Tree was swiftly removed on the orders of `elf `n safety. Because of anticipated `activity in the Piazza` during General Election coverage the magnificent real spruce was deemed to be `a security risk` and was sawn into pieces and binned. There have been, surely, rather greater risks posed during the general election, not least by some of Auntie`s own presenters.
And the Radian Housing Association, responsible for some 2800 in the Southampton area on the South Coast has banned the display of Christmas wreaths on their front doors. They represent, of course, a fire risk.
Suggestions that a `drag queen` may be commissioned to perform as a `celebrity` in the planned 2020 season of Strictly Come Dancing have provoked the inevitable complaints about the participation of same-sex couples. Amongst the milder and printable of comments is the observation made by former head judge Len Goodman: “I like it as it was”. The show currently attracts 7.7 million family viewers per week.
Back to the elections and it has been a bumper cycle for Acting Returning Officers. Three General Elections in five years have reportedly generated some £150 K. per head in bonus fees.
In a poll of twenty-seven thousand young people the British Nutrition Foundation has established that only one in ten have tasted a cherry tomato, only thirty per cent believe that tuna is fish and a third of the sample thought that eggs are laid by cows. At the future of ageing conference mounted by the International Longevity Centre (yes, apparently there really is an ILC) Age UK has reported that four out of ten retailers do not provide for the needs of their elderly customers. What is required, it seems, is `slow shopping` facilitated by the availability of lavatories and chairs. Step forward Sainsbury`s, innovator of the ` relaxed shopping lane`. There are those, of course, who like myself will continue to believe that the words `relaxed` and `shopping` are simply not compatible.
Morrisons, “Other supermarkets are available”, have introduced a range of `No Pork Pies` constructed from soya and pea protein. The product will not, though, be marketed at their Melton Mowbray branch where `only the traditional meat-based recipe` will be purveyed. Melton Mowbray, in Leicestershire, has been the acclaimed spiritual home of the finest pork pies since 1831.
Last year it was the British Psychological Society that described Roger Hargreaves` much-loved `Mr. Men` children`s books as `sexist`. This year a University of Glasgow student engaged in a PhD course in Women`s Studies, described by the tabloid media as a `snowflake feminist` had condemned the relationship between the (smart) Mr. Clever and the (inquisitive) Miss Curious. New titles now suggested are Mr. Mansplain and Little Miss Woke.
Richard Gooding, a Colorado-based Pepsi-Cola executive, did not confine his tippling to the in-house product. His whisky collection, reputed to be the world`s largest, contained three thousand nine hundred bottles of Scotch including a 1926 Macallan valued at £1.5 million. The whole cellar-full was expected to raise some £8 million at auction.
The Whitehall Primary School in Chingford, Essex (the constituency represented by the fiercely British and newly-knighted Sir Iain Duncan-Smith) has been commended by the school assessors OFSTED as `Promoting British Values`. The school has this year revised the words of the carol `Away In A Manger` to read ` Baby Boy Jesus` rather than the traditional `Little Lord Jesus`. Last year, you see, some sixty children did not attend the Christmas celebrations `because of the carols and the nativity` and they wanted to be more inclusive. The Diocese of Chelmsford assures us that `the traditional Christmas message` is maintained. Christmas is about the birth of Christ. The clue, curiously, is in the name.
Dr Richard Scott, partner in the Bethesda GP practice in Cliftonville in Thanet, has been cleared by the General Medical Council following a six-month investigation arising from a complaint lodged by the National Secular Society. This followed a broadcast on BBC Radio 4 during which Dr. Scott indicated that on occasions he offered to pray for his patients if they so wished. Fact: Bethesda is well-known locally as a devout Christian practice that caters without discrimination for patients of all faiths and none. The GMC has decided to take `no further action` and the only question remaining is why did it take this august body six months to stuff the complaint into the appropriate receptacle?
Even those of us who voted `Remain` in the 2016 referendum will not miss some European regulations. Frozen turkeys are being sold, perfectly legally, as `Fresh` by major supermarket chains. This is because EU rules permit birds chilled to -2 degrees and stored in plastic bags filled with CO2 to be marketed in this way. As the British Frozen Food Federation has said with commendable candour “the public are being conned”.
And recalling, perhaps, the apparent effects upon the UK`s birth rate of his 2012 London Olympics the Prime Minister has predicted a post-Brexit baby boom. Whether he intends to contribute personally to this phenomenon is a matter of conjecture.
Terry de Haviland (81) was known in the 60`s as `The Rock `n Roll Cobbler`. The celebrity shoemaker, patronised by Bianca Jagger and Bette Midler, opened his “Cobblers to the World” emporium in 1972 and in the course of his career shod Marc Bolan, David Bowie and Jackie Onassis.
Bob Willis (70) was the Surrey fast-bowler who spent a decade playing for England. He left Surrey for Warwickshire in 1972. In the 1981 Test Match at Headingley he took eight wickets for forty-three runs. He captained England in 1982 and in the course of his career took 899 first-class wickets for an average of 24,99 runs before ending as a commentator for Sky Television.
Mary Craig (91) was an author and broadcaster. She joined BBC Woman`s Hour as a reporter in 1968 and also worked on Does He Take Sugar? As a biographer she recoded the lives of Pope John Paul and Lech Walesa.
Michael Peacock (90) will probably be best remembered for his part in the April 1st 1957 BBC Panorama “Italian Spaghetti Harvest” spoof. There are families of a very great age who are still arguing over whether or not spaghetti does, in fact, grow on trees! Peacock went on to become the Editor of Panorama in 1959, the Editor of BBC News in 1961 and the Head of BBC 1 and BBC 2 in 1968. He presided over the introduction of an era of programmes that included “Match of the Day” and “The Likely Lads”.
David Bellamy (86) was the scientist and ecologist who first came to prominence following the Torrey Canyon oil spill disaster in 1967. The “Wildman of the Woods” became the BBC`s `Bouncing Botanist’ whose campaigns to clean up beaches and to save rainforests were ahead of his time. Famed for “Bellamy`s Safaris” he was also the bete noir of the Green Party because of his recognition of the need to work with polluting industries rather than against them. He was also not afraid to condemn what he described as `green tokenism`.
Flt.Lt. Maurice Mousdon (101) was one of three remaining Battle of Britain pilots - he joined 56 Hurricane Squadron in June 1940 - and member of Archibald McIndoe`s `Guinea Pig Club`. He retired to live in Menorca and was saluted by the RAF`s Red Arrows display team on his 100th birthday.
And John Jennings (100) was a D-Day survivor who landed on Gold Beach with the Royal Pioneer Cops in 1944 and lived to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the landings from the coast of his home town, Portsmouth.
Nicky Henson (74), the son of the actor Leslie Henson, was himself a versatile and talented actor who will probably best be remembered for Fawlty Towers, East Enders, Downton Abbey, The Bill, Touch of Frost and other TV programmes but he was also a talented stage and screen performer who appeared in a number of films and starred in the West End production of Camelot. He finally lost his eighteen-year battle with cancer.
Kenny Lynch (81) was the 1960`s pioneer for black entertainers in London. His 1962 recording of `Up On The Roof` became a hit single, he toured with The Beatles and appeared on television with Bruce Forsyth and Jimmy Tarbuck.
Martin Peters (76) is described as `one of the all time greats` of British football who was a member of the July 1966 World Cup Squad. He joined West Ham at the age of fifteen and scored 81 goals for them in 302 matches played between 1959 and 1970. He transferred to Tottenham Hotspurs in 1970 and retired as a player in 1981. He was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006.
Tony Britton (95) enjoyed a theatrical career spanning six decades. He made his first stage appearance at Weston-super-Mare in 1942 when he was eighteen before joining the armed forces for the duration of the rest of the war. He joined Anthony Quayle`s Shakespeare Memorial Company in Stratford upon Avon and played Bassanio in the production of Merchant of Venice that starred Dame Peggy Ashcroft as Portia. Britton appeared alongside Leslie Caron in Gigi in 1956 and at the Old Vic in Chekhov`s The Seagull before rejoining Anthony Quayle with the Congress Theatre to play in St. Joan The Tempest and King Lear. At the Chichester Festival Theatre he played Sir Thomas More in `A Man for All Seasons`. On the screen he appeared in many films throughout the 1050`s and he received a BAFTA nomination for his starring part in `The Nearly Man` TV drama. He also toured for two and a half years playing Professor Higgins in revivals of My Fair Lady.
Bobby Neame (85) was the scion of the Shepherd Neame family brewing dynasty founded by Percy Neame in 1864. He was Chairman of `Shep`s` between 1971 and 2005, the Chairman of the South East England Tourist Board and a Leader of Kent County Council.
Christopher Jackson (84) was the last `real` Conservative Member of the European Parliament for Kent before the introduction of proportional representation and a collective of MEPs spanning the whole of the South East of England. Ever-courteous and a true gentleman he found himself at odds with his Party of the direction of the UK within Europe but rejoined the fold before his premature death from heart failure.
And Andrew Miller (70) was the Member of Parliament for Ellesmere Port in Cheshire for twenty three years from 1992. The Chairman of the Commons Science and Technology Committee (PITCOM), he was one of few Members of the House to demonstrate a real grasp of the information technologies that are now so much a part of our everyday lives.
Whatever the misgivings about Brexit – and regular readers will know that I have many – we shall honour the expressed will of the British people and leave the European Union on 31st January 2020. This, to use Churchill`s phrase, is merely `the end of the beginning` and there will be a great deal of work to be done before new relationships and trade agreements are forged. Throughout that process I will continue, as I have done in the past, to seek to ensure that the needs and concerns of Citizens of the United Kingdom living temporarily or permanently away from home are not overlooked. In the meantime, from Suzy and myself, our children and grandchildren, the very best of wishes for a happy, a healthy and a peaceful New Year.