Westminster View - December 2010
December. “The coldest ever”. Whitemare Britain gritless. Welcome to the Heathrow Refugee Camp. Wikiluvvies bail out the Wikifuhrer. The future of the World Cup is fixed. Students are still revolting. Cries of “Off with her head”. The pantomime season starts on a sour note. St. Vince loses his halo and the Telegraph (“Yesterday`s News Tomorrow”) is very economical with the truth.
It begins with snow, it ends with snow and there is snow in the middle.. As the first flakes fall Great Britain grinds to a halt. Trains are cancelled (of course), airports shut, all but trunk roads become impassable and fuel prices rise. Surveying the whiteout, Transport Secretary Philip Hammond appears on television against a variety of white backgrounds and keeps his cool. Lessons will be learned from the `weather event`. You bet they will! As pre-Christmas would-be travellers heading for sunshine destinations find themselves marooned, with precious little sustenance or comfort, at freezing Heathrow airport the current boss of BAA, one Colin Matthews, surrenders his annual bonus. Those seeking an alternative route to Europe via St. Pancras and Eurostar fare no better: that company cancels its services again as desperate queues wind around the block. The Director of Operations for Network Rail says that the railways `are in good shape`. A change of leaderships within the transport companies needs to be on the cards. “Off with their heads”. “Thousands” living in rural areas “may be left without fuel oil” as supplies cannot get through.. Those living in more urban areas are perplexed. Were the oil fuel tanks not replenished before the start of winter? In some cases, apparently, not.
Justice Secretary and Lord Chancellor, Ken Clarke , intimates that knife crime will not in the future necessarily lead to gaol. The Justice Department`s predilection for community punishment is well known. A “rehabilitation revolution” is on the cards while the Justice Secretary concedes that there can be ` no absolute guarantee` that released homicide convicts may not kill again. If he has his way murderers will, though, serve shorter sentences and minimum tariffs will be scrapped leaving judges to determine sentence. The latter might please some – but only if capital punishment is reintroduced!
Another day, another view. The Prime Minister swiftly affirms that life sentences will not be abolished and Home Secretary Theresa May remains convinced that convinced that “prison works”. Rumblings in the tea room. What is the Justice Department for? How much would we save if we scrapped it? With Michael, now Lord, Howard in the wings as a potential Lord Chancellor and an excellent Attorney General available to take on other duties has not the time come to eliminate the costly grandeur of the Weakest Link?
Talking of killers, the Iraqi Kurdish asylum seeker convicted and sentenced for murder is, upon his release, now not facing deportation because, according to the judges, of his human right to a “private and family life”. The fact that he has acquired a wife and two children in the United Kingdom only since his release from prison has, apparently, no bearing on the matter. As the father of the girl that he killed says “my daughter is six feet under the earth and I can take her nowhere: he can take his family wherever he likes” but victims, of course, do not have the “human rights” that are reserved for villains. Not surprisingly the Human Right Act is described as “a charter for criminals” and the situation “a betrayal of justice”. We can all feel some sympathy with that point of view but for the Bourgeois Women`s Tabloid to scream “betrayal” because the Prime Minister has not honoured his pledge to repeal the Human Rights Act is a nonsense. It has clearly escaped the more dim-witted editorial teams of some national newspapers that we do not have a Conservative parliamentary majority and that, therefore, any changes of law are subject to consent and to the numbers game. There is, quite simply, no consensus and insufficient parliamentary support to allow the repeal of the Act to pass through the House of Commons – which to me would seem to suggest that if you wanted a Conservative government implementing Conservative policies contained within a Conservative manifesto then you should have voted accordingly!
None of the above has been lost upon Ed Miliband. The Leader of Her Majesty`s Opposition has not had the brightest start to his incumbency and is one of the least popular holders of his office in recent history according to opinion polls. That, and the fact that Lord Kinnock, loser of two elections, has supported him in saying that it is too early for him to show a sense of policy, might give him cause for concern. It has not, however, blinded Milipede the Younger from the fact that there is a difference between coalition and overall majority. Given that beastly things and much financial hardship are in the pipeline for us all he has therefore, cutely, instructed his depleted parliamentary battalions to refrain from referring to “the Coalition” and instructed them to use, instead, the phrase “Conservative-led Government”. He knows precisely who he wants to carry the can. The last Labour government may have left our Country bankrupt but memories are short and by the time of the next general election it will be the pain and those who inflicted it, not those who necessitated it, that will be remembered. We all need to be very aware of that.
With the location of the next two World Cup tournaments in the balance and with Britain believed to be in the running alongside Russia and Spain/Portugal for 2018, Prince William, David Cameron and David Beckham jet off to enhance our chances. On the eve of their departure the BBC Panorama screens an expose of corruption within FIFA ranks. Thanks, Beeb! Fifteen million quid and the combined weight of real and football royalty and our Prime Minister deliver just deux points as the prize goes to Russia. FIFA supremo Sepp Blatter, accused of running a corrupt organisation – how could anyone suggest such a thing? – says afterwards that all along they wanted the competitions to go to countries that had not hosted it before. In which case, why did they not say that at the beginning and save HRH and his wingmen the effort of a wasted journey? Roger Burden, the FA`s Acting Chairman, pulls out of the running for the job rather than have to work with FIFA and Mayor Boris cancels an invitation to the FIFA grandees to stay at the Dorchester Hotel in London during the 2012 Olympics. We could do better than that. We could deny them visas. Now that, Home Secretary, really would be a vote-winner.
Mr. Julian Assange, the Australian mind behind the Wikileaks website that has published, indiscriminately, thousands of illegally obtained secret documents, resides at present in the United Kingdom. Those , including the Guardian newspaper, that feel that there is some connection between the gratuitous release of diplomatic graffiti, the “public interest” and investigative journalism regard Mr. Assange as something of an icon. So much so that the luvvies of the Wikerati have forked out a quarter of a million pounds in bail to secure his release from Wandsworth prison while the Courts decide whether he is to be extradited to Sweden to face charges of rape. Suddenly even the loathsome EU Arrest Warrant seems almost attractive.
Not that it is only Wikileaks that has blown the gaffe. The Diaspora of Fleet Street`s self-appointed Witchfinder General, the Daily Telegraph, has been caught with its breeches around its ankles in a manner of speaking. The Telegraph despatched two fragrant young hackettes to pose as constituents of Dr. Vincent Cable, to attend a constituency advice surgery, entrap the ageing “saint”, record his indiscretions and publish them. Other Telegraph sleuths were sent off to talk to other LibDem Ministers in search of more fruity bits.
Setting aside the question of whether it is proper and “in the public interest” to impersonate and secretly record in the sanctity of an MPs advice surgery, hitherto regarded as a cross between a confessional and a doctor`s couch and every bit as confidential, nobody who has ever fought an election campaign should be surprised that some Liberal Democrats say, on occasions, one thing to your face and something completely different behind your back. That, as they say, goes with the territory and is an accepted fact of political life.
No. What is really interesting about this squalid piece of “journalism” is that the Telegraph proudly published a “complete” transcript of the Cable tapes on its website. Only it expurgated the transcript first. The real story is not the party political tittle-tattle but that the Telegraph concealed the fact that Cable told the two “young ladies” that he had declared war on Rupert Murdoch. The man who, as Secretary of State for Trade, had at the time the responsibility to determine whether or not the Murdoch Empire should be allowed to take over full ownership of BSkyB was clearly, by his own admission, partisan. And yet the fearless Telegraph, scourge of wrongdoers, suppressed the story. Why? Surely not because, in company with the Guardian, the Mail, the BBC and a number of other equally vested media interests, The Telegraph had campaigned against the takeover and feared that to expose such a powerful and clandestine ally as Cable might be counter-productive?
As we now know, a journalist within the Telegraph who clearly both knows a story when she sees one and retains a vestige of professional honour passed the full transcript to the BBC who, to give Auntie praise where praise is due, then ran the tale. The net result is that St. Vince has had his Murdoch responsibilities transferred to Jeremy Hunt at the DCMS and the newspaper is revealed to be as disingenuous as many of us have always known it to be. Remember that next time you feel like saying “but I read it in the Telegraph”!
The Coalition`s LibDem partners have not had an easy month. As the debate about student finance and the enabling legislation reaches its Commons climax the mob takes to the streets again. Nobody can or should, in a democracy, seek to deny the right of those with strong feelings to make their voices heard and there are clearly many who, however mis-informed, have had strong feelings about the funding of higher education. That cannot, though, give others hell-bent on anarchy the right to vandalise the statue of Winston Churchill, desecrate the Cenotaph and attack a car carrying the heir to the throne and his wife. To then complain that the constabulary had the temerity to “kettle” the demonstrators in the interests of their own and public safety adds insult to literal injury. If some of those demonstrating suffered minor inconvenience then I am sorry but nobody made them frequent a riot. My sympathies are entirely with those – and their horses – some of whom suffered serious injuries while carrying out the duties that we charge them with on our behalf. I remain of the view that people, like the young and privileged idiot that ripped the flags from the Cenotaph, who have been identified and apprehended, should face the full penalties of the law. As a by-product of this experience, the Home Secretary has indicated that she believes that the use of water cannon under such circumstances “does not fit in with British traditions”. Neither, I fear, does insurrection in the name of democracy and free speech and I do not share her view.
While the demonstration was kettled outside the Palace of Westminster we, your elected representatives, were kettled inside. It was a hard pounding for Liberal Democrats who had signed a pledge not to support an increase in fees for Higher Education and then found themselves required to do exactly that. When the crunch came, the Party split four ways. Ministers voted with the government. On the backbenches some abstained, some voted against the measures and some just wanted the decision to be postponed. At the end of the day just nine out of thirty-eight of Nick Clegg`s backbenchers followed him into the voting lobby with the government of which he is the Deputy Prime Minister and subsequent opinion polls have shown that in the short-term he has paid a vicious political price for his support for the coalition. If there is any justice in politics – and of course there is not – time may prove him to have acted rightly above party and in the national interest.
The Royal Mail likes to issue special stamps for Christmas. Occasionally they even have a Christian theme and always they bear a portrait of the Queen. We are the only country in the world that does not carry the name of our country on our postage stamps. What need when we have the monarch`s head to identify our mail services? Now, though, all that is at risk. We know that because tabloid headlines tell us that Post Minister Ed Davey is concerned that as drafted the Postal Services Bill which will facilitate the sale of this particular piece of family silver to, perhaps, the Germans or the Dutch, makes no provision for the retention of the Queen`s image. Now, those of you with modest memories and that have read these columns for the past few months will remember that I featured this item in October following questions to St. Vince of Cable on the floor of the House. At that time I was assured that “The Royal Brand” is a valuable asset. So valuable that only now have we woken up to the fact that without changes to the legislation the Royal bit of the Mail may cease to exist!
That said, part of my local mail service has fallen to pieces over the festive season. There was a time when I thought that the departure of Adam Crozier from the Executive of Royal Mail might lift a cloud and allow matters to improve. Come back, Mr. Crozier. All might be forgiven! In the interests of efficiency and modernisation, which probably means “selling off”, our postmen have had their `walks` re-designed by a computer that takes no account of the realities of local geography or real life. `Elf and Safety has driven the postal service to abandon time-honoured bicycles in favour of “buddy vans” that carry two postmen to jointly service two “walks”. Don`t blame the posties or even the local management: some superior genius chose the busiest possible time of the postal year – the run up to Christmas – to pilot these significant and far-reaching changes in Herne Bay in my constituency. “The snow” of course has been blamed for the pile of undelivered Christmas letters, cards and packets that have not reached disappointed recipients. But I know, because Suzy and I visit both our sorting offices before Christmas each year,that in Margate, at the other end of my patch, the boys and girls have struggled valiantly through the weather and have, as they always have, delivered the post in time. No complaints from Margate, literally dozens from Herne Bay. To the new CEO of the Royal Mail I can only say “Off with her head” (but please leave Her Majesty`s head alone).
And so to Christmas. Pope Benedict XV1 broadcasts, for the first time ever, a Christmas message in the Radio 4 “Thought for the Day” slot. Predictably, The National Secular Society leads the complaints. The Archbishop of Canterbury mentions “right thinking” in the same breath as the nativity and Christmas carols but why, oh why, does Rowan Williams have to play politics with his messages? John Sentanu, the Archbishop of York, sends a video message to troops in Afghanistan whose 2010 annual losses have risen through the 700 mark and will climb higher still by New Year`s Eve. The Speaker of the House of Commons, Mr. Bercow, indicates that he wishes the chaplaincy to be shared amongst those of other faiths but it will take a constitutional change before anyone other than an Anglican may say prayers at the start of the day`s House business. The Bishop of Winchester and Former Chief Justice, Lord Woolf, speak out in defence of Christian rights in the workplace. There is, still, an established Church in Britain. The rights of those who share its faith are all too often ignored or, worse, trampled over by a “politically correct” judiciary. Time to take a stand? I think so.
The pantomime season starts, traditionally, on Boxing Day but it commenced a pre- Christmas run a little early in the House of Commons. Scene One.. Former Labour Cabinet Office Minister Chris Bryant, a wag, is reported as having telephoned the Lib Dem Headquarters in the aftermath of the University Fees vote. “May I have a copy of your manifesto please?” “I`m sorry but we`ve sold out”. “I know that but may I have a copy of your manifesto……” Boom! Boom! Scene Two. The Chancellor of the Exchequer at the Despatch Box. Bryant to the Chancellor, “stop acting like Baron Hardup” George Osborne to Bryant “At least I`m not the Pantomime Dame…….” Boom! Boom! And huge umbrage taken at what is immediately construed as a homophobic remark. Pots and Kettles in Widow Twankey`s kitchen?
Which leads us to
As HMS Ark Royal, the fifth to bear that name, sails into home port for the last time the remains of veteran Falklands war carrier HMS Invincible are placed for sale for scrap on e-Bay. And 300 British workers are removed from work on our new aircraft carriers to be replaced by cheaper EU Labour.
Lollipop ladies fall victims to frontline cuts in local government spending and in Essex a lollipop man has his lollipop removed and is confined to the kerbside because it is “unsafe” to step into the road. Public Health England is to spend a shedload of taxpayers’ money appointing 150 Directors of Public to help authorities to hit targets. To be known. perhaps, as Fat Controllers.
Mrs Bercow twitters her concerns about `Coppers with plasticky shields clogging up Speaker`s Court` during student riots.
In Gloucester, 64 year-old Annabel Hayter, who has spent some forty years arranging cathedral flowers, is removed from the Flower Guild for refusing to take a CRB check. This is required, under Labour`s Vetting and Barring Scheme, because the flower ladies share a lavatory that is also used by choirboys. The Secular Society seeks to end Christian assemblies in schools held under the regulation requiring that a `broadly Christian` assembly should be held. Would a `broadly secular` assembly for school notices, accompanied by Christian prayers, do the trick?
Under the Home Office Religious Festival Guidelines pagan prisoners must be given time off prison work to worship in festivals such as the Winter Solstice. And EU regulations have barred the sale of Christmas crackers to persons under 16 years of age. They are defined as Category 1 Fireworks.
In a speech in Southwark Town Hall Mad Hattie has described as “hidden heroes of development ” immigrants who send welfare benefit money home to extended families. Labour MP Thomas Doherty is campaigning to have a statue of Blair placed on the vacant plinth in the Commons Members Lobby. Clutching, presumably, a copy of the `dodgy dossier` and a remaindered edition of `A Journey`.
A pre-Christmas e-mail from the UK Borders Agency to staff advises those on duty not to look for drug smugglers during the festive system as to do so would place strains on other personnel. The notice is quickly withdrawn and, we are told, “should not have been issued”. But it was.
The Daily Mail condemns the campaign to bring UK clocks into line with mainland Europe as a shift to “Berlin Time”. The Mail`s xenophobes have failed to recognise that the “Churchill time” that helped Britain to fight and win the second World War is also shared by that most British of rocks, Gibraltar.
Tea towels, T-shirts and aprons have been struck off the list of approved Royal Diamond Wedding and Royal Wedding memorabilia. In a speech to the Institute of Government BBC Editor in Chief Mark Thompson admits that that the Corporation`s coverage of immigration and European issues had been “weak” adding that “The BBC does not always get it right”.
The England cricket team has retained the ashes. The next few days will determine whether we shall win them as well.
The New Year commences with an increase in VAT from 17.5 to 20%, a rise in petrol and diesel prices with more to follow and, in my part of South East England, a crippling 12.8% rise in the price of a season ticket to get to work. This, says the CEO of the Association of Train Operating Companies, “will ensure that Britain can continue investing in railways”. We are told that 1 in 6 of those alive today will live to reach 100 – so at least some of us might survive for long enough to see an improvement in the rail service.
Milipede the Younger tells us that “2011 will be the year of consequences”. May those consequences leave you, and those you love, in peace and good health and improving future prosperity by the year`s end.