Gale's View from Westminster - September 2012
September. The “summer of sport” moves seamlessly from the “warm-up” act to the Paralympics and Andy Murray wins his first Grand Slam. Yorkshire police lied over Hillsborough – official.
Hamza can go, but stays. The Church of England dithers over a new Archbishop while Christians have to choose between work or faith. Are we squandering money on Overseas Aid?
Photographers get Closer to The Duchess than is acceptable. Parliament sits briefly for its now annual “satisfy the Press, we are working really” session. Man David reshuffles his pack, appointing “Thrasher Mitchell” as his new Chief Whip. The Conference season opens with TUC leaders snouting in the trough and predicting a winter of discontent. And then there`s Boris.
Just when we all thought that it could not get any better, it did. It seems incredible that the end of the Games is still less than a month away. For those of us who have been travelling light years have passed and we might well now be returning to a different planet. Whether or not the Olympic legacy can be turned into future gold before all is forgotten only time will tell but, back in those heady days of early September, it was the Supralympians that stole the show. Nothing can, or should, be allowed to detract from the achievements of our Olympic medallists and of those who also ran but up there at the top of the podium – as on the top of the open buses during the Parade of Champions – they have, I know, been proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with their enabled colleagues. For this has been the year when the Paralympics took a great leap forward into the mainstream of competitive sport and had a viewing public sitting on the edge of their seats in anticipation of still greater success. Who do you name? The “Face of the Games” and “Teenage Torpedo” Ellie Simmonds with her clutch of medals from the swimming pool? Or Jonnie Peacock, watched by a reported six million people as he stormed home in the 100 metres final? Or cyclist Sarah Storey? Or wheelchair racer David Weir? Or Hannah Cockroft who won our first track gold? Or Natasha Baker in the dressage? Or, more simply, all of those who, win or lose, took part and not forgetting all of those behind them that coached and helped as volunteers and provided security and all of the other resources up to and including the opening and closing ceremonies? All of these were events that were, proudly,” Made in Britain “and as the nights draw in and the drudgery of the economy and political reality come home to roost we have a great summer to look back upon and to draw real inspiration from. When we pull together we are unbeatable and we need to remember that.
The Palace of Westminster is, if not falling down, in need of substantial repair. The whole building needs re-wiring which means tampering with asbestos that will have to be removed and the clock tower, commonly but incorrectly known as “Big Ben”, is leaning like the Tower of Pisa. The whole project could well take five years, will cost zillions and will require that the building be vacated and an alternative home for parliament to sit in to be found. The Commons has, of course, been moved to Church House during the war and following the bombing of the Chamber, but to shift both Houses, together with all of the office space and facilities required to accommodate not only MPs and Peers but seriously important people like the Clerks and the Librarians, is going to present quite a challenge!
This process has not been aided by the idiotic decision taken, in order to satisfy the Press that we are not taking the “three month holiday” enjoyed by members of The Press Gallery, to interrupt the annual deep maintenance programme that takes place during the Summer Recess so that we can sit for two pretty pointless weeks in September. This entails re-laying carpets, opening up catering facilities, removing dust sheets and protective cladding and the like at vast taxpayers` expense. The Procedures Committee has challenged this but the powers that be, of all parties, are determined that we must be “seen to be doing something” during the period between the end of the school holidays and the start, with the TUC conference, of an increasingly also pointless conference season which, we are told, has to take place in late September and early October and cannot be brought forward!
This year, in addition to bits and pieces that could have been dealt with before the House rose for the summer or after the House sits properly again in mid-October, there was the Government re-shuffle. Chris Grayling`s phone rang to tell him that he was being moved from his position as Minister of State for Work and Pensions to become Secretary of State for Justice. Not surprisingly, given her constituency issues with the possibility of a third runway at Heathrow Airport, Justine Greening was moved from Transport to Overseas Development where she will employ her accounting skills dealing with the vast sums that, we now learn, have been squandered upon consultants` fees and aid to countries that, quite simply, do not need it. She replaces Andrew Mitchell who is at present now Chief Government Whip and his predecessor, Patrick McLaughlin, moves to Transport to sort out the difficulties bequeathed over the West Coast Main Line by the previous Minister of State for Rail, Theresa Villiers, who goes to Northern Ireland as Secretary of State with the former Roads Minister, the excellent Mike Penning, to guard her back. Described unkindly as “a living political corpse”, Andrew Lansley leaves Health to become Leader of the House and his position as Secretary of State is offered to Jeremy Hunt who many thought might leave the Front Bench altogether. The Deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, Michael Fallon, moves to the number two slot at Business, Industry and Skills and, given Fallon`s reputation for not taking prisoners, that should make for some interesting dialogue with St. Vincent of Cable! Grant Shapps, former Housing Minister, becomes Party Chairman and Iain Duncan Smith declines to move and digs in to see his Benefit changes through as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The “foul mouthed and attention seeking” Anna Soubry, which is apparently how you refer to a woman who is robust and has a mind of her own, is one of a handful of the class of 2010 to get well-earned promotion but for many younger hopefuls the telephone did not ring at all and for a significant number throughout the lower ministerial ranks , most particularly in the Whips Office, the bell tolled ominously. There have been a few appointments that have raised eyebrows and some equally surprising dismissals of good people. It is always the case that if the Prime Minister wants to bring forward new talent to refresh his team then some heads have to roll but it is hard to understand why some people are promoted while others more able lose their jobs. Most curious of all is the case of (Lord) Jonathan Hill of Oareford who apparently wished to resign from his post as a Lords Minister of State for Education only to be told that “you are doing a good job – carry on”!
Chris Grayling is a tough Minister and he will need to be if he is to reinsert some backbone into the ailing Justice Department. With a senior High Court Judge announcing that “burglars are courageous” and expressing the view that “prison rarely does anyone any good”, with the Lord Chief Justice left fuming over delays in the European Courts and the Court of Human Rights calling the shots in far too many cases, it is clear that the new Secretary of State will have his work cut out to get a grip upon a system that many now regard as risible. In this context, Andy and Tracey Ferrie of Melton Mowbray were arrested and held in custody for many hours because, in the dead of night, in their own home and terrified, Mr. Ferrie took a shotgun to a gang that had invaded their property and privacy. In this case common sense did eventually prevail, charges were not brought against the homeowners, the right of self-defence was upheld, and a rather more intelligent Judge than the “courageous burglars” chump determined that sentences should not be mitigated because of injury and that if you burgle somebody`s house then being shot at is the chance that you take! Given my own failed attempt to get a Householders` Right of Protection law through the House you will understand that I find this change in direction most gratifying.
We need, also, to pay heed to the sad deaths, in uniform and on duty, of police constables Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone who, called to an incident and unarmed, found themselves walking into a trap that left them both murdered by grenades and gunfire. The Human Rights Act, and the impossibility of securing, under a coalition government, a repeal of that law, makes it impossible to try to reintroduce capital punishment as a deterrent even for the murder of our policemen and women. Unless we are going to fully arm our constables, though, we are going to have to find a better way of affording protection for those upon whom we place the burden of law enforcement. And the Home Secretary and the new police Minister need to bear all of this in mind when seeking to restructure the terms and conditions under which the police are engaged. We could usefully make a start by introducing a Police Covenant of the kind that we have already entered into with our Armed Forces.
There are times when Her Maj must feel as though she is on a roller coaster. Having played a blinder throughout the summer and done more than any other single person to put the Great back into Britain she finds herself faced with calls to remove the “Empire” from her orders of merit and to replace it with the Plebeian (if we are still allowed to use that word) “excellence” instead. We are not, of course, allowed to know the exact terms of her response but “over my dead body” appears to be the gist of it! Following a lapse in etiquette Frank Gardiner, the BBCs war-injured security correspondent, finds it necessary to apologise for revealing Her Majesty`s opinion of one Mr. Hamza, hate-preacher and terrorist, who she would clearly like to have removed from the shores of her realm. While I don`t suppose that she would wish too many confidences to be breached I am sure that the thought of some fifty or so million voices all saying “hear hear” must have made Mr. Gardner`s indiscretion a little more bearable. Less so, pictures of, first, Prince Harry`s naked indiscretion in Las Vegas followed by the intrusion into the privacy of Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge and the publication of “topless” pictures of Kate in a downmarket French magazine. Harry`s deployment as Captain Wales, Apache helicopter co-pilot/gunner at Camp Bastion has set part of that saga in context but what do you do about the paparazzi who are determined to snatch and sell shots of your grandchildren and their wives? It should surprise nobody that the trash publication , “Closer” is owned by Mondadori, Chairman one Marina Berlusconi, daughter of the “Bunga Bunga” employer of young tarts, ageing pornographer and failed politician Sylvio, but that doesn`t help to stop the publication of the pictures around the globe and on the internet. In Italy the magazine Chi describes the pictures as “A scoop! The first time that a future Queen of England has been seen naked” while the Irish rag in which Richard “Daily Express” Desmond owned a stake the Editor says “She`s not the Queen of Ireland”. What sticks in the gullet just a little is the claim for self-restraint and responsibility made on behalf of the British Press (you know, the one that published the pictures of Prince Harry). Do we suppose, were Lord Justice Leveson not just about to release his report into press intrusion and ethics, that the pictures would not have appeared, also, here in the UK. Call me a cynic if you will but the words “ulterior motive” spring to mind. Kate and Wills` appeal to “decency and common sense” and the Duke of Cambridge`s fully correct claim that his wife is “a lady and not an object” may have fallen upon deaf ears but even they will have seen the funny side of their concern while faced, during a spectacular tour of the South Pacific, with scores of half-naked ladies from the Soloman Islands. As a footnote, experience on behalf of constituents suggests that the French are very good at holding people for two or three years without trial while a prosecutor conducts his enquries under Napoleonic Law. Surely they could find an oubliette for the editor of Closer…………..
Milipede the Younger, the one who supported the crowds that booed Chancellor George at the Olympics, announces before his Party Conference that he is “a pretty stoical guy”. Setting aside the fact that this has unfortunate undertones of The Legacy`s “I`m a pretty straight kind of guy”, he`s going to need more that a dollop of stoicism to see him through to the election. Texting St. Vincent of Cable to say that “we`re open for business” in an unsubtle pitch for a post 2015 election Liberal /Labour coalition does not inspire confidence and the launch of a “Relationship Society” as the “Big Idea” is not a headline-grabber. While the Leader of The Labour Party is engaged in a phoney “my roots are humble because my dad was able to send me to a posh comprehensive school” class war with Cameron, polls suggest that two-thirds of Labour supporters would still prefer elder brother Dave to Ed as the leader of their cause but Ed Milipede is, of course, in favour of same-sex marriages in church which will no doubt deliver him the credibility and victory that he seeks.
On the same-sex front St Nicholas of Clogg has once again found himself having to talk his way out of a tight corner.. He thinks that those who are opposed to “gay marriage” are “bigots”. He did not, to be fair, actually say so. The expression was contained in the draft of a speech “neither written nor approved by me” but the work of an `unnamed aide` He concedes, though, that he is “a committed advocate of equal marriage”. With Milipede offering a three-line whip on an issue that has, on the Tory benches, always been regarded as a matter of conscience, and with the support of the Liberal Democrats and some Conservatives – including Man David – it is clear that “bigotry” will lose this vote in the Commons. How long, then, before not only a union of the kind already provided for in the Civil Partnerships legislation but gay marriage in faith venues will also be demanded?
Time for the Churches to take a stand. Unable, however, even to agree upon the recommendation for the appointment of the Primate of All England and with the retiring Archbishop of Canterbury expressing the view that the job is too big for one person and that there really needs to be a “Presidential” figure and a “chief Executive” it`s a little hard to see where, on the Anglican front, the lead is going to come from. Perhaps a holy alliance of the Church of Rome, the Non-Conformists, Hindus, Jews, Buddhists, Islam and Knights of the Jeddi might come to the rescue.
The words “budget” and European” are barely compatible. It would seem that we are likely to face demands for shedloads of more boodle to bail out an overspend on funding for schemes that have, throughout the EU, been approved but for which there is no money earmarked. This “Spend the money first and then raise the cash” form of `budgeting` is precisely why Europe is in the deep doo-doo that it is but I have a couple of suggestions to make. First, instead of demanding more money from Member States tell the Eurocracy that it must find the cash from within its own bloated ranks. Start by cutting, from the top, the army of Commissioners and senior civil servants and the buildings that they occupy and go on cutting until you have saved enough money to pay for the extravagant programmes that you have authorised.. Second, scrap the entire duplication of “diplomatic” effort that is the empire that has been built up under the direction of our illustrious European Commissioner and High Representative, Baroness Ashton. Ms Ashton has, it seems, failed to attend two thirds of the European Commission`s meetings, effectively leaving the UK without a voice at the High Table.
There is, of course, a third option. I understand the reluctance of the Prime Minister to commit himself to a referendum before the next general election but as he may be forced into it through treaty change or budget veto we might as well at least put the enabling legislation in place so that when the time comes we can legally act swiftly. We could call it “the Plebiscite Bill”.
The Cabinet Office is seeking to cut quangos and reduce bureaucracy. To this end it has hired Ms. Katherine Kerswell, recently bought out of a contract as Chief Executive of Kent County Council after only a few months for a cost, to the Kent Council Taxpayer, in the region of £420,000, to “reform the Civil Service”.
The Health and Safety Executive asserts that a “cotton wool culture” is damaging children. So a “Play Safely” forum is needed to explain the inherent dangers of tree-climbing and playing conkers because “risk is ever present”.
This would be the same `Elf `n Safety team that has deemed a park bench under a tree “too risky” because of the possibility of falling branches.
The man who loaned his name to the title of this column, Ed Balls, finds himself heckled by Trades Unionists. They do not approve of his support for pay freezes!
Batting on a sticky wicket. Teams from the Hamble Royal Southern Yacht Club and the Island Sailing Club in Cowes found themselves stranded on the Solent Bramble Bank Sandbank where they were playing against the tide. With one boat aground and another with engine failure eleven players and a dog had to be rescued by a lifeboat. I still own my Goodwin Sands cricket tie. It would never have happened in our day!
A grandfather who has been running a shop on Eastbourne Pier has been hauled over the coals for selling `pornography` in the form of saucy seaside postcards featuring `real women`. Punch and Judy is not PC, you can crack your teeth on seaside rock and choke on candy floss and catch your fingers in a deckchair and get sand in your eyes as well. Best not go to the seaside. Far too dangerous.
The Retail Motor Industry Federation representing Independent Petrol Stations is seeking a ban on car washing in the street as a threat to the mechanical car workers nice little earner on the side. Bang goes your pocket money, Johnny!
How do you stage a rally of the faithful when their aren`t any? More on the conferences next month but the Liberal Gathering in September in Brighton appeared to be a convention of political professionals and lobbyists supporting causes rather than parties. The same will almost certainly be true of the Labour and Conservative conferences in Manchester and Birmingham. If you want supporters, get back to the seaside, inject some real debate and fun into the gatherings, stop treating them as a milch cow for party funds and make them affordable for the plebs.
At the age of 87 my old Parliamentary Friend Dr Rhodes Boyson has gone to the great voting lobby in the sky. The Member of Parliament for Brent North from 1974 until 1997 made his name as the headmaster who really turned around a failing school and showed just what you could achieve through brilliant leadership and sound and conventional teaching skills. Michael Gove please note: there are others out there that would like to tread in his path: set them free to do so.
Monty, the Queen`s Corgi, who featured with Willow and Holly in the Daniel Craig/Olympic opening 007 stunt with Her Maj has bowed out after 13 good years and the very last Russian Lada Trabant, in production since the 1970`s has rolled off the production line. The end of another era. execution.