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Westminster View - November 2017

 

 

November. A budget penny for the guy Hammond,  Defence Secretary Fallon quits and Whippy Williamson slips into his combat kit. Dover`s Charlie Elphicke loses his whip but at the month`s end still is not told why. Overseas Development Secretary Priti Patel`s freelance foreign adventures unravel and her resignation, also, follows. Penny  Mordaunt  makes a swift splash as her replacement. Mayor Boris, aka “The Foreign Secretary”, suffers another bout of foot-in-mouth disease. Brexit divorce talks get dirty as Barnier threatens the pet travel scheme. Frau Mutti  Merkel`s power is on the wane and Germany heads for an election re-run.  Africa`s longest serving dictator Mugabe falls from Grace as The Crocodile bites back.  The Tramp visits Asia and “Rocketman” Kim launches his first ICBM. At Buck House Her Maj and Prince Phil celebrate their platinum wedding anniversary, the guard changes and the Senior Service marches in and there`s an announcement about a Royal Wedding in the Spring.

 

The `Westminster Fake Sleaze` row has claimed its first senior scalp. It appears that a dozen or so years ago Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, the last surviving Thatcher Minister in office, placed his hand carelessly upon a female journalist`s knee. The hack in question, one Julia Hartley-Brewer, has not complained either at the time or since but merely remarked that “if you don`t get your hand off my knee I will smack you in the mouth” which seems a proportionate response to an unwanted advance if indeed it was such.  Mr. Fallon, a hitherto excellent Defence Secretary, decided that he had “fallen below the standards now expected of those in public life” and fell upon his ceremonial sword. We have, I think, come to a pretty pass when a senior government Minister feels obliged to judge himself today by standards of political correctness and a regard for militant feminism that did not prevail a while ago but Michael is an honourable man.  Into his shoes stepped Gavin Williamson accompanied by his pet Tarantula, Cronus. Mr. Williamson , the Member of Parliament for South Staffordshire for the past seven years,  was Man David`s Parliamentary Private Secretary before, following his Master`s resignation post-Referendum, orchestrating The Darling Bud`s successful Leadership campaign and moving into the Chief Whip`s Office upon the formation of her new administration. Whether the marching boots of office will fit young Gavin only time will tell but his place, in turn, is now occupied by Julian Smith, his former Deputy and, it being an ill political wind that blows no good, the feisty Esther McVey, now sitting in former Chancellor` Boy `George`s Tatton seat, is the new Deputy Chief Whip and a star once again in the ascendant. 

 

Hot upon the heels of Fallon`s resignation came the news that Charlie Elphicke had had the Tory Whip withdrawn for alleged misdemeanours that have been reported to the police but about which, he avers to this day, he has no knowledge.  Ordinarily and courteously before this kind of political excommunication takes place there would be a conversation between the Chief and the miscreant and an opportunity would be offered to protest innocence or, at the very least, an explanation.  In the febrile atmosphere that currently exists at Westminster, however, a Member of Parliament is clearly guilty until proven  innocent . Mr.Plod, who since the “Plebgate Affair” appears to have  small love for Tory MPs , has advised that to inform Mr. Elphicke of the crimes that he is supposed to have committed would “impede investigations”. Charlie, a married man with young children, first learned of his `punishment` not through the `usual channels` but from a journalist who had been informed before the man himself. He  has now  been hung out to dry until such time as the constabulary sees fit either to press charges or to drop the case which, given the amount of time and money wasted pursuing futile allegations against the former and deceased Prime Minister Sir Edward Heath , could be a very long time indeed.

 

Don`t misunderstand me: sexual harassment is unacceptable and those convicted of assaults deserve to have the book thrown at them but there used, in British justice, to be an assumption of innocence until guilt was proven beyond reasonable doubt.  We have not yet reached the stage of pressing fellow humans to death but Salem`s Mr. Justice Danforth would surely have recognised the verbal witch-hunt against which a man or woman has no effective defence. Which leads me to the case of the Deputy Prime Minister and Kent MP for Ashford, Damian Green. It is said by the daughter of a family friend and aspirant Tory candidate that Mr. Green, also happily married with children, sent an `inappropriate text` to her some time ago. Damian, those with long memories will recall, had his parliamentary office raided by the police when in opposition and a Shadow Home Office Minister. The officer who was responsible for this intrusion which, although authorised by The Speaker,  many believed to be  an improper and unwarranted breach of parliamentary privilege,  saw his career take a nosedive after the event. Now, years later and although not reported at the time, said officer recalls that he found “not illegal but pornographic images” on one of the computers seized from Damian`s office. In this claim he is mysteriously supported by a junior officer who “kept notes of this” following his retirement while not, apparently, keeping records of any other case upon which he had been working. At the time of writing Mr. Green, who has powerful support from amongst his colleagues, remains in office while he awaits the outcome of an investigation by the Commissioner for Standards who has the unenviable task of determining whether or not he has breached the Ministerial Code of Office.

 

When the music stops the next person left sitting might occupy the chair belonging to the Secretary of State for Overseas Development.  The highly ambitious Brexiteer Ms. Priti Patel engaged, during a holiday in Israel, in some freelance Foreign Affairs. Instead of sunning herself or sightseeing she whiled away the time in meetings with high-ranking Israeli politicians including Benjamin Netanyahu. This, when it emerged, did not go down too well with the F&CO or with Downing Street and she was summoned for a dressing down. She was described as `toast` but survived the initial onslaught. It then transpired that she had failed to `fess up to two other clandestine meetings while “giving the impression” that  Boris Johnson, whose job it is to `promote`  our foreign policy, knew about her excursions and had tacitly approved. Ms. Patel was four thousand miles away in Africa when the solids hit the fan and instead of taking flight 410 to Entebbe she found herself on flight KQ100 back to London where she was told by the Prime Minister that “it is right that you have decided to resign”.  Step forward the estimable Penny MORDAUNT who made a name for herself with a painful belly-flop while appearing in the “Splash” television programme and went on to become Minister of State at the Department for Work and Pensions.  Penny is nothing if not hands-on and as the newest Member of the Cabinet she has already visited Bangladesh and committed another £12 million in overseas aid to assist the ethnically-cleansed Rohingya refugees before subsequently visiting the hurricane-devastated  Caribbean.  The OSCE may believe that the tropical paradise is “too wealthy “ to qualify for aid but Ms. MORDAUNT, following her fact-finding visit, clearly and rightly does not agree and more cash will be committed to helping to rebuild the shattered infrastructure, homes and businesses of the islands.

 

Boris of the FO, meanwhile, has `helpfully` been telling the  Commons  Foreign Affairs Select Committee, inaccurately, that Mrs Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, currently serving five years in an Iranian prison for the `espionage` that she was engaged in while visiting her native country  and relatives with her three year-old daughter, was “training journalists”. This has led the  Iranian authorities, who are effectively detaining Mrs. Ratcliffe as a hostage while seeking payment of an alleged £400 million “debt” relating to an arms deal concluded some forty years ago while the Shah was still in office , to threaten to increase the poor woman`s sentence by a further five years following Johnson`s `admission`.  Not surprisingly the Ratcliffe family are beside themselves with both worry and fury. `At the time of writing` Mrs. Ratcliffe is still in prison in Iran and Mr. Johnson is still in office.

 

It would be wrong to suggest that the business of government is paralysed by Brexit because the stuff of administration and legislation continues. It is certainly true, though, that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill or “Brexit Bill” as it is commonly known, is dominating matters in the Chamber as we crawl through eight days during which we are sitting as what is known as A Committee of the Whole House.  This is in part `angels on a pinhead` territory and to date the Government has survived, through heavy whipping, without sustaining a defeat on a single one of the many hundreds of amendments and new clauses. There has, though, been a peculiarly British row over whether or not the matter of the sentience of animals should be included in the Bill. Ms. Caroline Lucas, the sole Green Party MP, had been informed that this legislation was not the appropriate vehicle for her measure designed to protect animals and the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, had made it plain that prior to leaving the EU measures would be taken to strengthen, not weaken the  recognition of the sentience of animals and their ability to feel pain.  Notwithstanding that Ms. Lucas pressed her amendment to a division. With even animal welfarists like myself voting against this otiose measure it was defeated and within minutes a clearly pre-planned “38 Dungarees” campaign of social media and e-mail round-robins was in full cry branding the wicked Tories as uncaring. Even some fairly intelligent Tory supporters of animal welfare were suckered by this blatantly party-political piece of “fake news” and it took a while for the real penny to drop. Hopefully, although it is unlikely, some of those who have been ready to lend their names to campaigns such as this may now think twice before endorsing spurious  `causes`. My personal belief is that, with The Gover as Environment Secretary, we stand a real chance of making significant animal welfare gains – not least through the banning of the export of live animals for slaughter - as a result of Brexit.

 

We are told that by the end of 2018  there will be eight thousand staff engaged in the Brexit process and if events to date are anything to go by they will all be needed. That said the actual negotiations appear to rest in the hands of the Prime Minister and The Old Knuckleduster, David Davis, in that order and alone. `Double D` is looking a bit battered at present but given the need to pilot the Brexit Bill through the House without being holed below the waterline and simultaneously trying to escape to Brussels for long enough to do battle with Barnier and Druncker, who wouldn`t? I`d like to think that Barnier finds his irrepressible grin infuriating but given the European`s apparent total lack of a sense of anything resembling humour that may be too much to ask . Commenting upon the European fight against terrorism Barnier has said that “Britain has chosen to be alone again”. He might recall that had it not been for `Britain alone` on an earlier occasion he would probably by now be speaking a very different language.    A man that seeks to use the travelling rights of dogs and cats as bargaining chips cannot really be a very nice person.

 

The National Audit Office`s Amyas Morse is warning of “significant risks” of Brexit That, Mr. Morse, is not an original thought and it might be more helpful if the NAO were to do some serious number-crunching and to bottom-out the figures upon which Brussels is trying to base the UK`s `Divorce Bill` It should surprise nobody that an organisation that cannot get its own accounts properly signed off for more than a quarter of a century should also be incapable of submitting an itemised bill of commitments for which Britain is required to honour but just before we pledge forty or fifty or sixty or whatever billion pounds (or Euros?) it would be good to have at least some idea of what we are paying for and what we are getting for our money. We may now know that we shall be leaving the EU, give or take a couple of years of transition, at 11pm on Friday March 29th 2019  but aside from the vexed question of the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland there are a number of other matters that have to be settled between now and E-Day  We are waiting for the `End of the Beginning` and for Brexit talks to start to address  trade and other matters that are likely to affect us all.

 

Chancellor Hammond`s budget was predicted by many as his last. With the Leavers` knives being sharpened in readiness for the assassination of a man regarded by many as the arch `Remoaner` and with little room for fiscal manoeuvre  Big Phil`s prospects did not, prior to budget day, look bright. Never underestimate, though, the ability of a self-made millionaire who understands sums and has one of the best brains on either side of the House of Commons. Faced with a homes crisis generated by years of under-investment in the building of new houses the Local Government Secretary, Sajid Javid, was looking for a few modest billions to throw at the problem. Having stated firmly that there was ‘no silver bullet` the Chancellor then moved to help first-time buyers by effectively abolishing stamp duty for them, introduced plans to increase house-building to 300,000 new homes per year, raised the 40% tax threshold and the personal pre-tax allowance , pledged £1.5 billion to speed up the introduction of the Government`s flagship Universal Credit policy while reducing the amount of time that claimants will have to wait for their money, found £6.3 billion for the National Health Service  and more.

 

Budgets that succeed on day one have a habit of unravelling as the details emerge from the fine print.  Hammond`s “Building a Britain for the Future” budget was described by the Press as “uninspiring” which is a euphemism for saying that they found it hard to pick holes in.  The fact is that the man who promised the Country “More Maths” and then quipped “Don`t tell me that I don`t know how to show the nation a good time” has not only survived but prospered. No doubt his critics will re-group in short order but the fox has been shot and compared with Shadow Chancellor  Red John McDonnell`s Marxist alternatives, billed to cost the same nation £270 billion just in interest payments over five years, Philip Hammond`s budget was pure, thorough genius. And he even found £3 billion to put into a rainy-day fund as a hedge against the deleterious financial effects of Brexit.

 

In other news Comrade Corbyn appeared as a guest on  Channel Four`s reality television show “Gogglebox”  and bombed. Morgan Stanley has said that Red Jerry poses a greater threat to Britain than Brexit. Well, capitalists would say that, wouldn`t they?  The fact is that the shine is coming off the man who, post General Election, expected to be in Downing Street by now and the longer that he remains out of office the more exposed he is beginning to look. “Oooooh Jeremy Corbyn” may excite teenagers but in the harsh world of real politics the man is a loser and people are now waking up to the realisation that a Corbyn/McDonnell Marxist Government would bankrupt Britain in short order.  As a result the Labour Party, now the victim of the three-pound old-style entryism that propelled Comrade Corbyn and Momentum to the fore, is once again embroiled in a battle for control as moderate Blairite parliamentary New Labour members fight for survival against de-selection by the hard left.  Yes, we Conservatives certainly have internal divisions but we are united as one compared with the power-struggle that is about to engulf the Opposition.

 

All is not uber alles in the Fatherland . Mutti Merkel is having a hard time putting together a coalition in time to avoid a re-run of Germany`s inconclusive General Election for the first time in seventy years.  The `most powerful woman in Europe` still carries clout but like others who have tried and failed to pull of an electoral miracle she is seriously weakened. Carles Puigdemont, erstwhile leader of Catalonia`s independence movement, is currently in exile in the Netherlands while other members of his former administration are languishing in a Spanish gaol pending trial for something approximating treason and the outcome of fresh Catalonian elections in a few weeks’ time.  The Tramp has managed to visit the Far East and return without starting the Third World War but on the home front his troubles continue and the prospect of impeachment looms ever larger. The current President of the United States does not perhaps, comprehend that Britain First is not like America First and that posting offensive videos propagated by the UK Far Right  on Facebook is not clever. The Prime Minister said, quite simply, that he was “wrong” which in diplomatic language means that the President of the United States is completely out of order.  His riposte that we should “concentrate on fighting terrorism”  was treated with the contemptuous silence that it deserved. If the Commander in Chief was not too busy playing with anti-social media he may have noticed that The Young Un has test-launched North Korea`s first Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile. It is said that while Un now has a missile that can reach Washington he has yet to develop the capacity to glue a nuclear warhead onto the delivery vehicle.  `Only a madman would fire a nuclear missile at America`. Precisely so.

 

Whether Robert Mugabe is mad or merely senile is a matter for conjecture. Either way the hitherto sure-footed ninety-three year old Zimbabwean former `freedom fighter` and Dictator made the mistake of removing his henchman , spy chief and enforcer  `The Crocodile` Mnangagwa to clear the path for his fifty-three year old wife, “Gucci Grace” Mugabe to take over the Presidency.  This precipitated what was to all intents and purposes a bloodless coup, several days of negotiation leading up to a threat of impeachment by Mugabe`s Zanu-PF party and his eventual resignation. Much dancing in the streets but given Mnangagwa`s track record the man now sworn in as President is highly likely to take Zimbabwe straight from the frying pan into the fires of hell.  The celebrations may prove to have been just a tad premature.

 

To end on a happier note the Royal Family have brought what promises to be a little post-Christmas joy to the retail trade.  With Her Maj and Prince Philip celebrating seventy years of married bliss what better time could there be for her grandson, Prince Harry, to announce his engagement to his sweetheart, the American actress Meghan Markle. This will indubitably generate a deluge of merchandising opportunities between now and the day when the clearly deliriously happy young couple tie the knot in St. George`s chapel, Windsor.  God Bless the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, as they are expected to become, and may the tills start ringing as the tea towels and the commemorative china rolls off the production line. Unlike some earlier Royals this young couple are streetwise and know what they are in for. They show every sign of being up to the task in front of them. May they enjoy the very best of post-Brexit British luck and happiness.

 

Ballswatch

 

`The Legacy` Blair  betrayed his promises, according to the memoirs published by his successor bas Prime Minister Gordon `The Clunking Fist`Brown. “The Gulf War” says Brown “was not a glorious chapter in British history. You may recall hearing that, some years ago, right here.

 

The Salford Broadcasting Corporation has had to delay the transfer of its weather forecasting duties from the tried-and-tested Met. Office to the upstart MeteoGroup. The postponement, until at least March 2018, is because MeteoGroup is not yet ready “to provide high-quality forecasting”. Someone might have seen that cold front approaching.

 

The Champs Elysee, Paris, Market, open for nine years and beloved of tourists and even some Parisians has been cancelled. The Gypsy  CEO of the market, Marcel Campion, has been accused of allowing the sale of “Inferior quality goods”. Really? Quelle surprise! But more than made up for by the lights, the atmosphere, the sheer joie de vivre that is so much more fun than, shall we say the Galleries Lafayette.

 

And talking of shopping, which we sort of were, it will come as no surprise to the residents of Margate that the much self-publicised and over-hyped Cameron/Mary Portas “Queen of Shops” campaign to revitalise town centres has proved, with hindsight, to be a resounding flop. The low-budget campaign , which proved to be little more than a vehicle for its offsprung  2012 TV series starring our heroine, La Portas, has been shown to be, over five years of decline, poor value for even the most modest of taxpayers` investment. Bedford, Croydon, and Dartford have all lost retail outlets.  Margate is on the up but that is due to the regenerative effect of the Turner Contemporary art gallery. The Portas re-vamped seafront business, `enhanced` with a line of goods that did not prove popular, sadly did not prosper as a result of Her Royal Retailership`s attention.

 

I have always found the French passion for genders both difficult to master and, in terms of logic, incomprehensible. Nevertheless it is shocking, is it not, to find that French teachers are now pressing for the introduction of `gender-neutral` language on the grounds that the prefixes in current use are `sexist`.  The Academie Francaise leaps to the defence of her birthright. The future of the French language, she says, is in “mortal danger”. Vive L`France!

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Lilleth, the eighteen-month old escaped Lynx, was shot dead in a caravan park by operatives on behalf of Aberystwyth Ceredigion County Council. The oversized pussy cat represented, they say, a `severe risk` and had to be terminated. Those of us who are campaigning to see the lynx re-introduced into the wild in Britain know that apart from the very occasional lamb there is nothing to fear from a beautiful animal that walked and stalked this green and more pleasant land long before man encroached upon its habitat and annihilated it.

 

Boys will be Girls. Part 1.  The Church of England says, we are told, that boys should be allowed to wear high heels and tutus if they choose to do so. While I accept that the Anglican tradition that I espouse is led by men in frocks  I cannot help feeling that stilettos might not be healthy for young and developing feet.

 

Boys will be Girls. Part 2. The Girl Guides – sorry, “Guides”, the “Girlie” bit is now considered sexist – has decided that if boys decide that they would rather be girls then should be allowed to join up and shower with young ladies and use female lavatories. It is possible that the Chief Guide, Julie Bentley, has gone barking mad but more probable that this is yet another doff of the beret to the right to transgenderism. Has anyone out there, girls, considered that some young men might just find it fun to play fox in the hen house and take advantage of this open invitation to mischief? Or in the interests of `equality` don`t you care?

 

Liverpool University, home to one of the Country`s best veterinary schools, has decided that four times Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone is past his slave-trade-related sell-by date. To replace him they have chosen that bastion of free speech, the self-important leftie Channel Four newsreader, Jon Snow.  In ten years’ time, never mind in a hundred years, people will remember Gladstone. Can the same be said of Mr. Snow?

 

Following the introduction of minimum prices for alcohol in Scotland those living on the wrong side of the border are now descending in marauding horded across Hadrian`s Wall on `booze cruises` to the South. Time was when the natives ventured north in search of the Water of Life. How sad.

 

The Abolition of the paper car tax disc in 2014 was heralded as progress by the Department for Transport and as lunacy by most honest motorists. The measure, part of `Boy George` Osborne`s `modern age` initiative, is believed to have given rise to some 775,000 car-tax dodgers at a cost to the Treasury of about £107 million a year. The French sensibly combine road tax with insurance and the `disc`, a small green square, is issued by the insurance company as a tear-off to be displayed.  Food for thought, Chris Grayling.

 

Girls will be Boys. Part 3  Sarah Clarke who, as the papers  say is (52) (Would the bourgeois women’s` tabloid ever put a man`s age in brackets?) has become the first female Gentleman Usher of the Black Rod in the six hundred and fifty years of the existence of the office. The sixtieth holder of the post since 1361 she will also put an end to the dominance of Men in Tights by donning a fashionable skirt instead of the traditional knee-breeches.

 

Girls will be Boys. Part 4.  Girl Scouts USA are advised not to hug relatives who give them presents.  This says the Gender Constabulary, might encourage `young female people` to believe  later in life that they have to show physical affection in return for, say, being taken out to dinner. The answer to that, ladies, is surely just to pay half of the bill.

 

A pre-Christmas survey by the Scripture Union reveals that just one third of all children aged between ten and thirteen are aware that the festival celebrates the birth of Jesus Christ.

 

And St Peters Church in Sandwich in Kent has had its bells silenced between 11pm and 8am. After sounding the quarter since the 1700s this thirteenth century place of worship has been muffled by a single complainant who secured a noise abatement notice. Given that 80% of some three hundred locals want the chimes to continue the adage that “if you don`t like church bells don`t buy a house near a church` might seem appropriate. Three hundred years` notice ought, surely to be sufficient warming of the potential intrusion.

 

Eurotunnel is being re-branded as the “more Anglo Saxon” “GetLink” in an endeavour to pre-empt Brexit. The `corporate-level` genius that dreamed up this name  might like to consider that the Anglo-Saxons might have another word for idiocy. Compounding the corporate folly the name “Eurotunnel – Le Shuttle” will remain in use. A quick call to the Academie Francaise might be in order.

 

 

Valete

 

At ninety years of age Derek `Red Robbo` Robinson has withdrawn his labour for the last time. The 1970`s Longbridge motor plant British Leyland strike leader was dismissed by Chairman Sir Michael Edwardes in 1979 having been involved in a staggering five hundred and twenty-three disputes over five years The Amalgamated Engineering Unionist fought the Birmingham Northfield seat as a communist in 1966 and then three times more.  It was finally won by the Conservatives by Jocelyn Cadbury in 1979 and following boundary changes is now back under Labour control.

 

It is nothing short of a miracle that Yvonne Burney survived to a ripe old ninety five. The youngest female Special Operations Executive (SOE) agent to be parachuted into France she joined the WAAF in 1940 and the SOE in 1943. Captured, she was taken to Saarbrucken concentration camp where her colleague Violette Szabo and many others were shot and was finally released from Ravensbruck camp at the end of the Second World War

 

Peter Plouviez was the Secretary General of the British Actors` Equity Association in 1974 when the Workers` Revolutionary Party, represented by Vanessa and Corin Redgrave, fought with the moderate right led by Marius Goring  for control of the Union.  Goring won the battle if not the war  and Plouviez finally retired, leaving behind him a very different union, in 1991.

 

At seventy-nine that likely lad Rodney Bewes, co-star with James Bolam of the 60`s TV series and reincarnated in the twenty-one episodes of the 70`s sequel “Whatever Happened to the Likely Lads”  has switched off for the last time as has, at sixty-seven, the heart-throb star of The Partridge Family and Pop star David Cassidy.

 

Bill Pitt,who has died at eighty, won the Croydon North West by-election as the first elected Liberal/SDP Alliance candidate to become a Member of Parliament in 1981. He was defeated by the Tory Humfrey Malins in 1983, fought and lost Thanet South to Jonathan Aitken in 1987 and 1992 and then in 1996 joined the Labour Party. He was that rare animal, a defeated LibDem MP who did not receive a peerage.

 

And finally…………..

 

The last of the surviving Dambusters, Squadron Leader `Johnny` Johnson of the immortal 617 Squadron has received the MBE at the age of ninety-five

 

And Mali, the army dog wounded by shrapnel while searching out booby-trap bombs in Afghanistan, has been awarded the `canine VC, the PDSA`s Dickin medal.

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