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Gale's View from Westminster - January 2015

A Happy New Year? Would that it were so. The Health Service, soon to be “weaponised” by The Milipede, is on the rack from the first day of the ensuing twelve months. The Almanac predicts dire things for Greece and the bottom begins to fall out of the Euro. Good for those receiving pensions in sterling, not so for those wishing to sell up and move home. The Grand Young Duke of York is facing roving eye problems and rumour has it that Her Maj is not best pleased. The British nurse Pauline Cafferkey flies home with what turns out to be Ebola. Is she saved by medical expertise or Irn Bru? Just when you thought that the Scottish Referendum was behind us the Natives North of The Border get restless again. English votes on English laws or the Scottish tail wagging the terrier? Milipede on the ropes as uncivil war breaks out in the Labour Party; fire in the Channel Tunnel, Europe is cut off and lorries stack down the motorway to Dover; junior Health Minister Jane Ellison lights a storm in a fag packet; to frack or not to frack? That is the question on the disorder paper; UKIP is “chasing the votes of bigots”. Official policy. Mr.” Legacy” Blair is in a spot of bother over “comfort” letters sent to members of the IRA but gains a breathing space as Sir John Chilcot`s report into the origins of the Iraq War (2) is put on hold; Merkel and Cameron meet fleetingly in London to discuss The Ukraine, The UK within or outwith Europe, and Migrant benefits.

And then there was the mass-murder at Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket in Paris, the story that dominated most of the entire month.

It was at 11.20 local time on January 7th when two Al Quaeda trained murderers compelled an employee, at gunpoint, to admit them to the Charlie Hebdo satirical magazine`s offices in Paris during an editorial meeting. The carnage that followed, the cold-blooded killing of a Muslim policeman after the initial attack, the manhunt and shoot-out that evolved over two days and the parallel attack on and hostage taking at a kosher supermarket have all been the subject of wide newspaper and television coverage internationally and I do not propose to re-visit any of that reporting here. We can discuss to kingdom come whether the “anything goes” approach of satirical journalism adopted by Charlie Hebdo and even by less offensive and extreme publications such as Private Eye in the United Kingdom is acceptable. “Freedom of speech” can, as an argument, cover a multitude of sins and does but absolutely nothing can justify the wanton slaughter of otherwise innocent writers and cartoonists in the warped and perverted interests of any “faith” and still less so the killing of Jewish and other shoppers going about their lawful business. The global reaction to this horrific event was virtually universal in its condemnation and the populist attempt by the person described in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe as the “part-time MEP and leader of the racist right” in Britain to exploit the “fifth column” and “gross multi-culturalism” for electoral purposes should be dismissed with the contempt that those remarks deserve. The hundreds of thousands of people of all faiths and cultures and colours and from all walks of life who hit the streets of France`s capital city to say “Je Suis Charlie” and the world leaders, including David Cameron, Angela Merkel, Benjamin Netenyahu, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Mariano Rejoy, the King of Jordan, the Prime Minister of Tunisia, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador , Joe Biden representing Barak Obama,and diplomatic representation from Russia and Egypt and others who joined President Hollande in the march towards the Place de la Nation are all testimony to the belief that it is, in the words of Che Guevara, “better to die standing than to live on my knees”.

I am, as I told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the debate during the plenary session that happened to follow the killings in France, a Christian. I also have a profound respect for those of other faiths. We should not even begin to glorify as “extreme Islamism” actions perpetrated by thugs who are sick in mind and whose lethal intentions have nothing to do with the Muslim faith whatsoever. In the long run the pen will, I believe and as I said in the Assembly, prove to be mightier than the sword, the scimitar or the Kalashnikov. Those of us who wield those pens have a duty to use our weapons wisely and responsibly but we must also do so honestly and without fear. Satire is a shot in the political locker and those of us who have both dished it out and been on the receiving end know that it is, and must remain, an integral part of the democratic process that we seek to defend.

Which leads from the tragic to the ridiculous and the plight of poor Mr. Edward Miliband. You cannot help feeling that if this political contest were a boxing match the fight would have been stopped by now. It is not so much the dismal performances at Prime Minister`s Question Time that inflicts the pain. Those in Number Ten always have a distinct advantage, as Iain Duncan Smith found when, as Leader of the Conservative Opposition, he was beasted by “Legacy” Blair. Even the quick-witted and verbally agile William Hague found it hard, at times, to expose the shallow nature of a man who, when required to perform without the puppeteers Campbell and Mandelson, was often found wanting. No, it is rather the sustained assault from those who are supposed to be on his own side that makes the game so hideously painful to observe. True, he is saddled with Ed Balls who, as his Shadow Chancellor, is a dead parrot if not an Albatross around his neck, and that appointment is of his own making but even so The Poor Milipede, as we must begin to know him, ought to be able to rely upon at least silence if not support from a former Labour Prime Minister and those who were once Cabinet members of the administration that brought Great Britain to its knees. Not a bit of it. Under duress in interview The Legacy could only offer the “helpful” observation that “the public must judge whether Miliband has a problem”! The Legacy, though, while “Labour`s most successful Prime Minister “and now a multi-zillionaire, was in fact pretty lightweight on the political cerebral front. Alan Milburn, on the other hand, was probably one of those “best Prime Ministers that the Labour Party never had” and, along with another heavyweight, Alan Johnson, knows a thing or two about the Westminster bear-garden. On the matter of “weaponising” the NHS for election purposes former Health Secretary Milburn has opined that the strategy has gone wrong and that The Milipede is “a pale imitation” of Neil Kinnock in 1992 while Postman Johnson, ex Home Secretary and another who might have led the Labour Party (I offered to run his campaign if he ran for the Leadership) adds that “there are some colleagues who think that optimism is a form of eye disease”! The “weaponising the NHS” plot has unravelled terribly. The BBC`s Nick Robinson avers that The Milipede expressed his intention in clear terms and it is reported that in November 2014 Milipede Minor secretly briefed 15 BBC executives about his plans to party-politicise the Health Service. Asked on the Marr Show seven times about the “weaponising” claim The Leader of Her Majesty`s Opposition could only offer the thought that “I cannot remember exactly what I said”. Reassuring when you consider that this is the man who is auditioning to have his finger on the nuclear button. “Oops. Sorry. Was that “fire” or don`t fire”?! Putting the argument into the long grass the President of the College of Emergency Medicine, Dr.Clifford Mann, says that the threat of “weaponising” is toxic and what is needed is a practical solution to a very real problem: the meltdown in Accident and Emergency services.

For crisis there certainly has been. Notwithstanding the shedloads of money chucked at the problem of Winter Pressures by Health Secretary Hunt, a politician who is finding it increasingly hard to justify his once Teflon-coated reputation, the fact is that far too many people are no longer prepared to wait for a week or two or three while their General Practitioner, mindful of Blair`s ludicrously flawed GP contract, deigns to see them and are bowling up to the hospital A&E desk instead and are clogging up the works. Add to that those many occupying hospital beds (as many as 50% one senior consultant told me recently) who have no need to be in hospital at all and you don`t need to be a rocket scientist to work out that this is a recipe for disaster. Community Care is not, it seems, receiving the funds from NHS England that is supposed to be injected into the system to prevent people from going into hospital in the first place and there are not enough “step down” beds or convalescent facilities or home nursing facilities for those, mainly elderly, who are awaiting discharge but for whom there is no adequate provision. As Dr. Mann says, instead of “weaponising” the health service The Milipede and his Shadow Health Secretary, one Andy Burnham who has already failed once when doing the job for real, would be better employed offering practical solutions to meet a very real need. But then the man who suggested that the inquiry into the Mid-Stafford hospital scandal, which took place on his watch, was a mistake is unlikely to inspire great confidence in the Hospital medical professions.

Nor, as a footnote to this saga, is the Care Quality Commission, charged with the duty of improving Hospital Healthcare standards and in whose Inspector in Chief, Professor Sir Mike Richards, the Secretary of State has told me that he has great confidence. The CQC produced a report on the East Kent Hospitals Trust in terms that none of the MPs representing constituencies served by the Trust recognised as reality, deeming the services to be unsafe and making it virtually impossible to recruit much-needed additional nurses and Doctors and consultants to meet the needs of our constituents. It came as no great surprise, therefore, to learn that the Hinchingbrooke Hospital, privately run for the NHS following the failure of the original management, has been the subject of an alleged “stitch up” by a CQC that, it is unkindly suggested, cannot abide the thought that private services have a major contribution to make to a free-at-the-point of-delivery NHS.

Another of the great Quangocrats, Sir John Chilcot, charged with the duty of conducting an inquiry into the second Iraq war that Gordon Brown told us would take between a year and eighteen months has kicked the publication into the long grass until after the General Election and very probably until 2016 or even 2017. On the assumption that lawyers are paid by the micro-second that`s nice work if you can get it (so far the cost over five years is reported to be £9million) but the reason, you see, for the delay is that every last person criticised in the report has the right to make representations and to have the report reviewed. As an aside I cannot recall the same courtesies being afforded to Members of Parliament criticised in the deeply-flawed report about MPs Expenses (and to whom the author of that report offered no apologies when his failings were exposed) but clearly Mr “Legacy” Blair will be relieved that he does not have to explain some of the wilder assertions made to the House of Commons at the time for at least another year or two. That will offer a welcome breathing space following the concerns expressed about “letters of comfort” that he penned, it has become known, to IRA criminals assuring them that once a settlement was reached they would not face downstream prosecutions for their crimes. The Legacy, seeking to create wriggle room, took the unprecedented and unwelcomed step of telephoning Mr. Speaker Bercow to seek his intervention in respect of a requested appearance before the Northern Ireland Select Committee that wished to ask Mr. Blair some relevant questions. Mr. Speaker Bercow, a stickler for proper procedure, was reportedly not amused. The Legacy, who it now transpires sent “comfort letters” to some of those involved in the Hyde Park Bombings, has claimed that his actions were “critical to the peace process agreed with Sinn Fein following the 1998 Good Friday agreement.” Following personal pledges to Gerry Adams some 95 letters were handed out in respect of about 400 murders. Blair`s appearance before the Committee involved a 9-month wait and prompted the observation from one of the victims` relatives that “He won`t talk to the victims but he will sit down with the IRA”. As Blair seeks to take credit for a peace process largely instigated by Sir John Major, his predecessor as Prime Minister, he will no doubt wish to take the blame for the darker side of the process as well.

He may also have good reasons for the letter that he wrote on the 24th April 2007 to one Colonel Muhammar Gaddafi, who he subsequently met in a tent in Libya under bizarrely congenial terms, allegedly offering “assistance in the matter of deportation”.

The Charlie Hebdo murders cast a long shadow, inevitably, over Frau Merkel`s brief visit to Britain. She came to call at the British Museum and although she did not arrange to meet The Milipede she popped in to see Man David over lunch at number 10 while she was here. Politics is about timing and if there was ever a good day to bury any other news then I suppose that you could say that January 7th was such a day. The Press Conference following the Statespeople`s meeting was dominated by the Paris killings and it was only in subsequent days that column inches were found in which to analyse the Cameron/ Merkel axis on the re-negotiation of the terms of British Membership of the EU, the parlous state of the Single Currency, the rise of the left-wing in Greece and the worsening situation in Ukraine. While each of these issues is to a greater or lesser extent dependent upon the others I would argue that Ukraine ought to be right up there at the top of the agenda. It ought to matter that eleven people were killed during an attack on a bus in Donetsk in the east of Ukraine and it ought to matter still more that thirty citizens were killed and a hundred more injured during a Russian-inspired rocket attack in Mariupol which lies between the Donbas region and Crimea. These, and other neo-Soviet crimes were raised during the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe which I attended during the last week of the month. Incredibly, the debate centred around whether the ban on the voting rights of the Russian delegation and their membership of certain key committees should be not strengthened but lifted altogether. This in spite of the fact that since the annexation of Crimea, which led to the original imposition of the sanctions, the situation has deteriorated and the Russian federation remains in breach of most of the CoE conventions and undertakings that it has signed up to. Vested interests are marvellous to behold and it became clear over three days of hard pounding that significant numbers of members of the Assembly, including some who hold high office, had, shall we say, been “influenced” by what Moscow has to offer. At the end of the day a compromise motion was agreed that maintains the sanctions until the April part-session when the matter will be discussed again. We may have won a modest battle but anyone who thinks that we have won the war is baying at the moon. “Ras” Putin`s well-rewarded apologists in the Duma will be back to fight another day even if they have stormed out of the Palais de L`Europe in synthetic anger on this occasion. The Minsk agreement has clearly been abandoned by a Russian Federation that now tells us that it was “an observer of but not party to” the agreement at all!

What is of great concern also is that a former Ukrainian Army helicopter pilot, Nadiiya Savchenko, now a Member of the Ukrainian Parliament, is currently starving herself to death in a Russian prison having been kidnapped from Ukraine by dissident forces and is now held on trumped-up charges alleging the murders of two Russian journalists. Ms. Savchenko is also, as a Member of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, immune from prosecution but that, and the imminent death of a young and courageous woman, is clearly of small consequence to the man in the Kremlin with whom we are encouraged to “engage in dialogue”. The Assembly passed a resolution calling for her release to “a third country” within twenty-four hours. That was the best part of a week ago but once again it seems that the Council`s resolutions are not backed by teeth.

Aside from the Ukraine, other matters arising from the lunchtime mini-summit embraced matters relating to our ongoing, or not, membership of the European Union and renegotiation of the terms upon which the UK might yet be persuaded to remain within the family. With the Euro falling like snowflakes – softly but inexorably – towards its thirteen-year low, the “better off out” argument is reinforced by the decision, promoted by William Hague, to keep the Pound Sterling and reject the Common currency. The Eurozone is currently facing a nine hundred billion bailout, at the rate of forty billion a month, generated by `quantitative easing` and approved by the President of the European Central Bank, Mario Draghi, in the hope that printing money may solve the twin problems of inflation and stagnation within the Zone`s economies. In that context Chancellor Merkel seemed positively ameliorative about controls over benefit payments to migrants while maintaining her implacable line in support of the principle of “freedom of movement” within the countries of the European Union. Tax credits, child benefits, JSA and social housing for immigrants are on the agenda and “abuse of social benefits needs to be fought against” but even in the wake of events in Paris it seems that border controls and restriction of movement are, for Frau Merkel, a `red line` issue and that may yet determine the outcome of a referendum if a Conservative government is in a position to hold one. I understand that matters relating to pensions and Winter Fuel Allowances and other `exportable benefits` were not discussed.

The Milipede has clearly been forced to seize upon the NHS as his election battlefield because the other plank in his anticipated platform is being pulled from under him. Sadly, from the point of view of Labour`s electoral chances, Chancellor Osborne`s economic management is now yielding dividends. It certainly remains true that those who have suffered most from austerity have yet to feel the real benefits of improvement but wages are, at last, rising faster than prices and the fall in petrol prices arising from the drop in the cost of crude oil and belatedly reaching the petrol pumps will represent the equivalent of a tax cut of an average £175 per year per household. In high-burning rural areas it is estimated that that saving is likely to rise to as much as £770 in the course of a driving year. All of his has allowed the Prime Minister to make, with justification, his “Stay on the road to strong recovery” speech while simultaneously indicating that the “Two Eds” path will lead only to economic chaos. That the new Labour Party`s Leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, has announced that a “Mansion Tax”, which is regarded by socialists as “a tax on the wealthy English”, will provide some millions for a thousand more nurses in Scotland, has scarcely contributed to the alleviation of Shadow Chancellor Balls` woes any more than has the assertion, by the IMF`s boss Mme. Christine Lagarde, that the British economy “is an example to the rest of the world”. With the UK now the fastest-growing economy within the G7 countries now might be the time to take out and dust off the “don`t hand the keys back to the people who crashed the car” slogan.

In other news Pauline Cafferkey, one of that courageous team that went out to Sierra Leone to fight the Ebola epidemic flew home to find herself suffering from the disease, was transferred from Scotland to the Royal Free Hospital in London for treatment, deteriorated to the point of “critical” giving real cause for her life and then, with the support of wonderful medical care and, she says, that Scottish libation Irn Bru, miraculously came back from the brink and is now out of hospital and back home. And talking of remarkable young women, Felicity Aston , the extraordinarily courageous explorer who, three years ago, became the first woman and only the third person to traverse the continent of Antarctica, alone, from coast to coast finally received modest recognition in the New Year`s honours list. Another honour was afforded to one Margaret Thatcher when on MT Day, January 10th, a statue, bronze if not iron, of the late warrior was unveiled in the Falkland Islands` Port Stanley. The Iron Lady would, one suspects, have had no truck with the criticism levelled against the Home Secretary, Theresa May who wishes to introduce what has been dubbed “a snooper`s charter” to guard against the threat of terrorism. It is suggested that the proposed legislation might invade the privacy of terrorists. With British troops being drawn home from Germany, Cyprus and The Falkands to be deployed against the post-Paris threat from murderers Man David and Borat O`Bama , meanwhile, are seeking a self-denying ordinance from Internet giants such as Apple, Google, Yahoo , Youtube and the like in the interests of the battle against cyber-terror.

A different and less welcome form of recognition from that shown to some great ladies has been afforded to His Royal Highness, Prince Andrew, who found himself the subject of papers filed in Florida in respect of alleged under-age dalliance with a woman called Virginia Roberts. “Air-Miles Andy” clocked up a few more points flying home from his skiing holiday with the Duchess of York, to discuss the matter with Her Maj. The accusation is robustly denied by The Palace and Fergie describes her ex-husband as “the best man in the world”. St. Nicholas of Clogg has dumped St. Vincent of Cable from the Liberal Party`s front-line election team and the Conservative Member of Parliament for Chatham and Aylesford, Tracey Crouch is campaigning to secure the provision of British , rather than French wines in our embassies, such as those in Taiwan, overseas. She also wants British beers served which has prompted the F&CO to say that they will do so “where appropriate” which is, I guess a diplomatic euphemism for “no”.

The observant will have noticed that there is a General Election in the offing and this has led to frenetic activity on the part of the television companies. The big question is not “who will run the country” but “who will be allowed to take part in pre-election TV debates”. Following the Prime Minister`s entirely reasonable decision to decline an invitation to participate unless the Green Party is included in the line-up and much huffing and puffing and threats of “empty chairs” from the BBC and ITV with OFCOM adjudicating, an accommodation was almost reached to include not just the Greens but the SNP and Paid Cymru also. What about the Democratic Unionist Party with all its members from Northern Ireland? What indeed? With the debate raging around “English Votes for English Laws”, the Prime Minister asserting that “we will not let the SNP vote on English issues”, Scotland`s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon saying that the SNP will indeed vote on English laws, including a budget ( Finance Bill) that might have an impact North of the Border and former Northern Ireland Secretary Owen Paterson demanding a change in Parliament`s Standing Orders before the General Election there surely needs to be the participation of all of the minority parties or none?

One of the aspirant participants in TV debates, labouring under the delusion that he is popular rather than populist, is the Leader (at least until Douglas Carswell mounts his challenge) of The United Kingdom Independence Party. Mr Farridge is standing in the South Thanet seat being vacated as a result of the retirement of Laura Sandys and that interesting election has attracted wide attention. With the comedian Al Murray (aka The Pub Landlord) announcing his own candidacy in the belief that South Thanet needs “A beer-swilling, straight-talker waving a pint around and offering common-sense solutions” and proposing as policy “the bricking up of the Channel Tunnel – bringing in Poles to do the work”. The election, which also includes a real pub landlord and sundry others in addition to a Conservative who has held down a long-term job and a Labour candidate who has not, promises to be colourful to say the least. And talking of UKIP, which we obliquely were, in addition to the defection, to the Conservatives, of that Party`s MEP Amjad Bashir while describing his former colleagues as “pointless, and his erstwhile Party secretary, Matthew Richardson apparently saying that “we are chasing the votes of bigots” because they deserve representation there is the small matter of their Economic Spokesman opining that his chums are “away with the fairies” with “egos that are out of control”. Now who could he possibly have been referring to?


Durham Free School, with some 94 pupils aged between 11 and 13 has been found wanting because in this Christian school a boy did not know what a Muslim was and associated the word with terrorism. It did not apparently occur to the Inspectors that that avowedly wrong impression might have been gleaned from watching television rather than from the school. That a pupil in the same establishment was asked if anyone in the school was gay merely reinforces the impression that the Inspectorate is anti-Christian in its approach to education in a way that would generate howls of outrage if applied to any other faith.

From the surreal to the ridiculous and what has become known as “the storm in a D-cup”. This refers, of course, to the tabloid Sun`s long-standing topless Page-3 girl pictures that have attracted the hostile attention of Mad Hattie Harman, The Clogg and sundry anti-exploitation campaigners. (The models, you understand, are unpaid and forced at the point of a Canon to strip off). I am not well-placed to comment but it was several days before it was drawn to my attention that the Page-3 girls had lashed out and bought the top half of their bikinis. This led to some premature rejoicing in certain quarters and the Secretary of State for Education, Nick Morgan, was unwise to say that the reform (“The Sun has got its top on”) was “long overdue”. The Dirty Digger was, however “Avin a larf” and normal disservice has been resumed. I am told.

Huge excitement, also, over the fate of “Dippy”. “Dippy” is the fake Diplodocus skeleton that has, for as long as anyone can remember (probably back to when dinosaurs still walked the Earth) welcomed visitors old and young to London`s wonderful Museum of Natural History. ”Dippy” has been relegated to make way for the skeleton of the world`s largest animal ever, a Blue Whale and it will now be “Fishy” (presumably) who will welcome guests to the entrance hall. The inevitable social media campaign to “Save Dippy” has led to the reassurance that the bony beast may well go on a national tour.

A little item of good news, for a change. Natural England, which august body many had feared would order the extermination of Britain`s first beavers living in the wild for several hundreds of years, has instead agreed to license the animals that will, under supervision, be allowed to continue to live in, appropriately, the River Otter in Devonshire.

The BBC`s flagship production of an adaptation of Hilary Mantel`s historical bodice-ripper “Wolf Hall”, having gained 3.89 million viewers for its first episode, dropped a million down to 2.89 for episode two. Matched against the excellent crime drama Midsomer Murders the audience seemingly decided that the action in Wolf Hall was too slow compared with the pacey decimation of the hamlets and villages of Midsomer.

Her Mother took twelve year old Jo France to the Harrogate Odeon as a treat to see The Theory of Everything, the film based on the early life of Stephen Hawking. The young lady could not get into the cinema because there was no disabled access. Which reminds me of a time, some forty years ago, when I was researching a TV magazine programme for young people and visited the Lord Mayor Treloare School in Hampshire, home to some (then) teenage `thalidomiders`. One very bright young man told me of his own refusal, on `elf `n safety grounds, when trying to take his wheelchair into a cinema. “I am” he said “going to publish my autobiography: it will be called “fire risk”!” I do hope that he published it.

The sale of “ugly veg”, first promoted by my wise and thrifty parliamentary colleague Laura Sandys has attracted the attention of Celebrity Chef Jamie Oliver and is now selling at a beautiful one third less than “pretty” vegetables in Asda. With GM crops now given the go-ahead Jamie might now wish to turn his mind to the plight of British milk. At 11.4 pence per pint the stuff is cheaper than bottled water and impossible even to produce at that price. Our dairy farmers are going bust and suicidal while to add insult to industry “British” cheeses, like Cheddar, are being made with even cheaper milk imported from mainland Europe.

Still on the food front, Cornish Pasties are allowed to be imported from the United States. Why? Under the proposed EU/US Free Trade Deal. Why? Because Cornish tin miners took the tradition with them when they first migrated to the New World to earn a living.

Not true to say that our Colonial cousins do not believe in conservation. Yale Professor Rosemarie Morgan, President of the Thomas Hardy Association, is fighting proposals to builds seventy homes in Lower Bockhampton, Dorset. Lower Bockhampton and Stinsford feature, of course, in Under the Greenwood Tree and Tess of the D`Urbervilles and are reached by the `river walk` along which those of us who attended Hardye`s Grammar School in Dorchester as boarders were compelled to walk on Sunday afternoons!

And talking of prisoners (! Cheap shot – we had a wonderful time and a great education) it is said that a prisoner held at Her Majesty`s Pleasure in Wandsworth gaol managed to order machine guns from Germany and have them delivered to his home in Finsbury Park in North London. What a waste. The man ought to be in business.

Lorraine White is in business. She applied to Stockport Council for permission to open a “Fetish Club” offering “photography and mild fetish play”. The application was treated as “sustainable development” and received five responses, all in favour. One wag was unkind enough to offer the thought that “She asked for permission. A true Dominatrix would have demanded it”.

Concentrating on my efforts to get Manston Airport, in my Kent constituency, re-opened I notice that at Heathrow complaints were made about a “noisy plane” and hour before it took off. The campaigners, including presumably the thirty eight people who, using automated calls, managed during 2014 to register 7,888 complaints, had forgotten to put their clocks back on the October day in question.


The former Governor of New York State, Mario Cuomo, has departed at the age of 82. He served for three terms which, for some, is almost a life sentence in itself.

“The Great Escaper”, Bernard Jordan, the Normandy Veteran who enthralled the nation when he absconded from a nursing home in Hove, Sussex, to attend the D-Day celebrations and was AWOL for several days has been captured for the last time in his 91st Year.

That Was The Life That Was for Lance Percival, the 60`s topical calypso singer who will be remembered by those of a certain age for “Shame and Scandal in the Family”. Lance has re-strung his guitar for the last time at 81.

Red blooded males of the swinging sixties will also recall Anita Ekberg, star of Federico Fellini`s La Dolce Vita, who launched her career as Miss Sweden in 1950, took the Palm D`Or in Cannes in 1960 and picked up the Golden Globe for “Blood Alley”. Whisper it softly but the lady was 83 when she answered the last call for “action”,

`Union` Jack Hayward, patriot par excellence – or should one say “without equal”, the man who bought his native Wolverhampton`s Wanderers in 1960 has hoisted the Union Flag for the last time at 91. Margaret Thatcher`s former Home and then Trade and Industry Secretary Lord (Leon) Brittan has departed God`s waiting room at a young 75.

And Anne Kirkbride, Coronation Street`s Deidre for forty-three years since she made her first appearance in 1961, has left the Street at the age of 60.

And finally………

There are plans afoot to introduce plain cigarette packets in the United Kingdom. The Public Health Minister, Jane Ellison, believes that this will reduce still further the number of those still smoking. It is said that when this measure is brought before the Commons before the General Election at least a hundred government MPs, of which number I shall, as a non-smoker, be one, will rebel against it. The Government believes that this is a “proportionate and justified response” to those who wish to curb smoking. It is not, though, evidence-based and insofar as there is evidence available from the Australian experiment that evidence suggests a 25% increase in the illicit trade in tobacco products because unbranded cigarettes are easier to counterfeit. An idea based on good intentions that needs to be stubbed out before it reaches the statute book.

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