Westminster View - January 2018
January. We have heard the chimes at midnight. Literally. Big Ben was ' switched on' (well, re-set) to see the New Year in and by New Year's morning was silent again for the duration of the restoration works so my friend " Ian the Clock" must have been working overtime. A brave start or ' same old, same old'? There is nothing sexy or glamorous about a flu epidemic and in one way or another many of us are victims. In spite of the best efforts at capacity management the hospitals are heaving but you cannot plan a Health Service for a year on the basis of one pinch- point so it's back to patients on trolleys in corridors or in the backs of ambulances waiting to be admitted with the inevitable consequences and headlines. And talking of ' fake news ' there's ' that book' that the Tramp has worked overtime to publicise for American author Michael Wolff. If a fraction of Wolff's revelations from Inside Trump’s White House are true then it can only be layers of hardened hairspray that are holding the edifice together.
New Year, New Cabinet. That, at least is how the Darling Bud's resolution was trailed. Night of the stilettos? Night of the short knives? Less than met the eye perhaps but more at the lower levels of Government than some anticipated. Ask not for whom the telephone bell tolls.......UKIP leader Henry Bolton dumps his second partner for his third mistress and then cries off and on again while the pressure group that has been UKIP goes into what must surely be its final meltdown. In denial Kippers, as we have discovered in North Thanet, do not resign honourably but have to have their hands prised off what in that now ludicrous organisation without a cause passes for ' power’. Another on- off relationship breaks out as a wounded Mutti Merkel struggles to cobble together a coalition with Herr Schultz' SPD to form a new Government in Germany. The Young Un woos South Korea and the North will send a squad to the Winter Olympics as alarm bells heralding a nuclear attack sound, erroneously, in Hawaii. Mayor Boris wants to build a bridge over troubled waters, Macron promises the loan of the Bayeux tapestry (should we send the French the Overlord tapestry, as a gentle reminder, in exchange?) We agree to pay more towards border security at Calais which may prove to be one of our better investments in the EU and as the tide goes out we discover that it is the public services and construction giant Carillion that has been swimming naked. The Crown Prosecution Service is on the rack over the failure of prosecutions to disclose evidence to the defence in more cases of allegation of rape, the Presidents' Club Dinner takes a distinctly unpresidential turn, the good, the bad and the very ugly gather in Davos and holier- than-thou couture dominates the Golden Globe Awards.
The Bourgeois Women's Tabloid and other such chip- wrappings like to describe it as ' the walk of shame'. Why, apart from on rare and dishonourable occasions, there should be any ' shame' in having sought to serve your Country as a Minister I have never been sure. To be made to walk from the gates of Downing Street to the door of Number Ten, to be thanked kindly for your services, relieved of your car and Ministerial salary and to be told to leave quietly by the back door is a ritual that ought, surely, to have gone the way of the stocks or the ducking stool.
Not that The Darling Bud's re- shuffle was ever going to have been an easy task with all of the big Offices of State bed- blocked by incumbents with no intention of moving. With no majority to fall back on a Prime Minister has little or no room for manoeuvre. Mayor Boris has made it plain that he likes the use of The Foreign Secretary's country residence at Chevening, Phil ' spreadsheet' Hammond is not flavour of the month as Chancellor of the Exchequer but is both respected and not a little feared as, probably, the only man that has crunched the post- Brexit sums and peered into the economic abyss that awaits the UK if we get it wrong. The Old Knuckleduster and Brexit Secretary has to stay put to do another fifteen rounds with Messrs Barnier and Druncker, at the Home Office Amber Rudd is dug in as Home Secretary and Gavin Williamson has only just slipped seamlessly from the Chief Whip's office to become Secretary of State for Defence following the demise of Michael Fallon.
It did not get off to a flying start. Following the retirement, after many long years in office, of Patrick McLaughlin, the former coal- miner who has served under every Tory Leader since Margaret Thatcher, Conservative Central Office managed to put out a message welcoming Transport Secretary Chris Grayling as their new Chairman. They then had to spectacularly withdraw it ten minutes later when it transpired that Grayling was staying put at Transport and, as trailed in the media, the Minister of State at the Home Office, Brandon Lewis, was moving to take the helm at CCHQ . This slightly took the shine off the No 10 photo of the PM and a positive battery of bright young Party Vice- Chairman poised to re- float HMS Tory on the next high tide. Quite what all these good folk will do is not yet clear but no doubt they will soon discover that while running a business requires discipline trying to run a voluntary organisation is like trying to herd kittens. Been there, seen it, done it, got the scars to prove it!
Back behind the privacy of the big black door the next tier of Cabinet Ministers was engaged in conversation. The unexpected departure of James Brokenshire from the Northern Ireland office created one vacancy. James has had an incredibly difficult row to hoe with the twin challenges of a post- Brexit Border and the collapse of power- sharing and now faces major surgery. He is replaced by Culture Secretary Karen Bradley who is nobody's fool but is going to need luck as well as good judgement to save the Good Friday agreement from the fire. At Health Jeremy Hunt, expected to move to become Deputy Prime Minister after Damian Green's loss, stays put and logically adds Social Care to the already terrifying Health Portfolio and Sajid Javid adds Housing to the Local Government title to make it plan that the Government is serious about - well, housing, really.
Education Secretary Justine Greening falls on her sword. Never comfortable, as a Minister that does not believe in selective education, in a role serving a Tory Party that wants to bring back Grammar Schools, she declined a move to Work and Pensions. The jobs are compatible in rank but with a wafer- thin majority in her South- London Putney seat and with major flight path issues over a Third Runway at Heathrow Airport looming she has probably decided rightly that now is the time to fight her battles from outside The Tent. Damian Hinds takes her place as Education Secretary and Esther McVey who lost her Merseyside seat and re-entered Parliament to represent Boy George's former Tatton patch spent five minutes as Deputy Chief Whip and is now Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. Penny Mordaunt remains at Overseas Development, David Lidington becomes, effectively, Deputy PM, David Gauke becomes Justice Secretary and that's the ' Big Re-Shuffle'. The PM was, effectively, set up by the media to be knocked down.
Down the Ministerial food chain it was not a good time to be ' pale and male and stale' and as is inevitably the case several good men and true paid the price for their ethnicity, sex and age. The long and the short of it is that the Lower Whips Office is now exclusively the domain of women and although the Cabinet has shifted from 73-74% male there are now thirty- seven women and a number of ethnic minorities in government posts. Charm of the night awards goes to Labour's Shadow Chancellor ' Red' John McDonnell who described Ms Mc Vey as ' a stain on humanity', a statement for which he refuses to apologise. Comrade Corbyn's Back room team describe Esther as ' an odious, toxic liar' which suggests that they recognise a tough Scouse adversary when they see one.
Once upon a long time ago there was an organisation called The United Kingdom Independence Party. It was not founded by (no, really, it was not) Mr Nigel Farridge. Mr Farridge drew a useful salary and large expenses and pension contributions as a Member of the European Parliament while campaigning to kill, but not too soon, the goose that was laying his golden eggs. As the Fuhrer of UKIP Mr Farridge sought to take back sovereignty for the United Kingdom and to Put Britain First. Mr Farridge thought he had become best friends with Mr. Tramp, who became the Commander in Chief and President of the United States of America but he found out the hard way the meaning of ' discardable'. Mr Farridge, having ' won ' his referendum unexpectedly and realising that there was no plan to implement the consequences of his ' success' , took the courageous way out and, as he had done several times before, resigned as the Fuhrer of UKIP. Other Fuhrers followed but none could make a go of an outfit that no longer had any visible aim, objective, or money. Mr Farridge, who would clearly like it to be known that he still has opinions, has decided that what the UK now needs is a second referendum ' to put the EU issue to bed'.
Which brings us to the hapless Mr. Henry Bolton of Folkestone in the County of Kent.
Ex- army Captain Bolton, aged fifty- four, became this month's Fuhrer of UKIP. Having left his first wife for a Russian Model, Tatiana, he has now left Tatiana for a twenty-four year- old model, Ms. Jo Marney. Mr. Bolton's private life ought to be his affair, literally and metaphorically, but when his domestic arrangements were revealed in the inevitable press revelations Mr. Bolton announced that he had dumped Ms Marney and was returning to the second marital bed. Still his business, you may say, but a degree of lack of credibility creeps in when it energies that Mr Bolton is seen and photographed wining and dining Ms. Marney before making their separate ways via London Underground only to meet up on the same late- evening train to Mr Bolton's home town of Folkestone. Ms Marney was, reportedly ' collecting her belongings' before returning to her own home. All of which has the sad and clumsy ring of chaotic truth about it but it has left Tatiana Sumova now claiming to be ' devastated all over again' and the UKIP executive passing, by thirteen votes out of fourteen, a vote of no- confidence in Mr. Bolton's position as their leader. The only vote in favour was the vote that Mr. Bolton cast himself. Never mind. Captain Bolton still, apparently, has the support of Mr Farridge so that should administer the coup de grace. With no funds and with the party haemorrhaging between £20 and £30 thousand a month it can surely now only be a question of time before what passes for sanity in that organisation prevails. Or before Mr. Farridge takes over the leadership yet again.
If you had written a book about Donald Trump's White House and you wanted to publicise it what would you do? A number of things, of course, but it would be beyond your wildest dreams that the President of the United States, The Very Tramp, would try to send out a lawyer's “cease and desist" letter in an endeavour to prevent publication.
Michael Wolff, the author of " Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House" must have thought that all of his Sunday's had come at once. In The Land of The Free this is tantamount to one enormous pre- publication sellout and a massive paycheque coupled with yards of copy scrutinising all of Wolff's assertions “based upon more than 200 interviews”. Melanie, we are told, was “in tears" over the election victory having been promised that such a disaster could never befall the family or that a man who advisers are said to have described as " 100% incapable of doing the job" could ever have to ask her to move into the House on Pennsylvania Avenue
The Tramp has " cancelled his visit to the UK" he has thrown his toys out of the pram and does not want to formally open the new hyper- secure American Embassy in Nine Elms because it is " poor value" and South of the River. Or, alternatively, he does not want to face the prospect of demonstrations. A foul- mouthed rant against " people from sh*t- hole countries" does little to enhance his reputation for stability but it is Steve Bannon, a source of material for the Wolff book, that has “lost his mind”. John Kelly, the Tramp's Chief - of - Staff tells us that the Mexican Wall “has evolved”. Not so. “The wall is the wall" and the $20 billion construction cost is “peanuts”. At the White House “Fake News" awards CNN picks up four ' prizes' with the New York Times on two and ABC, Newsweek and Time all in the running. One of these might have been for the Washington Post suggestion that the Tramp had sought to sack his Special Counsel, Robert Mueller, who is currently investigating collusion with Russia and is also (more fake news?) poised to call The Commander- in- Chief to give evidence on oath “within weeks". So far the President's attempts to muzzle the free Press have backfired spectacularly although there are those who say that is all part of the White House Plan to spread confusion. On the anniversary of his inauguration- time goes so quickly when you are having fun - the arch Deal- Maker finds that he has no deal with Congress, the plug is pulled on his funding and America shuts down. Cost to the U.S. Treasury about $24 billion. 48% of Americans blame the President and the Republicans for this shambles which does not bode well for an election in the 18th District of Pennsylvania, supposedly a GOP stronghold, where The Tramp has endorsed his candidate, one Rick Saccone who is not, presumably, an immigrant.
The President has no time to meet Prime Minister May at the Davos Economic Forum. Well, actually, he does. Mayor Boris believes that we should welcome The President to the UK in the light of “the single most extraordinary economic relationship" in the World. I think I know what Boris means but the relationship is getting more extraordinary by the minute. The Tramp has apparently been watching The Darkest Hour and now sees Prime Minister May as “a new Churchill”. I am not sure that even her admirers, and I freely concede that I am one of them, would go quite that far but given a little more support from her own Party she may yet “never surrender". Surreal, possibly, but I can only write as I find. As a footnote Red Jerry Corbyn opines that there is. 'No special relationship' with the United States.
In other news the Medical Director of the NHS cancels all routine operations to clear the decks for the flu epidemic. Damned if you do and damned if you don't but we cannot run or staff or pay for a health service predicated to the needs of one winter peak however grim it may be. I myself have fallen found of this bug and, while endeavouring to lead the UK Delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, ended up languishing under the tender care of a Strasbourg hospital with a raging chest infection. An interesting comparative experience and my French medical vocabulary has emerged considerably enriched.
The ' Black Cab Rapist', John Worboys, has been deemed fit for release by a Parole Board that has no power to give reasons for its decision or to offer comfort to victims whose cases were never prosecuted. The new Justice Secretary, David Gauke, is “spineless” for not pursuing a judicial review of this decision but Law Officers have to act within their own law. It may be, though, that there are loopholes that will allow the case to come back before the courts. Justice, at present, is not being seen to be done. Meantime the Director of The Crown Prosecution service has ordered a review of all live rape cases in the light of acquittals following a gross pail urge of prosecuting authorities to make vital evidence available to the defence in a number of cases. This would be the same Alison Saunders, who recently advised that it was not necessary for the police and prosecutors to necessarily review Facebook and other social media contacts between alleged victims and alleged perpetrators of crime. Time for a re- shuffle, Ms. Saunders?
In the U.S. The Golden Globe Awards were dominated by MeToo protesters wearing little black numbers while vying for the usual attention on the red carpet. Black and red go rather well together. Another form of Anarchy? Carrie Gracie, the BBC's China correspondent, quits her post over the Salford Broadcasting Corporation's failure to address the male/ female pay gap and Auntie makes a pigs ear of an announcement that some senior male journalists, who are named, will take a pay cut before telling the aforesaid presenters that the news was to be made public! This is, in the trade, known as ' news management'. Back to Ms Gracie and the bizarre situation in which she cannot be interviewed on the Today programme upon which she is appearing but has to wait until - yes - Women's Hour - before being allowed to state her case!
Frau Merkel is clutching at a last straw. Early in the month the severely politically damaged Mutti thought that she had the deal sewn up with Martin Schultz ' SPD but then the wheels came off as Schultz faced a rebellion in his own party and found that he could not deliver on a coalition deal. This could spell the end of Merkel's Chancellorship but a lifeline SPD vote ended 362-279 for continued talks.
And Carillion, the government services and construction giant, has hit the buffers. Under Mrs. May no company is too big to fail and that is as it should be. However, in order to keep government contracts in which others have a stake on track and in order to maintain vital services the Government will pay the same fees to others as to Carillion to ensure a smooth transition. That, though, is of small comfort to the dozens of small businesses acting as sub- contractors for Carillion's private contracts and for whom there is no such offered bailout. There and hundreds of jobs and loss of small companies whose very futures are on the line and who see no light at the end of this tunnel of failure. By her Majesty's opposition it is, of course, being held up as an example of “the failure of the capitalist system" but the fact is that the PPI and PPP systems have been exploited by recent Governments of all political persuasions. The writing was on the wall but only cute hedge- fund managers appear to have been able to read it.
Hampstead Heath's famous Ladies' bathing pond is to become ' gender- fluid' and opened to ' transitioning men'. That should put the piranhas amongst the lily- pads.
Nicola Sturgeon has hauled down the Union Flag. In a gesture that surely smacks of desperate tokenism and the realisation that she has had her day the " wee lassie in the tin hat" will now only allow the flag to fly over public buildings in Scotland on Remembrance Sunday. It will take more than that to strike Ruth Davidson down.
There have been Nutella riots in France. A land that prides itself on its culinary arts has been caught squabbling over jars of sticky sickly paste as the Intermarche Group slashed prices from 4.50 to 1.41 Euros per item.
I have on occasions described the Bourgeois Women's Tabloid as the world's Worst Newspaper which is probably a gross exaggeration because no paper with Quentin Letts writing for it can be described as all bad. I rush to the defence of The Mail, however, on learning that the management of Virgin Trains and Stagecoach had banned the sale of the comic on their services. This was not, as originally fudged, ' to save space' but because management had been ' listening to staff' (for which presumably read the rail unions) and decided to cease selling the Mail. Now, however much I may regard this tawdry rag with disdain I do not believe that it is the job of Stagecoach or Virgin to act as thought police. Nor, clearly, do Messrs Souter and Branson who, with an eye on some appalling publicity, overturned the ban. Which will probably now provoke a strike!
The Chime of church bells is to be protected in planning law. This follows the issuing, by Dover Council, of a noise abatement notice on the quarter- hour chimes of St. Peter's in Sandwich, a bell that has rung almost continuously since 1779. Full marks to my colleague and neighbour Craig Mackinlay for working like the clappers to get this nonsense reversed.
The electric milk float, that transport of the delight of our youth, is making a comeback. With war on plastic bottles waging at full tilt returnable glass is in vogue and sales have risen from 800 thousand bottles to one million a day over two years. I am reminded that back in the 1900s, when there were no fridges, milk was delivered by horse and cart three times per day - in churns.
A syphalitic Swiss mummy dating from 1787 has been identified as Mayor Boris' seven- times Great Grandmother. We are asked to believe that this is not fake news.
Harold the Vulture, from Eagle Heights Wildlife Foundation in Kent, has laid an egg. Harold, now accepted as a female, is looking for a Griffon mate to start a family with.
The C- Beebies children 's cartoon character Hey Duggee has been criticised by the Greenwich, South London, Fire Unit for being a fireman rather than the preferred non- gender non- sexist ' firefighter'.
Sainsburys “we bring nature to the consumer" has been caught selling ' organic coconut' in cling- film wrap with a plastic ring- pull and a straw. Price £3. Raw, au natural coconut casts just 80 pence without the offending plastic.
And the British Met Office has been criticised for not giving the recent 95 mph storm and blizzards a name. “Not severe enough" it seems.
Bronwen, Lady Astor, Chatelaine of Cliveden during the Profumo scandals and daughter- in-law of Nancy, Britain's first woman MP (1964) has thrown her last party.
Tony Calder, who has cut his last groove at seventy- four, will be remembered by children of the 60's as the Business Partner of Andrew Loog Oldham, one of the driving forces behind The Rolling Stones, The Small Faces, Amen Corner and Fleetwood Mac and others who appeared on their Immediate record label. Chris Farlowe's “Out of Time" made their first number one in 1966 and the McCoys “Hang on Sloopy" made number five.
Peter Preston was Editor of the Guardian Newspaper for twenty- five years. The man who in my less- than- charitable view of a flawed career 'Set up' Jonathan Aitken has died at seventy nine.
John Young, at eighty- seven, was the longest- serving NASA astronaut. A veteran of the Apollo 16 mission, his last flight was at eighty three.
Ray Thomas (76) played the flute on the Moody Blues ' Knights in White Satin' recording.
Surgeon Captain Richard Jolly was the Falklands War Veteran responsible for the ' Red and Green Life-Saving machine’ that treated hundreds, friend and foe alike, during the Falklands campaign. Transported to the battle by RMS Canberra, Captain Jolly found himself snatching survivors from the sea via a Wessex Search and Rescue helicopter without survival kit. His field hospital, established under appalling and unhygienic conditions, treated 650 Argentine and British troops, performed 210 operations over three weeks and not a life while under his care was lost. He received the OBE and has left us at seventy- one.
Actor Peter Wyngarde has departed stage- right at ninety. He will be remembered as Jason King in the ITV series Department s aired in 1969/70 and 1971/72
Peter ' A Year in Provence' Mayle (78) spawned a genre of ' get away to the idyll' books based on personal experiences of the restoration of French rural properties on a shoestring. Not a bible but a source of huge encouragement to those of us who have staggered up this winding and rocky path to Elysium. Mayle took French citizenship and was awarded the Legion d'Honneur. His motto “books are a pretext to eat well" will live on.
Whether Peter Mayle approved of nouvelle cuisine or not I do not know but he will certainly have enjoyed the fruits of some of the labours of Paul Bocuse who has left his kitchens for the last time at ninety one. Bocuse founded L'Auberge de Pont de Collonges and established a gastronomic empire stretching from Japan to Los Angeles. “The Pope" of Haute Cuisine, whose restaurant held three Michelin stars for an unbroken fifty years, is quoted as saying that he wanted his guests to enjoy their food "on the plate not on the bill".
John Barton, fight- arranger extraordinaire, was the co- founder with Sir Peter Hall of the Royal Shakespeare Company. He joined in 1960 and became an artistic director in 1964. Of some fifty productions for the RSC his “Wars of the Roses" and” Hollow Crown" are the stuff of theatrical legend. His curtain fell at eighty- nine.
Jimmy Armfield, Captain of England, played 627 games for Blackpool when wages were ' capped' at £20 per week. He was a member of the 1966 winning World Cup squad but was unable to play because of injury. Sir Bobby Charlton described Armfield, who was commentating for the BBC until shortly before his death at eighty- two, as “an honest and genuine gentleman".
Sir Keith Speed (83) became the Member of Parliament for Meriden and served as Margaret Thatcher's last Minister for the Navy before he was sacked over opposition to Trident (“How can we afford Trident if we cannot afford Endurance to defend the Falklands"?) and she abolished Ministerial departments within the MoD. He became the Member for Ashford in Kent in 1974 and left the Commons to be succeeded by Damian Green in 1997.
Pamela Biggs- Davison (93) was in the WRNS during the war and engaged in top secret work at Bletchley Park. Her husband, Sir John Biggs- Davison was the Member of Parliament for Ongar and Chigwell, subsequently Epping Forest, in Essex.
The founder of the flat- pack Swedish furniture empire IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad, has left us at 91. The brains behind the company, whose self- assembly instructions became a blueprint for impossibility, is rumoured to have left anything between $4 billion and $47 billion behind him began his career selling fish, pencils and nylons door- to- door before establishing his cheap furniture business in 1948. The firm takes its’ name from his own initials, the E from the farm, Elmtaryd where he first started and his village, Agunnaryd.
Oh Happy Day! Edwin Hawkins, the American arranger and performer (74) transformed interest in U.S. Gospel music. His 1969 recording sold more than seven million copies as a ' crossover' hit and is said to have provided the inspiration for George Harrison's 'My Sweet Lord'.
‘The Four Oarsmen of the Apocalypse' have broken the Talisker transatlantic charity rowing record. Dicky Taylor, George Biggar, Peter Robinson and Stuart Watts made the crossing to English Bay in Antigua in 29 days and 15 hours- slicing six days off the previous best time. Worth a tot - and a donation to their cause.
The ‘holy grail' of cycling has been unearthed rusting in a barn. Britain's oldest “Hobby Horse" bicycle was patented by Dennis Johnson in 1818. Three hundred and twenty of the machines were made of which just twelve remain. It is believed that the latest discovery is the prototype because unlike all of the others its frame remains un- numbered.
But really finally........
A blue plaque is to be placed upon a modest dwelling in West Street in Exeter in Devon.
It was once the residence of the World War Two carrier pigeon, Mary. Dropped three times behind enemy lines in France, Mary was attacked by German hawks. On the return journey to Charlie Brewer's shoe shop and pigeon loft in Exeter she had the tip of her wing shot off and three pellets were removed from her body on arrival. The member of the National Pigeon Service received the Dickin Medal (the ' animals VC’) in 1945 and lived out the war until 1950. She is now buried in the PDSA cemetery in Ilford.