Westminster View - June 2019
June. Pomp, circumstances and The Tramp. Hostilities break out between the White House and the Mansion House. The gloves come off in the bout to become Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. The Conservative 1922 Committee changes the selection rules to fast track the process and deliver a result before the House rises for the summer. The `Long and Painful` Parliament, as it must surely become known, shows no sign of proroguing but false moves could still deliver a General Election this side of Christmas. The cross-channel illegal immigration season takes off with the onset of summer while Britain and Allies remember another more noble armada that on D-Day commenced the liberation of Europe from the thrall of Nazi Germany. In a by-election in Peterborough the Farridge Brexit Party runs Labour close to victory, Change UK, the breakaway Labour-Tory Party fragments again as some Members `defect` to the Liberal Democrats. Now there are four. Tensions rise in Hong Kong as demonstrators force the administration to withdraw plans to permit the extradition of suspects to mainland China. At her last G20 summit, in Japan, the Prime Minister confronts Vlad Putin over the Skripal poisonings; if looks could have killed then Theresa`s demeanour was pure Novichok. And the Council of Europe, that dedicated human rights organisation that embraces forty-seven member states, or a whining (sic) and dining club for geriatric members of national parliaments – take your pick – upon which some of us serve, caves in to blackmail by the Russian Federation and sells what is left of its soul and remaining principles for seventy million as yet unpaid euros of silver.
Her Maj and the Firm rolled out the pageantry for the State visit of the “First Family” from the United States of America. The Tramp`s entourage, which seemed to embrace not merely the Commander-in-Chief, wife and children but sundry other close and not-so - close relatives and friends all dying to meet The Queen, swept in with a cavalcade of fixed-wing aircraft, helicopters, armoured vehicles, security outriders and all the trappings normally associated with Latin American dictators. They were billeted not at Buck House (“One is having a total overhaul of one`s plumbing unfortunately”) but in the Ambassador`s modest umpteen bedroomed residence in London`s Regent`s Park. There was, to be sure, a pre-arrival spat between The Tramp “You`re a stone cold loser” and Mayor Khan “You`re an example of the right-wing extremism that is sweeping the Western Word” and there was the odd flying of the nappy-clad Baby Tramp blimp by way of gratuitous insult but, to be fair, a programme that had potential disaster written all over it passed off remarkably well. I can almost hear Her Maj heaving a sigh of relief and saying, as we do in the Gale household sometimes, “I think that went rather well really, don’t you”? Okay, so Red Jerry turned down the State Banquet in the big house at 5he end of The Mall and chose to harangue the anti-Tramp mob instead but then That’s what you expect from the Fri3nds of Venezuela Solidarity Front and nobody was reported to have choked on fish bones or eaten peas off a knife, the President of the United States of America did not do as one of his predecessors and curtsey to a Queen who he described fairly accurately as “ a great, great woman” ( “ lady” might have been a more felicitous choice of word) and if, following all of the pleasantries, there was no meeting with a former Mayor of London, ex- Foreign Secretary Johnson, who was too busy promoting* his own interests or with Comrade Corbyn ( “ I decided not to see him”) then what the hell?
After a return bunfight at the US Ambassador’s cottage where Her Maj was represented by Prince Charles and his Duchess and where it is said that our future monarch took the opportunity to mention the climate change that The Tramp prefers not to acknowledge the cavalcade moved to Portsmouth for some eve of D-Day commemorations and then on to Normandy to mark the dawn of 6th June when, seventy- five years ago so many allied forces gave their lives battling for control over the beaches of Northern France and its hinterland.
I am not known as the greatest fan of the Commander- in- Chief but the affair was dignified and respectful and he read President Franklin D Roosevelt’s prayer to the troops without fault. The assembled multitudes of dignitaries and the world’s press did great and glorious honour to the two hundred and fifty five Normandy veterans who had made the cross- channel trip on the MV Boudicca to pay tribute in person to their fallen comrades while out of the skies tumbled a nonagenarian paratrooper, Jack Hutton, proudly sporting the red beret that he had once worn in anger all those years ago. Theresa May read a letter written by Captain Norman Skinner of the RASC and addressed to his wife, Gladys. Captain Skinner landed on Sword Beach at the start of Operation Overlord on 6th June. He fell and the letter was taken from his body on June 7th.
His Majesty King George V1 said at the start of the landing that “what is demanded of us is something more than courage and endurance - we need a revival of spirit, a new unconquerable resolve”. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth the Second might justly have been thinking of her own father, the man who with his wife stayed beside his subjects in his bombed capital and who overcame an appalling stutter to, with Churchill, “harness the English Language and send it into battle” when she reminisced that “this was a resilient generation - my generation”. So if The President of the United States tweeted excitedly that “I just met with the Queen of England and the Prince of Whales” (sic) who are we to criticise? The Atlantic Alliance between the United States of America and the United Kingdom is the bedrock of the security of the Western World and if they occasionally choose to elect a President that is not to our liking or we exercise an aberrational selection of a Prime Minister - as well we may - then we need to remember that it is the countries and the freedoms that we stand for and not transient individuals that matter.
It was seventy years ago, in 1949, that Winston Churchill and others founded the Council of Europe as an antidote to any future Holocaust, to Nazism and to Communism. From its original handful of Member States it has grown to forty- seven nations, its boundaries stretch from Azerbaijan in the East to the Atlantic Ocean in the West and from the northern shores of the Mediterranean to the Arctic circle. The Council, of which most people have either never heard or conflate with the European Union , has three basic component parts: the governing Committee of Ministers , attended by Ambassadors and in plenary session by Foreign Ministers, a Parliamentary Assembly ( The PACE) , attended by delegations drawn from the ranks of elected Members of national parliaments, and the European Court of Human Rights presided over by Judges dawn from the Member States and not to be confused with the European Court of Justice. The founding principles of the CoE are enshrined in the Convention on Human Rights to which all member states are expected to subscribe and adhere. The Convention recognises basic liberties, starting with the right to life (so no member state may apply the death penalty) and covering the fundamental freedoms of movement, assembly, speech and associated liberties. The PACE committees observe national Presidential and Parliamentary elections, keep a watchful eye on the freedom of the media and the safety of Journalists, and through the Monitoring Committee, which at present I chair, seek to enforce the observance of the terms of the Convention. Not surprisingly, given the transgressions of which emerging democracies are capable, a number of States - Turkey, Azerbaijan and the Russian Federation, for example - are under full monitoring while others, improving, are under less stringent post- monitoring dialogue.
The Russian Federation is in violation of most if not all of the rules of the book. It has annexed land belonging to other States in Georgia and Moldova as well as, most recently and infamously, Crimea from Ukraine. The. Russian Federation was complicit in the shooting down of flight MH 17 over Eastern Ukraine and the murder of nearly three hundred innocent men, women and children civilian passengers on board. The Russian Federation has arrested and imprisoned Ukrainian sailors serving in international waters in the Kerch Straits in the Black Sea and has engaged in murder and attempted murder by poisoning on British soil, the Russian Federation has passed a law that, its constitutional court has determined, allows it to ignore the many findings issued against it by the EHCR. That kicks the bottom out of the argument that were Russia to leave or to be thrown out of the CoE ‘ordinary Russian people’ would be denied access to the protection of the court. And the Russian Federation’s crimes against the people of Chechnya and the Tatars are a matter of record and shame. The fact of the matter is that in CoE terms the Russian Federation is a pariah State that believes that it can act with impunity and does not care.
When Putin annexed Crimea the PACE, exercising its very limited powers of sanction, suspended the Russian delegation’s voting rights. The Russian, contrary to the popular myth that they were expelled, unilaterally withdrew their delegation and have not presented their credential for approval since. Subsequent interference in the Donbas in the East of Ukraine has hardened attitudes. The Russian Federation, while still attending the Committee of Ministers, suspended payment of the funds legally due to the CoE leaving a multi- million-euro hole in funding which a recalcitrant Secretary General did precious little to address. That precipitated, towards the end of 2018, a financial crisis. At this point the Russian Federation sought to hold the CoE to ransom, agreeing to make payment and to fulfil its obligation to take its seats in the Assembly only if all sanctions were lifted unconditionally and without concession or recognition of any transgressions on the Russian side.
In an act of supine political cowardice the Parliamentary Assembly, using the machinery of a Rules Committee report, sought to and succeeded in changing its regulations to permit free access to the Russian Federation without sanction. At the last part session in June the Assembly debated these changes into what, for the CoE, is late into the night. The British and Ukrainian delegations tabled and voted upon two hundred and thirty separate amendments to the report, all of which, because at the end of the day politics is about numbers, were defeated. The Russian delegation, which contains four nominated members barred from travel within the European Union, flew into Strasbourg by private jet and presented their credentials. The credentials were challenged by the Baltic States, Britain and Ukraine and in part were referred to the Venice Commission, which is a sort of Council of Europe Legal Ombudsman, for adjudication.
At the final Bureau meeting of the Assembly at the end of the plenary week the outgoing Secretary General announced that Mr. Putin would sign off the payment in full and the 70 million Euros owing, including interest, would be paid by Tuesday July 2nd – the day before a planned meeting of the Committee of Ministers at which the issue was to have been discussed, At the time of writing the money has not been paid, the Russians are now challenging the basis upon which the charge is being levied, they have their seats in the hemicycle and full voting rights without sanction Led ignominiously by Germany (who have an interest in the Nordstream Gas pipeline from Russia) and the French,( who want to resume the sale of agricultural produce to Moscow) ,most Member States are sheltering behind the “better to have them on the inside talking” argument and are `celebrating` the seventieth anniversary of an organisation designed to protect human rights and prevent conflict by discarding every last vestige of principle or power. Nice one, Vlad!
A visitor from Mars, or even an emerging terrestrial democratic nation, might wonder at the manner in which the United Kingdom, having contrived the resignation of the Prime Minister, goes about choosing a replacement. With the hatchet job done in the name of naked self-interest those vying to replace Theresa May have offered themselves up for selection. Many names, some of whom you will either have forgotten or never heard, were in the frame but through a fast-track process devised by the Conservative back-bench 1922 committee the field has been narrowed down by Tory Members of Parliament, who have the first crack at the exercise, to the two candidates required to be submitted to the full membership of the Conservative Party for a final vote and selection. This means that an electorate of some one hundred and sixty thousand paid-up, mainly white, male, middle-aged and middle-class, Members of the Conservative Party who are not representative even of those millions who vote Conservative but do not join, never mind anyone else, will decide who should be asked to run the Country. It may sound as if the lunatics have taken over the asylum but we are, you see, choosing the next Leader of our Party. And because we are in Government, albeit in a minority, our Dear Leader becomes the next Prime Minister and on or around 23rd of July will walk through the door of number Ten Downing Street having been `asked` by Her Maj to form a government and will start trying to sort out the mess that remains Brexit. Nothing else has changed, The parliamentary arithmetic is still the same, the European Union has indicated that Mrs, May`s hard-won Withdrawal Agreement is the final offer, there is no majority for any solution and it is hard to see how either Ex-Mayor and failed former Foreign Secretary Johnson, if it is he, or even Mr. Jeremy Hunt , should the party choose talent and principle over populism, will be able to deliver, by the deadline of October 31st , a deal that will get through the House of Commons. Which means an attempt to railroad a No Deal Hard Brexit through the House and, very probably, a defeat of the Government on a No Confidence motion, a General election and a minority Labour Government led by Mr. Corbyn and propped up by the Liberal Democrats and the Scottish Nationalists is very much on the cards. Mr Farridge`s Brexit Party (they lost a recent by-election to Labour by just 683 votes) will have gained seats from both Labour and the Conservative Party and will sit in uneasy Opposition. The problem will remain to be solved by the new administration. Happy days!
In other news the former Tory Minister and newly elected Brexit MEP Ann Widdecombe (oh yes, there was an unwanted election to the European Parliament during the month as well) is already upsetting apple carts in Brussels. The Democratic Unionist Party, upon whose support the present UK administration relies, has yet to indicate whether or not it will support a fresh administration under the newly chosen Leader, The Salford Broadcasting Corporation is in hot water having revealed the vast sums that it pays to senior managers and `star` presenters while reneging on its agreement to maintain concessionary licence fees for most of those over the age of seventy-five. At the G20 summit in Japan Mrs. May met with Mr. Putin and asked him to surrender for trial those charged with murder in the Skripal poisonings in Salisbury. Climate change in mind, there was probably more ice in the atmosphere than there is remaining in the Russian arctic. And as part of her legacy The Darling Bud has pledged to deliver a Britain free of net carbon emissions by 2050. As she said at the G20 “we are the last generation with the power to halt global warming”.
Southend Library in Essex has, we are told, embarked upon a “Drag Story Time” programme fronted by LGBT stars. Even supporters are suggesting that this might be over-egging the LGBT pudding.
The HSBC Bank is cutting 90% of its seven hundred car parking spaces in its two new regional centres and installing `bike docks` in their place. 1280 staff are being used as guinea pigs in an `academic study` of the exercise.
The departing Jean-Claude Druncker has been bemoaning the fact that as a European grandee he has not been afforded the courtesy of a stately home or a private jet during his term of office. The (£350,000 p.a.) EU Commission President has had to charter private jets from Luxaviation, has had to spend five years in a hotel and sadly has `not been able to invite anyone into my home`. Good grief.! Even the Secretary General of the Council of Europe has a grace-and-favour residence in Strasbourg.
The retiring Druncker and Donald Tusk can, though, console themselves with handsome Golden Handshakes worth a collective £440k on top, of course, of platinum plated pensions and `transitional allowances’.
Dolly Parton, the Country chanteuse, who has been married to the same husband, Carl Dean, for over 50 years, wears make-up in bed `in case there`s a fire` and doesn`t use the rides at her `Dollywood` theme park in Tennessee – because of her big hairdo.
The John Lewis Partnership has appointed its first female Chairman in the company’s one hundred and fifty-five-year history. Sharon White, a fifty- two-year-old career Civil Servant and former head of Ofcom, who will earn £1 million a year is described as ‘not the conventional” retail choice’. Given a glowing reference by former Chancellor Ken Clarke she has held top jobs in Whitehall, the World Bank, the Downing Street Policy Unit and the Ministry of Justice.
If Mr Johnson becomes Prime Minister he will, it is reported, be facing a pay cut from the £700,000 that he receives as a journalist to the £153,907 taken home by our Premier. Still, given the handy London home that goes with the job and the official residence, Chequers, that ought to be sufficient to keep even a succession of ‘first girlfriends ‘and children in reasonable comfort.
The Salford Broadcasting Corporation is issuing fresh ‘editorial guidelines’ over the use of the word ‘terror’ in relation to murderous attacks such as the Manchester Arena bombing and the London Bridge assault on innocent civilians. One man’s terrorist, you see, is another man’s ‘freedom fighter’.
Forensic science is about to be introduced into the world of children’s literature. Just imagine what DNA testing might have done to assist the identification of ‘Who ate my porridge ‘in Goldilocks and the Three bears or the investigations of the Famous Five.
And San Francisco, home of ‘flower power’ in the ‘60s and famous for the inhaling of waccy baccy in the past has become the first city to ban e-cigarettes ‘until the effects on health are clear’.
John Tidmarsh (90) ran the BBC’s World Outlook for thirty- four years and in his time broadcast from every continent except Antarctica. He commenced his career as a journalist with the Western Daily Press at the age of 16 and was ‘discovered’ by Frank Gillard, of blessed memory, and offered a posting the BBC newsroom in 1956.Tidmarch broadcast news from Alexandra Palace and introduced the first two- headed presenter service with Gerald Priestland. For the External Service he operated from Paris, Washington and Vietnam and covered the first Common Market negotiations in 1963. He was awarded the OBE in 1997.
Alan Ball (84) British Folk Music singer and songwriter, was the founder of the Fylde Folk Festival in 1973. The musician and mountaineer was best known for appearances on Granada Television`s `Ballad of the North West` series.
Ken Matthews (84) at one time held all three UK race walking titles. He won Olympic Gold in the 20km walk in Tokyo in 1964 in a world record time of 1hr. 29 minutes and 34 seconds He was awarded his MBE in 1978.
Sir David Sieff (80) was the last of the Marks and Spencer founding dynasty to hold a seat on the board of the company. He was also the first Chairman of the National Lottery Charities Board.
Dale Greig (81) was a pioneer long-distance runner. She achieved the first officially ratified time for a woman Marathon competitor in 1964 but it was not until 1984 that the race, believed to `be beyond the capabilities of a woman` was opened to Olympic gold medallists. Her World Best of 3hrs.27 minutes and 18 seconds, run in the Isle of Wight, stood until broken in 2 hours. 17 minutes and 18 seconds in 2002 in Chicago by Paula Ratcliffe.
Danny Lynch (92), known as “The Great Stromboli” was a fire-eater, sword-swallower, and magician. Joining the Royal Navy at the age of 15 he served in Russian convoys, emerging as a Chief Petty Officer and surviving to receive the British Empire Medal. On television he appeared with David Nixon, on the Black and White Minstrel Show and with Ken Dodd.
Franco Zeffirelli (96), born in Florence in 1923, was a producer, designer and director for Opera, stage and screen. Gianfranco Zeffirelli (“The little breeze”) joined the resistance against the Nazis in Italy. He survived to design Salvador Dali`s As You Like It in 1948 and he worked with Joan Sutherland in Covent Garden in 1959 and with Maria Callas in La Traviata and the 2002 film `Forever Callas`. He directed his first production of Romeo and Juliet at London`s Old Vic Theatre in 1960. and his other credits include The Taming of the Shrew, a definitive Romeo and Juliet in 1967 and Hamlet in 1990. He was awarded an honorary knighthood in 2004.
Gloria Vanderbilt (95) is reputed to have spent her way through two fortunes and four husbands and to have had `liaisons` with Howard Hughes, Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, and Gene Kelly
The granddaughter of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the tycoon who made his fortune constructing railways to the west of the United States, she is credited with making jeans fashionable. Her designer denim trousers for women made seventy million dollars during their first year on sale. She sold the brand in 1978 because she “needed the money”. Broke, she engaged in book deals and social media, leaving an estate worth two hundred million dollars and paving the career path for Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian to follow.
As a valedictory message following his meeting with the Prime Minister at Number 10 the President of the United States said “You deserve a lot of credit – You’ve done a very good job” adding that “You`re probably a better negotiator than I am”. The Prime Minister herself has said that “We went into negotiation and we came away with a very fair deal”. History may well suggest that we should have taken that deal while it was on offer.