Westminster View - May 2017
May 2017. Murder under the influence of cowardice in Manchester. Snap election underway and no honours in dissolution. Plans are laid for "Breakaway Labour" post- Corbyn and a little touch of social carelessness in the night. "Infamy, infamy, they've all got it in for me" as paranoia rages within Team Tramp. The Airfarce One Flying Circus descends on the Middle East , Melania swats away her husband's tiny hand, and fashion diplomacy is unveiled. M. Macron is elected as President of the French Republic. The National Health Service is hacked off and British " Fly the Flag" Airways is in denial as computer failure leads to the grounding of the airline's worldwide fleet. Arsenal Wenger wins the FA cup again, there is an almost- Royal Wedding and His Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh concedes to semi- retirement at the age of ninety five.
The news that most of us woke up to on the Tuesday morning was filtering through to the Prime Minister in Downing Street shortly before midnight on Monday 22nd May. An Ariana Grande concert held in a capacity crowded Manchester Arena filled with young people and parents was ending at around ten thirty when a bomb was detonated next to a merchandising area outside the main security screen. The device, carried by a suicide bomber, was timed and designed for maximum carnage. What was at first thought to be the work of another `lone wolf' assassin has emerged as a sophisticated piece of improvisation made up of explosives and shrapnel packed into a rucksack and triggered by a powerful fail- safe detonator. The nuts, bolts and ball- bearings contained within the bomb caused as much if not more injury and death as the explosive itself and the fact that young fans, many of them teenage girls, were streaming tightly packed out of the hall at the end of the show heightened the impact.
Many of us, myself included, were returning from General Election campaign hustings and heading for bed prior to another early start. In Number Ten the Prime Minister had already put the release of all planned campaign material on hold, called the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn and agreed a moratorium on election activity, spoken in the small hours of the morning with President Trump and put the Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, on standby to respond to early- morning media inquiries and convened a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee. She then snatched a couple of hours of sleep before quietly flying to Manchester to meet with families and victims of the atrocity herself.
With Manchester's Victoria station closed and the city centre in lockdown as a crime scene many hundreds of fans and families waiting to collect them were left separated, frantic and stranded. Citizens, hotels, churches and restaurants opened their doors and taxi- drivers and volunteers provided free services to try to help reunite people and to get them home. The City's medical services, including most particularly the Manchester Children's' Hospital, were overwhelmed with both casualties and medical staff turning out in the middle of the night to assist. By dawn the `Spirit of Manchester' was already beginning to reassert itself as people, mindful of the tragedy through which they were travelling, nevertheless fought to maintain normality and to go about their lawful business.
We now know that at least twenty- two people, the youngest of them an eight year old Cypriot, Saffie Rose Roussos, died immediately in the attack with more still on the critical list and many having received life- changing injuries. In short order the Country's threat level was raised to " critical", meaning that another attack is imminent, for the first time in ten years on the advice of the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre. This was not, as some sought to present it, a Prime Ministerial over-reaction but a stark recognition that with the bomber's accomplices and probably the bomb- maker at large more could well follow fast. The visible signs of the enhanced security status were quickly apparent with scores of armed troops taking the place of and freeing up armed police officers at key sites such as Buckingham Palace, the Palace of Westminster, Downing Street, the Chelsea Flower show and other popular tourist destinations in London and around the Country.
The perpetrator was quickly identified as a socially inadequate twenty- two year old British- born Libyan, Salman Abadi, who with his family had fought against the Gaddafi regime and had then been radicalised. At the time of writing a thousand police officers are still working on all aspects of the attack, many arrests have been made and others will no doubt follow as will the inevitable questions and recriminations.
Were intelligence leads missed? Could the " extensive network" referred to by the newly- elected Mayor of Manchester, the former Labour Minister Andy Burnham, have been exposed and the planned attack interdicted? Were the " UK's wars", referred to in an untimely intervention by Mr. Corbyn, "to blame " for the terrorist activities? What part has ' anti- social media' played in the co-ordination , orchestration and implementation of evil and ought the internet media giants such as Facebook to be held to greater account for their part in the recruitment, radicalisation and training of Daesh operatives? Why was the U.S. Media allowed to leak vital and highly confidential information relating to the nature of the device and the bomber's methods? (Mr. Trump, ever- eager to score a point at his security services' expense, has said that "the leakers should be prosecuted" but in the foetid atmosphere that surrounds the White House and the FBI will that ever happen?)
There are, and will be, legitimate questions that will have to asked and answered but for the most part British and European thoughts would appear to be with those who have died and have been injured and with families whose lives have, in an instant, been literally torn apart.
With the dishonourable exception of one now minor political pressure group the "truce " held for about forty- eight hours until the observation of a national minute's silence and then the gloves came off and we are back into General Election mode. Out on the doorsteps we were conscious of the sensitivities but generally the great British public seems to have accepted that if you allow evil men - whether from Daesh of from Russia - to meddle by explosives or by electronics with our democratic processes then ' the bastards' are winning. No fear, no hate, no compromise, no surrender.
And in the middle of all of this Her Majesty the Queen took her ninety-one years off to the Manchester Childrens' Hospital to meet with victims and their families. Might she not have sent one of the younger more pop- music savvy Royals to represent her? Well, yes, she might have but there is only one ' Nation's Great- Granny' and her shoulders are still palpably capable of bearing that load.
If the President of the United States of America was not also the Commander-in- Chief of that nation's armed forces his paranoia, which is now reaching epic proportions, might not be so worrying. "I have been subjected" says The Tramp, " to the greatest witch hunt in American history". I freely concede that I was not around at the time of Salem and the tribulations of one Abe Lincoln are but a distant memory but I don't recall Lyndon Johnson or 'Tricky Dickie' Nixon or even Slick Willie Clinton having a particularly easy ride either. We all know that The Tramp, who curiously was not a native- born Texan, has to have or be the biggest, brashest, loudest, most gold- plated of everything but ' the greatest witch- hunt'? Really? While "all hat and no cattle" might be a bit harsh because there is clearly a certain amount of livestock in his entourage the man ought to shape up a bit and recognise that he is the creator of at least some of the witches that are being hunted.
It is less than comforting to know that the Leader of The Free World might "when the time is right" welcome a summit with Kim Jong Un. The North Korean Boy Wonder and Demi- God has an unpleasant way of dealing with those who in his dreams he assumes are plotting to get him and while I would not wish to suggest that The Tramp is in this same league the ' elimination' of James Comey, less than half- way through his contract as the Head of the FBI has all the hallmarks of the worst side of American Corporate despotism about it. This is not some reality TV show, an Uncle Sam ' Apprentice', but the security of western democracy that we are talking about. Mr Comey has not been on the best of terms with The Tramp for a while and the suggestion that the spooks might be taking too close a peek at minor indiscretions such as the sharing of confidential intelligence with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and with Putin's Ambassador to Washington and the small matter of some eighteen private phone calls to Russian officials might have been too much to swallow. Alright when Comey was prying into Candidate Clinton's private e- mail server and interfering ' helpfully' in the American Presidential election process but when Comey told a House Committee in evidence that he felt "nauseous" about his possible electoral impact it was clearly time for him to go. As a result it seems that White House staff are leaving rather than work for a bully who demands loyalty but undermines them
As a precautionary note The Tramp might recall that Mr. Nixon axed his Attorney General over Watergate and that little Executive intervention ended in floods of tears. The President is reported to have told Mr. Lavrov that he 'eliminated' Comey because " he wasn't doing a good job" and that "he was a nut job" while explaining that "I have just fired the head of the FBI ". The perceived wisdom is that in a notoriously difficult role the Director of the FBI had the broad support of his agents. "Grandstanding" and " showboating", two other West Wing accusations levelled at him, he was not and the FBI was clearly not " in turmoil" as has been suggested. That being so the fact that Mr. Comey has agreed to testify before the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee might set further alarm bells ringing in Pennsylvania Avenue. One has to assume that if he was doing his job diligently the Eliminated Agent knows where a lot of bodies are buried and has the tapes, the transcripts, the photographs and the extemporaneous notes of his conversations with the Commander- in- Chief to back up his assertions. Additionally, with a former Director of the FBI, the respected Robert Mueller, appointed as a Special Prosecutor to investigate the depth of interference by Russia in the 2016 US Presidential election and Senator John McCain hinting darkly at "a scandal of Watergate size and scale", The Tramp might end up wishing that he had taken the Kim Jong Un line with Agent Comey and `eliminated` him rather more permanently rather than risk facing impeachment.
With the wolves of Washington getting dangerously close to the campfire it's clearly time for a little red- carpet treatment while giving a caricature of Statesmanship in Saudi Arabia, Israel, the Vatican and Brussels. It is said that Borat O'Bama had the press corps up onto the Presidential deck of Air Force One for beer and burgers when he travelled abroad. The Tramp, by contrast, kept the vermin as far as arms' length could manage and incredibly, on- message and off- tweet, the President's Grand Tour was relatively gaffe- free. True, the shots of a sword ritual in Riyadh had an element of 'dad dancing' about them but most politicians find themselves required to engage and be recorded for posterity doing dotty things when far from home. (Some of my own more bizarre efforts on occasion in Africa do not bear too much thinking about). Having left the White House lawyers back home looking into the processes surrounding possible impeachment as rumours of ' a significant person of interest under investigation' (for which guess son-in-law Jared Krushner) swirled around Washington The Tramp offered the Muslim world a good rendition of his "battle between good and evil" speech while exhorting his audience to 'do your fair share' to defeat terrorism. He did not seem to take too much umbrage, either, when Melania, mindful of Saudi protocol, swatted his hand away as he tried to escort her off his plane. Human rights was not on the official agenda .
In Israel The President's suggestion that 'Jews and Arabs should unite to defeat Iran' had more than a touch of telling Granny how to suck eggs about it (Golly, Solly, why didn't we think of that!?) and His Holiness the Pope showed no signs of wanting to smile for the camera as the pair shook hands. Melania's tasteful 'Scottish Widows' black dress and veil (which she forebore to wear in Saudi Arabia) was fashion diplomacy in spades and went down well. Less of a triumph in Brussels where The Tramp delivered another NATO homily and declined to acknowledge that notwithstanding the big- money oil interests back home there might just be a little truth behind the global warming myth.
Then it's back home in time for tea, turn on the telly and watch Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, sometime Security Adviser, plead the fifth amendment rather than risk incriminate himself and, presumably, his former boss by giving evidence to the Senate Intelligence Committee. "L`etat, c`est moi". Princess Ivanka is more likely to have heard of Louis X1V than her husband, Jared of Krushner, but it is her Father who ought to be keeping a watchful eye on the tumbrils.
The President's approval stands at just thirty eight per cent which is a figure that, at the start of the General Election campaign represents a rating that Red Jerry Corbyn might only have dreamed of. However, due to a concerted effort on the part of at least one member of the Number 10 back room staff and the inclusion, in the Conservative Manifesto, of some items open to deliberate or otherwise 'misinterpretation' the gap between a predicted Tory 'landslide' at the start of the campaign and what at least one albeit rogue pollster (YouGov) has predicted as a hung parliament has narrowed dramatically. There are those who hint darkly that this may have been done to depress the pound sterling in the interests of currency speculators before re- inflating the value to yield handsome profits for those in the know.
Whatever the back- story there is no denying the fact that superficially Red Jerry has had a good campaign. His brand of student firebrand politics, out on the road, megaphone in hand, is ideally suited to the hustings of a bygone year.Those of us who are a bit long in the tooth can remember how, against all of the odds, John Major literally dragged out his soapbox, went on the streets and won the 1992 election and there is an element of this in the Corbyn campaign. True, John was the Prime Minister, had run a government and, while Neil Kinnock (The Welsh Windbag - remember him?) was busy holding a very premature victory party before polling day, John went to the country and stole the election. The course of British history would have been very different had he lost. That victory and Kinnock's departure led to the Labour leadership of John Smith whose premature death led in turn to the coronation of Tony ' The Legacy' Blair and years of New Labour rule under the Blair / Brown/ Campbell/ Mandelson axis and the destruction of Britain's economy. Don't say " it cannot happen ". It can and it has happened before and the YouGov survey may just have come out in time to drive complacent Tories who were believing that it is all over bar the shouting back into the polling stations for fear of the unintended consequences of taking a result for granted.
One of the great political truisms is that nobody is ever going to reward you with a thank- you vote for taking away benefits, allowances or advantages that are already being enjoyed. I have said for a long time that it is a nonsense that I, as a higher- rate working taxpayer, receive winter fuel allowance. It is just as crazy that Mr. Michael Jagger, who Is about a fortnight older than me and who I understand is still performing as the lead vocalist with a band called The Rolling Stones and is, as such, probably not short of a bob or two, should also find himself in receipt of this State largesse. It might provide a tax- free case of wine but I cannot help feeling that the money could be better spent helping those in real need.
Likewise, is it sensible to give every primary school child a free lunch, irrespective of personal circumstances, and might not a good school breakfast offer a better and more cost -effective start to the learning day? And is it really just that an elderly person in receipt of self- funded residential care can have their assets, including their home while still alive, stripped down to £23,000 while those at present in receipt of domiciliary care do not have to put their major asset on the line at all?
The question, of course, is whether it was wise to bundle all of this honesty up and put it into the Conservative Party manifesto to be mis-construed, misrepresented and finally ' clarified' at considerable political expense. The Social Care provisions, for example, are a genuine attempt to recognise that we cannot continue to impose the burden of the cost of care for the elderly, through higher taxes, solely upon a diminishing proportion of today's young working taxpayers. (Why should a young woman earning £30,000 a year in Margate pay for my care so that I can hand on the totality of the value of my home to my children or grandchildren?)
The endeavour to start a genuine debate - and the manifesto contains a clear promise of a Green (consultation) paper on the subject - swiftly became, in the eyes of the Labour Party and its media wing, the Salford Broadcasting Corporation, a "dementia tax". The Prime Minister's legitimate attempt to put more flesh on the proposal was " a U- turn" and the phones were humming in the Shires as harrumphing home- owners berated Tory candidates. The basic rule of " what I have I hold" looked as if it was in danger of being broken and The Darling Bud may yet find her majority, albeit probably still healthy, diminished as a result of her natural candour. I defended the proposal at the time and I remain of the view that an increase in the power of bequest from £23,000 to a minimum of £100,000 plus a cap, probably percentage of value based, upon total charges might be a first and sensible step towards making the cost of the care of an ageing population bearable for those trying to earn enough to buy a home and pay their way today.
Not that Comrade Corbyn, whose supply of dividends from the money- tree at the bottom of his Islington garden appears to be inexhaustible, has had an easy ride either. It is populist and facile to try to buy votes through endless promises of additional expenditure upon the NHS, schools, social housing , roads, the re- nationalisation of the railways and the utilities in a " back to the 70's " spending spree that also includes " free" higher education and the wiping off of existing student loans. That territory, promising the earth in the knowledge that you would never have to deliver or pay for it, once belonged to the Liberals not the supposed Government- in- waiting. Newt Gingrich, the U.S. politician, used to have on his office wall a framed Greenback with a caption that read " Remember that every dollar that you spend comes from the pocket of a working American" . In Corbyn- land " the rich" can be soaked with impunity but even George Osborne, sometime Chancellor of the Exchequer and now the ingenue Editor of The London Evening Standard and one of Mrs. May's most strident critics ("Hell hath no fury like Man Dave's buddy scorned") would probably grudgingly agree that Soviet economics are not best- suited to the demands of the 21st Century.
While even the reputable polls have certainly narrowed there remains a gulf of credibility between the Government of the day and the potential alternative and it remains to be seen whether, come polling day, the electorate will sleep-walk into Old Labour La- La land or whether The People will wake up, smell the coffee and recognise that there is only one Leader who can steer us through the rock and a hard place that is Brexit and that person is not Mr. Jeremy Corbyn.
Former Members of Parliament seeking re-election find themselves in a strange position. From the moment of dissolution we lose the `MP` after our names. All the resources that we need to do the job, including headed notepaper, franked envelopes, our office space and research facilities, are taken away from us. And yet so far as the general public is concerned we are still their elected representatives, expected to be on call to deal with all of the education, health, immigration, benefit, housing and a myriad of other issues with which we are ordinarily required to deal on a daily basis. People have a touching faith in our powers as MPs, powers that are rather more limited than some might imagine, but even those powers diminish to the sum of zero while mere candidates. Those authorities that might ordinarily afford us a little respect suddenly demand a `consent form` before agreeing to acknowledge a submission and even those of us who have been around the circuit for a few laps find that we are told, albeit apologetically, that `I`m afraid that we cannot really assist until after the election, Sir`.
To add insult to injury the Electoral Commission, a body that exists in a parallel universe, insists that the costs of providing a continuing service and ensuring that, for example, responses to casework already in the pipeline are transmitted to constituents, are declared as part of our election expenses. It is true that our office staff, whose tasks are strictly limited to non-campaign matters unless carried out in their own time, continue to be paid because the costs of the alternative, instant redundancy followed by re-engagement upon re-election, would be considerable. That means that we do still have people available to help to process current and new casework but it is time-consuming and I reckon that I spend three or four hours of a long campaigning day just dealing with `the day job` stuff.
Government Ministers, of course, remain in office until a new administration is formed. They have to run departments, are expected to contribute to the National campaign and fight their own corners in their own constituencies simultaneously. I had, getting towards the end of this campaign, a brief experience of the complexities of this juggling act myself. As the Leader of the United Kingdom delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe I remain in office, although not a Member of Parliament, until six months after the general election or until a new delegation is appointed, whichever is the sooner. As a Member of the Governing Body of the CoE, The Bureau, and of its Standing Committee and Rules Committee I have found myself, because of an ongoing dispute surrounding the current President of the Assembly, racketing around Europe trying to persuade a recalcitrant and arrogant incumbent with, apparently, no sense of honour, that he ought to resign. (The misdemeanour, for the benefit of the curious, is that the man allowed himself to be flown by the Russians to Syria, ostensibly to "see for myself the situation in Aleppo", engaged in a handshake and photo-opportunity with the Dictator Assad, did not visit Aleppo at all and flew home!) As the Senior Vice-President of the Assembly, a position generated by age rather than any other qualification, I have been required to take the chair during aspects of this unseemly controversy. This afforded me a snapshot of the difficulties of trying to do two or three jobs and to be in several locations at once and even given modern electronics I have emerged with an enhanced respect for those who are required to do all of this on a daily basis.
On the Brexit front all has been relatively quiet. Normal hostilities will resume very shortly after the election but the demands of domestic politics on the European mainland as well as those within the United Kingdom, have created a hiatus. There was, of course, the indiscretion of the former Chairman of Luxembourg County Council, Jean-Claude Druncker who, having been dined and clearly well-wined in Number Ten, leaked or `caused to be leaked` the selective details of his conversation with Mrs. May in disparaging terms to a German newspaper. The suggestion that "English is losing its importance in Europe`, presumably in an attempt to impose Luxembourgoise as the common language, prompted the Darling Bud to observe that Herr Druncker was likely to find her to be "a bloody difficult woman" and Druncker himself to concede that the leak had been `a big mistake` . Why anyone should expect anything other than a breach of confidence from the man I am not sure. There will, no doubt, be many more during the course of the negotiations.
Brexit itself has, as the raison d`etre for the election, of course, featured prominently during the campaign with Irish border issues and the status of Scotland within or outwith the Union high on the agenda in those two nations. Constitutional lawyers say that the 100-billion Euro payment demanded by some Eurocrats as the price for divorce is unenforceable. The final price is clearly a matter of political concern but there are those who point out that Britain has rights as well as obligations and that a 10 billion euro refund is due from the European Investment Bank. The sense of nervousness on the other side of La Manche is palpable and with good reason: the loss of UK contributions is likely to leave a gaping hole in the Berlaymont`s wining and dining fund. Sacre Bleu!
In other news the `internet giants` and notably Facebook are rightly under fire for their failure to police internet crime, for the creation of a platform for the promotion of international terrorism and for its refusal to censor violence and abuse.
The battle of the also-rans in the bid to snatch the Presidency of the French Republic led to a predicable run-off between Marine Le Pen, leader of the re-branded "Not The Front National" and Emmanuel Macron, leader of the "Not a Political Party at All" party with the voters gritting their teeth and on an "anyone but Le Pen" basis putting M. Macron into the Palace of Versailles.
Incredibly, Macron survived the support of Borat O`Bama whose endorsements of Hillary Clinton and David Cameron in the UK referendum led to less - than - resounding success. Mr. Farridge, on the other hand, declared that "Le Pen would be best for Brexit Britain". The leader of a party whose roots were founded deep in Vichy France and anti-semitism clearly has an appeal for UKIP`s former Obergruppenfuhrer. Perhaps it was Marine`s flattering desire to encourage the Front National to be "more like UKIP" that led to the attraction. Back in Versailles M. Macron has been left with a month to cobble together a slate of electable candidates in a bid to give his Presidency a power base in the Assemblee Nationale. The Boy President`s desire to tear up the Le Touquet agreement and move the border controls from Calais to Dover could pose a few problems for my colleague Charlie Elphicke, the White Cliffs` aspirant representative, but M.Macron will have to give some thought to the future of the French state-owned share of the Channel Tunnel. Dump the border controls just on the cross-channel ferries? Not under international (no longer European) law, you don`t.
It was the turn of the NHS computers to crash first, followed later in the month by a British Airways IT meltdown.
In a fine irony the `ransomware` used to bring down the British NHS and many other computer services worldwide was a spy bug `borrowed` from the United States National Cyber Security Centre by `shadow brokers`. The chaos that followed hit thousands of patients across forty-eight of the UK`s health authorities which is about a fifth of the entire health service. Repeated warnings had apparently been given about the vulnerability of the Windows XP programme still in use but it`s easy to be wise after the event. The day before you commission a state-of-the-art computer programme the old system is, by definition, past its sell-by date and it is the nature of Government IT that a `just-in-time` approach is taken to ensure the maximum bang for each taxpayer`s buck. In this case, though, it was `just too late` and it was left to a 22-year old bedroom boffin to ride heroically to the rescue with a `kill switch` that saved the NHS millions in potential hackers` ransom demands.
British Airways was less fortunate. The spring half-term bank holiday weekend is one of the biggest getaway dates in the aviation travel year. Whether it was a `power failure` that brought down BA`s worldwide network or whether there was some more sinister reason we may never know but the crash left London`s Heathrow and Gatwick BA terminals at a standstill with a hundred thousand or more passengers stranded at home and around the world and people separated from their luggage for days. The damage done to the company`s image was a PR disaster. BA chief Willie Walsh may have faith in his operational boss but his confidence is isolated and the fallout for a firm now facing further disruption through industrial action is going to cost shedloads of hard cash in compensation. Reputation, though, is something that money cannot buy. `Fly the Flag?` Not if there`s a viable alternative.
Pippa Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge`s sister, has married and is now Mrs. James Matthews. Arsenal have won the FA cup at Wembley for the umpteenth time paving the way for `Mr Arsenal` Wenger to extend his contract as the club`s Manager, Shirley Ballas, formerly of `Dancing with the Stars` in the United States, has been appointed to replace Len Goodman as Head Judge on Strictly Come Dancing and Theresa May has determined that for the first time in 60 years there will be no dissolution honours following the end of the 2015 parliament. The Prime Minister has promised a `return to standards of integrity` and, in a sideswipe at Man David`s widely criticised distribution of gongs, a determination that `real heroes will be recognised`.
In a car-crash interview with London Broadcasting`s Nick Ferrari Labour spokesperson Diane Abbott "miss-spoke" about the cost of providing London with ten thousand new policemen. The bill, she said, would be "about £300 thousand " or £30 thousand a year each. Or "about £80 million". Or "£300 million by 2021/2022". Mr Corbyn was said to be "not embarrassed" by her gaffes.
Turkey has banned TV Dating Shows. Under the new State of Emergency decrees the programmes are said to undermine "Turkish traditions and customs". Suddenly the state of emergency seems rather more attractive.
Amanda Spielman, the Chief Inspector of Schools, is behind the "Charge of the Poetry Brigade" following concerns about a lack of cultural knowledge. The Imagination Trust under Dame Rachel de Souza is promoting one hundred classic texts, some to be learned by heart, including works by Kipling, Tennyson, TS Eliot, Dickens and Thomas Hardy and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. "In Florida did Donald Trump a stately pleasure dome decree......."
"France will be led by a woman - either Angela Merkel or me....." said Marine Le Pen. A good line - wait and see.
Gloomy funeral hymns are out. Official. Gone are The Lord is my Shepherd and Abide with Me. The current favourite is "Always look on the bright side of life......"
Royal Bath-based Norland Nannies, purveyors of fine child-carers to The Gentry, are now requiring their aspirant graduates to take a one-day course in self-defence. Included are anti-terrorism tactics, foiling of would-be kidnappers, evasive driving and social media security. Move over Ms. Poppins.
The British Sand Lizard is engaged in a fight for survival. The continental Wall Lizard, now introduced into the British Isles, has `superior climbing skills` and he who climbs fastest catches the fly. After Brexit we will have to send them back.
The head of The Women`s Football Association, Baroness Campbell, advocates the placing of "nice soap in the lavatories" in changing rooms. This, she believes, will "encourage women to play football". Nice one, Sybil.
A private school in Highgate, North London is introducing `gender-neutral` uniforms in the form of skirts. North of the Border boys call them kilts.
And Jeremy the leftie snail has found himself the victim of a gastropod love-triangle. Following publicity two possible lefty-suitors were found for Jeremy but, sod`s law, they went off with each other and produced one hundred and seventy offspring - all of them "righties" - leaving Jeremy out in the cold and unrequited. Is there a political metaphor in there somewhere?
The Mountaineer Veli Steck has peaked at just forty years of age. The "Swiss Machine" was famed for his speed ascent of the North Face of the Eiger completing the climb which took four days when first achieved in 1938 in two hours and forty-seven minutes. He won the Piolet d`Or in 2014 and died as he lived, climbing.
The Reverend Nick Stacey competed in the Commonwealth Games in New Zealand in 1952 as the Navy`s sprint champion over 100 and 220 yards. Ordained, he became the Deputy Director of Oxfam and subsequently the Head of Social Services for Ealing Borough and then Kent County Council where he created national standards for foster care and care for the frail elderly. The irascible Rev. Nick was awarded the Cross of St. Augustine by Archbishop Rowan Williams in 2005 and was eighty-nine when he was recalled by his maker.
Lord (Lawson) Soulsby of Swaffham Prior has checked in his ermine at ninety. The House of Lords` veterinary expert was a Conservative driving force for animal welfare, the creator of the Companion Animal Welfare Council, a President of the RCVS, Patron of the Fund for the Replacement of Animals in Medical Experiments, Veterinary Surgeon to Her Majesty the Queen and Professor of Veterinary Medicine at Cambridge University. Following the removal of his legs he bowled along the corridors of the Palace of Westminster on his buggy in a manner befitting Mr. Toad with his mischievous laugh trailing behind him. The House will be a safer but a less amusing place without his twinkling eyes.
David Parry Jones, a documentary maker and broadcaster known as `the voice of Rugby football` is off-air at 83.
Pat Stewart (83) was a Tiller Girl. She became known as "The Blonde in the Polka Dot Dress" following a photograph taken by snapper Bert Hardy on Blackpool seafront in 1951.
Rhodri Morgan represented Cardiff West in the House of Commons from 1987 until 2001. He led the campaign against the construction of the Cardiff Bay barrage and became the First Minister of Wales in the Welsh Assembly between 2000 and 2009 vowing to put "clear red water" between Cardiff and `The Legacy` Blair`s Government in Westminster. He was seventy-seven.
John Noulton (78) spent thirty years as a civil servant starting in 1971 in the Department of Transport overseeing the planning and building of the Channel Tunnel. As the project`s Public Affairs Director he steered the tunnel through thirty-four days of Public Bill Committee hearings and 4845 petitions with John Moore as his Secretary of State and David Mitchell as Minister of State. As an opponent (East Kent is `behind the tunnel door` and our ferry businesses suffered as a result) of the Tunnel I was a thorn in John`s side. Following the tunnel fire he invited me to see the damage - a graveyard of exploded concrete twisted and molten metal - for myself. He was charming, courteous, patient and impervious to provocation. He became a dear friend and we worked together to ensure the successful implementation, by Eurotunnel, of Lady Fretwell`s Pet Passport Scheme.
Sir Roger Moore was eighty-nine when he succumbed to cancer. His self-deprecating assessments of his acting talent (`From left eyebrow raised to right eyebrow raised`) belied his ability to deliver as a consummate professional. From knitwear catalogues the out-of-work drama school graduate was employed as an MGM `contract player` from 1954 to 1956, worked on Ivanhoe in 1958, as Simon Templar in The Saint on television from 1962 and The Persuaders with Tony Curtis before succeeding Sean Connery as James Bond in the 007 movies with `Live and Let Die` as the first of seven Bond movies. He was renowned for his charm and one of his female co-stars described him as "a very polite kisser".
Gregg Allman of The Allman Brothers was a blues singer and keyboard player and the creator of "Southern Rock". He headlined the first Knebworth Rock Concert in 1974 before a crowd of sixty thousand and "Jessica" was the theme tune for the BBC`s Top Gear when it was a real television programme.
Zbigniew Brezezinski who was eighty nine was President Jimmy Carter`s National Security Adviser. Also an adviser to Presidents Kennedy and Johnson he offered advanced but largely unheeded warning of the fall of the Shah of Persia and the emergence of what is now Iran.
And John Noakes, Blue Peter presenter extraordinaire, has gone to join Shep, his beloved sheep dog, at eighty-three. He had been living in retirement in Majorca until the onset of dementia brought him back to Britain. The dare-devil almost amateur `action man` held the civilian record from 1973 for a five-mile free-fall parachute jump and was, of course, present with Valerie Singleton and Peter Purves for the legendary performance of Lulu the baby elephant in 1969. To those of us who were afforded the chance to work on Blue Peter his reputation as "the best, the bravest, the funniest" of all of the presenters goes with him to the grave.
"I`m standing down because I can hardly stand up" said his Royal Highness the Duke of Edinburgh announcing his semi-retirement at the age of ninety-five. Born on the island of Corfu in 1921 Lt. Philip Mountbatten , RN, married Princess Elizabeth Windsor in 1947. `Phil the Greek`, the man who `doesn`t take kindly to compliments` has been Her Majesty`s `Liege man of life and limb` since the Queen`s coronation in 1953 and has been patron or President of nearly eight hundred organisations. His current diary still runs until August and includes the Trooping of the Colour, Royal Ascot, The Chelsea Flower Show and the State Opening of the new parliament after the June election. He will retain his interest in his Duke of Edinburgh`s award scheme and will `enjoy outings at public events on occasions. After 22,191 solo engagements and 5,493 speeches it is, perhaps, time for the "World`s most experienced plaque unveiler" to be allowed to pause for breath.