Sir Roger Gale
Member of Parliament for North Thanet (Margate, Herne Bay & The Villages)
Gale's View from Westminster - November 2016
November. In the United States Hillarious is Trumphed and makes a dignified political Prexit while Wisconsin is out for the re-count. In the United Kingdom the High Court trumps Royal prerogative over Article 50. In France Les Republicains are less than united over their leadership. Whitehall cannot cope with Brexit says a leaked discussion document. Chancellor Hammond delivers realism or gloom, depending upon your viewpoint, in the last Autumn Statement before the next Autumn Budget. Hammond is supported by the OBR and the IFS who in turn are rubbished by the hard- Brexiteers. The National Health Service may not be able to cope with winter and the rail unions drive the commuting public into the buffers. Is it Farridge the Re-born Conservative, Farridge the UK Ambassador to the United States, Farridge the U.S. ambassador to the United Kingdom, Arise Lord Farridge or Yesterday's friend at the Court of King Donald? Her Maj has had to call the plumbers in to Buck House, Prince Harry is trying control a different kind of leak, Ed sets the Ballsroom on fire in Blackpool, Andy Murray is número uno on the tennis circuit while Lewis Hamilton has to settle for number two on the F1 circuit. And El Presidente stubs out his last Havana.
The Tearoom of the House of Commons, at very early breakfast, is probably rather better at forecasting political futures than most multi- million dollar pollsters. We missed a trick, certainly, with the manner in which Old Labour voted New Brexit in the referendum in the North of England and the 'Breakfast Club's` fully paid- up member of the Hillary Clinton Appreciation Society remained, until the thirteenth hour, that his fancy would come through on the rails to win the Electoral College Steeplechase. Whisper it softly if you will, though, after the Brexit vote the writing was on the wall and the Old and Bold were quietly predicting that the awful Donlad would very probably con enough white, red-necked citizens of the American colonies to vote for him. And so it transpired. Whatever the outcome of re- counts in the states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Michigan - and if you are cute enough to rig an electronic ballot then the combined muscle of the American hard- right and the Kremlin ought to be able to fix a recount - and I detect little appetite on either side of this electoral debacle for a total re- run. Wisconsin, for the record, was won for the Republicans by ' Reagan Democrats' in 1984 and Pennsylvania and Michigan by Reagan in 1988 but in any normal year all three states are ordinarily part of the Democrat ' firewall'.
The US electoral college system was designed to meet the requirements of a horseback era when mandated representatives rode many hundreds, if not thousands, of miles to a less- than - central location to cast their votes as instructed for the next President of the United States whoever he - and it was of course always in those days a he - might be. Things have altered a little since the days when the sons and daughters of the Mayflower eliminated the Native Americans and created the Rule of God on Earth but basically the US electoral system has not. And that is why, dear friends, give or take the odd ' hanging chad' and a bit of electronic gerrymandering, it is possible for a candidate with two million more votes than his (or in this case her) opponent can still, as the editor of The Newsweek magazine discovered to his embarrassment, crash her head on the ' glass ceiling' while her under performing opponent can plan to stuff the house in Pennsylvania Avenue with his family and friends. This is called 'draining the swamp'.
The swamp in question, for those unfamiliar with the geography of Washington, is the banks of the Potomac River where, originally, the harlots and low- life that served or serviced the denizens of ' The Hill' once lived. General Hooker was called upon to clear the swamps of its residents which is why the occupants became known as 'General Hooker's Young Ladies ' or, in common American parlance, ' hookers'. Apart from that exercise in moral futility little, to this day, appears to have changed and If the course set by the good ship Trumpette is anything to go by it looks as though little will change either within the next four years.
So far as I can see - and I will accept that as years advance I am becoming increasingly politically myopic - The President- Elect as we must now come to know and love or loathe him, is replacing one set of insider and experienced administration cronies with another set of insider and inexperienced cronies. Only the security of the Western, and possibly the whole, world is at stake so I suppose that we should be not too exercised by this aberration. People have been known to ' grow into' jobs and the American constitution has, at least hitherto, had built in checks and balances that have prevented the worst desired excesses of any transient occupant of The White House from doing too much damage. We have to hope and believe that those systems are still in place and will if necessary be deployed.
So what actually happened? Back at the beginning of November it looked as though, although hideously unpopular, Hillarious Clinton was heading through the glass ceiling to the Presidency. Then came the announcement, by the Director of the FBI, that he was re-opening the investigation into Mrs. Clinton's use of private e- mail accounts and other alleged misdemeanours while Secretary of State. The FBI was immediately accused, probably with some justification, of playing partisan politics in the interests of The Donlad and even of liaising with Russia in the business of securing the election of a naive pro- neo- Soviet President. Not enough for Borat O ' Bama to say that a vote for Trump ' Risks the fate of the World'.The damage was done and the Hillarious campaign effectively had to spend the whole of the crucial back- end of the campaign fire-fighting fog. Beyonce and Jay-Z may have tried to sprinkle stardust on the show but for anyone with half an eye the writing was on the wall in mile- high letters. By the time that the Director of the FBI issued a second letter, a couple of days before polling day, indicating that The Bueau had not changed its original decision that there was no case for Mrs. Clinton to answer, many postal or absent votes had already been cast and the issue was decided. Interestingly, in the light of the subsequent allegations of rigged electronic voting, it was at this point that The Donlad, seeing the game begin to slip away, accused Mrs. Clinton of a ' rigged system' and indicated that he might not accept the result of the election. Nevertheless what has been described as ' a sordid campaign' based upon immigration, healthcare costs, race- hate, gun control and attitudes towards Russia, Syria and ISIL delivered for Trump. Newsweek had to pulp its 'Madam President' edition and following a nauseating victory parade of his family, friends and acolytes and the ever self- promoting Farridge, the President- elect, Donald Jillian Trump, retreated to the top floors of his Tower in New York to begin to dole out patronage .
It should surprise nobody that the election of an ' obnoxious and boorish' candidate should have been welcomed by Mr. Putin. It takes one to tell one, does it not? For some the handbrake U- turn must have been tricky. The Foreign Secretary of the United Kingdom, one Boris Johnson, for example has previously said that "the only reason that I would not go to New York is the real risk of meeting Donald Trump". Marine Le Pen ( France) , Gert Wilders (Holland), Italy's Five Star Beppe Grillo , Viktor Orban ( Hungary) and, of course, Farridge, all rushed to congratulate President- Elect Trump which ought to send out some sort of a message to those with an eye on the political weather vane. The glass ceiling is still in place and a dignified Mrs. Clinton has said that the result ` will be painful for a long time'. At a meeting following the election Trump described Obama as ' a very good man' and Obama reciprocated saying that Trump was ' uniquely qualified for office'. An American with small understanding of irony might not comprehend the literal meaning of the word "unique".
The Farridge has illusions of grandeur although in the insane world that we now inhabit I suppose anything is possible. After the ' Braying Mantis' photograph outside the golden gates of Trump Tower the ego-trip has continued and Farridge seems to believe that he is the perfect go-between between Trump's United States and Britain, a potential UK Ambassador, a future Member of the House of Lords and (still) a candidate for the parliamentary seat of Thanet South for UKIP while also, apparently, being ` open to re-joining the Conservative Party'. If the latter happens I may have to cross the floor to sit with the Scottish Nationalists.)
The next U.S. Commander- in-Chief, a man not renowned for his military service, has part-turned on Obamacare, acknowledging that some of it works, and has decided that once he has deported three million immigrants a fence, rather than a wall , might be sufficient to keep the Mexicans out. I do not know if the future C- in- C has actually visited the Mexican border south of the aptly named El Paso but I have: there is already a sizeable fence there. The ' wetbacks' have cut sombrero- sized holes in it and cheerfully paddle backwards and forewords across the stream that is now the Rio Grande on a daily basis. At the time of writing Mr. Trump is meeting with another former Presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, to discuss the vacancy for the job of Secretary of State. Mr Romney has described the Donlad as ' a con man' and ' a fake'. I suspect that Trump will be unwilling to engage the services of someone who might expose him as the political lightweight and ingenue that he is but the position, were the bookies to be right and were President Trump to be impeached, might give Romney another shot at the White House.
I appreciate that we may find ourselves having to do business with Mr. Trump and it is a very good thing, given the legendary gossamer nature of the man's skin,that it will be left to diplomats and not to Members of the House of Commons to set up the deals. It is significant, though, that the President- Elect, in his desire to eschew globalisation, intends to tear up the Trans Pacific Partnership that involves twelve counties representing forty per- cent of the world's economy and has taken years to agree. If the Chinese cannot kick the ball into that open goal at the expense of the United States of Trump then I am the Captain of the Starship Enterprise. Hail to The Chief.
Most Members of the Parliamentary Conservative Party, including those who, like myself, voted to remain within the European Union, have accepted that the will of the people must be respected and at whatever cost - and it will be very high - that we now have to get on with the task of extricating ourselves from a labyrinth of bureaucratic complexities on the best terms achievable even if those terms turn out to be a shadow of the trade and security partnerships that we have hitherto enjoyed. The Darling Bud has stated that she, like another lady, "is not for turning", that the wishes of 17.4 million Britons cannot be ignored and that Theresa is not in the business of re-running past battles. The High Court, however, appears to have other ideas. Mrs. May, the legal eagles have determined, cannot by-pass Members and use the Royal Prerogative to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the Brexit ball rolling without consulting parliament. This finding arises from a case fronted by a Guyanan-born former model , is now the subject of a Government appeal to the Supreme Court and could, if lost in that avowedly pro-Remain forum, precipitate a constitutional crisis and the General Election that the Prime Minister has said that she does not wish to hold until 2020. Ministers and the Labour Party are said to be preparing for the possibility of a snap vote in the Spring. As an aside Field Marshall Lord Dannatt and Admiral Lord West have suggested that in taking their decision the High Court Judges have placed the Defence of the Realm, in the form of future and necessary military action, at risk of indecision while also in the Upper House Labour`s Baroness Smith and the Liberal Democrats` Lord Newby have indicated a determination to delay and frustrate any Brexit legislation necessitated by the High Court ruling. Democracy may, as the Prime Minister has said, be underpinned by free judges and a free Press but in this instance t there appears to be a tension between the judiciary and the ballot box.
Comrade Corbyn, who at present is still the Leader of the Opposition, has said helpfully that the Labour Party will not block the triggering of Article 50 in the Commons although whether or not his writ runs as far as the House of Lords has yet to be put to the test on the Brexit issue. Red Jerry is, though, less sound on the future of NATO and as Russian missile launchers are moved towards Poland and the Baltic States The Leader of the Opposition calls for the withdrawal of the handful of NATO troops stationed in Eastern Europe. NATO is the one issue over which there appears to be some sympathy for the Trump position. During the Presidential election the President-Elect came perilously close to undermining the North Atlantic alliance by suggesting that the United States would not necessarily leap to the defence of any member nation state that was not paying its way and mutual defence is, of course, the cornerstone of the NATO edifice. Trump and Clinton had indicated, in differing language, that the days of Europe were over and that the United States was moving into the `Pacific Era` with China perceived as the potential aggressor. Trump`s almost adolescent admiration for Putin demonstrates either a disdain for or an ignorance of the sensitivities of European security but the contribution issue is a fair one to raise. There are a number of NATO states, including some wealthy ones, that do not pay anything like the 2% of GDP required as a contribution to costs and there is little doubt that some would prefer to waste money on the creation of a futile `European Defence Force` rather than pay their dues to an organisation that has effectively maintained security over many years and is both tried and tested. Britain`s Defence Secretary, Sir Michael Fallon, has said that the EU contribution to NATO is `not good enough` and that is a sentiment that has been echoed by Theresa May.
In other news the former Conservative Member of Parliament for Sleaford in Lincolnshire, Mr. Stephen Phillips has resigned his seat. It is said that this is because of fundamental differences with government policy and has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the barrister was not appointed as Attorney General in Mrs. May`s re-shuffle and nor that his income from his work at the Bar was decimated as a result of his election to parliament. The by-election is being fought for the Conservatives by a young lady who is a consultant paediatrician whose knowledge and skills will be invaluable in the House of Commons, is being held on December 8th and will, one trusts, have a rather more successful outcome than that fought by Mr. Zac Goldsmith who resigned his Richmond Park seat over the Government`s plans to develop Heathrow airport to stand as an independent and, unopposed by the Conservative Party, managed to lose a massive majority. Contrary to political belief the public recognises grandstanding when it sees it.
Chancellor Hammond has delivered the last Autumn Statement to the House of Commons. In future the Autumn Statement will be made in the Spring and the Spring Budget will be announced in the Autumn. Spot the difference. The last Autumn statement was never going to be popular. The Bourgeois Women`s Tabloid, the Daily Torygraph and other pro-Brexit newspapers go into a hyperdrive of criticism whenever anyone suggests that the UK is facing an uncertain economic future following the decision to leave the European Union. So when a prudent Chancellor of the Exchequer with the ability to read a balance sheet and do sums dares to hint at the possibility that he has little room for manoeuvre until the dust has settled he is not surprisingly accused of an excess of gloom by some of his hard-line Brexit colleagues.
The Chancellor has found an extra billion to put into welfare spending to assist those Just About Managing, now known inelegantly as "JAMS", and has proposed to increase the National Living Wage from £7.20 to £7.50 per hour. Fuel duty is frozen once again and there`s a billion and a half to build some forty thousand `affordable homes` and another billion-plus to put into the roads programme to help to relieve the congestion that is clogging up traffic and, therefore, business. There is, of course, no mention of measures to address the issue of frozen pensions and notwithstanding the Prime Minister`s wish to achieve a reciprocal deal on residency rights for the 3.3 million EU migrants living in the UK and the 1.2 million UK citizens living in mainland Europe the post-Brexit position of pensions and exportable benefits and healthcare remains uncertain and is likely to be so for some considerable time.
It may be that the Chancellor`s caution is based in part upon Robert Chote`s prediction for the Office of Budget responsibility of £60 billion of lost growth once we leave the EU with higher borrowing deepening the UK`s deficit and leaving the nation about 3% poorer. The latter, of course, reduces the press to apoplexy as does Paul Johnson`s forecast for the Institute of Fiscal Studies to the effect that the working population of the UK faces the worst income squeeze since the 1920s. "They always get it wrong" while in the short term possibly a justified observation, gainsays the long-term effects of turning our backs upon the huge European Market that we have hitherto enjoyed and to say "there you are you see, it hasn`t happened" when we have yet to even commence the Brexit process, may sell a few newspapers today but those papers will be chip-wrappings when the chicken nuggets come home to roost. A leaked file note carried by an aide to an MP leaving the office of the Brexit Minister David Davis suggesting "have cake and eat it" might just not be a sound basis for future policy. According to public opinion the Tories are now "the Party of the poor" with a Guardian ICM poll putting Theresa May on a seven-year high of 44% against Corbyn`s 28% and scoring 33-32% even in traditionally Labour areas. We have to hope that "the Party of the poor" will not come to take on a whole new meaning.
Mr Farridge has now departed the Leadership of the United Kingdom Independence Party for the third, or is it the fourth or fifth, time and one Paul Nuttall is now the Fuhrer. Mr. Nuttall believes that he can win seats in the Labour heartlands North of Watford. For an avowedly right-wing politician this might seem, superficially, like a rash claim but given the sizeable pro-Brexit vote in the socialist North East and the enormous resentment of anything connected with immigration generated by the Vote Leave campaign, together with a political volatility that has gone globally viral, I suppose pigs may yet fly to Westminster.
Across La Manche the political landscape is in turmoil. Sarko, the wannabee comeback kid pitching for a second Presidency of the Republic, was soundly thrashed in the first round of his party`s selection process with Francois Fillon, Sarko`s former Prime Minister, coming through from behind to boot Alain Juppe, who most commentators had predicted would take the crown, into a feeble second place. Fillon has a Welsh wife, Penelope, and on this basis is deemed to be Thatcherite, Anglophile and with an appeal to, particularly, right-wing Catholics. Unfortunately he also, like Donald Jillian, appears to be an admirer of Vlad. Putin and that may not bode well for the future of security in Europe. Nevertheless, with Nicholas Sarkozy going off to spend still more time with his family and, after the second round, the Mayor of Bordeaux shuffling back to that city`s Hotel de Ville, it looks as though the presidential run-off will be between Fillon and Madame Le Pen with no certainty as to the outcome of that contest. La Pen`s view is that the election of Trump in the US will boost her cause and she may well be right. For the socialists Manuel Valls` announcement that he intends to run against M. Hollande and that President`s recognition of the fact that his personal poll ratings are at an historic and all-time low have persuaded the present incumbent not to run for a second term which is also a precedent in modern France.
In Germany Frau Merkel will stand for a fourth term as Chancellor in 2017 and although she may be challenged by Martin Schultz `Mutti`, the `Most Powerful Woman in the World`, looks set fair to win. But given the advance of the hard-right Alternatif fur Deutschland even that cannot be taken for granted and the likely defeat of Italy`s Premier Matteo Renzi in his ill-judged pre-Christmas referendum may send further shockwaves across Europe. Gert Wilders, Holland`s far-right challenger, is pledged to hold a referendum on his country`s membership of the EU if he wins election next year. As Two-Jags Prescott once said "the techtonic plates are moving".
At home `The Legacy` Blair opines that Britain can still halt the exit from the European Union by creating a `Soft Brexit` that would mean that there would be `no point in leaving` but in a burst of uncharacteristic realism he also announces that he will not be returning to mainstream politics because he has at last recognised that `there is too much hostility towards him`. Mrs. May has vowed that UK Corporation tax will be the lowest in the world notwithstanding the President-Elect`s pledged to deliver a rate of 15% and in a not even remotely-veiled attack on Sir Philip Green`s treatment of his eleven thousand employees of British Home Stores has borrowed directly from Ed Miliband`s 2015 Labour manifesto to issue a policy paper on corporate greed.
They are bringing in the sparks and the plumbers at Buck House. In a ten-year programme costing an estimated £369 million builders will refurbish seven hundred and seventy-five rooms, replace one hundred miles of cabling, six thousand five hundred electrical sockets and five thousand light fittings, and thirty miles of water pipes, one hundred and fifty two lavatories, two thousand five hundred radiators and five hundred pieces of other sanitary ware. They will also install solar panels and new boilers. To the inevitable critics of this expenditure one can only say that Buckingham Palace has not been renovated for well over half a century, is one of the most iconic buildings in the world, is enjoyed internally and externally by tens of thousands of people every year and that Her Maj and her successors are worth millions of pounds annually to the United Kingdom Ltd.
Beavers, hunted to extinction five hundred years ago, have been re-introduced in Argyll, in Scotland and are now, in spite of protests from farmers, recognised as an endangered species. And the T inThe Park music festival has been re-located from Strathallan Castle at vast expense to accommodate the requirements of a pair of Ospreys. A fine sense of priorities.
All goggle-eyes have, this month, been upon my friend who loaned his name to this item. The Former Labour MP and Shadow Chancellor, once economic adviser to Chancellor Gordon Brown, has been shedding pounds and skipping the almost-light fantastic around the Strictly Come Dancing ballroom floor. Against all the odds Ed Balls became, from rank outsider, a favourite to reach the final of this must-watch TV competition. As he saw off television presenter Laura Whitmore and then the Olympian Greg Rutherford and Natalie Love the odds on Ed`s chances of success crashed from 100/1 to just 8/1. A permanent fixture at the very bottom of the leader board, Ed and his highly professional and long-suffering dance partner defied the judges` scores, rose above the scorn of Craig Revell-Horwood and week after week persuaded a voting public that included many die-hard Tories to ring in and back the dreadful old socialist in a Brexit-style defiance of common sense or justice to the other competitors. Pasas have never before been Dobled as Ed dobled them and his Gangan had a life and a style entirely of its own. No matter. The punters loved it and the piece de resistance was to be flown in at the Blackpool Tower Ballroom, playing on a flaming grand piano Jerry Lee Lewis` 1957 hit Great Balls of Fire. Revell-Horwood described this performance as akin to `hopscotch at a girls` school` but Blackpool and Ed rocked together. He survived that week but all good things come to an end and in his first dance-off the judges sentenced Ed Balls to summary execution. As the Head judge, Len Goodman, said Ed was "100% the People`s Champion" and he undoubtedly had more fun, made more friends and got more people voting for him than he ever did during his political career.
Suitors have at last been found for Jeremy, the lovelorn sinistral snail. The hermaphrodite, whose coils spiral unusually anti-clockwise, is resident at the University of Nottingham where it will soon be enjoying the company of a friend flown in from Mallorca for breeding purposes.
The much-loved (by the public) and much loathed (by the constabulary) `Bobby`s helmet` may be making a comeback. Thames Valley`s "Custodians" were replaced by baseball caps in 2009. I can say from personal experience with British Transport Police that the "Custodian" helmets are not the easiest items to wear but they offer more protection than a flimsy cap and - the real reason for the re-introduction - they make coppers look taller.
Nine police units rushed to a `crime scene` following a report of `a madman with a dangerous bladed weapon`. The weapon turned out to be a hedge-trimmer and local residents are now inquiring politely why it takes four days for one policeman to attend the scene of a burglary.
And a 101 police alternative to 999 line has been clogged up - by policemen making internal calls. Devon and Cornwall constabulary have now banned constables from using the service.
A mother has been denied a supermarket parking voucher after buying goods to the qualifying value. The goods were formula milk - frowned upon, apparently, under pro-breast EU regulations.
Number Ten has Larry the mousing cat. The Chancellor, at Number Eleven, has dogs (Rex, a Welsh terrier and Oscar, a wire-haired Dachshund) that have to be kept locked in to protect them from Larry. The Foreign Office has a feline Palmerston with whom Larry also has a less-than-cordial relationship. The Government Chief Whip now has Cronus in his office off the Members` Lobby of the House of Commons. Cronus is a tarantula, described by The Chief, Gavin Williamson, as `a spiderling`. This has exercised the House authorities as "pets are not allowed" in the Palace of Westminster. The Chief`s riposte is that Cronus is not a pet. He is a tool of the job, described as `a clean and ruthless killer`. "I give him" says Gavin "the same sort of love and care that I give to all MPs."
Irn Bru, a longstanding favourite tipple North of the Border, is available in the bars of the Palace of Westminster. Since the massive influx of Scottish Nationalist MPs in 2015 sales have rocketed by 60% and the House is now dispensing some 8,700 bottles and cans annually.
A programme available via the Times Educational Supplement website offers tutelage in "Racism and Sexism in Disney". Participating pupils are taught that Disney promotes `sexism and domestic violence`. It appears that Belle, in Beauty and the Beast, is `in an abusive relationship` and that The Little Mermaid, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Princess Jasmine in Aladdin and Snow White are all victims of female slavery and sexuality. An alternative view is that Disney portrays "Family values and the ancient wisdom of the fairy tale". Take your choice.
Russian `debutantes` are now `coming out ` at London`s Grosvenor House Hotel. Under the patronage of Princess Olga Andreevna Romanoff, a descendant of Tsar Nicholas the Second, the young ladies, aged between sixteen and twenty five, are wined and dined on champagne and caviar. Of course.
UKIP`s ex-leader, Nigel Farridge, told President Obama to "Butt out" when the latter sought to intercede in the EU referendum debate. The same Mr. Farridge now appears to want President-Elect Trump to "Butt in" over his illusions of transatlantic grandeur and advancement as a potential Ambassador. "Take back control from Brussels - and hand it to Washington"!
Eighty-two year old Derek Norman from Huntingdon has made it his business to remove road signs that give distances in metric measurements. Under the 1994 regulations metric signs are illegal and Mr. Norman`s Active Resistance to Metrication Movement has so far eliminated some two thousand of the offending indicators.
Workmen delivering a Christmas tree in Windsor were dismayed to discover that their minivan, parked on St. George`s Hill, had attracted the attention of a parking warden who had issued a ticket. The `workmen` were in fact German officials from Coburg in Bavaria, the birthplace of Queen Victoria`s Consort, Prince Albert, and were delivering a twenty-foot high Nordmann Fir and decorations to Her Majesty. The town of Windsor has since apologised.
The Juke Box Queen of the Wheel of Fortune, Kay Starr was ninety-four and described by Billie Holliday as ` The only white woman who could sing the Blues`.
The Radio Two broadcaster Jimmy Young who interviewed Margaret Thatcher fourteen times has "Jolly well gone orft" at the age of 95. Jimmy was in at the start of Radio One in 1967 but long before that was appearing on Housewives` Choice. As a singer he had two Number One hit records, "Unchained Melody" and "The Man From Laramie" and during his career interviewed every Prime Minister between 1972 and 2002.
The Canadian poet, novelist and lyricist Leonard Cohen has left us, with Hallelulias ringing, at eighty-two.
Fidel Castro has departed to mixed reactions. While Cuban residents have engaged in nine days of mourning for the communist dictator, in "Little Havana" in Miami, Florida, eight hundred and fifty thousand Cuban exiles have expressed jubilation that the tyrant is dead. Comrade Corbyn has talked in glowing terms of Cuba`s health and education systems and described the revolutionary friend of Che Guevara as `a huge figure of modern history `, Vladimir Putin has spoken of a "sincere and reliable friend of Russia", President Hollande grieves the passing of "a towering figure" and the United Kingdom despatched the Foreign Office Minister Sir Alan Duncan to his funeral. Castro overthrew the unloved but pro-US dictator Batista in 1959 promising to bring an end to inequality, gambling and prostitution. He did none of these things. A US-backed coup against `El Comandante` failed at the Bay of Pigs in 1961 and led to the Cuban missile crisis in 1962, an event which brought the world to the brink of nuclear war.
Mrs Margaret Rhodes, LVO, was the Queen`s cousin and, until her passing at the age of 91, Her Majesty`s best friend. She worked as a wartime secretary for MI6 and was a bridesmaid at the wedding between the then Princess Elizabeth and Lt. Philip Mountbatten. Princess Margaret, the Queen`s sister was a bridesmaid at Margaret Rhodes` own marriage in 1950.
Sergeant Alan Robinson, who lost a leg in a motorcycle accident has, following a two-year scholarship at the Boultbee Flight Academy which is supported by Prince Harry`s Endeavour Fund, become only the second amputee to fly a Spitfire. The first was, of course, the wartime pilot Douglas Bader.