Gale's View from Westminster - September 2014
September. “The Ayes for the Out 1,617,898. The Noes for the In 2,001,926. So the Noes have it, the Noes have it. Unlock the doors”! Out, in the cold politically, is the Leader of the Scottish Separatist Party and those men of huge “principle” who, in the interests of advancing the Farridge “Bandwagon and Tory turncoat” Party, have walked out upon those upon whose broad shoulders they scrambled to low office. Also out is “Boris Island”. Little Ashya King is out of the country at last receiving desperately needed treatment for the cancer that may yet take his life. As the first British Hostage to be murdered by an organisation that is neither Islamist nor a State is taken from his family Parliament is In. Reassembled in sombre mood to approve a bombing campaign in Northern Iraq. Syria will follow. And Put-In is in Ukraine. In force and demanding the recognition of statehood for the neo-Soviet Republic of “Novorossiya”. Waiting to get in, but at present still out, are the hundreds of illegal immigrants besieging the port of Calais in a desperate attempt to reach the land where the pavements are still paved with benefits. And the Party Conferences excited the commentariat enormously and aroused monumental apathy in the real world.
The first part of the month has been dominated, politically, by the aspirations of Alex Salmond and his supporting separatists to tear up centuries of history and end the union with England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The prospect of a £5 billion bill in start-up costs for an independent nation does not appear to deter prospective voters who, in what turns out to be a rogue opinion poll gives the “Yes ” campaign a six-point lead and sends shockwaves through the Westminster system that reach, we are reliably informed, to the very gates of Balmoral castle. The pound sinks to a five-month low as the prospect of separation rocks the markets but it is not only the economy that is heading South. The Royal Bank of Scotland and other significant businesses and institutions queue up to announce a shift of company headquarters to London if the break-up goes ahead. “Deep Recession” in Scotland is the order of the day. ASDA, John Lewis and Morrisons warn of retail price rises. The Labour Party south of the border is in a tailspin: Labour needs the Scottish MPs that will disappear post –union to stand and prospect of returning to office. Mr. Farridge, who helpfully contributes the thought that “a large chunk of our territory” is at stake is told by the “No” campaign to stay away from the fray. Accusations of racism and “hate” between Scots and the English are bandied back and forth as what the Bourgeois Women`s Tabloid brands “The Seriously Nasty Party” fans the flames of friction. Perish the thought but the BBC`s Political Editor, Nick Robinson” is dubbed “a liar” by the Yes Campaign. (Nothing of course could be further from the truth). Andy Murray, “The First Brit To Win Wimbledon Since God Was A Boy”, tweets away his Mother`s chances on “Strictly Come Dancing” by coming out in favour of “Yes”. Things are getting serious. Murray apologises but the damage is done.
Salmond ludicrously demands a ten-billion pound “Tartan Army” to be backed up by two of Her Majesty`s Type 23 Frigates, helicopters, typhoon fighter jets and three and a half thousand serving men and women. What plans he has for the UK`s nuclear bases at Faslane, and the Scottish jobs that depend upon them, is no clearer than his vision of a future Scottish currency. The Scotmark? The McEuro? We shall now never know.
Her Maj, speaking to well-wishers while leaving the Crathie Kirk at Balmoral with Wills and Prince Charles, (politicians studiously not invited) expresses the dangerously political and contentious view that she “hopes that the Scots will think very carefully” before voting. This sensational intervention by a Head of State faced with the necessity of having to appoint a Governor General for an independent nation, was surely not influenced by the prospect of needing to acquire pet passports in order to take One`s Corgis north of Hadrian`s Wall? About as sensible is the suggestion that police in hot-pursuit of criminals would have to abandon the chase at the border.
The Clunking Fist, now seemingly unstoppable in his campaigning zeal, makes what is dubbed “the speech of his lifetime” in support of the “Better Together” movement. Whether this oratory turned the tide we cannot say but Gordon Brown, back in Big Organ Grinder mode, also offers Danegeld and “Home Rule Light” to head off the “painful” threat of divorce. While pledges, not discussed in the parliament of what is still the United Kingdom, of money and additional rights for the Scots appear to be endorsed by Man David, the Milipede, St. Nicholas of Clogg and just about everyone else except London taxi drivers, the thought that “Home Rule for England” ought to be on the agenda begins to raise its head. After all, if the Scots can benefit from all this largesse then what about the other three nations of the Union? Then there is the “West Lothian Question”, now back at the top of the agenda. Why should Scottish MPs be allowed to vote on taxes in England and the NHS if English and Welsh and Northern Irish MPs are barred from voting on similarly devolved issues that affect Scotland? Gale`s View of the future with four national parliaments dealing with all parochial matters and a United Kingdom senate, replacing the House of Lords, to manage foreign policy, defence and macro-taxation suddenly does not seem quite as eccentric as it did when I first mooted it twenty years ago. And do we now grant voting rights to children? The “no taxation without representation” principle could equally be construed as “no representation without taxation” but as sixteen year olds have voted in Scotland there will no doubt be increasing pressure to extend the franchise throughout the United Kingdom.
As we all now know the Union has survived with 55% of the electorate voting no to separation and 45% in favour on a very high 84.6% turnout. The story does not, though, end there. Within minutes of the result and while Mr. Salmond was still preparing to announce his resignation as First Minister, David Cameron shattered the political cross-party truce by announcing a policy of “English votes for English laws”. In doing so he thus neutered the likelihood of any future Labour majority on South-of-the-Border matters, outflanked the Milipede and left Farridge at the starting gate as the bandwagon of nationalism swept past him. Having promised a timetable for increased funding and further devolution the Clunking Fist, faced with a backlash from English MPs,has been left fuming that “we will not stall on our promises to Scotland”. That may prove hard to deliver as his promises were made without any parliamentary mandate or authority and there will certainly be a political price to be paid for keeping them. Already Cameron is warning The Milipede not to sell-out England. Back in Balmoral Her Maj is reported to have been pleased to learn from the Prime Minister that “It`s okay” but rather less than amused to discover that she was indiscreetly described as having “purred” when she heard the result. Man David`s careless comment, caught on a microphone in New York and relayed worldwide, has resulted in a bended-knee apology to the Monarch!
While this constitutional sideshow has been taking place in Britain the World has been distracted by more serious matters. The rise and rise of the “Islamist State” which is neither Islamist nor a state but rather a terrorist movement of the vilest and most mediaeval kind has generated international revulsion and demands for robust response. With the Russians prepared to veto anything in Putin`s self-interest it is, of course, impossible to secure a UN Security Council mandate for military action and that in itself brings into question the whole future of the UN. If the world cannot unite against IS then what can it agree upon? It is easy to appreciate the political nervousness in both America and the UK following last year`s parliamentary vote that denied the Prime Minister the right to discuss possible military intervention in Syria. Neither Borat O`Bama nor Man David had any wish to be bitten twice by the same dog. Nevertheless, with the televised decapitation of innocent hostages and the genocide pervading parts of Syria and Northern Iraq, combined with the realisation that the brutality will not be confined to the Middle East but is likely to spread every bit as contagiously as Ebola if it is not contained and rooted out, to do nothing is not an option. David Cameron told the UN General Assembly in New York that “The world cannot allow itself to be paralysed with fear after the 2003 invasion of Iraq”. Following a steel-ringed NATO summit in Newport, South Wales, and the recall of the British parliament, The United States, Europe, a significant number of Middle Eastern States and old Commonwealth countries are now and at last making a determined effort to give air support to those troops in Iraq who are fighting the battle on the ground. As the command-and-control centres for the self-styled IS are located in Syria and as it is believed that that is also where the hostages and their murderers reside, it is inevitable that there will be demands for support for air strikes in Syria also. That poses the likelihood of another and much more difficult vote in parliament but it is a bullet that is going to have to be bitten. Given the aforesaid Russian reluctance to support the UN for the Leader of Her Majesty`s Opposition to suggest that his party will only vote for further action on a UN mandate is risible and not worthy of that high office. The post-Blair-war cult of “followership” that has replaced resolution is not acceptable. We are faced with a threat that is every bit as dangerous as the rise of fascism and if it is not confronted now the ultimate price paid will be inestimable.
Talking of fascism, at the EU summit the Prime Minister avowed that Putin “must not be appeased like Hitler” in a manner “repeating the same mistakes as March 1938”. Given the horrible sound of axes grinding whenever Russia is mentioned within Europe his words are as likely to have gone down like a lead balloon. Germany industry depends upon gas from Russia (did Angela Merkel persuade Julia Tymoshenko to sign the Ukraine gas contract to keep the pipeline to Germany open during her election year?), France wants to flog military kit and French farmers want to sell their produce to Vlad “The Impaler” Putin and Versailles still looks back longingly at the days when educated tsarists spoke French; a number of former Soviet states , Georgia, Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Azerbaijan, Armenia for example, peep nervously over their shoulders at the possibility of neo-soviet re-colonisation, the Balkans depend heavily upon Russian money, Cyprus enjoys the benefits of oligarchs` “investments” (which is a euphemism for money laundering) and even the usually staunch Norwegians, sharing a land border with the Federation, are soft on punitive action. Switzerland, of course, perches neutrally on the fence as usual. Which does not leave Dave with many allies.
Come January, when the present moratorium on the Russian delegation`s voting rights has to be either rescinded or renewed, there will be some hard pounding in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, of which I happen to be a member. The voting ban was imposed following the annexation of Crimea on the grounds that one Member State could not be allowed to seize the territory of another sovereign Member State in flagrant breach of European Conventions. Since that time, and notwithstanding some lukewarm sanctions, the situation has worsened not improved. Flight MH 17 has been “hit by many objects” or, in layman`s parlance, “brought down by a ground to air missile” over Eastern Ukraine and Russian military intervention in support of the separatist pro-Federation activists in Donetsk/Luhansk and the surrounding area has been no longer even thinly disguised. “Crimea” is a word that is barely on any European Minister`s lips these days and there are those in high places who actually suggest that “Ukraine was corrupt” as if that is an excuse for invasion and occupation. Small wonder, then, that Putin feels able to demand recognition of Eastern Ukraine as the State of Novorossiya in its own right and is scornful of suggestions that his country has acted in any way that is untoward. The man has even spoken of “being able to take Kiev in two weeks”. Almost alone in all of this the Prime Minister has called for tougher measures “even if it hurts the City of London”, which economic sanctions most certainly would. (We are pledged, also, to contribute a further 1000 UK troops to NATO as a contribution to a 4000-strong NATO unit to be based in Eastern Poland. ) Following a meeting between Ukraine`s President Poroshenko and Putin a fragile ceasefire, which practically accepts Donetsk/Luhansk as a South-Ossetia-style Russian client region, is more or less in place and holding, enabling Poroshenko to claim that `the war is ending`. This is in time the early parliamentary elections to be held in Ukraine in mid-October but with thousands of potential electors disenfranchised in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine a no-go area for democracy it is difficult to see how the election monitors will find a way to describe the process as “free and fair”. Given the propensity of the European Institutions for compromise, however, I confidently expect that we will. It is also highly likely that the Council of Ministers will construct a form of weasel-words to allow Putin`s apparatchiks to regain their CofE voting rights in the teeth of principled opposition from many parliamentarians of many nations. “Jaw Jaw is better than War War” has a great deal to answer for. Negotiation is supposed to be a two-way traffic. Watch this space.
At a less stratospheric and more human level the start of the month found the parents of Ashya King, who had removed their terminally-ill son from a Hampshire hospital to seek treatment that the NHS was denying him, in prison in Spain. This followed the ludicrous use of the discredited European Arrest Warrant as the enforcement arm of British medical opinion, by a Hampshire authority unwilling to accept that its own judgement might just possibly have been flawed. The charge, seeking extradition, was that Mr and Mrs King had neglected their son and were not acting in his best interests. The case was also complicated by the fact that the little boy had, again inappropriately, been made a ward of Court. In an unusually personal intervention David Cameron, who following his own experience is understandably sensitive to the requirements of children with terminal illnesses, suggested that “an outbreak of common sense” was needed. Mr.and Mrs. King were freed to visit their son in the Spanish hospital in which he was being held and the High Court, now technically responsible for the child, indicated that he could be moved to Prague where he is receiving the necessary proton treatment. Bitter experience of constituents` last-chance excursions into unvalidated procedures suggests that the chances of success may be slim but I hope that if it goes wrong no idiot within the Hampshire health service will say “I told you so”. At the very least Ashya`s experience may help others and at best he will recover. At least the NHS has relented and is now funding his stay in hospital in Prague.
Back to the fantasy world of UKIP politics and Mr. Farridge`s “Bandwagon and Tory Turncoat” party has attracted a brace of former Conservative MPs to his fold. The first to jump ship was Mr. Carswell, the Member for Clacton and Frinton, who precipitated a by-election by taking `an office of profit under the Crown`. He faces a challenge from the swiftly selected Giles Watling, a well-known local actor and Conservative councillor. The bookies at present suggest that the sensitive Mr. Carswell may win. If so he will find himself in an uncomfortable juxtaposition with nationalist and other minorities on the Opposition benches and with few friends on either side of the House. He will not, though, be “UKIP`s first MP” as some have sought to claim as that dubious accolade goes to Dr.Robert Spink, another former Tory representing Castle Point (what is it about Essex?), who flirted briefly with the Farridge machine before re-ratting and sitting for the remainder of the last parliament as an independent. Should Giles Watling defeat Mr. Carswell, as I naturally hope that he will, then I shall cease to be the only Member of the House of Commons holding a fully paid-up British Actors` Equity card. A price well worth paying.
Over on our side of the Thames Estuary somebody called Reckless, who I am ashamed to say was a Kent Member of Parliament representing Rochester and Strood in the Conservative interest, chose the eve of the Conservative Party Conference to announce that he was also joining UKIP and forcing a by-election. This would be the same man who had vowed to support David Cameron and to work for a Conservative General Election victory as the only party that could deliver an EU Referendum. “Liar” is not ordinarily accepted as a parliamentary term but when the Cabinet Office Minister and Chairman of the Conservative Party, Grant Shapps, described Reckless (yes,that really is his name) as a liar he was sadly correct. Contrary to assertions that Reckless “had no plans to defect” he himself has acknowledged that he had, in fact, been plotting with Carswell for weeks. An early foray by Farridge and his new best friend into the inevitable public house in Rochester for the equally inevitable pint-of-beer-photo-opportunity got the bird. The Medway towns have a still-strong naval heritage and Jack Tar and his bride are generally plum-straight and proud to be British. They don`t like people who sell them down the river and they don`t like people, of whatever Party, who do the dirty upon those who have worked to elevate them to office. It is reported that Farridge, surrounded by his `minders` left swiftly by car while Reckless exited through a back door abandoning his planned “walkabout” to “meet the people” with his new Leader. Reckless says that he feels that the people that he was elected to represent have been “ripped off and lied to”. It looks as though his voters may agree – but not in quite the manner that he had anticipated!
While the UKIP stunt was clearly designed to disrupt the start of the Conservative Party Conference the general view, media and public, seems to be that Man David delivered a rousing, meaty and welcome pre-election speech that sent the troops off in high spirits. No such accusation can be made of Mr. Millipede’s performance at the Labour Party conference. His words were delivered to the press on the embargoed “check against delivery” basis. When the checking was done it was discovered that he had mysteriously ”forgotten” to include key sections on the economy and on immigration which the polls tell us just happen to be the two issues of greatest importance to the electorate! As seriously from his Party`s point of view he omitted, while thanking those who had helped in the battle to preserve the Union, to mention the name of one Gordon Brown. The latter may now embark upon a Big Sulk that will make that of the late Sir Edward Heath following his defeat by Margaret Thatcher seem like a spring thaw. Alan Johnson, former Labour Cabinet Minister and potential Leadership contender (I offered to help run his campaign for him if he pitched for the job but he declined both the offer and the challenge) suggested on the fringe that it would be a good idea if Members of Parliament had had “a proper job” before seeking election to the House. Alan himself was a postman. That did not stop him from holding high office and had The Milipede enjoyed similar experience he might have done rather better that to pull a dead rabbit out of the hat in his last conference speech before the election.
In other news Sir Howard Davies review of runway capacity in the South East has knocked on the head any prospect of a £100 billion Thames Estuary airport as a new London passenger hub in favour of more runways at Heathrow and/or Gatwick. The proponent of the Estuary scheme, Mayor Boris, has reacted by saying that he “won`t give up” on a Boris Island Airport. He won`t give up on his Leadership ambitions either but that does not mean that they are about to be realised.
Rona Fairhead, Financial Times Chairman and CEO, has been selected as the new Chairman of the BBC Trust to replace Lord (Chris) Patten leading to accusations of “tokenism” because she is a woman. If confirmed in office she will have the joy of presiding over issues such as the leaking of details of the South Yorkshire police raid upon the home of Sir Cliff Richard, described by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz, as “sheer incompetence and unethical”.
The Public Accounts Committee has determined that the Home Office has `lost` 175 thousand illegal immigrants. The Port of Calais is described as a `powder keg` as hundreds more of those immigrants storm ferries and literally fight to try to get across La Manche and into Benefit Britain. Natacha Bouchart, the Mayor of Calais, believes that the UK should take responsibility for the hordes now besieging her town. Others feel that France ought to control its borders and intercept the travellers long before they get anywhere near Calais, never mind Britain. We have, though, offered the French town the twelve miles of high security fencing used to protect the NATO summit in Wales and now surplus to requirements. Still on the other side of the Channel Prime Minister Manuel Valls says that Marine le Pen is `close to power`. Perhaps Ms. Le Pen and Mayor Bouchart should have a conversation.
Time was when the political agenda was dominated by the economy. Good news is not news, it seems. Unemployment is now at its lowest level since the start of the banking crisis in 2008, and the Office for Budget Responsibility says that if we stay on track (Ed Balls please note) the UK will be back in the black by 2018. Although the issue has gone quiet it remains at the top of the list of voters` priorities behind, only, immigration. The message remains: Don`t give the keys back to the team that crashed the car.
Education, also, has also had a lower profile under Nicky Morgan as Secretary of State. There is talk, though, of bringing back the Assisted Places Scheme which contributed hugely, along with grammar schools, to social mobility during the seventeen years from 1980 until it was abolished by Legacy Blair under his New Labour government. More than 75,000 students enjoyed an education that they would never have otherwise received without the payments that met fees at Independent Schools and the next Conservative Government would do well to reinstate the Assisted Places Scheme , along with Grammar Schools and streaming. The Chief Inspector of Schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, might then have less cause to find that pupils are ` sloppy, slovenly, lacking in discipline and skills`.
For the first time in its two hundred and fifty year history the Royal and Ancient Golf Club at St. Andrews will admit women as full members. This, we are told, owes rather more to the hard-cash sponsorship of HSBC that to any dramatic change in social climate North of the Border.
Friends of the Earth believe that the capture of wild beavers in the River Otter in Devon is illegal. Claims that beavers have `not been part of our wildlife for 500 years` are irrelevant. They are part of our lost eco-system. As, of course, are wolves and bears and wild boar, all of which have been hunted to extinction.
The BBC Today programme is poised to introduce `lighter items` to its schedule. This revelation, made to the Broadcasting Press Guild, is designed to appeal to `35-54 year olds` and the aforesaid items will be `shorter but with the same gravitas`. The audience may, literally, be dying but I was working on Today when an Editor-in-Chief sought to move one of the “fixed slots” to create more flexibility in the running order. “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells” complained to the Director General who ordered an immediate return to “proper” scheduling. I have a feeling that `shorter` and ` the same gravitas` may not be compatible. What they really mean is “dumbing down for the benefit of those who do not have the attention span of a gnat”.
And the BBC has shelled out £36 K of licence fee payers` money to head-hunters to secure the services of a new Chairman for the BBC Trust. The firm engaged employs the wife of Tony Hall who, as Lord Hall, is Director General of the BBC.
My splendid parliamentary colleague, Alec Shelbrooke has two dogs called Boris and Maggie. He says that their behaviour improved when they were respectively castrated and spayed. For god`s sake don`t let Boris` long-suffering wife, Marina, get to know of that.
Normanton Council in Derbyshire has banned volunteer litter-pickers. `Elf `n safety says that the litter-picking implements issued by the council require training in their use. Will they now be offering to provide training in the manual handling skills required to move a wheelie-bin on rubbish collection days?
The Soviet –sorry, “Russian” - Cosmonaut Oleg Artemyev has returned to terra firma after six months in space to be presented with…..a water melon. Times have changed. In 1961 Yuri Gagarin was treated to a reception and march-past in Red Square.
A traffic warden was photographed having parked on double yellow lines while dishing out parking tickets in Solihull, Warwickshire. The Official explanation? “Civil Enforcement Officers are exempt from most parking restrictions while carrying out their duties”.
Hard on the hooves of the Princess Royal comes the Dartmoor Hill Pony Association advocating the consumption of Dartmoor Pony meat in order to create a sustainable market for the animals and preserve them. Anyone for a pony-burger?
A team of senior police officers was assembled in Exeter in Devon to brief a public meeting held to explain the work of Police and Crime Commissioners. “The Public” turned up in the form of just one attendee who was allowed to observe but not speak in the discussion. About accountability!
At the age of 81 the irreverent comedienne and scourge of the pompous, Joan Rivers, has taken her last curtain call
As has Sir Donald Sinden having clocked up his ninetieth year. One of the stars of The Cruel Sea and Above Us The Waves but best known for his declamatory `Ben Greet` style of acting, Sir Donald is reputed to have walked into a restaurant and boomed “Do you serve a ham salad”? To which the predictable response was “We serve anyone sir”. He will be missed in the Garrick and far beyond.
The son of a Winchester cobbler, who became the Royal milliner, Philip Somerville, has doffed his hat to the ladies for the last time in his eighty-fifth year. His creations were worn by Diana Spencer, The Duchess of Cambridge and many others both in and out of the limelight.
The Met. Office has confirmed that September was a warmer month than August. In many more ways than one.