Gale's View from Westminster

April 2022

 

April. Incredibly those defending the East Ukrainian city of Mariupol against Putin`s criminal devastation  continue to defy the invading Russians` devastating onslaught. Prime Minister Johnson, US Secretary of State Blinken and UN Secretary General Guitterez visit President Zelensky in Kyiv. At an after-dinner speech in  the Mansion House Foreign Secretary Truss nudges a step further towards war with a direct challenge to `The Poisoner` to quit all Ukrainian terrtitory including Crimea. The Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Club bars Russian players from its famous summer grass court tournament. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom  becomes the first holder of that office to receive a fine for breaking his own laws and the probability of a vote of no-confidence in Johnson`s leadership looms ever larger. Last month`s Spring statement from the Chancellor  gets the thumbs down from a nation facing a cost of living crisis and the shine comes off Dishy Rishy`s halo as details of his wife`s `non-dom`  tax status are leaked to the press. Prince Charles dispenses sets of ninety-six Maundy money coins on behalf of Her Majesty . The lack of in-service P&O ferries following last month`s summary dismissal of the company`s seafarers causes cross-channel Easter holiday traffic chaos as the roads to the port of Dover swiftly become gridlocked. Staff shortages suggest that there will also be long queues at airports come the summer. The Culture Secretary, Nadine `Mad Nad` Dorries announces plans to privatise the Channel Four public service broadcaster and throws the independent production sector into turmoil. Mr. Mogg tours the empty offices of Whitehall leaving `wish you were here` notices in his wake. The question of food security raises its head again as the Ukrainian `breadbasket of Europe` misses its spring planting deadline. Note to Builder Boris: you cannot grow crops on agricultural land that has been smothered in housing . It looks as though e-scooters will soon be colliding with driverless cars on Britains roads while the EU is threatening to put a `Big Brother in the cockpit` of every new car sold to control our wayward motoring habits. In a flurry of international statesmanship designed, presumably, to distract from `Partygate`, the Prime Minister visits Gujurat in India and hints at another new trade deal before Christmas. India is, if course, one of the nations still heavily dependent upon arms from Russia and remains sitting firmly on the diplomatic fence over the invasion od Ulraine and Putin`s war crimes. Elon Musk has bought control of the Twitter social media platform and watched millios wiped off the shares in his Tesla electric car company as investors feel that this may be a punt too far even for `the world`s richest man`. With standards of life in Westminster never far from the headlines `Porngate` succeeds `Partygate` as the scandal of the month and the Tory MP for Honiton and Tiverton and Chairman of the DEFRA select committee, Neil Parrish,  resigns from the House having been exposed -if that is the right word – for watching blue movies in the chamber on his mobile phone. If you wrote that into the script of `House of Cards`, nobody would believe it, would they?

 

Think back to March and the Chancellor`s Spring Statement . In response to the imminent cost of living increases Rishi Sunak, the blue-eyed boy of the pandemic, saviour of thousands of jobs and Johnson`s heir-apparent, raised the threshold at which National Insurance contributions start to be paid by three thousand pounds to £12,570  representing a saving to those on the lowest incomes of £300 a year. He increased the employment allowance for small businesses from four thousand to five thousand pounds a year. He reduced the VAT on solar panels from 5% to zero.He allocated £500 milLion to local authorities to help those in greatest need.and he cut fuel duty by 5p in the pound.

 

But as with many such budgets and financial statements the wheels tend to come off once the fine print is studied. A nation facing an increase in national insurance (tax) from the beginning of April was not slow to notice that inflation was set to rise much faster than wages or pensions, that in spite of the fuel duty reduction prices at the petrol pumps continue to rise, that as a consequence of additionl fuel, covid and Brexit related costs the price of the weekly shopping basket is escalating . The Office of Budget Responsibility has warned of average annual domestic energy bills of £2800 per household and a projected biggest fall in living standards since records began as the Chancellor`s promise of a cut in the base rate of tax of 1p in the pound by 2024 seems largely irrelevant. Freezing the income tax thresholds will mean that by 2026 6.8 million people will be be paying the higher rate .  National debt interest has risen fourfold to £83 billion a year which is the highest on record and with the tax take at six times higher than the cuts  suddenly Rishi seems not such a dishy alternative to Mayor Boris after all.

 

To add to Rishi Sunak`s woes his wife`s income tax status as a non-domiciled  (“non-dom”) Indian citizen has been leaked to the press. Aksharta Murthy is an extremely wealthy woman in ger own right and has not acted illegally but at a time when belts are tightening and taxes are rising overall the fact that the Chancellor`s wife was not paying tax in the UK other than on her UK income only did not go down well. Mrs Sunak immediately offered to pay UK tax on all of her global income but by that time the reputational damage was done. Rumours circulate that the `dark arts` department at Number Ten was responsible for the brief against Johnson`s prime rival.

 

It also transpires that Mr Sunal also still holds the United States `Green Card` normally only issued to those living in or intended to live and work in America.  That this was a residual document and a legacy of the Chancellor`s days as a student working in the United States did not prevent the press from having a speculative field day with Mr. Sunak`s future.  And finally the Chancellor, along with the Prime Minister, was fined for attending a  `Partygate` event in the Cabinet Room in Number Ten.  That the teetotal Chancellor almost certainly thought that he was attending a meeting and not an impromptu birthday party – with cake! – for the Prime Minister is in media terms immaterial. Guilty as charged.

 

The Prime Minister has paid a fixed notice penalty arising from the `birthday party` in Downing Street. It is highly likely that more such fines will follow as more breaches of Covid regulations are revealed.  To be pedantic the Prime Minister does not have a `criminal conviction`: Fixed penalty notices do not result in a criminal record.  It is clear, however, that he broke the rules that he set himself and that he expected others to abide by at huge personal cost . He is the first Prime Minister to have been handed such a penalty while in office. I fully appreciate the hurt and paid that the Prime Minister`s thoughtless actions have caused to the many, including my own constituents,  who have lost loved ones without being able to say a final farewell during the pandemic. They are unlikely to forgi `One rule for them and another rule for us` Johnson any time soon.

 

The Prime Minister has also, I believe,  on not one but several occasions, misled the House of Commons from the despatch box. Whether he did so knowingly or inadvertently is a moot point that may yet be clarified but either way that, in itself, is a matter that under normal circumstances would lead to immediate resignation.

 

But circumstances are not `normal`. We are facing the most serious challenge to the future of the free world since 1945 and arguably the most potentially dangerous threat to the future of mankind ever. The outcome of the war in Ukraine will affect not just the future of that Country but the future of democracy world wide and the lives of every man, woman and child in the United Kingdom for generations to come. It really is that serious.

 

I have said very publicly and I stand by my belief that the Prime Minister has behaved appallingly and must, in due course, be held to full and proper account for his failings. I was, I believe, the first to submit a letter calling for a vote of no-confidence in the Prime Minister immediastely following the `Barnard Castle Affair` in 2020  and ordinarily I would be pressing the case for that vote immediately.

 

The middle of an international crisis is not, however,  the right time to seek to destabilise the Government of the United Kingdom and, potentially, the coalition in which Britain is playing a leading role in supporting the people of Ukraine against the war criminal that is Mr. Putin and those who support him.

 

While the Home Office response to the displaced people of Ukraine has been and remains lamentable and a source of shame the UK`s aid through training and  the provision of lethal aid and humanitarian support on the borders has been a shining example and has shown a lead to the NATO alliance and others. We must not undermine that position.

The next few weeks will, in the Donbas in Eastern Ukraine – an area that I know quite well – be critical. It is highly probable that we shall witness scenes and war crimes the like of which will make those already shown on our screens seem modest. The use of chemical weapons of a kind that Russia deployed in Syria is by no means unlikely and if the Ukrainians are able to continue to  resist as bravely as they have done to date then even the use, by Putin, of battlefield nuclear weapons cannot be excluded. At that point NATO will have to become engaged and leads to the prospect of a full-scale war in Europe.

 

It has been said frequently that “We changed Leaders during the Second World War” and that “John Major replaced Margaret Thatcher during the Gulf War”. Both those statements are, of course, true but neither of those conflicts involved a major nuclear power. In this context a leadership election in the United Kingdom is a distraction that we must, if we can, avoid in the greater interest.

 

A vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister will take at least a week to organise once the necessary fifty-plus letter are submitted to the Chairman of the 1922 Committee (and for the record my own remains upon the table for future use). With no candidate for the Premiership in line for a `coronation` there will then have to be a contested election, votes of the Parliamentary Conservative Party, hustings and a vote of the Party membership in the Country. That process will take the best part of three months during which time  candidates will inevitably be distracted from the vital business of the conduct of a war.

 

Those candidates might well include the Foreign Secretary (Liz Truss), the Secretary of State for Defence (Ben Wallace), The Secretary of State for Levelling Up (Michael Gove), The Justice Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister (Dominic Raab) and the Health Secretary (Sajid Javid) as well as possibly, in spite of his recent difficulties, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak. The Education Secretary Naduim Zahawi who delivered the world-beating vaccination programme for which the Prime Minister seeks credit could well be a candidate as might other cabinet Ministers and Ministers of State such as Penny Mordaunt who served briefly but excellently as  Secretary of State for Defence and is currently a Trade Minister. Tom Tugendhat, the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, could  also throw his hat into the ring.

 

Far from there  being `no alternative` to Mr. Johnson as Prime Minister as some suggest the Conservative Parliamentary  Party is spoiled for choice but to take all of those eyes off the ball at such a crucial time internationally and domestically would not be desirable. I have been accused of doing a U-turn and of resiling from my view that Johnson must go. Nothing could be further from the truth but I would personally prefer to wait until the situation in Ukraine is at least stabilised . At present our absolute priority ought to be to support the coalition with Europe and the United States, give every possible support to the people of Ukraine and defeat the evil that is President Putin.. We might then allow ourselves the luxury of  picking a new candidate to lead us into the next General Election.

 

That delay may not, however, be an option.

 

The political tide is flowing against the man who won the majority in the 2019 General Election. Notwithstanding the fact that he enacted a sort of Brexit-lite, that he claims to have delivered the Covid vaccine roll-out and that he has most certainly stood staunchly behind Ukraine`s President Zelensky the light at the end of the tunnel is not one but a number of trains coming the other way.  The Met Police has put action over `Partygate` on hold until after the local government elections  but more will follow and some of that ordure may stick on the Prime Minister.  The `Fifty Shades of Sue Gray`report is said to be damning in its conclusions and that is another grenade waiting to explode once the Met have finished their work.  The local government elections are not nationwide but the results during the first week in May could cast a long shadow over Johnson`s  reputation as a vote winner.  Boundary changes have not helped the Conservative Party in London`s flagship `low council tax` Borough of Wandsworth but if we were to lose Barnet and Westminster as well as a swathe of seats in the Midlands and the North then the Red Wall MPs might well feel inclined to say “Come in Number Ten, your time is up”. It is conceivable that we might also take a hammering in by-elections triggered by resignations resulting from the misdemeanours of two back bench Conservatives. (One of these is a highly vulnerable Red Wall seat and the other the theoretically super-safe Tiverton and Honiton in the  West Country – but remember the way that Chesham and Amersham fell to the Liberal Democrats).  And then there is the small matter of a cost-of-living crisis that is spiralling out of control.

 

It seems likely that there will be a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister triggered before the summer parliamentary recess,.  Were that to succeed then the Deputy Prine Minister could step up to the plate (he stood in effectively during the Prime Minister`s critical spell in hospital at the start of the pandemic) and lead a `War Cabinet` while a campaign and elections take place during the summer months when The House is not sitting. Such a scenario is, though, by no means a foregone conclusion. It would be wrong to suggest that the Prime Minister`s support within the Parliamentary party  has completely melted away and there might be enough residual backing to allow him to scrape home in a no-confidence vote of Tory MPs with a small majority. Under those circumstances most Prime Ministers  with diminished credibility would do the honourable thing and stand aside.  Margaret Thatcher did it and so did Theresa May.  Johnson`s premiership is, however, about Johnson and I suspect that his hand is super-glued to the doorhandle of Number Ten Downing Street. It is by no means impossible that he might take his chance, call a snap election in the Autumn of this year before the full effects of the cost of living crisis have really begun to bite as next winter`s fuel bills start to arrive and, having sacrificed a number of colleagues on the electoral altar, still be in a position to form a government.

 

I have not said much about the Opposition at this stage because there really is not much to say.  Keir Starmer, Labour`s current Leader, is I believe a decent man but he has all the charisma of a speak-your-weight machine and he has put together a shadow cabinet that is hardworking but incredibly dull. An effective Opposition is required not simply to criticise the Government of the day but to offer viable alternatives .In response to the financial tsunami  that is about to crash upon the shores of most families in the land answer came there none. Repeating the call for a one-off `windfall tax` upon the excess profits of big oil companies might have a short-term `Robin Hood` effect but it is not going to offer the solution that a country facing the effects of global conditions requires to see its people through and out into the sunlit uplands of future prosperity.  Ms Angela Rayner`s crossed and uncrossed `Basic Instincts` legs, that are alleged to have distracted Mr. Johnson and are the subject of much synthetic outrage and accusations of misogyny, may have provided a frisson of lewd excitement in the Westminster Village and the Press Gallery but I cannot see that they are likely to deliver electoral success on the doorsteps of Merseyside or Newcastle upon Tyne. It is possible, therefore, that even a discredited Mayor Boris could go to the Country in October and emerge as Prime Minister for a second elected term.

 

A baser `Basic Instinct` is that demonstrated during the Brexit referendum.  I would argue very strongly that the result was determined not in the interests of our future economy or of our security but by the desire to control immigration and a Ukipish “There are too many bloody foreigners living here” attitude on the part of a significant section  of the electorate. “Getting back control of our own borders” played  a considerable role in the “Get Brexit Done” success of Johnson`s 2019 election campaign and contributed significantly to his success in the Red Wall seats. Failure to control cross-channel rubber dinghy traffic, which has seen a dramatic rise in he level of identified illegal immigration and some deaths at sea, is therefore seen as yet another failing on the part of the Home Secretary.  Priti `Flamingo` Patels`s announcement  announcement that all `rubber dinghy people` and those still smuggled into Britain in lorries  will be arrested and shipped off to the Central African Republic of Rwanda for “processing” has won acclaim from many on the Tory parliamentary. benches and, no doubt, in their constituencies. Following the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act all illegal migrants will automatically be deemed to have committed an offence and treated and `deported` accordingly.  That the timing of this announcement, some might unkindly say designed to distract headlines from the Prime Minister`s `Partygate` fine and to boost Tory support in the local government elections, was suspect is almost immaterial. While the Opposition and some Tory members, myself and former Prime Minister Theresa May amongst them,  believe that this measure is unethical, un-Conservative and very probably wide open to challenge and possibly illegal, matters not. Populism and dog-whistle politics are the order of the day.

 

That said, people-trafficking is a revolting crime in itself. Those who shovel men, women and children into overcrowded and wholly unsuitable craft and then send them out to cross the busiest sealane in the world and sometimes to their deaths deserve every legal sanction, up to and including the life imprisonment for which the Nationality and Borders Act also makes provision, that can be thrown at them. The problem is that British and French policy has no viable plan to tackle the criminals that engage in the task of milking desperate economic migrants and refugees of their remaining funds. The relationship between France and Britain, or to be more exact between the newly re-elected President Macron and Mr Johnson, is at an all time low and is likely to remain so for as long as Johnson is in Number Ten. Co-operation over the channel-migrant issue is not, therefore, very high up the agenda for the man in the Elysee Palace.

 

We are a small island and if we are to  offer succour to those fleeing from war, pestilence and death as we have honourably done for generations then we cannot just take all-comers from all countries.  In the 1970`s we accomodated thousands of refugees – Ms. Patel`s parents were, I understand, among them – from Idi Amin`s Uganda. Subsequently under David Cameron as Prime Minister we established a workable system to take a modest quota of refugees, identified by the UNHCR,  from the war in Syria and we are currently opening our doors to British Overseas Passport holders from Hong Kong. Most recently, of course, we have offered asylum to `an unlimited number` of people displaced by Putin`s invasion of Ukraine and if the Home Office can ever get its act together then there are thousands of families still queuing up to offer those people homes.  If, though, we are to continue to do this then we do have to get a handle on the illegal cross-channel traffic

 

The weakness in the argument of those of us who are philosophically opposed to Ms Patel`s proposal is that we have yet to identify a viable alternative to tackle what is a very real human problem.  As long as Schengen offers open borders for those within most of mainland Europe  there can be no control. If you can reach the island of Martinique, for example, then as one of the Dominions Outre Mers you are in Metropolitan France and free to travel throughout Europe. There is no impediment to those reaching the shores of Greece or Italy, say, from then proceeding to head  straight into the arms of the people traffickers operating in Nord Pas de Calais. To solve the problem that has to change.

 

It is not a panacea but surely one tool in the box that we have yet to deploy is the introduction of a United Kingdom identity card issued to every person lawfully entitled to  to permanent residence in the UK  At present we simply do not know who is permitted to be living in the United Kingdom and who is not.  This proppsal was considered by the Home Affairs select committee upon which I served some thirty years ago. Our report suggested then  that the ID card should be introduced on a voluntary basis as a facilitating document in the expectation that,  like the bank cards to which there was initial resistance,  they would swiftly become accepted as a useful necessity.. Sadly, that policy waa not adopted.

 

I know that there are those on the libertarian right – my friend `The Old Knuckleduster` David Davis  is one such - who are vehemently opposed to what they see as a a further erosion of our personal liberties. But the `Big Brother is Watching You` aspect of this argument has been overtaken by technology. 1984 has been and gone, social media, the internet and all that goes with them are part of  our everyday lives and Mr. Google and Alexa between them probably know more about you and me than we know ourselves. A “must produce” rather than a “must carry” document , on the same basis as a driving licence, could and should be able to carry our machine-readable health records, our bank details if we choose and any other records to which we might want ready electronic access. Countries that use ID cards have found that having an official `key` required to access social and other benefits, healthcare, education even and the like reduces the capacity for fraud and makes the environment for those seeking to shelter outside society or to work in the black economy much less attractive and, as a consequence, does help to reduce illegal migration.

 

Since Ms Patel`s announcement the cross-channel traffic has certainly diminished but that has been largely due to bad weather and the signs are that the `trade` is starting to pick up again.  It is not known point how many illegal migrants will, if women and children are excluded and if families are not to be broken up,  ever actually be deported to Rwanda.  That country itself, once a byword for civil war and genocide, is now a progressive state but accommodation for those about to be received and `processed` is pathetically limited and it surely cannot be right, can it, for Britain to dump its asylum problems on a third party like so much waste of the kind that used to be sent to third-world countries for disposal?  We need the answer, certainly but we need the right answer and I do not believe that the Rwanda `solution` will ,or deserves to, fly.

 

Ballswatch

 

Lincoln City Football club, with its strong links to the RAF, has dropped the playing of The Dambusters` March and air raid sirens from its pre-match warm-up festivities for the duration of Putin`s criminal war in Ukraine.  Pity. Our good friends in Kyiv might feel that at times like this a bouncing bomb or two are probably the only things that might pierce the impenetrable walls of “The Poisoner`s” bunker.

 

French restaurants providing heaters for al fresco diners now face a fine of three thousand euros upon conviction in an attempt to limit CO2 emissions. There is, however, a derogation if used `in a courtyard` rather than on the street. It is, of course, a well-known fact that heaters in courtyards do not emit CO2.

 

Saunton Sands, in Devon, has poached the crown  as the world`s finest  cold water surfing beach from neighbouring Cornwall which has hitherto described itself as “The home of British Surfing”. As one who has known and loved the North Devon and North Cornish coastlines well since boyhood  but has never progressed beyond a body board I can only say that Baywatch territory this is not!

 

A lack of electric vehicle charging points has led to a spate of callouts made to the Automobile Association (The AA) as drivers searching frantically for a place to plug in have run out of juice particularly in rural areas. Response to the needs of EV owners will no doubt arrive just in time to be made obsolete by the mass introduction of hydrogen-powered vehicles as the transport of choice.

 

The Salford Broadcasting Corporation is `slimming down` its expenditure on the bureaucracy of diversity. `Auntie`s retiring  £ 267,000 pa `Director of Creative Diversity` who has presided over a £100 million fund for the generation of `inclusive content` will be replaced by a new role that falls below the £150,000 pa `declaration threshold`. The new appointee will combine two posts but will still trouser more than the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.

 

And the Bank of England has spent only a modest fifty-thousand pounds on re-badging to become `more inclusive and accessible`.  This, it seems, has involved dumping Britannia from the logo and replacing her with the Union Flag and the mandatory pile of coins which most people do not, of course, have access to.

 

Anyone wandering `lonely as a cloud` in Cornwall might be hard pressed to find `a host of golden daffodils`. St. Austell district has just culled a thousand of the narcissi blooms because “children might eat them”.

 

When Mr. Mogg has finished dishing out “wish tou were here” notices to empty desks in Whitehall he might wish to turn his attention to local authorities. It is said that there are some 2,921 Town Hall Chiefs all drawing salaries in excess of six figures and still `working` from home

 

Stirling University has dispensed with the works of Jane Austen in an endeavour to `de-colonise` its curriculum.

 

Wading into the `conversion therapy` debate with hobnail boots the Prime Minister has said  that there must be “women only” spaces in Hospitals, Prisons, and changing rooms. And  biological males should not be allowed to compete in women`s sports. The splendid 1980s Olympic silver medallist Sharron Davies (swimming) agrees.

 

A local authority not far removed from the dreaming spires of Oxford has planned an` eco-friendly` plant-based  banquet. Pomegranates, kiwi fruit and mangoes will be on the menu. Just think of all those `eco-friendly` air-miles they will be clocking up!

 

Aintree`s annual Grand National steeplechase normally attracts thousands of in-house office sweepstakes. The Gambling Commission  this year ruled that these would  be illegal if the participants were working from home and registering their interest on line. That must have generated a flutter or two from those flying the empty desks in Whitehall from the comfort of their sofas.

 

South Somerset “We are committed to protecting our environment” Council has apologised for the fact that a council operative was found to be mowing the artificial grass on a roundabout. The hapless chap with the lawnmower will be provided with “additional training”.

 

Following pressure from woke campaigners seeking to de-colonise road names measures are to be introduced to submit such proposals to referenda to prevent the erasure of `centuries of local heritage`.

 

Surrey, the largest cricketing County with 355 teams fielded by 40 clubs , is facing the prospect, with others, of having to abandon the mid-game tea-break traditionally catered for by wives and partners. In the absence of England Cricket Board guidance the clubs are confronted with the prospect of being sued and facing financial liability for allegations of allergic reaction to the splendid fare hitherto provided over summer decades.

 

National Police Chief Council guidelines indicate that women prisoners can be strip-searched by `men born male if transitioned`. Decisions will be `taken on a case-by-case basis`.

 

In shades of “The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower Twice” thieves in Amiyawar, India have stolen a sixty-foot bridge. The span, weighing some 500 tons, was first erected over a canal in the 1970s and subsequently fell into dis-use. The enterprising scrap-metal felons posed as `officials` and dismantled the structure in broad daylight over several days.

 

Valete

 

Patrick Demarchelier (78) was the French fashion photographer who engaged in shoots for Vogue, Harpers Bazaar and Vanity Fair but hit the headlines when he became the first non-British photographer to , in 1989, be appointed by a member of the Royal family , Princess Diana, as her personal photographer.. One of Demarchelier`s photographs of Diana appeared on the font cover of Vogue in 1991 and Harper`s Bazaar featured another of Demarchelier`s shots of the Princess shortly before her now notortious Panorama interview appeared on television. He was made an Officier Dans L`Ordre des Arts in 2007

 

Viscount Falmouth (102) was the owner of the Tregothan eastate in Cornwall and a former Lord Lieutenant of that county as well as owning part of the Mereworth estate in Kent. His success as a landowner and manager was reconnised, shortly before he retired, by the award of the Royal Agricutural Society for England`s Bledisloe Gold Medal. George Bocawen saw active service during the Second World War in Italy and was one of a team of Coldstream guardsmen responsible for protecting Churchill. He inherited the family title upon the death of his elder brother who was killed in action in 1940.

 

Maggie Fox (58) was the Yorkshire-born actress who appeared as Ruth Audsley in Coronation Street and was one half of the comedy duo LipService with her performing partner Sue Ryding. They won the Edinburgh Festival Critics Award for their Bronte`s spoof ”Withering Looks” .and went on to send up Sherlock Holmes in “Move over Moriarty” , “Very Little Women” and “King Arthur and the Knights of the Occasional Table”.They won the Manchester Theatre Stage Door Award for Excellence in 2013.

 

Flight Lieutenant Douglas Coxell (100) dropped Pathfinder Parachutists on D-Day, towed a glider from Manston airfield in Kent to Arnhem during Operation Market Garden , dropped supplies to the Norwegian and French resistance forces from Halifax bombers and participated in Operation Varsity towing gliders to the crossing of the River Rhine in March 1944.  On the day after VE Day in 1945 he landed at Gardermoen  to engage  in the taking of the surrender of the German forces in Norway. He saw post-war service with the Royal Malayan Air Force and became a VIP pilot flying Royal families before retiring to become the chief training captain of the Alderney-based (Channel Islands) Aurigney Air Services. He was appointed to the Legion d`Honneur in 2019 and was awarded the Norwegian Medal of Honour in 2021.

 

June Brown (95) was the actress who achieved fame as Dot Cotton in the BBC Series ”East Enders” after more than thirty years in `conventional` post-war theatre and television.   Prior to “East Enders” she appeared in “Dixon of Dock Green”, “The Sweeney”,” Minder”, “Doctor Who” and “Coronation Street”. As a  stage actress she worked in repertory in Nottingham and Birmingham.  She also played in London`s Royal Court Theatre and at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. She played Portia in “The Merchant of Venice”and a number of other plays at The Young Vic. . She won a BAFTA nomination for a single-handed” East Enders” performance in 2008 with  a monologue dictated onto a cassette recorder. June Brown announced that she was leaving “East Enders” after her 93rd Birthday in February 2020. She received her MBE in the sane year as her BAFTA nomination and an OBE in January 2022.

 

William Powell (73) served as the Conservative Member of Parliament for Corby between 1983 and 1997. After the resignation of Margaret Thatcher in 1990  he served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Environment Secretary, Michael Heseltine, who had mounted the challenge to her leadership. Powell was responsible for taking the 1985 Copyright (Computer Software) Amendment Private Members Bill ,which as an Act of Parliament extended copyright protection to computer programmes  through the Commons. During his time in parliament he saw unemployment in the former steelmaking town of Corby, a traditionally Labour seat, drop from 7000 to 1000 but fell victim to Blair`s landslide in 1997.

 

Baroness (`Dame Jill`) Knight of Collingtree (98) was the Conservative Member of Parliament for Birmingham Edgbastion for thirty-one years from1966 until 1997,  the year of her retirement from the House of Commons,  before then entering the House of Lords as a life peer.  She spent the war in the WAAF and subsequently worked for the British Forces Netwok and appeared in the early post-war days of television. As a right-wing pro-death penalty  backbencher she backed Margaret Thatcher for the Leadership of the Conservative Party and in 1987 was elected as the first woman vice-chairman of the  Back Bench 1922 Committee.  She served on the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe and the Western European Union and from 1991 she Chaired the Inter-parliamentary Union. Before her elevation to the peerage she was made an MBE in 1964 and a DBE in 1985

 

Mimi Reinhardt (107) was the Jewish Secretary to Oskar Schindler who drew up the `Schindler`s List` of Jews to be saved from the holocaust.

 

Con Cluskey (86) was the co-founder of the Irish folk trio “The Bachelors” who topped the UK pop charts in 1964 with “Diane” and “I belleeve”.  In the course of their career they released seventy albums and sold more than twenty million records. Starting as The Harmonichords, an instrumental act,  in 1957  they recorded “Danny Boy” with vocals for the Ed Sullivan show in 1959 but it was as The Bachelors that they made their names.

 

Sir Gordon Downey (93) was the senior Treasury Civil Servant who became the first Parliamentary Standards Commissioner following the recommendation of The Nolan Report . His determination that the former Conservative Member of Parliament Neil Hamilton had received payments for lobbying on behalf of Mohammed Fayed while a sitting member was a benchmark ruling .

 

Sir Ray Tindle (95) was the proprietor of over one hundred and fifty local newspaper titles whose philosophy was to cover the stories that mattered most to local people in their own communities. In 1978 he stepped in to rescue the Tenby Observer from receivership and restored its circulation and fortunes by applying his parochial formula, In 1986 he acquired the West of England Newspapers Group but the advent of social media saw the last of his newspapers, in North London, close in 2017 following the demise  of his South London titles. Ray Tindle served as President of the Newspaper Society  and was a Deputy Lieutenant of Surrey. He received his OBE in 1973, his CBE in 1987 and his knighthood in 1994.

 

Lady (Helen) Oppenheimer (95) was the theologian who at the age of thirty-seven was appointed by the then Archbishop of Canterbury , Michael Ramsey, to serve on a working group on marriage and divorce. The group`s recommendations led, eventually, to the introduction of legislation providing for no-fault divorce.

 

Mwai Kibaki (90) was the Kenyan politician  who served in the governments of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi under whom he became Vice-President. He defeated Uhuru Kenyatta, Jomo`s son, in 2002 to become President and remained in office until 2013. His administration failed to live up to its earlier promises although Kibaki himself became one of Kenya`s richest men.

 

David Banks (74) was the newspaper production editor who, with Kelvin MacKenzie as Editor-in-Chief, saw The Sun newspaper through Rupert Murdoch`s move from Fleet Street to `Fortress Wapping`in 1986 and through Murdoch`s consequent battles with the print unions. !n 1992 he moved to edit The Sun`s socialist rival The Daily Mirror and then, in 1998 co-hosted Talk Radio`s breakfast show with Nick Ferrari.

 

And Elizabeth Harris Aitken (85) was the actress who, having attended the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) with Albert Finney, Peter O`Toole and Alan Bates married the actors Richard Harris, and Rex Harrison as well as Peter Aitken before then and finally marrying the marrying the former Tory Minister and now prison chaplain , Jonathan Aitken, who was Peter`s cousin. Elizabeth and Jonathan were wed in St. Margaret`s church Westminster, just across the road from the Houses of Parliament and where Jonathan, as a  Member of the House of Commons living in Lord North Street, had been a church warden before himself taking Holy Orders.

 

And Finally…..

 

Sir Jonathan Van Tam who rose to national fame as a result of his forthright public statements during the worst of the Covid 19 pandemic has given his last Downing Street Press Conference before bowing out as the UK`s Deputy Health Chief..

 

Laura Kuenssberg has stood down after seven years as the BBC`s Political Editor.

 

Sam Waley-Cohen, the amateur jockey, has won the Grand National on Noble Yeats at  his tenth attempt  and the final ride  of his career . The professional Cambridgeshire dentist is the only amateur to have won the National and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

 

And with the Elections Act now on the statute book Harry Shindler,  who celebrates his 101st birthday this summer and is the oldest living member of the Labour Party,  will, with many other ex-pats who have been disenfranchised  for far too long, be able to cast his vote at the next General Election.  Huge thanks to all of those who have fought so hard to get `Votes for Life` enshrined in law.