Gale's View from Westminster
In a month dominated by events in Afghanistan and the recall of Parliament to debate those issues it`s hard to remember that August was also the month of the “Covid Olympics” and Paralympics in Tokyo, the month in which Iran launched an air strike on an unarmed civilian oil tanker, and the month in which Ms Virginia Guiffre launched in New York, a lawsuit against Prince Andrew. The Chancellor Rishi Sunak has to honour an election pledge or to break the `triple lock` on the uprating of pensions. `Boy David` Cameron faces further accusations about his relationship with and financial benefits from the failed financier Lex Greensill. The plagues continue with wildfires raging close to Athens in Greece, `biblical scale` floods in Germany and Hurricane Ida devastating Louisiana in the United States. Six people die in a mass shooting in the West Country city of Plymouth. The Covid plague itself still looms large with thousands of young people still declining vaccination while mixing in super-spreading sports and music events. The behind-the-scenes parliamentary row over the Government`s proposed Planning Bill remains toxic throughout the summer. While `traffic light` travel restrictions continue to cripple the recovery of our airlines and both outbound and inbound tourist industries. Will the High Speed 2 Rail project go ahead as planned? Or be pared back? Or scrapped altogether? How will the UK meet the shortage of qualified Heavy Goods Vehicle (HGV) drivers that threatens to cripple industry and business? How will we meet post-Brexit labour shortages and recruit the fruit-pickers and the farm workers that are needed in the immediate future? Will a long-promised Trade deal with New Zealand finally be signed and sealed? Will our fishing quotas ever be repatriated or is that yet another mythical `Brexit benefit? When will the long-awaited Government re-shuffle finally take place? More questions than answers. But most of all, what the hell happened in Afghanistan?
Ronald Reagan, as President of the United States of America, said that “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It has to be fought for”. There is one generation in Afghanistan that has experienced something approximating freedom. Now, twenty years after the American response to the attack on New York`s Twin Towers and the expenditure of vast amounts of `blood and treasure` the flame of that freedom in Afghanistan is perilously close to extinction. Why?
It is fashionable to blame President Joe Biden for this geopolitical and military humiliation. Prime Minister Johnson is said to have been “furious” and “let down” by the “US betrayal”. But it was President Tump who entered the disastrous Dohar Agreement with the Taliban in 2020 and undertook to withdraw American troops from Afghanistan by May of this year. What questions were asked of Trump and of the United States by Johnson on behalf of the British Government at that time? Answer came there none.
President Biden ultimately probably made a bad situation worse, but he did secure an extension to the deadline until August 31st in order to permit `an orderly withdrawal`. From the time that the ink was dry on the Dohar document all that the Taliban had to do was to bide their time, wait to regain control and return the country to its status as a base for international terrorism. It was shameful, certainly, of President Biden to say that he could not “provide the Afghan army with the will to fight”. That army had lost seventy thousand men in the course of the conflict and with the withdrawal of American air cover the outcome was predictable and predicted. Hindsight is a wonderful thing and the speed of the collapse of the Afghan Government was not anticipated. At the start of the withdrawal it was expected that it would take at least until Christmas for the Taliban to seize control and by that time all of the UK, US and others who had given support to the coalition and were at risk would have been removed from the danger of reprisal.
In the event the Taliban were in Kabul just a fortnight after taking their first major city and the `orderly withdrawal` became an unseemly rout and a scramble for the exit doors. Biden rushed back from the Presidential retreat at Camp David, Johnson returned from his own holiday and Foreign Secretary Raab returned from his vacation in Crete all to try to salvage such personal credibility and dignity as was achievable between the fifteenth of the month and the thirty-first.
Parliament was recalled and those who were able to do so returned to participate in or listen to the debate. Theresa May (Maidenhead), the Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat (Tonbridge and Malling), the former soldiers Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth) and Johnny Mercer (Devon) all made powerful speeches and said most of what needed to be said for the rest of us. Tom Tugendhat had earlier suggested that “The West is choosing to lose” and in essence he was right: Defence Secretary Ben Wallace, another former soldier , had mounted a rear-guard action to try to put together a NATO coalition to hold the line but aside from the Turks there was little appetite for further military action and his valiant efforts failed.
From our meetings with Foreign Secretary Raab and Defence Secretary Wallace it became clear that this was now an exercise in damage control with the objective of removing as many of our own and others who have served us out of harm`s way as fast as possible within the time and with the airlift capacity available. Ben Wallace, who comes out of this some much credit, made it clear that we would not be able to extract all of those who wished to leave. British and American troops on the ground made a brave and Herculean effort to manage the largest evacuation since Dunkirk and while others were leaving the British Ambassador, Sir Laurie Bristow, and his team worked on at Kabul Airport to try to process those flying out, including some young Afghans on Chevening (Foreign Office) Scholarships as the Taliban Roadblocks went up and the shutters came down and access to the militarily controlled side of the airfield became impossible.
Throughout this time many Members of Parliament – and I am just one such – worked to try to assist the relatives of our constituents abandoned to their own devices in Afghanistan. These include people who have worked with the armed forces, the BBC and other media outlets, members or supporters of the defunct Afghan government and of course many women and young girls terrified of what might now befall them. As hopes of reaching an evacuation flight faded the advice had to be “get over a border into a third country, claim asylum and we will try to help you to reach your family in the UK from there”. Knowing the inherent risks of such travel I have never felt so impotent in thirty-eight years in the House of Commons.
I have not commented upon the figures for cross-channel migrants prior to the collapse of the regime in Afghanistan and may not do so because as one of the two designated to chair the Borders and Nationality Bill through its Committee stages, commencing when Parliament sits again , I am required to remain strictly impartial.
Forgive the brevity of this missive (although some may heave a sigh of relief!) it has been a grim month and we are devoting our energies and time to trying to assist those who are in great peril.
To end on a brighter note the haul of 65 medals for the UK in the second most successful Olympics in the history of the games was impressive and at the time of writing our Paralympians are excelling in their many and varied disciplines. At least in sport Britain may still claim to be truly `global.
There were 173 applications for appointment to a vacant place on the Committee on Standards in Public Life. The appointment panel considered as `suitable for appointment` and approved a former member of the Bullingdon Club. Of which the Prime Minister was, of course, once also a prominent member.
Ms Allegra Stratton, former Number Ten Press Secretary now working on the COP 26 gathering in Glasgow later in the year has opined that the lack of Electric Vehicle infrastructure is deterring people from buying ERV cars. A motor that runs out of juice after between 200 and 250 miles with no charging point in sight is not much use to any but urban travellers is it? Fact: there is at present no statutory requirement for all of Builder Boris`s new homes with off-street parking to be fitted with EV points.
The start of the Grouse shooting season on the `Glorious Twelfth` help, we are told, to `reduce loneliness` and has `ecological, social and economic impacts upon tourism and employment`. The grouse presumably look forward to 11th August as much as turkeys look forward to 25th December.
And talking of Christmas there may be no turkeys on the festive dining table this year. A Brexit-generated shortage of HGV drivers and a lack of EU workers has led to one in six jobs in the industry being left unfilled says the British Poultry Council.
`Secular, pluralist and atheist views are as important as a religious person`s beliefs` and `amounted to a religious belief` in themselves finds M`learned friend in the wig during the course of hearing an employment tribunal.
An up-market hostelry in Marlow in Buckinghamshire is reported to be purveying a ten-ounce steak garnished with fourteen chips and two onion rings for £87.00. Mine Host, one Thomas Kerridge, is quoted as saying that if you don`t like it you `can go to an all-you-can-eat buffet instead`. Many will no doubt heed his advice.
Drones are to be deployed to flush out and repair potholes and cracks in the roads in an endeavour to `Fix Bumpy Britain`.
A sleuth at City hall has revealed that Mayor Khan, the scourge of the private car in London, participated in a three-vehicle convoy across the city in order to take his dog for a walk. (Electric Vehicles, one trusts). Will Rishi Sunak be joining Khan for walkies with the Chancellor`s newly acquired red Labrador, Nova? I rather doubt it.
And the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Michael Gove, was spotted grooving with gay abandon in a nightclub in his native Aberdeen while on holiday. The Gover was described as “merry”. Which could be a euphemism for all manner of grisly conditions!
Piers Plowright (83) was a man of radio through and through. As a BBC Producer and broadcaster, he adhered to his medium while others were seduced by the `glamour` of the small screen. Having begun his career in The BBC World Service at Bush House in London`s Aldwych he went on attachment to the BBC`s Radio Drama Department to produce the soap opera “Waggoners Walk”- Plowright moved into documentary making and will be remembered for `A Fine Blue Dat` (1978) with Douglas Bader and other veterans of the Battle of Britain telling their own stories in their own words. When he retired from the BBC staff in 1997 he became a freelance presenter and was made a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1998.
Terry Cooper (77) was the 1960`s left back who played soccer for England and for Don Revie`s Leeds United when the team. Won the Fairs Cup in 1968. Alf Ramsay picked Cooper to replace Ray Wilson for the World Cup in Mexico in 1970 and the following year he helped Leeds to win the Fairs Cup for the second time.
Desmond Davis (95) was the army war photographer who became a film maker. His credits include “The Girl with Green Eyes” (1964) starring Rita Tushingham, “Clash of the Titans” (1981Starring Sir Laurence Olivier and Dame Maggie Smith, Shakespeare`s “Measure for Measure”, a film made for the BBC and “Ordeal by innocence” (1985) starring Donald Sutherland.
Eric Carter (101) was the last surviving Hurricane pilot from 81 Squadron who operated with the Russians to defend the port of Murmansk. He was presented with the Arctic Star by David Cameron as Prime Minister at Number 10 Downing Street in 2013 and during the following year received the Russian Ushakov medal.
Ian Thompson (92) was Britain`s oldest living test cricketer. The Sussex County medium-fast bowler who in each of twelve seasons between 1953 and 1964 took more than 100 wickets. He was an early one-day cricketer who contributed to the Sussex win over Warwickshire in the final of the Gillette Cup at Lord`s in 1964. At 35 he was selected to play in the 1964/65 tour of South Africa and following his retirement became a vice president of Sussex County Cricket Club.
Danish Siddiqui (38) was killed in a firefight between Afghan Special Forces and the Taliban. The Pulitzer Prize winning war photographer was employed by the Reuters news agency to cover military activity on the Afghan/Pakistani border. He covered the Rohingya refugee crisis and the Nepal earthquake disaster in 2018 and more recently documented the Covid 19 pandemic in India.
Joyce Shrubbs (94) was the only female to rise to the rank of Observer Captain and Assistant Commandant in the Royal Observer Corps. She was awarded a second clasp to her ROC medal and in 1975 was appointed an MBE.
Sir Colin Southgate (83) was the Chief Executive of Thorn EMI who bought the rights to many of the Beatles hits. Having separated the EMI from Thorn Electrical he established the record company as one of the Country`s most powerful record labels promoting Blur, the Spice Girls and Tina Turner .Appointed as Chairman of the Royal Opera House to oversee its reconstruction he recruited Tony Hall (subsequently DG of the BBC and now Lord Hall) as Chief Executive and Monica Mason to run the Royal Ballet Company, He was knighted in 1992.
Len Gibson (101) was serving as a bombardier with the 125 Anti-Tank Regiment RA when he was captured in Singapore by the Japanese. He was marched to Changi Prison and then to River Valley Camp where he was forced to work on the Burma-Siam `Death Railway`. Incredibly he survived moves to Bang Pong, NakhonPhanom and Khiri Khan. He was liberated in August 1945, a fortnight after the Japanese surrender, and shipped back to the UK. A founder member of the Changi Club, he was awarded the BEM in 2005.
Eric Lindsay (91) was the actor, magician and illusionist who worked with Bela Lugosi in the stage version of the Hollywood star`s “Dracula”.1n 1956 he appeared in the Adventures of the Scarlet Pimpernel with the great Marius Goring as the hero. With his partner, Ray Jackson, he opened the Casino de Paris, a private member` strip club in Piccadilly circus where he also performed as a magician and illusionist.
Colonel Dave Severance (102), as a Captain in the Easy Company of the 28th US Marines, was responsible for the planting of the first “Stars and Stripes on the summit of Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima in February 1945. The flag raised by 1st Lt Harold Schrier was subsequently replaced with a larger one and was photographed by AP cameraman Jim Rosenthal. The Pulitzer Prize winning picture is said to have been the inspiration for the Marines Memorial in the Arlington Was Cemetery. Jim Severance was awarded the Silver Star and subsequently, following service as a pilot in the Korean War was awarded the DFC.
Una Stubbs (84) starred as Rita in the BBC TV series Till Death Us Do Part (1966-1975) Her first leading film role was in “Summer Holiday” with Cliff Richard followed in 1963c by “Wonderful Life”. She returned to television as Aunt Sally in “Worzel Gummidge” starring Jon Pertwee before becoming the Captain of the women`s team on ITV`s “Give us a clue” (1975-1987). From 1969 to 1975 she was married to the actor Nicky Henson.
Jane Withers (95) was one of Hollywood`s greatest box-office child stars of the 1930s making some forty films between 1932 and 1943. Already an accomplished radio performer with her own show, she made her screen debut in “Handle with Care” in 1932 before co-starring n “Bright Eyes” (1934) with Shirley Temple. She retired in 1947 but following the failure of her marriage to an oil millionaire she made a comeback in 1956 with James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor. in “Giant”.
Sergei Kovalev the Russian dissident and Nobel Peace prize winner, survived the Gulags to live until he was ninety-one. Reared under Stalinism Kovalev graduated in Biology from Moscow State University in 1952 and was first interrogated by the KGB for his uncompromising views of genetics in 1956. He was, in 1968, one of the founders of the Action Group for the Defence of Human Rights in the USSR and met with Andrei Sakharov in 1969.In 1974 he registered the Moscow Branch of Amnesty international and was arrested by the KGB for Anti-Soviet propaganda. His trial, a year later, led to a sentence of seven-year sentence in the gulag followed by internal exile which, on his release, prevented him from returning to Moscow until 1987 following perestroika under Mikhail Gorbachev. He was elected to the Russian Parliament in 1990 and became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet`s Human Rights Committee. As a member of the Duma he denounced Boris Yeltsin`s Government following a visit, as Chairman of the Human Rights Commission, to Chechnya. He was dismissed as Commissioner in 1995. With Putin`s accession to power in 2000 Kovalev warned of the return of authoritarianism.
Peter Corby (97) was the inventor of the electric trouser press. The essential (for some: I own two!) piece of domestic equipment was first invented by his Father, John Corby, in Windsor in 1930 and patented, complete with added electrically heated pad, in the 1960s by Peter. Much derided as a `three-star hotel` fixture the presses have sold in 60 countries around the globe.
Marshall of the Royal Air Force Sir Peter Harding (87) served as the RAF`s Chief of Air Staff and was appointed as Chief of Defence Staff in 1992. In his early days with the RAF he was a Canberra bomber pilot and was appointed as an instructor at RAF Cranwell training students to fly the Meteor. As a Group Captain he three squadrons of Phantom fighters at RAF Bruggen in Germany.and was subsequently posted to SHAPE (Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe) in Mons as Assistant Chief of Staff. His illustrious career ended in a `sting` arranged by the appalling Max Clifford and the now-defunct News of the World. Ms Bienvenida `Lady ` Buck, the wife of the Tory MP Sir Anthony Buck, was photographed kissing Peter Harding following a lunch at the Dorchester hotel and Peter Harding immediately offered his resignation. Those who were privileged to work with him – and I was one such during my fleeting time at the MoD - regarded Peter as a fine and loyal officer. Happily, his marriage survived his indiscretion.
Don Everly (84) was one of the Everly Brothers 50s pop duo. With his brother Phil he was at the forefront of a music culture that embraced many of the stars of the 60`s and seventies including Buddy Holly. Simon and Garfunkel and The Beatles. Their first record “Keep a Lovin Me” on the Columbia label was a flop but on the little-known Cadence label they then released their first hit “Bye Bye Love” in 1957. This was followed by “Wake Up Little Susie”,” All I have to do is Dream” and “Claudette”. In 1958 they released “Bird Dog”. “Walk Right Back” was a hit for the brothers in the UK in 1960 but personal problems led to the demise of their career and the partnership ended with an on-stage row in California in 1973. The rift lasted for ten years before they were reunited at London`s Royal Albert Hall. They were admitted to the Rock `n Roll Hall of Fame in 1986 and received a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award in 1997. They were finally enrolled in the Country Music Hall of Fame in 2001.
Les Van Dyke (90) was the songwriter who under the pen-name Johnny Worth wrote the Number one hits records “What do you Want” (1959) and “Poor Me” (1960) for Adam Faith. “Someone Else`s Baby”, which reached Number 2, caused grief for BBC executives who misconstrued the lyrics!
Austin Mitchell (87) was the academic and broadcast journalist who served as the Member of Parliament for Great Grimsby from 1977-2015. He won the seat at the by-election following the death of Tony Crosland. Having taught in a University in New Zealand he returned to the UK and joined the Labour Party in 1961. He was the founding lecturer vin the Political Science Department at the University of Kent in 1963 and worked as the presenter of the Yorkshire Television `Calendar` programme from 1969 until his election to parliament in 1977. He was a supporter of the “Better Off Out” campaign and an opponent of the Common Fisheries Policy. He was made an Officer of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Birthday Honours list in 2001. Tony Blair, whose opinions I seldom share, described him correctly as a “warm-hearted and decent” man. Having shared a cabin with Austin on HMS Alacrity as the West Indies Guardship under the auspices of the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme I can vouch for that. The man who usually carried half a dozen cameras with him was also highly amusing.
Charlie Watts (80) was the Rolling Stones drummer who kept himself apart from the Rock `n Roll lifestyle preferring the company of his wife, Shirley, to the glamour and hedonism of the 60`s music `scene`. In spite of his dislike of `celebrity` the wannabee jazz musician played with the Stones for six decades from 1973. He was elected to the Modern Drummer Hall of Fame in 2006 and also reached the Vanity Fair `Best Dressed` Hall of Fame.
Ted Dexter (86) was the England and Sussex cricketer who as a batsman literally hit some of the world`s fastest bowlers for six. He Captained England in the 1961 tour of India and Pakistan and in the Australia, Test Matches in 1962. In 1964 he batted for eight hours to help save the fourth test against Australia at Old Trafford and in the Autumn of the same year he stood as a Conservative Parliamentary candidate in Jim Callaghan`s Cardiff South West seat. He Captained Sussex in the Gillette Cup one-day series in both 1963 and 1964. He retired from First Class Cricket in 1965 but returned to play for Sussex against Kent in 1968and then played for England against Australia again at Headingly. He became Chairman of the Test and County Cricket Board`s England Co and was President of the MCC in 2001-2002.mmittee and was awarded his CBE in 2001
Jarvis Astaire (97) was the impresario who blazed a trail by screening live coverage of boxing in cinemas. 1966 he persuaded Muhammad Ali to defend his heavyweight world title in the memorable fight against Henry Cooper at Highbury Stadium. Astaire subsequently became Ali`s tour Manager. He screened the Ali/Joe Frazier fight at Madison Square Garden `live` in Europe.
Ann Perry has retired at the age of 78. Britain`s oldest serving lollipop lady has been helping children to cross the road outside Kingsbury School at Tamworth in Staffordshire since she was twenty-six. In her fifty-two years of service it is estimated that she has piloted her young charges through more than a million crossings.
And the Prime Minister`s bride, Mrs Carrie Johnson, having experienced a miscarriage in the last New Year is expecting a `rainbow baby` at Christmas.