Gale's View from Westminster

August 2022

 

A ghost-ship  government. Ministers appointed in the wake of mass resignations, knowing that they may only be in post for a matter of weeks.  A looming cost-of-living crisis, fuel prices rising by the minute and inflation set to hit figures not seen for half a century. The ideal time for an outgoing Prime Minister to take a honeymoon followed by a second summer holiday. The removal vans discreetly visit Downing Street and Johnson bases his family at Chequers as his administration staggers to its end. No doubt Mr Johnson will have spent some time preparing his `lavender list` of resignation honours while also planning the next chapter of a re-written history of his administration.

The interim Chancellor of the Exchequer, Nadim Zahawi, announces his support for one of the two remaining Conservative Leadership candidates  almost within minutes of his appointment and then heads off on holiday himself while others make a valiant, but futile attempt to keep the wheels of Whitehall turning.

Members of Parliament spend much time trying to extricate would-be travellers` passports from a system that is clearly no longer fit for purpose, as constituents’  holidays are in some cases aborted after a twelve-week wait for the necessary documents . Decisions are few because everyone knows that changes are on the way.  

On the hustings it looks as though the race between Mr Sunak and The Trussette is over almost before it has started. Sunak may have  led the field in every Parliamentary Party vote  but out in the Country a hundred and fifty thousand  Daily Mail reading party members look set to choose Mrs Truss as our next Prime Minister. Having done a hatchet job on the candidacy of Penny Mordaunt as the candidate most likely to defeat all of the others, the Bourgeoise Women`s Tabloid,  or “The Daily Truss” as it must now be known,  cannot contain its excitement over the election of a Margaret Thatcher tribute act. If it ends in tears remember that “It was the Mail what done it”.

Britain is faced with record-breaking climate-change created temperatures and drought arising at least in part over a lack of reservoir infrastructure, and Builder Boris`s instigation of a housebuilding programme not backed up by any of the necessary supporting  infrastructure.  Hard-baked land and thunderstorm-generated downpours, have led to flash-floods that have overwhelmed Victorian sewage systems designed to carry both rain and foul water:  leadng to sewage discharges into our coastal bathing waters and our rivers.

Pakistan is devastated also, by floods that have  caused thousands of deaths and displaced communities  that in numbers represent the equivalent of about half the population of the United kingdom. International Aid is slow to arrive but to be fair, the logistics of the exercise are daunting.  In Ukraine, while brave troops are defending not only their own Country but the democratic values of the free world there are fears that ‘compassion fatigue’ coupled with domestic economic pressures caused by fuel shortages and high prices in particularly Germany, may weaken the West’s resolve to maintain sanctions and pressure on Putin’s  Neo-Soviet Union. Putin has calculated that by weaponising oil and gas supplies to Eastern Europe he can weaken the resolve to supply the Ukrainian forces with the military and domestic supplies that they need to win the war. He has to be proved wrong.

At home, the Ukrainian refugee crisis combined with the uncontrolled influx of cross-channel illegal migrants, is causing fresh problems. We are spending north of four million pounds a day on keeping asylum seekers that we do not allow to work in hotels twiddling their thumbs, at a time when - particularly on the land - there are desperate labour shortages as crops rot unharvested in the fields and on the trees. And while a generous public offered an initially welcoming open-house policy to those (mostly women an children) fleeing from the war-crimes being committed by Putin in Ukraine, it is becoming clear that the consequences of this largesse have not been fully though through.

Lord (Richard) Harrington is acutely aware, as are those of us  working on this issue, that host families opened their homes to displaced people for an anticipated six months. In many cases that time is now drawing to an end and with no sign of the conflict ending any time soon, there is a need for whole families who had hoped and expected to return home to their menfolk and their own houses to instead be re-homed in Britain.  In some cases relationships have broken down and in others people simply want their accommodation and privacy back.  Without a fresh tranche of people coming forward to offer to share their homes, which does not appear to be forthcoming at present, this leaves the prospect of homeless Ukrainian women and children falling to the responsibilty of local authorities that cannot even meet the needs of those on their own housing waiting lists, and who simply do not have properties available to offer. This means that children cannot be placed in schools and, without child-care, Ukrainian mothers who want to be self-sufficient and work, cannot take the jobs that are on offer. This issue may not be at the top of an incoming Prime Minister’s agenda but it is a humanitarian problem that has to be resolved in very short order indeed.

Mayor Boris has described the manner of his departure from Downing Street as “the greatest stitch-up since the Bayeux tapestry” and blames the 2019 Conservative Parliamentary Party intake for his downfall.  Johnson is in denial and it is clear that there are many Party members and supporters who wish that his name has been on the ballot paper so that they could have expressed their continued support for him. They also are in denial and no amount of attempts, not least by the Tory-supporting media and others close to Johnson to re-write contemporary history will change the facts.  Johnson has been the author of his own political demise. From time pre-parliament he has had a roving eye, a cavalier relationship with the truth and a belief that the rules by which ordinary mortals are required to live their lives, do not apply to him. He might, with a massive parliamentary majority, have re-invented himself as a Statesman and have overcome his immaturity to achieve true greatness as a statesman.  For the fact that he has failed so lamentably he has only himself to blame and I trust that his heralded resurrection will, like that of The Tramp in the United States, have no foundation or platform in reality.

The manner in which Johnson strove to undermine the premiership of Mrs May in the interests - not of the nation but of Johnson B. -was despicable. From the `Barnard Castle Affair’ onwards, he has demonstrated that his judgement was deeply flawed and that he himself was not to be trusted.   It was the series of half-truths and falsehoods, some of them expressed at the Prime Ministerial Despatch Box in the Commons, culminating in the manner in which he tried to evade the reality behind the departure of the Government’s Deputy Chief Whip, Mr Pincher, that led inexorably to the trickle that turned into the flood of Ministerial resignations that precipitated the end of his tenure of office. That a certain section of the Press now seeks to denigrate the Commons Privileges Committee charged with the duty of investigating matters relating to Johnson’s possibly deliberate misleading of the House, says rather more about the lack of editorial honesty of those newspapers than about anything else. 

 In one area alone, has Johnson shown the quality of integrity and leadership that might otherwise have been the legacy of his Premiership: that is in his staunch support of a Ukraine led by President Zelensky in that country’s defence of the freedoms and democracy that we all wish to enjoy.  Nobody can take that away from Johnson and I most certainly would not wish to do so.

The leadership contest between Mr Sunak and Mrs Truss  generated by Johnson’s departure has been marked by hostility and by rancour, with both sides demonstrating a capacity to duck and weave and to play to the gallery of party members that has been less than edifying. Much of what has been said in order to score points with a narrow and hugely unrepresentative electorate will, no doubt, have been taken down and will be used against the Government by the Opposition in the future . Having voted for Penny Mordaunt in earlier rounds I did not cast a vote for either candidate in the final ballot: I would have been happy to see either Kemi Badenoch or Penny Mordaunt or Tom Tugendhat rise to take the top job but with none of those fresh and insurgent names on the ballot it seemed to me that I should leave it to others to determine who, finally, will prise Mr Johnson’s fingers from the door-handle of Number Ten.

By the time that you read this, the result and the name of the person who will fly off to Balmoral to be asked by The Queen to form a Government will be known. That person will be faced with a poisoned chalice and an almost impossible circle to square. So long as they pursue the manifesto policies upon which we were elected in 2019, and so long as they eschew the populist nonsense that has been hinted at during an interminably long leadership campaign they will have my support. I wish either of them well.

Ballswatch

Nicola `Queen of Scots’ Sturgeon’s government has demanded no less than fifty-two changes as a requirement for endorsement of the Platinum Jubilee book presented to state schoolchildren. In particular there is a requirement to remove the `offensive’ reference to Queen Elizabeth The Second, The UK Brexit vote, and the 1966 World Cup (English) victory.  No such alterations are likely to be forthcoming.

An attempt to have  Mayor Boris’ name added to the Conservative Leadership ballot paper, claimed to have attracted ten thousand signatures, was abandoned because to have included him would have been unconstitutional in party terms, and we know that Boris likes to stick to the rules when it comes to parties.

The digital Station Boom Radio , launched online in February is wooing former Radio 2 listeners  and has seen a 29% rise in its `Baby Boomer’ audience while R2`s audience is declining. `Diddy` David Hamilton (83), `Kid’ Jensen (72), Pete Murray (96) and Johnnie Walker clearly still have pulling power as disc jockeys.

Notwithstanding my murky past on Radio Caroline I am still awaiting an invitation to join them!

Patrick, a four-year old Shetland `therapy pony’ was a regular at the Drum Inn in Devon,  and used to meeting and greeting while grazing in the garden. With the death of the hamlet’s unofficial mayor,  Patrick was chosen to replace him. Step forward the man from Torbay District Council who, clipboard in hand no doubt, announces that the pub garden is in a conservation area next to a listed building and must be re-designated as a `grazing area’ before smartly issuing a notice for unlawful development.  Was the ass jealous of the pony one wonders?

It has apparently been the convention since the 1930s, that every Prime Minister has, upon leaving office, donated a book to the Number Ten library. The custom, abandoned by Blair, has not surprisingly been revived by Mayor Boris who is, of course, in a position to bequeath one of his own works.

A Whitehall mandarin with superficially no relevant experience is being mooted for appointment to the Board of the Bank of England. She would, we are told “make a strong contribution to improving diversity and inclusion”. Good to know that the nation’s finances will be in such delicate hands.

Water company advice: “Don’t shower. Use a flannel”.  Shades of Ted Heath’s  late Cabinet member Patrick Jenkin and the famous advice during the miners’ strike blackouts of the 70s to “clean your teeth in the dark”!

The classified football results that have entertained generations of football pools addicts and soccer fans since the war  have been axed from the BBC`s “Sports Report”  programme in yet another act of cultural vandalism. Salford Broadcasting Corporation.  One. Listening Public Nil.

York Dungeon’s celebration of Dick Turpin’s legendary 200-mile ride from London to York on Black Bess has been criticised because the highwayman’s name is “too rude”.  What’s wrong with `Turpin’?  Ask Cressida.

Rotherham has been named as the world’s first `Children’s Capital of Culture’.  Rehabilitation is a fine thing but given the town’s grim history of child abuse in the recent past, might this year-long initiative, planned for 2025 and  backed by £1.8 million of taxpayer funding  not be just  a tad premature?

Will Johnson’s ambition to re-introduce Imperial measures be unceremoniously dumped by his successor?  Given the confusion that the proposal would cause, the necessary investment in duplication of machinery and the recruitment of a modest new army of Weights and Measures Inspectors, the estimated £2 million price-tag might, in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis, just not seem like a clever way of spending  money.

Those currently detained at Her Majesty’s pleasure are to receive an 8.4% pay rise which is double that offered to police officers and nurses. To be fair the increase in subsistence payment does not represent a King’s ransom.

Valete

Ronald Allison (90) was  the BBC’s Court correspondent from 1969 until 1973 and Press Secretary to Her Majesty the Queen from April 1973 until April 1978.  He joined the Palace following the resignation of Robin Ludlow who had told the media that there was no truth in the rumour that Princess Anne was getting engaged to Mark Phillips. During his time in office he handled the Wedding of Princess Anne, the Queen’s visit to the United States and the Silver Jubilee. He also had to confirm the breakdown of Princess Margaret’s marriage to Lord Snowdon in 1976.

Allison joined the BBC as a reporter in 1957 and became a sports commentator taking part in the coverage of the 1966 World Cup and the Munich Olympic Games in 1972. He took over `The Royal beat’  upon the retirement of the veteran broadcaster and war correspondent Godfrey Talbot .

Following Allison`s retirement from the Palace staff, he became Thames Television’s controller of sport from 1980 until 1985 and the company`s Director of Corporate Affairs from 1886 to 1989 . Returning to commentary he covered the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer.   He was made a CVO in 1978.

Nichelle Nicholls (89) starred as Lieutenant Nyota Uhura in the 1960s American Science Fiction TV series “Star-trek”  and as the black communications officer of the starship USS Enterprise engaged in one of US television’s first interracial screen kisses with the spaceship’s Captain James Kirk (William Shatner) .  She  became a role model for a generation of African American women. As a singer Nicholls Toured with Duke Ellington  and she appeared in a number of films post-Star-trek . With others from the “Star-trek” cast she attended the naming of the Space Shuttle `Enterprise’.

Ayman al-Zawahiri (71) was the al-Qaeda terrorist killed in a US airstrike in his refuge in Kabul, Afghanistan, where he had been living in hiding. al-Zawahiri is believed to have been the architect of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York and The Pentagon in Washington.

Vadim Bakatin (84)  was the last Chairman of the Soviet KGB appointed in August 1991. With the collapse of the Soviet Union Bakatin lost his job but the KGB morphed into the FSB, the corrupt organisation now designed to keep the President in power and to `intervene in the economy’ to its own advantage.

Lady (Myra) Butter (67) knew HRH Prince Philip as a child and was a shrewd commentator on ` royal life’.  A childhood friend of Princess Elizabeth, she was also one of the future Queen`s playmates and later a member of the Buckingham Palace Girl Guides, the Robin Patrol. She joined the Order of St John and served as a volunteer nurse during the Second World War. Her wedding  to Major David Butter MC in 1946 at St Margaret’s Westminster, was attended by Queen Mary, The Princesses Elizabeth, Margaret and Marina, with Princess Alexandra as a bridesmaid. Lady Butter was appointed a CVO in 1992 and was a Trustee of the Duke of Edinburgh’s Award Scheme.

Anneli Drummond-Hay (84)was the champion horsewoman of the 1960s who, Merely-a-Monarch won the world’s two premier three-day eventing challenges at Badminton and Burghley. From eventing she switched to show-jumping winning a European Championship and the Hickstead Derby.  She wrote for the Daily Telegraph during the 1968 Mexico Olympics although she never competed in an Olympic Games herself. She was inducted into the British Horse Society Equestrian Hall of Fame in 2010

Judith Durham (79) sang with the 60s pop group The Seekers who had back-to-back number one hit singles with “I’ll never find another you” and “The Carnival is over” in 1965 knocking the Rolling Stones “ Get Off My Cloud” from the top spot at the same time. In the following year “Georgie Girl” topped the charts in the United States and they were named `Australians of the Year’  in 1967.

Olivia Newton-John (73) was the singer and actress who starred opposite John Travolta in the 1978 film of the Broadway musical Grease.  Signed to MCA records she had three hits in the 1970s in America and in 1974 she represented Britain in the Eurovision Song Contest with “Long Live Love”.  She was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1992 and established the Olivia Newton-John Cancer and Wellness Centre in Melbourne, Australia in 2008.

Raymond Briggs (88) was the author and illustrator who began his career as a commercial artist before turning his talents to the creation of children’s Christmas books.  His titles include “Father Christmas” (1975) , “Fungus the Bogeyman” (1977)  and the evergreen “The Snowman”(1978)  which has been immortalised on film and in song. Briggs won the Kate Greenaway medal for his illustrations of “The Mother Goose Treasury” in 1966. He was awarded his CBE in 2017.

Andrew Jennings (78) was the author and investigative journalist whose book The Lords of the Rings (1992) first exposed corruption within the International Olympic Committee and subsequently was responsible for the “FIFA-gate” revelations that led to the fall of the head of world football’s governing body “Sepp” Blatter.  It was Jennings who at a 2001 press conference put the direct question to Blatter “Have you ever taken a bribe”.  His BBC Panorama documentaries on FIFA finally led to Blatter’s resignation in 2015

Arthur Hogben (92) was a Major with 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) when in 1974 he was called upon to make safe a 1000kg  German “Hermann” bomb unearthed on a building site in East London.  Following the evacuation of the area Major Hogben and his team managed to steam out the explosives from the device without detonating it – an enterprise that won him the Queen’s Gallantry Medal.

Sir John Banham (81) was the Director General of the Confederation of British Industry (the  CBI]  during much of Margaret Thatcher’s premiership.  He succeeded Sir Terence Becket in 1987 and retired in 1992 to become the Chairman of West Country Television which took over the West Country ITV franchise in 1993. He also served as Chairman of the Local Government Commission for England and was knighted in 1992c when he also became a Deputy Lieutenant of Cornwall.

Nicholas Evans (72) was the author of The Horse Whisperer which reached the top of the bestseller list in 1990s and was subsequently made into a film by Robert Redford (which also starred a thirteen year old Scarlett Johansson and earned a Golden Globe nomination).

Christopher Foyle (79) was the chairman of the family bookshop that bears his name and who also founded an air cargo business. He was a philanthropist who funded a number of ventures including an expedition to search for the Yeti in Borneo and also became an author himself,  publishing Foyles Philavery.  He was appointed an OBE in the 2022 Birthday Honours.

Wolfgang Petersen (81) was the German director of the acclaimed U-boat drama “Das Boot” (1981), released in Britain as “The Boat”,  which offers a realistic picture of the grim life on board a wartime German submarine. Other films included “In the Line of Fire” (1993) starring Clint Eastwood and “Outbreak” (1995) with Dustin Hoffman. In 1990  he made “Air Force One” with Harrison Ford and “The Perfect Storm” (2000) With George Clooney.  

Stella (Jaye) Edwards (103) was the last surviving British pilot of the Air Transport Auxiliary that, during the Second World War was responsible for the delivery of all types of aircraft from the factory to RAF airfields around the country. The  daughter of an Australian businessman, Stella Petersen  was brought up in Kent.  She was known as a `wild child` and having developed an attraction for aviation through watching `flying circuses’, she joined the women’s Air Reserve in 1939 and began flying Tiger Moths. She enrolled in the ATA in 1943 and began ferrying single-engined aircraft. In the course of her career she flew more than twenty different types of aircraft including Spitfires and Hurricanes, Mustangs, Swordfish and Barracuds. She was belatedly awarded the commemorative ATA badge created by the then Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Derek Fordham (82) was one of the foremost arctic explorers of the 1970’s, leading expeditions to Greenland and Canada .He participated in a total of twenty-two Arctic expeditions. He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society  and was awarded the Polar Medal in 2016.

Mikhail Gorbachev (91) was the last President of the Soviet Union who in the 1980s  oversaw the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Iron Curtain and who catapulted Russia from the dark ages of communism into the enlightened democratic world of the 20th Century.  He was a man of truly astonishing political courage and vision who was prepared to risk everything to secure the emancipation of his country. His eightieth birthday marked in March 2011 with a charity event at London’s Royal Albert Hall,  demonstrated the esteem in which Gorbachev was held in outside his own land and his relationship with Margaret Thatcher was legendary.

As General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he instigated the reforms that freed political prisoners, withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan , promoted the re-unification of Germany and gave the liberty of self-determination to Eastern European states that had been oppressed since the Second World War. The Soviet Union was formally dissolved in December 1991 following the vote, by Ukraine, for independence.  Mikhail Gorbachev, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, will be remembered with huge affection in the free world.Mr. Putin is likely only to be remembered as the war criminal who sought to destroy his reforms and to create a neo-Soviet Union.

And finally………….

Service personnel exposed to radiation during the nuclear test programmes carried out between 1952 and 1991 are finally to be recognised with their own campaign medal. Too late for some, of course, but better late than never.