Gale's Westminster View - Recess- August 2020
August. A silly season of localised lockdowns, `staycations` and chaotic exam results. The steady flow of channel-crossing inflatable craft carrying people-trafficked migrants continues. Mayor Boris finally publishes a dissolution honours catalogue that makes Marcia Falkender`s legendary `lavender list` almost modest. “Build, build, build” is the order of the month and Mr. Secretary Jenrick pulls a Planning White Paper that reads like a developer`s charter out of the “Communities and Local Government” hat .School students will return in the Autumn in spite of a rear guard action by the teaching unions but in the meantime Mr. Secretary Williamson of the Education Department is forced into U-turns over A level and GCSE grades based upon a system of assessment that the Prime Minister had defended as “robust”. Mr. Secretary Hancock of the Health Department takes an axe to Public Health England, an organisation now deemed to be past its sell-by date. Sir Edward Davey joins that other Knight of the Realm Sir Keir Starmer as a party leader and in taking the helm of the Liberal Democrats inherits enough parliamentary Members to make up, without injuries, a football team. Lord (Tony) Hall ends what is likely to be perceived as a less-than-glorious spell as Director General of the Salford Broadcasting Corporation , Constance Shacklock will be spinning in her grave as the Britain no longer lyrically rules the waves and a Land of Hope and little Glory descends upon the Last Night of the Virtual Proms. Add to that deep proposed cuts in local and regional broadcasting teams and Auntie will have to look to her laurels – if there were any left to adorn the bust of Sir Henry Wood in the Albert Hall this year. Further afield it looks as though Vlad the Poisoner has snared another victim in his arch opponent Alexei Navalny, now languishing in a German hospital and believed to be suffering from a touch of the Novichoks or some such potion. Vlad is also threatening to send in the cavalry to help shore up the dictatorship in Belarus following a disastrously rigged election and public discontent. Those with long memories will recall how the old Soviet Union `helped` to restore order in Hungary (Imre Nagy) and Czechoslovakia(Aleksander Dubcek) when those countries showed signs of spirited independence. Neither has The Tramp been covering himself in glory either. Mismanagement of the Covid pandemic and his crass `it is what it is` description of the crisis, spiralling unemployment and a dog-whistle red-necked reaction to Black Lives Matter demonstrations do not bode well for the Commander-in-Chief`s re-election prospects in November . Democrat candidate Joe Biden`s appointment of the fifty-five year old Kamala Harris as his running mate has injected some youth into the campaign and there are those who see Ms. Harris as the USA`s first female President if Old Joe does not last the course. The waterfront district of Beirut disappeared in a Hiroshima-scale explosion caused by the ignition of a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate that left many dead, hundreds wounded and thousands homeless. And as C19 reared its head again in the holiday hotspots of Europe a horde of British sun-seekers found themselves scrambling to get home to avoid a fortnight in quarantine imposed, in the case of France, at less than forty-eight hours` notice. Many failed to beat the deadline and not surprisingly there was, following holiday cancellations, a rush to book every last glamping tent and B&B in the British Isles. It`s an ill wind that blew a bit of life back into a domestic tourist industry hitherto struggling to stay in business. There was a point sometime during August when I thought I heard our Brexit negotiator suggest that we might have an agreement with the EU by the end of September. By the month`s end the temperature of the relationship between Messrs. Barnier and the aptly-named Mr. Frost had turned not a little chilly: a WTO departure now seems to be on the cards and although Europe has a reputation for striking last-minute deals the North Face of the Eiger looks like a plateau compared with the mountain that still has to be climbed.
Given that The House has been virtually not sitting since the middle of March to take a `recess` seems not a little strange but for those MPs and particularly Ministers who like to get their holidays in before any possible re-call of Parliament to prove to the nation that we are doing our jobs the break has to be taken. The rucksacks and the classy luggage were hardly packed before the Secretary of State for Local Government, Robert Jenrick, published his White Paper “Planning for the Future”. A cynic might ask why this document was saved until the House was not sitting to make its` appearance but I am sure that there was not really an ulterior motive in denying immediate parliamentary scrutiny to a document billed as “The most radical shake-up of planning law for 70 years”.To be fair, our planning system is archaic, obstructive and in need of reform. It is bound up in far too much red tape and people who have travelled look on with amazement as in France, for example, roads and railways are built on short order while in Britain it takes years to widen a short stretch of motorway or turn the link from the Port of Dover to the M2 from a cart track into a modest dual carriageway! Nevertheless our “Green and pleasant land” is geographically much smaller than many states with comparable population and if we are not to cover the whole of rural England in housing and tarmac then we need to proceed with a degree of care.
In his Foreward to the White Paper the Prime Minister says “Let`s make the system work for all of us. And let`s take big, bold steps so that we in this country can finally build the homers we all need and the future we all want to see” and he wants to “make it harder for developers to dodge their obligations to improve infrastructure and opens up housebuilding to more than just the current handful of massive observations” All of which is fine except that the “massive corporations” are very adept and not providing the schools and hospitals and doctors` surgeries and roads that are needed to support the thousands of new houses that Mr. Johnson wants to “build, build, build”. Neither do they like using penny-parcels of brownfield sites that are proportionately expensive to build upon when there are acres of green fields just awaiting the arrival of thebulldozers. Mr Jenrick adds in his own Foreward that “We will build environmentally friendly homes that will not need to be expensively retrofitted in the future, homes with green spaces and new parks close at hand, where tree-lined streets are the norm and where neighbours are not strangers”. The problem with that is that in the case of East Kent and I believe much of the Home and Shire counties the land designated for these “homes with green spaces and new parks close at hand” is already green space, agricultural land and often tree-lined! Mr Jenrick has made much of “protecting the Green Belt”, which is a nod towards the Tory vote in the Home Counties and the outer suburbs of large cities but scant attention is paid to the acres of top grade agricultural land that we are told we are going to need to reduce food-miles travelled and increase self-sufficiency while at the same time including that land in Local Plans for housing development to accommodate not homes where “neighbours are not strangers” but a dumping-ground for the housing problems of Inner-London Boroughs.
The Secretary of State has said that he wants to `cut red tape but not standards`. Giving automatic `Permission in principle` to not only schools and hospitals but shops, offices and houses militates against that grand proposal. The whole of Britain will, if the White Paper is implemented unamended, be split into three types of land: areas designed for `growth` and those designated as for `renewal` or `protection`. There is, though, precious little `protection` offered to farmland in this document. There is also very little consideration afforded to the risks of building upon flood-plains or above aquifers that parts of the country rely upon for their water supplies nor any indication of how, when and where the new reservoirs that will be need to supply all of these new homes will be built nor, in the light of trillions of pounds of Covid-debt, how they will be paid for. If Boris The Builder really wants to stimulate housing construction then he can make a start by requiring developers with landbanks and planning consents on brownfield sites in their back pockets to utilise the space for a million homes already approved before permitting any more housing on the green agricultural lungs of the Garden of England.
There has been another month of Covid Confusion as parts of England including Greater Manchester, Blackburn, Hyndburn, Pendle, Bradford, Calderdale and Kirklees have gone back into partial lockdown as the Prime Minister has “squeezed the brake pedal” in the light of scientific advice. The Government`s Chief Medical Officer, Chris Whitty, said that “we have reached the limit of what can be done (to relax restrictions) without risking a rise in infections. `Shielding` ended on the first of August but while millions denied the city-centres the oxygen of business in coffee bars and restaurants, choosing instead to work and eat and drink at home, temperatures in the high nineties drove scores of people out of social-distancing and onto the beaches as if the pandemic did not exist. Cornwall, in the West Country, was described as “Like Benidorm on steroids” as Britain enjoys the hottest spell of weather for seventeen years. The `world-beating` test-and-trace system is still struggling to gain traction in spite of the shedloads of boodle being thrown at the project. Why are so many people not being traced and tested when at testing stations many operatives are sitting twiddling their thumbs and waiting for customers to trickle in in their ones? If we are not going to face a second wave when the schools go back to satisfy the Prime Minister`s `moral duty` to recommence education then this system is going to have to be made to work properly. The wearing of face masks in shops is having an interesting psychological effect upon the retail trade. It seems that the face-gear has killed off impulse-buying. People now go into a shop, grab what they went in for and pay and leave without grazing across the available merchandise. The impact of C19 upon employment will not be felt fully until the moment of truth comes as the furlough scheme is finally would up in a couple of months` time but already the flow of job losses continues with lay-offs at Pizza Express, Curry`s and PC world adding to the cuts announced at Rolls Royce, Boots, Virgin Atlantic, Smiths, Aston Martin, P&O Ferries, Ryanair, BP, London Heathrow airport and many travel companies. Belgium, The Bahamas and Andorra have been added to the growing list of `quarantine states` along with Holland, Switzerland, Poland and Malta.At one point in the month the Covid case toll was down to ten per cent of its 29,064 peak in April and the Bank Of England reduced its gloom forecast from `the worst recession for 300 years` to merely `the worst for 100 years` which cheered us all up no end. Sadly, we then hit one thousand new cases which was the highest rise for six weeks and regarded as a possible sign of things to come. The `R` rate in France is rising, leading to that country being put on the `isolation list` at very short notice and generating a tide of holidaymakers heading for the Channel ports and Eurotunnel to try to beat a 4am Saturday deadline. France, of course, is regarded as being at least a week ahead of what is likely to happen in the United Kingdom. All this is casting further doubts upon an Autumn budget that many fear and the media lose no time in predicting will require Chancellor Sunak to introduce “soak the rich” measures of a kind not even contemplated by Red Jerry Corbyn, if you remember him.
While local lockdowns continue and the quarantine list of countries lengthens the Prime Minister nevertheless takes his foot off the brake pedal to accelerate the easing of restrictions upon weddings, sports and indoor performances. At the same time the `R` rate is rising at between 0.9 and 1.1 and we are told that we are in for a “bumpy Autumn”. Holidaymakers returning to isolation with children now find themselves between a rock and a hard place. Parents are between fines for breaking quarantine rules and fines for not sending pupils back to school and some have even chartered private planes to fly in under the wire to avoid a fortnight of job-threatening isolation. SAGE, the Government`s scientific advisory team, is warning of `stigmatised social groups` and `racial tensions.` Jonathan Van Tam, the senior boffin, predicts that there will be no return to normality before Easter 2021 and Professor Sir Mark Walport hints at the possibility of a further `draconian lockdown`. As summer turns into Autumn the `back-to-work` plans are stalling and we the message is that `the next six weeks will be `critical.`
Her Maj finally managed to transfer her `Windsor bubble` to Balmoral with Prince Philip for their summer break and the Princess Royal, Princess Anne, celebrated her seventieth birthday cruising on a yacht with her husband, Vice-Admiral Sir Tim Lawrence.
Rhodes Avenue and Rhodes Primary School in Muswell Hill and Wood Green were named after Thomas Rhodes, a 1762 Dairy Farmer on whose land the developments now stand. No matter. They have to change because “the name cannot be disentangled from the pursuit of white supremacy”.
Thirty two Victorian pews from the 700-year old Church of St. Andrews in Okeford Fitzpaine in Dorset are to be removed and replaced with chairs at the behest of the incumbent vicar to `spare the overweight from embarrassment` and because they are `no longer suited to the human form of today`. The “Save St Andrews Pews” Action Group has been told by the Bishop of Salisbury that `Churches are community buildings that have to adapt”.
The UK`s first cycle-roundabout has closed just days after its formal opening. The Dutch-style priority system was shut after a driver smashed into a Belisha Beacon . The verdict? “Bad Driver behaviour”.
Rowan Atkinson, the star of Blackadder, Mr. Bean and some excellent Maigret films is objecting to Scottish Nationalist Party proposals for a hate-crime law. Mr. Atkinson is concerned about the unintended consequences upon freedom of expression and speech of a law that would outlaw the “stirring up of hatred” through words, acting or artwork. JK Rowling, the Scottish-based author of Harry Potter, has already experienced the backlash from expressing less than woke views of transgender issues.
Roger Law, who as half of the Fluck and Law partnership, created eighteen series of the Spitting Image satirical TV programme that ran between 1984 and 1996, is reviving the show which will now feature Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Prince Andrew. It will be challenging, Mr. Law. Some characters are beyond parody.
Kerris Fenn has been fined £120 for feeding the pigeons in Piccadilly Gardens Manchester. 3GS Enforcement Officers have clearly not heard of “Feed the birds – tuppence a bag” and did Ms. Fenn for “littering”.
Mayor Boris`s “Lavender list” of dissolution honours includes Lord “Jo`s your Bro” Johnson, Lord Eugeny Lebedev, the Russian Oligarch and son of a KGB spy, The Labour Brexiteers Frank Field, Kate Hoey and Gisela Stuart , former Chancellors of the Exchequer Ken Clarke and `Spreadsheet Phil` Hammond and the only Tory miner to be elected as an MP, Chief Whip and Secretary of State for Transport, the excellent Patrick McLaughlin who chaired Jeremy Hunt`s bid for the leadership of the Conservative Party when he stood against Johnson for the Premiership. You can say what you like about BoJo but he clearly does not bear grudges – even against his remain-voting former Minister and sibling.
The Trade deal between the EU and Canada has hit the buffers in a row over Halloumi cheese. The Republic of Cyprus wants protection for the cheese, made from goat and sheep`s milk, along the lines of that afforded to Champagne and Parma ham. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade agreement (2017) still awaits ratification.
In a hoo-hah over doo-dah Camptown Races, the song penned by Stephen Foster in 1850 and featured in `Minstrel Shows` ever after is now deemed “inappropriate”. One of the legends of American Folk Music, “Camptown” was performed live on Facebook by Sarah Fisher for an OAP`s singalong. Inappropriately.
Green Party Municipal Councillors in Brittany have blocked the start of the Tour De France bicycle race from the town of Rennes on the grounds that it will cause `damage to the environment`. The start line has now been moved to Brest.
Traffic Gridlock in Central London. The famous 12-ton Bascules of Tower Bridge, engineered by the brother of the chap that designed the Palace of Westminster, failed to re-align for two hours to allow the road to re-open following the passage of a ship. Mercifully it only took two hours to rectify the Victorian engineering.
The Salford Broadcasting Corporation has invented an ingenious `Covid-proof` way in which to record televisual intimacy. `Kissing scenes` are conducted via a Perspex shield that is then edited out. The return of Strictly Come Dancing, however, may pose other challenges!
The intrusion of the gendarmerie onto the beaches of Sainte-Marie-La-Mer has proved unwelcome. Topless bathing, the subject of Monsieur Plod`s unwelcome intervention, is regarded, you see, as “a fundamental French liberty”. And Parisians are defending their right to remove face masks to smoke in the streets. Sacre Disque Bleu.
The BBC`s eradication of the vocals from `Land of Hope and Glory`, for the Last Night of the Proms, has caused a justified adverse public reaction. The Woke Corporation`s apologist, faced with a backlash, tried to foist the blame upon the unfortunate guest conductor. Having had to admit that it was not the good lady`s doing at all they now have another little local difficulty: a choral version of the song is now climbing up the popular music charts. Will Auntie play it on Top of the Pops or will it be subject to politically-correct censorship?
The Asian Shore Crab, described as `aggressive and opportunistic`, has arrived on the beaches of Weymouth in South Dorset. Invasive species such as this are apparently now costing us in the region of £1.7 billion a year to control.
There is a shortage of Brexit 50pence coins in circulation. Some ten million have disappeared into the vaults of collectors – which suggests that when the day comes to sell they may just not have a great deal of scarcity value.
The BBC TV licence fee collectors have sent a request for payment to “The Occupier” of the smallest Royal Palace, Kew in the country. The last “Occupier” was George 111 who was not known for his love of television and is no longer in a position to “respond immediately”.
And Alexa, the nagging, eavesdropping, automaton and for some the fount of all knowledge, is being given elocution lessons in order to enable her to speak `proper`(presumably Estuary) `British`. There are some who are unkind enough to suggest that that is something that our cousins on the other side of the Atlantic have been trying to achieve, without success, for years.
Sir Alan Parker,(76) the creative genius behind Bugsy Malone, Fame, Evita and Angela`s Ashes, was twice nominated for an Oscar as Best Director. In total his works scooped up 19 Baftas, 10 Golden Globes and 10 Oscars. After a lifetime of success in movies he will probably still be best remembered for the generation of the Cinzano TV advertisement `starring` Joan Collins and Leonard Rossiter.
John Hume (83) was the respected voice of peaceful nationalism in Northern Ireland who helped to forge and deliver the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. The Leader of the SDLP between 1979 and 2001 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with David Trimble. The man who put peace above the fortunes of his Party was also an MEP for 25 years.
Sydney Lotterby (93) Produced and directed `Porridge` and `Going Straight` for television along with `Yes Minister` and `Yes Prime Minister`, `The Liver Birds`, `The Last of the Summer Wine` `Some Mothers do `ave `em` and `Butterflies`. Commencing his career as a BBC cameraman he received the OBE in 1994 and a Bafta Special Award in 2007.
Clive Ponting (74) was the civil Servant who disclosed the secret details of the sinking of the Argentinian warship The Belgrano, a matter pursued to the end of his days in the House of Commons by the MP for Midlothian, Tam Dalyell. He was charged under Section 2 of the 1911 Official Secrets Act in 1985, tried and acquitted for revealing `the facts as he saw them`.
Wayne Fontana (74) was the lead singer of the Manchester band The Mindbenders whose hit The Game Of Love made the charts in 1965
Trini Lopez,(83) was the Mexican-American singer of `If I had a Hammer` and `Lemon Tree` . The Pete Seeger/Lee Hayes `Hymn to communist values` became a dance floor hit in thirty six countries as No,1 and reached No.4 in the UK
Anthony Lester QC (84) ended his life as Lord Lester of Herne Hill having worked as a leading Human Right lawyer with the Campaign Against Racial Discrimination and the Society of Labour Lawyers.
Ben Cross (72) will always be remembered as Harold Abrahams in the 1981 film `Chariots of Fire`. Trained at RADA in 1970 he appeared in London`s West End in `Chicago`, with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Pirates of Penzance and in 20,ooo Leagues Under the Sea, Nuremberg Nazis on Trial and Star Trek (2009).
Fiona Adams (84) took the photograph of the Leaping Beatles that appeared on the cover of their 1963 EP Twist and Shout and, working for `Fab` magazine in the 60s went on to snap Van Morrison, The Who, Georgie Fame, Jimmy Hendrix and David Jones who became better known as David Bowie.
Ian Laughland (84) was the Scottish centre or fly-half between 1959 and 1967. He was capped thirty-one times and in 1964 was a member of the team that won the Calcutta Cup against England for the first time in fourteen years.
Tim Renton (88) was the Member of Parliament for Mid-Sussex for twenty-three years, Government Chief Whip at the time of Margaret Thatcher`s downfall in 1989, was a Foreign Office and Arts Minister under John Major. He was the British architect of the EU Transfrontier Broadcasting Directive.
And Victor, the UKs oldest polar bear, has died in the Yorkshire Wildlife Park at twenty-two. Born in Rostock he fathered thirteen cubs in Germany before retiring to Yorkshire in 2014.
The three year old military dog, Kuno, a Belgian Malinois, was wounded in action while working with the SBS in Afghanistan. When his troop was pinned down by machine gun fire he took out the gunman and turned the course of the engagement suffering terrible injuries in the process. Repatriated, recovered and in retirement Kuno has been awarded the Dickin Medal – the `animals` VC` for his exceptional courage.