Gale's View from Westminster
Downing Street parties while the UK is locked down and Corvid rages. Sue Gray`s report into the conduct of the Prime Minister and officials is delayed through the belated intervention of the Metropolitan police. A Conservative MP crosses the floor to join the Labour benches and there are rising demands for Mayor Bunter to leave Downing Street. Operation `Save Big Dog`, mounted to save the Prime Minister, is derided as barking. The Culture Secretary, Nadine `Mad Nad` Dorries, has declared open season on the BBC. Lord Agnew quits his Treasury post in dramatic style over the failure of his department to address billions of pounds worth of Covid-related funding fraud. The former shipping Minister Nus Ghani mounts an assault on the whip’s office with charges of anti-muslim treatment and Committee Chairman William Wragg reports allegations of Whips Office coercion and blackmail during the endeavours to Save Boris. Former Mr Speaker Bercow is found guilty of bullying staff of the House while in office. Bercow describes the process as `a kangaroo court`. Others say that is unfair to kangaroos. Omicron threatens the health service as Plan B is in force and masks are the school uniform of the day. As illegal migration figures peak at their highest since 2004 there are plans to put the Navy in control of the Channel. Prince Andrew will face Court in the United States and in Jubilee Year is stripped of his military titles. Novak Djokovic finds himself in court instead of on court in Australia. A `licence to vandalise` as `The Colston Four` are acquitted. Better news for leaseholders as The Gover announces plans to make developers and builders pay to replace defective cladding in the wake of the Grenfell Tower block fire. MI5 reveals that a Chinese spy has been working in the heart of Westminster. In the New Year`s Honours list Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, is awarded the Order of the Garter at the personal command of The Queen. There is recognition for the Government Scientists Sir Chris Whitty and Sir Jonathan Van Tamm, and the Olympic athletes Sir Jason and Dame Laura Kenny. Vanessa Redgrave, actress and former pillar of the Socialist Workers` Party accepts a Damehood on, presumably, behalf of `working people`. Daniel `James Bond` Craig, he of skydiving fame with Her Majesty at the opening of the 2012 London Olympics, receives an appropriate CMG as had the fictional Mr. Bond. The broadcaster Kate Garraway is made an MBE while 11-year old Tobias Weller becomes the youngest-ever holder of the BEM. And the former Prime Minister Tony `The Legacy` Blair , is given a controversial knighthood that attracts tens of thousands of signatures on a petition against his `K`.
Further afield thousands of citizens, former supporters of the Western alliance, who have been abandoned following the withdrawal from Afghanistan instigated by `President` Trump and implemented by President Biden live in fear for their lives and children are starving to death as the Taliban regime proves incapable of providing even for its own supporters.
Meanwhile the world hovers on the brink of armed conflict; Neo-Soviet troops mass on the borders of Ukraine and NATO reinforces its positions in the Baltic States and in Eastern Europe. With this in mind the last thing that Britain needs is a demonstration of weakness and disarray at the top.
Notwithstanding the claim that `the constabulary does not conduct retrospective investigations` (is the Justice Department not aware of dozens of `cold case` reviews being undertaken? ) and the initial decision of London`s Metropolitan police not to look into `Party Time in Whitehall` allegations, Ma`am Knacker of the Yard has belatedly decided to look into to the of course remote possibility that rules might have been broken when Downing Street was being used as a whoopee-venue while the rest of the Country was in lockdown and unable to visit dying relatives. This timely intervention has meant that the `Fifty Shades of Sue Gray` report into the possible misdemeanours of the Prime Minister and his staff has had to be filleted before being published in skeleton form. Having waited for weeks for the senior Civil Servant Ms Gray to reveal the results of her investigations we are now ,on the eve of what was to have been the publication of a comprehensive document, being asked by the tenant of Number Ten to `wait for the results of the inquiries being made by the Metropolitan Police` before he will feel free and able to respond to straightforward questions such as “did you mislead the House of Commons from the Despatch Box”?. The `Fifty Shades` were, at the behest of Ma`am Knacker`s sidekicks, pared back to a few sheets of foolscap before being released to the Prime Minister, the world`s waiting press and the House of Commons. The prospect of the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom having his collar felt by Mr. Plod and being the first First Lord of the Treasury to be interviewed under caution (The Legacy Blair was interviewed by the police but not cautioned) is less than edifying and in the meantime Godot`s arrival looks almost imminent compared with “Waiting for Sue”.
There are those who have been unkind enough to suggest that this prevarication has been orchestrated by a beleaguered Metropolitan Commissioner at the behest of an equally beleaguered Prime Minister. I have always personally favoured the cock-up over the conspiracy theory, and I doubt whether even the forces of darkness within the administration are capable of orchestrating such a machiavellian delaying tactic on this scale. Cock-up there has certainly been but it is much more likely that an embattled New Scotland Yard decided initially that it did not want to open up a war on another front, then received an advance copy of Ms. Gray`s findings that pointed in the direction of potential unlawful activity, caved in to media criticism, announced that it was, after all, going to conduct inquiries and then got its Peeler`s knickers in a total twist over what Ms Gray could and could not be permitted to release while making sure that she did not prejudice the work of the constabulary.
It was, you will recall, after the `Barnard Castle Affair` and when Mr Johnson declined to dispense with the services of Mr Cummings that I submitted my letter, calling for a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, to the Chairman of the Conservative back-bench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady. I did this not, of course, on the basis of yet-to-be-revealed goings on in Downing Street but because I believed that the PM`s lack of sound judgement rendered him infit to hold high office. Johnson`s subsequent attempt, using the vehicle of the Internal Markets Bill, to effectively tear up the Northern Ireland Protocol contained within the EU Withdrawal Agreement that he has freely signed and in 2019 campaigned upon, confirmed me in my belief. A Prime Minister of the at present still United Kingdom cannot unilaterally renege on an international treaty and expect to retain any trust, respect or credibility whatsoever. Johnson had promised that there would not be a border down the middle of the Irish Sea. Yet that is precisely what he delivered, and I fear that the repercussions of that error may yet undermine the Belfast (`Good Friday`) Agreement. Mrs May`s proposed Withdrawal Treaty was by no means perfect but her much derided `backstop` arrangement between Northern Ireland and the Republic was a whole heap better than the chaotic Protocol signed up to by Mr Johnson.
That those in High Office found it in order to party while telling the rest of a country in lockdown to observe very rigid rules has struck a very raw nerve with the families of thousands of families who were forbidden from seeing dying loved ones during the pandemic. Of that there is no doubt. The “one rule for them and another rule for us” approach was not, as the Prime Minister has sought to suggest, `a momentary lack of judgement` but indicative of an arrogance of attitude and a failure of probity and understanding that goes to the heart of the malaise. Ruth Davidson, the former leader of the Conservative Party in Scotland, has said that Mr Johnson “is not fit for office” and I fear that she has been proven right. He has, whether you like it or not, kept his promise to deliver more or less of Brexit and he has presided over a world-beating vaccination and booster programme that has saved thousands of lived. Measured against the failings, lack of attention to detail and a cavalier attitude towards the truth, though, he has been found wanting. It is for that reason and not because of “Partygate” that a growing number of Conservative supporters both in the House and in the Country, are now joining the call for him to be replaced.
“By whom?” is the next question. This is known in Parliament as “The Bus Game”. “If the Prime Minister went under a bus tomorrow who would you vote for”?
Apart from the standard “the driver of the bus” response there is, at present, no sensible answer. There is yet no vacancy but as and when there is there are a number of people who are expected to throw their hats into the ring. The front runners are said to be the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak and the Foreign Secretary, Elizabeth Truss. It is possible that the previous challenger, Jeremy Hunt, might run again as might Michael Gove, James Cleverley and Nadim Zahawi. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Tom Tugendhat, is talented and although he has never held Ministerial office has broken ranks to indicate that he would wish to stand and Penny Mordaunt, the well-liked and extremely able former Cabinet Office Minister who was also briefly Secretary of State for Defence would be a well-qualified and serious contender for the job. A `dark horse` might be the current Defence Secretary, Ben Wallace who has sought to rescue as much honour as possible from the West`s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan and there are no doubt others who might also wish to be considered. There is, happily, a deep well of talent on the Conservative benches from which to draw.
All that said, now is not the ideal time to embark upon a process that, by its nature, will be divisive and will take three months. We face an international crisis in the confrontation between Russia and Ukraine, of which more below. There is another humanitarian crisis developing on a colossal scale in Afghanistan where over twenty million people are going hungry and at least six million are said to be suffering from actual starvation as a result of the collapse of the economy arising from the regime imposed by the Taliban. There is the ongoing issue of climate change and the expensive measures required to meet our domestic goals and to achieve net-zero carbon targets. In tandem with that there is a looming domestic cost of living increase that threatens many households with penury. The perfect storm of Covid-related expenditure , a necessitated rise in National Insurance charges to meet Health and Social Care funding, an escalation in fuel costs arising from global demand , food shortages and price rises caused at least in part by labour costs and the effects of Brexit and rapidly rising inflation heading for levels not experienced for nearly two generations are, of themselves, enough to warrant the undivided attention of any Government.
However, we are where we are. Confidence in the Downing Street administration and in the Prime Minister has been shattered and must be restored. Those of us who have been presumptuous enough to have said this publicly have been accused of disloyalty and treachery and worse but speaking personally my first loyalty is to the Monarch and my Country. This issue has to be resolved and the sooner that is done and the sooner that we can move on and unite in our national and interests the better.
Vladimir `The Poisoner` Putin, the former KGB Colonel who is the President and de facto dictator of the Russian Federation has a determination to right what he sees as the wrong of the break-up of the former Soviet empire and the loss of its colonies and his determination to create a `Neo-Soviet Union` should not be under-estimated. In addition to the annexation of parts of Georgia and Moldova, and of course Crimea, he has through collusion also got Belarus, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan within his growing portfolio of influence. The Donbas, in the east of Ukraine, is regarded in Moscow as `White Russia` and a proxy war of attrition that has cost hundreds of Russian and Ukrainian lives has been waged on the borders there since 2014. Neo-Soviet forces and heavy armour are now massed on the border of Russia and Ukraine with further troops available to the cause on the border between Ukraine and Belarus. Many analysts now believe that it is no longer `if` but `when` on some artificially created some pretext an invasion by the Russian Federation into Ukraine will take place. The situation is as volatile and as dangerous as at any time since Mr. Gorbachev presided over the end of the Cold War and the tearing down of the Berlin Wall.
Putin, a man with scant regard for human or any other `right` and who is largely driven by a desire to accumulate not only power but personal wealth, has no time for weakness. The meeting between US Secretary Anthony Blinken and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Geneva was not made any easier by President Biden`s hastily withdrawn but unfortunate suggestion that there was a distinction between an `incursion` into Ukraine and a full-blooded invasion. Germany`s obsession with the Nordstream Russian gas pipeline that will by-pass the need to secure supplies through Ukraine, a Presidential election in France with an incumbent Macron desperate to secure his second term and, of course, our own minor domestic political issues, add up to a precarious cocktail of opportunity for Putin`s forces. That said, the US and NATO have sought to reinforce the potentially vulnerable Baltic States and cages are now being rattled furiously on both sides of this embryonic conflict.
There are those who say that Putin is just testing the determination of the free world while seeking to create as much chaos and disruption as possible and that he will not be foolish enough to embark upon what would certainly be a disastrous adventure that might well result in an Afghan-style guerrilla war with Ukrainians over many years. I do not believe that we should rely upon that or upon `sanctions` of an unspecified nature for comfort. What is now known as `Londongrad` in some quarters has been allowed to become a clearing-house for the ill-gotten gains of the oligarchs and kleptocrats upon whom Putin relies for money and political muscle. The time is overdue when we should have taken a very serious interest in domestic properties and other assets such as football clubs and bank accounts controlled by those with links to the Kremlin. If that regime is to understand that we mean business, then we must initiate proceedings now and without waiting for any further hostile signals from Moscow. As Premier Theresa May not only took swift diplomatic measures against Russia following the Salisbury poisonings but additionally secured the support of the international community. Britain`s next Prime Minister needs to take immediate action to close the British laundromat that is at present seemingly used by the `Macmafia` with impunity. And if there are current Conservative Party links or interests with any of those criminally accumulated funds then they must be exposed and shut down as well.
`The Queen`s Grocer`, Messrs Fortnum and Mason, has suspended the supply of hampers to countries within the EU. The goodies contained – such as Dundee Cake and Royal Island Tea – have fallen victim to `regulatory changes`.
The 79th and probably the last Hollywood Foreign Press Association `Golden Globes` Awards ceremony has been boycotted by the stars as sexist and racist, “No red carpet, no TV coverage, no point” was the damning verdict on the B-list Luvvie-fest.
Time wasting calls to the 999 Welsh ambulance service have included the panicking consumer of a mouldy tomato and a careless bather who got her plaster cast wet. Twenty-five per cent of all `emergency` calls are regarded as non-essential.
Out of the mouths of babes: Five-year-old Lela from Leicester is reported as saying of Mayor Bunter that “He`s a bad Prime Minister. He`s been naughty so he`s had to go to the naughty corner to tell everyone he`s sorry”.
Matt Hancock, Robert Buckland and former Health Minister Lord Bethell received a less than warm welcome when they went for an early-morning dip in the freezing Serpentine Lake in London`s Hyde Park. “Members Only” you see.
Plans are afoot to curb the never-ending flow of on-board announcements that prevent rail travellers from working or sleeping. We are promised a `bonfire of banalities` by the Train Operating Companies. Mind the gap.
Three hundred years after her death there are plans to raise a statue in memory of Aphra Behn, regarded as the first professional female writer in English. `Culture` Secretary Nadine Dorries, herself a professional scribbler, says “She broke new territory” and seeks to address the “male bias in public art”.
Cabinet enforcer Steve Barclay is on record as saying that “every desk in Whitehall should be occupied” following the Prime Minister`s edict that working from home is no longer necessary or desirable. Judging by the number of empty desks in most Government departments the Civil Service Union and the Whitehall `Blob` do not agree.
The Boswells School in Chelmsford in Essex has removed the `Rowling` name from its list of school houses following the author`s foray into the transgender debate. The school, which claims to seek `achievement through diversity` believes that Ms Rowling`s views `do not align with school policy`. Censorship presumably does.
The Runner up in the fifth series of the `Love Island` reality TV Show, at the age of 22 now the Creative Director for the Pretty Little Thing brand, has opined that `anyone can be a millionaire`.
And a purge of Government owned works of art has been paused. The woke review of colonial and slave-trade related items in the government Art Collection apparently included an 1835 canvas of the Battle of Trafalgar and a 1739 engraving of The Armada. Just as well the British State does not own the Bayeux Tapestry.
Betty White (99) was the star of the `Golden Girls `sitcom that ran from 1982 t0 1992 and enjoyed a stage and screen career that lasted for eight decades. She died just three weeks short of her 100th birthday on January 17th, an event that was already announced on the front cover of the People Magazine under the headline “Betty White turns 100”! Commencing her career as a radio actress Betty White switched to television in 1949 to host a live six-nightly variety show. “Hollywood on Television” earned her a first` Emmy` nomination and in 1952 she became the first woman to host, solo, a television show. Following “The Betty White Show” she joined the “Mary Tyler Moore” sitcom. In 2015 she was awarded her eighth `Emmy` as a Lifetime Achievement Award.
Richard Leakey (77) was the Kenyan fossil-hunter and conservationist who became the head of his Country`s Civil Service and the head of its Museums Service. Around what was then known as Lake Rudolf in Northern Kenya he excavated the bones of many early forms of man which included, in 1972, a 1.9 million year old skull and this was followed, in 1984, by the discovery of the almost complete skeleton of the “Turkana Boy”. As the Head of Kenya`s Wildlife Service he implemented a shoot-to-kill policy on elephant poachers and secured funding to promote wildlife tourism rather than `big game hunting` while continuing a campaign to end the trade in ivory.
Lady (Kathy) Grade (100) was the teenage singing star who was first promoted by and then married to Lew Grade, the impresario who joined the ITC consortium to bid for an Independent Television franchise in 1955 and was created a life Peer in 1976.
Dorothy Manley (94) was one of the last surviving athletes to have won a medal at the 1948 Olympic Games in London when she came second to Fanny Blankers-Koen in the 100 metres sprint. In 1951 she was part of the team that won a 4 x 220 yards relay setting a new world record.
Lady (Diana) Farnham (90) became The Queen`s Lady of the Bedchamber (Lady-in-Waiting) in 1987 and accompanied Her Majesty to the Diamond Jubilee service in 2012 after the Duke of Edinburgh was hospitalised. Married to the 12th Baron Farnham, an Irish Peer, Diana Farnham devoted forty-four years of service to her Monarch. She was appointed a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (an honour in the personal gift of the Sovereign) in 1998 and made a Dame Commander of the same order in 2010.
Jack Dromey (73) was the lifelong trades-unionist who was married to the `Mother of the House` (The longest-serving female MP) Harriet Harman. He was the deputy Secretary General of the Unite union from 2003 to 2010. Elected himself as the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Erdington in 2010 Jack was speaking in a parliamentary debate on the resettlement of Afghan Refugees on the afternoon of Thursday 6th January and died of natural causes at his constituency home on Friday 7th January.
Sir Sidney Poitier (94) was the black actor who became the box-office star of “To Sir, With Love” (1967) and “In the heat of the night”. (1967). His credits included “Cry, the Beloved Country”, “Blackboard Jungle” (1955) and the ”The Defiant Ones” (1958) as well as “Lilies of the Field”(1963), which brought him his first Best Actor Oscar award, and “Guess Who`s Coming to Dinner” (1967). In the early seventies he turned to directing but returned to the screen himself in 1988 with “Deadly Pursuit”. He also played Nelson Mandela in the television docudrama “Mandela and de Klerk”. In 1974 he was made an honorary KBE. He was awarded an Oscar Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002 and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009. He was made a Fellow of BAFTA in 2016.
Ronnie Spector (78) was the lead singer of the Sixties girl band The Ronettes whose song “Be My Baby” was a classic hit recorded in 1963. Veronica “Ronnie” Bennet went on to marry the record producer and creator of “The Wall of Sound”, Phil Spector. Spector was himself eventually sentenced to life imprisonment for the 2003 murder of the actress Lana Clarkson.
The group`s other hits included “The Best Part of Breakin` Up” and “Walking in the Rain”.
Francis Jackson (104) was a chorister, assistant organist, Master of Music and Organist Emeritus at York Minster where he played the organ from 1946 until 1982. He worked with nine Archbishops and played at the Marriage of the Duke of Kent in 1961. He was appointed an OBE in 1978 and a CBE in 2007 and was performing into his late nineties.
Bob Falkenberg (95) was the last surviving 1940s American Wimbledon Singles Champion and at 22 the youngest to win the title in 1948. Boris Becker took his crown at 17 in 1985.
Lord (Paul) Myners (73) was the Chairman of the Guardian Media Group and Marks and Spencer who became Gordon Brown`s City Minister during the financial crisis of 2008 and for eighteen months presided over the Labour Government`s bailout of The Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds Bank. He was appointed a CBE in 2003. As a Labour life peer, he resigned the whip in 2014 and continued to sit in the Lords as a crossbencher.
Hardy Kruger (93) was the German-born actor who was forced to serve in the SS Youth and to participate in a Nazi propaganda film. After the war he starred as Luftwaffe pilot France Von Werra, the only German to escape from a British prisoner-of-war camp, in the 1957 film “The One That Got Away”. In 1958 he made “Bachelor of Hearts” with Sylvia Sims and in 1959 Joseph Losey`s “Blind Date”. Kruger, who was fluent in a number of languages, worked with Howard Hawks and Stanley Kramer before co-starring for Richard Attenborough in “A Bridge Too Far”.
Peter Pike (74) represented Burnley in the House pf Commons between 1983 and 2005. A nuclear disarmer and anti-apartheid campaigner, he also opposed both the Gulf and Iraq wars. In 1992 Pike was elected as the vice- chairman of the left- wing Tribune Group and under the leadership of John Smith became Labour's housing spokesman in opposition. He was uncomfortable under the leadership of Tony Blair and retired from parliament in 2005
Andrew Jennings (78) was the investigative sports journalist who exposed the Spanish President of the International Olympic Committee and subsequently brought down the corrupt President of football`s international governing body, FIFA, Sepp Blatter. Having worked with the Sunday Times `Insight` team Jennings moved to Radio 4`s Checkpoint programme. He was awarded the Gold Medal at the New York Television Festival in 1989 and in 1999 received an award for Integrity in Reporting for his coverage of the Winter Olympics scandal. Private Eye said that Jennings “changed the way that the business of sport was not just reported but run”.
Barry Cryer (86) was the comedian and scriptwriter who began his career as a stand-up comic in 1957 at London`s Windmill Theatre and went on to make his name in a number of programmes culminating in Radio 4`s “I`m Sorry I Haven`t A clue” and “Just A Minute”. During his long career he provided material for Jimmy Logan, David Frost, Russ Abbott, Kenny Everett, Max Bygraves, Frankie Howard, Morecambe and Wise, Les Dawson, Bob Hope, Danny La Rue, Tommy Cooper and The Two Ronnies. In addition to BAFTA and Royal Society of Television awards he was given a Lifetime Achievement award by the British Music Hall Society and was made an OBE in 2001. Having recorded his own obituary ten years ago he said, “I don`t know how long I`ve got left – I don`t even buy green bananas”!
Sir Crispin Tickell (91) was the career diplomat who first drew attention to the threat of climate change in a 1977 book “Climactic Change and World Affairs” long before the issue has become `fashionable`. He is said to have been responsible for persuading Margaret Thatcher to use the term “global warming” in a speech that she made in 1988. He served as Private Secretary to three Chancellors of the Duchy of Lancaster and after a sabbatical at Harvard University became Chef de Cabinet to Roy Jenkins as President of the European Commission. Under Margaret Thatcher he was Permanent Secretary for Overseas Development and from 1987 -1980 Britain`s Permanent Representative to the United Nations. He was knighted on the Royal Yacht Britannia during the Queen`s visit to Mexico, where he was Ambassador, in 1983 and appointed GCMG in 1988.
At 19 years of age Zara Rutherford from Winchester has become the youngest pilot to circumnavigate the world. She made her final touchdown in Belgium having traversed fifty-two countries in the course of her journey.