Westminster View - September 2019
September. Conference season. Liberals in Bournemouth, Labour in Brighton, Tories in Manchester and the Government in the dock. The `Operation Yellowhammer` papers predict traffic chaos and post-Brexit shortages when finally prized out of The Gover`s hands. “We will secure a deal by October seventeenth”. Or will we? Gloom in Europe, despair in Dublin, `serial disloyalty` within the Conservative Party. But by whom? The `Benn Act` supported by twenty-one Tory rebels ties Johnson`s negotiating hand to doing a deal, the Supreme Court over rules the High Court and declares that the Scottish Court of Sessions was right to declare the PM`s advice to Her Maj to be `illegal and unlawful`, The PM finds himself on an undignified flight back from the UN in New York to Westminster. Speaker Bercow, having `Re-sat` Parliament (you cannot recall a Parliament that has not been suspended) faces an electoral challenge, announces his October31st retirement and presides over Commons chaos. A rift in the Johnson family as Bro Jo resigns from government to put `country before family` and little sister Rachel speaks of the man at the “Bully pulpit” which is a new name for the despatch box. Mayor Boris`s relationship with the pole-dancing entrepreneur Jennifer Arcuri, from whom he received `technology lessons` while visiting her flat in Shoreditch may come back to haunt him. The Prime Minister`s private life seems as Teflon-coated as the Tramp`s in the eyes of the electorate but a mis-use of £126 K of public funds would, if proven, be a different and criminal matter. Neither is all sweetness and light in Red Jerry`s camp. With respected members leaving his party to join the Liberal Democrats, the Jon Lansman Momentum de-selection tumbril looking to claim more heads and most members of his Shadow Cabinet wanting to take Labour and its Pro-Leave Leader down the “No Brexit” path it is not surprising that they are saying that ”Corbynism is past its high-water mark”. We have a Prime Minister who has yet to win a vote in the House of Commons, a Leader of the Opposition terrified to allow a General Election for fear of losing it and a Liberal Leader in Jo Swinson saying, with echoes of David Steel, that she is a Prime Minister in Waiting. Former Chancellor Ken Clarke, the Father of the House (longest-serving Member) is `mildly annoyed` to find himself having the Tory Whip removed, Cabinet Minister Amber Rudd resigns both her Cabinet post and the Tory whip in protest. David Cameron`s memoirs upset Her Maj, British Airways pilots need to strike because they are finding it hard to struggle by on their £170 thousand a year , Thomas Cook, one of the world`s largest travel companies, shuts its doors, the planned HS2 North-South railway line is way over budget and will be delayed by seven years if built at all. Hurricane Damian devastates the Bahamas leaving tens of thousands homeless, The Tramp, “poster boy for the far right”, faces impeachment in the House of Representatives although the US Senate is unlikely to send him packing , The Prime Minister`s Chief of Staff, Dominic Cummings, is described as “an unelected, foul-mouthed oaf” , and Dilyn, a fifteen-week old rescued Jack Russell puppy, arrives to live in Number Ten where, like everyone else, he will no doubt be kicked around by Cummings. Poor Dilyn.
Last month, you will recall, Mr. Johnson decided to send The Mogg, in his capacity of Lord President of the Council and Leader of the House of Commons, to Balmoral to recommend to Her Maj that she should prorogue parliament. This, ordinarily, happens once a year at the end of every session when the Queen writes `La Reine Le Veult` on the bottom of the legislation passed and signs it off as an Act of Parliament. There is then a break of a few days before the State Opening of the new session. The Queen reads The Gracious Speech, which is the legislative programme and her own travel plans for the next few months. We trudge back from the House of Lords Chamber to the House of Commons and debate it for a few days before voting on it and off we go again.
Exceptionally, this session has lasted for more than two years without a break and has been in session for over 800 days which is longer than at any time in the last four hundred years. Time, you might think, to kick-start the legislative process that has been so dominated by `Bloody Brexit`. That, however, gainsays the power of`BB` to generate conspiracy theories. This is not an incoming Prime Minister exercising his right to wind up the session and, via the vehicle of The Speech, set out his own stall. No Sir! This is Mr. Johnson `suspending` parliament and preventing MP`s from further debating the exit from the European Union that we have already been worrying, like a demented dog with a rancid bone, for more that twenty-four months. The House does, when it so chooses, a magnificent line in synthetic outrage and here, of course, was a golden opportunity for the Opposition and die-hard Remainers to protest.
To be fair, the Prorogation was set to last for the best part of a month, which is appreciably longer than usual. The chief reason for that was because the House rises for almost four weeks to accommodate the Party Conferences so the number of days in excess actually lost would have been no more than two or three. Even as one who is not a fully paid-up member of the Boris Johnson fan club I find it hard to understand what we might have achieved in terms of hastening the cause of Brexit had we actually been sitting throughout the Conferences, October 31st deadline or no. The High Court, charged with the duty of deciding whether or not the advice given to Her Maj was lawful or whether, in lurid tabloid terms, “Johnson Lied To The Queen”, took the view that the issue was political and not `justiciable` and wisely threw the matter out. The Scottish Court of Sessions, intervening at the behest of the (Remain) Scottish Nationalist Party, then decided that the Prime Minister`s action was illegal and the UK Government, on the advice of the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, referred the matter to the Supreme Court for adjucation. The eleven judges of the Supreme Court led by Baroness Hale then ruled against the High Court, which includes the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls, and sided with the Scottish Court of Sessions. Constitutional crisis and mayhem. As Parliament was not prorogued we technically had not risen and the Speaker therefore decided to sit again without the normal two days` notice normally afforded on recall to allow members to return from wherever they have been scattered to the four winds. The Prime Minister had to cut short his charm-fest at the UN in New York, where he had been busy trying to sow the seeds of a Brexit deal on less-than-fertile ground, in order to grovel at the Despatch Box in the Commons. Mr. Mogg accused the Supreme Court of a “constitutional coup”and of making “a serious mistake” . The Attorney General, upon whose advice the original decision had been taken, looked to be in the firing line but boomed that “This Parliament is dead and has no moral right to sit` and the lunatics resumed their places in the asylum for a few days to no useful purpose whatsoever.
A dangerous precedent has, however, now been set. I seldom agree with Mr. Mogg but he is right to infer that a red line has been crossed – a point that was reinforced to me in person by an extremely eminent and senior Judge and former member of the European Court of Human Rights who clearly believes that Lady Hale and her happy band have overstepped the mark. If the Supreme Court is going to meddle in Parliamentary matters then it is very likely that in future Parliament is likely to demand a say in who is appointed to the Supreme Court and, perhaps, conduct US-style Select Committee examinations of candidates and that is not a pretty path down which to wander.
The Attorney General`s assertion that “This Parliament is Dead” is correct. It was, effectively killed off when what is now known as “The Benn Act” received the Royal Assent. Without boring you with too much detail this piece of legislation, passed as a result of the House, with the support of Mr. Speaker Bercow, taking control, of the Commons business,requires that if the Prime Minister has not achieved and put through Parliament a Brexit deal by mid-October he shall be required to send a letter, the terms of which are detailed in the Act, to the European Commission requesting an extension to the Brexit deadline of October 31st . This would therefore effectively both rule out a `No Deal` hard Brexit and make a nonsense of his own “die in a ditch” claim that he would have the UK out of the EU by the end of October. This Bill (as it then was) was carried with the support of twenty-one Tory rebels including the Former Chancellor of the Exchequer (Philip Hammond) The Father of the House (Kenneth Clarke),many former senior Ministers and Sir Winston Churchill`s grandson, Sir Nicholas Soames. Charged with the claim that these Honourable Members acting, as they saw fit in the interests of the United Kingdom, were disloyal Soames deployed the Churchillian riposte that “the Prime Minister`s own serial disloyalty has been an inspiration to us”! To make a bad situation worse and probably at the behest of a foul-mouthed Dominic Cummings who is reported to have said that “I don’t know who any of you people are” the twenty-one rebels had the Conservative whip withdrawn. In short, this Conservative Prime Minister has reduced a bare majority to, through his own actions, a deficit of about forty votes. The Party that he leads is, as is the Labour Party, accused of having been taken over by “entryists and usurpers” where there is no longer room for `One Nation Tories` in a political movement that has vacated the centre ground. It was with some reason, therefore, that the Attorney General opined that “This Parliament is dead”.
Ordinarily, of course, a Government without a majority and without being capable of forming a coalition, would not only be dead but buried in the throes of an election in which an Opposition is determined to seize power. There is a consensus in the House that the only way to resolve the impasse is to hold an early General election and to seek to deliver a government, of whatever political party, with a working majority. Time was when a Prime Minister could choose the moment to `go to the Country` but under the Fixed Term Parliament Act introduced by David Cameron a General Election can only now be held inside five years on the votes of two thirds of the Members of the House of Commons which is what Theresa May achieved in 2017 with less than satisfactory results. The Government put the issue to the test and lost, securing only 293 votes to 46 with a vote of 434 needed to carry the day. Red Jerry`s excuse for rejecting the prospect of an election, an unheard of position for a Government-in-Waiting to take, is that he wanted to eliminate the prospect of a No Deal Brexit before making his case for a Labour Government to the electorate. The reality is that notwithstanding the many vicissitudes of the Conservative Party and the Prime Minister`s falling personal poll ratings the Labour Party is in such disarray and the Leadership so damaged and devalued that the best outcome that could be hoped for on the Opposition benches is a minority hung Parliament with many Labour Members losing their seats and dependency upon the Liberal and Scottish Nationalist parties to secure any form of power. Worse, while there has been talk of bringing down Johnson`s Government and forming an interim Government of National Unity to dig us out of the mess that we are in there is no consensus as to who should lead such a mission. The Liberals` Jo Swinson has vetoed a Corbyn-led administration and the names of Ken Clarke and Harriet Harman have been mooted but the Labour Party, as the Official Opposition, are adamant that only Comrade Corbyn can engage in such a pitch to Buck House. Stalemate. And this Parliament is still dead!
Johnson`s Home Secretary, Priti Patel, is reported to have plans to introduce `vindaloo visas ‘to protect skilled chefs in Britain`s hundreds of curry houses that are closing at the rate of two per week. The visa will entail a waiver of the £35,800 per year earnings threshold which rather kicks to bottom out of other plans to introduce an `Australian-style points system` based upon need and merit. Will Turkish Kebab Houses or French Restaurants or Chinese Take-aways or other ethnic food outlets be afforded similar concessions and, if so, where to you draw the line?
French President Macron is said to have been less than impressed by the antics of the Swedish teenager and Climate Change activist Greta Thurnberg, who literally sailed into the United Nations in New York to lecture her elders if not betters about the need to protect the planet for her generation. Le Macron apparently found her rant `antagonistic`
The publication of Man David`s political memoirs, the product of three years toiling in a shepherd`s hut at the bottom of his garden, has caused displeasure at the Palace. The former PM`s revelation that he had encouraged Her Maj to `raise an eyebrow` during the Scottish Independence referendum was regarded with `displeasure and annoyance` which, for Buck House, is pretty strong stuff. Cameron`s acknowledgement that he `might have said too much` may not be enough to keep him on the Christmas Card list.
Police have been called to a primary school in Lewes, West Sussex, to oversee a “Save Our Skirts” campaign involving a hundred and fifty marchers protesting at `gender neutral` school uniforms Pupils wearing skirts instead of the now regulation grey trousers were locked out at the start of the Autumn term, allegedly in breach of the Gender Equality Act. “Officers engaged with the protesters”.
Labour Party activists have been hard at work delivering “Election Now” leaflets while their Leader, Mr. Corbyn, and the parliamentary party have been voting against a poll.
With, at the time, 107 days to go until Christmas The Old Ship hotel in Brighton has installed its Christmas tree. Selfridges, the Oxford Street store, however, opened its Christmas section during the heatwave in July.
Brown Sauce and ketchup have now been dropped from respectable kitchens in favour of Peri-Peri Mayonnaise the sales of which have risen by 53% to a market value of eight million pounds. What is `Peri Peri mayonnaise`?
Plymouth Seafood Festival has consumed an endangered Blue Shark. The Boathouse Café has apologised for serving the fish which was”caught accidentally and unintentionally”.
Scottish, Essex and Thames Valley constabularies are promoting the idea of having a `grab bag` packed and ready to go in case of a domestic or national emergencies. The possible contents of such a bag vary so widely and so indecently that it is impossible to list them in a respectable column …..but you can draw up your own list at your leisure.
John Sergeant, for years Auntie`s Chief Political Correspondent, has accused the BBC of `anti-London bias` and engaging in a costly `anywhere but London` exercise in broadcasting The Corporation says primly that “We are a National broadcaster”. And the BBC and ITV have been required, via a Government paper, to carry out an audit of the number of gay and trans sexual staff they employ on and off screen. Now that will be a really good use of over-75`s licence fee payers` money next year.
Mattel, the creator of Barbara Millicent Roberts (the `Barbie` doll) have now produced a gender-neutral `woke` range that offers a choice of six dolls and fourteen wardrobe options. Thank God. Just in time for Christmas.
Robert Mugabe (95) ,Rhodesian Freedom fighter and Zimbabwean tyrant.
Carol Lynley (77) appeared in Return to Peyton Place in 1961, Under the Yum Yum Tree with Jack Lemmon in 1963, a biopic of Jean Harlow and Bunny Lake is Missing in 1965 and what is regarded as the first `disaster epic`, “The Poseidon Adventure, in 1972.
Chester Williams (49) known as `The Black Pearl` was the only black member of the 1995 Springboks Rugby Union World Cup Squad that played against New Zealand
Robert Frank (94) has been described as the greatest photographer of the twentieth century. His legendary “Americans as they live” road trip taken around the United States between 1955 and 1957 portrayed the antithesis of `The American Dream` through shots of funerals, drive-ins, segregated trolley cars, jukeboxes, bikes and churches. Not surprisingly his collection received a hostile reception when it was first published.
Sir Dawda Jawara (95) was the first President of the Republic of Gambia from 1965 to 1994. He sought to create `a model of democracy`, eschewed self-enrichment and helped to turn Banjul into a popular tourist resort attracting regular flights and packaged holidays.. He sought political asylum in Senegal when he was ousted by Corporal, subsequently `His Excellency Sheikh Professor Doctor President`, Yahya Jammeh who history is likely to judge rather less kindly.
James Cellan Jones (88) began his career as a BBC call boy , as a Television Director was responsible for The Forsythe Saga (1967) with Eric Porter and The Fortunes of War in 1987 which attracted six million viewers when first aired on BBC2 and subsequently was watched by 18 million people on BBC 1, He ended his career as Head of Plays..
South African born Sir Michael Edwardes (88) Chaired the British Leyland Group through its era of `corporate confrontation`. The Group embraced the Austin, Morris, Rover, Jaguar, and Triumph, marks and lost the production of two hundred and fifty thousand cars to strikes. He finally broke the power of the unions with the sacking of Derek `Red Robbo` Robinson in 1979 after five hundred and twenty three disputes at the firm`s Longbridge plant in Birmingham. By 1980 the industrial battle was all but over with the workforce reduced from one hundred and seventy-two thousand to ninety thousand. By the time that I fought the Birmingham Northfield by-election in 1982 automation had taken over and the number of employees had fallen dramatically further but the `politburo` group of portakabins at the entrance to the plant remained as a monument to industrial strife.
Zine Abedine Ben-Ali (83) was the first despot to fall in the `Arab Spring`. Ben Ali himself removed Habib Bourgiba in 1987 and embarked upon a programme of education, women`s freedoms and increased prosperity. He created an oasis of economic and political stability but at a huge cost in political and personal freedom. Family greed was his downfall – his wife Leila, a former hairdresser, and her relations amassed a massive fortune with which they escaped to Saudi Arabia. The beginning of the end, and the dawn of the Arab Spring, came with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouzizi, a street vendor, in Sidi Bouzid in January 2011.
John `Jo` Lancaster (100) was a test pilot with the Armstrong Whitworth `flying wing` and was the first aviator to use the Martin Baker `Bang` (ejector) seat in anger. The seat itself is now in the Science Museum. With No. 40 Wellington Bomber Squadron he took part in attacks on the Gniesenau and the Scharnhorst . He was commissioned in 1941 and participated in further raids on Cologne and Essen.
Leaving the RAF with a DFC he worked with Saunders Roe Flying Boats at Boscombe Down and exhibited at the Farnborough Air Shows in the Meteor Night Fighter, The Seahawk and The Hawker Hunter.
Jacques Chirac (86) was known as `The Soul of France`. In a political career spanning forty years he served for eighteen years as the Mayor of Paris, twice as Prime Minister and became President of the Republic at his third attempt in 1995 remaining in office until 2007. Opposed to the Euro, `The Bulldozer` believed in a Europe of Nation States.
HRH The Duke of Edinburgh is being tipped for Trafalgar Square. It is suggested that a statue of Prince Philip might usefully occupy the vacant fourth plinth originally destined for William IV. For the past 20 years the plinth has hosted a succession of exhibits ranging from a winged bull through a blue cockerel to a skeleton horse and a nude streaker but the moment has, perhaps, come for a more permanent monument to dignify the site. To date the Palace has declined to comment.
The Radio Four Today programme`s chief inquisitor, John Humphreys, has finally hung up his headphones after five thousand editions of the programme that has heard him report on, amongst so many other memorable events, the resignation of President Nixon and the Aberfan disaster.
The Duke of Sussex has revisited an Angolan minefield in the footsteps of the `scars of war` first publicised by his mother, Princess Diana, twenty-two years ago.
And `Boaty McBoatface`, more formally known as RRS. Sir David Attenborough, has been named in the presence of the ship`s patron, the Duchess of Cambridge, by the old eco-warrior himself. May god bless her and all who search for scientific truth from within her.