Gale`s Westminster View – July 2014
July. Wimbledon and strawberries, Le Grand Depart, lost
paedophile dossiers, the coronation of J.C. Juncker, the catwalk” (as the
Bourgeois Women`s Tabloid so delicately describes Cameron`s Night of the Long
Knives), even the Assisted Dying Bill, all seem a long way away.
The end of life and the end of term are dominated by the murder of the
passengers aboard MH17 over Ukraine and the slaughter of innocents on both
sides of the Gaza border with Israel. The EU shows twenty-eight faces of
dithering impotence and Eastbourne Pier goes up in flames. Happy days.
It is a moot point whether it will be The Milipede, who has
not had a good school report, or an opportunist back-bencher, who will first
demand the recall of Parliament to debate” the urgent issue of the
day.” Recalls were, usually, demanded or instigated by the Government,
when the House rose for a full three months and then only to discuss, for
example, a declaration of war. The Peacekeeping Legacy, that Prime Minister
with a propensity for war and a desire to be seen to be governing, clearly
decided that a recall , once a couple of weeks` of freeloading holiday in
Tuscany or some such had been personally been enjoyed, demonstrated who was in
the driving seat and we can now scarcely get more than a couple weeks into
August before the statutory two days` notice is given by Mr. Speaker, the vital
maintenance work designed to prop up the crumbling Palace of Westminster for
another year is interrupted, carpets are hurriedly re-laid, the canteens and
bars are re-opened and Members are flown back, at taxpayers` expense, from yon
and hither to participate in a one or two day debate to endorse a decision that
has already been taken by government or, more probably, to engage in ritual
If that sounds cynical then I am afraid it is. Most of us
care ,more than a little, about events of great magnitude and
humanitarian catastrophe that are taking place and, do not misunderstand me, it
is right that the Mother of Parliaments should debate those issues. But let us
not kid ourselves that hard decisions relating to war and pestilence are taken
on the floor of the House of Commons these days. In a Global society
decisions are taken by Governments, particularly those of the United States and
Putin`s neo-Soviet Union, by China and sometimes by the United Nations
while of course being indecided by a European Union that has exposed its
capacity for an inability to act in anything other than pusillanimous national
More rant later, but let`s get back to the beginning of the
month. A student asked me, at a recent Q&A, why Mrs. May was still in
office as Home Secretary. She became, recently, our longest-serving holder of
that high office of State since God was a boy and her achievements have been
considerable, was the answer that I offered. It has to be said, however,
that July was not a great month for the Darling Bud. It turns out that the late
Geoffrey Dickens, a colourful” parliamentary colleague of the Thatcher years,
had handed to Leon (now Lord ) Brittan, while Home Secretary in November 1983,
a dossier relating to allegations of the paedophile activities of many in
high places, including some Members of Parliament and Ministers. Mrs. May was
only a gleam in a selection panel`s eye when this took place but the fact that
the dossier, and as it later transpires some thirteen others related to the
same issues, have `gone missing` from the archives led to an uncomfortable
session at the despatch box. As a Member of the House of Lords Leon
Brittan is not, of course, able to come to the Commons to explain himself but
some pressure was applied by his former Cabinet colleague Lord (Norman) Tebbit
in the Upper House for clarification of his position. Not a great deal has been
forthcoming and from public appearance it is doubtful whether Sir Leon is any
longer capable of contributing much to the debate but the tabloid press and Mr.
Plod are unlikely to let the matter melt way once the headlines cease to be dominated
by international events.
The Home Secretary`s discomfiture has been exacerbated, also
by a fair degree of chaos in the passport office which is, ultimately, her
responsibility. Members of Parliament not infrequently receive requests
for assistance in retrieving lost or delayed travel documents and on occasions
it is clearly the fact that people who have booked summer holidays in January
have then left it until late Spring to visit the passport drawer and to
discover that their documents have either expired or, worse, that little Jimmy,
looking forward to his first chance to sample lager in glorious Ibiza, does not
have a passport at all. Security, and the desire to stamp out fraud, have
quite properly led to a tightening of the regime and while of course a
professional crook, terrorist or spy can buy half a dozen passports in
different names from equally professional forgers, the run-of-the-mill illegal
immigrant may be deterred by an interview demanding a knowledge of the name of
Horatio Nelson`s grandmother or whatever. This year, however, we have
faced a backlog of tens of thousands of applications, many made in timely
fashion, delayed through sheer volume and partly through industrial action. (A
holiday season walkout by staff was described by PCS Union leader Mark Serwotka
as being designed to help the public”!) I can only speak personally but
thanks largely to the herculean efforts of one magnificent civil servant in the
Minister of State`s office I am not aware of any constituent who has actually
missed a holiday as a result of a lack of passport but on occasions it has been
a near-run and nerve-wracking thing.
Enhanced air-travel security, particularly on flights to the
USA, coupled with proper scrutiny of arriving passengers and made worse by the
need to keep an eye open for the Ebola virus are likely to lead, this summer,
to long queues at airports and that, no doubt, is another matter that will land
on the Home secretary`s already laden desk.
The economy is, according to the International Monetary
Fund, in improving shape with the UK and the USA booming while the Eurozone
still suffers with Mr. Holland`s socialist France as the weakest link in that
flimsy chain. That does not, however, mean that there are enough pounds in your
pocket to pay the bills and as a consequence payday loans are an essential
fallback for still too many families. We learn that the charming
usurer Wonga has resorted to sending out fake and threatening `solicitor`s
letters` to those who are behind with repayments. Impersonating a
solicitor is, of course, a criminal offence and it would be good but improbable
to think that prosecutions of not only Wonga but also Barclays, Lloyds, RBS,
HSBC, Scottish Power and Anglian Water and others who are reported to have been
engaged in similar practices might follow. I do not suppose, either, that
the Fake Sheikh” , Mazher Mahmood, formerly of the News of the World and now
doing a spot of Kelvin” (Lying in the Sun) will find himself in the dock
facing perjury charges after a High Court Judge caught him fabricating
evidence, but we can live in hope.
It is, I suppose, fitting that a resident of God`s Waiting
Room”, the House of Lords, should seek to introduce a bill that promotes
assisted dying” or suicide” as it used to be called until it was
sanitised. Nobody wants to see a loved one suffer at the end of life and
the argument is frequently deployed that you wouldn`t let a dog die in pain so
why do we allow humans to end their lives in agony” and, while facile, it is an
argument with which most of us can find some sympathy. Lord (Charlie)
Falconer`s bill has survived its first stages in parliament with the support of
the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, who has changed his
ecclesiastical mind on the subject, and the Liberal Democrat Health Minister,
Norman Lamb who, although of course unable as a Commoner to speak in the
debate, nevertheless voiced his opinion also.
Curiously, while British Medical Journal backs Charlie`s
bill the Royal College of GPs and those most likely to be directly involved in
assisting dying do not. And neither do I. For intensely personal reasons
I came, some time ago, to the view that the system as it stands broadly works
and that we meddle with it at our peril. There are many whose cause of
death on the certificate may well say cancer” when the actual death was
brought about by morphine poisoning but that, surely, is a question of medical
judgement and a far cry from the assisted” dying that is legal and escalating
in the Netherlands. I want for myself, and for those that I love, the
right to die with dignity and, if appropriate and possible, at home and
supported by proper medical care. If pain control means cranking up the supply
of drugs to near-lethal doses then so be it, but the assisted suicide”, to
give it is` proper name, concept is a very dangerous road down which to travel.
It is easy to see how playing God can degenerate, in short order, into pressure
upon those leading `inconvenient` lives and to the sort of mass killing” of
which the Dutch regulator, Theo Boer, has warned.
I usually agree with George Carey but on this issue I
believe that he is profoundly wrong. Changes to abortion law have led, almost,
to abortion on demand and there is continuous pressure from within parliament
to go further on the basis of right to choose”. I see the same happening with
death if Lord Falconer`s Assisted Dying bill were ever to become law.
I indicated earlier that the Millipede’s end-of-term report
had not been good. The Labour Peer, Lord Glasman, contributed to the Leader of
Her Majesty`s Opposition`s woes by highlighting a lack of sense of direction”
and our Labour colleague in the Commons, John Crudes, charged with the duty of
dreaming up manifesto commitments for the 2015 general election, has spoken of
bold ideas stifled by the dead hand of the leadership. Never one to miss an
opportunity to be `helpful` Lord Foy of That Persuasion, the Peter Mandelson
that was, suggests while celebrating the 20th anniversary of Legacy
Blair`s accession to the Leadership of the Labour party, that Labour must
target the centre and win on leadership and the economy”. Coming from the core
of an administration that brought the nation to its financial knees that might
seem a bit rich (or poor, depending upon how you look at it) but there`s not
much doubt that his protégé, call me Tony” has done very nicely thankyou since
leaving Number Ten. While the legacy finds it necessary to deny that he
is worthy £100 million, indicating that it is in fact a mere £20 million it`s
not clear whether that includes the value of his ten homes or not. Either way,
the Middle East Peace Envoy felt able to leave that same Middle East in meltdown
and to throw an expensive bash back home for Mrs. Legacy`s sixtieth birthday .
No doubt the earnings arising from the advice that he will be giving to Abdel
Fattah al-Sisi on `how to boost the economy` will help pay for the party but
there are those who are unkind enough to suggest that as a peace envoy he is
about as much use as a chocolate teapot and it`s time to go before any more
damage is done.
Back at the ranch The Milipede`s 25-minute brush-by” with
Borat O`Bama during a brief visit to the United States has achieved little if
anything save to highlight the Commander-in-Chief`s own weakness while his
attempt at self-deprecating humour seems only to have heightened the
comparison with Grommit`s Wallace. Rumour has it that my old friend Alan Johnson
might be put forward as a stalking horse to change the Labour leadership. My
offer to act as your campaign manager still stands, Alan!
Lord Hall`s committed to transparency” Salford Broadcasting
Company has declined to allow the National Audit Office to view documents
relating to `fatcat` pay deals and pay-offs within the corporation. (£26
million on golden good-bye`s under Tony Hall in just 12 months). `Access by
agreement`, believes the NAO`s Sir Amyas Morse, is clearly insufficient. Legal
powers of scrutiny are surely needed but one person who will not be getting
embroiled in that row is Lord Coe. The Corporation`s pundit, Lord
Peston`s little boy Robert, described Seb Coe as a shoe in” for the post of
Chairman of the Trustees to succeed Lord Patten. That might well have been so
and Auntie could certainly do with someone who is used to winning for a change
but William Hague`s one-time judo instructor is too fly to take that fall and
has his sights set firmly, instead, upon the leadership of the International
Association of Athletics Federations for which he is in the running. That means
that Seb will not have to worry, either, about trivial matters such as the
terminal decline of children`s broadcasting or the Trust`s own report
suggesting that too much prime time TV is taken up with soaps and repeats.
Never mind. While only the Good Lord knows what effect the appointment of Euan
Davies to replace Jeremy Paxman on Newsnight may have but it might enhance the
Today programme`s ratings which, after a brief spike, have recently plummeted
by four hundred thousand in a mere six months.
A good month for the girls and a not so good one for men in
suits .Her Maj launched all seventy two thousand tons and nine hundred and
thirty two feet of the aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth by cracking a
bottle of rather good Bowmore Islay Malt whisky over the bow. Whether or
not this proves to be the last warship built on the Clyde will depend, in part,
upon the outcome of the referendum as British warships are traditionally built
in British dockyards and an independent Scotland would, presumably, not
qualify. That point will not have been lost on Alex Salmond who was, of course
present with his 92-year old father who was on board HMS Indomitable when she
was torpedoed in 1943. The shipbuilding issue could also help to torpedo
young Alex` independence hopes.
Those aspirations could have been enhanced by the
Commonwealth Games, held in Glasgow but Salmond`s hopes that the Red Arrows
might trail Blue and White smoke for their fly-past were scuppered by one
`suit` who not only survived but was elevated in the reshuffle, the new Defence
Secretary, Michael Fallon. Red, White and Blue or nothing.
Apart from young wannabee minister MPs who sit anxiously by
the phone awaiting `the call` from Downing Street, nobody really likes
reshuffles. Those already carrying red boxes know that is as likely to be out
as up or sideways and the Prime Minister re-shuffling knows that he is almost
certainly making more enemies than friends as those making space for new blood
harbour resentment and those passed over play the why her and not me” game.
The answer to that question, of course, is that this Prime Minister has had a
need of more hers than hims in his Cabinet and Ministerial team. And
so. Out went Ken Clarke (Without Portfolio), William Hague, (Foreign
Secretary to become Leader of the House before standing down at the next
general election) ), Dominic Grieve (Attorney General), David Jones (Welsh
Secretary, Owen Paterson (Agriculture) and Andrew Lansley (Leader of the
Commons). Also departing were Damian Green (Home Office) and Hugh (now
and rightly Sir Hugh) Robertson.(Sport and also standing down in 2015)
Up went Philip Hammond (from Defence to Foreign
Office) and Michael Fallon (from Minister of State at BIS to Secretary of State
for Defence). Sideways, or down, depending upon whether you buy into the
hand of the King” argument or not, went Michael Gove from Education to Chief
And in marched the girls. While the tabloid press has
treated the reshuffle as a catwalk” and a fashion parade and taken glee in
snapping the occasional glimpse of thigh, Man David has promoted some very
bright young women. Nicky Morgan (Education Secretary) and Liz Truss
(Agriculture) and Esther McVey are all new to the cabinet, Priti Patel joins
the Treasury team as a junior Minister and Penny Mordaunt takes over the brief
for Planning and local government.
While none of these, and other, new Ministers will have a
chance to change much in policy before the general election Cameron`s personal
night of the long knives” which was more sweeping than expected and sets the
tone for what he wishes to be a second term in office with an overall majority.
Even news of the reshuffle, though, was immediately
overshadowed by the shooting down of the Malaysian Airways flight MH17 over
Eastern Ukraine with a massive loss of life. Flying at thirty-three
thousand feet and well beyond the range of hand-held ground-to-air missiles
hitherto deployed by the rebels is now virtually certain that the aircraft was
taken out of the sky by a Russian-supplied BUK 9K37 missile system.
Recordings taken at the time suggest that the Russians and the Ukrainian rebels
thought that they had scored a hit on a Ukrainian government military transport
plane but the tone of comments and accusation and counter-accusation swiftly
changed as the true enormity of this crime against innocent civilians became
clear. Mr. Putin has, deliberately or otherwise, precipitated not only a tragedy
for the nearly three hundred families, including ten Britons, who have
suffered, but also a diplomatic crisis that will have far-reaching
and long-lasting effects.
President Obama has dubbed this a wake up call for Europe. While
his own impotence has been significant this event has also exposed the
inability of the European Union to take swift, co-ordinated and united
action in the face of national self-interest and the idea that Europe can or
will stand together when faced with a serious challenge has been blown out of
the blue sky.
The aftermath of the destruction of MH 17 has been truly
horrific with debris and bodies strewn across a wide area for days, accusations
of looting and the grave robbing” of corpses left uncollected, the final
train of death” that transported the recovered remains to Holland while others
still lie undiscovered and unaccounted for and the inability of international
investigators to gain access to the crash site all scream of the need for
European co-operation. Instead, the EU has divided in its willingness to
agree to take sanctions, to freeze Russian funds, to ban travel for more than a
handful of Putin`s oligarchs and to terminate the sale of all arms to Russia.
Instead, national defence-industry, sales and employment considerations have
taken precedence alongside the interests of the financial sector and the
dependence upon gas supplies from Russia. I cannot see that the former KGB
Colonel who now leads the neo-soviet union will take anything but comfort from
the inability of the West to respond to this outrage. The Russian economy may
be a basket-case but so, surely, is what passes for robust action within Europe
and the United States.
And so to Gaza. From afar we watch with horror as women and
children are slaughtered. Israel has embarked upon a PR disaster and instigated
a humanitarian outrage of monumental proportions with a ruthlessness that even
many Jews find abhorrent. The propaganda war is being won by the terrorist
Hamas organisation while civilians die. And yet. It is a proven fact that Hamas
has used, and continued to use, women and children, schools and hospitals, as
human shields to surround the launching pads for missiles directed at Israel
while those weapons are smuggled in through tunnels dug under the border and
used to perpetrate terrorist attacks on Israeli civilians. There is great wrong
on both sides but once again the impotence of the United Nations, of
international diplomacy, of the scope for peaceful intervention and intercession,
has been found wanting. Understandably those that we represent recoil in
disgust from what they are seeing on television screens, are condemning those
that are portrayed as the aggressors and demanding that politicians do
something”. The point has been made, though, that the western track
record of intervention, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Libya, does not exactly
inspire confidence. Dictators removed have been replaced with unstable
and often equally oppressive alternatives, women and children and civilian
males have been killed in what we prefer to call collateral damage” and
to what effect? It is not enough to do something”. We have to do the
right thing and if you know what that is in the case of Israel and the Gaza
strip then I for one would very much like to know because I cannot see a
glimmering of an answer.
A buyer has paid £2.5 million for Tracey Emin`s unmade bed
installation”. Tracey comes from the Margate that I represent and where there
are, I imagine, quite a lot of unmade beds and if you could just get a modest
£1 million each for a few of them, say, it would transform our local economy.
Beavers have been found, in the River Otter in Devon, in the
wild for the first time in 800 years in Great Britain. The responsible
government department, DEFRA, believes that they may be a danger to other
animals”. Given that beavers have effectively been extinct for eight centuries
is it not just possible that another animal” (man) might have been a danger to
You possibly are the proud owner of an Apple appliance.
Ponder, as you use it, that this company which pays every penny that we owe”
in tax has forked out just £11 million in tax on £10 billion of sales. The
Commons Public Accounts committee is sceptical.
British Airways is offering summer deals” that run from
September to December. Accepting that it must be summer” somewhere
during these months it is nevertheless a pity that the airlines largess does
not embrace the Autumn half-term holiday – the one time when parents who are
not schoolteachers (and therefor apparently allowed to bunk off for weddings
and funerals whenever they like) are allowed to take their children on holiday
during the shoulder months.
Sacre bleu! French bosses are to be allowed by, Mr.
Holland`s socialist administration, to ban wine from the workplace. This is
designed to enhance the physical and mental wellbeing of workers”. The nation
that criticises the British for eating to work while they work to eat will have
to re-think the menu. Which cordial goes best with escargots?
The move will, though, chime well with the socialist Mayor
of Paris, Mme. Anne Hidalgo, who is experimenting with the banning of smoking
Gauloise (and all other cigarettes) in the City`s parks.
In Britain it is proposed to introduce a £10 K fine for
convictions for drivers who permit smoking in a car with a child. That
inveterate smoker Ken Clarke QC has suggested that this law is likely to prove
unenforceable and unworkable. Who do you penalise, for example, where a driver
is 17 and a smoking passenger is 17?
Stoke on Trent Council has spent £10 thousand of ratepayers`
money to produce a DVD indicating how to change a light bulb. The movie,
unlikely to become a blockbuster, was completed in 2012 but has yet to receive
the light of day. It is awaiting final approval. Now how many civil servants
does it take to change a……,…..oh, never mind.
News reports tell us that 0nly 3% of first-time home-buyers
are aged between 18 and 30. We also learn that it is difficult to obtain a
mortgage after the age of 40 because the applicant is likely to be too old” to
repay the loan. So you have a ten year window in which to buy a house.
Ryanair have managed to take two families bound for Spain on
a plane to Latvia instead, in spite of three pre-flight document checks.
Your friendly airline says that it is the responsibility of each passenger to
ensure that they have boarded the right aircraft”
Camden Council has produced a four-page staff instruction
manual on precautions to be taken when meeting the public. It includes checking
for the means of escape.
Public Health England is planning to introduce obesity
warnings at supermarket checkouts. A little late by the time that you have
reached the checkout, surely?
And that bastion of diversity the BBC has introduced a
31-page questionnaire for would-be employees. It includes queries such as are
you gay” and did you receive free school meals”? The questionnaire is, of
course, entirely voluntary”.
Sidney Marshall has died in Blackpool at the age of 90. A
rear gunner in a Lancaster, he took part in a bombing raid on D-Day. No known
relatives but when news got out 700 mourners turned up to give the ancient
aviator an appropriate send-off.
Dora Bryan, at the age of 91, has taken her final curtain
call. Most will remember her as a comedienne. The discerning will recall the
BAFTA best actress award winner who starred in A Taste of Honey.
Jim Nock, OBE. At the age of 79. Unless
you live in East Kent you are unlikely to know of Jim but he was the Leader of
Canterbury City Council when I was first elected to parliament, subsequently
Lord Mayor of Canterbury and Chairman and President of my Conservative
Association. I am privileged to have known him and to have been allowed
to call him a true friend.
Ashers Baking Company in Belfast has fallen foul of the
Equality Commission of Northern Ireland for declining to produce a wedding”
case with the slogan Support Gay Marriage” displayed on the icing. Ashers
(named for a verse from the Bible) claims that to comply would offend their
Christian beliefs and ethos. The Commission has warned of legal action which is
strange as Northern Ireland is the one part of the United Kingdom where marriage
has not yet been re-defined” and still constitutes a union between a man and a
woman. This could pose a problem for a Prime Minister who while believing
that commitment to equality is an important part of being British” also writes
in the Church Times that we need to be confident about our faith as a
Christian Country”. Square that circle, please.