Gale`s View from Westminster – September 2015
September. The shutters are coming down all over Europe as the tide of migrants hits flood levels. 'Ras' Putin parks tanks on the White House lawn and a Red Dawn breaks over Britain. The Northern Ireland Assembly peers into the abyss, Assisted Dying receives the coup de grace, Rifkind and Straw are cleared of Parliamentary wrongdoing, Real durch Technik comes UnVorsprung at The People's Wagon factory, Chancellor George gets out the best China, Spitfires over Kent once more as the remaining Few take to the skies in Battle of Britain tribute, Is 'Big Al' really guilty of murder or was he stitched up by a kangaroo military court? And will Donald be Trumped in the Republican race for the Presidency?
The Schengen Agreement is in tatters. It is arguable that the hitherto sure-shod Frau Merkel has got the asylum and immigration issue horribly wrong. Announcing that Germany would, to satisfy its low- paid working needs, take getting on for a million refugees sent out all the wrong signals to people- traffickers whose trade in misery in the form of human livestock now knows no bounds. The Dublin Convention, also now not worth the paper that it is written on, states clearly that asylum seekers must register their status in the first safe- haven that they reach after leaving the Country in which they face persecution. That, of course has not happened and it is certainly not the intention of those young, male, economic migrants reaching Italy and Greece via Turkey of North Africa to remain in Southern Europe. France has been described as ' an open prison' and it is Germany, Scandinavia and, of course, a United Kingdom whose free- house-lined streets are paved with gold, that are the destinations of choice. It was inevitable, was it not, that Hungary would put up the razor- wire shutters to protect its own borders and that Germany would swiftly renege upon the offered largesse and also reimpose border controls. When Norway, not a Member State of the EU but a signatory of Schengen, closes the door then you know that the game is up.
For the EU to donate five million of our euros to develop the Calais "jungle" into a facility that will, by 2016, accommodate 1500 migrants is sticking two fingers into the dyke. With the living and the dead, including a three- year old Syrian boy whose washed- ashore body has become an iconic symbol of international failure, the "do something" brigade are having a field day. Easy to pillory Hungary's Viktor Orban for affording television cameras the opportunity to film riot police battling with migrants at the border and at Budapest station but we need to remember why we are where we are and it does not, for any European - or American - politician make happy remembering.
It is all very well for Borat O`Bama, as one of those American politicians, to agree with Mother Merkel that " we need a Europe wide solution" to this problem but with several thousand miles of green water between New Amsterdam and Calais he would do well to remember that it is what passes in the United States for `foreign policy`, aided and abetted by a European Union that includes Britain, that has sown the wind on ground that is yielding a whirlwind harvest of insurrection and terrorism in the form of ISIL
Jean-Claude Junker tells us that " the right to free movement is a European achievement and it is untouchable" while advocating 'green cards' for migrants as a back-door way of creating EU citizenship and seeking to impose one hundred and fifty thousand in-comers to the EU upon a Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Romania that are in no position to receive them.
Mr. Junker might want to have a word with Franz Timmermans, the first Vice- President of the European Commission, who regards the "cohesion of Europe" to be under threat, or with Donald Tusk who has recognised the question mark over the future of Schengen with Denmark, Slovakia, Hungary, Austria, Norway, Slovenia and Germany all having reimposed internal border controls or with the German Interior Minister, Thomas de Maiziere, who is busy deploying two thousand riot police to assist with passport checks.
Members of the United Kingdom parliament have received many call from constituents who believe that the UK should " do more" to help and some genuinely Christian souls have offered to adopt refugee families and to house them. As one who, with his wife, tried that some years ago I can only applaud this spirit of generosity in the current climate and urge extreme caution: such a course of action may well end in tears and do more ultimate harm than good. As has been demonstrated through the exposure of some carrying fake and easily available Syrian passports people are not always, sadly, what they may seem to be.
Our national record is, in fact sound. In the teeth of political opposition and xenophobia we accepted, in 2014, a twenty- four percent increase in the number of migrants reaching the UK and we are one of the most significant contributors to the relief of refugees in terms of financial aid and practical assistance. The decision to use part of our Overseas Aid budget to assist some of those refugees is right and although I do not always agree with Man David I applaud his decision to take asylum seekers directly from refugee camps, on the recommendation of the UNHCR and to give priority to orphaned children. That will assist at least some of those in greatest need while making it plain that we will not encourage people- trafficking and it may also diminish the real risk of terrorist infiltration under the guise of asylum- seeking. We should not, though, pretend that there is a quick fix or that the problem can easily be solved.
Or is there?
The cavalry has, it seems, arrived with the breaking of the red dawn in Britain. While Borat O'Bama is not known to have expressed unalloyed joy at the prospect of the newly- elected Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition becoming one of the future Heads of Government in the Free World his new Best Friends in Iran have welcomed the elevation of Mr. Jeremy Corbyn as heralding `peace in the Middle East.` The swift endorsements of Mr. Corbyn by Syriza in Greece, by The Argentine's Cristina Kirchener, by Gerry Adams and Martin McGuiness of Sinn Fein, and fellow- travellers, will have brought huge comfort to those comrades seeking peaceful and non- nuclear resolutions to the World's minor difficulties.
Others are not so enthusiastic. Admiral Lord West, not known for his ardent support of Her Majesty's present Government, and that ancient warrior Richard ( Lord) Dannatt, another frequent critic of the administration, have deployed, to describe Jerry The Red's attitude towards defence and security issues, the technical term " bonkers". Nevertheless, we have, in a democratic society, to recognise that the man who described the elimination of Osama Bin Laden as ' a tragedy' was elected with a majority of more than sixty per cent of those voting on the first ballot. That gives Mr. Corbyn in unassailable mandate to pursue whatever particular brand of political eccentricity he chooses to espouse.
Starting from his position as an obscure far-left back- bench outsider with no experience of Government or Opposition office of any kind and attracting a bookie's wild- card odds of 500-1 ( don't you wish you took a punt at those prices?!) He has transformed the agenda of Opposition politics almost overnight.
His suggestion that the UK should open the doors to those currently resident in " The Jungle" in Calais may please the most reverend Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, but it has not struck many chords in the real world. The election of "JC", as we must presumably come to know and love him, caused an immediate flurry of high-level shadow-cabinet resignations leaving our freshly appointed people's champion and his Chief Whip, Rosie Winterton, to cobble together a Shadow Cabinet and associated list of junior shadow Ministers, from what is patently by-and-large a B-list. Corbyn has been saddled with Tom Watson in the other elected post as his Deputy, giving rise to the inevitable "Tom and Jerry" gags. From there on in it gets unfunny
Mr. Corbyn has managed to retain the services of Anthony's little boy, Hilary Benn, as his Shadow Foreign Secretary. Mr. Benn has some respect and credibility as a former Minister and The Leader has also hung onto Charlie (Lord) Falconer as his Shadow Justice Secretary which, given the Blairite assessment of the result as an unmitigated disaster is an interesting appointment. Angela Eagle is another former Minister with some street- cred amongst the brothers and sisters and in the combined roles of shadow Business Secretary and First Secretary of State (Deputy Prime Ministers) she neatly sidelines and marginalises the potentially troublesome Mr. Watson. Ms Heidi Alexander is an unknown quantity as shadow Health Secretary while the appointment of an avowed vegan as shadow Agriculture Secretary seems to be not a little perverse. It is, though, the elevation of his friend and campaign organiser John McDonnell as Shadow Chancellor that has ruffled most feathers."Team Corbyn”, the "unifying, dynamic, inclusive new Shadow Cabinet” is now perceived as Marxist and Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England , has described ' Corbynomics' as likely to hurt the poor and imperil the recovery of the economy.
Jeremy Corbyn has hitherto regarded "spin- doctors" with the same disdain that he has reserved for the media in general. Following disastrous press coverage of his failure to sing the National Anthem while attending, in his formal capacity as Leader of the Opposition, the memorial service in respect of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Britain held in St. Paul's Cathedral, he has appointed one Neale Coleman as his “Director of Rebuttal". Mr Coleman is charged with the duty of, amongst other things, clarifying the New Old Labour policies relating to the future of the European Union and Trident. The latter, which rears its head again at the Labour Party conference, is causing serious splits within the Parliamentary Labour Party and this rift has not been aided by a union- backed conference motion calling for “Full UN approval before action". Mr Corbyn may welcome the chance to have to wait for a Security Council resolution supported by Russia before pushing the red button to send the missiles off towards Moscow but some of his more realistic comrades are sceptical of “Costa Rican" defence policies.
Mr Coleman, who says that “we are going to have to sort out the Trident issue", is clearly going to have his work cut out trying to “rebut" the zanier aspects of Corbyn’s Little Red Book. The " man of the people not the party" himself, having weathered his first PM's Question Time on the back of a local radio style Mumsnet phone- in, heads off to his Party's Red Flag Fest in Brighton enjoying the lowest opinion polls of any Labour Party Leader in recorded history and facing a Shadow Cabinet mutiny. What can a breath of ozone do for a keynote speech? Not a great deal, it seems. “Re- distribution of wealth" and a "Robin Hood Tax" are not exactly game- changers in today's politics and averting that " I love my Country" has a hollow ring about it when spewed forth from the lips of someone who had to agonise about, first, becoming a Privy Counsellor and then about whether to kneel to Her Maj before taking the oath. “Kinder and more caring politics" is a great aspiration but hard to deliver if your Chancellor is preparing to bankrupt your (presumably by this time Republican) Nation.
It gets worse when it is revealed that The Leader's speech was written in large part by a freelance wordsmith, Mr Richard Heller , in the 1980's and rejected by several Labour Leaders before being cannibalised by Team Corbyn. “Out with the new and in with the old" had said Mr. Cameron prophetically. That “the speech" lacked any reference to the key issues of Defence, immigration, terrorism, the EU referendum or even why the Labour Party lost the 2015 General Election did not, though, deter the Conference faithful from delivering the customary standing ovation. Remembering that sixty per cent majority vote and the mandate that rides with it we should not, ever, underestimate Mr. Corbyn's potential to survive if not to prosper.
It has not been entirely smooth sailing on the Government benches either. The publication of Lord Asscroft's unauthorised biography, " Call me Dave" is a pinprick in the Prime Ministerial skin. Written by a man who had hoped, expected and then been denied high Ministerial office in the House of Lords it lacks a certain credibility but it has, of course, given hilarity and encouragement to those who sit behind Man David and wish him ill. More seriously, the Government's slender majority has been exposed with the first defeat at the hands of Tory rebels coalescing with the great unwashed, It was, predictably, a vote over the implementation of the “purdah" rule prior to the EU Referendum that led to the government being beaten by 285 votes to 312.
The Electoral Commission has dealt another blow to the pro- European cause by insisting on a change in the wording of the referendum question from the proposed " do you want to remain a Member of the EU" with a Yes/No response, to the more neutral " do you want to remain in or leave" the EU.
With a growing determination that the machinery of Government shall not be used to promote continued membership of the European Union and with Conservative Headquarters now announcing that it will remain strictly neutral during the run- up to the promised vote there are stormy waters ahead for Cap'n Dave to navigate.
The European Union gave St Nicholas of Clogg the chance to make a brief "comeback" (or was it , like Evita, "I've never left you") speech to those remaining Liberals who faithfully turned up in Bournemouth to pay homage to their new Leader, Tim Farron. ' Elder Statesmen', it seems, cannot resist being ' helpful' from the sidelines although, to be fair, St Vincent of Cable had always had the ability to snipe in a manner that some ingrates might construe as bordering on the disloyal. St. Vince, you see, espies the opportunity to create a sort of ' Laboural Democrat' party from the ruins of the Social/ Liberal Democrat enterprise and the isolated right of what used to be called 'New' Labour. St. Vince sees this as the Phoenix Party but others, including young Tim Farron, clearly regard the prospect as likely to end up as a camel and want nothing to do with the idea. There will be no new ensign flying over my ship says Mr. Midshipman Farron.
The Big Idea that emerges from the Bournemouth enclave emanates from Lord Newby, a Liberal Democrat peer who is hell- bent on blocking the manifesto commitments of a democratically elected government with an overall majority from passing through the Upper House. Mr. Newby, as I assume that he started out in life, will have to learn that the unelected tail cannot be allowed to wag the dog and if he seriously wants to draw attention to the need for the elected Senate that some of us would like to see then he is going the right way about it.
And then there was the fratricidal gathering known as UKIP. The Not-The-Racist-Party assembled at Doncaster Racecourse which was a wise choice of venue as it put a considerable distance between Mr. Farridge and the Margate Winter Gardens where he learned that he had failed to win South Thanet and in which his only Local Council, that of the broken electoral promises, was fleetingly triumphant. The Ghost of Battles Lost nevertheless came back to haunt Nasty Nige as rifts appeared between his Parliamentary Party, in the form of Douglas Carswell, and the Fuhrer.
The party’s chief source of finance, the aptly named Arron Banks, Farridge himself and Clacton Dougie cannot agree over Europe. Now where have we heard that before? To be fair, these are nuances over how best to drag Britain out of the clutches of the Brussels empire that pays the Farridge salary and who should drive the 'Business for Britain' machine that is a thinly veiled euphemism for Get Britain Out, but it just goes to show that the Team Brexit are not singing entirely from the same patriotic song sheet. It may not be ' Ode to Joy' but it's not quite 'Rule Pax Brittanica' either!
The Party Conference season means many things to many people. To the BBC it means armies of outcast broadside technicians, scores of reporters duplicating effort, opportunities to lobby for a continuation of an extravagance of channels and social media outlets and, of course, hospitality and expenses. A month that began with the Salford Broadcasting Corporation accused by the News Media Association of “muscling out" commercial rivals with license fee funded websites has not gone well for the Honourable Brigade of Luvvies. The Secretary of State for Culture, that now-ageing Heavy Metal fan John Whittingdale, has made it known to the Trustees via their Spokeswoman Rona Fairhead that he expects Referendum coverage to be even- handed. (Well, If Conservative Central Office can manage it so too, presumably, can the Number One Nation's Broadcasting Agency). " Cuts threaten the BBC's Voice in the World" says the handsomely salaried Director, General, Lord (Tony) Hall, mindful of Auntie's need to reach out to Korea, to The Middle East, to Africa and, of course, to Moscow. Lord Tony suggests a " household levy" to replace the license fee, which superficially might address the issue of those who avoid payment by receiving their news and entertainment on line rather than via TV set but as a poll tax on those who choose not to watch television is not likely to be favourably received with or without the Support of the Secretary of State. The poverty message suffers a distraction from Bruce Forsyth, who as an official National Treasure probably knows as much if not more about telly as Lord Luvvie himself. Brucie thinks that we could struggle by with just BBC 1 and BBC 2 and that we could save a bob or two by getting rid of 3 and 4. To the argument that " some of the best material is on BBC 4" the answer has to be " well then get rid of some of the junk and put the `best material` on 1 or 2"!
In other news we record that Her Maj has this month exceeded the reign of Britain's previously longest serving monarch, Queen Victoria, who sat on the throne for 23,226 days and 16 hours. The Queen’s still, apparently, only makes the 48th longest recorded reign in history but some monarchs started in infancy with a distinctly unfair advantage. There has to be a difference between longevity and actually doing the job and for my money 23,162 Government red boxes, which is one for every day except Christmases, has to put Her Maj in a class of her own when it comes to Working Royals. She did not want a fuss, which was a tad hard to achieve because most of her loyal subjects did, but she 'celebrated`, as one does, by opening a new railway line and having a pleasant evening at Balmoral. Church bells also rang.
The United States, the European Union and Great Britain do not emerge covered in glory from the mess that is now Syria. There are those who have accused the West, unkindly perhaps but not altogether inaccurately, of dithering incompetence and indecision over what is happening in the Middle East in general and the rise of ISIL and the stubborn persistence of President Assad in particular. Meanwhile "Ras" Putin, who has been entirely consistent in his ruthless opportunism and support for Assad now has boots and tanks on the ground in Syria and is, from specially constructed airbases, commencing the bombing of " ISIL", which in fact means the elimination, by air strikes, of Assad's moderate opponents. And what is Borat O'Bama, who has bet the homestead on a ' nuclear' deal with Iran, doing about all this? About as much as the E U and Britain which, in round terms, is the sum of not a lot. The sooner the Land of The Brave and The Home Of The Free, as his Holiness the Pope reminded us while in America, gets itself a new Commander in Chief the better. As long as it's not Donald Trump or Hillary Clinton or just about any of the other front runners in the Presidential race. In the meantime , and while we are talking about a " Grand Alliance" as a fig leaf to cover the collective diplomatic embarrassment of Frau Merkel, Mr Holland, Man David and Borat, let us not forget that the Neo- Soviet Union continues to occupy Crimea and clearly has not taken its eye off the ball in Eastern Ukraine. There is still a bear in the woods.
Mother Merkel has her own domestic problems with the shaming of Volkswagen, of course. Embarrassing enough to find that the home of Real Vorsprung durch Technik, or “Advancement through Technology", is in fact the home of bad, old-fashioned, cheating. More embarrassing still to have to admit that either you as Chancellor, and your Ministers did not know what was going on in your own back yard or, worse, that you and your Ministers were told and ignored the warnings about what has emerged as the emission- rigging scandal. We're not yet at the stage where sales of a Trabant might outstrip those of The Beetle but right now I'd say that much-vaunted German pride is not in a very good place.
As are charities back home. Following a blazing row over the manner in which some household- name organisations like the NSPCC, Save The Children, Oxfam and the RSPCA have been accused of unpleasantly aggressive fundraising techniques that border on the abuse of trust it might just not have been a good idea for representatives to tell the Commons Public Accounts Committee that ' the public should have complained earlier' or that, as Oxfam's Mark Goldring is on record as saying, "complaints weren't at an unacceptable level". There is an answer: carry on giving, please, but give only where you can have total trust.
Claiming Sinn Fein links with the IRA, Peter Robinson quits his post and takes all but one of his Unionist colleagues with him leaving the future of the Northern Ireland Assembly in a parlous state that at the time of writing remains unresolved.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind and `Poor Jack` Straw, both former Members of Parliament and Foreign Secretaries stood accused by Channel 4 and the Daily Torygraph of abusing their positions in parliament improperly and for personal gain following a `sting` involving a fictitious Chinese company set up by the television company`s Dispatches programme. The matter was referred to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for Adjudication and the Commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, exonerated the two former Ministers and cast doubt upon the probity of the Channel 4 and Torygraph reports. This resulted in paroxysms of self-righteous rage from the broadsheet which devoted days and dozens of column inches in seeking to justify its position. Proof, we are told that "MPs cannot be allowed to police themselves". This, presumably, is the same newspaper that does not approve of Lord Leveson`s proposals for an independent Press Standards Adjudicator? Ms. Hudson, while appointed by parliament, is, of course independent but If you are a newspaper editor and you don`t like the message you can abuse your power to crucify the messenger.
Euthenasia is, like abortion, a highly emotive subject both inside and outside parliament. The attempt, by Mr. Rob Marris MP, to resuscitate Lord Falconer`s failed Private Members` measure to legalise "Assisted Dying" generated the predictable strength of feeling but, on a free vote as these matters are, a genuinely heartfelt and at times very moving debate. We all have our own experiences of life and death and they do, of course, colour our judgements. We are, inevitably, accused of not reflecting the views of those outside the House, on whichever side of the argument we come down but in the event the bill was denied a Second Reading by three hundred and thirty votes to one hundred and eighteen which is an impressive turnout and an equally impressive majority for a Friday sitting when Members are ordinarily in their constituencies. For the record, and for, to me at least, powerful personal reasons, I voted against the bill.
Was Marine Sergeant Alexander Blackman, known as ' Big Al', guilty of murder? We know that while on active service in Afghanistan he shot a terrorist who was one of a band that had been trying to kill, maim, torture or dismember, him and comrades who had been on duty, effectively unrelieved, for many weeks. He was guilty of an offence, certainly, but was it murder? And should he have been sentenced for that crime? We now know that the verdict at his court martial was not unanimous but by five votes to two. Translated into a civilian jury that would not have resulted in a conviction. We also need to know why he was not charged with the lesser offence of manslaughter and what was contained in a report into this case that was not made public or available, at the time of the trial, to his defence. I went into the Commons debate on the issue with a considerable sense of unease. I emerged, having listened to MPs who have served in Afghanistan and who while having no wish to exonerate a guilty man or a soldier whose standards have fallen to an unacceptable level , want to see justice done, still more concerned that 'Marine A' may have been the subject of a grave injustice. His Commanding Officer, Colonel Oliver Lee, did not resign his commission out of pique but because he believed that his soldier had been treated badly. I am pleased that the Minister, Mark Lancaster, who has seen military service himself, has agreed to make the report available, in confidence, to those seeking to take Sergeant Blackman's case to review. As Colonel Bob Stewart, who commanded the Cheshires in Bosnia, said during the debate “under other circumstances Sergeant Blackman would have been in line for a conspicuous gallantry medal". He will not receive that but he might at least be allowed to return to his wife, Clare, who is standing so staunchly by her man.
National Grid proposes to spend £500 million burying three hundred and fifty miles of high-voltage power lines in Dorset, the New Forest, The Peak District and Snowdonia because "Reducing the visual impact of pylons and power lines on our most beautiful landscapes is highly desirable" according to their spokesman, Chris Baines. This, presumably, is the same National Grid that is about to submit a planning application to install monstrous pylons across part of the Garden of England adjacent to the cathedral city of Canterbury!
Nottingham Council has banned employees from smoking e-cigarettes on the way to and from work `if they are in uniform`. Does that include Men in Grey Suits?
The `suits` from the Care Quality Commission have informed a Harrogate nursing home that it is not acceptable for staff to use terms of endearment such as "Sweetie" or "Darling" when addressing `clients`. It is, you see, "patronising and demeaning". Do the clients have any say in the matter? Sorry, love.
`Elf `n safety in Hull have decreed that Refuse Collectors will not empty wheelie bins if they are left with the handles the wrong way round. No use pointing out that if you leave the handles outward you cannot open the lid. Scope for a five year old student of design to make a quick killing, perhaps.
The only family-owned five-star hotel in London, "The Boring Goring" as the tribe refer to it affectionately, has been awarded a Michelin star after a mere 105 years in the business. "We are vibrant without being poncey" says the hostelry`s CEO Jeremy Goring.
Following criticism of political bias Jonathan Dumblebore, the host of Any Questions, has said that it would be "too costly to get a politically balanced audience". Those TV fatcats who run Question Time have no such budgetary problems of course.
The University of Anglia`s students union has banned the wearing of sombreros dished out by a local Mexican restaurant as a promotional gimmick. "They are offensive and potentially racist" it will not surprise you to know.
Bristol Council proposes to spend ten thousand ratepayers` pounds training Lollipop Ladies in `conflict resolution` to assist in bringing harmony to the cycling, driving, parental and taxi fraternities. If the "Road Sharing Restorative Approach" works might they, perhaps be deployed in the Middle East?
Joy Beverley, of the close-harmony Sisters of the same name and wife of former England Soccer star Billy Wright, has said goodbye to That Doggie in the Window at the age of 91.
Brave Brian Close, Yorkshire, Somerset and in 1966 England Captain was the youngest ever to play cricket for his Country. Stumped at eighty-four.
Jackie Collins, Joan`s younger sister and creator of the `bonkbuster` concealed her terminal illness to the end of her seventy seven years. She sold fifteen million books, had thirty bestsellers including "The World is Full of Married Men", "The Stud" and The Bitch" and was awarded the OBE in 2013.
The last airworthy Vulcan Bomber, XH558, has flown, at the Stockport Air Show, for the last time.
And the "Fighting G", HMS Gloucester, the last Type 42 Destroyer which saw service in the 1991 Gulf War has gone to the breaker`s yard.
As the clock struck midnight on 30th September, 2015 it became illegal to smoke while driving a car carrying a person under eighteen years of age as a passenger. It is estimated that three million children annually have been subjected to passive smoking in vehicles. The constabulary have indicated that a "non-confrontational approach" will be taken to this legislation. Which means that it will be virtually impossible to enforce.