Gale`s Westminster View – January 2016
January. What next now that hospital doctors have struck? During the “week of the blunt knives” Red Jerry`s Revenge Reshuffle leaves a spot of comrades` blood on the carpet. Brexit or Brit-in? Ambulance-chasers feel the heat. Migration fuels a far-right backlash following New Year`s Eve assaults in European cities and the wheels come off the Farridge bandwagon.. If you are in Leeds then the red lights that you see at night may not be the tail-lamps of a car. British boots on the ground again in Iraq. Sir Plod of the Yard refuses to apologise to an old warrior. In the American colonies The Donald looks to trump his Republican challengers in the race for the White House. Did the North Koreans set of a hydrogen sparkler to celebrate the Dear Leader`s birthday? The Salford Broadcasting Corporation `consults` over its future with a degree or thirty-eight of help. Broadband is broad-bad, the BT Openreach monopoly looks set to hit the buffers and the Scotsman flies again.
2016 began with fireworks in London and a mob of `people from Africa` rampaging through Cologne. It was, in fact, the best part of four days before Europe`s politically-correct media, including the Salford Broadcasting Corporation, began to accurately report that in the normally liberal and welcoming German city of Cologne and in other venues around Germany and Scandinavia crowds of young foreign `visitors` had seen the New Year in with mass assaults, some sexual, on women whose partners were unable to protect them. This is not the first time that it has happened. At music festivals in Sweden eighteen months ago similar attacks took place but their nature and origins were suppressed by a collusion between authorities and newspapers and radio and television fearful of unleashing a right-wing backlash and not wishing to be seen as critical of a growing migrant population. As it happens I have been, for the past two years, the Chairman of the Media Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. I have spent much of that term of office seeking to protect the rights, lives and livelihoods of journalists who, in some countries of the wider Europe, are imprisoned and on occasions executed for their determination to report the truth. I am equally exercised by the need to see and to hear the truth reported, however politically unpalatable it may on occasions be and so I used (abused?) my position as now the Leader of the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the CoE to instigate, at the month`s end in Strasbourg, a debate about these events and their reporting.
It should, I suppose, surprise nobody that the CoE lifted responsibility for this debate from the Media Committee to the Equalities Committee and treated it as a “Women’s` Rights” issue. Do not mis-understand me: sexual assault and rape are terrible crimes, the results of which I have witnessed at very close quarters, but not entirely surprisingly the Swedish socialist rapporteur of the Equalities Committee sought to focus on the “violation of rights” that took place in Cologne on New Years` Eve. He thus conveniently sidestepped the failing of the media in his own country and the rest of Europe to report the uncomfortable truths that have lain behind these assaults and thus largely missed the point of the exercise. My own view, as a journalist, is that ultimately suppression of the facts will exacerbate the neo-fascist backlash and that we have to support our media colleagues, in the teeth of opposition from the police and from establishments, in their efforts to uncover and help to bring to book those responsible for crimes from wherever they may hail. That, however, remains work in progress.
Back in the corridors of European power there is something approximating blind panic arising from the tide of refugees now landing on Europe`s southern shores. Again, we need to be clear: there has been, excited in part by the attractions of the United Kingdom`s benefits system but infinitely more so by the “come hither” open-door approach taken by Frau Merkel and, to a lesser extent, by Sweden, an unmanageable influx of economic migrants, mostly young and male and posing as “asylum seekers”. These both legal and illegal immigrants should not be conflated with those other and desperate men, women and children fleeing the conflicts born of civil war in Syria and the predations of a Daesh arising from the failure of United States, the United Kingdom and other Western adventures in Iraq, Afghanistan and other Middle Eastern and North African locations. These people are refugees for whom Europe bears a responsibility and I am personally repulsed by the attitude of the Bourgeois Women`s Tabloid in particular and the tabloid press in general towards peoples in desperate need. The same newspaper that propagates comparisons with our response to Nazi Germany over the Prime Minister`s endeavours to secure an acceptable accommodation for Britain`s interests within the rest of the European Union also condemns Britain`s willingness to take Syrian refugees from camps in Turkey and children from within the borders of the EU. Were the Rothermere family equally opposed to Kinder transport or is this merely a bid for circulation within an ageing and diminishing readership? I came into politics, at the age of thirteen, via fundraising for refugees following the Russian invasion of Hungary and I want nothing to do with this xenophobia.
If we are to control Europe`s borders, to admit refugees as we proudly have always done and to deny entry to those who have no right to it then we have to recognise that the Schengen agreement has got to go. We are not, in these islands, a part of Schengen and please God we never will be, but those who are trying to pretend, as does Hungary`s Mr. Orban, that it is possible to limit the numbers, not only of genuine asylum seekers but also of those who wish us harm, arriving in the camps in Calais by reinstating the border controls between Greece and the rest of Europe are baying at the moon. The Mediterranean shores, offering collectively the longest coastline in the World, are porous. Without internal frontiers Europe is wide open to all manner of abuse and it is clear that the Scandinavian countries and now even Germany have woken up to that fact. “Six to eight weeks to save Schengen from collapse” shout the headlines and even French Premier M. Valls avers, in a less than communitaire observation that “The very idea of Europe is in grave danger unless the human tide is repelled”. With Spring almost upon us and the migration season about to recommence after a harsh and lethal winter, Turkey is now demanding more EU cash on top of the billions already paid out to help to stem the flow. In fact, not only Turkey but Jordan also finds itself on the very front line of this human disaster and the capacity for further tragedy is seemingly limitless. By the month`s end it is not only Viktor Orban but the sanctimonious European Commission that is calling for the frontiers between Greece and the rest of mainland Europe to be sealed. “President” Juncker, no less, has despatched a “team of specialists” to inspect the borders, which tells you how serious the situation has become. The Greeks “need to bear the consequences of migrant flows” we are told, as if the wars in Syria and beyond are of Hellenic origin. The bodies of children washed ashore did not choose Greece as their safe haven. Their parents simply responded to the natural urge to try to get their offspring out of harm`s way in a country torn apart by civil war and in Brussels, London and Washington we all need to remember that.
“Immigration” is, of course, the dog-whistle issue that gets the kennels barking. Populist it may be and its appeal to tabloid editors is clearly enormous but it ought not to be the issue upon which the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom should be building the platform upon which his re-negotiation of terms of EU membership is based. Yes, there is a problem. Yes, there are many who believe that we are a small island and that, in crude terms, “we already have far too many bloody foreigners” (which is a euphemism for anyone who is not a white Anglo-Saxon Protestant) “living here” and yes, it sticks in the gullet when benefits are paid to EU migrants who have paid little or nothing in UK taxes and National Insurance receive and can send home benefit payments while ex-pat UK citizens who have worked here and paid their dues throughout their lives before leaving to live overseas see their Winter Fuel Payments axed and, in many countries, their British pensions frozen. Nevertheless, it is arguable that in these volatile times our economy is stronger and our borders are more secure and less open to violation than just about any other nation, inside or outside of the Schengen zone, within even the wider Europe. The outcome of Man David`s diplomacies is yet to be known and it may be that even the most paper-thin of deals is vetoed by some Eastern Member States of the EU but he may be ruing already the day when he bet the house upon an initiative to secure the right to deny benefit payments to EU migrants for four years. That had, as we motored back from Strasbourg, already been diluted to an “emergency brake” on payments that in itself would be dependent upon EU approval, following a “yes” vote in the referendum, that might well not be forthcoming. It is highly questionable whether or not a curb on benefits would actually deter more than a handful of those seeking to come to the UK for anything other than work and the real issue at stake is, surely, our status as a sovereign nation. In this context the supremacy of Parliament over Brussels and of the British Supreme Court over the European Court of Justice are surely what really matter? We shall see, possibly by the end of February, where the dust actually settles and that will be the time to decide, based upon whatever deal is struck together with our economic and security interests, whether the UK is likely to be better off, safer and more prosperous inside or out of the European Union. The headbangers on both sides of this debate have, together with those trying to sell us tomorrow`s chip wrappings, made up their minds already. It behoves the rest of us to bide our time and to be driven by our heads as well as by our instincts in the light of what emerges. In the meantime it would be good if we could concentrate a little more of our time and parliamentary effort on the four priorities, Poverty, Extremism, Housing and Social Mobility, highlighted in the Prime Minister`s New Year message. That is the path down which we will take the true “long walk to a Greater Britain”.
I never did sit by the phone waiting for the call during re-shuffle time. Having burned my boats very early on that would have been a futile and disappointing exercise. I have though, seen many re-shuffles come and go and watched as others, friend and foe alike, have taken the walk of pride or shame between The Houses of Parliament and Downing Street. Nothing, though, can compare with what has become known as Red Jerry`s “Night of the blunt knives”. It was, in reality, not one night but, following weeks of speculation and conjecture, three days of Whitehall Farce. Lord Foy of That Persuasion is on record as saying that Mr Corbyn “is taking Labour over the abyss” and from the bottom of the cesspit that is certainly how it seems. There is nothing like a Dame and Rosie Winterton, having featured in the New Years` honours list, survives as Opposition Chief Whip against the odds. A Nuclear Disarming Leader cannot, though, have a pro-Trident Shadow Defence Secretary can he, so one of the brace of Eagles does what in management parlance is known as a “lateral arabesque”. Ms. Eagle`s successor, Jerry`s Islington neighbour Emily Thornberry, was, when asked, responded on ITV “I haven`t a clue why I am in the job but I`m really honoured to be doing it”. Good to know that under Old Labour the nation`s defence would be in such a safe pair of hands. Then there is the thorny problem of Tony Benn`s little boy Hilary. What do you do with a Shadow Foreign Secretary who stole the limelight at the end of the “shall we bomb Syria” debate, contradicted your own position and received a standing ovation for so doing? Can you sack such a man? Well, clearly not. You can extract a promise, seemingly honoured more in the breach than in the observance, that he will toe the Party line from now on but we are, remember, dealing with the bloody-minded stock of the Stansgate family. Corbyn`s shadow Culture Secretary, Michael Dugher, was unceremoniously booted out at the start of the debacle and he was swiftly followed by the efficient, effective and very well-liked Shadow Europe Minister Pat McFadden, regarded as a spectacular own-goal. This led to the Question Time description of the pantomime, cued by the Honourable Member for Shakespeare`s Stratford upon Avon, as “A Comedy of Errors”, “Much Ado About Nothing” and finally, of course “Love`s Labours Lost”. Will Man David`s straight man get a job as a result? Probably not but it contributed a little to the jollity of proceedings on an otherwise rather dull Wednesday morning. Later in the month the `accidental Leader` of the Labour Party took advantage of an appearance on The Andrew Marr Show to nail his colours firmly to the sinking mast. Under his leadership, he said, there would be Trident submarines but no nuclear missiles, a return to the days of flying pickets and discussion with the Argentines over the future of the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. The Sun newspaper, always a publication that likes to sit firmly on the fence, said “He`s Off His Head”.
Chiming with these militant times our junior hospital doctors threaten “certain” strike action. This leads to accusations, possibly not without some foundation, that the BMA has been taken over by “the hard left” and that doctors are putting ”politics before patients”. It is certainly the case that in this middle-class-warfare it is the twenty thousand patients whose procedures and consultations that have been cancelled that are the losers but will no doubt have taken solace from the fact that Labour`s Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, joined doctors on the picket lines. While nobody at all has gained in either respect or credibility. Dr, Mark Porter, the Doctors` Union Leader has said that “No one will die” as a result of their industrial action. So that`s all right then. As a footnote the host of BBC`s Question Time, the liberal David Dumblebore, was visibly put about to discover that the “politically balanced” audience for the programme that took place during strike week was packed with junior Doctors. And the planned two-day walkout was cancelled during talks with ACAS but following a failure on the part of the Department of Health to cave in to the medics` demands, is now back on again and will take place during the coming month.
In other news North Korea may or may not have celebrated the birthday of their Dear Leader, Kim Jong-un, by detonating a hydrogen bomb for fun. The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Bernard Hogan-Plod, having announced that the ancient war hero Field Marshall Lord Bramall would not be facing child-sex charges with the mealy-mouthed excuse that “there was insufficient evidence” has refused to apologise to the old soldier. “Insufficient evidence” is presumably supposed to imply that there was “some evidence” and that therefore Sir Plod, who no doubt will in due course become Lord Plod, had no need to apologise. The Met has wasted millions of pounds and thousands of hours of officer time on these abortive inquiries in the wake of the Savile disaster and other crimes have, without sufficient policing risen as a result. Nice one, Bernard.
Leigh Day, the solicitors, who along with Phil Shiner`s Public Interest Law, have been accused of “ambulance chasing” as a result of what some regard as predatory and opportunist representation for those seeking to make claims for damages against British forces personnel, have been referred to the Solicitors Regulatory Authority and face the prospect of an Independent Solicitors` Disciplinary Tribunal. They say that this is “premature”. “Not before time” say others who also call into question the activities of the “Iraq Historic Allegations Team”. It is claimed that some two hundred and eighty former serving men are being, following the Iraq War, “hounded in a witch-hunt” that has aroused the concern of Prime Minister Cameron. This has led the Chief of General Staff, Sir Nick Carter to refer to “troops at risk from parasitic law companies”. Bethany Shiner, daughter of one of the Principals of PIL says that her firm is being made a “scapegoat”. What does it feel like to be on the receiving end, Ms. Shiner?
There is another man-made disaster in the making. It has looked as though “the Donald” is virtually unstoppable in his campaign to secure the Republican nomination for the Presidency. While some feel that the Grand Old Party has taken leave of its senses 41% of the poll in the run-up to the Iowa primary, the first in the series, is impressive by anyone`s standards. The endorsement of the darling of the Tea Party, Sarah Palin, may prove to be a blessing in disguise but at this stage in the game the GOP establishment favourites Mario Rubio has a hill to climb. In a Westminster Hall debate in the House of Commons calling for The Donald to be banned from entering the UK in response to his bizarre call to ban Muslims from entering the United States sank to the occasion. From the Chair, it seemed to me that an opportunity to condemn Trump`s politics of spite with faint ridicule before an American audience (unusually the event was streamed live to the United States) was missed and instead the watching public was subjected to a less than heady mixture of tedium and synthetic outrage. He may, though, yet lose his coiffure. A decision not to participate in a pre-Iowa televised hustings has led to accusations of a yellow streak in more than just his hair and could yet damage “Ducking Donald” a great deal. He can dish it out, as we know, but can he take it?
Talking of disasters it looks as though Farridge`s luck is running out. The by-election that UKIP was supposed to win was lost, in Thanet, the only UKIP-run ( I use the word loosely) Council in the Country, they have, through defections and resignations, lost overall control and the Farridgemobile has had a nasty scrape. . At first “Mine`s a claret” Nige claimed that his car, which lost a wheel on a French motorway when the nuts came off, had been sabotaged saying that “the police have confirmed foul play”. There was then a handbrake-turn when a sharp reporter visited the garage to which the vehicle had been taken for repair. Had there been sabotage? “Non”! Don`t give people ideas, Nigel. Someone might be reaching for the spanner even now.
The Primate of All England, Justin Welby, would like the date of Easter Sunday, like Christmas Day, fixed to a permanent date. For those with nothing better to do and who like to know about these things Easter at present falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Spring equinox and can therefore fall anywhere between March 20th and April 25th. The practice, enshrined in law in 1928, was first introduced in the Tenth Century. In addition to the Archbishop of Canterbury the Coptic Church and pope Francis are said to be in favour of a change. No move can be made for at least five years, however, because the calendars have already been printed through to 2020.
Hats off to Tracey Curtis-Taylor, the “Bird in a Bi-Plane” who has flown fourteen thousand six hundred solo miles in her 1942-built “Spirit of Artemis” in the wake of the route taken (modern airspace restrictions permitting) by Amy Johnson. To Briton Gordon Reid who won the Australian Open Wheelchair Tennis title. To” Major Tim”, the first Englishman to take a walk in space and to Stuart Broad for clinching the South African Test series in Johannesburg with a stunning six wickets for seventeen runs. Also to the young Indian schoolboy cricketer, Pranav Dhanawade who shattered a record that had stood for 116 years. Pranav scored 1009 runs (fifty-nine sixes, one hundred and twenty nine fours) in six and a half hours. The previous holder was AEJ Collins of Clifton College who hit 628 in 1899 and was subsequently killed in the Great War,
And following a £4.2 million overhaul the Flying Scotsman, the legendary engine that since 1923 has travelled more than two million miles between London and Scotland, is back on the tracks at last. On November 30th 1934 Sir Nigel Gresley`s A1 locomotive built in Doncaster became the first to hit 100 miles per hour. The restoration of the last Avro Vulcan next, and then let`s get a Concorde airborne again?
The House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee recommends that sixteen year olds should be allowed to “choose their own gender”. Is that really a matter of choice or is it pre-ordained?
Maria Miller`s committee also wants to “take the gender off passports”.
Members of Parliament are being offered additional expenses for security. Following the Bomb Syria vote we are now allowed to claim for CCTV and alarms to afford our families “peace of mind”. Not sure that a couple of cameras and a burglar alarm will deter Daesh if they mean business but it`s a touching thought from the normally intransigent Expenses Watchdog. Would the allowance run to an armoured car please?
Holbech in Leeds has become home to Britain`s first official Red Light District. Another trailblazer for the `Northern powerhouse`.
IKEA, the furniture emporium, has announced that we have now reached “peak stuff”. This is their way of saying that we have more than enough junk of every kind and we really don`t need to buy any more. An odd approach from a retailer but I have news: our attic reached “peak stuff” about thirty years ago and it hasn`t stopped us acquiring more so I guess they`ll stay in business.
The Salford Broadcasting Corporation, faced with having to take responsibility for providing concessionary TV license fees to geriatrics (I am allowed to say that – I shall soon qualify for one) have come up with a wheeze. They propose to ask the “Rich Elderly” to voluntarily surrender the concession. This idea is endorsed by (Lord) Melvyn Bragg, (Dame) Helen Mirren and, sadly, by the late Sir Terence Wogan.
“The Legacy” Blair has been banned from staying in UK embassies when on his many private business trips. Accommodating the entourage is considered to be “an inappropriate use of Government staff and resources”.
The BBC`s license fee and charter renewal “consultation” is said to have been hijacked by the left wing with 92% of responses generated via the “38 Degrees” lobbying machine. Is that a surprise? (38 Degrees has been described by the Liberal Peer Lord Tyler as “1-click rent-a-mob”)
“Dry January” can do more harm to your health than good”. Now they tell us!
At 81 Robert Stigwood, the man behind the Bee Gees, Cream, The Who and others has left the recording studio for the last time.
Alan Rickman, at 69, had appeared in Die Hard, Robin Hood Prince of Thieves, Sense and Sensibility , Love Actually, as Professor Snape in Harry Potter and with the Royal Shakespeare Company before the final curtain came down this month.
Ed `Stewpot` Stewart began his broadcasting career along with Annie (`Annika`) Rice in Hong Kong, joined the embryonic Radio 1 in 1967 and went on to host Top of the Pops, Crackerjack and Radio 2`s Family Favourites. He has gone off-air at the age of 74.
The death of David Bowie was considered important enough to lead the first fifteen minutes of the BBC evening television news on the day that he died. The obituary in the Daily Torygraph describes him as “a producer, painter, film actor, art critic and the progenitor of bisexual chic, a family man and a multi-millionaire” as well as “a rock musician of rare originality and talent”. I wish that I had written that myself. At the age of 69, farewell Major Tom.
Cecil Parkinson was Chairman of the Conservative Party in 1983, a member of Margaret Thatcher`s Cabinet and was made a life peer in 1992. I regard him also as a personal friend. Without his help and professional generosity. I, and probably many others of our political generation, would not be in parliament today. He has been described as `flawed`. Most mortals are but Cecil was also brilliant.
Terry Wogan, at 77, for fifty years the host of television chat shows, the face of BBC`s Children in Need appeals, the man who took the gentle mickey out of The Eurovision Song Contest and made it bearable and, of course, the voice of breakfast on BBC Radio 2. The TOGs (Terry`s Old Gits) will miss him and so will many more besides. If Bowie was “a rock musician of rare originality” then Terry Wogan was a broadcaster of extraordinarily rare talent.
Toby Perkins, a Labour Member of Parliament, has introduced a 10-minute rule Bill to seek leave to legislate to introduce an English National Anthem . The idea is not to replace God Save the Queen as a National Anthem but to provide a suitable alternative to vie with those sung by the Scots, the welsh and the Irish at sporting and other partisan events. Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory are favourites while the broadcaster Gyles Brandreth, clearly with an eye on the EU referendum, has impishly suggested The Hokey Cokey. “In, out, in out…….”