Gale`s Westminster View – April 2016
April. Safe Havens from tax in Panama. And the USA. Shindler is listed in the High Court. Her Maj hits a lively ninety and Shakespeare has died. Four hundred years ago. Is it ‘Project Fear’ or Project Truth as the Referendum draws thirty days closer? In or Out? Herr Juncker blunders in Strasbourg. Could The Donald be out for a duck in the United States? Borat O’Bama is “in” in Britain. Whips are in in Government. Child refugees are in in the Lords and out in the Commons. Junior Doctors are out and Red Ken is thrown out, eventually. And Major Tim makes contact from far out.
Why are we surprised that Panama is a tax haven? There are ‘tax havens’ of a kind in The Cayman Islands and The Channel Islands and The Isle of Man and the Bahamas and Luxembourg and many of the United States and all sorts of other places whose locations and names many of us have either never heard of or have forgotten but which find it helpful to their own economies to hosts large amounts of other people’s boodle without too many embarrassing questions being asked. The answer, of course, is Mossack Fonseca. Until recently I would, if asked have hazarded a guess that Mossack Fonseca was something alcoholic and fizzy and probably either Italian or Spanish but I am older and wiser now. Thanks to the disloyalty and dishonesty of someone who leaked the details of MF’s clients I now know that there are lots of even more disloyal and sometimes dishonest people who do not like paying tax on their sometimes ill-gotten gains and who have used MF’s services (and the services of other similar companies in The Cayman Islands and The Channel Islands and The Isle of Man and the Bahamas and some of The United States………and so on) to creatively avoid their otherwise liabilities. I, like you, do not like paying tax either. That is why I support a political party that believes, at least in theory, in a smaller State and an administration that wants me to be able to decide how I spend my money rather than to have it decided for me by Nanny. Even my pea-brained grasp of economics comprehends, though, that taxes pay for hospitals and schools and roads and all of the other things that I need but cannot provide for myself. And the more people, including Oligarchs and African dictators and some seriously well-organised criminals both corporate and otherwise, that squirrel their loot away in tax havens the more the rest of us have to fork out. The embarrassingly juicy bit of this of course, if you happen to be a tabloid journalist, is that our Prime Minister’s Old Man had a stake in an outfit called Blairmore (“Blair More” is not a company established by The Legacy) that appears to have held its funds “offshore”. That means, if you are a tabloid journalist, that schoolboy Dave’s fees at Eton could have been ”paid for out of tax-free money” as if the Boy David had any control over or knowledge of his Father’s financial arrangements. Worse, The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will “avoid £80K in Inheritance Tax” because his Mum gave him some of her money and looks as though she might live long enough for Man David to avoid a tax liability on the gift.
I am quite sure that the Rothermeres and the Harmsworths and the Murdochs and Mr David Sullivan and the Barclay Brothers (who I believe have some interest in the Channel Islands) will have taken no such steps to maximise the amount that they are able to leave to those, if they have any, who are near and dear to them but while I expect to pay tax on what I earn I would prefer not to have to pay it twice if it means that my kids can benefit just a little from the overdraft that I shall probably bequeath to them. It seems to me that Mum Dave was within her rights, but I digress. The upshot of all of this is that Man David has found it necessary to set a dangerous precedent and has published his tax returns for the last six years, that those returns have been pored over by investigative hacks and, surprise, surprise, they are about as exciting as my own. Not to be outdone Chancellor George, who has no interest in tax havens whatsoever, has followed suit and, spotting a passing bandwagon, Mayor Johnson has leaped aboard as well. From Iceland, a country that, you will recall, has faced some economic difficulties of its own, the boss of the Althing, Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson, is ‘named and shamed‘ as having offshore interests and is forced to hang up his harpoon. Back at home we discover that “The Legacy” Blair has something called an ‘Interest in Possession’ Trust to protect the family’s not inconsiderable and growing fortunes accrued from ‘consultancy fees but this Trust was “not set up for reasons of tax advantage”. Well, thank goodness for that clarification. The “Brexit” crew have, of course, seized upon the MF ‘revelations’ to announce that “Cameron is certain to face a Leadership challenge” after the Referendum on June 23rd. This conflicts slightly with the David Davis assertion that while “the PM cannot lead the talks” – a task that my friend the Old Knuckleduster might, as a former Europe Minister, fancy for himself - he “must stay on after Brexit”. The Leader of the House, Chris Grayling, adds that a Tory Leadership battle would be “disastrous after Brexit” and acknowledges that the Prime Minister has “got the relationships that we need around Europe to lead a negotiating process”. Consistency never was Vote.Leave’s strongest suit.
Our future in or out from the European Union is clearly the most important political decision that any of us have been required to vote upon for a couple of generations. That said, the Great British Public might be forgiven for losing the will to live in response to the hundreds of column feet that a mostly pro-Brexit press has so far devoted to the subject and will clearly continue to relentlessly offer up to, though, and probably beyond, polling day. “Project Fear Is Working”. “No it’s not”. Yes it is, yes it is, yes it is. “Fear” has been coined by the Brexiteers as a euphemism for what others from a different vantage point call “truth”. Mr. Farridge is establishing a “think-tank”. Funded, presumably, by the European Union -although “thought” and “UKIP” are not always natural bedfellows. You, the havenless taxpayer, are paying £9.3 million to fund what are seized upon as ‘scare’ leaflets setting out Her Majesty’s Government’s formal position. Shock! Horror! Never mind the fact that this precedent was set by Harold Wilson back in 1975 or that the Cabinet, with no resignations, endorsed the Government line before some of them nipped out through the back door of Number Ten to rush for a Vote Leave photo opportunity. It is wrong for the administration to publish, at your expense, what my colleague Mr. Bone and The Farridge describe as “Lies and inaccuracies” and which the Daily Torygraph prefers to describe as the more pompous “chicanery” to illustrate its’ editorially completely unbiased view. Nipper-out-of-the-back-door Gover, the Justice Secretary, confines his admonition to “one-sided” which is, of course, precisely what the Cabinet of which he is still a semi-detached member signed up to. I ask you to imagine, Dear Reader, the howls of synthetic outrage that would have been forthcoming had the Government of the day done what Vote.Leave and Leave.EU and Grassroots Out and other such organisations have done and funded the propagation of the official line through donations from the very many business representatives who believe that our economy will thrive better within the EU for all its faults. You would, I suspect, have heard the screams of “You have been bought” from here to Brussels.
The Dutch have rejected an EU Free Trade deal with Ukraine. A pointless gesture if ever there was one particularly as we are trying our collective best to keep Ukraine out of the clutches of “Ras” Putin’s neo-Soviet Union but in an equally pointless response The Farridge avers that “the Netherlands vote will boost the Brexit campaign”. They talk of little else in the hostelries that he is so prone to be photographed in. Mayor Johnson, fearful of being out-headlined, brands “Remainers” as “The Gerald Ratners of British Politics” with “Not a shred of idealism” and “loving a Federal Europe”. Sir John Major, a man who was actually elected to lead the Tory Party and who went on to win a General Election will probably – I will go out on a limb here – not be supporting Boris in his own Leadership bid. But then neither will many other Eurosceptics who know a phoney when they see one.
Into this lions’ den step Borat O’Bama and his First Lady, Michelle. Having celebrated a happy 90th birthday lunch with Her Maj, Borat, without a hint of what The Reverend Doctor used to refer to as “The Devil’s Buttermilk” on his breath, reminds those who are prepared to listen that the American colonies have invested blood and treasure in The Special Relationship and therefore have a real stake in what happens on this side of the Atlantic. It was, perhaps, unwise of the outgoing Mayor of London to describe the Commander-in Chief’s comments “incoherent, inconsistent and downright hypocritical” and to accuse the President of swapping a bust of Churchill in the White House for one of Martin Luther King because of his “ancestral dislike” of colonialism -a reference to Borat’s Kenyan heritage. The Mayor, of course, does “dog whistle” politics daily but this venture into “dogwhistle racism” received the slap down that it deserved. Johnson was wrong about the Churchill bust as he is wrong about so many other things. The President of the United States of America does not need to take any lessons from the man who is responsible comprehensively screwing up motorised traffic in Central London.
Membership of the EU, says the President, ”magnifies the UK’s influence abroad” and if we choose to “go it alone” then we will “go to the back of the queue” in trade negotiations with the United States. This message from a Head of State nearing the end of his term of office might seem like an empty threat until we remember that the one thing that The Donald and The Hillary agree on is that the US is entering “The Pacific Era” and that whoever next occupies the White House is likely to be looking West, not East, for priorities in trade and defence. Add to that Trump’s clearly expressed “America First” view that countries wishing for the American protection of NATO will have to pay for it and suddenly the Out version of events takes on a darker shade of stark. The Gover’s suggestion that Britain, which by that time will probably mean England and Wales, might join Bosnia, Serbia, Albania and Ukraine in a European Free Trade Zone” does not seem too enticing compared with what we stand to lose. We could, I suppose, join those international Titans of Finance Jersey and Guernsey as tax-friendly havens but that might just not compensate for watching the business of the City of London transfer to Frankfurt.
With friends like Jean-Claude Juncker who needs enemies? Speaking in Strasbourg to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) Herr Juncker confessed that the European Commission was “interfering in too many domains”. I paraphrase slightly but basically he said that last year they had meddled in about one hundred and fifty issues that ought to be the prerogative of Sovereign States and this year they have got that meddling to down below forty. When my young colleague Kelly Tolhurst, the Member of Parliament for Rochester and Chatham, asked him what he proposed to do about the EU budget (which some in Britain regard as mildly inflated) he said, and again I paraphrase, “Mind your own business. That is a Brexit issue and nothing to do with the Council of Europe”. Having been present for this exchange I have written to Herr Juncker, who has run a Tax Haven about the size of Kent and now clearly believes that, as President of the Commission, he is a Very Important Person, and suggested that he epitomises the arrogance and just about everything else that the British regard as wrong with the European Union. The man was, of course, blissfully unaware that Kelly is, like myself, a Eurosceptic who will nevertheless vote “remain”. Fortunately she knows an over-promoted bureaucrat when she sees one and will not change her view in spite of his discourteous behaviour but it might have been a close run thing.
Three other major issues have dominated the end of the month and demonstrated that there is life and death beyond the referendum. After two years of hearings the jury in the re-convened inquest into the Hillsborough disaster in which so many football spectators lost their lives returned its verdicts. Bereaved families learned, twenty seven years after the most appalling and unnecessary tragedy, that what they had believed all along was true: their husbands, wives, boyfriends and children had been unlawfully killed. The City of Liverpool turned out in tens of thousands to reaffirm that the victims had Never wWalked Alone and in the Commons their Member of Parliament Andy Burnham, the former Labour Minister who has so relentlessly and determinedly pursued the cause of truth and justice, rightfully had his day. Some will now be allowed to rest in peace. For others the verdicts are, perhaps, the end of the beginning but now that the lies told by senior police officers have been exposed there are other questions that have to be answered and those guilty that have to be held to account. The Chief Constable of South, David Crompton, has been suspended but others more directly connected to the events on the day still have a great deal to answer and to pay for.
Next, there is the Junior Hospital Doctors’ industrial action. You will recall that, with an agreement almost within reach, the Doctors Union representatives (The British Medical Association) refused to discuss the now relatively minor issue of overtime pay for daytime work on Saturdays and walked away from the negotiating table. Having offered a 13,5% increase in basic pay, overtime for Saturday nights and Sundays and shorter working hours in an endeavour to achieve a manifesto-promised 24-hour-a-day seven-day a week top flight Accident and Emergency service the Secretary of State, Jeremy Hunt, decided to exercise his right to unilaterally impose a new contract. The Doctors’ ‘Leader’, one Johann Malawana, has conceded that the contract is legal but the Docs are having none of it. In a move that Health Service supremo Sir Bruce Keogh has said will ‘damage trust in the NHS’ the Junior Doctors have embarked upon a series of all-out strikes for the first time in the history of the NHS. Even Dr. Malawana has opposed industrial action that will potentially endanger babies and children but those who prefer the grievance to the solution now hold the ring. Public support for the doctors may be waning and a fifth of their number may have crossed the picket line over the first two-day event but the Union is now talking about an indefinite strike which will certainly place lives at risk. In the meantime one hundred and twenty thousand operations and outpatient appointments have been cancelled or postponed.
And then there has been the ongoing matter of anti-semitism within a Labour Party that is even more hell-bent on self-destruction than the Conservatives. At a time when, if we are honest, we Tories have not exactly covered ourselves in glory, are divided internally over Europe and in considerable disarray over a number of key and contentious policies we ought to be on the ropes. Instead Red Jerry finds himself, as the Leader of the Opposition, equivocating over one of the most toxic issues of all, torn between personal friendships, his own long-held pro-Palestinian views and the need to hold his Party together and to be seen to be ‘in control’. Back at the beginning of April there were rumblings about “Anti-Semitism at the Heart of Labour” but it was the blogger Guido Fawkes who unearthed the time-bomb that has been ticking since 2014. It was in that year that Naseem Shah, newly elected as the Member of Parliament for Bradford West, had tweeted a message saying that “The Jews are on the move” and supporting the idea of the “re-location” of Israel to the United States. Not entirely surprisingly when Guido blew the gaffe on his website the manure hit the fan. ‘Naz’ Shah apologised in a roundabout sort of way and Red Jerry’s natural inclination was, as a man who had in an earlier incarnation described Hamas and Hezbollah as ‘friends’, to stand by his girl. When it became clear that this was not a viable option she was tardily suspended from the Parliamentary Labour Party pending ‘an inquiry’. Then from the Deep Red Corner leaps the former Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, to Ms. Shah’s defence.
Speaking on London Broadcasting ‘ Beyond Our’ Ken offers the world a history lesson in how one Adolf Hitler was “A Zionist before he went mad and killed six million Jews”. Red Jerry and Red Ken go back a long and extremely Socialist way together. This might be tricky. It was. On the steps of Number 4 Millbank, Westminster home to the BBC, ITV, Sky, Channel 4 News and sundry other broadcasters, Livingstone was confronted by his former parliamentary colleague the sitting MP John Mann. Some of the exchange was so pungent that it had had to be reported with asterisks but “You are a disgusting Nazi apologist” sums up the conversation fairly well. Another attempt at prevarication then led to the realisation that the Leader of the Labour Party (still Mr. Corbyn) would have to suspend his old chum Ken Livingstone and another inquiry was announced. With Corbyn saying that “there is no crisis” in the :Labour party and many of even his staunchest allies saying “oh yes there is” the Official Opposition looks set fair to lose possibly hundreds of Council seats in the local government elections on May 5th. Sadiq Khan, Member of Parliament for Tooting and Labour’s candidate for the Mayoralty of London has, in spite of his own association with known terrorists (“I am a human rights lawyer: of course I have met some of them”) been ahead in the polls and had looked set fair to take the Job. Mr. Khan is now in despair and clearly believes that Corbyn’s “There is not a problem” line reflects the view of a man in denial. Plots to ‘oust Corbyn’ have been widely and frequently reported and he certainly has massive support within the Trades Unions and the grassroots party but to lead he has to command the support and respect of the parliamentary party as well and at present he has neither.
In other news the long-established High Street stalwart British Home Stores, purveyors of affordable lighting, clothing and other goods to generations of shoppers, is in administration. It is said that the chain failed to keep pace with online shopping but the human side of this is that eleven thousand jobs have been placed at risk. The shops, which are said to be carrying a debt of £1,3 billion were bought by Philip Green, knighted at the behest of “Legacy” Blair in 2006. Green and his wife, who actually owned the company and is a tax exile living in Monaco, appear to have relieved the business of eye-watering sums of money before selling it on for a pound to a rather interesting purchaser. With a massive shortfall in the pension fund the Work and Pensions and Business Select Committees are looking to put some searching questions to Sir Philip and Lady Green. As one comedian said of the mega-cruiser owning couple recently “you’ve forgotten the rules. You are supposed to fall overboard before the debts are discovered”. Knighthoods used to be forever but not any more.
I first met my friend John Whittingdale, currently running the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, when he was working in Margaret Thatcher’s office and I was fighting the Birmingham Northfield by-election in November 1982. John was seconded to me as my campaign researcher. I went on to become a back-bencher and he rose to come a Secretary of State via the Chairmanship of the CMS Select Committee. John is a superficially studious guy who is an unlikely Heavy Metal fan. He is also a divorcee and, as a single man, found himself via a dating site in the clutches, literally, of a female dominatrix who, as it transpired was also ‘on the game’ or, in politically correct jargon, a ‘sex worker’. When our Lothario discovered the true nature of her business they parted company. This was before he became a Cabinet Minister and although several newspapers had the story they chose not to run it. In the fetid context of the highly-charged Leveson inquiry into the activities of the Press following the News of The World phone-hacking scandal Editors were, after all, erring on the side of caution. Enter the BBC ‘Newsnight’ programme which, egged on by an organisation called Hacked Off, broke the news. There is a strong suspicion that the BBC, in the middle of discussions about their next charter with a Secretary of State who does not always offer them the due deference that they believe that they deserve, sought to undermine his authority and, possibly, see him removed from his job. The Director General, Lord Hall, did not of course know anything about this editorial decision. Lord Hall is good at not knowing about things. Hacked Off, founded as self-appointed Champions of Privacy and wanting Leveson’s recommendations for a statutory Press Regulator to be implemented in full, has been described as having acted in John Whittingdale’s case with “unbelievable hypocrisy”. Hard to quarrel with that except that, knowing a little of the background to Hacked Off, it is perhaps not quite as “unbelievable” as might at first appear.
The indomitable 94-year old Anzio veteran Harry Shindler has lost his first line of attack on the Government’s failure to allow ex-pat United Kingdom citizens the right to vote in the referendum. It is, of course, a nonsense that an Irishman resident in Gibraltar will have the right to vote but an ex-pat UK citizen who has been living on The Rock for more than fifteen years will not. It is also to me offensive that those worldwide and with strong and patriotic ties to the Motherland should be denied the right to have a say in the future of their United Kingdom. The Judges in the High Court decided that Harry’s rights under the law were not infringed and the Government could not be taken to judicial review. Harry is not a quitter. The final throw of the dice will be an attempt to seek leave to appeal to the Supreme Court.
Her Maj. celebrated her actual 90th Birthday in modest domestic style. The real fun and games will take place on her Official Birthday in June when in addition to the annual Trooping of the Colour a ‘Street Party’ will be held in The Mall as well as, no doubt, in one or two other places also. When we decided to fly the Union Flag during the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which was meeting on The Day, I discovered that “official” celebrations have to have Buck House approval to be held outside the June window. I am not remotely ashamed to say that nevertheless glasses were raised and Happy Birthday sung and three cheers offered in the celebration of a very special and great lady. We have, after all, to remind those less fortunate that we are blessed with one of the longest serving Heads of State in the World. And I did detect just a hint of envy amongst those from other nations who, in the course of history, have so carelessly discarded their Monarchs.
The Government has established a £50 million “Pothole Action Fund” to fix holes in the road but this largesse has come in for a bumpy ride. The inevitable critics complain that to mend all of the potholes will cost £230 million.
Carol Thatcher has vetoed a statue of her Mother, Margaret Thatcher. It does not sport an appropriate handbag.
Only the French would make it illegal to buy sex and impose a fine upon conviction of £1200 while at the same time decriminalising ‘sex workers’.
The seaside town of Southend which boasts Britain’s longest pier has crowned its last Carnival Queen. “The Royal court is too old-fashioned” say the organisers “we shall be appointing Carnival Ambassadors that will include men as well as women”. A longstanding hitherto supporter adds that “they try to change everything and end up by ruining everything”.
Christian Bjorkman, the producer of the Eurovision Song Contest, criticises the late Terry Wogan and the BBC saying “They created a generation of Britons who see the show as irrelevant and kitsch”. For many Sir Tel was the only thing that made the grim exercise in politics-by-song bearable.
The University of British Columbia, supported by the Kennel Club and the Battersea Dogs Home, have concluded that “your dog does not like being cuddled”. Try telling that to the thirteen stone of Newfoundland that jumps onto my bed every morning – for a cuddle.
At 85 it’s “Goodnight From Him”. Ronnie Corbett, the 5’1” TV star, first appeared in Babes in the Wood at the age of 16. After National service in the RAF he took a train from Scotland to London with £95 in his pocket to seek fame and fortune and he achieved both. He appeared on the BBC’s Crackerjack programme in the 1950’s before teaming up with Ronnie Barker to create “The Two Ronnies.” Appropriately, in recognition of their most celebrated sketch, there were Four Candles on the altar at his funeral.
Sarah Young was only 40 when she was swept overboard from the yacht Ichorcoal while participating in the Round-the-World race founded by Sir Robin Knox-Johnston. Her body was recovered and she was buried at sea,
Rachel Johnson was the last surviving native resident of St. Kilda in the Outer Hebrides when she died at 93. All 234 residents were evacuated for their own safety in August 1930.
Adrienne Corri, known as ‘the fiery redhead’ starred in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Clockwork Orange’ as well as in Dr Zhivago and many Shakespearean productions. She was 85.
Phil Sayer was known as “the Voice of The Tube”. Few Londoners will have recognised his face but “Mind the gap” and “Mind the doors” are familiar to all underground travellers.” The service terminates here” at 62.
Sir Arnold Wesker, original Angry Young Man and creator of the Royal Court Theatre “Kitchen Sink” dramas ‘Roots’ and ‘The Kitchen ‘ in the 1950s was 83 when his curtain came down for the last time.
Comedienne Victoria Wood, who has died of cancer at 62, was discovered on ITVs New Faces programme in 1973.”Vic” appeared on Esther Rantzen’s “That’s Life” before securing her own show and in the course of her career won five coveted BAFTA awards.
Jeanette Guyet was one of only two women ever awarded the American DSC. She was also the holder of the Chevalier Legion d’Honneur ,The Croix de Geurre avec Palme and the British George Cross. The wartime Resistance fighter and Secret Agent stopped just three years short of her century.
Marjorie Gilbert, known as ‘Bo’ celebrates her centenary in this same year as the fashion magazine Vogue. To mark both events she will be appearing in a Vogue advertisement for Harvey Nicholls in her debut as a fashion model. She is quoted as saying that “I like looking quite decent. High heels and a bit of lipstick” and then adds “I do it to suit myself. I don’t dress up for boys”!