Month in Westminster – August 2016
August. A Golden month with a silver and bronze lining. You can take sport out of politics but you cannot take the politics out of sport. And the Russians cheat. Official. Is there any honour left in the honours system? Too many people on Man David`s valedictory podium, perhaps? Corbyn`s Leadership campaign is on track to win but comes off the Virgin rails. The remnants of the “United Kingdom Independence Party” is seeking a new Fuhrer while Mr. Farridge has gone off to grow not roses but a moustache which does not really suit this budding Trumpette. The former Leader of Luxembourg County Council, JC Juncker, has a ` Little Black Book` – now there`s a surprise, The future of the new Hinckley Point nuclear power station is still, at the time of writing, in the balance. Immigration remains at the top of the Brexit agenda but, in spite of a Cabinet meeting at the PM`s Chequers country residence, there`s no sign that the Article 50 starting pistol will be fired any time very soon. Contrary to ill-informed comment and reporting the “Votes for Life” bill is still very much on the cards although whether the measure will get through a Labour/Liberal dominated House of Lords unscathed is another matter. There may be Nothing like a Dame but the Government`s Child Abuse inquiry has now lost its` third Chairman which would seem, to coin a phrase, like carelessness. Whitehall searches its` handbag for a replacement. Are Grammar Schools back on the agenda? Education Secretary Greening would like to think so and it looks as though she has the support of the lady in Number 10. Across La Manche the Jungle cage is rattling as more than nine thousand migrants cluster around the port of Calais; the failed President Sarko seeks to drag his Republican Leadership bid sharply to the right of Mme Le Pen, the battle of the burkinis is being fought on the beaches, and off the shores of the Mediterranean coast Mr Philip Green, as he must surely become, languishes on his superyacht while the last of the BHS stores that he sold for a quid closes back in the UK. And in a pre-publication prelude to the Boundary Commission`s report on new parliamentary boundaries the Brothers and Sisters on the Opposition benches seek to get their retaliation in first.
The month kicks off with a synthetic row over Man David`s dissolution honours list. There are honours and there are Honours. Those earned on the running track or the sports fields through toil and sweat, of which more in a moment, are well understood and, saving those who have cheated their way to the top of the podium through drug-taking, few begrudge even now highly-paid athletes the rewards of their endeavours. Political Honours are a different, archaic, arcane and largely mis-understood matter. They are, at their best, a very cheap and cheerful way of recognising, at many levels, public service defined by longevity, dedication, determination, persistence, bloody-mindedness, intellectual excellence deployed in the interests of the nation, industrial and job-creating success and much, much more. It is, I believe, a good thing that school dinner ladies and lollipop men and nuclear physicists and teachers and doctors and the inventors of new vacuum cleaners and earth-moving machinery and actors and sportswomen and civil servants, and, yes, even much-derided politicians (“Well he would say that, wouldn`t he”!) should have the opportunity to have their endeavours recognised on the same newspaper pages a couple of times a year. Anybody that is not several sandwiches short of a picnic understands that this is an individual recognition of what is, even in the case of solo sports players, a team effort and that “I couldn`t have done “it” without those behind me” is the absolute truth. The winners of Wimbledon or the Cup Final rightly deserve to hold the trophy aloft but we all know that there is an army behind that success and as one who has nominated other people for recognition and then scoured the New Year and Birthday lists in vain for their names I understand how very few of very many worthy people put forward are singled out for even the most modest of honours.
The controversial factor in all of this is the “Lavender List” element, named after the publication of former Prime Minister Sir Harold Wilson`s 1976 resignation honours list, rumoured to have been drawn up on lavender-coloured notepaper by his Principal Secretary Marcia, later Baroness, Falkender. In fact, the “lavender” element of this goes back into the mists of recorded time and successive monarchs have created successive hereditary titles for Court favourites and financiers and the bastard offspring of mistresses. The House of Peers is, as they cheerfully recognise, still stuffed full with the heirs of many of them and while there are many good constitutional reasons for changing the structure of the Upper House I do not believe that patronage is one of them.
By comparison with days of yore the gongs doled out by a Harold Wilson, a Margaret Thatcher or a David Cameron, as they leave Downing Street for the last time, pale into insignificance. If Man David wants to say thank-you to his drivers, to those who have supported him and his family (such as SamCam`s hair-stylist ) and to those members of his Cabinet , his inner circle and even political opponents who gave him particularly loyal support during what has turned out to be an ill-fated referendum campaign, then he has the right to do so and it ill-behoves a former Chairman of the Standards Committee, a superannuated civil servant with a `K` himself, to take plain Mister Cameron to task. You can question Man David`s judgement if you wish but if you want to change the system then you can bet your sweet life that, as has happened even in totalitarian and socialist republics, the wheel will be re-invented and that patronage in some form will continue. I would argue that at least our system is reasonably, contrary to populist opinion, transparent, is policed by the Patronage Committee and has the imprimatur of Buck House upon it.
Back to the podium and the Olympic Games. It started messily. Neatly side-stepping the need to take decisions over which Russian athletes, with the exception of track and field events, should be allowed to participate in Rio the International Olympic Committee left it to the International Federations to decide who, within individual disciplines could compete and who should be banned for using drugs to enhance performance. It is almost certainly the case that some perfectly clean neo-Soviet high-achievers were prevented from competing and that, of course, will have distorted the final medals table but the IOC has not covered itself in glory. Better by far to send a clear message to Comrade Vlad that state-sponsored cheats will not be allowed to prosper and that until the Russian Federation cleans up its act under the scrutiny of and to the satisfaction of the World Anti-Doping Agency then his teams will be beyond the pale and barred from all international competition. If that seems harsh then imagine how much harsher it must feel to those who have lost glory, prestige and income at, for example, the Sochi winter games to know that they have been robbed by Putin`s sports fixers.
In Rio the games that might not have been finally got under way. With Andy Murray, selected as our nation`s proud standard-bearer, trying desperately not to poke the Princess Royal`s eye out with a flag-pole that he managed to turn into an offensive weapon and with rather less skill than he has demonstrated on Centre Court the host nation went `green` for a low-key but effective opening ceremony . At one tenth of the cost of Danny Boyle`s London extravaganza just three million pounds sent out a clear global-warming message from Brazil`s Macarana stadium. In addition to the Wimbledon Champion and Dame Judi Dench, GB was also represented by the Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch. Fresh from maternity leave she presumably had to park wee Freddie at home but how pleasing to see a young, savvy, woman with a real enthusiasm for sport and an active knowledge of the brief flying the political flag for the UK.
It would be facile to run through the list of UK Olympic medallists: you either watched the games and saw the results for yourself or you are not remotely interested. As with London, though, Britain`s enthusiasts waited longingly for the first gold medal to appear and it would be wrong not to single out Adam Peaty who relieved the tension with a world record-breaking 57.13 second win in the 100 metres breast stroke final. The young man`s parents had travelled to Rio (see “team effort”, earlier) to support their son but it was in a sense seventy-four year old grandma Mavis Williams, watching from home, who blew the gaffe by revealing that a young Adam had actually hated water and #Olympic Nan was launched. By now the actual medal winner should have enjoyed a promised holiday in the Maldives with his girlfriend.
With the gold and the silver flowing like water and Team GB on track to surpass the total, and itself record-breaking, medal haul at the 2012 London Olympic Games it was, I suppose, inevitable that some grapes would turn to vinegar. The Aussies are great sportsmen and women but less polished and perhaps less-experienced losers. From their tenth position in the medals table they voiced upset but it was left to another athlete, Kristina Vogel, to describe the UK`s success as “very questionable”. Not so. One of the unsung quiet heroes of the recent games is Sir John Major, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom and the man responsible for the launch of the National Lottery in 1994. It is fair to say that it has been lottery funding, to which millions of Brits have cheerfully contributed, that has provided the resources that have enabled elite athletes and Paralympians to enjoy world class training and coaching facilities. In total UK Sport has ploughed some £355 million into ensuring that success breeds success and while there are those that are still critical of the London Games legacy it has been true grit, determination and a strategy designed to ensure that every member of Team GB has peaked at the time of the Rio games that has enabled them to do better than their rivals. After a thrilling shoot-out in the women`s hockey in which Britain`s goalkeeper `Mad Dog` Maddie Hinch saved four penalties to deliver a 29th Gold , Team GB came home with a total haul of sixty seven medals prompting Prime Minister May to say that, exceptionally, there would be no cap on honours-list recognition for our athletes. Having kept his pledge to deliver a gold medal for each of his children by winning both the ten-thousand and five-thousand metre finals the bookies have stopped taking bets on a knighthood for Mo Farrah.
While we await the Paralympics, and as a footnote to Rio, that great non-nation “The European Union” or “The Union of European Socialist Republics” as J-C Juncker would no doubt like to hear it described, has claimed its place at the top of the medals table. Even as a “Remainer” I have to acknowledge that it will be good to hope that by Tokyo 2020 the Commissars will be denied the opportunity to seek to claim vainglory for triumphs to which they have contributed the square root of nothing. We shall not, I trust, live to see the day when, to the strains of Ode to Joy, the flag of the UESR flutters over an Olympic podium.
And talking of flags, one by-product of the Rio Olympics is that Fiji, having won its first-ever gold medal in the rugby seven-a-side final, has decided that it is, after all, proud to be at least a little bit British and will retain the Union flag, which was about to be abandoned, in the top left-hand corner of its national standard.
There is a fond belief that Members of Parliament take a three-month summer holiday. That is a view that is reinforced at every available turn by journalists who, when the House is not sitting, have to find something different to mis-represent. Aside from the daily flow of literally hundreds of e-mails, one or two of which are even from constituents, there is also local business that requires attention. Now, at the drop of a text, there is additionally, wherever an MP may be around the World, a Brexit story brewing. There are still many who are in denial. As a magnet for, particularly, ex-pat opinion I am told constantly to “be brave and vote against Article 50” as if that were an option. We have to be clear: whether we like it or not – and I do not – a significant if not an overwhelming majority of the British people voted to leave the European Union. We have to honour that decision whether or not it is in our long-term national interest and leave we will. “Brexit means Brexit” as The Lady has repeatedly said. The question, of course, is what does “Brexit” mean and the answer is “very different things to different people”.
As I have said before, it is now blindingly clear that those who campaigned to leave had not one vestige of a plan. There is no “Brexit” blueprint for the future of our security, our economy or even for the control of immigration. The Prime Minister has had to start from scratch. She has executive power and there is likely to be no vote in parliament on Article 50. Neither will there be the `second referendum` that the former Mayor of London, now Foreign Secretary Johnson, was advocating before the vote. There will also be no rush to cross the starting line but rather a painstaking process to establish a proper game plan that then may or, depending upon the attitudes of the people who matter in European politics, may not be realised. Between now and then there are elections to be held in Germany and France and it is highly probable that the political landscape will change significantly. Those with whom Mrs. May is talking today may well not be those with whom our negotiating team will have to deal in eighteen months` time. By then, with any luck, the miserable `President` Juncker will have been consigned, together with the `little black book` in which he keeps the names of those who have affronted his self-esteem, to the dustbin of continental history but what matters is who will be running Germany and France. Irritable Duncan Syndrome, one of John Major`s original `bastards` and now out on a chilly limb, may want us to “get on with it” and not wait for the results of the French and German elections but we do need to know who we are going to be dealing with before we take yet another leap of faith. `Special status for Britain` is an aspiration but, depending upon who is calling the shots, it may remain no more than that.
We are already told that Britain will be expected to pay its contributions to the pension funds of Eurocrats after Brexit. Given the numbers involved this could, it seems, run to some £60 billion pounds for current and former staff dating back to 1973 as payments are made not from an established fund but out of the annual EU budget. The Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, believes that Britain “is capable of weathering Brexit” but as a precautionary measure cuts interest rates to 0.25% and “will take any necessary steps to avoid a slump”. He predicts a material slowdown, higher unemployment and falling house prices. Given the fall in the value of the pound many ex-pat pensioners with investments in the UK or pensions paid in sterling, have already seen a drop in income in excess of ten per cent. A low pound may be a short-term boon to manufacturers seeking to export but it is not good news for those living on fixed sterling payments. We are advised that “agricultural and research subsidies will be safe after Brexit” but there is no word, yet, on the future of pension uprating , benefit payments or healthcare for those living in what will be the former European Union after Britain leaves. I am seeking assurances and information but my guess is that the answer will be that these issues will all be part of the Brexit negotiating package as is the future, of course, of EU citizens currently working in the UK and those Brits currently employed within the countries of mainland Europe.
With Ex-Mayor Boris and Dr. Fox reported to be engaged in a Whitehall turf war over staff and responsibilities for developing new overseas trade opportunities word comes from a lonely hillside in Switzerland, where she is taking a walking holiday with husband Philip, that Mrs. May expects the boys back home to stop squabbling and deliver on the Brexit. Is Boris in charge of Britain while the Darling Bud is en vacance? You bet your sweet life he`s not! The lady who has been running the country from her mountaintop chalet returns to bang heads together. Recalcitrant civil servants, believed to be seeking to frustrate plans to leave the EU, are told to produce their options and at an extraordinary Cabinet meeting, held not in Downing Street but at her country home Chequers, the Prime Minister orders her Ministers to demonstrate how they propose to “seize the benefits of Brexit”. It is perhaps not surprising that the Relate marriage-guidance organisation is offering advice to spouses on how to avoid break-ups caused by Brexit rows.
Those of us on the Government benches can take comfort from the fact that we are not members of the parliamentary Labour Party and that our own brief Leadership issue is behind us. Across the chamber the Brothers and Sisters are still in turmoil as Red “Goliath” Jerry and Dr `David` Owen Smith slug it out in what is turning out to be a one-sided contest that will be determined by something pretty close to entryism. Moderate Labour Members of Parliament, who had hoped to present an electable Opposition that might stand a chance of taking power in 2020, now see themselves facing a Stalinist-style purge with consignment to a Gulag in the political wilderness if not actual extermination. With the Boundary Commission due to report its recommendations for change in September and a reduction in the number of seats in the House of Commons from 653 to 600 it is clear that, because of shifts in population, the Labour Party stand to lose between 25 and 30 seats (13%) while the Conservatives will see between 10 and 15 (4.4%) seats disappear. This is not, as some on the Opposition benches have screamed, “gerrymandering” or “an abuse of power” but a matter of electoral arithmetic.It is a known fact that for far too long it has taken many fewer Labour votes in some areas to elect a Member of Parliament than it has in Tory seats with a much larger electorate. Nevertheless, you can understand that Labour MPs faced with the prospect of de-selection by the hard Left do not welcome the prospect of still fewer available seats to win.
Back on the campaign trail Comrade Jerry finds himself in a spot of bother with one Dickie Branson, the power behind Virgin Trains. Heading north to speak to his adoring public Jerry seizes the opportunity to highlight the matter of over-crowded trains and is pictured seated on a carriage floor in the interests of his policy of re-nationalisation of the railways. Unfortunately for our Socialist Hero Virgin Boss “Tax-exile” Branson discovers on-train CCTV footage that indicates that Mr Corbyn`s search for a seat has been less that thorough and that there are, in fact, plenty of unreserved seats available. That Mr Corbyn acquired a seat shortly after the “floor” shots were taken does little to enhance his protestations that he could not find two seats for him and his wife to sit together and therefore decided that is was necessary to squat. (Where the Goodwife Laura Corbyn was at this time or where she herself was sitting remains unclear). Basically, a political stunt that hit the buffers with the interesting side-effect that the Information Commission is now seeking to determine whether Virgin`s release of the footage that exposed the charade constitutes an `abuse of personal data`. Given that the CCTV coverage is recorded in a public place, for the purpose of exposing wrongdoing, one might think that the Commission had rather better things to do with time charged at the tax-payer`s expense.
Sadiq Khan, the man tipped to become the next Labour Leader and currently Mayor of London, seen in a bleak landscape as a winner, is backing Owen Smith against Corbyn. Smith will not win but Khan is no fool and clearly wishes to nail his colours to the masthead of the acceptable face of Socialism. Corbyn, says Khan, is “unable to organise an effective team” and Labour`s former Shadow Chancellor and now Strictly Come Dancing contestant Ed Balls, in his newly published memoire “Speaking Out”, derides the Corbynistas` “Leftist Utopian Fantasy”. None of this is likely to prevent Comrade Jerry from being returned to office as Leader of the Opposition with an increased popular majority of Labour Party members which begs the question “where does that leave the majority of a parliamentary party that does not have faith in its Leader”? Talk of a new party may be premature. First, there is the re-selection issue to be overcome. Also, Chuka Umunna, another potential Leadership contender, when asked on television recently whether he would leave a Corbyn-led parliamentary grouping said “I am going nowhere”. And that, my friend, is probably and at least for the moment, all too true.
In the American Colonies election things appear to be going from worse to worser, at least so far as sane Republicans are concerned. I am less than flattered to continue to receive e-mails from the Trumpettes inviting me to contribute illegally to the war-chest of one of the two most unpleasant candidates ever to participate in an American Presidential contest. The other, arguably, is a Democrat alternative who may, although the race is tightening, find herself ingloriously elected as the least-worst of the two currently available options. The Donald is not yet out for a duck but he sure as hell suffers from foot-in-mouth disease. He has now managed to offend not only the entire Mexican nation and a vast army of Hispanic voters but, following a smear on a Muslim supporter of Mrs Clinton`s whose wife, he alleged, was “not allowed to say anything” he has offended the sizeable Muslim population of the United States as well. The late Captain Humayun Khan, whose Father and Mother, Ghazala and Khizr Khan, appeared on Hillary Rodham`s stage, was a Gold Star American war-hero who gave his life in Iraq and to seek to attack the family was widely seen as crass, ill-informed and racist. Which, I would suggest, neatly epitomises a candidate that has no grasp of diplomacy or of global geography or anything much other than an undoubted ability to work an ill-educated rabble and to pander to prejudice. That he has attracted the support of Mr. Farridge, who is urging him to adopt “Brexit” as the blueprint for a “Trump White House”, should worry us all. We, because the outcome of the election of the Leader of the most powerful nation on Earth affects all of us, are in deep trouble and unless a third-party “white knight” emerges I think we can reasonably expect that this contest will end in tears if not on a grassy knoll. Those who preach the wind of hatred are likely to reap the whirlwind.
The fallout from the attempted coup in Turkey and that country`s incursions against not only terrorists in Syria but also Kurds is causing frictions in the United States, in the European Union and within the forty-seven states of the Council of Europe also. Turkey has certainly suffered at the hands of Kurdish extremists and many have lost their lives as a result of PKK attacks targeted at innocent civilians. The Turks clearly have a right to defend themselves against this kind of aggression as they also have the right to defend a democratically elected government that has the support of the majority of the Turkish people. That said there are norms of national and international behaviour, in respect of human rights, the freedom of the press, fair trial and detention and the like, that are expected by the EU and the CoE . If President Erdogan, in his desire to curb the power of his military and the “Deep State”, moves closer still towards civilian Dictatorship and totalitarian control then not only will moves to eventually integrate Turkey within the European Union come to an end but the Country will find itself expelled from the Council of Europe also and that degree of isolation would benefit nobody except the forces of darkness within the Russian Federation and, possibly, Daesh.
In other news the saga of British Home Stores nears an endgame with the closure, at the end of the month, of the last twenty-two stores in a chain that for nearly a century held a proud and prominent place in the landscape of our High Streets. Sir Philip Green continues to defy demands, by the Chairman of the Select Committee, Frank Field, and many others to meet what are regarded as his obligations to the company`s pension funds and instead relaxes on his superyacht in the Mediterranean with his wife while his daughter parties around the Riviera. For how much longer this corporate oaf will be allowed to hold the Pensions Regulator to ransom is unclear but if it`s a choice between Green and his wife retaining their titles or the pension fund then I think he should be summarily stripped of his honour and disgraced and that we, the taxpayer, should pick up the tab. It would be cheap at the price provided that we learn the lesson and put measures in place to ensure that Green and his ilk are not allowed to operate in this way ever again. In the meantime we also have to address the matter of some eleven thousand former BHS employees who, because of corporate greed, have lost their jobs.
That Dame Lovell Goddard, the New Zealand High Court Judge appointed to Chair the Government`s Child Abuse Inquiry, should have found it necessary to reign from her post is cause for concern. She is the third Chairman to quit. Baroness Butler-Sloss and Fiona Woolf, a Lord Mayor of the City of London, before her also found the position untenable for personal reasons. In the case of Dame Lovell it is suggested that she “did not have a clear understanding of aspects of British law” which is, one might have thought, something that ought to have been established before her appointment. Of some comfort to the victims of historic child abuse whose claims are being investigated, however, is the fact that the new Justice Secretary has moved swiftly to appoint a member of the existing panel to complete the task.
While the Government continues to reconsider the future of the proposed new nuclear power station at Hinckley Point the Australian Government has blocked an energy deal with China on the grounds that it proposes a security risk and in the United States espionage charges are being brought against the China General Nuclear Power company. It is not only the potential security implications of Chinese investment, though, that ought to be giving pause for thought. The EDF reactor is untried and untested and is already experiencing rather more than teething difficulties in two construction projects elsewhere. We may be in some danger of giving the go-ahead to a vastly expensive white elephant that will be past its sell-by date before it is ever completed. The Government is between a rock and a hard place. We are faced with the imperative to keep the lights on in our hospitals and schools and factories and homes while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions and phasing out the remaining carbon fuel power sources. At the same time, nuclear technology is developing fast and a new generation of smaller, cheaper, safer and much more efficient units is coming over the horizon. My gut feeling is that there will be an uncomfortable compromise, that Hinckley point will go ahead in some form although probably not on the present terms, but that it will be the last of a line of nuclear power stations that will have had their day before they are even commissioned.
Meanwhile it looks as though the lights will be going out on at least five days for a week in every month from now and for the foreseeable future in many of our hospitals. Not literally, of course, because
work will continue, but militant Junior Doctors, having rejected the deal accepted and approved as safe by the British Medical Association have announced that a strike “is the only way” to get their message across. This unnecessary industrial action is, according to government sources, likely to lead to the cancellation of a hundred thousand operations and to many more cancelled appointments. A sceptical public has always backed “those nice and caring doctors” against politicians but it is hard to see the justification for rejecting a deal struck by their own Trade Union less than five months ago and placing public health at risk over what is, behind the façade of concern over “safety” , in fact no more than a dispute over pay, overtime and hours of work. At the time of writing there is no way of knowing where this will end but as soon as one life is lost as a result of the strikes the Junior Doctors` new Chairman, Ellen McCourt, will have to explain just how and why her “rolling programme of industrial action” which has the support of about a third of her members, is not responsible and it may well be that the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, for whom the Prime Minister has already robustly expressed her support, may find himself with more public backing also. That, however, at the end of August. Is likely to be next month`s political headline from Westminster and far beyond.
Whatever else I might have found myself doing I would most certainly not be in the House of Commons had I not been afforded the opportunity to attend a boarding Grammar School. I have never understood why so many politicians who enjoyed a similar education throughout the 1960s should then have supported to move to abolish the very schools that generated the opportunities and social mobility that many of them had personally benefitted from in the naïve belief, propagated by Legacy Blair in 1998, that “Comprehensive” schooling was in some way better or more egalitarian. The County in which the seat that I represent lies is fortunate in being one of few that resisted the move to abolish selective education and therefore now enjoys a wide range of educational choice through Grammar and High Schools, Sports and Science Academies and Free Schools as well, of course as some excellent Public Schools. I have always advocated the re-introduction , nationally, of selective education on the basis that only if Grammar Schools are readily available and accessible will we obviate the postcode lottery weighted in favour of those who are able to afford to move home (or, like the Blairs, exercise influence) and to locate within the catchment area of better schools, be they Grammar, Comprehensive, High, Academy or other. It is noticeable that politicians from the far left to the right of the political spectrum have, in the interests of their own children, not hesitated to exercise the choice available to them.
I was appalled to hear, after David Cameron became Leader of the Conservative Party, David Willetts announcing on the Radio Four Today programme that we were ruling out the creation of any new Grammar Schools. So appalled, in fact, that I picked up the phone, rang in to the on-air studio and went “live” to suggest that Mr. Willetts must have blown a fuse in one of his legendary “two brains”. It was that also which caused Graham Brady, now the distinguished Chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee, to resign as a Shadow Minister in 2007. His Altrincham constituency, like mine, still benefits from selective education and, like me, he wants to see that option reintroduced nationwide. Theresa May`s new Education Secretary, Justine Greening is supportive of the move to create more new Grammar Schools in addition to the rather half-baked idea of `satellite` schools attached to existing establishments as a backdoor way around a policy that the previous administration clearly regretted but was unwilling or unable to change. If, as seems possible, the Prime Minister lends her support to this cause as part of her determination to enhance social justice then we may yet see young people afforded the social mobility that, for an entire generation, they have been unnecessarily denied.
Social habits are changing. Fish and Chip sales in pubs are 25% down and salads are now the favourite meal to be taken with a tipple. Goats Cheese and Tuna top the list of ingredients. Try selling that in the Rovers` Return or Albert Square.
Young people are now sexually less promiscuous than at any time since the 1920`s. The cause is said to be inter-action on social media rather than in person. So the Gin Tub hostelry has installed a Faraday Cage to prevent the use of mobile phones and encourage more social contact. It is said not to be popular with young people.
One of Team GB`s Olympic archers has been denied the right to wear his lucky flat cap because of the sports clothing deal between Adidas and the British Olympic association. Adidas, it seems, could not create a custom-made flat cap in time for Rio.
Police in France have scored a palpable hit. Equipped with a BMW 118D confiscated from a convicted and jailed arms dealer they have managed to rack up a succession of traffic violations. The letters informing the former owner of the vehicle of these offences and his accumulated points were sent to him in gaol with the last missive telling him that he had now lost his license.
Northants County Council has introduced an adult learning course in “how to tie a scarf”. At £25 a throw the three-hour course is said to be “self-financing”. How many people need lessons in how to tie a scarf at all and of those how many take three hours to learn how to perform this task?
Robert Walter Kerslake, former head of the Home Civil service, was created Baron Kerslake in respect of his services to Local Government. He how apparently wishes to see Prime Ministers stripped of their right to distribute honours.
Our young Sports Minister, Tracey Crouch, bet her Australian counterpart in Rio that team GB would take home more medals from the Olympics than Oz. I hope she has by now collected her winnings.
Mark Poulton is calling down the curtain of 130 years of Punch and Judy on Weymouth beach in Dorset. “Professor” Poulton complains that his young audiences are throwing stones at his stall. And you though Mr. Punch was guilty of domestic violence.
The 12th Century Church of Holy Trinity in Long Itchington, Warwickshire, has applied to the Consistory Court of the Diocese of Coventry for a `faculty` to replace its pews and to `open up the church`. Permission granted with the proviso that the replacement folding chairs do not have padding as these are deemed to be too comfy for a House of God. While the Judge conceded that the antique pews were `of little merit` he agreed with the Victorian Society that the planned cushions were `unworthy`.
Doctors in Manchester have concluded that the daily playing of bagpipes can be fatal – for the player. A condition known as `bagpipe lung` can be caused by mould and fungi that develops over time within the bag.
Strawberries displayed in Scottish branches of Tesco and displaying a Saltire have received a raspberry and the offending label has been withdrawn on the grounds that English berries have not been adorned with the Union flag.
And seventy-one year old Doreen Peachey from Goring-on-Thames has just passed the Royal Academy`s Grade 6 dance exam following a knee replacement. The semi-retired electrical engineer is now training for Grade seven and aiming for Grade 8.
At 97 Dave Bald Eagle, the Native American stunt double for Errol Flynn, has gone to the happy hunting ground. David William Beautiful Bald Eagle appeared with John Wayne and more recently in “Dancing with Wolves”. He was born in a tepee on Cherry Creek on the Cheyenne River and his grandfather was the Leader of the Sioux at the Battle of Little Big Horn. Dave himself served with the 82nd Airborne at Anzio and on D-Day.
The curtain has come down on one of the last great Actor/Managers, Brian Rix, at the age of 92. Yorkshire born Brian acquired the Whitehall Theatre and mounted a succession of “Whitehall Farces”, which frequently involved him losing his trousers, throughout the 1950s and 1960s. He became the Chairman of Mencap, dramatically increasing both the charity`s profile and its income. Lord Rix, as he became, voted against euthanasia in the House of Lords but changed his view when he began to suffer from Alzheimer`s Disease.
Robert, the Sixth Duke of Westminster, has departed at the age of 64. His family fortune, comprising some three hundred acres of Mayfair and Belgravia has been valued at £8 billion.
Bob Kiley ran the New York and Boston public transport systems before being poached by the then Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, in 2001 to become the first Commissioner of Transport for London. He was responsible for the modernisation programme for London Underground and the introduction of the Congestion Tax and the Oyster Card. Prior to his death at 80 he had described himself as “A CIA activist working for an unreconstructed Trot”.
Eighty-one years old when he handed in his Equity card, Kenny Baker was , at just 3`8” tall, the inside of R2D2 in the first Star Wars film, reappearing as an Ewok in The Return of the Jedi. His relationship with the other Star Wars Robot C3PO was strained as Kenny used to say that “He made me feel small”. The same was not true of the 7` tall Peter Mayhew who played Chewbacca and who Kenny regarded as a friend because “we face mutual difficulties”.
Sir Robin Chichester Clark (88) was the Ulster Unionist Member of Parliament for Londonderry and served as a Minister under Ted Heath when the Government introduced direct rule from Westminster.
The Reverend Roly Bain, who described himself as a Priest and Clown, used bubbles and a unicycle in the course of his Ministry. The wearer of an outsize dog-collar, size 18 boots and a red nose evangelised in the United States, Australia and Europe in a tradition of `Holy Fools` that dates back to the Middle Ages. He was just sixty two years of age when his Maker called him home.
86-year old Sir Anthony Jay was the co-author, with Jonathan Lyon, of “Yes Minister”. Knighted in 1988 he joined BBC Television in 1955 and worked on the “Tonight” programme with Cliff Michelmore before becoming Head of TV Talk Features. “Yes Minister” and “Yes Prime Minister” have been regarded by some as a handbook for government!
I am indebted to my old friend Michael Cooper-Immins of Dorset Life for informing me that David Holliday had left us at 94. Mr Holliday was the Master Brewer of Eldridge Pope`s Brewery in Dorchester, home of the Hardye`s School that I attended. In 1968, on the 40th Anniversary of the death of Thomas Hardy, he was responsible for the creation of the world`s strongest beer. `Hardy`s Ale’ was 13.1% by volume which, for the uninitiated, is roughly three times the strength of India Pale Ale. David Holliday remained as Head Brewer until Eldridge Pope`s closed in 2003.
Eighty-three year old Gene Wilder was also suffering from Alzheimer`s disease when he died. The star of the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate factory trained at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School before returning to the USA to appear in Young Frankenstein, Blazing Saddles and The Producers.
And sadly we report the death of the British Backpacker Tom Jackson from Congleton in Cheshire. Tom went to the rescue of twenty-one year old Mia Ayliffe-Ching in a Queensland, Australia, hostel. Ms. Ching was murdered and the brave young man died subsequently of knife wounds sustained during a frenzied attack. A case for an honour, surely.
From the “Tomorrow`s World” Department comes news that the extinct great Auk may soon be squawking again on the Farne Islands. The once prolific three-foot tall flightless seabirds died out during the nineteenth century but the “Revive and Rescue” organisation believes that using the Auk`s DNA and the services of a close relative, the Razorbill, it ought to be possible to “de-extinct” this species. If this genetic rescue works then the next project could be the re-introduction of the Woolly Mammoth. We are not in April Fool`s Day territory but the science of the future. Frightening, possibly, but exciting also.