Gale`s Westminster View – February 2020

Gale`s Westminster View – February 2020February. A Leap Year. As if we needed and extra day of floods, fire, pestilence and death. Coronavirus, or to be more exact Covid 19, is spreading if not at the rate of an Australian bushfire then certainly with disturbing rapidity. The press does its best to spread alarm and any sense of proportion has gone out of the window but the doom-mongers may yet have their day.

The Tramp will build a higher wall to stop alien germs from reaching the United States via Mexico. Storm Ciara is followed by Storm Dennis is followed by Storm Jorge. Will it never stop raining? Apparently not. Rivers break their banks, flood defences are overwhelmed and vast swathes of rural and urban Britain are transformed into great lakes. Seriously pity those who cannot remember how many times their cherished and once-pristine  homes have now been flooded. Spring crops have not been planted or have been obliterated by torrents of floodwater. Will we add famine to the other tribulations now facing this muddy and unpleasant land? Probably not because of the amount of produce that we import from mainland Europe – but that`s another story of course. “Where`s Boris?” the cry goes up as our Dear Leader fails to go paddling along with the Prince of Wales and the (still, just) Leader of Her Majesty`s Loyal Opposition. That the Prime Minister chooses to run the show from London rather than get in the way of the rescue services is immaterial: he visited the floods during the election last year so why not now? And by the way why has he not caught Coronavirus also? He should surely be showing solidarity with those evacuated from the Chinese district of Wuhan or the Cruise liner Diamond Princess who are now languishing in isolation wards in The Wirral  or in a  hospital in Tokyo.

Their No Longer Royal Highnesses the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, or “Harry and Meg” as we must now learn to know and love them, continue to send shockwaves across the Atlantic. They are going to have to learn that, whatever difficulties they may face, being rude to the Nation`s favourite Great-Granny is not going to endear them either to the popular press or us plebs.  The Labour Party Leadership Circus rolls on from town to town and airwave to airwave  as the three contestants remaining since Lady Nugee`s aspirations bit the dust continue to slug it out. Given the size of the population of the United Kingdom why is it so difficult for us to find Party leaders of calibre ? And why does it take such an interminably tedious length of time?   The Americans, of course, have these difficulties in spades. While the Tramp`s entourage flits off to the Indian sub-continent to annoy the good people of that nation  by ill-pronouncing the name of their most celebrated cricketer the Democratic primary selection crisis moves from incompetence to incoherence as equally unlikely and undesirable potential opponents to The Tramp line up to have metaphorical eggs thrown at them. On this side of the waters Leo Varadkar, erstwhile Leader of All The Irish, has had his political legs chopped from under him in a surprisingly good election result for `the political wing of the IRA`, Sinn Fein.  During this month ex-Speaker Bercow publishes his “Unspeakable” memoirs in a tome which looks destined for the remainder shelves in short order while his hopes of the traditional Dissolution (or should that be disillusion?) honours peerage normally awarded to former Speakers fade under a welter of accusations of bullying and other unacceptable behaviour while in office. 

The Prime Minister`s post-Brexit Government reshuffle sees some prominent Cabinet heads roll as anticipated but what is not foreseen, at least by most, is that the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid,  just weeks away from presenting his first budget, walks out of Number Eleven Downing Street to resume his seat on the Conservative backbenches.  The Goblin in the Beanie Hat, reputed to be the man working the strings in Number Ten, has made more than one powerful enemy. This coupled with the departure, on the twenty-ninth day of the month, of the most senior Home Office mandarin, quitting in protest at his alleged treatment at the hands of Home Secretary Patel, bodes ill for an administration that, even with a huge Commons majority, faces choppy waters ahead as Britain approaches the Brexit storms till to be weathered between now and the year`s end. We assume that the announcement of the engagement of Ms. Carrie Symonds to Mr. Boris Johnson did not arise from a Leap Year proposal but was awaiting the determination of the Prime Minister`s divorce. Only a churl would not wish the young chatelaine of Downing Street well following the proclamation of the pending arrival of her first child. She is, however,  going to have to keep her man lashed to the wheel if he is to successfully navigate the ship of state through the cross-currents of  next few months.

All of that, though, pales into insignificance in the light of the genocide currently being committed in Idlib at the hands of Syria`s Dictator Assad with the operational support of President Putin and the Russian Federation.  Children, women and men are being exterminated as we speak and the entire might of the developed world, including the United Nations, the United States and, of course, ourselves are shown to be impotent and incapable of lifting a finger to save them. Is `Holocaust` too strong and emotive  a word to use?

The pestilence came first. With the realisation that the Covid 19 Coronavirus, first identified  in Wuhan in China ,was more than just the usual winter flu outbreak all hell started to break loose. Britons from the town were evacuated and flown via the RAF base at Brize Norton to be held in quarantine and eighty British nationals found themselves trapped on a cruise ship, the Diamond Princess, off the Japanese coast . Inevitably, in the hothouse atmosphere and confined spaces of the ship the disease soon took hold. Britain was accused of being tardy in efforts to fly passengers home to quarantine while other nations extracted their own citizens only to face the possibility of imported disease. Some of the Brits contracted the infection and were transferred to hospital in Tokyo where at least one is known to have died.  Amidst warning of `a major outbreak` in the UK the disease has, to date, been relatively contained with no more sad fatalities than those generated by ordinary influenza. You get the feeling, though, that rather like the flood defences tested by recent storms, the banks holding back the spread of Covid 19 could burst at any time. If so, then it is a racing certainty that the Health Service will, despite the best endeavours of Ministers, Doctors, Nurses and hospital administrators, find itself swiftly overwhelmed.  A Lady Macbeth-style exhortation to “wash your hands” is now appearing on our screens with such tedious regularity that it is in danger of becoming counter-productive through repetition and has taken on the mantle of wartime “switch off that light” or “dig for victory” pronouncements. It seems, though, as if neither the World Health Organisation nor anyone else really has a strategy, other than hand-washing and containment, to deal with the unknown.  One Country, Italy, elected to terminate all flights to and from China for the duration of the epidemic (or is it technically already a pandemic?)  The warning was that Italian travellers would find other means to reach or return from Chinese destinations and whether by accident or by that design Italy at present  has the highest number of recorded cases of Covid 19 of any European Country.  In Lombardy and Veneto alone some fifty thousand people are now effectively in lockdown. The inevitable appearance of the Commander in Chief on US Television , designed to offer `reassurance` appears to have done little to  either allay the fears of a nation prone to hysteria or to stem the onward march of the infection. Claims that `we shall soon have a vaccine` are not a little wide of the mark and while it is clear that abundant international pharmaceutical expertise is being devoted to this project the likelihood of an antidote prior to this summer seems pretty slim. At home there has been a degree, to say the least, of confusion.  School children returning from skiing trips in Northern Italy via Stansted Airport have found themselves neither screened nor checked while other schools have closed completely, three hundred Chevron Oil Company employees from London`s Canary Wharf have been  sent home  and more international flights have been cancelled.  Some sports events, the Italy/Ireland Six Nations Rugby match, for example, have been cancelled already and Formula 1 racing, other fixtures and potentially even the Tokyo 2020 Olympics are now under threat. I know, though, of one friend who flew cheerfully back from a hotel in Tenerife unchecked while some seven hundred visiting Britons were confined to isolation in the hotel next door following the diagnosis of Covid 19 in an Italian visitor staying there.  At the time of writing consideration is being given to closing down parliament and allowing the Government to run the Country from a bunker under, presumably, the Ministry of Defence which is, I believe, where the Armageddon stash of tins of baked beans is kept. The thought of the Goblin and the Cabinet incarcerated deep under Whitehall has a certain appeal but more realistically the idea of six-hundred and fifty Members of Parliament sweating and spluttering through the division lobbies in a place that already suffers from Sick Building Syndrome is not a pretty conjecture if the epidemic reaches the Palace of Westminster. I feel a spell of self-isolation coming on.

After the pestilence and, Down Under, the terrifying Bushfires, came the floods.  It started with Storm Ciara which swept across the country bringing torrential rain driven by winds in excess of eighty miles per hour and in places gusting to well over 100mph. My corner of England was last devastated in the great hurricane of 1987 which left trees uprooted, rooves destroyed and power lines down for days. By comparison, this time we got off lightly but others were not so lucky and as the water flowed down from higher ground into rivers the trail of destruction was horrific. Road, rail and air services have, in some parts of the Country, been disrupted for weeks as, in the wake of Storm Ciara there followed Storm Dennis. Salvage work was only just commencing, with the floodwaters beginning to recede, when the second wave, literally, hit areas where the waterlogged ground was incapable of absorbing any more rain. Storm Dennis generated the worst recorded flooding since 1979.with emergency services seeking to patrol six hundred and fourteen official flood alerts. As the newly appointed Secretary of State, George Eustace, said  while viewing inundated farmland “We cannot protect everyone”.  Given the pasting that he received when, during the December election, the Prime Minister last visited a flood-hit area it was probably a wise call to take the flack and not to go wading through flooded homes, mop idiotically in hand,  as he was pictured once previously.  Mr. Johnson can be blamed for many things but unless you believe that his misdemeanours have literally brought down the Wrath of God upon our heads then I cannot see that disrupting the work of the Fire Brigades, the constabulary or the armed forces to go to Yorkshire or Wales or the West Country  and literally or metaphorically stick a finger in the dyke would have served any useful purpose whatsoever.

Once the waters have subsided after the advent of Storm Jorge, the clean-up has properly commenced and the costs in lost business, farming and of course peoples` homes have begun to be counted there will have to be a reckoning and a thorough review of what more, if anything, can be done to prevent a recurrence.  Only the meanest intelligence though, or The Tramp, would be likely to deny that climate change is a reality that is with us.  My own miserable knowledge of meteorology acquired many years ago reminds me that warmer winters mean much higher rainfall and if global warming means that warmer winters are now a fact of life then we have to learn how to live with and store or dispose of a great deal more precipitation.  Much of this, of course, may be discussed during the Climate Summit that we are to host in Glasgow, if it ever gets off the ground.  The former Cabinet Minister Clare Perry, now Mrs Clare O`Neill, was removed from the oversight of the summit and David Cameron and William Hague, both former leaders of the Conservative Party, declined the chance to take up the baton and run with it.  Where is Greta Thunberg, the St. Joan of Climate Change , when you need her most?  Well the answer, of course, is that she has been leading a demonstration of thousands of schoolchildren, this time in Bristol. After the protest the lawns upon which they had gathered looked as though a herd of cattle had over-wintered there such was the morass of mud that they left behind. Just one more clean-up and re-seeding job to be done if and when the land ever dries out again.

The Press were denied the “St.Valentine`s Day Massacre” headline because the Cabinet re-shuffle took place on Thursday 13th February and not, as the headline-writers had hoped for, on Friday 14th. There was, though, still blood on the carpet.  Andrea Leadsom, Esther Mc Vey, Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, Theresa Villiers and the architect of the rapprochement in Northern Ireland Julian Smith, all lost their red boxes and their Ministerial cars along with a raft of junior Ministers who also were replaced.  The biggest shock of all, however, was the voluntary departure of the Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid.

`The Saj` had already faced the ignominy of having one of his Special Advisers frogmarched out of Downing Street on the orders of Mr Dominic `The Goblin of Number Ten` Cummings. Now, it appears, Number Ten was seeking the dismissal of his entire team of ` SPADS` and their replacement with a joint Treasury/Number Ten team appointed, presumably, from the pool of `weirdos and misfits` that the Goblin has so  successfully recruited (So successfully that one had to be dismissed before the ink was dry on his contract because of his `weird` views on eugenics). This, of course, combined with the attempt to create a `Chino` (Chancellor in name only) at the Exchequer was totally unacceptable to any self-respecting holder of that high office.  In his subsequent resignation statement to The House, heard as is the tradition without interruption or comment, `The Saj ` was not quite as brutal as the hatchet job performed by a predecessor, Sir Geoffrey Howe, who precipitated the downfall of Margaret Thatcher. He did, though, in `speaking truth to power`,  set down a number of markers and his reference to the “Cummings and goings” at Number Ten has laid down a battle line for the future.  In an aside to the Prime Minister at a meeting before the election I told Mr. Johnson  that this Chief of Staff, if allowed to remain in office, would prove to be his undoing. I stand by that prediction.

The Home Secretary, Ms. Patel, has announced some of the detail of her proposals for a `points-based` Australian-style immigration system.  There is no doubt in my mind that the result of the EU Referendum in 2016 owed as much to the desire to see immigration controlled, at times little less than rank xenophobia, as to any other factor. That referendum was certainly not fought on the basis of our national security or upon the future of our economy as it ought to have been but that is the fault of those who managed the Remain campaign.  Given the result of the referendum it is clear that measures have to be taken to end the `freedom of movement` that lies at the heart of the resentment – and I use the word advisedly – towards those from abroad coming to the United Kingdom and `using our services and taking our homes and our jobs`.  Creating a system that is dependent upon allowing what the Home Secretary has described as `the brightest and the best` into the Country, even with a reduced salary requirement of £25,000 per year, is however  likely to trigger the law of unintended consequences. Many of the semi-skilled and unskilled jobs in our hospitals and care homes, in our catering and hospitality industries and in agriculture are performed by immigrant labour prepared to work for the statutory minimum wage and to undertake tasks that our own unemployed simply  will  not do.  No good saying, as one Ministerial answer received last week suggests, that employers should try harder to recruit local labour or, by implication, to pay more.  People do not want their elderly relatives cared for by the unwilling and uncaring, they do not want their meals and their drinks served in bars and restaurants or their hotel rooms cleaned and the bedding changed by pressed and recalcitrant labour. And my local farmers have tried – God they have tried – to recruit from the local pool of unemployed. To no effect. Which is why, in the Autumn of 2019 fruit in the orchards of Kent was left rotting on the trees.

So just before we engage in dog-whistle politics that panders to the lowest common denominator let us catch our breath and come up with a policy that will, yes, allow us to maintain control over who comes to these shores but to do so without cutting off the very source of labour that we are going to need as we seek to compete in a global market.

In other news The High Court has determined that the proposed Heathrow Runway Three does not meet the requirements of the Paris Climate Accord and that it therefore cannot, as it stands, proceed. This will be challenged by the Heathrow Airport Operators – it is a matter of private not Government business – but it is clear that project will now be severely delayed if not abandoned altogether.  In the meantime, of course, UK Limited continues to lose business to Schiphol, Charles de Gaulle, Frankfurt and Dubai – which is another very good reason why Manston Airport in Kent needs to be reopened as swiftly as possible.

Lord (David) Steel, former Leader of the Liberal Democrats, has resigned from his Party and from the House of Lords following an admission that he knew of the paedophile  activities of the former MP Cyril Smith but failed, at the time, to take appropriate action to see Smith brought to justice.

The Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps, has announced that petrol driven cards will have to be phased out by 2032 and the Prime Minister has confirmed that at a cost of £150 billion the High Speed 2 rail project will proceed.

The BBC proposes to increase the Television licence fee from £154.70 to £157.50 per year in spite of the fact that young people now acquire their entertainment and news from other sources including YouTube and Netflix in ever-increasing numbers. The Salford Broadcasting Corporation is , as former Culture Secretary Nick Morgan says, in danger of going the way of the Blockbusters Video Store chain which was extinguished as a result of the onward march of technology.  And  Royal Mail tells us that it will now cost 76 pence to send a first class letter. This is because of increased competition and the requirement to maintain the universal 6-day a week delivery service. A far cry from the `Penny Black`.  Eat your heart out, Rowland Hill.

I am told that post Brexit some seven hundred and sixty British elected local Councillors currently serving to communes of France will have to resign. Or take French nationality. Which is a pity because those that I know personally have contributed hugely to the life of their communities.

Alastair Stewart, the veteran ITV news presenter, has been forced to step down from his ITN position because of a quotation from Shakespeare referring to an `angry ape` that he sent to a colleague and which was construed as racist. Much Ado About Nothing? No, Measure for Measure as a matter of fact. In the interests of freedom of speech ITN instructed its staff not to offer anything other than `tributes` by way of comment. Less constrained,  the former Head of the Equalities and Human Rights Commission, Trevor Phillips, says of Stewart (who is not known to have a racist bone in his body) that “My friend  fought with me against the National Front`. More to do with `White, male and experienced` than racism perhaps?

The Mounties are not going to get their man. Following an opinion poll revealing that 77% of Canadians do not want to pay for security for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex  the Canadian Government has announced that it will not provide the service.  `Harry and Meg` will, it seems, have to fend for themselves which will set an interesting precedent when we come to review all of the other people who have left office but still attract a security detail.

It`s the sort of mistake that we can all so easily make but it really was careless of David Cameron`s bodyguard to leave his Glock pistol and Cameron`s passport in the lavatory on the plane in which they were travelling. Fortunately a responsible fellow passenger rather than a terrorist picked up the items and returned them to their rightful owner.

Following the exclusion of the Daily Mirror, The (London) Evening Standard and the Huffington Post from a Number 10 briefing the rest of the Lobby walked out.

That still leaves the Radio Four Today Programme without Ministerial comment.

Tracey Brabin, Emmerdale actress and Labour Shadow Front Bench Culture minister wore an off-the-shoulder dress at the Commons despatch box. The dress revealed rather more on the overhead camera than was intended prompting Ms. Brabin, responding to comments, to observe that “ I am not a slag, hungover, a tart, about to breastfeed, a slapper, drunk or just been banged over a wheelie bin. Who knew people could get so emotional over a shoulder”!  She subsequently auctioned the dress and raised over £20,000 for Girlguiding UK.

The new Bank of England £20 note featuring the artist JMW Turner , The Turner Contemporary Art Gallery in Margate and Margate Lighthouse is now in circulation.  Which gives me the satisfaction of knowing that soon many Members of Parliament will be carrying around a little piece of North Thanet in their pockets.

Woke news: nurses must not refer to old people as `pensioners` or women as `ladies`. It is inappropriate, says the Royal College of Nursing , to say that someone `suffers from` an illness and `alcoholics` must be referred to as `alcohol misusers`. `Disabled people` are `people with disabilities` , a  post is `staffed` not `manned` and `mankind` is `humankind. A `chairman` is, of course, a `chair`. In the interests of gender neutrality.

Since the arrival of Dilyn at Number Ten there has been a rise in demand for Jack Russell puppies. This is known as the “Boris Bounce” although from experience Jack Russells are bouncy enough without any help from the PM.

Burgess Hill High School in Sussex has published a compendium of “Things to do before you are five”.  The list , which might have been written by Arthur Ransome, includes :

Make a smoothie, make a cake, build a dam, ride on the top deck of a bus, chalk graffiti on a wall, skim a stone, create your own book, play hopscotch,  see stars at night, go fishing, roll down a hill and (for would-be politicians presumably) fly a kite.

The St Peter Port, Guernsey, Victorian Shop and Parlour is losing the services of its dedicated manageress who has run the emporium for the past decade.  The 260 year old shop is famed for the sale of lemon sherbert and liquorice and the National Trust has now decided that its offerings must be bar coded ` because we want to know what we`re selling and what we`re banking`. Welcome to the era of Ye Olde Victorian Technology.. Bah! Humbug!

The National Trust is also ending  its annual Cadbury sponsored Easter Egg Hunt.Over thirteen fattening years the hunt has raised in excess of £7 million for the Trust`s fund.

New blue British passports will shortly available. De La Rue, the preferred secure printers, lost the contract on price so these iconic documents will be produced by a French company, Thales, at a plant in Poland.

“Personal data will be added in the United Kingdom”.

And Number Ten is now being accused of `Government by Attention Deficit Disorder` following the edict that Civil Service briefs for the PM`s red box should be confined to  two pages pf A4 only.

Daniel Arap Moi (95) was the post=-colonial dictator who served as Vice-President of Kenya under Jomo Kenyatta in 1996 and succeeded Kenyatta as President between 1978 and 2002. In 1992 Kenya became a one-party (KANU) state and was transformed from a stable democracy into an economically stagnant country in which human rights abuse was rife.

Terry Hands  (79) worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company between 1966 and 1991 becoming, in 1986, Artistic Director and CEO. He will be particularly remembered for the 1983 production of Cyrano de Bergerac which starred Derek Jacobi and West End hit Les Miserables. He was also the co-founder of the Liverpool Everyman Theatre.

Kirk Douglas (103) was the `Hollywood legend` and tough guy of war films and westerns (Gunfight at the OK Corral, Paths of Glory, Spartacus) who survived a plane crash,  a heart attack and a stroke and in 1996 received a Lifetime Achievement award at the `Oscars`.

Bill Brodie (102) was thee bomber and pathfinder who flew eighty-five operational missions over Germany and the Middle East. The pilot of one of four Wellington bombers with 38 Squadron who attacked Benghazi harbour he received the DFM. Flight Sergeant Brodie was commissioned in 1942 and joined the Night Striking Force (Pathfinders) of 692 Mosquito Squadron in 1944 . He was awarded the DSO for his part in the attack on the Kiel Cana and in 1945 the DFC for the assault on Mannheim.

‘Mad Mike` Hoare (100) was rhe `Wild Geese` Soldier of Fortune who survived expeditions in The Congo an a disasterous attempted coup in the Seychelles.

Sir Michael Cummins (80) Cavalry Officer Deputy Sergeant and as the House of Commons Sergeant at Arms (2000-2004) presided over the installation of television cameras in the Chamber, the introduction of a new management structure for the House, information technology,  the  opening of Portcullis House by The Queen  in 2001, the Lying in State of Her Majesty the Queen Mother, and the Golden Jubilee celebrations. He served on operational duties in Northern Ireland and was knighted in 2003.

Harry Gregg (87) was the Northern Ireland and Manchester United goalkeeper who in 1958 survived the Munich Air Crash that killed eight of the  MU `Busby Babes` team.  . Gregg returned to the stricken aircraft to pull and some of his team mates to safety. He was awarded the MBE in 1995 and the OBE in 2019.

Rear Admiral `Spam` Hammersley (91)  became the Engineering Officer of Britain`s first nuclear submarine following the commissioning of HMS dreadnought in 1959. He was awarded his OBE in 1965.

David Lambie (94) served as the Member of Parliament for Central Ayrshire for twenty-two years.

Frances Cuka (83) will be remembered by those of a certain age for BBC Children`s Hour . The Guildhall-trained radio, television, film and stage actress appeared at the Royal Court, the National Theatre, The Royal Shakespeare Theatre,  in “Taste of Honey” with  Joan Littlewood`s Company and as Katherine of Aragon in the film of Henry VIII.

David `Tiger` Smeeton (83) was a BBC Radio reporter and Home Affairs correspondent for thirty years, working in Northern Ireland, Tokyo and Germany as well as in the UK.

Hosni Mubarak (91) became the President of Egypt after the assassination of Anwar Sadat in 1981. He was deposed during the 2011 `Arab Spring` , tried and found guilty of corruption  and gaoled for three years before being acquitted a in 2017.

Michael Medwin (96) was a 1950`s TV actor and independent producer. He appeared as Corporal Springer in t6he ITV sitcom `The Army Game` and in the fifties films `Above us the waves` and `Doctor at Sea`.

Docket (1) was Margate artist Tracey Emin`s much-loved cat and featured in her drawings, ceramics and sculptures.

And finally...
May 8th/May 9th  marks the 75th Anniversary of the ending of the war in Europe 1945 (VE Day) and will be marked by a sold-out ceremony at the Royal Albert Hall streamed to 400 cinemas nationwide and featuring the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, the Military Wives Choirs and Veterans of World War Two. Public Houses will open for an additional two hours  to accommodate revellers.


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