Gale`s Westminster Viewed from a distance – June 2020

westminsterJune. Covid 19 continues to dominate Government, parliament and everyday life. And death as the toll of victims passes the forty-thousand mark. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis sparks a firestorm of protest internationally. Back lives do matter. So does the maintenance of law and order. Putin`s neo-Soviet Union rigs a `referendum` , the Chinese flout the treaty to impose rule from Beijing upon Hong Kong and The Tramp receives a  bible-belting  in Washington.  

A 'world class´ testing and tracing regime for C19 gets off to a less than impressive start. The Home Secretary shuts the stable door to introduce quarantine on arrivals in the UK when the horse is four miles down the track. Notwithstanding shielding and childcare difficulties Mr. Mogg, who has clearly spent too much time incarcerated with hid live-in nanny, decides to scrap the Speaker`s well-designed virtual access to parliamentary debate and  determines that the House must sit in person.  The Secretary of State for Local Government has his feet held to the fire for granting a planning consent to a Tory party donor. Are we really for sale for a meagre ten thousand quid?  A footballer, Marcus Rashford, wins a Government U-turn on the provision of school meal vouchers during the summer holidays. Mayor Boris `takes personal control of the pandemic` which prompts the new Leader of the Opposition  Keir `Hardie` Starmer to ask not unreasonably who was in charge before? The Salford Broadcasting Corporation appoints a new Director General; the Axeman cometh? Cummings watches the goings of the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Mark Sedwill,.  Princess Charles and the Duchess welcome M. Macron, currently the President of France, to London, Her Maj enjoys a slimmed-down, private and delightful Trooping of the 1st Battalion of the Welsh Guards` Colour and Prince Philip spends a modestly locked-down ninety-ninth birthday with his wife at Windsor Castle.

The Commons is now` sitting` again in a form that satisfies the Leader of the House, Mr. Mogg.  Mr Speaker Hoyle had spent much time and energy, supported and advised by the best parliamentary Clerks` department in the world and with the assistance of some top-rate IT wizards, creating a `virtual` parliament that worked.  His system allowed a very modest number of healthy people to be present in the Commons Chamber while the very many who, for all manner of very sound reasons, were unable to access London, were able  participate from home in debates, statements and oral questions to Ministers who themselves might be answering from remote premises. Notwithstanding the fact that MPs and their staff were supposed to be setting an example by working from home throughout the lockdown the Right Honourable Member for the Eighteenth Century decided that Members had to be `seen to be working` and that clearly this could only be done by compelling us all to return to the Houses of Parliament. There xcan, of course, be no truth in the suggestion that the real reason for the move was because the Government Whips`Office felt that they could not exercise control and discipline over Members who were not present. Had that been the case it would, of course, have been highly counter productive. The real reason for a latent mood of rebellion is that the Leader of the House is presiding over a programme of some pretty half baked legislation and I fear that down the line the chickens hatched out of the law of unintended consequences will come home to roost.

But I digress. The necessary measure to facilitate the Grand Re-Entry was put to the House and carried by an adequate but mediocre majority. Things might have been different but in a move worthy of a tinpot Latin American dictator those with the most vested interest, some two hundred colleagues who were confined to home, were denied the right to vote,  as we had done previously, on line.  As a result we now have sittings of a House of Commons that is permitted to accommodate at any one time about fifty ostentatiously socially-distanced members. When one piece of business concludes the sitting of the House is  suspended for three minutes to allow one shift to depart and the next, chosen by ballot I believe, to move in to occupy the carefully designated places. I have not been allowed to attend the House but I understand from those that are present that given that staff are still mostly rightly and properly working from home they are having to slink back to their offices and to then spend their time doing what the rest of us doing and working in isolation processing the literally thousands of e-mails that we have all received since the start of the lockdown on 23rd March! Nice one, Lord President.

As MPs-in-exile we are, however, allowed to participate in interrogatory proceedings. Departmental and Prime Ministers` Question Times, Ministerial and Statements and Urgent Questions are accessible to us and it has been agreed that if we are isolated then we are allowed to appoint a proxy to vote for us – a privilege hitherto reserved for those about to give birth or on maternity leave.  The Voting Lobbies have been determined, correctly, by Public Health England, to be unsafe for socially distanced voting purposes. This led, at the first vote-in-person of the new regime, to the ludicrous sight of a queue of members, spaced at two metres apart, snaking from the Chamber out through the Members` Lobby and the Central Lobby , down through St. Stephen`s Hall and the Westminster Great Hall, out across New Palace Yard in the open air and then though the cloisters under Bridge Street and practically into Portcullis House – a distance of getting on for half a mile.  Fortunately it was not raining but the whole process took the best part of an hour as against the usual fifteen to twenty minutes. The Electoral reform Society described this `Coronavirus Conga` as “Beyond farce”.  Happily, the process has been refined but we are now faced with a situation where those acting as proxies – my own is a splendid and formidable lady who is  independent of mind and spirit and a former Home Office Minister of State – having to vote, sometimes in different ways, several times for the Members on whose behalf they are acting.

We, the excluded, have to watch, on the Parliament Channel, the debates that we are not allowed to take part in and then communicate our wishes to the proxies voting for us depending upon how satisfactorily or otherwise Ministers respond to tabled New Clauses and amendments to legislation. It was much easier when we were allowed to participate and then to vote ourselves on line and from the `elf `n safety point of view much less of a risk but I have to say that our `Leader` as she is affectionately known, has worked overtime to ensure that her flock of proxies gets to vote in the way that we, and not the whipsd, desire. A bit like being a bookies` runner but then for a superb horsewoman she probably feels quite at home.

Prior to the Lord President`s `New Reality` one of the debates was the Committee stage of the Agriculture Bill, taken on the floor as a Committee of the Whole House. This embraced, among other matters, two amendments designed to protect a post-Brexit Britain from a flood of imported animal products produced under conditions that would not, by law, be permitted in the United Kingdom.

Over the years we have significantly raised our farm animal welfare standards to some of the highest in the developed word.  This has come at a cost to our farmers who have then watched in helpless  frustration as the UK has been compelled, under EU trading laws, to allow cheaper and nastier products to be imported from other Member States. We have also been prevented from ending, once and for all, the export of live animals for slaughter.  One of the planks of the “Leave” platform was that once we are out of the EU we will be allowed to refuse access to goods produced under standards and conditions that are unlawful in the UK and also that we would be able to put an end to the live export trade. Indeed, that arch pro-Brexiteer Michael Gove, when  Secretary of State for DEFRA  post-referendum, was cheered to the rafters for taking a robust line and pledging that these undertakings would be honoured.  It then dawned upon some charged with the duty of negotiating Trade Deals with, for example, the United States, that access to our food markets might prove important and that rigid adherence to the pledge could be a stumbling block on the road to a successful conclusion. Wriggle-room was sought and the “chlorinated chicken” row broke out.  Chlorinated chicken is not, of itself, harmful to humans. The process  is necessitated, however, because of the appalling and potentially disease-ridden manner in which Americans choose to allow their fowls to be battery-reared and that is precisely the kind of practice that those who care about these matters wish to bring to an end.  Liz Truss, Trade Minister, has said that “we cannot tell other counties what agricultural practices they should adopt”. No. We can not. But we can say what we will or will not allow into this country to be placed upon our Supermarket shelves. And that was the point of the amendment to the Agriculture Bill tabled by the Chairman of the DEFRA Select Committee, Neil Parish. About forty of us voted against the government and for the amendment. We lost the vote by an impressively (given the Government`s majority) narrow margin but the issue will not go away. There will be many such debates, I fear, as we dig deeper into this parliament and the Government is having to learn to listen. A huge majority does not of itself give even Mr. Johnson`s administration the right to ride roughshod of sincerely held and determined belief.

While we have, inevitably and parochially been concerned if not obsessed with the health of the nation and the effect of C19 and the lockdown upon our economy an event took place on the other side of the Atlantic that has sent reverberations around the World. The killing, by a white American policeman, of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota USA, was recorded and seen universally in all of its awful reality by millions of people worldwide. The resulting Black Lives Matter movement, which started as a spontaneous response to George Floyd`s death and has arguably now been hijacked by highly politically motivated activists, swept across the States like a bushfire and has most certainly impacted hugely upon Great Britain. Riots and the vandalising of the statues of people believed, sometimes rightly and sometimes erroneously, to have been connected to the slave trade have ensued. There has been a longstanding debate over the future of the statue of Edward Colston in Bristol. Successive administrations failed to remove it before it was, recently, pulled down and rolled into the river by a crowd completely beyond any police control. In London the Parliament Square statue of Sir Winston Churchill was defaced and in my hometown of Poole in Dorset local people had to defend the statue of the founder of the worldwide Scouting Movement, Robert Baden-Powell, from attack. Baden-Powell was accused of having Nazi sympathies but in fact his Boy Scouts were the antithesis of the Hitler Youth.  Now, Oriel College Oxford  has elected to remove the statue of Cecil Rhodes, the man who gave his name to Rhodesia, from above its portals. But will those international Rhodes Scholars whose bursaries were funded by the proceeds of Rhodes` diamond mines., be asked to refund their scholarships? And will the trust itself now be broken up to deny other future students from Commonwealth countries the opportunity to study at Oxford University`s Oriel College? If you wish to travel down paths of self-righteousness then these are awkward questions that have to be answered.  As an aside that very paragon  of self-righteousness, The Guardian newspaper, started its life as the Manchester Guardian and was founded by civic worthies who made their money out of the cotton trade. Never mind the fact that conditions in Lancashire`s cotton mills were akin to slavery, who do you suppose picked the cotton upon which these fortunes were founded?  Not African slaves working on American cotton plantations surely?

I quoted in an earlier article a black British university professor who said that “You cannot change the past but you can change the future”. No amount of ripping down of statues, of violent demonstrations or of the token wearing of armbands or `taking of the knee` in `solidarity` will change the world.  That will be done by civilised moderate people of every colour, class and creed working in harmony to no longer tolerate the excesses and the discriminations of the past and it will be achieved not through civil unrest and extremism but by example and through education.

For a President of the United States seeking re-election in the fall The Tramp ha not had a good month. The man who does not have the word `consensus` in his vocabulary and who is obsessed with his reactionary core vote was always going to find the killing of George Floyd hard to handle. Many of his blue-rinsed Southern supporters will have been horrified by the outpouring of popular outrage and violent reaction against the police and will have applauded the Commander-in-Chief`s threat to `send in the troops` and order to State Governors to `dominate` the protestors. They may even have been beguiled by the stunt that involved having a secure pathway cleared between the White House and the besieged church opposite so that he could walk across the road wave in the air  a Holy Bible  -  a book that one commentator unkindly but probably accurately said he had clearly never read!  That gimmick, though, gave his challenger Joe Biden the platform to accuse the incumbent  of “fanning the flames of hate”. Beyond the red-necked base support of the Grand Old Party  the `law and order` President found his former aide, Gulf War veteran and US Marine General Jim Mattis describing his threat to `send in the National Guard` as `behaving like a Nazi`. Then his former National Security Adviser, John Bolton, accused him of seeking the assistance of Chinese leader Xi JinPing to help him to win the election and adding for good measure that this was a United States C-inC who was unaware, on taking office, that his NATO partner, Britain, was equipped with nuclear weapons.

The President`s “Comeback “ rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma,  was not a great success either. The Tramp had claimed that a million people had applied for tickets to attend the gathering in a stadium with a capacity of nineteen thousand. Embarrassing, therefore, to find the venue two thirds empty with just 6,200 acolytes in attendance.  Never under-estimate the ingenuity of the American students who had booked large blocks of tickets and then boycotted the event! The Tramp`s denunciation of these `fake reservations` was described by ABC news as a “Fifteen out of ten tantrum”.  Never mind. At least Mr. Farridge had managed to wangle his way through the US immigration lockdown in order to be present to hear His Master`s Voice.

It is, though, The Tramp`s cavalier handling of the pandemic that may prove to be his nemesis. Having first dismissed the “Chinese disease” as of little consequence and then encouraged States to re-open for business he is now faced with an alarming spike in infections and deaths that has forced a reversal into lockdown while his personal espousal of quack remedies would do credit to a snake oil salesman. Not surprising that The Tramp has trailed even Joe Biden by fourteen points in the polls.

Our own Government`s handling of the pandemic might fairly be described as `chequered`. It was never going to be easy and whatever the Prime Minister did, faced with the conflict between the need to save lives and the desire to bolster the economy , was bound to be perceived as wrong.  The late Dennis Healey`s First Law of Holesmanship was “when you`re in one, stop digging` and we do rather seem to have demonstrated a considerable facility for making a bad situation worse.  Exaggerated claims of a “world class  test and tracing system” and a “world beating tracing App”, for example, had disaster written all over them. The trick, always, is to deliver the goods and then claim the credit rather than to make the boast and then fail.  Bragging rights only belong to those who have something to brag about and having one of the highest death rates per million of population in the world is not really something that we want to boast about, whatever the cause.  Matt Hancock, the beleaguered Health Secretary, has actually done a fair job under impossible circumstances. Starting with a shortage of just about everything except money needed to fight the virus and lumbered with not one but several Albatrosses in the form of pledges around his neck he has managed, just, to keep his head above water. Even Matt`s irrepressible good humour has taken a beating though and we have to hope that he does not become the fall-guy when the inevitable day of reckoning comes.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak has mortgaged the family silver to the tune of a modest £1.95 trillion  (more than the entire UK economy) in his endeavour to keep the Ship of State afloat and to help as many people as possible through his job retention and business support schemes. There are, though, very many self-employed people who have fallen through the net and received no help at all when they most needed it. Add those to the inevitable millions who will be made redundant at the furlough scheme ends and there is a storm of discontent gathering on the horizon. `A tsunami of job losses` is how it has colourfully been described and behind those are potential losses of not just businesses but homes as well. Rishi is for the moment the golden boy but the gloss could come off that reputation very quickly: he is brilliant but that brilliance will have to shine through his recovery budget if he is to survive and prosper in this harsh political climate.

If the conundrum of the month has been how and when to ease the lockdown, and more of that in a moment, the row of the month has been over quarantine,   It is a known fact that the Home Secretary, Priti `Flamingo` Patel, wanted to introduce quarantine at the start of the pandemic and lockdown.  Had she been allowed to do so many lives might have been saved. Indeed it has almost been forgotten that the first overseas returnees, from China, were quarantined for two weeks in hotels before being allowed home.  Unfortunately the Home Secretary was, we are told,  outvoted in Cabinet (by whom, please?)  and literally thousands of UK citizens were allowed to return home from infection hotspots and more thousands of visitors allowed into and through the UK before, very belatedly, we announced a fourteen-day quarantine for new arrivals.  Setting aside the chaotic introduction of this policy which, unbelievably, allowed people to pass through immigration and then travel home by public transport before self-isolating for fourteen days and is also estimated to have cost the travel industry £20 billion and it`s not hard to see why the decision was largely reversed after just three weeks. Too little and far too late. Sure, some countries including the USA are still on the quarantine list but thousands more people have entered the UK by air and rail and sea  since quarantine was eventually introduced and so far as I am aware there has not been one prosecution for a breach. That in spite of the Home secretary`s promise of `rigorous enforcement`. There clearly has been a very `high level of compliance` indeed!

That British Airways should have sought to sue the Government over quarantine should surprise nobody.  The “Not-The-National-Flag-Carrier” that is in fact a part of the multi-billion pound International Aviation Group has received in the region of £35 million on job-retention funding before announcing hundreds of redundancies and Messrs Walsh and Cruz are clearly looking for someone to blame for their `plight` and their `fight to survive`. It is a stark fact, though, that UK aviation and indeed our airport businesses have taken a colossal hit and clearly quarantine has not helped the travel cause. Nobody was going to take a fortnight`s holiday if they then had to spend a further two weeks out of circulation following their return home.

Education has also posed a problem for Secretary of State Gavin Williamson.  Some schools have been open for the children of key workers throughout the pandemic. It has been widely understood, that children really do need to be in school in order to maintain progress not just in learning but in social contact as well. Williamson was helped by many dedicated teaching staff but less so by the teaching Unions who tried to maintain both that children needed to be in school but that teaching exposed their members to unacceptable risk. In the end the first and last years of primary schools were allowed to return to be taught in socially distanced `bubbles`and if the experience of one excited Gale grandchild is anything to go by then her local primary school have done a great job in making the new system work. Given the chouce a lot of parents decided not to send their kids back but the expectation was that more classes, including some secondary school pupils, would be back before the end of the summer term. Not so. The S-S announced that there would be no further extension and it was left to the Prime Minister to announce that all schoolchildren will be back in education at the start of the next school year in September. He left it to Gavin Williamson to say that parents could face fines if they did not send their children back to school.

The staggered `unlockdown` has been chaotic, inconsistent and has caused grief.  With the re-opening of non-essential shops you could queue for hours (why?) to go to an indoors IKEA but you could not visit an outdoor wildlife park or a Cathedral .We have to wait for a haircut, to visit a pub or a restaurant or take a `staycation` but we will have to wait still longer to visit a nail parlour or a beauty salon or an indoor gym. And while cinemas will re-open live performing arts venues – theatres and concert halls and arenas – show no signs of being allowed back into business. The pantomime season has been cancelled for this year. (“Oh yes it has”!)  The beaches of the South Coast have been crowded with, on the hottest day in June, 40,000 people on the foreshore and Main Sands in Margate that can safely take 10,000 properly distanced. Do City dwellers not realise that when the tide comes in there is less room on the beach?

In other news M. Macron has visited London to celebrate the anniversary of De Gaulle`s 1940 broadcast to the Free French. London was awarded the Legion D`Honneur and four French resistance fighters were awarded an honorary MBE in return.  In Moscow Vlad Putin took time out from rigging a referendum result designed to allow him to extend his Presidency until 2036  the salute at a parade to commemorate the 1945 defeat of Hitler by the Russians. (I think the British played a modest part in that away match as well).  In Brexit news negotiations remain at an impasse and no agreement has been reached over French fishing rights. The Prime Minister has given the talks until the end of September to conclude after which the decision will be taken to go down the “no deal” route to give businesses time to prepare for the `opportunities` that lie ahead. It is said that even if a deal is reached it is highly likely that the European Parliament will veto it. Is m. Marcon preparing to invite M. Barnier to be his next Prime Minister?

The Local Government Secretary, Robert Jenrick, is under fire for signing of a billion-pound redevelopment deal for former soft-pornographer and owner of the Daily Express, Richard Desmond, on the eve of a change in the law, thus saving the developer a shedload of money in contributions to local infrastructure. There are helpful pictures of Mr Desmond and the Prime Minister, Mayor Boris, in close proximity at Number Ten. If the £10k given to the Tory Party by Mr. Desmond did, as alleged, influence the Secretary of State`s decision then the developer got quite good value for his money! The Prime Minister has scrapped proposals to allow self-determination of gender change in order to protect women-only facilities from abuse by predatory males.   Vodaphone and BT are claiming that if the proposed deal with the Chinese IT company Huawei is abandoned there will be a 5G mobile phone blackout . Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook infame is under pressure from hundreds of companies including Unilever and Coca Cola following his reluctance to properly regulate his platform. Those who like to use Facebook to vilify others regard this as an attack upon their right to free speech. Question: should not `online publishers` be subjected to the same laws and regulations as every other kind of publisher?    Following an influx of unruly visitors as lockdown restrictions are lifted the good people of Cornwall have promised visitors a `pitchfork welcome`. The bad news, for some, is that the racy lingerie company Victoria`s Secret has gone into liquidation. The better news is that Marks and Spencer may take over the brand which should set some matronly pulses racing.

Leicester City has become the first area of Britain to be subjected to regional lockdown following a spike in Coronavirus infection rates.  This heart breaking news comes just as some shops had re-opened and as public houses and restaurants were preparing to open their doors to customers for the first time in three months.

Following Dominic `Wandering` Cummings`  announcement that `a hard rain will fall` upon Whitehall the Cabinet Secretary and National Security adviser, Sir Mark Sedwill, has resigned. Consequent upon this news, which caused outrage within the Civil Service, the job will be split in two. The new National Security Adviser will be David Frost, a career Diplomat , currently negotiating, or not, the terms upon which the UK may enter into a Treaty with the EU following our withdrawal.  Mr. Frost has served as our High Commissioner in Cyprus and in Denmark, Brussels and the UN. As the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, pointed out to the Prime Minister on the floor of the House of Commons, Mr. Frost has no security experience. Which should enable us all to sleep a little more soundly at night.

And the Conservatives` leas over Labour has fallen in the polls to 4%.

Blue on blue and Red faces in the Protection Service. As the Prime Minister`s motorcade was leaving the Palace of Westminster a man ran out in front of the lead car. That car stopped as did the following PMs Jaguar. The tail range rover then shunted into the back of the Jag causing a considerable dent in the armour-plated boot lid. In the States, of course, the man responsible would have been shot.

The Marylebone Cricket Club, custodian of the laws of England`s national game,  will require a Royal Patron to replace Her Maj in due course. Prince Philip has been President twice and William and Kate enjoy Honorary Life Membership. A job for Prince Charles perhaps? Owzat!

As soon as they re-opened there were nationwide queues for MacDonald’s. Covid test centres were, however, deserted.

Tom Jones, celebrating his 80th birthday, recalls that Elvis Presley once complained to him that he did not like being recognised in restaurants. Tom suggested that the rhinestone suit, the hair and the dark glasses might have something to do with the problem.

Sensation. In the new Bond film “No time to die” our hero is revealed as the father of a five year old daughter, Mathilde. Just the one, Mr. Bond?

The former MP, the Rt. Hon. Norman Baker, has taken a swipe at the Privy Council. Has he resigned his own membership? Apparently not.

Question: what do you do with 1.9 million strawberries that were destined for Wimbledon? Ordinarily half a million tennis fans munch through 191,930 portions and seven thousand litres of cream during the two week festival at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet club.  Answer you turn them into 750 kilogrammes of artisan jam.

Rosalind Mann the now ninety-five year old Country Life photographer recalls wistfully that `We never featured anyone where the house had a number`. That, of course, would have ruled out the Duke of Wellington whose home address  was No1. London

A customer at a drive-through takeaway in Carlisle was turned away as a `health risk`. He was driving a cob and cart.

Auntie has been facing demands to remove a memorial to Lord Reith from Broadcasting House because he `was a Nazi sympathiser`. Eric Gill, who created the statues of Prospero and Ariel on the front of the 1932 building abused his daughters but the BBC `has no plans to remove the statues`,

Sky TV is now warning that some films contain `outdated attitudes`. They include Lawrence of Arabia, Gone With The Wind, Aladdin, Dumbo, Breakfast at Tiffany`s and even the 1967 cartoon and the 2016 re-make of The Jungle Book. Little Britain (BBC) is in trouble with the Thought Police as is Huge, the Belgian creator of TinTin.  Next in line will be most of the complete works of Shakespeare……..

The Rugby Football Union is reviewing the `historical context` of `Swing Low, Sweet Chariot¬ which for the last 30 years has been the anthem of British Rugby. Harry Wales. President and once known as Prince Harry, supports a ban.

Zut alors! The Bourgeoise Women`s Tabloid announces the introduction of paper wine bottles  and it`s not April Fool`s day. The `Frugal bottle` made from re-cycled paper has an 84% lower carbon footprint and is about five times lighter than glass. The contents with the catchy name 3Q 2017 sell at £13 a bottle. But can you make a magnum out of paper ? If not it has no future.

My favourite Cleric reminds me that in one of his letters to the Ephesians St. Paul says “Slaves, be obedient to your masters, with fear and trembling”.  Are we going to have to cut St. Paul from The Bible now? Or de-canonise him?  No. I had forgotten. You cannot change  the past.

Pierre Natzler (103) was with the Special Operations Executive in France . Following internment in Pentonville prison as an alien he joined MI9 and ‘ joining the Free French, he trained in silent killing, weaponry, raiding, demolition and sabotage to help with the task of assisting escapees. In 143 he was flown out in a Lysander and landed 24 miles north of Tours. He planned the escape route through Spain and Andorra. He received the Chevalier de lorded du merited in 1975 and the Jubilee Medal in 1977. His son, Sir David, was Clerk to the House of Commons.

Michael Angelis (68) appeared in Boys from the Blackstuff and was the longest-serving narrator of Thomas the Tank Engine.

Christo Janacheff (84) is the man who wrapped the Reichstag in 25 acres of silver polypropylene tied with nine miles of rope.  He also `wrapped up` the Rocky Mountains, the Australian coastline and the Pont du Neuf in Paris

Christopher Brocklebank-Fowler (86) was the MP for West Norfolk and the first member since 1066 to cross the floor of the House while sitting which he did when he left the Tories to join the SDP in 1981.

Sarah Gibson (98) was one of the “Fighting Wellses of Felmersham” who became an Admiralty Despatch Rider.  Her Father, Sir Pelham Wells (Bt.) had nine children of whom eight served in uniform during the Second World War. The ninth married a naval officer. Sarah joined the WRNS in 1942 and carried messages between Whitehall and Bletchley Park. She survived but a hundred of her comrades who were drivers were killed. Not a job for the faint-hearted.

Sir William Pigott-Brown (Bt) (79) was a champion amateur National Hunt jockey, a playboy, gambler and serial adulterer.

Mary, Lady Christie (83) was the Chatelaine of Glyndebourne founded in 1934 by John Christie and his wife, the soprano Audrey Mildmay . She married the Chairman, George Christie , in 1956 and worked with Sir Peter Hall as artistic director for 20 years from 1970. Glyndebourne was closed and demolished in 1992 and re-opened with a Gala Performance of the Marriage of Figaro in 1994 in the presence of the Prince of Wales.

Bill Olner (78) was the MP for Nuneaton for eighteen years from 1992-2010. Prior to his career in Parliament he was a Rolls Royce Shop Steward.

Lord Gordon of Strathclyde (83) was, as Jimmy Gordon, the founder of Radio Clyde and a political editor for Scottish Television

Lilian Lian (103) was the last of the `Chanteuses das Rues` performing the `Cris de Paris` in a tradition dating back to the thirteenth century. She is believed to have served an apprenticeship with Edith Piaf and after the liberation she performed, using a metal megaphone, at the Gare de Lyon, the Gare du Nord and the Barbes- Rochechouart Metro station.

Tony Dunne (78) was one of Matt Busby`s 1960s Manchester United Team. He was a member of the squad who, ten years after the Munich air crash and playing as left back defeated Benfica 4-1 at Wembley to win the 1968 European Cup

Vice Admiral Sir Jon Coward (82) was a submariner, Falklands War veteran and Queens Representative in Guernsey. He was Commanding Officer of the Anti-Submarine Frigate HMS Brilliant which left Ascension Island to re-capture South Georgia on April 25th 1982

Dame Vera Lynn (103) was the WW2 `Forces Sweetheart` who performed for the Queen`s 16th birthday party in 1942. At 16 Dame Vera was hired by the bandleader Billy Cotton at £5 per week. She joined Joe Loss and did her first broadcast when she was 18. In 1937 she joined Bert Ambrose and was married to  Harry Lewis for 59 years. In 1941 she broadcast Sincerely Yours – Vera Lynn for the BBC . Her last public appearance was on the 50th Anniversary of VE day in 1995. In September 2009 when she was 92 she published her compilation album and became the oldest musician to achieve  a Number One Hit Album.

Throughout the war she toured India, Burma and Egypt singing her hit songs “We`ll Meet Again”, “The White Cliffs of Dover” and There`ll Always Be An England”

Air Chief Marshall Sir Michael Beavis made the first non-stop flight from England to Sydney in a Vulcan bomber. Flying as Commander with the 617 (Dambuster) Squadron XH481 left at 11.00 on June 20th 1961 refuelled in the air over Cyprus, Karachi and Singapore and arrived after a flight lasting 20 hours and 8 minutes.

Sir Ian Holm (88) was with the Royal Shakespeare Company during the 1950s and 1960s. He starred in Chariots of Fire and Lord of the Rings and played King Lear at the National Theatre. He won the Evening Standard Award for Richard 111 in 1965 and the Olivier Award for The Homecoming. In 1968 he won the BAFTA Best Supporting Actor Award for his part in The Bofors Gun , received the CBE in 1989 and was knighted in 1998

Terry Dicks (83) was the Tory MP for Hayes and Harlington between 1983 and 1997. The Right-winger was anti-opera and the arts and was known as `Phil` (for philistine). Politically incorrect and suffering from cerebral palsy he always described himself as ` a spastic`. John MacDonnell who took the seat from him called Terry `A malignant creature`. Pots and kettles?

Rose Paterson (63) was Chairman of Aintree Racecourse  and responsible for the re-design of many of the Aintree fences. With her husband Owen, the MP for North Shropshire, she took part in the 500-mikle Mongolian Derby to raise money for charity.

And finally...
Covid 19 – The movie.  Michael Winterbottom of Revolution Films has teamed up with Sunday Times Political Editor Tim Shipman  and Freemantle who made the terrifyingly real The Salisbury Poisonings.

To create the drama documentary of the pandemic.  As if the real thing was not harrowing enough!

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