Gale`s Westminster View July 2020 - still viewed from afar!

Gale`s Westminster – still viewed from afar!  July 2020July.` Liberation Day`  for some but not for Leicester. Stanley `Uncle Bulgaria` Johnson heads for the hills in Greece while his little boy has a masked ball engaging  in a weight-loss campaign. Many lose their jobs including Cabinet Secretary Sir Mark Sedwill but his exit is only mildly Covid-related.

The Darling Bud withers the Prime Minister from the back benches. Another handbrake turn, this time over the Huawei involvement in 5G and it`s Global Chilling for Sino-British relations and our entente with Vlad Putin`s neo-soviet Union is less than cordiale and heading for the deep freeze also as the Intelligence and Security Select Committee blows the gaffe on an unacceptable level of meddling in our domestic business. Gislaine Maxwell, that nice man Robert`s little girl, is tracked down by the FBI, arrested and banged up without bail  in the United States  charged with all manner of unpleasant mischief. If the contents of the Epstein/Maxwell Little Black Books are published many in high places may have sleepless nights. The Tramp, photographed getting chummy with Gislaine, `wishes her well`. Not a vote-winner, Mr. President. With parts of America still aflame in the cause of Black Lives Matter the Commander in Chief sends in the cavalry to pour petrol on the bonfires. The President may be prepared to defend the streets of downtown USA to the last drop of somebody else`s blood but the “look at me – I`m tough” may not be convincing even in Rednecksville, USA.  We have built an `air bridge` to fifty-nine nations and the Great Summer Getaway begins. And then hits the buffers as Covid 19 outbreaks start to flare up again. `Staycation` is the name of the game. Apparently cannot get a UK holiday booking for love nor money but with our own resorts crowded how long before it is not just Leicester and now Manchester  that are locked down again at home. There is, it has to be said, a certain lack of logic or consistency as the brakes are eased off but by the beginning of August we should have pretty much everything open in a socially-distanced sort of way just in time to start shutting it all down again. There is no agreement with Europe over a trade and relationship deal. M. Barnier cries `stinking fish` but there are still a couple of months of acrimony left before we finally opt for the increasingly likely WTO fallback option. Mind you, with the R27 fighting like ferrets in a sack over the EU Covid 19 Bailout Fund even a Remain-inclined Gale is forced to recognise that that is dogs breakfast that we are well out of.  The BBC celebrates its future by reinstating the TV licence fee for the over-75s and announcing  lots of job cuts  in local and regional broadcasting to prove how dedicated and necessary `Auntie` is to the world outside Islington and Notting Hill and still on the liberation front the “Finding Freedom” biography of the no longer royal Duke and Duchess of Sussex is published without any vestige of input, of course, from Harry and Meghan themselves. As one commentator was heard to say `Finding Freedom is not exactly in the Nelson Mandela league`. Released in July, remaindered by September?  God knows what Her Maj has done to deserve this garbage at her time in life but on the plus side her granddaughter Bea got married in a very socially-distanced sort of way on the Windsor estate and in the afternoon of the same day she had the obvious pleasure of knighting Colonel Sir Tom Moore, centenarian fundraiser extraordinaire. There cannot be many people who have said to the Queen “ I cannot kneel down, Ma`am: If I do I might not get up again”!

The Intelligence and Security Committee is the Parliamentary body responsible for the scrutiny of our security services which includes the work of MI5, MI6 and GCHQ. The probity of its members has to be impeccable and hitherto it has been appointed on a non- partisan basis with the Committee choosing its own Chairman from amongst its members. Until now. It seems. Downing Street’s preferred candidate for the job,presumably approved by Messrs Cummings and Goings,  was the former Justice Secretary , Secretary of State for Transport and arch-Brexiteer Chris Grayling.

The man unkindly known as ‘Failing Grayling’ has not been lucky in the course of his political career and luck is an essential but fickle ingredient in the pursuit of Cabinet success. He is a thoroughly decent and able guy but Lady Luck was not on his side on this occasion either.

Dr.Julian Lewis is a former Chairman of the Defence Select Committee, one of the two Conservatives responsible for the elevation of Mr. Bercow to the Speakership of the House of Commons and a man steeped in all matters military and in the dark arts. It is said that he was put onto the Intelligence and Security Committee on the understanding that he would support the candidacy of Mr. Grayling  for the Chairmanship thus delivering the shoe- in of Number 10’s placeman and, presumably, the continued suppression of the Committee’s already long- delayed report on alleged Russian interference in the General Election of 2017 and the Brexit referendum. And of course the last thing that the administration wants is any suggestion that a referendum resulting in only a 4% majority for Vote Leave might have been subjected to undue influence by a Kremlin whose interests have always been furthered by sowing discord and confusion.

Cometh the hour,cometh the wrong man. Mr Grayling entered the Committee room expecting to emerge as Chairman only to discover that Dr.Lewis had also put his name forward and with the support of the entire Opposition and his own vote  Dr.Lewis won the contested election.

This level of skulduggery and conspiracy with The Enemy resulted in swift retribution and the withdrawal of the Conservative Party Whip which was not a clever move, petulant and out of order.It is up to the Committee, not the Executive of the Administration , to decide who shall Chair this Committee as it is the  Members of the House and no longer the Government who now elect rather than appoint the Chairmen of all other Select Committees .It is House business and notwithstanding Mr Cummings desire to control all that he surveys this was a meddling too far. 

Within a week the Intelligence and Security Committee`s long awaited report on Russian activities was made public.  No `smoking guns ` but certainly a very clear indication that while our spooks and Government had taken their eye off the ball Mr. Putin`s playmates in espionage  had indeed sought to intervene technologically in the Scottish referendum, the  Brexit referendum and the 2017 General Election .It is highly unlikely that this external influence will have had any more than a marginal effect upon the results of any of these events but a very real concern that vigilance was not high enough on the UK agenda.

`Back in the day`, to use the dreadful colloquialism that is currently in vogue, Cowboy Ronnie Reagan, running for the Presidency of the United States, ran a celebrated TV advertisement warning that “There is still a bear in the woods”. The Russian bear, as some of us keep trying to remind our `allies` in the Council of Europe, is still very much alive and well and rampaging around cyberspace. While western politicians such as The Tramp and Cummings and their acolytes in the White House and in Downing Street  with strong links to Moscow and their high regard for the `strength` of the neo-Soviet leadership it is still on the cards that it should be not China and not the Middle East but the territorial ambitions of the Russian Federation that still ought to be giving us the greatest cause for concern. The clue, perhaps, is in the Russians` launching of a `space war` anti-satellite weapon.

At the moment, however, it is China that is the fashionable focus  of Foreign and Commonwealth Office attention and the target that the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, appears to have in his cross-hairs. Right, almost certainly, to have qualms about the Huawei involvement in the development of our 5G communications systems and right, also, to bring that relationship in which Mayor Boris had previously acquiesced to an abrupt and undignified end even at the expense of delay in the roll-out of our domestic 5G network.  It would have been wise to have curtailed the participation in the development of the Hinkley point nuclear power station also but that train has long since left the station and is over the horizon down the tracks. The Hinkley technology will be out of date before the plant is even commissioned antd it is highly likely that large-scale nuclear facilities will give way to smaller and more local installations so now, surely, is the time to call a halt to the risk of exposing our vital national utilities to potentially hostile overseas control. The Chinese have blustered, via their Ambassador in London, about `consequences` and a trade war and they clearly have the capacity already to launch what has been dubbed a `Cyber 9/11` so we have to await the next move. No doubt the `48 Group` of  Beijing`s UK political sympathisers will be seeking to exercise influence  but this time the F&CO might  hold the line.

In the meantime Mr. Secretary Raab, recognising the brutal suppression by changed law and by force of Hong Kongers, has  torn up our extradition treaty with China and has also declared war on `thugs and despots` with Saudis responsible for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, Russians with their fingerprints on the Magnitsky affair and others in Myanmar and North Korea with blood on their hands singled out for diplomatic attention. To what extent these threats will turn into actions against those who have used great Britain and its property markets as the `Londongrad Laundromat` machine remains to be seen but just perhaps the eventual publication of the Intelligence and Security Committee report may have been a wake-up call and if that is so then the election of Dr. Lewis as its Chairman, whether by fair means or foul, will be judged by history to have been a step in the nick of time. Downing Street has said, however, that there will not be the demanded inquiry into interference in the 2016 Brexit referendum. No doubt Mr. Cummings will be happy to explain precisely why.

Downing Street`s determination to further politicize and control the Civil Service manifests itself in the premature departure of the Cabinet Secretary and National Security adviser Sir Mark Sedwill. He is to be replaced Mr David Frost.  Mr Frost`s name may be recognised as the man currently in  charge of the negotiations to secure a Treaty with the European Union before the end of the transition period. He presumably, therefore, has time on his hands to deal the most complex and confidential matters of State.  Former Prime Minister Theresa May is not, however, convinced that this is an entirely wise appointment. From the back-benches she told the Prime Minister at the despatch Box that Mr Frost had `no proven experience` that qualified him for the job. But then sadly who in Government listens to Theresa May these days?

And so to Covid.

The most dramatic effect upon Westminster has been, as was inevitable, the creation of two classes of Members of Parliament – the actual and the virtual.  Since March 23rd I have worked, daily and without a break, in my isolation office. At the time of writing my computer tells me that I have processed, in that time, in excess of 11,000 e-mails and Team Gale has, from their homes, dealt with a great many more and has additionally handled many frequently difficult and distressing telephone calls from those in trouble and great physical or financial need.  All part of life`s rich pattern and no complaint.  Additionally, and before BM  (Before Mogg), I was able to take part in the hybrid debates of the House from the security of the conservatory in which I have been holed up. I could table and ask written and oral questions , if fortunate in the ballot, of Ministers up to  and including the Prime Minister. I could listen to and raise queries at statements and urgent questions and above all I could, having watched debates live, then vote on-line according to my preference.  Post-Mogg I and very many others, having been denied on-line voting on the matter, may still ask questions and participate virtually in statements and UQs but I cannot take part in debates upon matters or legislation upon which I shall be required to vote and I cannot then vote myself. I am dependent, fortunately, upon a robust and excellent proxy who is acting for a number of colleagues, who is prepared to take instructions up to the last minute and who will frequently find herself voting one way while then going into the opposing voting line (the lobbies are not at present in use) to adhere to colleagues` expressed wishes. Mr Speaker Hoyle and his team had taken great care and trouble to devise a system that was fair and that accommodated and reflected the wishes of the House. It is a travesty of democracy that the `Member for the Eighteenth Century` acting on behalf of his own views and the Government, should have been allowed to intervene in this process at least while so may were still unable or not allowed to travel to Westminster.  What will happen when Parliament sits again on Tuesday September 1st remains to be seen but it is highly unlikely that any more that 10% of Members will be allowed into the Chamber at any one time and a considerable likelihood that, if a spike in the disease is in the Autumn  air then we shall make a significant contribution to re-distributing it to the four corners of the Nation before we are compelled to revert to virtual sittings.  Still, at least the system is now established and can be re-introduced swiftly if required.

There is, so far as I can see, only one serous drawback to operating remotely.  Virtual meetings are fine and, by Zoom and Teams and Kudo and other platforms I have taken part in many locally and internationally.

Obviating the need to travel to committees of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Paris or Venice, for example, these `webinars` attract more participating members than might otherwise be the case and are conducted with a great degree of courtesy and self-discipline.  The downside is the lack of gossip in the margins that arises from personal contact and that is the stuff of politics internationally.  It is the discussions in the tearooms, the cafes and the bars of parliaments that challenges and crystallises ideas and policies and that allows arguments to be tested before legislation is even drafted much less voted upon. From a distance black is black and white is white but in reality there are so many shades of grey and tone that I have personally found it much harder to exercise judgement without  the sounding board offered by  colleagues. It is not a case of vacillation that springs from discussion. There is a very real danger in believing, in isolation, that you have the only  right answer.

Of course `personal contact in Westminster can sometimes go horribly awry. My friend and former colleague Charlie Elphicke, until 2019 Member of Parliament for the Dover seat now held by his wife, has spent  most of July in Court answering allegations of sexual assault brought against him by two women, reported by the Government Whips` office to the Metropolitan Police and eventually brought to trial.  At the turn of the month and after two days of deliberation the jury found him guilty on all charges and given the reputation of the judge who tried the case he now faces, when sentenced, the possibility of a going to prison. As a father with a daughter and granddaughters and as one who in the course of a long career both in and before parliament has seen the awful effects of rape upon, usually, women it will not surprise one  to know that I hold no brief for those who engage in sexual crimes. That the Charlie Elphicke that I know is kind and generous and caring and funny is immaterial. The jury has delivered its verdict and , whether alcohol-fuelled or not, he will have to pay the price of a wrecked career  for his gross lapses in sensible, proper and professional conduct . So, unfortunately , will his wife of twenty-five years and his family. Just before we all get too `holier than thou`, however, I think that if I were the victim of such a crime my first port of call might be, immediately,  the constabulary rather than the Whips` Office or the offices of a tabloid newspaper..

There was a time when a lot of MPs took in `interns`, often from the United States, to offer three months of experience of Parliamentary life.  Over several years I enjoyed to company and the pleasure of hosting a number of bright, energetic and inquiring young men and women from a wide variety of American Universities. I believe that they enjoyed their spell in Parliament. I took them home and they stayed with us in the constituency; if I travelled, they travelled with me. They frequently challenged customs and practices that needed challenging and they forced me to justify and defend political policies and attitudes that were often at variance with my own.  I have also, over the years, taken onto the team other boys and girls from schools in the patch who have asked to engage in `work experience`. The emphasis was on the `experience` rather than `work` but over the course of two or three days I was able to give them the `Cook`s Tour of Westminster`, let them spend a day in the constituency office and a final day doing the rounds of the parish and with the consent of those that I was visiting participating in the meetings that we all attend locally. Again, I think that they enjoyed the time and I know that I benefitted myself from the exposure to questioning young minds.

Not any more. I took a view some years ago, shared by Suzy, that the atmosphere was so fetid that this kind of unchaperoned contact whether with young men or women was no longer safe. The days are long gone since, as a Country Bumpkin up from Dorset, I discovered that if you offered a seat to a lady on a London Underground train  she would as like as not slap your face for trying to pick her up .On the credit side I have now reached the age when, particularly on the Paris Metro, it is young women who ask me if I would like to sit down!  As Mr. Dylan said “The times they are a-changing”. And not always, I fear, for the better. The temptations and lures and instantly available `celebrity` of social media have gone a long way towards destroying `society` in its truest sense and it saddens me that my grandchildren will never be allowed to know the innocence and trust that I and those of my generation have been privileged to enjoy.

At the beginning of the month the centre of the City of Leicester went back into lock down just as in other towns and cities more shops and leisure facilities were re-opening. It was a huge blow for the people and businesses of Leicester and a very real indication of what would follow if further outbreaks of C19 were detected.  By the end of the month parts of Greater Manchester , Blackburn and Burnley, were also closing as the virus surged again and then literally overnight and with the disease on the rise in parts of  Spain not only the Spanish Mainland but the Balearic and Canary islands were deemed unsafe and we were back to those already on holiday finding themselves facing a fortnight`s quarantine upon return to the United Kingdom with all of the employment and financial consequences that that entails.  Even the Secretary of State for Transport, who flew out to Spain with his family as the measure was being announced, was not exempt from the policy.  Grant Shapps flew back home after a couple of days to work in isolation. He almost certainly knew before he left but to have cancelled would have demonstrated `insider knowledge` and placed him at an advantage to all of those others whose holiday travel plans were being thrown into confusion. So he was caught between a rock and a hard place .

If the Government`s policy appears confused that is because it is.  Hard, though, to see how unless you are prepared to take very rigid and draconian measures and to further damage the economy the Cabinet can do anything other than to react minute-by-minute and hour-by-hour to the circumstances as  they arise. It is virtually impossible to be courageously pro-active when you are confronted with a landscape that is changing like the pictures in a kaleidoscope.  Yes, you can take precautionary measures and yes, you can throw resources at the problem and hope that they land in the right place but unless and until there is a reliable and globally available vaccine this little beast will continue to pop up like moles in a cricket pitch and as the Prime Minister has discovered “Whack-a-mole” is an imprecise science.

We have, on the one hand, sensible and scientists and medical experts urging  `baby steps` and caution and a frightened section of the population that is at risk and would rather like to stay alive and on the other hand you have a Treasury that wants the economy to re-open and a shedload of red-necked newspapers taking a gung-ho view that we must all “get back to work and stop worrying”.  The Tramp tried that in America and it has failed dismally and at home the Bourgeoise Women`s Tabloid and other business-motivated organs, ignoring I suspect the real sentiments of many of their readers, are carrying lurid “Covid-Spreading” headlines while exhorting us to reinvent the spirit of Dunkirk if not The Somme.  The picture, across the piste, is not pretty. The aviation industry and the High Streets are in tatters. On one day EasyJet announced 1900 job losses including 727 pilots, Boing have laid off sixteen thousand workers, British Airways are in the process of discarding twelve thousand people and have scrapped its entire fleet of 747 aircraft, Virgin is losing three thousand staff and Ryanair is losing another three thousand while TUI, the travel operator, has had to shed thousands of employees. Leisure facilities have been hard hit and some will never re-open. Gyms, Hairdressers, Soft Play areas and the entire entertainments industry are on their knees. The Chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is pumping  £1,2 billion into the arts which may save some theatres and galleries but in the short term will not be of assistance to those traditionally employed by them. Easy to see, therefore, why there is an impetus to get things moving again. Then measure that against a predicted possible further one hundred and twenty thousand deaths if we face an autumn pandemic and we`re worse than back where we started.  Chancellor Sunak`s “Covid Budget” delivered shortly before the recess tried to offer some practical and ingenious comfort by way of a job retention bonus for employers to offset the winding down of furlough, support for apprenticeships, green homes grants, a reduction in VAT on food, accommodation and attractions , the Imaginate “Eat Out to Help Out” discount scheme and a cut in stamp duty for example, but we all know that these chickens are going to come home to roost, probably in an Autumn budget. There is a multi-trillion pound bill that is going to have to be paid out of diminishing income and that can only mean a serious rise in taxes.

In other news President Putin `won` his `consultation` which was `not a referendum` and therefore not open to international observers except for a specially invited few from organisation like Alternatif Fur Deutchland who were pleased to tell us how fair and representative the exercise was. Vlad – you may wish to send him your personal congratulations upon his triumphant endorsement – secured a 78% approval rating for the two hundred amendments to the constitution, all studied carefully by the population of course, that will effectively allow him to stay in power until 2036. Unless he succumbs to Covid 19 or a bad case of Novichok first.

His admirer the Commander-in -Chief, who sent his touching good wishes to Ghislaine Maxwell while the latter resides in a US penitentiary, has altruistically acquired the entire world stock of a drug called Remdesivir in case the 500,000 courses prove useful in the treatment of C19 which, thanks to his impressive and equally far-sighted policies, is currently tiresomely ravaging some Republican and swing States in the run up to the Presidential election later in the year.  Faced with poll ratings heading sharply south, an economy in tatters, rising unemployment and increasing numbers of infections and deaths from C19 The Tramp, ever-expert at diverting attention from the real issue, has now called for the autumn election to be deferred on the grounds that postal ballots are wide open to fraud.  Setting aside the fact that the President himself votes by post at least once there is the small matter of a Constitution that determines the date when his current term of office ends. That also requires the approval of both Houses of Congress to amend and that approval will not be forthcoming but his tweet did momentarily steer the headlines away from the uncomfortable facts. Not much can disguise the thought, though, that this President may be running out of road.

The Home Secretary, Priti `Flamingo` Patel is coming under increasing pressure to curb the flow of illegal migrants crossing the Channel in rubber boats. It is unfortunate that Ms. Patel has taken a strident and high-profile stand in the interests of controlling migration generally only to fall at the first real hurdle.  Not that there is a quick-fix solution to this issue.  The dog-whistle armchair critics holler “just send them back” at the television screen  oblivious to the fact that we, like Turkey and Greece who are on the receiving end of a Tsunami rather than our comparatively modest wave, have to abide by international law.  There are those who are unkind enough to suggest that the French government is actually complicit in this traffic but what is absolutely the case is that there is no agreement in force that yet allows us to return intercepted boat people to the France from whence they came.  Unless, therefore, the People Who Know Everything are prepared to allow women and children to drown or perhaps just to shoot them while still in international waters, there is as Ms Patel knows no alternative but to arrest them and to subject them to the full force of British law. Which in this instance is about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

The management of the Salford Broadcasting Corporation has chosen this moment to re-introduce television licence charges for over-75s not in receipt of benefits. I have never quite understood why I, as a still-working higher-rate taxpayer qualify for free TV and I have always believed that the concession should be not only means-tested but extended to others in greater need. That said, the middle of a pandemic is possibly not the moment to choose to launch a chaotic two-tier system that has caused confusion and distress within the ranks of many elderly people. It is also the case that when the last three-year  licence-fee settlement was agreed between the Government and the BBC part of the deal, which the Corporation appears to have forgotten, was that the Corporation would take over responsibility for and maintain the concession.

Lord (Tony) Hall is a thoroughly decent man but his tenure of office as Director General of the BBC has not been a spectacular success and he hands over to his successor on a sour note of threatened staff cuts. `Auntie` has always found ways to spend other people`s money and over the years the Corporation has grown like Topsy to embrace every media platform known to man on a multi-channel basis.  I am not one of those who, having worked for the Beeb, believes that it should be pared back to an elitist Islington-friendly core output but by the same token there has to be a limit to what a Public Service Broadcaster can and should be doing. One of the cornerstones of British Broadcasting is regional coverage and local speech radio and it is in those areas that the axe is due to fall.  While presenters and reporters are scheduled to lose jobs or have hours reduced there is no indication that there are to be any radical cuts in middle or senior management or in programme areas that are, shall we say, surplus to requirements.  The time is coming when people are going to question whether, in this multi-platform/ multi-channel age the licence fee can be justified at all. That would be a pity because `The least worst broadcaster in the World` is valued across the globe and every civilised nation that does not have a PSB has had to try, with varying success, to re-invent one.

Her Maj has been hunkered down at “The Palace of Windsor” with Prince Philip since the outbreak of the pandemic so the marriage of her grand-daughter, Princess Beatrice, to Edo Mozzi in All Saints Church on the Windsor estate , a cosy affair with just fifteen close family and friends present, must have been a bit of an occasion if not on quite the grand scale that Bea might have originally envisaged. The bride wore and looked stunning in a re-built dress that the Queen had first worn for the premiere of the film Lawrence of Arabia for the first `secret` Royal wedding to be held since George 1V got quietly hitched in 1785. In the afternoon Her Maj knighted Colonel Sir Tom Moore, the splendid centenarian whose fundraising for the NHS captured the hearts of Britain and raised millions for the cause.  And Prince Philip has carried out his last military engagement as Colonel-in-Chief of The Rifles, handing on the baton to the Duchess of Cornwall after sixty-seven years as the holder of the office.


Mayor Boris hopes that Britain will be back to normal by Christmas. Setting aside the fact that the Panto season and Santa`s Grottos have already been taken off the menu the `new normal` includes a  set of rules for Pub drinking. Landlords are supposed to take the names and contact details of customers, there is a limit on numbers and only two households are supposed to be admitted indoors  at any one time. Service is confined to tables with none permitted  from the bar. There must be no loud music or TV sport that might generate singing or shouting and hand-sanitiser must be ever-ready. Cheers! 

Three bars are apparently now open in the Palace of Westminster but the staff are not taking the names and addresses of customers. Presumably the Gentlemen of the Press  who mostly patronise these watering holes do not like having to reveal their contact details!

While TV news suggest that scant regard is being paid by young customers to Pub Rules soft play areas remain closed and guests at weddings with no more than thirty socially-distanced people  (which in some families might be a very good thing) must be issued with disposable hymn sheets.

It is reported that the consumption of alcohol has risen during lockdown with home schoolwork accompanied by prosecco, `wine o`clock` for lunch from mid-day onwards and gin taken during post-prandial afternoon exercise walks.

To while away the lockdown `Michelle from North Carolina` has been educating her social media followers in the art of being British. Having given instructions in how to brew `British tea`  in a manner which suggests that our US cousins have learned nothing since the Boston episode the uninitiated are now being tutored by the fragrant Michelle in the creation  of beans on toast. This , I was interested to learn, involves pouring some cold beans on equally cold bread, slapping a slice of cheese on top and shoving the whole revolting mess in the microwave.

Concern over the Order of St. Michael and St. George which depicts the Archangel Michael slaying Satan. The Archangel, you see, is white and Satan is black.  We are presumably now heading for a purge of the `white hats` and `black hats` in all those old Wild West films.

The splendid Caroline Nokes, Chairman of the Women and Equalities Committee has raised an issue of serious discrimination.  Why is it, Lord Copper, that with hair salons and barbers open for business again men are allowed to have their beards trimmed but women may not enjoy the plucking of their eyebrows?

Alex Salmond, former Leader of the Scottish Nationalist Party before his trial and acquittal on charges of sexual harassment, is rumoured to be considering forming a new Scottish political party to give Nicola Sturgeon a run for her money. `The wee lassie in the tin hat` is not Salmond`s favourite person having dropped him like a hot brick when he faced local difficulties.

Writing in the BBC Music Magazine one Richard Morrison says that in deference to BLM Rule Britannia and Land of Hope and Glory should be dropped and flag waving banned from the Last Night of the Proms. There`s probably a good reason why the laurel wreath should be removed from the bust of Sir Henry Wood as well.

Guy `Dambusters` Gibson`s black Labrador has had his name erased from his gravestone at RAF Scampton in Lincolnshire. The 617 Squadron` best friend , killed in a car crash in 1943, is now described simply as `A black Labrador Dog Mascot` prompting the constituency`s MP, Sir Edward Leigh, to ask how much more history we intend to re-write in the interests of political correctness.

While on the subject of Man`s best friends, canines are apparently distressed by the human wearing of face masks. They like to see people smiling at them you see.

Cadbury`s, the now American-owned Bourneville chocolate company are shrinking their Twirl and Wispa chocolate bars to 200 calories per item. The price will, of course, remain the same.

The fact that English Heritage has announced that visits to Barnard Castle have risen since Mr. Cummings `necessary` excursion has prompted one wag to query whether visits to Specsavers are also on the increase.

It is anticipated that Taittinger, the champagne house, will be producing four hundred thousand bottles of Domaine Evremond by 2024.  From their Chilham vineyard in Kent.

Front Street in Newquay in Cornwall was re-named Bank Street in 1890.  Natwest, HSBC, N7P and lastly Barclays have now all left. Back to Front Street again?

Victoria`s Secret, purveyors of racy lingerie, have been bought out of liquidation by the clothing  chain Next. Perhaps there`s life in the High Street yet.

And Miss Daisy, an eight-stone St. Bernard dog had to be rescued when she sustained an injury while descending from the top of England`s highest peak, Scafell Pike. It took a team of sixteen volunteers from the Wasdale Mountain Rescue Team nearly five hours to deliver Daisy safely down to her transport. Daisy is now fine but it was noted that the Mountain Rescuers were not wearing barrels of brandy around their necks.


Sir Everton Weekes (95) was one of the `Windies` Three Ws. The others were Sir Frank Worrall and Sir Clyde Walcott and they all played in the West Indies 1950 test cricket side when Weekes and Worrall knocked up 283 at Trent Bridge against Alec Bedser.

Weekes retired from Test cricket in 1951 but went on to play in Africa, India, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand . He was awarded the OBE in 1960 and was knighted in 1995.

Baroness Maddock (75) was the Liberal Democrat who as Diana Maddock won the Christchurch by-election  with a 35.4% swing turning a twenty three thousand Conservative majority into a sixteen and a half thousand Liberal Democrat majority. She lost the seat to the present incumbent, Christopher Chope, married Alan Beith and was subsequently elevated to the Lords.

Ennio Morricone (91), the Italian composer and conductor created the music soundtracks for more than five hundred films including many `spaghetti westerns`. The theme for `The Good, The Bad and The Ugly` was a number one hit single in 1966. Morricone worked with Franco Zefferelli, Roman Polanski and Warren Beattie. Following Grammies, Golden Globes and BAFTA awards and an honorary doctorate from Liverpool University he was given an Honorary Oscar in 2007.

John Downing(79), Fleet Street photographer with the Daily Express for decades, was the only one in the Grand Hotel in Brighton when it was bombed by the IRA on October 12th 1984. Where he took the world-famous photograph of Margaret Thatcher after the explosion. Downing was arrested and beaten in Kampala under Idi Amin in 1972, was embedded with the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan and covered many Royal Tours.

Barrie Penrose (78) was the investigative journalist who identified John Cairncross as `The Fifth Man` in the Cambridge Spy Ring scandal. He also helped to produce the evidence that finally put Jeremy Thorpe on trial. As a freelance reporter for the BBC he had many meeting with Prime Minister Harold Wilson and produced the 1978 `Pencourt File`. He joined the Sunday Times in 1979 and co-edited the Insight team during the 1980s.

Ray Carter (84) was the Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield from 1970-1979. A former Transport and General Workers` Union official at British Leyland`s Longbridge car plant . He served as a Norther Ireland Minister during the Premiership of James Callaghan and was defeated by Jocelyn Cadbury on a 10.2% swing from Labour. Jocelyn took his own life three years later and I fought and lost the seat at the by-election in November 1982 by 279 votes – at 0.02% the smallest swing recorded to date.. At the General Election in 1983 ( when I fought North Thanet) the seat was won back by Conservative Roger King on a boundary change and held until a further boundary change that delivered Northfield back to Labour.

Earl Cameron (102) was the black actor who appeared in Simba (1955), Guns at Batasi (1964),and Thunderball (1965) . He also appeared in Emergency Ward 10 and Dr.Who and was awarded the CBE in 2009.

Jack Charlton (85) was, with his brother Bobby, a member of the 1966 World Cup-winning squad. He played with Norman Hunter at Don Revie`s Leeds United, took over the management of the Republic of Ireland in 1986 and created the team that beat England in 1988. He was made Footballer of the Year in 1967, awarded the OBE  and made a Freeman of the City of Leeds in 2019.

Milos Jakes (97) was the last communist leader of Czechoslovakia before the Velvet Revolution of 1989. A pro-Soviet post Dubcek putsch member of the Politburo he was widely loathed for his treatment of Vaclav Havel`s Charter 27 movement which he regarded rightly as a threat.

Zizi Jeanmaire (96) was the ballet dancer and singer who became the inspiration for Peter Sarstedt`s “Where do you go to my lovely”. She appeared in Carmen in 1949, in Anything Goes with Bing Crosby at the Princes Theatre, and in the 1956 film Folies Bergeres. She was made an Officier of the Legion d`Honneur in 1993 and awarded the Ordre du Merite in 1997.

Lord Hutton (97), a former Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland was made a Law Lord in 1997. He conducted the inquiry following the death, either by suicide or murder, of Iraq war arms inspector  David Kelly which led in turn to  to the downfall of the reporter Andrew Gilligan, the Director General of the BBC, Greg Dyke and the Chairman Gavyn Davies.

And finally…….

After nearly  fifty years on the screen since 1972 the children`s afternoon news programme, Newsround, originally fronted as John Craven`s Newsround until his departure in 1989, has been axed by the BBC. Following Ofcom approval to allow the BBC to reduce the minimum amount of news on its CBBS children`s service from 85 hours to 35 hours a year the BBC will retain the morning Newsround slot. The BBC says the changes “will allow us the flexibility to make more news for more children across more platforms ensuring the much loved brand continues to thrive”. Or in other words “We`re killing off Newsround”.

Dame Vera Lynn`s funeral in her home village of Ditchling in East Susses was marked by a Spitfire fly-past.  Of course.


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