Gale`s View from Westminster - February 2021

westminsterSTOP PRESS!!! A line in the Budget statement suggests that the Government may be going to honour its pledge to grant “votes for Life” in General Elections in the next session of Parliament. We await the Queen`s Speech with interest!

February. 2021 Hospitals still at full stretch and the death rate still rising as the Covid 19 vaccine rollout gathers pace. It`s a desperate race against time but in the UK it`s a race we are determined to win Our attempts to quarantine arrivals from overseas in hotels at their own expense are less successful. Well, alright then, chaotic. And the indecision over whether or not to introduce what some regard as the inevitable “vaccine passports” continues.   The Northern Ireland /Irish Sea border problem rumbles on not helped by Ursula von der Leyen`s earlier cack-handed intervention that we reported on last month.  This ranks with the plight of our shellfish industry in the list of the `advantages` of leaving the European Union that demonstrate the failure of our negotiator`s attempts to reach a watertight and workable deal. That said, the EU`s vaccine programme is in lamentable omnishambles, a classic case of too many bureaucratic cooks stirring a broth of indecision and incompetence. Had we still been in the EU we would be hogtied by the same red tape.

 The Tramp survives impeachment but can soiled goods seriously rise from the political undead?  Judging by the adulation generated at his end-of-the-month jamboree in Fort Lauderdale we can rule nothing out. In Downing Street, the last of the Cummings knives are out for the First Girlfriend, Carrie Symonds, but with the forces of darkness out in the cold a fresh wind of change seems to be blowing through the Corridors of Power. Prince Philip is in hospital as Her Maj toughs out the` Harry and Meghan problem.   The prince that social media has now dubbed the `Ginger Whinger` and his bride have spilled the no- longer-royal beans to Ms Oprah Winfrey.  Storm Darcey blew in and once again revealed how some other countries can cope with months of ice and snow while in Britain a flake or two of the white stuff brings the nation to a shivering halt. The new military rulers Myanmar, formerly known as Burma on the map that used to have red bits on it, are busy tearing up the democratic rule book as The People take on the tanks and armoured cars.  Is Sheikh Mohamed`s daughter, Princess Latifa, alive or dead?  The Godolphin patron who subsidises much of Newmarket may be in for some cold shoulders in the Royal Enclosures if horseracing is ever allowed to start again. Oz engages in some arm-wrestling with Faceook`s Mark Zuckerberg and emerges bruised. And the much-vaunted Roadmap out of Lockdown unleashes a string of clichés but just perhaps there is at last some Spring sunlight at the end of the tunnel. 

I have been highly critical of some of the Government`s handling of the Coronavirus pandemic to be sure. I think we locked down too late, we opened up again too early, we allowed a free-for-all in schools and colleges that almost certainly contributed to the second wave, we made too many promises that we could not keep, we made a pig`s ear of people`s plans for Christmas and we were forced into humiliating retreat by the appearance of a mutant strain of the virus in mid-December.  Our education policy has been indecisive, our economy has taken a massive battering, our hospitalisation rate has been very nearly disastrous and our death rate one of the worst per capita in the developed world. 

But I am delighted to give great credit where credit is due. 

Those handling our commissioning of vaccines and then the rollout of the vaccination programme itself have played a blinder.  The right horses have been backed, vast sums of money and huge acts of justified faith in, mainly, British science have been committed and as a result we lead the world in inoculating the people of these islands against the dreadful disease. It will be of no comfort at all to those of my many friends living within the remaining twenty-seven countries of the European Union and the wider world to be told that at the month`s end Britain has given a first treatment to over 20 million people or about a third of the entire adult population and that represents more than all of those vaccinated to date in France, Germany, Italy and Spain put together.  While the EU has been counting bureaucrats dancing on a pinhead, while Mutti Merkel has been declining to take the Oxford vaccine because in her late 60s she is “too old for it to work” and while M. Macron has disgracefully sought to rubbish the British product that could have been saving lives in France before then back-pedalling like mad, Nadhim Zahawi and his “Jab`s  Army” have been getting on with the job of protecting Britons. 

It has been and remains a Herculean task and there have been, as Nadhim himself conceded very readily, some bumps in the road at the start of the programme.  Because of the need to maintain rigid temperature control of the Pfizer product only a limited number of locations and Primary Care Networks were initially able to treat Health Service and Care workers, the very elderly and the most vulnerable.  The ammunition was slow to reach the front line and GPs were finding themselves with a day`s supply to last a week and a backlog of hundreds of patients complaining that they were not being called forward.  

The arrival of the Oxford vaccine, though, was transformative. Huge cohorts of professionals and volunteers were mobilised and large new centres opened. With the ability of GPs to take the vaccine back to their own surgeries and get to work the figures started to escalate dramatically and the first, February 15th,, target was hit a day early. There have been criticisms, certainly, about the priorities set by the Joint Council for Vaccination and Immunology (The JCVI). I would personally have liked to have seen police officers and teachers vaccinated much earlier but then if you push special-interest groups to the front of the queue pretty soon nobody has any priority at all.  Aside from health workers age and vulnerability have probably been shown to be the right selection. It is also the case that there is a bizarre phalanx of vaccine-refuseniks who, for a myriad of largely synthetic (and a few genuine) reasons are prepared to place themselves and others at risk. That remains a problem. Nevertheless, further targets for younger age groups, with the entire adult population to have been treated by mid-summer, is an achievable dream provided that the product keeps on coming. And as a Remainer I have to acknowledge that had we still been within the European Union we would have been beset by the same arguments that have proved so costly to the other Member States. This really has been one -  if the only one -  striking triumph of decisive sovereignty over Union paralysis. 

So why, now, are we so reluctant to issue a vaccine certificate to those who have been treated?

I must be missing something. I cannot for the life of me comprehend the objection to the creation of a so-called “vaccine passport” as a document to facilitate travel and, possibly, to access certain facilities. 

Nobody is suggesting, so far as I am aware, that any citizen should be compelled to have, or carry, a “vaccine passport” any more than anyone is at present compelled to hold an ordinary one. You do, of course, require a passport if you want to travel abroad and it is also one useful document for the purposes of identification.  But if you do not want to travel abroad and if you have other forms of readily available ID such as a driving license or a utility bill in your own name then for most purposes you can manage perfectly well without a British passport be it EU maroon or UK blue.  

It is, I think, highly likely that if people wish to fly to European resorts or beyond when and if we are ever allowed to travel abroad again then some form of Covid 19 vaccine document will be required to be produced before departure, upon arrival and, to avoid quarantine, upon returning home. Where is the problem? 

In the days when, in the line of duty, I was required to travel to far-flung and developing nations in the tropics I was compelled to carry with me a document confirming that I had, from memory, been vaccinated against Yellow Fever, Smallpox, Typhoid Polio, Meningitis and Rabies. A swift trip across Westminster Bridge to the Tropical Diseases unit at St. Thomas`s Hospital, a few jabs and I was good to go to virtually anywhere in the world.  That vital little laisser-passer is now sadly collecting dust in a desk drawer somewhere but if I am required to prove that I have been vaccinated twice for Covid 19 then once the task is complete I am perfectly willing to do so. And I have no issue with having to produce that proof either to travel on a cross-channel ferry or a plane or, for that matter to enter the local pub or restaurant or any other establishment if it allows the people around me to feel safer and more relaxed. As Her Majesty the Queen said last week this is not about “us” it is about other people. 

I understand that there are those who, for a variety of fairly bizarre reasons, do not want to be vaccinated against Covid 19 (or, presumably, against polio or German Measles or `Flu or any of the other things that most of us take for granted).  That is, of course, entirely their right.  It is also the right, in my view, of another country to deny that person entry or of a private business to refuse admission to their premises without the required proof of protection if that is what they want. I simply do not buy into the argument that this will somehow `create two classes of people`. While I have to accept that for medical reasons there are some people who cannot be vaccinated most are in a position either choose to demonstrate that they have been vaccinated or they can choose not to – but that choice is theirs.

It seems to me that it is many of the same people, railing against the loss of `civil liberties` and `human rights` that are, backed by some tabloid newspapers, also screaming to take the brakes off and to ease the lockdown before scientific advice says it is safe or sensible to do so.  Some of them may also believe that there has been no pandemic and that Elvis is alive and living on Mars   Personally, I would like to be given, and am prepared to pay the modest cost of, a laminated Covid 19 vaccination card when I have eventually received my second treatment in order that I may reassure others, and any authorities that wish to see it, that I am at the very least less likely to be carrying the disease with me.  The Royal Society has called for “a broader discussion” about the need for “ethical and legal standards and data protection” before proceeding. I think that is an excuse to kick the proposal into the long grass. My view is that we should decide immediately to issue a certificate to every adult immediately upon receipt of their second vaccination. If it was good enough for Yellow Fever, it is good enough for Covid 19. 

Back in Windsor and following the pitch made by Wills and Kate (aka the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge) Her Maj made a very unequivocal plea to the nation  to exhort people to get vaccinated. Translated from Palace-speak the gist of it was “Don`t be bloody selfish.  Think of others and get a jab!”. And that, probably, was the highlight of the Monarch`s Month. Otherwise she must have been fretting - although it never shows – over the fact that Prince Philip was, and in his centenary year remains, in hospital with an undisclosed condition.  The Palace always puts a brave and non-committal front on matters relating to private health but given the old boy`s age and the fact that son and grandson have visited it has got to be a source of real concern. Big prayers for his recovery. 

And then, of course there is the Sussexes, or Mr and Mrs Harry Windsor as they are, I suppose, now to be known.  Her Maj seemingly only learned of their two-hour interview with one Ms. Oprah Winfrey, who is a chat show hostess on the other side of the Atlantic, following the inadvertent leak of a phone call between Ms Winfrey`s `people` and ITV to discuss the UK broadcasting rights of this `no subject off-limits ` cringe-fest.   Ms. Markle is fresh from her triumphant action against the Mail on Sunday and the announcement that she and Harry are expecting their second child so she ought to be a happy bunny.    However, the Palace or whoever decides these things has picked this moment to announce that  H and M are to be required to relinquish all of their Royal patronages.  That means Harry`s three military interests, the Rugby Football Union The Rugby Football League and the Marathon and Megan loses the National Theatre of which Her Maj was herself the patron for 45 years before handing it on to her Grand daughter in law. Harry keeps his private patronage of the Invictus Games but that`s just about it and it is known that the loss of his other military connections has not gone down well.  So sad, really, when you consider what might have been. Now Harry and Meghan will probably just join Princess Diana (Martin Bashir) and Prince Andrew (Emily Maitlis) as little more than an (Oprah Winfrey) archive to be pulled out and dusted off when somebody rather more relevant dies. There will be `revelations` of course, the gutter press and republicans will have a field day, Her Maj will feel hurt and betrayed but will maintain a dignified regal silence, `The Firm` will take a hit, but not below the waterline and the interview will be no more than the TV equivalent of tomorrow`s chip wrappings.  I base that assessment on nothing more than fifty years of experience in television and journalism.  

In the Palace of Varieties meanwhile it is Groundhog Day. Aside from the fact that the place is like a morgue – I nipped in the other day for the first time since March 23rd to collect some papers and did not meet a single Parliamentary colleague – the legislative programme is almost literally going round in circles. Much of the work is `ping-pong` between the Lords and Commons with their Lordships moving amendments to bills and the Commons defeating them and sending them back to be re-considered and re-amended. This is particularly true of the Trade Bill because, having failed to secure an amendment to the Agriculture Bill, a number of us are fighting a rear-guard action to try to prevent the Trade Department Ministers from selling British Agriculture and animal welfare short in their desperation to prove that better deals can be struck outside, rather than within, the European Union. And deals, of course, come at a price.   

There is also the significant matter of who we strike our `new` (for which read `re-hashed EU`) deals with. Are we prepared to trade with those who are, like the all-important (to the negotiators) Chinese guilty of genocide? Or with certain Arab states whose human rights records leave a certain amount to be desired (Who did order the torture and murder of Mr. Khashoggi? And where is Princess Latifa?  And does Sheikh Mohamed`s investment in the Godolphin stables in Newmarket exonerate him from any accountability?) The Department for International Trade appears to some of us to take a rather `relaxed` view of such ethical issues.  Will we end up with ping? Or will we end up with an awful pong? Watch this space.

In other news The Tramp has resigned from his membership of the Screen Actors Guild, a move that on a West Coast used to real earthquakes caused barely a tremor. `Yesterday`s Man` was also tried for impeachment in a Senate that failed, because if the two-thirds majority required, to finish the job. A few courageous Republicans voted to bar the ex-President from standing for the Presidency again but the vote was lost 57 votes to 43 and we witnessed the extraordinary sight of the Leader of the Republican Senators supporting his ex-President in the vote and then condemning the “inciter in chief” of the January 6th invasion of the Capitol on television afterwards!   The Tramp, who has clearly never heard of Salem,  described this event as “The greatest witch hunt in the history of our Country” and proclaimed himself as “the champion of the unwavering rule of law”. “Make America Great Again” is, we are told, a movement that “has only just begun”.  Be afraid. Be very afraid. What Mayor Boris carelessly described as “a kerfuffle over the US election result” has the potential to be lethal for democracy in the United States. The Loser is still in denial and so, it seems, are a very large number of American citizens who apparently prefer falsehoods to inconvenient truth.

Australia took on Facebook and lost.  The row was over the failure of Mr. Zuckerberg`s social media leviathan to pay for the news that it carries on its platforms.  Facebook blocked those Down Under from viewing and sharing its `borrowed` news claiming that the Australian government “fundamentally misunderstands the relationship between the platform and the publishers who use it”.  I think that we all “understand” technical bullying when we see it and the time has surely come when Mr. Zuckerberg and his fellow travellers are made to comply with the same anti-trust laws as other major corporations.  You may have roughed up Oz, Mr. Z, but this is an issue that is not going to go away – even if you have bought the services of St.  Nicholas of Clegg to fight your corner for you.

The spacecraft Perseverance Rover (“Percy” to his friends) has landed on Mars after a seven month voyage, The polls suggest that Sir Keir Starmer`s honeymoon as Leader of the  Opposition is over and questions are already being asked about his ability to take the Labour Party into the next General election, Nazarin Zaghari-Ratcliffe still languishes in custody in Iran and following the announcement of the `roadmap ` out of lockdown we now know that although the Prime Minister prefers `data to dates`  Easter is cancelled, schools will go back on March 8th,  pubs (for outside service only) , hair salons, `non-essential shops` gyms and nailbars should  start to open again in mid-April , modestly (30 people) attended weddings may recommence in May and `Life will be back to normal` on June 21st.

Back in Westminster we have tried to raise the military coup in Myanmar and the overthrow of that country`s democratically-elected Government in Parliament  and I myself tried to focus a little parliamentary attention on the incarceration of Navalny in Russia and our own inadequate  attempts to tell the neo-Soviet Union that we are at least rather cross with their total disregard of the European Convention on Human Rights. Others have sought  to highlight the Government`s decision to reduce  our legally-enshrined  contribution in overseas aid at a time when the poorest countries in the World are reeling from the effects of the pandemic, and at home the efforts by the Department for Local Government to avoid bailing out vast numbers of leaseholders trapped literally and financially in properties  wrapped in potentially dangerous cladding has been pursued by those who  take an interest in a  post-Grenfell collapse in the confidence in such properties.  Lord (David) Frost, a newly-ermined member of the Upper House, elevated following his `successfully` negotiated Brexit Trade deal in time for the ending of our transition period after our departure from the European Union, is now trying to tie up a few ends that he left untied. Like his total failure to protect the EU markets upon which our fishing industries depend for their survival  and a need to address the small matter of empty supermarket shelves In Northern Ireland in the wake of Mayor Boris`s `over my dead body` agreement to a border down the middle of the Irish Sea.  For Lord `Charlie` Falconer, ` The Legacy` Blair`s erstwhile crony and tennis partner, the pandemic may be `the gift that keeps on giving` but for mere mortals it is not quite such fun. Groundhog Day? It`s ` déjà vu all over again`.

All of this, in normal times the raw meat of discussion in the chamber and in the watering holes and committee rooms of Parliament,  has succumbed to an eerie atmosphere of Lockdown isolation that would have made the Marie Celeste look positively and dangerously overcrowded. Even the desperately sad and premature death from Covid 19 of Julia Clifford, a wife, mother and grandmother in her early fifties, and one of the best loved of the Commons Members` tearoom staff, was marked almost virtually although Mr. Speaker Hoyle did his best to afford the lady such an appropriate measure of proper and dignified recognition as was achievable in a socially distanced and sparsely populated chamber.

At present it is political life, Captain, but not as we know it.

Washington State University, in its study of Ancient Communities, has unearthed the unsurprising fact that while men used dogs for hunting and herding it was women who in fact first domesticated “Man`s Best Friend”. There are those who are unkind enough to suggest that they are still struggling to domesticate the nan himself. 

Meditation classes for Members of Parliament provided under the banner of `mindfulness` are said to be costing the taxpayer £20,000 per year. Now there`s food for thought. 

A survey has revealed that there are 196 Countries that many Britons cannot find on a map. This includes Canada (53% failure), Germany, (29% failure) France (33% failure) and Australia (100% failure) Those who leaned at school when most of the atlas was coloured pink can be forgiven for not knowing the new names and locations as the world has changed a little since the Boer War. (I lied about Australia!) 

Is it true that supporters of Scotland`s former First Minister Alex Salmond are suggesting that a published compendium of Nicola Sturgeon`s speeches should be nominated for the Women`s Prize for Fiction? 

“It is very important that we record the activities of the Government” says a spokesman in response to Labour`s Deputy Leader, Angela Rayner, querying the expenditure of somewhere between £60 and £100 thousand on photographers who generated pictures of the Number Ten Jack Russell, Dilyn, `frolicking in the snow`. For a little joy during these dark days worth every penny of course.

 Midwives working in the Brighton and Sussex University Hospitals Trust have been barred from referring to `breastfeeding`. The woke all- sexuality embracing terminology is now “chest feeding”. 

And we are told that “gender-neutral” public lavatory facilities are now leading to the abolition, by stealth, of ` Ladies Loos`. No more jokes about long queues please. It`ll be a `person` holding up the traffic. 

`Staycations` are now `in` with the stars. Amongst those planning to holiday at home are Joanna Lumley, Jeremy Clarkson, James May, Richard Hammond, Darcey Bussell, Michael Palin, Sue Perkins and Stephen Fry. 

We used to take snow days off from school when the roads were bad and the pipes were freezing. This year kids undergoing home-learning were still taking `snow days` off – at home. 

We are told that the millionaire Blairs (“The Legacy” is now an expert on all things Covid and offering `advice` reportedly plagiarised from a private chat with Matthew Hancock, the Health Secretary) have furloughed some of their staff. Well, it`s there for the taking isn`t it? 

The Boys in Blue put their lives on the line on a daily basis. They are now subjected to the hazards of Covid 19 but are not given any vaccination priority by the Joint Council for Vaccinations and Immunology – the independent JCVI that takes these decisions). To be fair, Teachers and Bus drivers and lots of other people `on the front line` are not prioritised either.  Still, at least Mr. Plod is allowed to receive any `spare` Pfizer vaccine left over at the end of a session and so that it is not wasted.  They are not, however, allowed to be treated while in uniform. 

It is reported that Stone Henge is `second-hand`. Three thousand years ago a tribe moved from Pembrokeshire to settle on Salisbury Plain and took their precious Bluestone circle with them. The original monument was built, according to the dating of the stones, five thousand years ago. “Not many people know that”. 

Former Labour Leader Ed Milipede is opposed to the opening of a new coal mine to generate domestically the coal still currently needed and at present imported to process steel. The proposed pit, which will create 500 new jobs, will lead to a net reduction in CO2 once the effect of long-haul transport is taken into account.  This is presumably the same Ed Milipede that campaigned against the closure of the pits in the 1980s. 

The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland QC, has determined that “Never, never, never on my watch” will the wearing of wigs by the judiciary and barristers be abandoned. It adds, M`Lud, to the solemnity of the Courtroom. The wearing of a black cap was pretty solemn as well. 

Bigsby Parish Council in the South Devon farming and fishing, District of South Hams have given the thumbs down to a concrete statue of the eighteenth century pirates Ann Bonny and Mary read, two of the most formidable women to sail the seven seas. Some qualms about `celebrating` the lives of two notorious criminals, of course, but the real objection appears to be because the figures as portrayed were `too skinny`. 

Facebook, that well known champion of `free speech` (meaning speech that you don`t have to pay for) has taken exception to the term `faggots and peas`.  `Faggots` of course, have a different connotation in the semi-literate world of American social media to that understood in the world of British Black Country cuisine. Or was it the taking of the peas that they were objecting to?

 Mr. Potato Head, the harmless plaything popularised in the `Toy story` film and enjoyed by children of all ages since 1949 has been compelled to become `gender neutral` because `culture has evolved`. Boxed sets now include `Two adults and one baby` but no “Mister” and not even a “Ms” in sight. 

And the Muppets are the latest targets to be branded as racist. Kermit, Animal and Miss Piggy represent `negative depictions of people or cultures` and Jim Hanson`s creations are offensive to `native Americans, Arabs and East Asians`.  Also in the woke firing line are Dumbo, Peter Pan and Swiss Family Robinson. 

A new headquarters for Secretary of State Robert Jenrick`s Local Government department will be opened in Wolverhampton in the Midlands by 2025. `Up to 300 staff` will be located there but of course Mr. `Build on greenfield sites` Jenrick should not be troubled by the prospect of having to leave London: There will have been a reshuffle, a General Election and possibly a change of administration by the middle of the decade. 

Leigh Day, the lawyers acting for the GMB Union, have won their case against the taxi firm Uber. As a result, Uber`s drivers may be entitled to the benefits enjoyed by employees rather than the self-employed. But at what cost to the business and the customers? The term `pyrrhic victory” springs to mind. 

The `scent` Molecule 01 sells for £72 for a 100ml. bottle and smells of – nothing. My tame parfumier tells me that it `releases personal smells`. Others are unkind enough to suggest that the `Emperor`s New Clothes` of perfumes is “90% marketing and 10% product”. 

Whisper Rabbit it softly but there has been a boom in the sale of `sex toys` during the lockdown. The gadgets, particularly quiet ones, have had a particular appeal to 18-32 year old singles who have had a hard time mating and have been searching for discreet and unobtrusive relaxation. 

With his plans to dig a tunnel from Scotland to Northern Ireland Scotland to Northern Ireland getting the bird Mayor Boris has come up with another jolly wheeze to link the rest of Britain with the Province. This time it is not one but three tunnels from Stranraer, Heysham and Liverpool linking at a roundabout under the Isle of Man before finding landfall north of Belfast in Larne. But do remember that this is the brainchild of the man who still dreams of re-building London Airport in the Thames Estuary. 

A Primary School in East Yorkshire, normally a part of the country renowned for down-to-earth common sense, has elected to ditch the historical nautical figures of Sir Walter Raleigh, Sir Francis Drake and Lord Nelson as the names for its school houses. They will be replaced by those well known Yorkshire icons Greta Thunberg, Malala Yousafzai and Marcus Rashford and an American female poet. Gives a whole new meaning to `Boycott` doesn’t` it?

Thousands of daffodils have been left unharvested and rotting in Penzance in Cornwall. Another of the `benefits` of Brexit is that the EU labourers who used to pick the blooms are not allowed in under the seasonal workers scheme because flower-pickers are not covered and of course the British are not attracted to this back-breaking work.  

And my old friend Ed Balls, who gave his name to this feature many years ago, has finally come up trumps.  He lost his parliamentary seat in 2015, he failed to make the final of Strictly Come Dancing but has now become the BBC`s Best Celebrity Home Cook. Ed says modestly that “It`s quite nice to win something”. 

Captain Sir Tom Moore (100) was the war veteran who walked for 100 laps of his garden to raise £1000 for the NHS. His courage caught the mood of a nation crying out for some good news and his final total, by the day of his 100th birthday on April 10th, was in excess of £32 million. With Michael Ball his recording of “You`ll Never Walk Aline” reached the top of the charts making him the oldest person to record a No.1 hit single. On his birthday he received a180,000 cards and was honoured with a Spitfire and Hurricane fly-past. He was made Honorary Colonel of the Army Foundation College in Harrogate and was knighted by Her Majesty the Queen in a special ceremony held at Windsor Castle on July 17th. Just before his death he fulfilled ha lifelong dream and spent Christmas in Barbados.  He is survived by his catchphrase and the title of his autobiography `Tomorrow will be a good day`.

 Maureen Colquhoun (92) as the first Member of Parliament to `come out` as a lesbian which she did in 1976. She had been elected to represent Northampton North in 1974 while she was `happily married` to the   journalist Keith Colquhoun. She then left her family to live with Barbara Todd, with whom she remained for the rest of her life. She was de-selected by her constituency Labour Party in 1977 but was eventually and grudgingly re-adopted to fight the 1979 general election and lost her seat by 4,443 votes. 

Flt. Ltd “Dickie” Bird (100) was an experienced night-fighter pilot who flew intrusive missions over Germany in a Mosquito. In May 1944, flying from Manston Airfield in Kent (now in my constituency) he took the American General George Patton for a `spin` along the South Coast to show him the troops marshalling for the Normandy landings.  Completing his tour of operations, he was awarded the DFC foe “skill and courage of the highest order”. After the war he returned to live at the family`s dairy farm near Penrith. 

John Rudd (94) was Chairman and 1`Rudd` part of the St. James1`s wine merchants Berry Bros and Rudd. Known for importing fine wines John Rudd also led the export drive for Cutty Sark Whisky which became the most popular brand of scotch peaking sales at 20 million bottles a year. He drove a Frazer Nash racing car in speed trials and sailed a Norfolk Wherry in his spare time. 

Christopher Plummer (1) was the Canadian -born actor who made his acting debut with the Canadian Repertory Theatre in 1950.  He first appeared on Broadway in The Starcross Story in 1952 and then appeared in Julius Caesar and The Tempest at the Shakespeare Festival Theatre in Stratford, Connecticut.  In 1955 he was starring at the Shakespeare Festival in Stratford Ontario and in 1960 he moved to The Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford on Avon to play Benedick in “Much Ado About Nothing” and the title role in “” Richard 111”. His reputation as a hard-drinking womaniser was well founded. As an actor he adopted the personality of the role he was playing from the moment he entered the theatre. As Benedick he was mischievous and highly amusing. As Richard the Third he was terrifying on and off stage as I know having survived a fleeting experience as his dresser!  His performance as Henry 11 in Peter Hall`s 1961 production of Anouilh`s “Becket” was one of the most powerful performances ever to hit the West End Stage which won him a richly deserved Best Actor award.  Christopher Plummer made many films including one called “The Sound of Music” in which he starred as Captain Georg Von Trapp (1965). At the age of 82 he became the oldest actor to win an Oscar and he was also handed two Emmys, two Tonys, a Golden Globe and a Bafta He was the most exhilarating actor that I have ever been privileged to meet. 

Mary Wilson (76) was one of the founding members of the trio that made up the original “Girl Band”, The Supremes. With Florence Ballard and Diana Ross she merged from a Detroit housing estate as one of the Primettes. As the Supremes their tenth record “Where Did Our Love Go?” made the top of the US charts in 1964 and the follow-up, “Baby Love” reached Number one in the UK in November of the same year. In 1965 “Stop! In the name of Love”, Back in my arms Again” and “I hear a symphony” all made the charts and “You can`t Hurry Love” and “You keep me Hanging On” were best-sellers in 1966.Betwwen 1962 and 1976, with line-up changes but always with Mary Wilson the Supremes recorded 45 hit records including 12 of their top US hits reaching No.1.  The driving force behind the band was the President of (Tamla) Motown records, Berry Gordy, who styled and groomed the trio. Mary Wilson was inducted into the Rock and Roll hall of fame in 1988and in 2002 was appointed by Colin Powell, under the George W Bush administration, as a “Culture-connect ambassador”. 

Don Smith (97) lived to become the oldest surviving England Test Cricketer.  The All-Rounder was captain of Sussex on thirty-three occasions in 1961 and 1962. and was a wartime bomber pilot. 

Dick Reid (86) was a wood carver and stone mason who spent five years as Superintendent to the Royal Household at Windsor Castle working on restoration of the St. George`s Chapel following the fire of 1992 – Her Majesty`s `Annus Horribilis`. Over half a century his workshop established an international reputation for conservation work around the world. There is some reason to believe that a friend of mine persuaded him to carve “England’s Safest Seat”, decorated with a beautifully crafted portcullis, which was a fiftieth birthday gift that now adorns our downstairs lavatory!

Eleanor Wadsworth (103) was the last surviving female Spitfire and Hurricane pilot from WW2.She was one of the 166 women who flew with the Air Transport Auxiliary and was one of the first six selected, in 1943, to ferry aircraft from factory to airfield. By the time she left the ATA in i945 she has notched up the delivery of 28 Hurricanes and 132 Spitfires as well as other aircraft She finally received her “Spitfire Girls” commemorative badge in 2008. 

Rupert Neve (94) was the creator of the modern musical mixing console. Anyone anywhere of any note in the music business worldwide is certain to have worked in a “Neve Studio”. He received a special “Grammy” award in 1997 for “outstanding technical significance in the field of recording” and in 1999 was named “Man of the Century” by vox magazine.  Rupert Neve served in the Royal Corps of Signals during the Second World War, created a Heath Robinson mobile recording studio for use by Princess Elizabeth in Plymouth in 1949 and made 78rpm recording of a Winston Churchill campaign speech which was circulated worldwide in 1949.Throughot the 1960s recording boom the Neve Studio was the state-of-the-art installation and by 1973 Rupert Neve International was employing 500 people around the world. The A4792 became George Martin`s 24-track mixing desk used to record the Beatles in 1977 and was used at the A&M studios in Hollywood to record The Rolling Stones and Guns N` Roses. 

Pauline Chamberlain (88) was, with her twin sister, a dancer with the Bluebell Girls who made a name for herself in non-speaking film roles. The twins trained at the Aida Foster Stage School which furnished the West end theatres with ‘pantomime babes` and appeared in Robin Hood and His Merry Men before touring with Folies Bergere for Bernard Delfont. Pauline Chamberlain`s film credits include Too Hot to Handle, Doctor in Distress, A Hard Day`s Night, Thunderball, Taste the blood of Dracula, Up Pompeii and The Shining. She also appeared in The Avengers, Danger Man and The Prisoner on the small screen. 

Sir Eddie Kulukundis (88) was the Greek shipping broker who became a theatrical impresario.  His more than 100 West End productions included What the Butler Saw, Carmen Jones and A little night Music. He was the founding Chairman of the Ambassador Theatre Group which also controlled the Duke of York`s Theatre in London`s St. Martins Lane and was until the pandemic the world`s leading theatre company with more than fifty venues in Britain, the USA and Europe. He also supported Olympic athletes. He was awarded an OBE for services to sport in 1993 and was knighted for services to theatre and sport in 1998. 

Betty Willingale (93) was the television script editor who worked on “I, Claudius,” “Midsomer Murders,” Agatha Christie`s “Poirot” and dozens of other adaptations for the small screen. As an `old school` BBC employee she became the BBC`s first staff script editor to work on `dramatisations`. In the 1980s she left `Auntie` to become a freelance. She received lifetime achievement awards from both BAFTA and The Royal Television society. 

Jasmine Harrison, a 21-year old teacher from Thirsk in Yorkshire, has become the youngest woman to row the Atlantic from The Canary Islands to Antigua alone. Rowing the Argo 21` for twelve hours a day she departed on December 12th 2020 and completed her 3000 mile voyage in 70 days. 

Larry, the Number 10 feline, has completed ten years as Downing Street`s Mouser-in-Chief. Larry joined David Cameron in 2011 and has served under Theresa May and Boris Johnson meeting Barack O`Bama and Mr. Trump, under whose car (“The Beast”) he sought refuge from the US President. 

Scotland beat England at Twickenham to seize the Calcutta Cup for the first time since Rob Roy was in short trews and Sir Ben Ainslie`s bid to bring the `Auld Mug` (The America`s Cup` home to Britain is over. Until the next time when he will finally realise his dream. 

And “Lollie” (Tallisbay`s Lolita) went to sleep for the last time on February 22nd.  The registered Pets as Therapy Newfoundland was well known throughout East Kent, raised hundreds of pounds for charity and received a special commendation from the Westminster Dog of the Year show. “At a month short of fourteen years old she had an exceptionally long and wonderful life for a Newfie” says Suzy Gale. “She brought pleasure and comfort to huge numbers of people. For Lollie every day was a happy day and that`s what matters most”.


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