Gale's Westminster View – June 2021

GALE'S WESTMINSTER VIEW – JUNE 2021June . We do like to be beside the seaside  - having beach barbeques at the G7 summit in Cornwall. The Indian – sorry, Delta – mutation of Covid 19 seems miles away and social distancing is very much for others as the Leaders of the Free World take in the joys of the English Riviera.

The shadow of the Northern Ireland protocol blocks out some of the sunlight from this diplomatic jamboree, M. Macron places his foot firmly in his mouth and suggests  that Northern Ireland is not  part of The United Kingdom – but then Napoleon was never much good at map-reading either. And not surprisingly it is Her Maj and little Wilf Johnson who emerge as the real stars of this carefully orchestrated Piskey-fest.

The Bidens, Joe and Jill, are afforded the full Royal works and a cup of tea at Windsor Castle with Her Majesty before speeding back home to the United States via rendez-vous with NATO and Vlad “The Poisoner” Putin.

Delta is still very much with us  and not-the-third-wave leads to escalating numbers of cases as the traffic lights go from green through amber and back to red and summer foreign holidays and the aviation industry appear to be grounded. Never mind. The UEFA 2020 football matches are underway and hundreds of players and thousands of officials and tens of thousands of fans are super-spreading their way around the stadiums of a wider Europe that curiously embraces even Azerbaijan. Closer to home the cross-channel summer illegal migrant season is in full flow with numbers reaching record levels under the mournful gaze of Home Secretary Priti `Flamingo` Patel. On the other side of the Atlantic Her Not-Her-Royal-Highness Lilibet Diana , daughter of Mr and Mrs Harry Windsor, makes her entrance. Was Granny`s consent sought before the infant celebrity was named? That depends upon whose spokesperson you choose to believe.

Andrew Neil`s GB News project, promising to be new and exciting and different from the BBC , launched with a line-up of first-night guests that included Judge Sumption, Lord Sugar and Mr Farridge and that looked decidedly the same and stale. The Tory party finds itself reeling from the loss of the blue-rinsed seat of Chesham and Amersham in a by-election caused by the sad death of the much-loved Cheryl Gillan and the aftershock of that Liberal landslide may yet knock some sense into the mad world of `JCB` Jenrick`s Developers Charter aka “The Planning Bill”. But I doubt it.

The destroyer HMS Defender goes on manoeuvres in Ukrainian waters off Crimea in the Black Sea and causes an incident as Vlad`s cage is more than a little rattled. The outbreak of World War Three is put on hold, for the time being at least.

Shock! Horror! Mr Ex-Speaker Bercow, the first in living memory to hold that high office and  not to be elevated to the peerage, joins the Labour Party. How very unexpected.  Specsaver Cummings reveals that Mayior Boris said at the start of the pandemic that his Health Secretary, Matt Hancock was `effing hopeless`. Asked if he though that this was so Matty Boy said cautiously  “I don`t think so”  but the Departmental Candid Camera that caught him in a definitely not socially-distanced fond embrace with one Ms. Gina Coladangelo  during lockdown, and the subsequent front page publication of the snap in the Sun newspaper, led to his resignation.  Fifteen months of dedicated and tireless effort fighting the pandemic and two marriages up in smoke.  And at the end of the month a Civil Servant left a briefcase full of Ministry Top Secret papers at a bus stop in Kent. Comforting to know that the Defence of the Realm is in such safe hands. Now we can all sleep more peacefully at night.

The Carbis Bay Estate, host to the G7 Summit, is described as “A British Paradise” in its promotional literature.  It is certainly a beautiful location in a beautiful County and setting aside  the fact that much of the area was brought to a standstill for days, was crawling with every kind of policemen known to the Free World and probably a lot of foreign spies as well, and had warships and Inflatables  patrolling just offshore,  it must have been an idyllic three days. Apart from the British weather of course but every paradise has its flaws.  Cornish roads, the ones with the grass down the middle of them, are designed for horse-drawn vehicles not for motorised transport at all so it is not surprising that a few eyebrows were raised when it was suggested that the G7 circus would come to the West Country. It must have been a nightmare for local residents and for the armies of security operatives required to make the venue safe .But in the event they arrived, by air, by train and by car.  Air Force One delivered President Joe Biden and his wife Jill to RAF Mildenhall on his first foreign visit since moving into the Oval Office. Justin Trudeau (Canada) and Yoshihide Suga (Japan) arrived, along with Germany`s Angela Merkel, Ursula Von der Leyen, Mario Draghi from Italy, Emmanuel Macron from France, the President of the European Council Charles Michel and of course our own Prime Minister Boris Johnson accompanied by his new bride Carrie and their toddler son Wilfred.  Mr Johnson was criticised for taking a 250-mile `jet-zero` flight from London to Cornwall in a less than carbon-friendly way but given the pressures of the job and the prospect of a lengthy journey with a toddler on board while  trying to juggle the affairs of State he might just be forgiven for not cycling to  St. Ives!

The main players were joined by invited  guests from Australia, India, South Korea and South Africa, Sir David Attenborough, of course, by protesters from Extinction Rebellion, inevitably, and by the usual cast of hundreds of advisers, officials, journalists and hangers-on that are `essential`  at all such international gatherings. The Queen and most of the senior Royals turned up to host an evening reception at the Eden Project.  The Duchess of Cambridge and the United States` First Lady, Jill Biden, enjoyed an outing together;  The Carbis Bay`s Chef, Adam Handling, generated what is described as a `sustainable menu` (which begs the question what does an `unsustainable` menu look like? Osprey eggs mornay, perhaps? ) and Simon Stallard of the now world-famous `Hidden Hut` cafe  knocked up the beach BBQ supper while the Red Arrows flew overhead and probably bemused guests were entertained with a male ensemble singing Cornish sea shanties of a local kind and dialect.

Mayor Boris was clearly going to be batting on a sticky wicket when trying to bilaterally fine tune some aspects of Brexit – notably the Northern Ireland protocol  - in the margins of the summit.  Lord Frost`s call for a `new European playbook` had not gone down well .  Joe Biden prefaced his arrival in the UK with a `demarche` about the protocol and the peace process and M. Macron flew in saying that `nothing is negotiable` over the Northern Ireland aspects of the Agreement. Fresh from his `moi` time with Joe Biden Macron then made the mistake of saying, when asked by the Prime Minister if he would tolerate a frontier between Toulouse and Paris, that “they are part of France.” The insinuation that Northern Ireland is not part of the United Kingdom did not enhance the entente cordiale but the long and the short of it is that on the `sausage war` front the G7 was not a triumph.

The post-G7 communique notes that the summit agreed to “Beat Covid 19” and (cannot think whose idea this was)  “Build Back Better”. With the end of the pandemic we shall “Prepare for the Future”. We shall “Reinvigorate the Economy” and “Secure Future Prosperity”. We shall “Protect our Planet”, reach zero-carbon by 2050 and secure the future of 30% of our lands and oceans by 2030. We shall “Strengthen Partnerships” and “Embrace our Values” which include Democracy, Freedom, Equality, The Rule of Law and respect for Human Rights…… and probably Motherhood and Apple Pie as well.

The G7 promised to deliver a billion Covid 19 vaccines globally which sounds like a lot until you realise that at least ten billion doses are needed to stem the tide of the pandemic. There is also no target date for reducing and eliminating the use of coal as fuel. But at least the Leaders of the Free World are, post The Tramp,  once again meeting and talking and the Prime Minister`s  “Indestructible relationship” was cemented over a pot of tea shared between the Queen and the Bidens at Windsor Castle before they few off to NATO . Little Wilfred Johnson had a good paddle in the sea.  Oh yes, and in return for the disruption to life and businesses in Cornwall St Ives, Penzance and Camborne have all been given Town Deal funding worth a total l of £65 million.  Next stop Italy and the G20 summit in October.

If, of course, anyone can get to Italy.  The aviation industry in the UK is on its knees as is the hospitality business. `Staycations` are all well and good but you cannot get a holiday let for the peak summer season for love nor money. But overseas visitors, of the kind and spending power that normally make up so much of our destination income are largely non-existent and we are learning the hard way that domestic day-trippers tend to bring their food and drink with them, spend nothing in the coastal towns and then go home leaving their rubbish on the beach for the local taxpayers to have to pay to have cleared up.  There is also the small matter of staff. With so many still receiving 80% of their salaries in furlough pay – literally a lifesaver at the start of the pandemic – there is no incentive to work. The hospitality businesses have pre-Brexit relied heavily on imported labour as has agriculture. With Priti Flamingo`s hostile environment coupled with the pandemic the workers that we have traditionally relied upon in hotel and catering, restaurants and crop picking are in short supply as are HGV drivers. We know of hotels that now cannot open not because of Covid but because they cannot get the chefs and the chamber staff that they need to provide customers with a decent service.  I also have on my doorstep the largest greenhouse complex in Europe where they cannot now get the staff they need to pick their tomatoes ; the so-called `Seasonal Workers Scheme` does not satisfy the demand and come the autumn, if not before, we could find ourselves with another year of crops rotting in the fields and on the trees.

The dearth of HGV drivers is another real issue: many came from within the EU where there is also a shortage of truckers  and with work a-plenty in mainland Europe few drivers want the twin hassles of Brexit bureaucracy and Covid border checks when they have the whole of the Schengen area to work in without any restrictions.  The Home Office response to all of this is to say that `we have to train and employ British staff and pay them more` which in an ideal world, with many unemployed, might seem like a good idea. The trouble is that the Brits do not want to do the hard  work and even if they did staff take too long to train and we need them now.  Even the seaside amusement arcades find themselves, because of the start-stop nature of Government restrictions, having to open with staff who are learning on the job.

The chaotic  `traffic light` system for overseas travel, coupled with extortionately high costs charged by Covid testing companies, has meant, as Theresa May said in the House of Commons, that the recovery of our aviation industry is lagging behind our competitors to a serious extent. Airport departure areas are light ghost towns and such arrivals as are incoming are having to queue, often not socially distanced, for far too long.  The  `Portugal experience` sent out all the wrong messages to those wishing to holiday abroad. A country that was in the `Green` list opened up to UK visitors a only to find itself having to close down again as the country was, in a matter of days, switched from green to amber with virtually no warning. This led to a scramble for return flights, inflated prices, huge expense and a total loss of confidence in the sector.  Mutti Merkel`s endeavours to impose an EU-wide quarantine restriction upon all travellers from the UK has not helped either and although Greece, Spain and  Portugal  have shown tough resistance to the idea her French poodle, M. Macron and some others still fear the spread of the Delta strain from the UK to mainland Europe.  It will be a fine irony if we find that July 19th really is liberation day, that double-vaccinated travellers are allowed to go abroad without having to self-isolate upon return and that the sunshine destinations are then off-limits to the British!

Our own border controls are also irrational. Britons returning from overseas are expected to endure a tiresome and costly testing and isolation regime but it is apparently in order for hundreds if not thousands of UEFA football officials and overseas business travellers to enter the UK and potentially spread the disease with virtually no constraints at all. Those of us who have a desire and a need to visit EU countries have to hope that a mixture of sound science and common sense may yet prevail. The future of our aviation industry really does depend upon getting people airborne again as soon as is safely possible.

For all our Covid-related financial woes the United Kingdom remains one of the wealthiest nations in the World.  It is, therefore, a disgrace that the Government has broken another election pledge and reduced our Overseas Aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5% of Gross National income.  This cut, which impacts upon some of the poorest people on the planet, represents a `double whammy`. Not only is the headline figure reduced but because it is based upon a GNI that has also fallen this represents a futher reduction in the amount of money to spend upon the provision of clean drinking water supplies, healthcare, medicines and education programmes for young women. So when our Prime Minister told the G7 that we needed to invest more in girls` education you have to wonder whether he was actually aware of the effect that the policy of his own Chancellor, Rishi Sunak would have upon that very issue. The Government has also defied a ruling by The Speaker that the issue should be debated and voted upon by the House. A suggestion that a debate on the Estimates would suffice was patently disingenuous because the House knows that you cannot vote against the estimates without throwing the baby out with the bathwater and causing redundancy notices to be issued in Whitehall.

While  the Government has said that it `hopes` to reinstate the 0.7%, that is enshrined in an Act of Parliament, next year that is not a firm commitment and much of the damage is already done and will take years to recover from.  The British Council, Voluntary Service Overseas and medical research projects cannot simply reduce staff, close offices or terminate programmes and then turn them back on again as if turning on a tap.  This has been an appalling and shameful act of bad faith that does not serve the cause of so-called `Global Britain ` well. I am ashamed of it and I am ashamed of those of my colleagues who chose  during the Estimates debate  to peddle the populist `charity begins at home` argument in defence of the indefensible. Soft power is in the UK`s best national  interests and we have needlessly and wantonly  self-inflicted damage to our standing in the world.

The Chesham and Amersham parliamentary seat in Buckinghamshire has, until this month, been held by the Conservatives since 1974. The constituency`s first MP was Sir Ian Gilmour, briefly a Minister in Edward Heath`s Government. Sir Ian was succeeded by Dame Cheryl Gillan in 1992. Cheryl , who served as Secretary of State for Wales under Margaret Thatcher, was a Brexiteer MP in a Remain constituency but as a fierce opponent of the HS2 rail project, destined to bisect her seat, she won the 2019 General Election with more than half of the votes cast and a majority of 16,223. Chesham and Amersham was therefore regarded as a `safe` Tory constituency. Dame Cheryl sadly succumbed to cancer in April of this year and the Tory candidate, Peter Fleet, was expected to be elected with a comfortable majority.  There was, in fact, a 19.9% swing against the Conservatives and Chesham and Amersham is now represented by the Liberal Democrat Sarah Green . While the  Conservative Party Chairman, Amanda Milling described this result as “a warning shot”   Prime Minister Johnson  dismissed the result as a mid-term aberration due to “particular circumstances”. It is not.

There is no doubt that the HS2 project is wildly unpopular in the beautiful Chiltern Hills countryside but the big issue is planning.  The Conservative Party lost seats in the May County Council elections in the Home and Shire Counties – notably in Hertfordshire where the Chairman lost his seat and in Kent where two Cabinet Members were despatched – because of the Government`s proposals to smother swathes of rural Southern England in new housing estates via a Planning Bill that has become synonymous with the term `Developers` Charter`.

There is a national housing shortage because for years successive Governments have failed to generate sufficient new homes to meet the needs of a rising population. The lack of available `starter homes` have made it well-nigh impossible for young people to get a foot on the home-ownership ladder and the shortage of `affordable` social housing has caused overcrowding and homelessness, particularly in Britain`s inner cities. The lack of supply has led to escalating house prices and inflated private rental charges as demand has far outstripped supply. That we need more homes, fast, is a given. The solution offered by “Boris the Builder” and his Secretary of State for Housing and Local Government, `JCB` Jenrick, however, is to take farmland needed to grow crops in the South of England and to make it available for housing.  Developers and builders like greenfield sites. They are relatively cheap and easy to construct and the profit margins are therefore high.  In my own North Thanet constituency, for example, we are scheduled to lose acres of  Grade 1 and Grade 2  agricultural land to development via a local plan that was not designed by the District and City Councils but in the case of Thanet was imposed upon us by Central Government. These new estates are as yet unsupported by road infrastructure, water supplies and sewage disposal, healthcare, education or transport facilities or indeed jobs in an area where unemployment is currently running at 8%.  At the same time there are brownfield sites, which developers do not like because they are more costly to clear, sanitise and build upon than open fields. There is also an estimated one million planning consents already granted for houses that have yet to be built and are `land banked` as property prices continue to rise.  Unless the ` electorally toxic` Planning White paper is torn up or radically revised I predict that there will be more holes punched in the Tory `Blue Wall` of which Chesham and Amersham was once a cornerstone.

Hindsight is a wonderful attribute with which all politicians are blessed. Through its prism it is clear that Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary who has piloted the country through the choppy waters of the Covid 19 pandemic for the past fifteen months, should have resigned from office as soon as a photograph of him in a clinch with a married woman, Gina Coladangelo, was splashed across the front page of The Sun, the newspaper to whom it had been sold.

The Prime Minister has been accused of a lack of leadership in not sacking his Health Secretary, or demanding his resignation immediately and so, again with hindsight, he might have done.  The fact is, though that it appeared initially that this was a private  matter that thirty years ago would certainly have been a cause for resignation  but that in the light of today`s vastly permissive mores is a domestic tragedy, certainly, but not a hanging offence. With the realisation that the photograph, taken from a video recorded on a security camera in the Secretary of State`s office, was in fact shot in May and prior to the lifting of `personal contact` restrictions Matt Hancock`s position became  untenable and his friends felt obliged to tell him so.  This was Hancock`s “Barnard Castle Moment” and unlike Mr. Cummings he understood that it was not possible to stand at a podium and to tell the nation to maintain social distancing while at the same time doing something completely different himself. He had to go.  One of Mr Johnson`s faults, if indeed it is such, is that he stands by those he has appointed. He refused to dispense with the services of Mr Cummings when he should have done so, he retained Priti Patel as Home Secretary when an inquiry had found her guilty of bullying her staff and he initially insisted that the Matt Hancock issue was closed. It is also probably the case that the pot was not prepared to call the kettle black .Notwithstanding the impression that some may have sought to give a  Downing Street spokesman confirmed that Hancock resigned and was not sacked . It now remains an intensely personal and private matter for him to try to resolve.

Matt Hancock`s successor Sajid Javid, the Chancellor of the Exchequer who resigned rather that allow Mr. Cummings to exercise control over his private office staff, is a man with considerable Cabinet experience in a number of roles. His appointment also conveniently avoids the necessity to engage in the mini-reshuffle that would have been caused by an the elevation of a current Minister but the idea that the pandemic is over and that he will have an easier ride than his predecessor is very wide of the mark. `The Saj`, as he likes to be known, now has to appoint a successor to the retiring Chief Executive of the NHS, Sir Simon Stevens, deal with the huge backlog of cases neglected while the hospitals were full of Covid 19 patients ad sort out the future of provision and funding for Social Care, all of which should keep him busy for a month or two!

In other news Arlene “Strictly Come Dancing “ Phillips and Kate Bingham, Commissioner of Covid 19 vaccines, have both been made Dames in the Birthday Honours list. Edwin Poots, newly-elected :Leader of the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland resigned after just twenty one days in office and has been replaced by Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the current Member of Parliament for Lagan Valley.  It is now proposed that the new Royal Yacht/ Trade ship (“The Duke of Edinburgh”?) will be funded out of the Ministry of Defence budget as a `warship`. Sir Keir Starmer, Leader of the Opposition at present, has called for the yacht project to be scrapped and for the money, which does not of course exist in any budget at present, to be spent on CCTV cameras to help reduce crime instead.  Her Majesty has held her first weekly audience with the Prime Minister in person since the start of the pandemic. Peace may yet break out in the `sausage wars` as the EU has looked favourably upon an extension of the `blockade deadline`. from June until September.  Joe Biden`s meeting with Comrade Putin was described as `brief and cool`. Former Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May is said to have expressed an interest in becoming the Secretary General of NATO. If selected there would have to be a by-election in her Maidenhead parliamentary constituency. Another Chesham and Amersham result?  The Secretary of State for Defence, Ben Wallace, and six senior military commanders including the Chief of Defence Staff General Sir Nick Carter are in self-isolation due to possible exposure to Covid 19. And at the time of writing England are heading or Wembley and the semi-finals of the 2020 UEFA Cup. All of the other home nations have been knocked out in earlier rounds.

For well over a century Heinz tomato ketchup has, with salad cream and mayonnaise, been maufactured at Kitt Green, Wigan in Lancashire.  The product is now being moved by the owners, Kraft, to The Netherlands. Other British brands are still available.

The Salford Broadcasting Corporation`s “Director of Nations” has decided that the Newsnight and Today programmes will be going out on the road in a further gesture towards regional inclusivity. And henceforth the Corporation will undergo a `voiceover make-over`to offer announcements in `regional accents` from the North East, the North West, Yorkshire and Lincolnshire. All of which will be completely incomprehensible to the gentle people of the West Country whose delightful dialects to not appear to be included in this litany of tokenism. Thank God!

Dating Apps such as Tinder, Hinge and Bumble are now offering prospective partners who are “Tall, slim…and vaccinated` . How times change.

Bizarrely the British Naturists` organisation is moving into the clothing market. On offer are a range of T-shirts, hoodies and sweatshirts bearing the slogans “I`d rather be naked” and “I`ve got nothing on later”. The lockdown has apparently led to `an explosion in naked living` with online events offering cookery classes and cocktail hours in the buff.  We`ve got used to Zoom meetings between people wearing shirts and ties and pyjama bottoms but what naturists do not wear does not bare (sic)  too much thinking about.

Lord `Tarzan` Heseltine , once the conference pin-up boy of the Tory Party, complains that in his dotage the House of Lords authorities have bullied him into attending anti-bullying classes where he has had to spend two hours of his life at the taxpayer`s expense being lectured about the sins of groping.

Squaddies will be excused physical exercise sessions if they `do not feel up to it`. A former SAS officer engaged in the relief of the Iranian Embassy siege notes that “The enemy won`t ask if you are fit enough to fight”!  Kiss me goodnight, Sergeant Major.

Mr and Mrs Harry Windsor are to take twenty weeks of parental leave from their duties at their Archwell Foundation. They will, no doubt, be sorely missed.

Tom Kerridge, the `Gourmet Chippy`, is peddling Fish and  Chips at Harrods of Knightsbridge for a modest £35 a portion.  The  serving includes `Market Day Fish`, Curry Sauce, Tartare Sauce and Pease Pudding.  Personally I will settle for Cod 'n' Chips from Peter's Fish Factory on Margate seafront with salt and vinegar, open not wrapped, for £6.50.                                                                     

The British Board of Film Censors is revising its code and `Parents Guide to Language` to allow swearwords in PG-rated films `suitable` for 12 year-olds. Strong language is now deemed to be `part of daily life` used frequently by 50% of `Generation Z `16-24 year olds but only one in ten of 55-64 year olds and then `not in public`. Next category `Not suitable for grown-ups`.

The bells of All Saints church clock in Kenton in Devon ,which strike every quarter of an hour as they have done for more than a century  were threatened with silencing following receipt, by Teignbridge District Council, of just one complaint.  Happily common sense has prevailed and the bells will ring on.

The Wee Lassie in the Tin Hat has banned an English cruise ship from docking in Scotland. No matter that 75% of those on board had received two Covid vaccinations or that some of the passengers were Scottish.  What Nicola Sturgeon says goes so in spite of two PCR tests before boarding the happy seafarers had to travel from Greenock to Liverpool to join the good ship Virtuoso. Those travelling across the border by rail or air, like the thousands of super-spreading Scottish football fans that headed to Wembley and back for the most boring match in the history of `the beautiful game can, however, do so with impunity.

Those lovebirds .Boris and Carrie who tied the knot in the Roman Catholic Westminster Cathedral chose not to join Joe Biden to attend at the Church of the Sacred Heart in St. Ives in Cornwall during the G7 summit. Boris elected to go for a swim instead but contrary to some reports was not seen walking across the Bay.

Sheku Kanneh Mason, the first black  winner of the BBC`s Young Musician of the Year title who played at the wedding of Mr and Mrs Harry Windsor and was a 2015 Britain`s Got Talent star has had his British passport cancelled. Sheku was born and raised in Nottingham and the document was withdrawn `in error`. Oops!

Mayor Boris is in trouble with human rights charities for his use of the word `flogging` in the context of a chat with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamid al-Khalifa who , it ia alleged, hails from a country where prisoners are regularly flogged.   The conversation ran along the lines of “Last time we met I think I tried to flog you some Buses”.  To which the Crown Prince replied “and this time you have successfully flogged me some taxis”!

English Heritage is reviewing the Blue Plaque that adorns the Hook Road, Teddington,  home of the childrens`s author Enid Blyton (1897-1968) because the creator of The Secret Seven, The Famous Five and Noddy is in this day and age now deemed to be `racist and xenophobic`. During her literary lifetime Enid Blyton published seven hundred books and four thousand five hundred short stories.

BBC Scotland, that bastion of diversity, is advertising for a `Trainee Production Management Assistant. Science`. The successful applicant will be ` Black, Asian or ethnically diverse only`. McAuntie can get away with this level of discrimination because it is `only a training post`.

The EU may be about to prevent the UK from parking British-made lawnmowers on their turf. We currently export about nine billion pounds worth of machinery  but sales into the EU, which under the protocol negotiated by Lord Frost effectively means Northern Ireland as well, could be restricted.  “High Risk Machinery”, which includes lawnmowers and the robots that now make cars will, from 2024, have to comply with the EU`s Independent Standard Product Safety Tests or they will be banned from the marketplace.

And talking of machinery the MoD`s new Ajax Light Tanks, ordered at a cost of £3.2 billion, have been withdrawn from service for the second time because the crews using them are suffering from hearing loss. Ben Wallace, the Secretary of State for Defence, is said to be `distinctly unhappy` at this turn of events.

Kenneth Mayhew (104) received the Dutch Order of Valour for his part in the liberation of the Netherlands during the Second World War.  He had landed on D-Day on June 6th 1944  in October 1944 Major Mayhew was leading a rifle company from the Suffolk Regiment when, having crossed the Molen Beek, a drainage ditch, he was cut off from his armoutred support.  Under heavy enemy fire he pressed forward . The Suffolks took heavy losses and he was himself wounded in what became known as the Battle for Venray.  Mayhew  was one of the last surviving veterans of the D-day  invasion.  He was the only British soldier to have received the MWO, the Netherlands highest military honour. In 2016, on his 100th Birthday, he was awarded the Legion D`Honneur.

Robert Opron (89) was the car designer responsible for the creation of the 1970 Citroen SM grand tourer ( once driven by  composer John Barry, the Rolling Stones` Bill Wyman and Leonid Brezhnev), the Citroen DS and the 1974 CX executive saloon driven by (or for) Jacques Chirac as President of the Republic. In 1976 Opron moved to Renault and in 1986 to Fiat where he designed the SZ Supercar for Alfa Romeo.He was cited for the Designer of the Century award in 1999 and was made a Chevalier of the Legion d`Honneur.

John Hodge( 92) was the British aeronautical engineer who was the flight director on the nearly disastrous Gemini 8 space mission in 1966. Having successfully directed the flight back to a safe splashdown  he found himself in the control room at Houston  when, a year later, fire broke out in the Apollo 1 capsule on the launch pad with the loss of the three astronauts on board. He was twice awarded the NASA medal for exceptional Service , The Presidential Rank Award for Meritorious Executive (NASA) and the Meritorious Achievement Award. City University awarded him an Honorary Doctorate in 1966.

Wing Commander Peter Bailey(99) towed a glider to Normandy on D-day He subsequently piloted Winston Churchill and Her Majesty the Queen while in command of the VIP RAF Transport Squadron based at Northolt.

Richard Gooding (73) successfully relaunched the then struggling  London City Airport having taken over as CEO in 1996. . Over the next sixteen years the airport grew and established itself  as “ The UK`s best airport”. He received the Queen`s Award for Export in 1999 and was awarded an OBE in 2006.

Edward de Bono (88) claimed to be  the originator of the concept of “lateral thinking” launched through his first book on the subject in 1967.Over the course of a jet-setting career in self-marketing he was praised and derided in equal measure. He ended his days in Malta where he had established the modestly named World Centre for New Thinking.

Damaris Hayman (91) was the actress who became a cult figure as The White Witch of Devil`s End in the 1971 five-part series of Dr. Who starring, at that time, Jon Pertwee as The Doctor. She also, as a young actress, appeared in The Belles of St. Trinians and on television in Steptoe and Son, The Liver Birds, The Sweeney, The Bill and One Foot in the Grave.

Kenneth Kaunda (97) was one of the founders of the Northern Rhodesian African National Congress (ANC). He was imprisoned in 1959 and on his release in 1960 became the head of the United National Independence Party. (UNIP) and in 1962 formed a coalition with the ANC  to become the protectorate`s first African government. At 39 he became the Commonwealth`s youngest Prime Minister and in 1964 was elected President designate. On October 24th Northern Rhodesia changed its name to the Republic of Zambia. In 1972 he made Zambia a one-party state. In the course of his Presidency he fell out with Margaret Thatcher, President Reagan and the International Monetary Fund. Following a failed coup attempt in 1990 and in 1991 called presidential and legislative elections which saw him and his UNIP party swept from power. “KK” became only the second African Head of State to relinquish power peacefully.

Ben Roberts (70) was the actor who played Chief Inspector Derek Conway in the ITV series “The Bill” from 1988 for fourteen years until the “Billwatch” team of producers transformed the programme from a crime-busting old-fashioned police-drama into a romantic soap opera, killing off much of The Bill`s fan base and exterminating C.I. Conway in a drive-by petrol bombing  in the process.

Tonia Bern-Campbell (84) was the third wife of Donald Campbell who died while trying to break the water speed record on Lake Coniston in 1967. She was present when The Bluebird was raised from the lake in 2001 but returned to her California home without seeing the boat restored or her late husband`s remains buried.

Brian London (87), known as “The Blackpool Rock” was the British Heavyweight boxer of the 1960s who twice fought for the World heavyweight title and was knocked out  by Muhammad Ali who stopped him in three rounds in 1966  He was also floored by Henry Cooper. London, in spite of his reutation as a `thick bruiser` retired from boxing and, having invested his earnings wisely, went on to become a successful businessman.

And finally...
The Brittany shipping company is planning to introduce `flying ferries` on its Portsmouth to Cherbourg route in 2020 . The Seaglider will carry between fifty and one hundred and fifty passengers with a `significant` reduction in journey time for the crossing.

And  United Airlines are commissioning a new supersonic aircraft as a successor to the Anglo-French Concorde. The plane will do the London to New York trip in three and a half hours at a speed of 1,300 miles per hour and a cost of £2000 for a one-way ticket.  Start saving!

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