Gale's Westminster View – April 2021

GALE'S WESTMINSTER VIEW – APRIL 2021April, a month of two halves. Dignity, service and loyalty following the death of The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh at the beginning and squalid and unseemly wrangling over who said what, when and to whom and who paid for the curtains in the Prime Minister`s flat above Number Eleven Downing Street at the end.

Does the great British public give a toss about the latter? The polls say ”no” but we shall find out more in the local Government elections during the first week of May.  Dominic Cummings rises from the political undead and lands more blows on Mayor Boris in one day than the Leader of the Opposition, Captain Hindsight, has delivered during his entire and sadly pathetic time in the job. It comes to something when you start feeling sorry for Sir Keir Starmer.  Boy David, the fresh-faced Leader of  the 2010 coalition, if you can remember that far back, is not covering his post-Prime Ministerial retirement in glory as details of his lobbying endeavours begin to see the harsh light of day. Ex PMs should be seen and not heard. Tony `The Legacy` Blair has also surfaced, with a mane that makes him look grotesquely like the night-clubbing Peter Stringfellow, to voice unwanted opinions. The row over `Vaccination passports` rumbles on as parliament and Government dither over the obvious and the EU maintains its dismal record on vaccination rollout. The pandemic situation in India is appalling: the Covid infection rate and death toll mounts and the number of grim al fresco crematoria expands exponentially to try to keep pace with the demand. A good time, clearly, for the Foreign Secretary to slip out some details of our shameful reduction in the foreign aid budget. The pro-democracy Myanmar (Burmese) Ambassador is locked out of his own embassy in London,  in the neo-Soviet Union the Kremlin`s`s leading  Opposition prisoner., Alexei Navalny, skates close to death on hunger strike and in Iran Nazarin Zahari-Ratcliffe, the dual nationality hostage held by Iran`s  oppressive dictatorship, is `sentenced` to another unjustified year in a foreign gaol. A stark reminder to a former Foreign Minister, now resident in Number Ten, of the results of bad preparation and careless `diplomacy`. Plans for a European Football Superleague lasted about forty-eight hours before the six English clubs involved caved in to supporters` anger and ran up the white flag. . Arlene Foster yields to peer-pressure and throws in the towel as leader of Northern Ireland`s Democratic Unionist Party causing a schism that may yet lead to more violence on the streets of the Province and in Scotland the unholy alliance between Alex Salmond`s Alba Party and Nicola Sturgeon`s SNP  marches on towards what the Wee Lassie in the Tin Hat  believes will be electoral victory, another referendum and `freedom`. Where is Ruth `St. Joan` Davidson when you need her?  Ruth has described the state of the Union of the Kingdom as “mission critical” and she is  right. Will Mr. Johnson go down in history as the man who led our country out of both the European and the British  Unions? In the still-United States President `Not-so-Sleepy` Joe Biden marks his first one hundred days in office with a speech in the self-same Senate Chamber that The Tramp incited others to defile and the murderer of George Floyd is now behind bars for a very long time. And Mr and Mrs Harry Windsor will embark upon their first production for Netflix- a documentary on the Invictus Games.

His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh and husband of Her Majesty the Queen for seventy-three years died at the age of ninety-nine at Windsor Castle on the morning of  9th April.  For the man who had served his Country as a naval officer and his Monarch as consort in all but title for the longest period in history and who did not want “any bloody fuss” about the celebration of his 100th birthday  or his funeral it was as he would have wished it to be. By dying in time to pre-empt his centenary he had if not the last chuckle  then certainly his own way .The Covid-compliant,dignified and very confined family funeral in St. George`s Chapel, Windsor,  coupled with appropriate military recognition of his distinguished service career, was as he had largely planned it for himself and wanted it to be.  Hundreds of column inches and hours of television have been devoted to the long life and service of Prince Philip and I do not propose to expand vastly upon that coverage here save to offer a few personal observations.

It was my wife who reminded me that on the first occasion that we met the Duke of Edinburgh in the company of Her Majesty at Buckingham Palace his only comment to me, having first shaken hands with Suzy, was to say “That`s a very loud tie”!  The rugby football charity, The Wooden Spoon Society, whose neckwear I was sporting for the occasion’ will have been  delighted to know that it was not I but their garish creation that warranted the attention of a member of the Royal Family known, as Mr. Speaker reminded the House of Commons, for his eagle-eyed interest in regalia!

It was in Mr.Speaker`s State Apartments that Prince Philip attended a black tie dinner and presentation of awards for the Armed Forces Parliamentary Scheme of which I am a post-graduate. On the evening in question I had been in the Chamber and had left rather too little time to don my dinner jacket. As the recipient of one of the awards I was horrified to find myself entering the room just as my name was being called and with the Duke saying in customary fashion “Oh do get a bloody move on”!

Following the Duke`s death flags flew at half mast, political campaigning for the local government elections was suspended and Parliament was recalled from the Easter Recess to allow for tributes to be paid to his memory .For reasons of age and longevity of service rather than seniority, I assume, I was called very early on after the front benches in these tributes to Prince Philip. Because of the pandemic  it was the first time that I had set foot in the Chamber since March 23rd last year and given the enormity of the occasion I will freely concede that I was more nervous than at any time since I made my maiden speech in 1983. . It was, however, the chance to say thank you to the man whose initiative founded the Duke of Edinburgh`s Award Scheme that has given so much excitement, challenge and adventure to young people in my North Thanet constituency, in Britain  and around the world and I am grateful to have had the privileged opportunity to do so.

The Prime Minister, in opening the tributes, said that he wants to create a fitting memorial to Prince Philip. I can think of nothing better than to build a new Royal Yacht to replace the Britannia scrapped by Mr. Blair and to christen the new ship  R.Y. The Duke of Edinburgh.

From  the sublime to the ridiculous, obscene and faintly absurd.

Flitting through the pages of Old Windy`s Book of Political cliches I find that “Those who sow disloyalty will reap disloyalty” and that” Those who live by the sword die by the sword”. It is “The sword of Domocles” that now hangs over the Prime Minister`s head. Forgetting that Mayor Boris stood by him when people like me were calling for his head on a plate following the notorious `Barnard Castle/ Eye Test` incident  Number Ten`s former and  now embittered Personal Adviser, Dominic  Cummings , has pushed the nuclear button and dumped ordure on his erstwhile friend and employer. He now describes the man who once paid his mortgage in terms that make Sir Alan Duncan`s diaries, of which more later, look positively  effusive! Lord Cummings of Specsavers, as he must surely become, has described the Prime Minister`s alleged approach to donors to help fund his refurbishment of the flat that they occupy above Number Eleven Downing Street as “Unethical, foolish and possibly illegal” and his former  Boss as having “fallen below the standards of competence that Government deserves”. Setting aside his own departure, via Barnard Castle, from the required `standards of competence` this is pretty damning stuff but it was the accusation that Johnson had delayed intervention and precipitated the accumulation of deaths to, at the time, the highest levels in the world by saying that he was “prepared to let the bodies pile high”  rather than lock down for a second time that has done the damage. The Prime Minister has denied, through the media and at the Despatch Box that he ever said this and although we are told by tabloid journalists and BBC correspondents that “there are people who are prepared to confirm on oath that they have heard this” to date not one of the  eavesdroppers, other than Cummings himself ,has come forward.

With glorious hindsight the Prime Minister may by now be feeling that it was perhaps unwise to stick his hand into the  hornet`s nest by personally ringing up three newspapers and telling them that Cummings was responsible for the “Chatty Rat” leaks of private information from Downing Street. To mix the metaphors, that cage has now been not only rattled but flung wide open and the concern in High Places is that Bro Dom may have a treasure trove of e-mails, texts and other juicy morsels that he will produce when he appears before a Select Committee and gives evidence to other inquiries shortly.

The whole new wave of Labour`s “Tory Sleaze” allegations was in fact precipitated by Boy David`s attempts to lobby Numbers Ten and Eleven Downing Street, The Bank of England  and just about anyone else that he still has in his old Prime Minister`s phonebook, to seek financial support for his friend and associate Alex Greensill`s crumbling business edifice . The corporate lawyer  Nigel Boardman is chairing an independent inquiry into the probity of these approaches and another ex-Prime Minister, Sir John Major, wants an overhaul of the ethics rules.  While I understand the concern it does strike me that it ought not to be necessary to have rules to establish what is ethical and what is not but I may have missed something and perhaps not knowing the difference between right and wrong is not as straightforward as I had imagined. It transpires that not only do former Prime Ministers , Cameron and Blair to name but two, seek to use their expertise to personal advantage but there are more than a dozen Whitehall `mandarins` that have `dual roles` from which they may one day benefit in pecuniary terms if they are not doing so already.  Meanwhile Sir Alex Allen having resigned as Downing Street`s ethics adviser following Johnson`s refusal to accept his determination that Priti `Flamingo` Patel had broken the Ministerial code, Number Ten is seeking to recruit a replacement to fill the role. Understandably under the circumstances there was not a long queue of suitable people eager to take on the task but in the end Lord Geidt, a former Private Secretary to Her Maj , has been appointed as adviser on Ministerial standards. Whether he, also, will subject himself to Prime Ministerial veto remains to be seen but in the meantime the Mandarin`s Trade Union, the First Division Association, is taking the Prime Minister to judicial review over the Alex Allen/ Patel decision.

With the Electoral Commission and several committees of inquiry looking into the funding of the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat and various other issues Mayor Boris is facing a number of distractions that he could well do without while trying to handle the pandemic, a health crisis of international and apocalyptic scale in India, the greatest miscarriage of justice in living history arising from the wrongful conviction of many sub-postmasters for fraud , civil unrest in Northern Ireland as the protocol that he personally acclaimed as part of the Withdrawal Agreement that he negotiated with the EU comes back to bite him, and as elections for Local Government,  Police and Crime Commissioners and for the Scottish parliament approach.  Curiously all of the `noises off` seem to have made little dent in the Conservative Party`s popularity in the opinion polls and so far the Labour Party`s efforts to tar the Government with `sleaze` have failed to gain traction although the poll lead has narrowed a little. This is partly because the Prime Minister appears to still be both popular and Teflon-coated with a “that’s Boris” veneer and partly because the Leader of the Opposition has all of the charisma of a speak-your-wight machine. Opinion polls are one thing, however. The proof of this pudding will be revealed in the ballot boxes when they are opened at the end of the first week in May.

In other news the Fire Safety Bill has received the Royal Assent after `ping-pong` between the Lords and Commons right up to the wire of prorogation. The dispute was over a Lords amendment designed to offer protection to many leaseholders of flats who face crippling bills for repairs necessitated by poor construction and who cannot sell their properties. A group of us on the Conservative benches in the Commons backed the Lords amendment but at the end of the day the Upper House gave in for fear of losing the whole bill as the end of this session approached.  It is anticipated that a Building Safety Bill will be announced in the forthcoming Queen`s Speech and that may offer the opportunity to return to the fray.  It`s too much to expect that the Government will give any ground over `frozen pensions` in The Speech but we shall be looking for a `Lifetime Votes` bill to satisfy an outstanding election promise made to Ex-Pats.

Sir Alan Duncan, former Foreign Office Minister of State under Mayor Boris as Foreign Secretary,  was the Member of Parliament for Rutland and Melton Mowbray who retired at the last election to `spend more time with his husband`.  Sir Alan` has now published his diaries which have been serialised in The Bourgeoise Women`s Tabloid and have caused the greatest stir since the late Alan Clark published his journals.  Sir Alan describes his former boss at the F&CO as “a buffoon, a disloyal, shambolic, shameless clot” while Priti `Flamingo` is “the Wicked Witch of Witham” (her seat in Essex) and The Gover is “An unctuous freak – a weirdo”. I have a feeling that Alan might just not be on the Number Ten Christmas card list any more.

The COP 26 summit, to be held in Glasgow later in the year, was expected to be attended by some twenty-thousand delegates and environmental protesters from all over the World but it is seriously at risk of becoming another casualty of the pandemic and the chance for  UK limited to showcase and showboat our green net zero carbon credentials may yet metamorphose into yet another virtual less-than-extravaganza.   International plans for a “Vaccination passport” appear to have stalled at present. Mutti Merkel talks of the German Healthcare system being saturated and in France the Sun King `Louis ` Macron is facing what Marine le Pen has described as his Waterloo over the chaotic handling of the pandemic in his country.  There is much talk of foreign travel, with red, amber and green `traffic light` designations of countries but in Britain, with incoming passengers facing an up to seven-hour wait at Heathrow airport before  facing time in self-isolation,  most people seem resigned to a summer `staycation` and there is precious little domestic holiday accommodation available from June through to September.

Clandestine attempts to form a European Football `Super League`  involving Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City, Manchester United and Tottenham from the United Kingdom and AC Milan,  Atletico Madrid, Barcelona, Inter Milan and Juventus began to disintegrate from the moment that the plot was leaked. The idea that some of Britain`s top football clubs should be able to lock themselves into an elite huddle and play with themselves to the exclusion of any form of relegation or admission was never going to be acceptable to the fans and the fact that the American club-owning Glazer family were leading the proposal rubbed salt into an already open wound.  It was in fact the Chelsea supporters that mobilised first and by dawn the six British clubs had all announced their withdrawal from the project leaving a lot of egg on a lot of wealthy faces. That the Prime Minister and Prince William, in his capacity as President of the Football  Association, both came out against the move helped of course and the establishment of an inquiry to be led by Tracey Crouch, football referee, former  Sports Minister and a Member of Parliament who has a reputation for not taking prisoners will also have concentrated a few minds. Messrs Glazer, Abramovitch and others may rue the day that they tangled with Our Trace.

The businessman Sir James Dyson has accused the BBC of `gross mischaracterisation` of his relationship with the Prime Minister. Johnny Mercer resigned as Armed Forces Minister as a result of his view that Downing Street has failed to protect our former Northern Ireland servicemen from prosecution in legislation. Cuts in our Overseas Aid budget from 0.07% of Gross National Income to 0.05% at a time when a lower GNI itself represents a reduction in the money spent on vital aid programmes has rightly received criticism from within the Conservative Party as well as from NGO`s and Charities.

Sir Anthony Hopkins became the oldest actor to receive an Oscar as Best Actor. And her Majesty the Queen celebrated her ninety-fifth birthday this month.

Ballswatch
An address in London`s Earls Court has been awarded a Lady Diana Spencer `blue plaque` in recognition of the fact that the future Princess of Wales once lived at Coleherne Court in the district.

And Princess Diana`s bicycle, a 1970s Raleigh deemed `not fit for a Princess to ride`was sold to a friend`s father and stored. It sold in 2008 for £211. In £2018 it fetched £9,200 and at auction again this year the `symbol of oppression` is expected to raise in excess of £20,000.

Pimlico Academy, a well-patronised London secondary school has struck its Union Flag, presumably in response to the sensitivities of its multi-cultural clientele. The Headteacher, David Smith, facing an adverse reaction is reported as saying the decision has been taken `pending a review`.It might have been a good idea to have conducted the review before taking the decision – particularly in the light of events later in the month.

It is estimated that workers furloughed during the pandemic under the job retention scheme will have amassed a total of 700,000 non-working years largely paid for by the taxpayer. The fear is that there are 850,000 jobs that will be at risk if the scheme ends as scheduled in September.

Business Minister Liz Truss is spearheading her Trade Deal operation s from `Room 39` in the Old Admiralty Building in Whitehall. That is where the creator of James Bond, Ian Fleming, was apparently stationed during his spell in Naval Intelligence but I doubt if Ms Truss is either shaken or even stirred by that illustrious connection.

Ms. Truss might be interested to know, though, that a signed First Edition of Fleming`s Casino Royale (of which only 4760 copies were printed) is expected to reach £93.000. That`s business.

The DHSC, the Government Department that leads on the Nanny State, is scheming to have a calorie count on pints of beer in the interests of combating wight gain. Why pick on beer?  Wine is, from personal experience, just as fattening.

Mr Mogg, Member of Parliament for the Nineteenth Century and currently leader of the House of Commons was a fierce opponent , until lockdown, of permitting contributions to debates by video link.  The same Mr. Mogg is now advocating the use of a hybrid video-link system during the planned refurbishment of the Palace of Westminster in a rear guard action to prevent the total vacation of the building for at least five years while the work is carried out.

There is something of an irony in the fact that the flow tests for Covid 19  being used in schools are mass-produced in China. What is more serious is that they, presumably lost in translation, contain the wrong instructions. The MHRA which is responsible for these matters was said to be `looking into it`

Actors must, we are told, be required to give consent before `body-doubles` are used in nude and sex scenes. I have to confess that I was never asked, while an actor, to participate in any such drama but I cannot help feeling that a well-selected body-double might have been rather more alluring than the original `performer` - if that`s the right word..

The evicted Ambassador, having been forced to spend a night in his car, is reported to have said that “we are in England – it is Burma not `Myanmar`”. When did we start calling what I first visited as Majorca `My-orka`?

“The Little Green Man”, aka Sadiq Khan, Labour`s candidate for a second term as the Mayor of London, has introduced cycle lanes everywhere, imposed 20-mile an hour speed limits in parts of the City, prohibited cars from using bus lanes at any hour of the day or night  and raised the congestion tax to £15 on seven days of the week. The net result has been vastly more congestion, dawdling traffic going nowhere and an increase in NO2 emissions and worse air quality as a consequence. I hope London will bear that in mind when voting in early May.

Some Universities have decided that cutting marks for poor spelling and grammar in exam papers is `elitist`. Hull University considers that the practice is `North European, White, Male and elite` and London`s University of Arts  believes that `mistakes that do not significantly impede communication ` are acceptable and that examiners should `avoid imposing your own idea of correct English`.  I am aware that my own grammar and punctuation leave a certain amount to be desired on occasions but I was taught that you must first learn the rules before you choose to break them. It is also a truism that lower standards leads to lower expectations.

In an `All Troops` message  the 22 Engineer Regiment has been told not to refer to comrades in arms as `lads` because to do so `might cause offence`. `Mankind` and `Sportsmanship` are also off limits. It is suggested unkindly that those who have issued the order might just be trying to solve a problem that does not exist!

A headache for the British Library. Many of the 210 items in its `treasures collection `, which includes a Shakespeare First Folio,  fall under the categories of `taken, captured, seized or looted` but the edition of Chaucer`s Canterbury Tales written between 1387 and 1400 poses another problem. It comes from the Harley family collection and the eighteenth century businessman Robert Harley was involved in the South Sea Company which of course made a bob or two out of the slave trade. What to do? Burn the Chaucer? There`s another story in there somewhere.

It transpires that the elite that have access to Prime Minister Johnson`s private phone number includes – everyone! The closely guarded secret has been published on a website for all to access since his Mayor of London days fifteen years ago and in spite of repeated warnings from security advisers he has never removed it or changed his phone. And to think that some people were paying good money in party political donations in return for access!

Sir Keir Starmer, not to be outdone, managed to get himself thrown out of a pub while on the campaign trail. I have a golden rule myself: never try to campaign in public houses and if you do go near one take off your rosette and  make sure that you have the landlord`s blessing before even trying to buy a drink. Starmer  had clearly not prepared the ground or was very badly let down by the `minders` that I assume that he has. Mine Host of The Raven in Bath`s Queen Street, one Rod Humphris, was not amused by the attempt by a man that he described as “the failed Leader of the Opposition” to make party-political use of his hostelry and said so in fairly basic English. The resulting television footage did not exactly enhance the Labour party`s campaign message.

Having spent sizeable sums of taxpayers` money on creating a `West Wing` style media suite in Downing Street so that Press Secretary Allegra Stratton could hold regular US-Style briefings  the plan has now been dropped and Ms. Stratton has been despatched to handle the media work on a COP 26 conference that may never materialise – which is the hack`s equivalent of being sent to Siberia.

The House of Lords Commissioner for Standards, Ms Lucy Scott Moncrieff, is seeking to haul Baroness Boothroyd over the coals for not attending a sexual harassment training course run by some rather expensive `consultants` for the Houses of Parliament.  Betty Boothroyd, as she is better known , was a `Tiller Girl` before she embarked upon her political career. The ninety-one year old former Speaker of the House of Commons , meticulously courteous, wise and a staunch campaigner for women`s rights, probably knows more about sexual harassment than her young would-be instructors will ever be allowed to learn. She is also out of London and recovering from Open Heart surgery which might account for her lack of availability for the “Valuing everyone” tuition.

Meanwhile, with the sad departure of Prince Philip there are now only two members of the Royal family entitled to m dish out warrants: Her Maj and Prince Charles. Now that really is an exclusive club.

And The England and Wales Cricket Board, seemingly knowing no boundaries when it comes to finding ways to dumb down the Summer Game is introducing a tournament called `The Hundred` based upon a hundred balls an innings. As part of this package and to appeal to those who do not know and probably do not wish to know anything about the game `wickets` (taken) are to be referred to as `outs` and  `batsmen` are to be referred to as `batters`. You can work out for yourselves how the ECWB is going to translate `bowling a maiden over` and `a straight bat` into woke-speak. I simply want to know how they propose to refer to balls.

Valete
Dame Cheryl Gillan (68) was the sitting Member of Parliament for Chesham and Amersham, the seat that she first won in 1992.  She served as Secretary of State for Wales in David Cameron`s coalition government and established herself as a fierce parliamentary opponent of the HS2 rail project. She became an active Member of the UK delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that I had the privilege to lead and at the time of her death was the President of its powerful Political Affairs Committee. She was appointed a DBE in 2018. Cheryl  was known and loved across the House for her winning smile and a very dirty laugh. She was also a dear personal  friend . There was nothing like that Dame.

 G.Gordon Liddy (90) was the `brains` behind the team from President  Nixon`s White House that broke into the Democratic Party national headquarters in Washington in 1972 and precipitated what became known as the “Watergate” Affair that finally brought Richard Nixon down. Prior to Watergate he had been the `inspiration` behind various hare-brained political initiatives, up to and including the suggested kidnapping or assassination of opponents,  The `Campaign to re-elect the President (`CREEP`) members, caught and arrested while still in the Watergate building were tried and convicted of burglary and illegal wire-tapping and set off a trail that ultimately led to the Oval Office and, in August of 1974, the first-ever resignation of a President of the United States. Liddy`s 20-year custodial sentence was commuted by Democratic President Jimmy Carter and he subsequently became a feature of the after dinner speech and lecture circuit and a talk-show host.

Doreen Lofthouse (91) was the Lancashire shop girl who transformed a lozege invented by a pharmacist to treat Fleetwood trawlermen`s coughs and colds into the internationally best-selling brand “The Fisherman`s Friend”. The lozenge was first created in 1865 as a liquid and it was not until the 1960s that Doreen Cowell married the youngest son of the Lofthouse chemist`s shop  and by the end of the decade had persuaded the family firm to invest in production facilities to serve the Yorkshire `export market`. By the 1970s she was selling into Norway and by the 1990s the Germans were buying millions of packets every year. At the end of the decade the firm was producing 40 tonnes a day, had a turnover in excess of £25 million a year and was being sold in 120 countries worldwide. She won her first Queen`s Award for export achievement in 1983 and was awarded the OBE for charity work in 2008.

Jane Manning 982) was the soprano with the extraordinary range who formed `Jane`s Minstrels` in 1989 and taught at London`s  Guildhall School of Music and Drama ( my own Alma Mater) and at Dartington in Devon. She was awarded her OBE in 1990.

Derek Ufton(92) was the oldest surviving footballing international and one of the last of the `dual-discipline` sportsmen wo played professional soccer (the Winter game) for Charlton Athletic and cricket (the Summer game) for Kent County Cricket Club. He was taught PE at Dartford Grammar School by Joe Jagger, Mick`s father.  He used to say that his main claim to fame was that Mick Jagger asked him for his autograph before he asked Mick for his. He scored nearly four thousand runs for Kent . Derek was the national Chairman of the Lord`s Taverners  and became the KCCC President in 2001.

Anne, Lady Jaffray (101) was one of Bletchley Park`s `wartime team of debutantes.`  At the outbreak of war she was employed by the Ministry of Information to monitor the broadcasts of foreign journalists  to make sure that they stayed `on message` before, as a fluent German speaker, transferring to Bletchley Park in April 1940 to work in the `Hut 3` decoding centre. Lady Jaffray served as an nindependent Hampshire County Councillor and was a supporter of the Women`s Institute and the Royal British Legion.  Received into the Catholic Church in the 1980s and became a Dame of Grace of the Order of Malta.

Peter Ainsworth (64) was elected as the Member of Parliament for East Surrey in 1992 when he was selected to succeed Sir Geoffrey Howe,  and served until he retired from the House in 2010. Peter was a committed environmentalist whose maiden speech embraced the damage done to the countryside by the M25 Outer London orbital motorway. In 1993c he was named as Campaigning Politician of the Year for his opposition to the widening of the motorway around the approaches to London Heathrow Airportr.  In the House he was known as kind, gentle and highly amusing. He was appointed as a Whip in John Major`s administration  Leaving David Cameron`s Shadow Cabinet as a result of differences of opinion with some of Cameron`s staff and subsequently standing down from Parliament he became Chairman of the Big Lottery Fund, the Heritage Alliance and the Churches Conservation Trust.

Baroness (Shirley) Williams of Crosby (90) was one of the “Gang of Four” that left the Labour Party in to launch the SDP in March 1981. She was elected as the Member of Parliament for Hitchin in 1964 and was appointed as Minister of State for Education by Prime Minister Harold Wilson in 1967,  a post in which she commenced the abolition of the Grammar School.  (A task that was completed by one Margaret Thatcher!)  Elected for the new Hertford and Hitchin seat in 1974 she was promoted to Wilson`s Cabinet as Secretary of State for Prices and Consumer Protection. With Wilson`s retirement in 1976  James Callaghan, as Prime Minister, made her his Paymaster General and subsequently Secretary of State for Education. She lost her seat in the 1979 General Election and with Labour veering to the left under the leadership of Michael Foot she joined with Roy Jenkins, David  Owen and Bill Rodgers she formed the Council for Social Democracy and then a new party, the SDP, in alliance with the Liberal Party. She fought and won Crosby, in Lancashire as the SDPs first elected MP but lost again at the General Election of 1983. She was made a Life Peer as a Liberal Democrat in 1993 and became Liberal Democrat Leader in the Lords in 2001.

Ronald `Trader` Faulkner (93) was the Australian actor who was directed by Sir John Gielgud, and worked with Laurence Olivier and fellow Australian  Peter Finch. He moved to London in 1950 and lived on a houseboat in Chelsea and enjoyed a stage career as a Shakespearean actor  and as a film and television star . He was also a playwright and aficionado of flamenco dancing and towards the end of his career wrote for The Oldie and the Daily Telegraph.

Helen McCrory (52) succumbed to cancer at the height of a successful career as a stage, screen and television actress.In 2005 she was nominated for an Olivier Award for ger performance as Rosalind in ‘ As You Like It’ in the West End: she appeared as Anna Jarenina for the Channel 4 television production and she played Cerie Blair in the film  The Queen in 2006. On television she bece best known as Aunt Polly in five series of the BBC’s ‘Peaky Blinders’ productions and will also be remembered as Narcissa Malfoy in the lateer ‘ Harry Potter’ films.She was awarded her OBE for services to drama in 2017.

Walter Mondale ( 93) was Jimmy Carter’s Vice President for four years and in 1984 threw his hat into the Presidential ring himself only to be thrashed at the polls by Ronald Reagan. The polirician whose catchphrase was “where’s the beef”? became one if the great cliches of US politics was appointed to the Senate when Hubert Humphrey resigned hisMinnesota seat in 1964 and went on to win the seat in hus own right in 1966 through to 1972. He served as Bill Clinton’s Ambassador to Japan .

Les McKeown (65) was the lead singer of the 1970s Scottish `boy band`, the Bay City Rollers. “Rollermania” was, fleetingly, the tartan-clad sensation of the decade with hit records including the less than memorable “Bye Bye Baby” and “Sha La La La”. Their debut album made No 1 in 1974. The band, a skilful marketing exercise that paved the way for the 80s `girl bands` had broken up by the end of 1978 and gone on to pursue solo careers with varying degrees of success.

Tempest Storm (93) was known as the Las Vegas “Queen of Burlesque” who began her tease-dance career in the 1950s and was still performing into her own eighties. The highest paid dancer in the United States is said to have had affairs with Elvis Presley and Jack Kennedy and it is alleged that her natural 40” bust was insured with Lloyds for a million dollars. She  managed to get herself arrested on several occasions for nudity and topless dancing, facing charges that enhanced her reputation and her publicity. She was born in 1928, a  Leap Year on February 29th, Leap Day. One small leap for man………

Michael Collins ((90) was the pilot of the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing expedition. Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are remembered as the first men on the moon while the Spacecraft Columbia wit Collins at the helm orbited the moon thirty times while his colleagues engaged in their two and a half hour moonwalk. The moonlander Eagle docked safely with the Columbia which splashed down in the pacific after 195 hours on the round-trip. Without Collins his better-known colleagues could not have returned to earth. He retired from the space programme and became the Director of the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and was the author of the children`s book “Flying to the moon and other strange places”. He was the recipient of the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, The Distinguished Flying Cross, the Congressional Gold Medal and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hywel Francis (74) was the historian who commenced his political career as a member of the Communist Party but became the Labour Member of Parliament for Aberavon in Wales from 2001 to 20015.He was the Chairman of the Welsh Affairs select Committee and was Vice-President of Carers UK.

 And finally...
The 2021 Oxford and Cambridge boat race was this year held not on the River Thames but on the Great Ouse near the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire to avoid attracting crowds to the towpath in London. Oxford were tipped as favourites but in the event both the mens and womens races were stolen comfortably by Cambridge.

And Rachel Blackmore, fresh from a triumphant week at the Cheltenham races where she rode six winners has become the first woman jockey to win the Grand National steeplechase at Aintree. A candidate for the BBC Sportsman of the Year trophy surely?

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