Uncork the Gauke: Could the Tories go for another grey man to lead the party – like John Major

david gauke gov uk

David Gauke: potential leader? pic credit; Gov uk

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August is the time of the year when lobby journalists love to speculate on leadership plots. If Jeremy Corbyn had done really badly in the June general election – it would be all about who is going to succeed him. But as it is Theresa May who lost her majority and authority – the speculation is all about who will replace her – even though she is at the moment determined there will be no vacancy. So I thought I would add my pennyworth.

The last Tory PM to be deposed in office was Margaret Thatcher in 1990 and she was at that point even more unpopular than Theresa is now. Her disaster was the poll tax – which was quickly replaced by the present council tax – after she stood down.

People forget that at the time John Major was the least known of the candidates who stood to be leader and PM.

Just as now the leadership favourites were big beasts –  the two top runners were Michael Heseltine – who had resigned over a row over the  fixing of an order for a new generation of helicopters in what became the Westland affair – and Douglas Hurd, a well known big Tory beast and foreign secretary. Both are now peers.

Heseltine was at the time a bit of blonde bombshell – unpredictable and strident. Nicknamed ” Tarzan ” because- though he denies it – he was accused of swinging the Parliamentary mace in protest against Labour. Definitely regarded as leadership material – he had shades of Boris Johnson in his leadership claims for today.

While Hurd was seen as more thoughtful – just like Michael Gove who prides himself as a radical thinker – sees himself today.

But both these big beasts were trounced by the ” grey man ” – the relatively unknown John Major.

Today there is another relatively unknown man – a John Major for the 21st century. He is David Gauke. In the Westminster bubble he is known by the phrase ” Uncork the Gauke ” for  his ability to smoothe over gaffes made by his then boss George Osborne in successive budgets. He is a safe pair of hands to send to Westminster and handle Opposition anger over ministerial mistakes.

He was first out of the traps to address the Westminster  press gallery lunches this month – and came to put himself over as an agreeable lunch companion with a store of self deprecating jokes. He is also benefiting from Theresa May’s decision to promote him to Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, presumably thinking like Thatcher about Major that he is no leadership challenger.

But don’t be fooled by his manner. At the heart of the man is a determination to continue the Conservative austerity programme. He was careful only to park plans to end the ” triple lock” on pensions and a new charging system for social care. He has since taken the decision to raise much earlier the pension age to 68 – something that was not in the Tory manifesto.

He also showed little real concern that benefit claimants had committed suicide as a result of  tough decisions. He came out in favour of means testing and to a question from me that his ministry was turning into the Department of Corporate Manslaughter – ignored the point – saying  lamely that there might be mistakes by staff.  There is a lot of difference between a  mistake and a suicide.

A lot is at  stake at the next general election – and Jeremy Corbyn has no longer that element of surprise that he is supposed to be a ” no hoper”  to become PM. So expect the unexpected from the Tories – they will devise new ways to stay in power and an unexpected figure emerging as their leader could be one of them.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How Leon Brittan lost his job as home secretary – Charles Moore’s fascinating account 30 years on

Leon Brittan when he was EU commisisoner in late 1980s

Leon Brittan when he was EU commissioner in late 1980s

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While the  Met police continue to investigate  now into whether top figures were involved in a Westminster paedophile ring in the 1980s a fascinating account of the beginning of the fall of Leon Brittan in British politics has appeared in the second volume of Charles Moore’s authorised biography of Lady Thatcher. Amid all the rows over the miner’s strike, Westland and Europe, are three pages describing the events that led effectively to the demotion of Leon Brittan and how rumours of child sex abuse reached the ears of Lord Armstrong, the Cabinet Secretary, and Lady Thatcher herself.

They explain probably why even today there is controversy over Leon Brittan – such as the recent row over Tom Watson’s intervention over whether the Met Police should have quizzed him over an alleged rape. It also explains why they are still today disputes between those like David Aaronovitch and Dominic Lawson who say he has been unfairly maligned for years and those who are convinced that he was involved in hidden sexual activities.

Charles Moore- who is meticulous in researching every fact  from Thatcher’s private papers – reveals that Leon Brittan – was heading for the chop as home secretary  in the September 1985 reshuffle. He is described as ” the weakest link.”

His book – Everything She Wants – shows that without any rumours Brittan had no Parliamentary following,was seen as a bad TV performer, and even suffered from anti-Semitism from some Tory backbenchers.

He writes: ” He also suffered from rumours that, though married,he was homosexual and even that he had been a child abuser (too often in those days the two were conflated in the minds of man). No one produced actual evidence for either accusation.”

Opinion in the press and government was divided. Michael Jopling, a former chief whip,said: ” I never heard a whisper about Leon at the time”. Sir Bernard Ingham, her press secretary said: ” He always seemed as quaint as a coot to me”- but he had no evidence.

However The Mail on Sunday – contrary to  the view of the Mail today – took a different line and all this is reported to Thatcher by Lord Armstrong.

Jonathan Holborrow, an associate editor of the paper, had met Richard Ryder now Lord Ryder, then a junior figure in the Treasury and according to Ryder told him the paper was ” on a very good thing” about Leon Brittan’s private life.

According to Charles Moore though the memos did not spell it out ” they seem to have involved accusations of child sex abuse, including an alleged relationship with a boy in his early teens said to live in Brittan’s constituency”.

He goes on; ” Its sources was a reliable one, Holborrow said, but ” their investigations had run into the sand, and they really had no usable evidence.”

An attempt was made to say Michael Bettany, an MI5 officer caught trying to spy for the Russian in 1984, had got wind of this and had tried to use for blackmail. But this was knocked down by MI5 who said Bettaney had said no such thing.

The book  reveals that Thatcher did not believe the allegations but did believe that they were troublesome for a home secretary responsible for MI5.

But whatever the truth the knives were out for Brittan. John Wakeham, the chief whip, thought Brittan had been ” promoted a bit high and too quick” and ” wasn’t up to the job.”. And Brittan was moved to the Department of Trade and Industry – a post that he regarded as a demotion in the ” pecking order”. He was later to leave altogether to become a trade and industry commissioner at the European Commission.

All this is worth noting because of a sense of deja vu – even after his death. He again faces similar accusations – though this time it is part of a  full scale police investigation into other figures – and again there is a ”  reliable ” source -a survivor of abuse who came forward.

The outcome is still not known – but the divisions about whether Brittan was involved in such unsavoury activities is as strong as it was 30 years ago.

Thatcher Cabinet stifled Kincora child sex abuse inquiry 30 years ago

Lord Prior; pic  courtesy of uk.parliament

Lord Prior; pic courtesy of uk.parliament

Jim Prior,now Lord Prior. blocked the opportunity for a full-scale public inquiry into the notorious Kincora child abuse scandal, Cabinet minutes released under the 30 year rule revealed today.

The minutes of the Cabinet meeting (see http://bit.ly/19zxFqT ) reveal on 10 November 1983 Jim Prior, then Northern Ireland Secretary, proposed not to have a full Tribunal of Inquiry – the same mechanism, used to investigate  the Bloody Sunday atrocities, the North Wales child abuse scandal and the Dunblane massacre.
The minutes reveal the Cabinet – who included the now all ennobled Leon Brittan, then home secretary, Michael Heseltine,defence secretary and Norman Fowler, social services secretary, bought the Royal Ulster Constabulary line that there was nothing in it. He said he was being “pressed to hold an inquiry under the Tribunals of Inquiry”. But he didn’t believe Parliament would buy it.
But he said two police investigations had discovered nothing and no further criminal charges were likely.
Instead he proposed to hold a much lesser inquiry, which he did later, to, as he put it “to halt further spread of rumour and unfounded allegations.”
This particular Cabinet minute now looks sick in view of the decision of the Police Service in Northern Ireland to re-open an investigation into the historic allegations at the children’s home where children were sexually abused in the 1970s and early 1980s. As Fiona O’Cleirigh reported on Exaro News the scandal will now be re-opened.
The question is were Thatcher’s Cabinet in 1983 hopelessly naive or were they covering up something they did not want to be ruthlessly exposed in the public domain.

Q:Who’s afraid of the big bad Fox? A:The Charity Commission

Liam Fox:Back in the News Pic courtesy:Metro

So Liam Fox is back from the political dead after having to quit as defence secretary.  How interesting! It comes after a little noticed report  from the Charity Commission into the affairs of  his doomed charity, Atlantic Bridge.  Conveniently it closes down any further investigation into his dubious past.

Remember this was the charity that promoted the Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan view of Anglo-American relations and gave a Margaret Thatcher Freedom medal to Henry Kissinger.

 The Charity Commission would never have looked at it if it had not been the persistence of Stephen Newton the Labour blogger who lodged a complaint. The charity run by Mr Fox and his best man, former special adviser,Adam Werrity ( remember him too?) was found not to be a charity, not have charitable purposes and was also operating in breach of Parliamentary rules from Liam’s office in the House of Commons.You might have thought after the furore  over the Smith Institute which was dragged through a formal inquiry for being too close to Gordon Brown,you would get  a devastating critique from them. You’d be wrong.

The report reveals that because it was a faux charity – HM Revenue and Customs demanded that some £50,000 in back tax, which according to the Financial Times, was paid by Tory donor.billionaire City trader Michael Hintze. See http://on.ft.com/N5zxqS as part of a £53,478 loan to the charity from his hedge fund company CQS.

However the Charity Commission did not believe any of the trustees or for that matter their advisory board were culpable so it could not recover the money from them. As the report says: “in taking such proceedings it would need to be clear that the trustees were sufficiently culpable in law to make good the loss and the proceedings were in the public interest.”

It added that there was ” no evidence the trustees acted in  bad faith” and “no compelling evidence of deliberate wrongdoing.” It accepted the evidence from the trustees that they just thought they were acting lawfully and its was perfectly proper to set up a charity to pursue the political objectives of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan.

Of course it could just be that  Professor Patrick Minford of Conservative Way Forward, Lord Astor of Hever, a hereditary Tory peer, and the lobbyist Andrew Dunlop a former advisor to Margaret Thatcher, were a load of naive gits who didn’t have a clue how a charity works or an inkling of charity law. And of course their board of advisers was not stuffed with clever worldly political activists – it  was only composed of William Hague, George Osborne and Michael Gove.

And Liam Fox is so innocent he seems to have forgotten to declare some other US lobbying appointment in his ministerial interests, according to revelations in today’s Political Scrapbook.http://politicalscrapbook.net/

Curiously Dame Suzi Leather . chair of the Charity Commission, could have referred the matter up to Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, to rule on whether there was a case to answer. But conveniently for  Dominic he was not placed in such an embarrassing position.

Of course it was different for the Smith Institute – everybody knows that Gordon Brown and Ed Balls  were  through Wilf Stevenson (now Lord) manipulating charity law and unlike Liam Fox had to be taken to task in much stronger terms. 

Job not well done, Dame Suzi. But I am sure you will be up for peerage as soon as your appointment ends, as a thank you for saving the present Establishment a lot of angst.

Praise be Pickles: Pity about your party activists

eric pickles- the bloggers friend; Pic courtesy cyclingsilk.com

 

Lynne Hillan- Barnet Tory leader- Queen Canute rather than Iron Lady. Pic courtesy: Barnet Times

Normally I don’t approve of the judgements of Eric Pickles, the  communities secretary, the man Westminster jokes is so much larger than life that he can be spotted on Google Earth. However in a  blog for Conservative Home last week http://bit.ly/i1cKAV the scourge of local government  bureaucrats penned an article backing the idea that councils should open the doors to bloggers and citizen journalists who should be able to tweet and film  to their heart’s content. He of course cited outrageous Labour councils who had banned this. He also praised the work of Maidenhead and Windsor council .

 He wrote: ” Conservative-run Windsor and Maidenhead recently decided to allow members of the public to video local meetings. This week, I wrote to councils encouraging them to follow suit, opening up public discussions to all forms of multimedia. Citizen journalists have as much right as anyone to attend and to share their views, and council ‘monitoring officers’ shouldn’t hide behind bogus concerns about ‘data protection’ or ‘human rights’.

He goes on to describe this new freedom right back to the Blessed Margaret Thatcher who introduced the right  of the press and public to attend council meeting way back in 1960.Isn’t it then doubly ironic that tomorrow night (March 1) Barnet Council, whose citizens returned the former Tory leader to Westminster, should be doing the very thing that Eric Pickles deplores.

 This Tory controlled council has banned videos by the public of the public council meeting saying it is ” against the council’s constitution” and I am told people can be ejected if they are caught tweeting , even though councillors are free to do so.

Indeed bloggers are not welcome at all. Lynne Hillan, leader of the council,  told the Barnet Times:

“The only thing we will do is consider responsible media requests, and they are the only thing we would allow at this stage. If we had a request I would expect an officer to approach me about it. I do not think we would consider a request from bloggers . Only respectable media would be considered.”

This dinosaur attitude from a Queen Canute  is breathtaking. Her ignorance about how the modern world works is absurd. Presumably her next step as Barnet leader will be to table a motion condemning Lady Thatcher for allowing the public by law to attend council meetings.

The best riposte to her comes from the mouth of Eric Pickles himself. ” When councils make these sorts of petty decisions, at best they look foolish and out of touch; at worst they look like they have something to hide.”

 Need I say more. You can. E-mail her with your views at leader@barnet.gov.uk or phone her direct on 0208 359 2059. Her fax is: 020 889 7464.

Update: Barnet kept its word in blocking bloggers and filming at the council last night by employing some rather heavy looking security guards to limit who could get a seat to hear the council introduce cuts and higher parking. According to Mrs Angry, a blogger who did get in, they appeared to be able to overrule local police officers. See her report and pix of  the heavy bouncers employed by the Tory council on her blog at http://bit.ly/i13ngn