We are now being told by the opinion pollsters that Theresa has lost most of her huge lead and Jeremy Corbin is only five points behind. Since the start of May the Liberals have stayed around 9% and UKIP have sunk to 4% from about the same as the Liberals. The Conservatives have fallen from 49% on the 17 May to 43% on the 30 May. Labour has risen from 28% at the start of May to 38% on the 30 May. That implies that eight to nine million people have switched from the Conservatives to a Labour Party led by a bunch of salon revolutionaires.
I don't buy it. British voters are creatures of habit. They simply don't change their minds that fast. If I am wrong, start baking the humble pie. More likely the pollsters are wrong again. On election day 2015 they put Labour neck and neck with the Conservatives. The latter won with a 7% swing to the Conservatives.
CONFESSIONS OF A HUMBLE PIE EATER
I am now eating a huge dollop of humble pie. Why did I, like most of the opinion pollsters, get the election so wrong? Well, first of all Theresa mostly listened to her two personal political advisers - dangerous when she doesn't listen to others - and perhaps why she didn't let Cabinet colleagues loose on the media. Her USP is being a solid citizen, somebody just like us. She has a very good team, all are normal people who are solid citizens. She hardly used them. Her two advisers were even supplying the media with hostile leaks about the Chancellor, a steady pair of hands on the economy, thus a pretty stupid move during a crucial general election over the future of the country and economy.
All that didn't matter until her two advisers persuaded her to launch a plan to make house owners responsible for a chunk of their care in old age. This was immediately labelled as the dementia tax. Never mind that most people end up selling the family home to pay for their parents comfort and care. My brother, sister and I did it without a second thought. We were more concerned about whether the investments would bring in enough income. Now, the Tory party since centuries has been the voice of people who run businesses, who save, who buy houses, who fend for themselves. Mrs May and her two SPADs - special political advisers - a creepy crawly species found in the Westminster undergrowth - decided to launch a full scale attack on these supporters by suggesting that they would have to pay for their old age with the equity in their homes. This came across as an inheritance tax when the body is still alive. Most of us do sell the house already so we don't want the state involved to make a bad situation worse.
Then came the terrorist attacks in Manchester and London, where children and young people had been viciously attacked. Only weeks before a would-be Muslim martyr had murdered people on Westminster Bridge by driving on the pavement. He was shot in the entrance to the House of Commons by the Defence Secretary's armed guards.
As the Home Secretary for the last six years Mrs May cannot escape responsibility for cutting police numbers. Nor can she escape the failure to install even modest security measures such as barricades on the London bridges after the Westminster Bridge attack.
Well, the troops have mutinied, her political advisers have resigned. This is a good moment for British politics. Cameron, Osborne, May's advisers, were all self promoted experts; none had been elected before reaching positions of influence. My hunch is that we are watching the extinction of the SPAD - special political adviser - and experiencing the rebirth of real people.
The Conservative election HQ, led by those same two advisers, made many mistakes. They declared a winning post - if I lose six seats I've lost. They didn't involve local MPs, nor the Cabinet until panic took over during the final week. They failed to stick to a single, simple message - we're the best team to negotiate Brexit. All the media anguish about the election fades into insignificance beside this simple fact. Theresa was the last herald of the remainers. She will cling on but it will take only a disagreement over Brexit to bring about her topple from power. That won't be long in coming. She's replaced her advisers with another member of the remain camp. The EC's fifth column are already demanding another referendum while claiming that the first one was merely advisory. That's not what came out of the mouth of David Cameron.
Although Corbin talks as though he won the election, in fact Theresa May won over a million more votes than Labour, more than the number that gave Tony Blair a landslide in 1997. Where she failed, because it was her versus Corbin rather than Conservatives versus Labour, was repeating the same clichés until the voters felt their brains were being insulted. Momentum, the hard left Corbin fan club, were much better at exploiting the social media than the expensive American team used by Mrs May. There are questions still not answered about some tranches of messages. How much overseas management played a part in the three Muslim terror outrages? Of course the young were going to vote for free university education but it was Mrs May's U turn over paying for old age care that sowed distrust in the minds of many UKIP supporters and made them vote Labour. Even so, many educated young people bought the Labour line, don't worry, Jeremy won't win, just vote for your nice local MP.
The lesson for the next Tory leader is that modern young - which seems to be anyone under forty - don't learn from anything. There's also a question now over whether university students should vote in their home towns rather than inflict Labour MPs on the local populations of towns that vote for Conservatives or Liberals. Why should temporary residents have such a big say?
My hunch is that Boris, David Davies or Phillip Hammond will become Prime Minister by Christmas. Hammond is for a soft Brexit. That will give all the snags of EC membership but none of the advantages of leaving. Hammond is a good money man, he should stay in charge of the finances. Somebody who believes in quitting the EC entirely is needed and that means Boris Johnson or David Davies.
My conversations with diplomats from EC member countries is that they regard Boris as the toughest person to face, he has a track record going back years of exposing EC waste and corruption. Boris has been very supportive of Mrs May and warned his fellow MPs not to fall for the media's ( code for BBC and their sister outlet The Guardian ) mischief making and not to do Corbin's job for him. The voters are sick of elections, they don't want another one, get behind Theresa May - she scored more votes than Margaret Thatcher.
Mrs May doesn't help. She suddenly promoted Damian Green, another prominent remainer, effectively to deputy prime minister, which is really Phillip Hammond's job thus an interesting insight into his attitude towards the EC. She's beginning to look more like somebody saving her face and job rather than putting the country first and working with people she doesn't always agree with.
MORE PIE, LESS HUMBLE
Let's face it, the self-proclaimed winner, Corbin, follows the KGB dezinformazia text book. Deploy the half-truth with the lies to back it up. Corbin lost though gained one more seat than Michael Foote in a previous disaster. His chirpy mood is because that single seat saved him from the sack.
Theresa May is pulling together a workable coalition with the Scots and Northern Irish and she should present it as exactly that. Ruth Davidson's fourteen Scottish Tory MPs have more influence over the next five years than the remaining thirty plus Scottish Nationalists. There is plenty of room for deals. Scotland's fishing fleets want the UK to reclaim its power to license fishing in our exclusive economic zone - under the UN Law of the Sea Convention all coastal states may claim the waters and sea bed out to two hundred miles from their shores. Our fishermen down in Sussex want exactly the same. Why let the French, Danes and Spanish catch all our fish?
In exchange the Scots may have give way on the single market and customs union. The UK only benefits from quitting the EC by leaving entirely. My hunch is that EC will make sure of that, judging from their hostility and over-confidence - their negotiators sound like the French nobles before they were wiped out at Crecy and then repeated the experience nearly seventy years later at Agincourt.
The Northern Irish are being painted as the political wing of the Protestant paramilitaries. They are not. They want a complete break with the EC but an open border. That's not impossible. Our worry is a new illegal immigration route, for Calais read Cork, but the Irish don't want that either. We should simply resume the common travel area which has existed since home rule and long before. The UK should not have customs controls at the border. The Irish may have to stand their ground with Brussels who may try to impose customs controls. The simple fact is that we and the Irish want the same result.
Mrs May should ignore all the remain fifth column. Look at the general election votes. UKIP voted Conservative. She won their trust. Cameron, Osborne, Heseltine would send them all rushing back to Nigel Farage. If Dave, George and Heseltine were so clever, they would have negotiated a good deal with the EC and won the referendum. They didn't. They lost.
As others have pointed out, if the EC really wanted us, they would offer a welcome carpet, not bills and threats.
The leaders and Sherpas of the EC have a vision - a super state that stands apart from the Anglo-Saxons ( that's us with the yanks and the Commonwealth ) and makes a deal with Russia which protects their energy supplies and safeguards all those car factories and other investments made in Russia. In other words, they just want to keep their winnings. What becomes of the unemployed youth of Southern Europe is not their problem. Nor is the freedom of the Scandinavians, Baltic States and Poland. These countries may decide to stick with NATO.
After an evening in the lovely gardens of the Luxembourg ambassador in Switzerland that was swimming in diplomats I may have to take Poland off that list. One lady from Poland thought that Britain and Switzerland wanted to stay out of the EC because we had no experience of war. Never mind her country's history. This is the EC myth that Brussels and not NATO has defended Europe and kept the peace. After a very pleasant evening my wife ( who is Swiss ) and I came away with the firm impression that the EC is not serious about the Brexit negotiations. The EC wants to humiliate the British people and then persuade them to vote for Corbin's Marxist Labour ( whom they are lobbying to double cross the voters and opt to stay in the EC ) because they will not allow Britain to leave the EC. We are back to the 1930s, the Rhineland, Sudetenland, Munich. No wonder so many of our Swiss friends worry about the lack of democracy within the EC. Their parents and grandparents remember the same fear during the 1930s only escaped when the RAF fighter pilots shot down the invincible Luftwaffe in droves.
We explained politely that 80% of British voters wanted to leave the EC and if the EC keep up their campaign, soon we'll reach 100% of British voters who want to leave the EC!
LOOK WHO'S NEXT
Which Donald will take over the White House? All three? Lots more?
The Manchurian candidate?
Both still there!
For about forty years British diplomats including two recent ambassadors to Washington have preached that the special relationship is a myth.
HOLY SMOKE, TOMAHAWK SMOKE
Donald surprised us all - he made his rebellious streak a virtue. I may be wrong but I doubt it, and suspect that plan three was to take out every Syrian airfield while the USA had complete surprise. Instead the US Navy took out bits of one airfield after giving the Russians - and thereby the Syrians - about ninety minutes warning. The next question is why didn't the Syrians make any attempt to shoot down the sixty cruise missiles coming in from the sea. I would love to listen to the voice traffic recordings made by the experts on Cyprus. Because if the Russians' latest surface to air area defences were proven to be, in fact, defenceless, then the message was more for Vlad than Assad.
Now, of course, the Russians will get in mad sweat to try and catch up but the warning is still written in the soft night sky over that sad land - don't mess with Uncle Sam, anywhere, we might come back without phoning first and armed with tactical nukes.
That's what I call deterrence and Donald passed the test.
Tubby Kim is tricky but less so than the ghastly Assad and pig-headed Putin. The Chinese may find him useful as part of their ring of pearls but he's become a liability they can no longer afford. He may be crafty but he's as stupid as a spoilt teenager. The simplest way to close down his government is for the Chinese to cross the Yalu River and provide some ' civil order ' by removing young Master Kim and his entire court. Obviously, that would give Beijing a splitting headache for months which they would rather do without. Equally they don't want Donald rocketing and bombing at leisure as though the Kim's famous wartime Chinese ally had changed sides.
The South Koreans are the most directly effected and will know which solution they would prefer. My hunch is that South Korea might find a Chinese police operation in North Korea a lot less scary that Donald trying to destroy Tubby Kim's nuclear programme from the air. Further, China might protest much less about a surgical removal of Tubby Kim's submarine base. I'm sure that an imaginative solution is possible if the USA and China keep working in tandem.
One day the whole North Korean state will implode and the South Koreans and Chinese will have to work together as NATO did with Russia over East Germany.
With Donald it's never a dull moment but somebody should supply him with political pampers. As a former Director of British Information Services in North America either his press spokesman should go on a crash course or make way for somebody smarter and tougher. Press chiefs play an important role in most decisions and often have to over-rule their boss. Trump has to learn to do as he is ' advised ' and the childish claim that Britain's GCHQ tapped his phone followed by an apology from his National Security Adviser followed by Trump repeating the accusation leaves the President looking foolish. Some of us remember the time when people working at GCHQ couldn't tell their family what they did all day.
The Russian connection won't go away and Trump would do better to get it over with and answer the questions. Stop making dumb accusations that give Theresa May unnecessary work when she's busy swatting wasps such as Osborne and Sturgeon.
He should also stop watching so much rubbish on TV. I don't know how he has the time to sit in front of the goggle box. He reminds me of the day a pal who was an aid to Jimmy Carter sat down white faced in my office. I asked what troubled him. There had been a dispute over playing on the White House tennis court and the President had sorted out the squabble by drawing up a new roster. This, on a busy morning with about about three crises on the boil.
Donald's words on the ' Greater Commonwealth ' and the economy and trade are very much in line with my own ideas. Stop saying things that devalue the good ideas of which there are quite a few. The NATO allies should spend more on defence. Britain should repair the damage done to the Royal Navy and the RAF by Blair and Cameron.
London suffered a terrorist attack this week and questions will be asked. The security at the side gate to Parliament had been relaxed at the request of its Members and the Police and Security Service are monitoring five-hundred potential threats involving four thousand potential suspects every day. More people and money are on the way but Adrian Elms alias whatever he called himself, managed to murder and maim holiday makers and a policeman. Our sympathies go to the victims.
One day the government will get the message and stop reducing police budgets. The same principal applies to a navy with only a quarter of the ships it needs and an air force with a third of the aircraft it needs.
I watched parts of the Article 50 debates in the House of Commons and House of Lords. My view was that it would go through the Commons but face obstruction and attempts to delay particularly from the Liberals in the House of Lords. It did.
For once the Commons debate was better than the Lords - usually it's the reverse - and despite an attempt to amend the simple bill allowing the Government to trigger Article 50, the votes in favour were overwhelming. The Commons had the common sense to know that defying the peoples' vote to leave the EC would create a serious political crisis.
The Government has the power to over-rule the Lords - the latter may amend legislation but cannot reject legislation. There is a group of former senior diplomats from the Foreign Office who really believe that our country is in permanent decline and needs Auntie EC to nurse us along. Some of the claims of dear old John Kerr ( whom I find delightful company) which he presented as FACTS in a high pitched voice, were absolute nonsense. To quote only one - trade halves with distance. After hearing this pearl I looked up his career and discovered that he had never had a commercial posting, economic yes but that's not the same as the coal face.
With the help of the BBC and ITN we persuaded so many British companies to get on a plane and fly 10,000 miles to South Korea that over three years from 1986 to 1989 British exports doubled. We were helped by a visit from Margaret Thatcher in 1985 and an Olympic Games in 1988 but we didn't waste the moments.
And the reason has not changed in three thousand years. Mile for mile Germany and France have no advantage over us in distant markets. That's why the Dutch and the English built their empires around sea trade as did Venice and before them the Greeks in the known world of their times. China can sell a pair of jeans to Europe or the USA because sending them on a container ship adds 50 pence to the wholesale price. You can apply this principle to cheese, cars, chemicals, you name it. When I looked at the trade figures on arrival in South Korea I was horrified to see that apart from the Seoul Subway our biggest exports were fur skins and leather hides. We were trading with Korea as though we were the developing country. I soon discovered that the Koreans as well thought this was crazy. If you look elsewhere on this website you will find how we turned this around and how we could do the same with China.
But I have to warn businessmen all over the UK that our teamwork towards doubling the exports made me very unpopular with the high priests of the FCO. We made a mockery of the EC nonsense still preached by dear old John Kerr and his chums. If we could do it, surely other diplomatic posts in other distant markets could do the same?
THE SCOTTISH QUESTION
The Prime Minister says that her priority is ' keeping our precious, precious union together ' although the English are so fed up with the Scottish Nationalists that a comfortable majority regard Brexit as more important for their future. The problem with a separate Scotland is that it would threaten a repeat of a thousand years of history - a third world state prone to offer a base for our enemies. Most people in Scotland don't want another referendum only two years after the last one and most Scots prefer union with England and Wales and Northern Ireland. So why the rush?
Thanks to the Green Party in the Scottish Parliament the Scottish Nationalists have a majority of one with the Labour, Conservative and Liberals forming their opposition. Most Scots don't think much of this government. The budget deficit is growing while the quality of healthcare and the standards in schools are falling. Scotland may not vote for a nationalist government next time. The SNP leader, Ms Sturgeon knows this. So does Mrs May.
There is a further risk for the nationalists. There has been no disaster after the referendum. Cameron and Osborne have been proved propagandists, at worst liars. There could be no disaster after Brexit. The pressure from the EC to break up its member nations into provinces of the new Roman empire will have been removed. My hunch is that the British Isles will take off fast, astonish the planet. The Scots will soon have far more global influence and trade, providing they stick with the rest of us.
The referendum this summer was a gamble, the dice thrown by two professional politicians. Both seemed to have only a vague clue how ordinary people in this country live and even less how we think. They expected a fairly comfortable win although just to make sure deployed the government’s resources and the tax payers’ money, enrolled umpteen foreign big wigs from President Obama to Madame Lagarde, orchestrated threats from the governments of most EC member states and from the EC Commission, all playing their parts in a campaign against the British voters. Well guess what, the heirs of Blair – their label, not mine - lost. Voters don’t take kindly to such obviously absurd bully tactics. Close by the 1066 battlefield of Hastings down in East Sussex on the day before the vote it was hard to find even a handful of people who wanted to remain in the EC. On referendum night a remain poster bravely displayed by a friend on her front lawn was demolished towards midnight by the Westfield village lads on their merry way home from the pubs in Battle and Sedlescombe. Cameron and Osborne left their whole flock of fellow souls cast adrift on life’s ocean, sustained only by their staunch belief that ordinary peoples’ votes do not really count.
Dismissing the possibility they could lose, they didn’t bother to make any plan for the eventual result. When they lost, the Prime Minister resigned in a huff, leaving the rump of his government and our capable civil servants to run the country. What about the economy? George Osborne behaved as though he had won, threatening an emergency budget although fewer and fewer people took any notice of him as the hours passed. To his great credit Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England, effectively took charge of the economy for about three weeks while the Government sorted itself out and elected a new leader. Conservative MPs – with very few exceptions – deserve a pat on the back for the speed at which they opted for their new leader.
Mark Carney’s quick reaction was essential to maintain financial stability during several days while many sulked and more panicked. Mrs May settled into the job remarkably swiftly and sacked Osborne, replacing him with ‘ Spreadsheet Phil ’ who at least has run a business. I feel confident that if the previous woman Prime Minister is anything to go by – also a grammar school girl - Theresa May will prove a lot more effective than the last four men who lived at 10 Downing Street. She can’t do everything at once, nor should she try. All manner of decisions have been put off, from airport runways to frigates for the navy. She seems to be working through her list quite briskly.
She also understands the value of our un-written constitution better than our high court judges. If our votes in a referendum can be cast aside because ‘ we are not capable of understanding the question and its implications ’ then does not the same principle apply to general elections? The court itself is an ambush laid by Tony Blair who perhaps still has day dreams about becoming President of Europe. Certainly the Supreme Court judges are straying deeper into a political swamp and already others propose challenges that look borderline and possibly vexatious. Ultimately this foray may bring about radical changes in the way senior judges are chosen. I don’t want a lawyers’ written and therefore rigid constitution by stealth which is what this Supreme Court hearing is all about. We have no legacy from Napoleon other than victories remembered with Trafalgar Square and Waterloo Station.
Americans have elected their judges for almost a century after the American Bar Association voted to adopt the voting method introduced in California in 1934. Should our voters pick their judges? Personally, I prefer the time proven system where our judiciary elect their peers, though also where we have no supreme court but the Law Lords. The old system was less prone to political bias in one direction or another. Leaving aside the question of whether the Government needs bother with Article 50 at all, when the Vice President of the ‘ Supreme Court ’ has so little common sense that she speculates over the World Wide Web about a unique and highly political dispute she is about to judge, I begin to wonder who are these people and how on earth were they chosen. Lady Neuberger, wife of the Lord Chief Justice who will preside over the ‘ Supreme Court ’ when the appeal is heard, bombards the social media with slogans against Brexit. Should an ambassador’s wife allow herself similar liberties over foreign policy the couple would find themselves posted to the back of beyond. Lord Neuberger must fear that the court is fulfilling his own warnings before it was set up – there was a risk of the judges taking powers unto themselves.
The referendum vote signals a sea change for Britain’s establishment. They are not enjoying the experience but let us ‘ ordinary ’ voters persevere. We might yet catch up with the Swiss. For in Europe’s oldest democracy all important matters have long ago been taken away from the politicians and instead decided by the people through popular votes. While our voting system has been reformed several times over three centuries, the last significant reform of Parliament itself was in 1912 when life peers were introduced by Asquith’s reforming Liberal government. Although the recent higher profile of Select Committees is welcome, the House of Commons has barely changed its role and procedures in three hundred years. Nor have its members changed their attitude towards the people who voted for them. Dozens of members were caught cheating the tax payers when claiming expenses. Over the last decades several times I’ve suffered MPs who’ve told me that the voters are too stupid to take decisions. One rather rashly did so at a fund raiser for himself! Several of us present decided that evening that instead of cash we would pay him out a bit more rope. Some months later the MP was caught in a seedy scandal and resigned.
We live in an electronic age of real time sound and pictures. We no longer need reporters to give us their version of politics. We can watch Parliament and its Select Committees live on the Internet, the White House press conferences, the Bank of England Governor giving his quarterly inflation reports. We don’t need a John Major or a Tony Blair to explain the tricky bits for us simpleton voters. Far from it - British voters inevitably will acquire an appetite for more raw information, inevitably demand a greater say through popular votes. And they should. For a start we ought to have one to decide whether the money for the Armed Forces, HM Diplomatic Service and the Intelligence Services together with the Overseas Aid budget is allocated in a common sense way. I have a hunch that the voters would prefer their navy to have enough warships armed with the latest weapons rather than politicians sending aid to China behind our backs.
Watch this space....
THE PEOPLE VERSUS OUR POLITICIANS
Written during April 2016
A LITTLE HISTORY GIVES SHARPER PERSPECTIVE
In late August 1963 the Beetles were topping the record charts. I joined the Commonwealth Relations Office, on a Monday. On Wednesday I was rewarded with a pay rise for my birthday. ( We did that sort of thing in those days.) By Friday I had become part of the new Her Majesty's Diplomatic Service also known as the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. Our PUS became the Permanent Under Secretary of the new Service but everyone concluded we were victims of a hostile take over by the Foreign Office.
Eight months earlier General de Gaulle had pronounced his ' Non ' regarding Britain's joining the original EC. This was another major blow for a strategic plan designed by the Foreign Office. Their record was pretty awful. Almost until the last moment, the FO had pursued a policy of appeasement with Hitler and the other dictators, a policy which led to the occupation of most of Europe and the loss of allies, markets, money, not to mention huge diplomatic and intelligence networks built up over five-hundred years. Churchill himself took over strategic foreign policy and nurtured the special relationship until Pearl Harbour enabled Roosevelt to cast aside isolation and lead the allied war effort. Next came the Suez Crisis where Eisenhower demanded that Britain and France cease their military action against Egypt. Caught like startled rabbits against a background of industrial strife and aging industrial plant the FO concluded that only membership of the new Common Market of European countries would force Britain's industry and unions to join the modern world. Never mind the belief in our country and the brains of its youth that led Winston Churchill to found a new college bearing his name at Cambridge and devoted to the sciences. The FO preached a strategy of tail between the legs retreat from our history as a world power. They believed their duty was to manage inevitable decline.
The CRO as it was known for short, steered our diplomatic relations with the Commonwealth, not only the great dominions of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and finally India and Pakistan, many other newly independent nations but also all those countries which had not yet become independent. Our job was to keep our relationships close with the all the countries which had recently belonged to the British Empire. Since the war Britain's foreign policy had been dominated by three main themes - economic recovery from the cost of the war, massive rearmament including nuclear weapons since the Korean War, bringing our former colonies to independence with parliamentary democracies and independent judiciaries backed by a targeted aid budget. The Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, set the tone with his famous ' wind of change ' speech to the Parliament in Cape Town about Africa as nation after nation peacefully became self-governing. Our task was far from easy but the potentially spectacular rewards were worth the struggle. Our opponents were defeatist British politicians and diplomats, Soviet Russia and Communist China, the worst of British banking and industry, corrupt politicians and officials in the newly independent countries - and in that order. On the other hand, we were led by people who knew well the people and leaders of the countries where they served and our own leaders were uniquely experienced men and women. Straight from the Army and placed in the defence and intelligence department, my own boss was George Price, a retired Royal Engineers general who as a colonel had been the assistant to General Pug Ismay, Winston Churchill's Military Assistant throughout World War Two. George and Louis Mountbatten, Chief of the Defence Staff, had been friends for nearly twenty-five years. We young people had a sense of mission, that what we did counted, there was no doubt that we were changing the world for the better for the peoples of our former colonies and by doing so, helping nearly fifty new UN members to belong among the democracies.
The FO take over was justified by accusing the CRO of running a separate foreign policy. The lexicon soon became that the Commonwealth had turned its back on Britain and were importing manufactured goods from our rivals in America, Japan and Europe - no mention was made that perhaps the unreliability of British industry at that time had something to do with seeking alternative suppliers. During the 1950s we ran a surplus on manufactured goods worth 10% of GNP. That advantage was lost to the recovering industries of Europe and Japan through poor management coupled with poor labour relations and poor road infrastructure. The railways were extensive and reliable for freight - until Dr Beeching closed down all the small branch lines that allowed parcels to arrive within hours by train. Britain's first motorway was only completed in 1968.
A year later de Gaulle said ' non ' again. Five years later Prime Minister Ted Heath managed to join the Common Market but Harold Wilson took much of the credit. Heath had lost an election after sheer industrial chaos. None of them expected that within five years a woman would lead the Conservative Party, win the election, go on to win two more and drag the British economy into the modern age. They were all too wet as Margaret Thatcher would occasionally let slip.
LIFE AFTER LIBERATION - LEARN FROM THE SWISS
Forget arrangements on the lines of the one the Swiss negotiated. The original agreement drawn up by Paul Jolles in 1972 was very good but Paul was one of the outstanding diplomats of the 1970s from any country. Paul also negotiated our exit from EFTA. Switzerland went on to negotiate a series of bilateral agreements with the EC member states of that time. Some 64% of Swiss trade is with the modern EC. About one third of Swiss trade is with Germany alone thus some kind of arrangement is important. Today the Swiss are constantly nagged by the EC Commission and threatened with dire consequences if they don't fall into line with EC rules on trade, taxes, refugees, you name it, in force within the Single Market by implementing rulings from the European Court of Justice. Most of the Swiss regard this idea as creeping colonisation by the EC. Today the EC Commission has a fan club among Switzerland's left of centre politicians and some of the senior diplomats and officials while most Swiss want to keep their direct democracy which allows even EC regulations to be questioned.
Swiss friends tell us that they were so worried about direction in which the EC was heading, becoming more rigid by the day, indeed almost totalitarian, that when they heard the news that we had voted for Brexit, they threw parties to celebrate.
Brexit will electrify the British people. Sudden release from the dead weight of the EC albatross around our necks will unleash all sorts of imaginative and inventive forces. We might even rediscover our old sense of community. Once again we can make our own rules. I would like to see a space industry strategy and a rejuvenation of shipping and shipbuilding through lower taxes and ultra modern designs and technology.
There is no point voting to leave the EU only to let Brussels sneak in through the back door. We should make a clean break. Let's stick to WTO rules and treat the EC as a single market from day one. Just as we do the United States. Should the EC seek tariff free trade with us, that's fine so long as there is no question of payments to the EC budget nor accepting EU regulations in our economy. Obviously any tariffs would apply throughout the Single Market and become reciprocal. Most WTO tariffs are low single figures but some products, luxury cars for example, face around 10% duty. Imports of cars alone would earn the Treasury several billions a year.
For a UK global diplomatic and export plan........an island lives and prospers on sea power.........just click the ships
With lower taxes on shipping the Merchant Navy grows - as owners recognise the increasing risks at sea and return to the red duster.
Photo Royal Navy
6 JUNE 1944 REMEMBERED
Flypast over Bayeux Cemetery
Two gatherings took place where the British and Canadians landed on D Day. One was entirely British Commonwealth and involved the Queen and Duke with Prince Charles, starting with a service in Bayeux Cathedral for all the veterans and their familes, this followed after a short walk through the city streets by another shorter service at the British Commonwealth Cemetery. Afterwards the Queen talked to all the veterans - very much a family occasion - apart from the veterans, the Queen and the Duke were the only people present who served in the war. The photo below was taken about three days before the men landed by parachute and glider during the first minutes of the 6 June.
Princess Elizabeth aged 18 with her mother, Queen Elizabeth, talking with soldiers of the 6th Airborne Division a few days before they landed in Normandy. Just behind her mother's hat is General Sir Richard ' Windy ' Gale commanding the 6 Airborne Division. Her father, King George VI is just out of the photo. The Queen with veterans of D Day at this year's ceremony in Bayeux.
That afternoon President Hollande took over the British Sword Beach for Euromania in the form of a rather tasteless TV promotion of the EC super state. Only President Obama went and talked to the veterans present - a handful on display in the hot sun while the Eurocrats sat in the shade - and the Queen chatted with the veterans for several minutes after she arrived from Bayeux.
I'm sure the ceremony at Omaha Beach was very moving, as ever, but let's keep the 6 June for the survivors and their families in future. Thank heavens that's the last official ceremony on the beaches.
A GREAT DAY FOR THE ROYAL NAVY
The Queen with the Duke of Edinburgh, Lord High Admiral, and Admiral Sir George Zambellas, admiring the Royal Navy's latest aircraft carrier - HMS Queen Elizabeth - up in Rosyth on the 4 July.
The previous Queen Elizabeth was also a trail blazer, built as a fast oil-fired battleship armed with eight fifteen inch guns, she set a new benchmark for big gun ships and was to serve in two world wars. During the first with the Grand Fleet as Admiral Beatty's flag ship and during the second in the Mediterranean and Far East.
The new HMS Queen Elizabeth weighs in at 72,100 short tons - 65,000 imperial tons - and will carry an air strike group with stealth fighters able to reach targets hundreds of miles away. Her sister ship, HMS Prince of Wales, will take her place in the huge assembly dock now the Queen Elizabeth has taken to the water for her sea trials.
The ship yard crane is so big and powerful that it lifted one tug from the harbour, lifted it the length of QE and lowered it into the flooded dock, so the tug could nudge the newly floating carrier into the harbour.
The weather was much more cheerful than for her naming by the Queen!
' How big did you say? '
' The one bearing your name is the larger one, Maam.'
The Queen concentrates as the bottle of Islay single malt hits grey steel.
Alongside the new carrier is HMS Illustrious, last of the ' through deck cruisers ' known by the navy as ' see through carriers ' which kept alive carrier jet fighter operations with the Sea Harrier jump jets. Otherwise, John Nott's suicidal naval cuts would have reduced the Royal Navy to a third rate naval power. Harrier carriers made possible liberation of the Falkland Islands.
The jet fighter on the ski ramp of HMS Elizabeth is a mock up but gives a very clear idea of the size of the flight deck. The Royal Navy will fight to ensure that both new aircraft carriers join the fleet. I feel confident the RN and its many staunch fans will win that fight. Everyone who thinks we should have a much stronger navy needs to make their voice heard. This is a job for a single massive public voice. The coming political battle will involve public pressure to double the number of destroyers, frigates and submarines. Ideally the Royal Navy could find plenty of work for a third new carrier and a four-fold increase in surface ships and submarines but let's take things a step at a time. First the British public have to be educated that they live on an island that's becoming as over-crowded as Japan.
Then compare the size of their navy with ours.
All the same, truly, a great day for the Royal Navy ( not to mention Gordon Brown ) and all the ship yard workers, the thousands of skilled people who delivered her on time for the Queen.
COMMONWEALTH'S GRANDMAMA INVITES EUROPE'S MUTTI TO TEA
DAVE AND ANGE
Oh dear, Mutti has bitten another partner but this time the victim survived. Dave has an easy decision but he'll make heavy weather of it - as usual. There is a landslide election victory staring him in the face. The Tories and UKIP have 35% and 10-15% of the vote together. The only negotiation with the EC that makes sense is British exit. That should give the ' conservative vote ' up to 55% of the voters, possibly 60% with the prospect of freedom from the EC shackles around our commercial ankles.
Far from facing ruin, freed from Europe's sheet anchor, Britain's economy will grow much faster. We should become a giant Hong Kong anchored off the Continent.
The price is worth paying - much larger armed forces, particularly the Royal Navy, and restoration of the FCO to its former strength.
Best get started, Dave, or we'll give your job to one of the ladies.
SOME HAPPY NEWS
' Hey - I'm over here! '
Prince George on his mother's lap after Christening at the Chapel Royal in St. James's Palace. Two future kings and one future queen. The secret of the Royal Family has always been to move with the times. I think they'll be around for a while longer.
Her Majesty the Queen with three future kings and Prince George with Princess Charlotte
More than a century has passed since the last time such a photo was taken at the Christening of the future King Edward VIII. He, of course, abdicated to marry Mrs Wallis Simpson in 1937. His brother succeeded him as the much loved and respected King George VI, the Queen's father.
Charlotte takes her name from George the Third's much loved queen who named her eldest daughter Charlotte.
WHILE THE BRITISH GOVERNMENT AND BAE SACK OUR SHIP DESIGNERS AND SKILLED SHIP BUILDERS - AMERICA LAUNCHES A SUPER DESTROYER ARMED WITH A BAE ADVANCED GUN SYSTEM
DGG 1000 - USS Zumwalt takes to the water, stealthily at night. Why is it that despite the recent Congress chaos and threat of a Federal Government shut down, the US Department of Defence manages to organise a naval construction programme that runs so that America's shipyards stay open, whereas inexperienced British politicians combined with mediocre management and no competition for BAE clearly fail to do this every time?
I WONDER IF WE COULD PERSUADE AMANDA TO COME OVER HERE?
Amanda Thatcher reads from Saint Paul's Epistles at her Grandmother's funeral in Saint Paul's Cathedral.
Margaret Thatcher's greatest legacy may prove her captivating and composed granddaughter.
FREEDOM HAS LOST A GREAT FRIEND
Margaret Thatcher died peacefully on the 8 April. The most well educated of all British Prime Ministers, of all her many great achievements, she remained very proud of her days as a young research chemist on the team that created soft-frozen ice cream. That's what made her special. She kept her feet on the ground. She invariably found time for children and young people, no matter what the world was throwing at her.
Eleven years later, after winning three elections, when Margaret Thatcher was stabbed in the back by Heseltine and others, we had such a big budget surplus that we were paying back the National debt. She had it down to 26.7% of annual gnp and had she gone another five years we would have paid off the rest. Strikes fell from 29 million days lost per year to 2 millions during her premiership and last year were 250,000 days. She set the course for the new century. When her successor, John Major, won the next election, he scored 14 million votes, the most ever by a political party in Britain. When he lost to Tony Blair we were closing fast to overtake the gnp of reunited Germany. Look at what Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron have done with her legacy.
One of the blessings of a profession as a diplomat is that you get about socially. I have known nearly all the main political actors during this era from Arthur Scargill, the miners' leader to a friend in the Cabinet Office who masterminded his defeat. I liked them both although I didn't share Arthur Scargill's politics. I liked Dennis Thatcher. Everyone did who knew him. We often met and chatted when we collected our respective family photographs at the shop that used to occupy the corner of Whitehall and Northumberland Avenue.
I liked Margaret Thatcher. She was honest, straight dealing, very intelligent though very modest in her own funny way. Despite claims to the contrary, she had a sense of humour, very quick. Long after leaving Ottawa, I wrote her speech to the Canadian Parliament and had the remarkable pleasure of watching Maggie tell one of my jokes as her opening line. Somewhere I have a tape sent to me in Sussex by Don Newman of CBC on behalf of the Parliamentary Press Gallery.
I shall remember her honesty, warmth, courage. She never forgot where she started in life, devoting herself to help others climb the ladder.
A great lady. I shall miss her.
Amanda and Michael Thatcher waiting to play their parts in their grandmother's funeral. What a splendid advert they made for America's youth.
' I never read a newspaper.'
Hugh Grant, comic film actor, campaigning for government regulation of the British press for the first time since 1695.
THE STRUGGLE FOR EUROPE
Apologies to Chester Wilmot
SCOTLAND THE SHREWD
All sorts of questions are raised by the Scottish Nationalist Party's ambition to break up the United Kingdom. Few answers are coming from the Scottish Nationalist Party. My hunch is that this obfuscation will backfire as the vote for ' independence ' draws closer - actually separation from England and Wales, Northern Ireland and the Channel Islands plus all the United Kingdom's dependent territories.
Scottish history is rarely taught in English schools and - here goes - requires a little cramming.
England and Scotland had shared the same king for more than a century - apart from a dozen years rule by Oliver Cromwell - by the time the 1707 Act of Union came to pass.
The last Tudor monarch of England, Elizabeth I, never married and when she died in 1603 her distant cousin, James VI of Scotland became James I of England as well. Since Wales and Ireland were part of Elizabeth's kingdom, he was the first ruler of the whole British Isles. The two countries remained separate with Parliaments in London and Edinburgh. James ruled through a personal union. His critics named him the wisest fool in Christendom but modern historians now regard him as an intelligent and thoughtful monarch. James became King of Scotland after his mother's execution by Elizabeth I - the grim culmination of nearly a century of civil wars and power struggles in Scotland, often with French interventions, indeed his grandmother, Mary of Guise, led an army and ruled as Queen Consort. Under his mother, Mary, the country was torn apart by squabbling nobles until edging towards what we would call a failed state today. Mary fled to England. Sadly, she became the focus of Catholic ambitions to destroy the Reformation and return England to the Papal flock.
The Scottish Nationalists skip this part of history and look back 600 years to Scotland's struggles to defy conquest by the hated English. Far more relevant to our times are the two hundred years from 1500 - 1707. The first century of chaos was recent memory when James set off for Whitehall and he regarded full union as the best way forward for both countries. And both flourished. Shakespeare wrote some of his finest work during this time. James had his faults - belief in the divine right of kings to rule under God was to lead to his son losing a civil war against Parliament - but the over-riding strategy created a sea trading nation that would become the greatest power on the planet.
The Civil War ended in 1648 with his son, Charles I, held prisoner by Parliament. Charles then made the same move as Mary Queen of Scots - secretly negotiated with France to invade the British Isles and secure his throne. Charles and his descendents were secret Catholics and that implied a double threat to the protestant kingdom that had beaten the Spanish Armada in the days of Elizabeth. Charles was executed in 1649 and his son fled to France. An attempt to regain the throne failed at the Battle of Worcester in 1651 and the young Charles II hid in an oak tree during his escape. Nine years later, fed up with the Parliamentary and puritan rule, Cromwell dead, his son asked the king to return. There were still secret treaties with France - followed by wars - but the great struggle was for control of the narrow seas around our islands. Two powers threatened English trade - France and Holland. The most dangerous were the Dutch.
Now commenced a series of short wars with many naval battles in the Channel and the North Sea. Some with France, most with Holland. The Dutch even burned the English fleet in the River Medway including its flagship, the Royal Charles, named after the king. Despite brilliant leaders such as van Tromp and van Ruyter, the Dutch lost and England became the dominant sea power on the planet.
Charles II known as the Merry Monarch for his dissolute Court, died in 1685 and was succeeded by his brother, James II, who was clever though arrogant and thick-skinned. James was openly Catholic and appointed Catholics to key positions. Within three years the Government with the blessing of Parliament sent for the protestant Prince of Orange, ruler of Holland, who was married to Mary Stuart, also a protestant, daughter of James II. They were in fact first cousins. A peaceful invasion took place for the leading general, John Churchill, great ancestor of Winston, crossed over to William's camp the night before the expected battle to avoid needless bloodshed. There was no battle. James fled London for France.
The resulting settlement made William and Mary joint monarchs - the only ones in British history - and all state papers were signed by both. Parliament and the Monarchy drew up a treaty which agreed their respective powers. This was known as the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and laid the foundation of our modern democratic monarchy.
William had fought Louis XIV of France to keep Holland's freedom. He wasted no time involving English power on the Continent and John Churchill's eventual victories were to make him the greatest British general who has ever lived.
Not all Scots accepted the new monarchs. Some nobles stayed loyal to James ( VII of Scotland ) and this brought civil war north of the border. The Jacobite nobles had support among the Highlanders and won a victory at the Pass of Killicrankie in 1698 only to lose another battle within months, thus defeating their campaign.
Scotland already found itself at a disadvantage when trading with the growing economic power south of the border.
England paid for its wars from taxes on imports and trade. The Scots made it possible to avoid these taxes by landing goods in Scotland rather than English ports. A series of bad harvests didn't help either and thus was born the idea of rivalling the English by founding a Scottish colony - New Caledonia - not in the Pacific Ocean but on the coast of Central America in what is today, Panama, at a place called Darien. Scotland's government and bankers raised the money in Amsterdam and London. But the place chosen, Darien, belonged to Spain. England was at war with France and King William did not want to fight Spain as well. He was lukewarm to the idea. The East India Company had been given a monopoly on such trading ventures and were opposed. This opposition prevailed and the Dutch and English backers withdrew. The punters then raised £ 400,000 from all over Scotland and the scheme went ahead - but - those involved were poor planners and even worse judges of people. They appointed incompetents and adventurers to lead the expedition and the inevitable result was a double disaster. Two waves of colonists were lost from disease, before the Spanish attacked and the survivors surrendered. English ships were not sent as a rescue party - William had no desire to fight Spain as well as France. The loss of money represented 20% of Scotland's gnp at that time - please take note Germans as you make yourselves liable for 25% of yours by backing the Eurozone.
Economic catastrophe persuaded the Scottish leaders to approach the English and seek political and economic union. One need only read the Act of Union to realise the lack of trust between the two sides. The bulk of the Act is a list of the taxes that the combined nation will impose on pretty well everything. Only towards the end does the Act confirm that £ 398,085 and ten shillings plus any other monies will be paid into the Scottish Exchequer to redeem all its debts. ( One wag has calculated that returning the capital with 300 years interest and inflation will cost Scotland £ 853 trillions because they are breaking the deal. ) The Act was passed separately by both Parliaments - no room for the slightest wriggle by the Scots - and reminds me of the level of trust between the FCO and the Quai d'Orsay when we drew up the modern Channel Tunnel Treaty.
The result for Scotland was membership of the most advanced economy in the world and within a generation. Indeed, while the 1715 rebellion against the King in London had some support, rapid economic growth denied Bonnie Prince Charlie any support from those who ran Scotland by 1745 and made his failure certain. Edinburgh became the Athens of the North. The home city of Adam Smith. The new United Kingdom became the world's first super power with no other in sight for two hundred years. Think about that - when the Scottish Nationalists want to turn back the clock three hundred years to the days of the Darien colony.
What happens after the Scottish Nationalists renege on the Act the Union?
Scottish Nationalists claim that Scotland will remain within the EC. This claim shows no understanding of EC politics. Neither Belgium nor Spain wants to signal Flanders or Catalonia that they can break away with impunity. Cyprus already complains that Scotland should not be allowed to jump the queue for EC membership - Cyprus has issues with breakaway parts of its own island.
My hunch is that whatever the lawyers say - and none have been consulted formally, if at all - Scotland will be forced to apply to join the EC. ( Since writing this passage a few weeks ago the EC Commission have confirmed that Scotland would have to apply as a new state.) That means joining the Euro because there is no way, given the present banking crisis, that the Bank of England can underwrite a foreign economy over which it has no control. Scotland will have to exit the pound at midnight on Alex Salmond day. Given the uncertainties at such a moment, Scotland's new currency would nose dive while inflation would soar. Moreover, this situation could become prolonged.
Scotland will be regarded with great suspicion by NATO allies who are also EC member states. Denmark, Norway, France, Germany, Holland, UK and USA don't want another Irish Republic. Don't want another neutral country in a strategic geographical position accepting NATO's de facto protection while claiming de jure that they need make no contribution to their own defence. Americans in particular are fed up with freeloaders. Everyone is Irish during an election in the USA but the other three years people say what they think. Scotland's neighbours may decide to block its EC membership until their security demands are met to NATO's satisfaction. The USA can stand back and let the Danes and Dutch, Germans and Norwegians give the nasty messages then step in as judge and jury.
England faces the same problem as 300 years ago. We'll have customs and passport controls along the Scottish border. We'll need much more patrol capacity along the coasts to stop smuggling of goods and people. After a near miss with Ireland which cost the taxpayer £ 8 billions - so far - the Scottish Nationalists expect us to tolerate a failed state on mainland Great Britain.
Scots have gone all over the World. Right here in Bern they built the main bridge over the River Aare. Standard Chartered Bank from Lahore to Saigon was managed by Scots. These are the true sons and daughters of the Darien dream, who went all over the world, secure in their support from a strong base in the United Kingdom. Why aren't these Scots allowed to vote in 2014? Why not all the Scots resident in England, Wales and Northern Ireland?
And, if the Scottish Nationalists promote a return to the 13th century, why shouldn't the Orkney and Shetland Islanders vote for a return to the 15th century when they still were part of the Kingdom of Denmark? They'd escape joining the Euro. Perhaps the rest of the UK could negotiate an attractive deal with the Northern Islanders.....