Geoffrey Howe, for all his mild-mannered failings, was a politician of honour, integrity and intellect. Now in happy retirement, he could still teach a thing or two to the current flock of ovine ruminants either clinging on to, or coveting power in Westminster or in the lovely borough of Walsall.
In June 1978, when in opposition, Sir Geoffrey dared to challenge the then Chancellor, the formidable Dennis Healey, over his budget proposals. With less than a year left for the Callaghan government, Chancellor Healey said this:
“The Right Honourable Gentleman finally came round, a trifle nervously I thought, after ploughing through that tedious and tendentious farrago of moth-eaten cuttings presented to him by the Conservative research department. I must say, that part of his speech was rather like being savaged by a dead sheep.”
This kind of political knock-a-bout has been going on in the house for centuries. Indeed, it has been suggested that Healey`s massive put down was a paraphrase of similar barbs issued by Churchill and Disraeli. Churchill described Clement Atlee as “a sheep in sheep’s clothing” and the Earl of Beaconsfield responded to criticism by comparing it to being “savaged by a pet lamb”. If only our local representatives in the big house on Lichfield Street were as erudite, knowledgeable and witty.
It is never easy to observe a species on the brink of extinction. One need only think of cute baby polar bears clinging to a receding ice floe, climate change sceptics claiming that fossil fuels are good for the planet, nurses, people with disabilities, the poor, the young, the old, reality TV contestants and, in direct contrast with the success of sheep, Liberal Democrat politicians.
The LibDems in Walsall are currently displaying some rather strange behaviour. It is a little like those apocryphal stories of domesticated farm animals going completely mad just before an earthquake or hurricane. It is impossible to explain this erratic activity, but the sheep, goats, pigs, chickens and cows clearly know that something is coming that the farmer is unaware of. With the chickens going berserk and the sheep head butting anything that moves, the LibDems in Walsall have suddenly mastered the Richter and Beaufort scales.
Recently, this humble blog reacted to a piece by Walsall LibDem leader Ian Shires and suggested that he and his party were happy to go along with the destruction of the NHS. He in turn, as is his right, offered a rather badly spelt rebuttal and claimed that the Labour group were disingenuous by forcing a debate at full council rather than at scrutiny committee. Perhaps we should clarify the scrutiny process in Walsall.
Up until May 2010, every scrutiny panel except one had a Conservative Chair and a Conservative majority. Anything brought before these panels would be voted down using to the Tory whip. Since May 2011, some committees are chaired by other parties, but there is little hope of any actual scrutiny when the Tory/LibDem axis still has the voting power. Councillor Shires is now the chair of the Regeneration scrutiny and performance panel and has attended every meeting according to the WMBC website. Good for him. We can only hope that under his watchful eye, supermarket led regeneration and mysterious arson attacks on listed buildings will cease. He also serves on the Community Service scrutiny and performance panel but sadly, again according to the WMBC website and so it must be true, has only been able to attend 50 per cent of the meetings.
The point is, LibDems have a seat on all scrutiny committees and have spectacularly failed to challenge the half-wits in control. To now harangue another opposition party for failing to question the idiocy of Mike Bird and his porcine friends at the scrutiny stage is worthy of a hen scratching the ground just before the earth opens up. With something as important as the NHS, to justify abandoning principle and policy under the smoke screen of council procedure is the last desperate throw of the dice for an endangered group that deserves extinction.
The LibDems both locally and nationally are doomed and the evidence for this comes from the increasingly deranged blog published by councillor Shires. Regular readers of this humble blog will know that your hapless author is no fan of the previous Labour government, Ed Miliband or of the Labour group in Walsall, but the constant invective aimed at the opposition on his blog indicates that Ian Shires is a desperate man clutching at straws as the hurricane descends. It is possible to feel some sympathy for local Liberal Democrats. Having seen their party sell out any credibility in exchange for a red ministerial dispatch box, they find themselves in a position that is untenable. Councillor Shires suggests that the LibDems are a controlling influence in this malicious Tory led coalition. He claims that “dogged resistance by Lib Dems in Government has stopped many of the excesses that the Tories would have got away with if we hadn’t have been their”. The logic of that argument, once deciphered, dictates that rather than simply kill the NHS, education, the economy, social care and just about everything else that does not involve greed, the LibDems want to torture those unfortunate beasts before the inevitability of the bolt gun to the back of head. The LibDems have now been reduced to animal welfare operatives in an abattoir.
A political party becomes morally bankrupt when it concentrates on rubbishing the opposition rather than setting out policies of its own and cutting and pasting nonsense about pubs, donations to the Cooperative Party, made up figures about child care and how Nick Clegg`s mum was in a concentration camp is hardly the stuff of political greatness. We should encourage Ian Shires to continue with his amusing, if slightly disturbing, blog as he is one of the few local politicos to engage with social media. However, as this humble blog knows only too well, it is a dangerous game to insult the intelligence of readers and accusing “well known multi millionaire Ed Milliband” of ripping up the Labour manifesto would be a suggestion worth contemplating had it not come from a Liberal Democrat. EMA? Tuition fees? Privatised hospitals? Get back up to the top pasture Ian, we need politicians of honour, integrity and intellect.
For all the badinage between Dennis Healey and Geoffrey Howe, it seems that they remain great friends in the upper house. These old war horses know how to separate the wheat from the chaff and the mutton from the lamb. On local election day next May, dead sheep curry is certain to be on the menu.