After much discussion and consideration of a huge range of alternatives the people of New Zealand have spoken. They have decided to keep their traditional national flag which includes the British Union Jack and the four red stars of the southern cross. The process narrowed down the choice to the current flag and one alternative designed by Kyle Lockwood. Whilst I don’t dislike Lockwood’s design, I am delighted that the traditional flag will remain and that the Union Jack will continue to fly proudly over New Zealand.
The vote was conclusive but not overwhelming. Almost 57% voted to keep the existing flag, with just over 43% voting for the alternative design.
I hope that the people of Fiji will protest enough at their government’s plan to change their flag and keep their beautiful light blue ensign with the crest of Fiji in the fly.
Over the last few weeks the Spanish authorities have been ramping up the pressure on the British territory of Gibraltar. On the southern tip of Spain, Gibraltar is a small territory of 2.6 square miles within the EU, and was ceded to Britain in perpetuity in 1713 under the Treaty of Utrecht (which also ceded Minorca to the British Crown). Gibraltar has therefore been British for 300 years this year. It is similar to the two small Spanish territories of Ceuta and Melilla which are enclaves within Morocco. Spain also holds onto to some uninhabited islands just off the coast of Morocco.
Spain has harassed Gibraltar for many years, the worst era being during the 50’s and 60’s under Franco’s Spanish dictatorship. Franco closed the border at times and at other times imposed restrictions on transit between Spain and Gibraltar. Franco died in 1975 and Spain later joined NATO and the EU, making them, supposedly, partners of the UK. In recent years relations had been improving to the benefit of communities on both sides of the border. However, the recent behaviour of the Spanish Government is very reminiscent of Franco’s era.
The recent dispute has been rumbling at a low level for some time. Spanish fisherman have long abused the waters around Gibraltar, leading to clashes with the small Royal Navy patrol boats based there. The Gibraltar government decided to create an artificial reef in their territorial waters in order to protect the marine life in the bay and make it more difficult for Spanish trawlers to operate there illegally. This has resulted in an increase in tensions and appears to be the trigger for Spain’s heightened harassment of people attempting to cross the border. The irony is that this has the biggest impact on Spanish citizens who earn their living in the British territory. They have also continued to invade British waters and illegally overfly the airspace. Spain is now threatening to impose tighter border controls and place restrictions on the use of Spanish airspace.
As Spain seeks to force the people of Gibraltar into submission they continue to assert their right to remain British subjects. In a referendum in 2002, on a 88% turnout, the 30,000 people of The Rock voted 98% to remain British and fewer than 2% voted to share sovereignty with Spain. There is no doubt whatsoever about the democratic wishes of the people. They are proud of their British citizenship and have no wish to become Spaniards.
To date the British Government in London has taken a conciliatory stance, seeking to placate the Spanish while not compromising on the essential issue of sovereignty. The Foreign Office has adopted its usual policy of seeking to underplay the tensions and seeks talks. All the while the Spanish have ramped up the pressure on Gibraltar and appears to have endorsed, or at least turned a blind eye to, the actions of the regional authorities. As the tension has risen this stance has become increasingly untenable and today David Cameron has stated his “serious concern” at the situation. Whilst this is welcome it will not stop the Spanish attempts to throttle the economic life out of Gibraltar. Only a resolute stance by the British Government will cause Spain to back off and restore the status quo ante.
Gibraltar used to be a big military base with a major Royal Navy and Royal Air Force presence. This has dwindled over the years and only a token presence remains. Spain appears to see this as an opportunity to ramp up their claim to the territory without consequences. This has the feeling of the run up to the Falklands Conflict in 1981-82. Whilst it is true that Spain is a member state of both the EU and NATO, David Cameron would be well advised to despatch a small contingent of Typhoon fast jets to Gibraltar alongside a Type 23 frigate and auxiliary. The Typhoons would ensure the integrity of Gibraltar’s airspace and the frigate would provide some much needed muscle to the small locally based RN contingent. Both elements would provide much needed deterrence against the stated threat of invasion from some reckless quarters. If the threat ramps up further a Type 45 destroyer could be despatched with its all round capability and excellent radar and anti-air coverage.
The fact that Spain holds similar enclaves in Morocco just highlights the rank hypocrisy of the Spanish and suggests that this is posturing designed to distract from the current economic disaster which is afflicting the country. It is time that Spain acted like a mature European democracy and recognised the democratically expressed wishes of Gibraltar’s people.
The new baby is third in line to the throne, behind Prince Charles and Prince William, and pushes Prince Harry into fourth place. All other members of the Royal family who are in line therefore also move a place further down. Prince Andrew, was once second in line to the throne behind his older brother Charles, is now shunted down to fifth place.
It is sometimes forgotten that Queen Elizabeth is Sovereign of no less than 30 nations and territories around the World. As well as the UK, the Queen is head of state of the 14 UK overseas territories and the 15 other independent nations who have retained the British Monarch: Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Grenada, Jamaica, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Solomon Islands, and Tuvalu. In addition, despite its switch to a Republic, the indigenous tribes of Fiji retain HM The Queen as their “Paramount Chief”.
The new baby also jumps into third in line to the throne of each of these territories and states.
Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge!
Margaret Thatcher became leader of the Conservative Party in 1975 and Prime Minister in May 1979 as the first British woman to hold that office, with a majority of 44 in the House of Commons. She won re-election by a landslide in the 1983 General Election and again in 1987. She was deposed as Conservative leader in 1990 by members of her own Parliamentary Party who feared for their re-election chances following the Poll Tax riots and controversy over her approach to Britain’s membership of the European Community.
Margaret Thatcher was the reason that I first joined the Conservative Party in 1983. Her leadership in 1982 following the invasion of the Falkland Islands by the Fascist junta then ruling Argentina was inspirational. She showed true grit in ignoring the faint-hearted and taking the word of the Admirals who told her that they could muster a task force and recover the islands for their people and British pride. She did not flinch when things went wrong and was rightly able to take the credit when the islands were successfully recovered.
Despite her opposition to all forms of Socialism she was one of the first to recognise the potential of new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev as someone “we can do business with”. She stood shoulder to shoulder with US President Ronald Reagan as he built up the US Armed Forces and in so doing bankrupted the Soviet Union but as a firm supporter of the “Special Relationship” she also persuaded Reagan and his successor George Bush Snr to talk to the USSR and its leadership about reform and arms control. It was the Soviet leadership which christened her “The Iron Lady”.When the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union collapsed she was a keen supporter of bringing in the newly free nations of Central and Eastern Europe. However, she was vehemently against the emerging plans for a federal European superstate. She fought many battles with the EEC/EU despite starting out as pro-EEC at a time when the Labour Party wanted to withdraw.
At home she took an economy which was on its knees and turned it around with a firm belief in classical Monetarism and the importance of sound money. She ignored the large number of those who stood against her and told her that she should accept the inevitability of British decline. She believed in helping people to help themselves and she despised the statist socialism of the Labour Party of the day. Her economic approach was the principal component of what became known as Thatcherism. It was one of liberalising the markets, reforming the Trades Unions, privatising state industries and encouraging personal aspiration.
She gave many people the means to achieve their aspirations and to hand something on to their children. Her policy of selling Council housing to those who had lived in them for decades brought home ownership to people who had never dreamed that they might own property. The same was true of the privatisation of formerly state-owned companies like British Telecom, British Gas and British Petroleum by selling shares to ordinary citizens. Whilst exciting deep opposition from some parts of the country her policies were able to garner support from sections of the country which previously had not voted Conservative.
Her speeches in the House of Commons and at Party Conferences were legendary. I was at the 1986 and 1987 Conferences listening in awe and admiration as she spoke, with the memories of the 1984 Brighton bombing still fresh in the minds of those present. She had the adoration of ordinary Party members but sadly not of all of her Parliamentary Party. I well remember the shock and anger amongst ordinary Party members at the actions of Conservative MPs who stabbed her in the back. It left a scar in the Party which was an open sore for years afterwards.
Margaret Thatcher was undefeated in a General Election and even in the 1990 leadership election she got more votes than her opponent, just not enough to win outright on the first ballot. It is no exaggeration to say that she put the “Great” back into Great Britain after decades of decline, the chaos of the 1970’s and the humiliation of having to be bailed out by the IMF.
She was a controversial figure at home, adored by many and loathed by others. I was privileged to meet her on several occasions and remember how her face lit up when I told her that I had served in the Falkland Islands. She never lost her interest in the people of the islands and I know that they worship her as a national saviour. She was also personally very kind to people working for her and took a close personal interest in their circumstances and any difficulties in their lives. The people she was hardest on were her political colleagues and opponents who she considered should be able to defend their views and argue their case convincingly. She had no time for those who wilted in the face of challenge to their arguments and thoroughly enjoyed political debate and argument.
In my view she was undoubtedly the greatest post-war British Prime Minister, winning three elections in succession, liberating the British economy, taming the Trades Unions, and restoring pride in our nation. She is a towering figure of 20th Century politics who leaves a legacy head and shoulders above her successors.
Her funeral will be at St Paul’s Cathedral on Wednesday 17 April.
May she rest in peace. She will be greatly missed.
Since the end of the Korean War in 1953 there has been an uneasy truce in the peninsula between the forces of the Communist North (backed by China) and the capitalist South (backed by the USA). North Korea has a reputation for being something of a comic regime with a succession of hereditary tin pot dictators and a military with unfeasibly big hats! There have been periodic small scale clashes between the North and South, and some scares when the North has tested various missile systems. However, both sides have pulled back from resuming full scale conflict.
The Korean peninsula remains one of the most heavily militarised places on earth with both sides retaining large armed forces and with a sizeable US military presence in the South. Despite widespread poverty and a relatively tiny GDP the Communist North retains a huge military on paper, and a limited nuclear capability.
– North Korea South Korea
Population 24.5m 50m
GDP US$33bn US$1.2trn
Armed Forces 1.1m Reg (4.7m Res) 686k Reg (4.5m Res)
Main Battle Tanks 3,500 (est) 2,300
Artillery 10,000 4,500
Combat Aircraft 600 600
Surface Ships 310 130
Submarines 90 20
The South’s forces, despite being smaller in number, are significantly better quality and to them can be added United States forces in the area. The US has 18,000 troops in South Korea and over 300 combat aircraft in the vicinity. Whilst the North Koreans are generally supported by China it is debatable what assistance China would supply (if any) in the event of a North Korean attack on the South.
The North may be making a lot of noise and rattling its sabres at the moment but any serious attack on the South would be an invitation to suicide. The US is no doubt discretely reinforcing its presence in the region and alongside the forces of the South, there is no doubt that the North would lose any direct conflict. That is the rational assessment but one thing which characterises the Communist regime in the North is its irrationality! With its people starving and its equipment largely outdated it could be the end of one of the last Communist regimes in the world if it were to precipitate a conflict.
I fervently hope that war is not the eventual outcome but the silver lining could be that the peninsula is reunited under a democratic government and the people of the north can benefit from the development and wealth which would follow. A reunited and prosperous Korea would be a major player on the world stage.
UPDATE – 2 April – North Korea has announced the resumption of its nuclear programme and the USA has deployed F22 stealth fighters to South Korea.
UPDATE – 3 April – North Korea has announced that the Army has authorisation to conduct nuclear strike on the US. The Americans have deployed a missile destroyer to the region and missile defence systems to Guam in the Pacific.
Last night the people of the Falkland Islands held their first referendum on whether or not to remain an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. In a completely free and fair ballot there was a huge 92% turnout of the 1,650 eligible voters. 1,513 voted to remain British, with only 3 voting no. That is 99.8% in favour and just 0.02% voting against.
Now the bullying Argentine President should back off and stop demanding that the islanders hand themselves over to their larger neighbour. In 1982 Argentina turned its threats into military action when it invaded the islands and Britain sent a huge task force to recover the islands with loss of life on both sides. Prime Minister David Cameron has pledge to support the islanders in their wish to remain British and this vote will give the UK a clear mandate in World forums.
Apart from the brief Argentinian occupation in 1982 the islands have been in British hands since 1833 and the majority of their residents are of British descent, with a small number of South American and other origin. There is a significant British military presence on the islands to deter further Argentine military adventure and I was thrilled to spend six months based on the islands in 1994.
Around the size of Wales, they have a fantastic wildlife presence with vast colonies of penguins and seals, and some rare birds. The islands are rich fishing grounds and earn a significant income from fishing licences in addition to the more traditional sheep farming revenue. There are bright prospects for oil finds around the islands and initial tests have proved positive but problematic. It is interesting that Argentina’s rhetoric has only ramped up in recent years since oil exploration began.
I am thrilled that the Falkland Islanders have voted so overwhelmingly to remain British and I hope that one day I will be able to get back there again.
The news is just coming through that the UKIP MEP Marta Andreasen has defected to the Conservatives. Andreasen is known internationally for being a whistle blower over corruption in the EU. She was a major recruit for UKIP and added hugely to the credibility of their candidates list and was the sole female MEP for the party. She follows former UKIP leadership candidate David Campbell-Bannerman who joined the Conservatives in 2011.
Marta Andreasen said joining the Conservative Party was not a decision that she took lightly. In a letter delivered to UKIP leader Nigel Farage on Friday, she accused him of treating any views other than his own with contempt. Conservative Party Chairman Grant Shapps said he was “delighted” to welcome her to the Conservative party. He said, “She brings a wealth of experience – and a dedication to fight for what’s best for the British people in Europe”.
Marta represents the South of England in the European Parliament and will be a very welcome boost to the Conservative team. No doubt she will be spending a lot of time in Eastleigh in the next week or so, hammering home the message that a vote for UKIP would allow the Euro-fanatic Lib Dems win the seat, and that only Conservative candidate Maria Hutchings can ensure a Eurosceptic represents the constituency.
The Vatican has surprised the world by announcing that Pope Benedict is to resign with effect from 28 February. He is the first Pope to resign his office since 1415.
Today’s long awaited speech by David Cameron was not delivered against an auspicious background. For a start the delivery date had to be moved several times, to avoid conflict with Franco-German celebrations and then because of the Algerian hostage crisis. There were also siren voices providing unsolicited advice from all sides of the argument, both domestic and foreign. Having announced that a speech was to be given David Cameron had little choice but to deliver one. Various commentators suggested that he was in a dangerous position; anything he said would be likely to reopen historic splits in his party, frighten the markets, and offer his political opponents an open goal. The EU and Britain’s relationship with it is something which excites deep passions amongst those who have a formed opinion but also extreme boredom amongst large swathes of the electorate. To blunder into a speech without knowing what he wanted to achieve and the likely reactions to it would invite certain disaster.
I was therefore rather nervous about the speech and the possible hostage to fortune it posed. I listened to David Cameron deliver it this morning on my way to work. He spoke with confidence and clarity about his vision for a more flexible and less bureaucratic EU which respects the differences between nations, and stated his determination to lead a drive to protect and expand the single market. He rejected the EU aspiration of “ever closer union” and described the reforms he wanted to see which, if enacted, would see an EU that is far more aligned to what I hear so many people from across the political spectrum say they want. His concluding remarks set out the terms for a binding “in/out” referendum in the next Parliament. This was music to the ears of Eurosceptics of all parties, whilst his pledge to campaign to stay inside a reformed EU will reassure Europhiles.
Cameron’s tone throughout the speech was measured and convincing. He introduced the speech well and developed his argument logically with specific examples. His message was clear:
1. Britain firmly supports and wants to develop the single market but resents the “one size fits all” approach of the Commission
2. A more flexible and outward looking EU is in the interests of all member states
3. Britain will press for the ability to repatriate powers for all nations whilst pressing Britain’s specific case
4. When the renegotiation is complete the whole package will be put to the British people in a referendum when the choice will be simple, stay in a reformed EU or leave
Of course the package is conditional on the election of a Conservative government in 2015 with a working majority. If the Conservatives are in coalition with the Lib Dems once again they would likely veto any referendum. Despite months of notice of the speech and its likely content, Labour was caught flat-footed. At Prime Minister’s Questions today Labour leader Ed Miliband attacked Cameron’s speech and confirmed that he would not call a referendum, only for Labour spin doctors to seek to reverse the position immediately. Other senior Labour spokespeople were equally at sea on radio and TV during the day.
What was more surprising was the universal praise from all sections of opinion in the Parliamentary Conservative Party. Hardened Eurosceptics were singing David Cameron’s praises, while Europhiles welcomed his commitment to campaign for the UK to stay within a reformed EU. In one speech Cameron has united his party, exposed Labour’s inconsistency, marginalised UKIP and put clear blue water between the Conservatives and Lib Dems. A side benefit may well also be uniting the bulk of the print media behind a totemic Conservative Party policy.
I suspect that we will see a small boost to the Conservative position in the polls with the Labour lead narrowing further over the next week or so. Whether that lasts will be dependent on many factors, especially a credible Budget and an improving economic situation. The Government was given some good news today with a further fall in unemployment, a record number in employment, and a fall in the long term unemployed numbers. With the stockmarket continuing to climb the signs are there that we are heading into calmer waters. Even the higher than expected borrowing figures released this week undermine Labour’s economic case that what we need is more borrowing!
Very rarely is a single speech or a single event transformational but I think that today’s speech will prove to be one such event.
Watch the full speech here:
I think this should be adopted as a recognised event in the UK and across the remaining British Dependent Territories.
Today Her Majesty the Queen visited the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to meet staff and have a tour of the building. Having worked in the FCO previously I can vouch that it is a building which has many beautiful rooms with grand Victorian decoration. Part of the building was the old India Office and this is particularly stunningly decorated.
However the culmination of today’s visit was the announcement by Foreign Secretary William Hague that a huge part of the British Antarctic Territory has been named for the first time, in honour of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Around a third of the territory is now to be known as “Queen Elizabeth Land”. Most of Antarctica is named by the powers who own the various sections.
Antartica is governed by the 1959 Antarctic Treaty which came into force in 1961. Under its terms all signatories agree:
- to demilitarize Antarctica, to establish it as a zone free of nuclear tests and the disposal of radioactive waste, and to ensure that it is used for peaceful purposes only;
- to promote international scientific cooperation in Antarctica;
- to set aside disputes over territorial sovereignty
The United Kingdom is one of the original signatories to the Treaty which covers all of British Antarctic Territory and the overlapping Argentinian and Chilean territorial claims. The UK robustly maintains British claims to the vast area of the continent, issuing postage stamps and ensuring a permanent British presence through scientific research stations in the area supported from the Falkland Islands.
Regular readers of this blog may recall that in 2008 I was a firm supporter of Barack Obama over the then Republican candidate John McCain. He offered a new hope to the USA and the World. However, that hope was progressively eroded over the years following his inauguration. I have refrained from comment in this campaign so far because I have been genuinely undecided between a second term for Obama or giving Mitt Romney a chance.
The people of the USA are voting today and all the opinion polls suggest that it will be a close election. Obama may have a slight advantage in most of the key swing states but it is within the margin of error. It seems that many US voters share my indecision. Obama has proven to be a uninspiring President who has failed to fulfil his early promise. Romney by contrast is the “hope” candidate in this election. He offers change to a more positive agenda of growth and lower taxes. Questions remain about his commitment to a more liberal social agenda but he will be unlikely to try to reverse the gains made in the area of gay rights in recent years. More importantly for me is that Romney will reverse Obama’s latent anti-British attitudes. It is in the UKs interests to have a President who is prepared to lead in the world and work with the UK as America’s closest and most effective partner.
I am not greatly enthused by either candidate for a variety of reasons but on balance if I had a vote in this US election I would vote for Mitt Romney. I wish him luck tonight!
I have to admit to being totally captivated by the London 2012 Olympics. I have already written about the spectacular opening ceremony so will not dwell on that but it really was an excellent start to what is proving to be a superb games. Whilst the first couple of days saw some disappointments for Team GB the last few days have been nothing short of breath-taking. The same sections of the media which seemed to be relishing every problem and isssue in the run up to the start are now the ones cheering the loudest at every new medal won! I must also admit to getting very fed up with the people who predicted doom and gloom, and who predicted ever diminishing numbers of medals for Team GB after the competitive events began.
As I write tonight (Sunday 5 August) Team GB has 37 medals in total of which 16 are Gold, 11 Silver and 10 Bronze. We are third in the overall medals table with only USA and China ahead of us. I will happily stick my neck out and say we are well on course to beat our medal haul from Beijing 2008, which was already our best performance in 100 years. Then GB managed 47 medals of which 19 were gold. For many years GB averaged about 5 golds at each Olympic games until Prime Minister John Major set up the National Lottery in 1994 with one of its expressed aims being the funding of sport in the UK. The effect was not felt in 1996 in Atlanta when the UK gained a single Gold but from 2000 at the Sydney Games with 11 Golds the impact was noticeable.
This weekend has seen a feast of medals across a wide range of disciplines. Mo Farrah got Gold in the men’s 10,000 metres, Andy Murray at last triumphed at Wimbledon to get a Gold in the men’s Tennis singles, Max Whitlock and Louis Smith got Bronze and Silver respectively in the men’s gymnastics on the Pommel Horse, and who could forget Jessica Ennis storming to win the Gold in the women’s Heptathlon? Of course there were many more including sailing, cycling, running and long jump.
It is very noticeable that the GB Team is winning medals across a broad base of events, unlike the USA which has garnered around half of its medals in swimming alone, many of them won by Michael Phelps. The great sporting superpowers of Australia and Russia have underperformed this time. Australia has managed a single Gold and Russia just four. Even tiny New Zealand has managed three Golds!
The whole of Great Britain seems to have been captivated by the London games and it is great to see football taking place all round the country, sailing in Weymouth and rowing at Eton. The Olympic Torch relay really seemed to have captured people’s imagination with big crowds turning out despite sometimes appalling weather. I helped with the relay when it came through the London Borough of Hillingdon and in my day job have played a small part in supporting the security of the Games. The Royal Mail has also had the good sense to produce a stamp for each gold medalist and painting a Post Box gold in their home towns is just inspired.
The organisers have done a fantastic job. Everyone I know who has gone to the Olympic Park has been impressed with the facilities and the organisation. Even the media have been praising the logistics. Sebastian Coe has been a great team leader and Boris Johnson has made sure that the city was ready to host this huge event. Maybe one day Seb will succeed Boris as Mayor of London, perhaps when he moves from City Hall into 10 Downing Street!
On Thursday I have tickets for the Hockey in the main Olympic Park and next month I will be going to the Excel Arena for the Paralympic Games. I am collecting the commemorative Olympic pins for each of the London Boroughs, so if anyone has any to spare please let me know. I understand that most are quite scarce now.
Whilst I am intrigued to watch the closing ceremony I know I will be sad to see the London Games come to an end. It is likely that for most people alive today this will be the only UK-based Olympics in our life times. I am therefore determined to make the most of it and think most British people feel the same. I am delighted that the athletes have risen to the occasion and given their all. There are no “plastic Brits” in the events I am watching, just individuals who have trained unbelievably hard and are proud to be representing their country in the greatest sporting event in the World.
Well done to all the athletes, the volunteers, the armed forces, the organisers, the Mayor of London, John Major, and most of all the British people for getting behind the Games and cheering on our athletes.
The next Olympic Games will be in Rio, Brazil in 2016 and I am determined to be there to cheer on Team GB!
Sorry for the lack of posts over the last week but I have been extremely busy at work in support of the Olympic games. As well as my more usual “day job” I was also involved in marshalling the Olympic Torch Relay through Uxbridge. However, I did find time on Friday night to watch the opening ceremony and what a fantastic spectacle it was! The concept of telling the story of the best of British history was original and at times mind blowing. I was amazed as the green fields were stripped away to set the scene for the industrial revolution, wowed as the chimneys rose from the ground, and truly staggered at the beauty and ingenuity behind the concept of the forging of the Olympic rings and them coming together overhead.
The NHS scene was beautiful and fantastic for the participation of kids from Great Ormond Street Hospital. Anything which raises the profile of the hospital and the great work it does for sick children is well worthwhile. I would imagine that the worldwide profile it received on Friday night will boost its donations income for a while. The dropping in of so many Mary Poppins figures to banish the demons of children’s stories was as unexpected as it was delightful.
The Bond sketch was also inspired. I expect that many people, like me, had thought that the Palace scene would include a look-alike playing the Queen and were as stunned as I was when the REAL Queen turned around and said “Good evening Mr Bond”. To see her playing a full part in the sketch alongside Daniel Craig was a big surprise. Let’s not forget that HM Queen Elizabeth is Head of State of 16 different nations taking part in the Olympics, plus several British Overseas Territories which also compete in their own right.
Rowan Atkinson injected a further dose of humour into the event, reprising his Mr Bean character in the Mike Oldfield section. He is a face instantly recognisable around the world in a role which needs no translation. I was less convinced of the relevance of Mohammed Ali or the musical contribution of Sir Paul McCartney. Both are considerably past their best and Mohammed Ali didn’t appear to be aware of where he was or what he was doing. However, that is a minor criticism.
The end of the ceremony was breathtaking. Having David Beckham and Sir Stephen Redgrave bringing the Olympic flame on the final leg of its journey was great but passing the flame to the younger generation was simply brilliant. I was wondering what the copper containers were all about and could not see how the flower-like structure they were placed on would work but when they started to rise and form the cauldron I could only say “wow” and then “wow” again at the brilliance of the concept. How much more relevant it was to have each competing nation bring in a part of the cauldron which then unites to form the receptacle of the flame than have a single bowl which has no use after the Games finish. I understand that at the end of the Olympics each of the 204 nations will get to take home their copper container to keep.
I do not share the negative and rather silly views of the critics of the whole event. Some people are very quick to criticise and moan about these Olympic Games. The nitpicking and complaining from some quarters have almost become an Olympic sport in their own right! In my opinion the opening ceremony was a great skate through British history and some of our key achievements and values. No one party owns the NHS or industrial capitalism and there are people on the left who will laud the enterprise of the early pioneers of capitalism just as there are many on the right who value and support the NHS and the principle that it remain free at the point of use. Three cheers for Danny Boyle and the team which put together such a magnificent and unique opening ceremony. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Let’s now get behind all of our athletes and make these the best games for all participants but especially the British and Commonwealth ones! I have tickets for both the main Olympics (Women’s Hockey) and the Paralympics (Wheelchair Fencing) and am looking forward to attending my first Olympic Games. Since it is in Rio di Janeiro next time, I doubt it will be my last!
30 years ago today the armed forces of the Republic of Argentina invaded the Falklands Islands. I vividly remember that news and the indignation I felt that a foreign power had invaded sovereign British territory. Unlike most people, I did know where the Falklands were and a bit about their geography.
As a teenage schoolboy I knew people in the taskforce which sailed south and I followed every news bulletin and read almost every newspaper with coverage of the task force’s progress and the incredible “Blackbuck” raids by the Vulcan bomber from the airfield in Ascension Island. I remember being angry at the prevarication of the US over whether to support the democratic UK or the fascist dictatorship which brutally ruled Argentina. Most European nations offered us support but I do remember Spain siding with Argentina. Movingly plucky little New Zealand on the other side of the world sent us a frigate so that the Royal Navy could release one more to sail south.
When the task force eventually reached the Falklands after a seemingly never-
ending journey (actually about 3 weeks) there was the tension of the continuing diplomatic manoeuvres at the United Nations, with the various peace intiatives of US Secretary of State Al Haig and the anti-British rhetoric of US Ambassador to the UN, Jean Kirkpatrick. The most pro-British in the Reagan administration was undoubtedly Defence Secretary Casper Weinberger. He ensured that Britain received continual intelligence support and substantial hardware. Once the UK forces landed on the islands the outcome was inevitable. Despite vastly outnumbering the British land forces, the Argentinian conscript army, with a few professional elements, was no match for the British Royal Marines, Guards and Gurkhas. However, their air force was a very credible threat and succeeded in inflicting some serious damage on the taskforce. Several Royal Navy warships and chartered support vessels were sunk, including the Atlantic Conveyor which had a whole squadron of critically important Chinook helicopters on board. The superb Sea Harriers embarked on HMS Hermes and Invincible were massively outnumbered but provided an essential air cover which shot down many Argentinian Skyhawks and Mirage fighter bombers. They were equipped with state of the art US supplied Sidewinder air to air missiles and their job was made easier by intelligence supplied from UK forces on the ground in neighbouring Chile which reported on the movements of Argentinian air forces. However, Argentina used the French-built Exocet missile which wreaked serious damage on the taskforce.The Argentinian Navy was largely composed of WW2 veteran warships but had some very credible ships including two UK supplied Type 42 destroyers. The sinking of the WW2 Cruiser the General Belgrano by submarine HMS Conqueror, while controversial at the time, had the result of Argentina’s Navy not daring to take on the Royal Navy again, and it spent the rest of the war confined to port or coastal waters.
On the 14 June 1982 the final surrender of Argentine forces took place and the islands were restored to British control once again. The reputation of the UK, Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government, and the British Armed Forces were transformed. The USSR saw that the West still had the will and capability to fight and win, and many have argued that this was a factor in the subsequent rise of Gorbachev and the eventual disolution of the Warsaw Pact and Soviet Union.
I became a firm supporter of the Conservative Party and Margaret Thatcher and I joined the party in 1983. Margaret Thatcher earned the title of the “Iron Lady” and went on to win landslide election victories in 1983 and 1987. Most of the proposed cuts to the Royal Navy were quietly dropped and the Falkland Islands saw their defences beefed up and the building of a major air base at Mount Pleasant on East Falkland. The fascist junta in Argentina fell and was replaced by a democratically elected government which began to atone for the sins of the past.
In 1994 I was posted to the Falkland Islands for six months with the RAF. I flew down via Ascension Island on an RAF Tristar and spent much of my tour there getting to know local people and visiting the key sites of the conflict in 1982. I well remember the lump in my throat the first time I drove into Stanley and the thrill of visiting Goose Green. I remain a firm supporter of the Falkland Islanders and very much hope to return some day. I have been back to Ascension Island several times but the Falklands are an 18 hour flight from the UK.
The article I wrote in March 2009 remains one of the most read articles on this blog and has the highest number of comments at over 200!
Today the Falklands have a much brighter future with large revenues from fishing rights and the prospect of significant oil finds around the islands. The UK remains committed to defend the islands and whilst Argentina may rattle its sabres it has little real ability or political will to risk invading the islands again.
Since 1982 we have seen the UK armed forces decimated in successive Defence Reviews and whilst it may be true that the Falklands are well defended, we certainly do not have the capability at present to retake them if Argentina successfully captured them once again. To leave the Royal Navy without an effective air arm is to take a significant risk with our defences. The ongoing news around the new carriers and their aircraft also do not fill me with confidence that this huge gap will ever be filled. Sadly it seems that ever increasing spending on domestic departments and overseas aid are a higher priority than properly resourcing the armed forces which successive governments resort to more and more.
Maybe the Falklands Conflict will prove to be the last hurrah of a UK which has lost its self confidence and ability to act independently. Perhaps national politicians will wake up in time to reverse the continual shrinkage in the British armed forces and their capabilities. I am not holding my breath!
Please just pause for a moment today and remember the 255 brave British servicemen who lost their lives defending the islanders right of self-determination, and those like Simon Weston who suffered physical and mental injuries.