What a shame. I badly wanted England to win last night, partly because I like our modest, serious players and their manager, and partly because nothing lifts the spirits like pride in your country. But - as the Queen put it, perfectly as ever - history will anyway record the way the team have conducted themselves on their way to the final. We can be mightily proud of them, the lottery of penalties notwithstanding.
We will hear later today that national restrictions will indeed be lifted on Monday 19th, as promised last month. I am greatly relieved. We still await some detail, as well as the guidance on matters like masks. I wrote a short post this week on the topic of restrictions, personal responsibility and guidance which you can read here.
I spoke in Parliament during a debate called by the SNP on the awarding of contracts during the Covid crisis. As I explained, opposition parties seem to think that Government ministers saw the pandemic as an opportunity to enrich their friends and acquaintances. I say ‘seem to think’ as this assessment of motives is plainly absurd, and the SNP and every politician knows it; but they are happy to play on the conspiratorial fears of some voters, and give credibility to the accusations of corruption that must then be taken seriously by the media and Parliament. If anyone is using Covid for blatantly partisan advantage it is the SNP and their allies in Labour and other parties.
You can see my short intervention in the debate here, and the Minister’s answer which is actually more substantial than I was expecting. She explained that the Government is planning some important reforms to the way it works in a crisis, with more secondment of businesspeople into Whitehall and the establishment of a Civilian Reserve to help in emergencies. I called for the latter policy in my report to Government last year (about how to build on the community spirit exposed by the crisis) and I’m very glad that this is being picked up.
My other contribution in Parliament was to speak against some opposition amendments to the Police and Crime Act. One would have introduced ‘buffer zones’ - really censorship zones - outside abortion clinics, and the other would have legalised abortion ‘on demand’ (i.e. without a doctor confirming the woman’s physical or mental health requires it, as currently) up to birth (not just up to 24 weeks as currently). The first amendment was unnecessary (harassing someone going for an abortion - or doing anything - is already illegal and councils can restrict protests at clinics if they need to) and the second was, in my view, frightful. I am glad to say both amendments wer withdrawn. My short speech can be seen here.
George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, held a call for MPs with concerns about hare coursing, the illegal sport practised by criminal gangs, trespassing on farmland, for large profits from online gambling. I am glad to say that legislation is intended, if Parliamentary time allows, to empower the police and courts to stamp out this crime, which blights Wiltshire and so many rural places.
I spent a fascinating day with 26 Engineer Regiment - ‘the Scarabs’, as they are known, for their armour and maneuverability - at Perham Down, near Tidworth. We saw a series of behemothic vehicles grapple with, and overcome, a variety of obstacles, lowering bridges over rivers, gouging a great deep path through a minefield for tanks to follow, destroying earthworks and barricades made of cars. The Scarabs are part of the rotating force deployed on Operation CABRIT in Estonia, i.e. the defence of Europe’s eastern border against Russia. The exercises I saw were anything but defensive, however. It is good to know we have the capability to roll across borders if we have to.
Speaking of which, in the run-up to D-Day this bit of Wiltshire was home to the American first infantry division - ‘oversexed, overpaid and over here’. And so it was that in 1946 Perham Down was used a transit camp for 640 ‘GI brides’ and their 176 babies, on their way to America.