London Diary: Of retiring PM, privileges & a prince

London has had its own share of terrorist attacks.

A cartoon doing the rounds right now is how the former Prime Minister’s daughter had a birthday party, and everyone got an “honour” as a return gift. There has always been some scepticism in recent years about why and how honours have been politicised. Yet it has been one of the royal prerogatives a British Prime Minister has when he leaves office that he is able to request the Queen to confer honours upon whoever he recommends. The last PM to do so was John Major 19 years ago. David Cameron’s list includes friends, donors to the Tory Party, staff who worked for him and sidekicks. It has raised a furore about the practice of allowing retiring PMs this privilege.

But there are silver linings. Jitesh Gadhia, who is a brilliant banker and much sought after for investment advice, has been made a peer. He had helped Mr Cameron make friends with the Indian diaspora and with fund-raising. Along with him is Shami Chakrabarti, who has been a feisty human rights lawyer who headed the organisation Liberty for many years. She has many friends in the Labour Party and newspapers are already saying she may end up on Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow front bench. Whether that is a good idea remains to be seen.

When the newly-honoured people get to the House of Lords to take their place, there may already be moves to shift the House of Commons to another building further up Whitehall. The Palace of Westminster is already 175 years old. When Parliament buildings caught fire in the 1830s, they had to be repaired. The result was the present Palace, which opened in the 1850s, though it has parts that are much older such as Westminster Hall which is over a thousand years old. Now the building needs urgent renovation and repair as it is “a chamber of horrors”, as one peer has called it.

So reluctantly, the Commons will be moved to the department of health building up the Whitehall. The only snag is that the building recently commissioned was financed by issuing Sharia bonds. This means no alcohol can be consumed on the premises. It will be a hard life. London has had its own share of terrorist attacks. But now we have another rather tragic development. This is violence caused by people suffering from mental illness. Of course, it is questionable whether all those who indulge in gratuitous violence are all deranged in some way? Even modern-day terrorists, because after all — they must be susceptible to brainwashing which is carried out by jihadi leaders.

In the heart of Bloomsbury in Russell Square, an American tourist was murdered by Zakaria Bulhan, a 19-year-old boy of Somali origin from Norway, who was suffering from mental illness. Bulhan stabbed five other people, though only American professor Darlene Holton from Florida State University died. This is one more of the modern maladies we have to fight together, but it is also a problem that so many of those who are mentally disturbed do drop through the security net. We worry about mental illness in India where far too many are left undiagnosed, but the reality is that even in the UK, with the breakdown of the family unit, and familial bonds — an early realisation of mental illness is often missing.

Another modern tragedy is the continuation of child abuse, and the practice of it in all echelons of society. Even the Church has had its own skeletons in the cupboard, which have tumbled out in the last few decades. In the last 25 years, this topic previously hidden from all eyes has been publicly discussed in the UK. Many prominent figures have been implicated as the case of TV presenter Jimmy Savile showed. The government opened an inquiry but it has been dogged by trouble. The first appointed chair, Justice Butler-Sloss, resigned as one of her famous relatives was involved. Then Dame Fiona Woolf had to resign within days after being appointed as she was a friend of Lord Leon Brittan, who was (falsely) suspected of child abuse. The third chair was brought from New Zealand. Dame Lowell Goddard took on the difficult job last year. But now she has also resigned though she did set up a number of inquiries. But it is not something which can be abandoned, and one hopes there will be some justice.

But how can we complete the diary without recording the chronicles of Prince George? Once again the tabloids maintain that the rivalry between Prince Charles, George’s grandfather, and Carole Middleton, George’s maternal grandmother, continues to grow. Prince Charles, according to these gossip mills, feels he is not getting enough time with his grandchildren, both George and Charlotte. Apparently, the Middletons are no longer the “insiders” present at every royal function. While Carole has been in charge every time Prince William and Kate Middleton travel, and keeps an eye on the toddlers, this regime might be endangered. Could this be true? Well, even if there is no trouble in paradise, you can be certain the tabloids will think of some!

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