North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, has lent his support to the Campaign for Historic Counties this week. Britain’s Historic Counties date back almost 1,000 years, yet in the last 50, their continuing existence has been blurred and confused. The Local Government Act of 1888 introduced administrative counties, which gradually came into more use than the historic counties themselves.

Mr Gray stated

“The importance of historic counties should not be underestimated and give people a huge sense of local pride and identity. I was delighted to see the flag of Wiltshire with its iconic Bustard flying amongst the other county flags around Westminster Square this week. We in Wiltshire are very lucky that our county is still named and recognised, unlike those of Westmorland and Cumberland for example, which have been placed under local council areas.

The Campaign seeks to make clear what a county actually is: a geographical constant and unrelated to council areas, which will continue to function separately.”

I was an eleven year old boy wandering around the gardens of Schloss Mainau in Germany’s Lake Constanz at the moment of England’s triumphant 4-2 win over Germany on 30 July,1966. Being surrounded by rather glum Germans made my family a little nervous about too much cheering! My excellent Private Secretary, Jenny Fleischer was at Wembley last week to see her team once again being defeated by England, so she can sympathise with my predicament, almost embarrassment, of 55 years ago. Whatever happens on Sunday, England can be very proud of making it through to the final for the first ever time. Captain Bobby Moore holding high that famous cup presented by Her Majesty in Wembley is a moment we have savoured ever since.

Yet is it the cup that matters, or is it the football? Is winning more important than playing the game?

I am delighted that Her Majesty has awarded the George Cross to the entire NHS. What a wonderful way to mark the collective effort of all million or so people who have fought so hard to save lives and cure people of this dreadful disease throughout the Pandemic. The NHS will be able to wear the badge with pride alongside Malta and the 20 living GC recipients (including North Wiltshire resident, Margaret Purves GC).

I am hosting a reception on the Terrace of the House of Commons in September to thank the members of the Order of St John for their magnificent service throughout the Pandemic. On great occasions I am proud to wear their eight-pointed Maltese Cross as a neck decoration by virtue of my role as a Commander of the Order. There are various interpretations of its origin and meaning; but one thing is for sure - today it symbolises unselfish service to others.

The Queen’s Birthday honours list a couple of weeks ago is similarly crammed with people who have given great service to their communities. So is it the honour or medal which counts, or the vast quantity of service which they symbolise?

As we near the end of Lockdown, my mailbag is evenly split between those who welcome it (or argue that if anything it is rather late); and those who fear the consequences and would rather keep us in Purdah until the disease has finally been conquered (ignoring the fact that it never will be). It is absolutely vital that whatever else happens, Parliament gets back to normal with no further delay. It’s been a hollowed-out apology for a House of Commons for too long, barely living up to the symbolism of the magnificent gold mace which sits on the table while the House is in Session. It may be a ‘worthless bauble’; but like the Charles 1 maces carried by the Old Corporation of Malmesbury, they are potent symbols of the authority and history of the institution.

Human activity, especially self-sacrifice, bravery, commitment to our fellow human beings are marked by these symbols. The World Cup, the George Cross, the Maltese Cross of St John, knighthoods, OBEs, maces - they themselves may be worthless baubles; but the human qualities which they mark live for ever.

So well done so far and God Speed for Sunday to Gareth Southgate and the magnificent England Team.

Historians pore over the great events of history for decades, centuries, after they have occurred and often come to different conclusions about what went wrong. Why did the Saxons lose the Battle of Hastings? (Because they did not have stirrups enabling them to fight from horseback). Was Richard Coeur de Lion the greatest king ever, or a bit of a French ruffian? And is Richard II not half as bad as Shakespeare made him out to be? Every battle is capable of close re-analysis. Every shot fired in every battle. “For want of a nail the shoe was lost….for want of a war the Kingdom was lost and all for want of a horse shoe nail.”

Brigadier Hindsight is a regular bore at most dinner parties, always ready to regale us with tales about how he’d have done it differently. ‘Lessons Learned’ enquiries in the Foreign Office and MOD are important, but rarely decisive; the Public Enquiry into Covid will probably produce its mammoth report in many years’ time. It will very probably not tell us anything we do not already know.

The reality is that in any war, in any crisis, in any Pandemic, governments, and officials do what they believe to be for the best at the time; but of course they make mistakes, sometimes disastrous ones; ones for which they sometimes pay a heavy price. Nonetheless, and with a very few exceptions, those in charge of our fates do what they believe to be right and for the best.

So Dominic Cummings’ rambling evidence on Wednesday morning will be minutely analysed. Some will use it to argue that we got it all wrong; some will use it for their own petty political agendas; some (especially Mr Cummings himself) will use it to settle old scores - most notably with the PM who sacked him and with the Health Secretary with whom he seems to have been at loggerheads.

I am sure that he is right that there really was no very coherent plan about how to handle Covid and that all sorts of wrong decisions were taken. (I remember being laughed at for calling for Cheltenham to be cancelled.) But so what? No one is suggesting that anyone was wicked, or bad, or malign, or even incompetent. Lord Cummings of Barnard Castle merely used his minutely detailed memory of the events of early March 2020 to seek to get his revenge against the PM, No. 10, the Civil Service, scientists, Parliament, MPs, the public and more or less anyone else who did not properly realise what a brilliant genius, what a natural ruler of the world Mr Cummings really is.

I fear that as one of these who strongly regretted the appointment of this slight maverick in the first place, who has been consistently embarrassed by this scruffy Herbert strutting the corridors of power; who called for his sacking after the Barnard Castle incident and who warmly welcomed his ignominious dismissal at the end of the year, none of his performance at the Select Committee surprised me. But none of it convinced me either.

It is quite right that lessons need to be learned. Listening to this self-obsessed weirdo is not a very good way of doing it. Hell Hath no fury like a Special Adviser fired……

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, stood up to HM Government yesterday in the debate over the future of Burlington House, home of the Society of Antiquaries, Geological Society, Linnean Society and the Royal Astronomical Society.

Burlington House was built for the Societies, providing the foundation for success as a world-leading bodies. The central and easily accessible area, close to business and government, has been essential for the facilitation of expert debate and joint-working through the past 150 years. Together the Societies represent a unique, distinctive ‘cultural quarter’ where the common focus on public benefit means that together the Courtyard Societies are more than the sum of their parts.

In 2019, PwC completed an analysis on the contribution the Societies made to the “economic, scientific, social and cultural well-being of the UK through [their] range of activities and programmes”. The analysis concluded the total gross value of the four societies was £47,368,500 per annum.

Mr Gray spoke out in the Westminster Hall debate yesterday afternoon, stating that:

“…the Government have concluded that the building is a valuable asset that they own, and which they can therefore sell or otherwise maximise income from it. That is the wrong presumption. That building was not set up as a Government asset, which could be subsequently sold. It was set up to be the home of the learned societies.

“I would like to think that the Government will consider not bleeding the assets, which is what they are effectively trying to do, whether through rent or another way. We should not be bleeding the assets; they are cultural and historic assets and they should belong to and be preserved by the nation.

“We need a Government who will say, “This is an asset to our nation. This is an asset that we want to preserve. This is an asset that does more for our nation”.”

James Gray, Member of Parliament for North Wiltshire, was delighted to attend the Wedding Open House at Grittleton House last weekend. Mr Gray stated:

“It was wonderful to be able to visit the impressive Grittleton House in preparation for its planned re-opening. It is the most beautiful setting and a fitting reminder that we are on course for the lifting of restrictions on 21st June.

Venues such as Grittleton House have been badly hit by the Coronavirus pandemic and it is crucial that they are able to get up and running again as soon as possible. Vaccination numbers are ever rising, and we really must look forward to getting back to normal.

The Shipp family have a wonderful home which they have transformed into a successful events venue, but which will only continue to succeed if they are allowed to re-open their doors to the public.”