One of the great strengths of the British political system (by comparison, for example with the US) is that the money we are allowed to spend on promoting our causes or parties is relatively small; and that all of it is openly declared.

In a general election, for example, any candidate may spend a figure calculated on the number of electors, which comes roughly to £14,000 per head. That is largely raised from ordinary supporters responding to a “Fighting Fund Appeal”; and any sums larger than £500 are routinely declared both to the Electoral Commission and to the Register of Members’ Interests. MPs declare any income they receive outside of their own salaries; and any benefit in kind which may influence their Parliamentary actions (such as overseas travel associated with being an MP). The rules for the funding of Party HQs are tightly drawn up (for example no funds may be received from overseas donors) and again wholly declareable.

The net result of all of that is that the British political system is more or less incorruptible. And anyhow, the checks and balances between Parliament, Government and civil service makes corruption of the kind which is sadly routine in other parts of the world, virtually impossible here.

That is why I think that the Labour Party’s current smear campaign seeking to prove that one or another minister has been unduly influenced by particular interest groups is very unfortunate. By saying it, the unwary believe it to be true. Angela Rayner was at it during the week, seeking to smear the PM, the Home Secretary, the Health Secretary and Lord Lister, despite the fact that their total donations received since January 2020 amount to just £4,660 for Boris and £55,586 for Hancock. Rayner’s coffers on the other hand have been working overtime. Since January 2020 she has received: £50,000 from Whaeed Ali; £1,683.21 from GMB; £47,227.58 from GMB; £1,000 from Simeon Honore; £25,000 from GMB; £10,000 from Rajesh Agrawal; £10,000 from USDAW; £25,000 from CWU; £2,000 from Mohammed Imran; £25,000 from Trevor Chinn; £10,000 from Intro Developments Ltd; £25,000 from Martin Taylor; £2,500 from Simeon Honore. That’s a whopping £234,410.79, some four times the total takins of the government figure she was pointing the finger at (£240,984).

That is all perfectly properly declared, and I am confident that Angela Rayner, who is a bit of a friend of mine, is wholly incorrupt and incorruptible. But by flinging mud around, some may well stick to the flinger.

We all need enough of this world’s goods to get our messages out to the wider public; enough but not too much. And all of it on open display to avoid not only any kind of corruption but also any suspicion that there might be any such thing.

So let’s get away from these personal smears, which merely tend to stain the reputation of the body politic as a whole, which lower the political debate to the gutter, and which are totally without foundation.

James Gray, MP for North Wiltshire and Chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for the Polar Regions was interviewed for the new geopolitical thinktank The Council on Geostrategy’s GeoStrategy360º podcast, discussing security and development in the polar regions.

A member of The Council on Geostrategy’s own Advisory Council, Mr Gray shared his view on the UK’s Arctic policy in light of the 2021 Integrated Review, defence and security in the Arctic, climate change in the polar regions and why the Arctic and Antarctic are relevant to the UK.

He emphasised the geopolitical frictions caused by climate change-related migration, as well as potential dangers posed by the new commercial opportunities in the Arctic. Mr Gray warned:

“The melting ice has produced all kinds of commercial, touristic, fisheries and mineral opportunities. All of those are huge opportunities for the world, but the moment you have wealth, you have a strategic threat.”

Mr Gray said that the UK has historically taken a hands-off approach to Arctic affairs, focusing instead on Britain’s very active participation in the Antarctic Treaty. However, that also might be changing:

“I sense that [the UK’s hands-off approach] is about to change as the withdrawal of the ice brings about commercial changes that once again give Britain a great opportunity.”

Asked what the UK can do to ensure the Arctic remains secure and stable, Mr Gray said that there needs to be less military focus on hot and dusty places and more focus on the cold regions.

Discussing the key priorities to emerge from COP26 this year, Mr Gray emphasised the need to meet Britain’s net zero carbon target without damaging its economy. He described the changes he’s witnessed visiting the Arctic over the past 20 years as “absolutely astonishing”:

“We have to balance up the need to do something with the need to maintain our economies and our business interests. For that reason I think we should use the Arctic for fisheries and tourism…making commercial use of the resources in the Arctic is very important. Preserving it as a wilderness ignores the fact that 5 million people live there and that if we don’t make use of the resources, the Russians, Chinese and others will. I think it’s important to preserve the Arctic and achieve the aims of COP26, but also maintain a sensible approach to commercial exploitation.”

With the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic and the looming climate crisis, he said that people will one day look back at 2021 and 2022 as a turning point in history:

“We must now do all that we can to make sure that everything that happens in these two years is what our descendants will thank us for, rather than curse us for.”

To listen to the complete interview, search for GeoStrategy360º on your chosen podcast provider, or visit

The unspeakable beauty and simplicity of that magnificent and so fitting funeral of the Duke of Edinburgh will stay with me - and with many of us - for a long time to come.

The glorious mediaeval setting in the perfect Spring weather; the detailed perfection of the military guards of honour, and the massed bands; the little carriage with its two black horses and the Duke’s personal gloves and whip in the driver’s seat; the Landrover hearse; the King’s Troop firing the minute salute; the sailors piping their Admiral into the Chapel; the fine words and superb music of the service itself; that moment when the piper playing the Lament marched away into the distance; even just the members of the Royal Family walking back up in the sunshine to the main part of the castle, all of these things were great moments. It was the most superbly planned and executed and moving of ceremonies, in no way lessened by its smaller Covid-induced scale. Indeed it was more fitting in many ways than would have been a great panoply of State in central London had that been allowed.

Somehow the sheer simplicity yet grandeur of the event was just so appropriate to the great man about whom we have heard so much in the last week or so. It was in every way the most perfect memorial that anyone could possibly have wished for, and I hope that Her Majesty and the other members of the Royal family were as touched and as impressed by it all as was the whole Nation, and so much of the world able to witness it on television.

There seem to have been an awful lot of sad deaths just recently – or is it just my age and stage in life? My friends Chris Wannell and Enam Chowdhury leave a great hole in the life of Royal Wootton Bassett.  Tim Holderness-Roddam from West Kington was a well-known local figure involved in so many charities and voluntary organisations; Arthur Chapman from Cricklade served in the RAF as a navigator for 36 years, 11,000 hours flying in a Hercules. All truly served their communities and the nation. They came from the same mould as HRH Duke of Edinburgh. In a way so much that we saw in Windsor on Saturday could stand proxy, as a symbol, for so many people who have died, or been bereaved over the last dreadful twelve months. It was not just about the Duke. In a strange way it was about the nation and all that we have lost, and about remembering all that was so good about our dear departed.

I was lucky enough to be asked to the memorial service in Salisbury Cathedral the previous evening. Amongst many other wonderful bits (the choir was superb), I am always moved by the great old prayer from the Evensong Prayer Book, which my Father said every night in the months before his own death in 1984:

“Support us, O Lord, all the day long of this troublous life, until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes, the busy world is hushed, the fever of life is over and our work done. Then, O Lord, in your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, a holy rest, and peace at last; through Christ our Lord, Amen.”

A safe lodging, a holy rest and peace at last for Prince Philip and for so many of our dear friends and relations.

As the House of Commons paid tribute to His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh last Monday, North Wiltshire MP James Gray joined his parliamentary colleagues in sharing some cherished memories of the Duke. During his speech, Mr Gray particularly highlighted the Duke’s commitment to seafarers:

“For 42 years, the Duke was Master of Henry VIII’s great foundation, Trinity House, the true home of seafarers and shipping, lighthouses and pilotage, of which I am honoured to be a Younger Brother. The Duke was always a seafarer at heart. He understood the sea, and his commitment to all things maritime is absolutely legendary. He even helped to design the Royal Yacht Britannia, so a fitting legacy might be a new multi-purpose royal yacht, perhaps named “Philip, Duke of Edinburgh”. How fitting that would be”.

Mr Gray has now further put his name to a joint letter calling upon the Government to undertake a full cost benefit analysis of such a vessel to replace the previous Royal Yacht. The letter, published in the Sunday Telegraph yesterday, states that:

“There has long been a clear economic case for a replacement to the Royal Yacht Britannia in pure trade terms as an asset to unlock international trade deals post-Brexit, showcase the UK and provide an appropriate vessel for the Royal Family.

The sad loss of His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh gives added impetus as the nation looks for a lasting memorial to his life that encompasses his interests and legacy to the nation. We consider a replacement ship with a multi-faceted role as a training ship, trade platform, humanitarian vessel, mobile Embassy and Royal Yacht, proudly made in the UK and bearing his name, would be a fitting legacy.

Estimates of cost are in the region of £190m. Putting this into perspective this amounts to 1/2000th of the cost, to date, of the Covid pandemic. We appreciate that the public purse has huge demands upon it and so other innovative funding streams including the private sector and public subscription should also be considered, but let us first cross the rubicon and agree that such a flagship, to complement the new Aircraft Carriers, is a project of national worth and the funding can be considered later.

In the meantime we call upon the Government to undertake a full cost benefit analysis of such a vessel to replace that which should never have bee lost upon the demise of the previous Royal Yacht”.

North Wiltshire MP, James Gray, was one of the many Members of Parliament to pay tribute to His Royal Highness The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in the House of Commons Chamber yesterday.

It was no surprise that the vast majority of MPs wanted to share their experiences of Prince Philip and reminisce about his quick wit and life of dedication to his Queen and country.

Mr Gray paid tribute to the Duke’s maritime links, mentioning his time in the Royal Navy and his role as Master of Trinity House, the home of all seafarers, as well as recalling a couple of typically amusing anecdotes.

“I well remember attending a Buckingham Palace reception for MPs shortly after coming back from a long expedition to South Georgia and Antarctica. When I was presented to the Duke, he leaned over and said, “That’s a bloody awful beard you’ve got there”—he obviously had a thing about beards. But when I told him I had grown it in South Georgia, his face lit up. He reminisced about his trip there in 1957 and how much he loved the rugged landscape, the wildlife, Shackleton’s grave and the rest of South Georgia.”

Mr Gray spoke of the Duke’s many interests including one of his most enduring legacies, the Duke of Edinburgh Award Scheme, before ending with a tale of the Duke’s visit to Malmesbury in 2001:

“After lunch, the Duke leaned over to me and said, “We’d better get going, or otherwise the Queen’ll stay here all afternoon gassing.” I had better take the Duke of Edinburgh’s advice and stop gassing, but I know that I represent the people of North Wiltshire, and indeed the whole county of Wiltshire, in paying tribute to a great life well lived, a great servant of the nation and a lifelong mainstay of Her Majesty the Queen.”


Please find here a link to a short film of the Duke’s visit to the Antarctic and the South Atlantic Overseas Territories in 1957.  'Southward with Prince Philip'