Saturday, 22 November 2014

Another good reason for Liberal Democrat MPs

This last week, a step was taken towards undoing the harm to pubs created by the Thatcher/Major governments, and allowed to continue under Blair/Brown. It is hard to see what a revolt by Tories or an amendment by Labour alone could have done what Greg Mulholland has achieved by sheer persistence.

We now need an amendment to planning law to require change of use from the new category A4 (which covers drinking establishments) to other retail categories to be subject to approval from local councillors, who are alive to the place pubs occupy in the social fabric. Since the minister responsible is Liberal Democrat Stephen Williams, I have high hopes.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Two depressing by-election results

The Rochester and Strood details can be found elsewhere. The most worrying part of the outcome is that in a campaign which (apart from the Liberal Democrats) all contenders vied for the title of "most beastly to foreigners" the most extreme policy of forced repatriation - repudiated by his party leader! - was proposed by the UKIP winner.

The other disturbing by-election result was closer to home, in the Uplands ward of Swansea City. On a turnout of 20.9% the winner was ex-Conservative, ex-Liberal Democrat, "Children Need Fathers" campaigner Peter May standing as an independent. The detailed figures:

Independent 671
Labour 553
Janet Thomas, Welsh Lib Dem 215
Green 179
Independent 158
Tory 154
Plaid 104
Socialist 31

Independent gain from Labour

Dispiriting though it is that Janet Thomas failed to regain the ward for the party which put Swansea back on its feet in 2008, and lost only in the national anti-coalition swing in 2012, it must be even more frightening for the Labour Party. If their well-funded and union-backed machine can be defeated by a one-man band, and this still linked in the minds of local electors with anti-Labour politics, then their Swansea West MP must be under threat. If their failure to hold the ward is a result of disenchantment with their national leader, then the implications for Labour nationwide are grim.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

What if there's a real war?

Now that formal hostilities involving British forces are virtually over, it is surprising that the MoD should be short of air transport. But that is what this story implies. Military tents, surplus to requirements in Helmand province, are being supplied to the Barnabas Fund in order to house refugees in northern Iraq. (The charity has not been given the tents; they cost £450,000 via a commercial agent.) However, the RAF has said that it is impracticable to fly them to Iraq and the charity is having to pay up to £300,000 to ship them overland.

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

The rights of minors

The second part of Virginia Hughes' Personhood series is here:

Perhaps I missed it, but the evidence that the teenage brain is not fully developed - in particular, the part that inhibits risk-taking - has not been cited in the debates in England and Scotland about voting at 16. For me, the danger of being too bold is cancelled out by the ability to absorb information and analyse it, which in my experience is never higher.

Tuesday, 18 November 2014


There must be a record number of comments attached to a National Geographic online posting in this article by Virginia Hughes. It is not unexpected, since it deals with the vexed question of: when does a person become a person? To most people who believe in a personal creator, there is little doubt; it's at the moment of conception. It is not a view shared by the law in England and Wales, though a case currently before the Court of Appeal could put a dent in that.

Objectively, the clump of undifferentiated cells which immediately results is not recognisable as a human and even after the foetus takes shape brain activity begins only at 28 weeks. It seems that we should regard becoming a person as a process, rather than a moment - just as dementia takes away individuality at the other end of life. No doubt Ms Hughes will deal with this at the end of her series.

Monday, 17 November 2014

Two per cent rise for council workers in England

ALDC is reporting that a settlement between the Local Government Association and the unions has been reached. Seven years ago, a rise of two per cent would have appeared derisory. Today, it seems the unions were able to clinch a good deal, on the eve of warnings that we have reached the peak of the current business cycle and that there will be low economic activity for a year or so. Will government in Wales be able to afford a similar settlement?

Ched Evans needs to lower his head

I maintain that Ched Evans has a right, having served his time, to ply his trade. I also hear him when he continues to protest his innocence. But it would be good for him in so many ways to look abroad for his next job.

When people in public life say that the offence is unacceptable in a civilised society, I must agree. I hear them when they say that five years is a light sentence and definitely agree with complaints that too many convicts are let out early purely to reduce gaol over-crowding. But the same rules have to apply to everyone. Nor do I completely buy the rĂ´le-model argument. Before his conviction, and the stupid attempts of his "friends" to influence matters, I doubt if more than a hard core of Welsh soccer fans and one half of Sheffield - which is represented only in the lower divisions of the Football League, not the Premiership - were aware of him.

Evans would do well to keep his head down and get away from the poisonous atmosphere of Sheffield. (One recalls that Ryan Giggs, not long after his serial adultery was exposed, took himself off the field of play and into the back-room.) The loutish laddish following of the Blades is only reinforcing any primitive misogyny on the part of Evans and his friends.  He does not need to make public statements to continue his effort to clear his name - he can leave it to the lawyers to do that. A spell on the continent, hopefully in one of the Nordic countries where he might improve his social education, will take him out of the eye of the UK media and reduce the heat of the debate. It would also be good for Sheffield United FC who, though they may be encouraged by the terraces to re-sign Evans, would rapidly lose sponsorship were they to do so.