Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Launch of pan-African Liberal initiative

I found this, as reported in Liberal Democrat Voice, inspiring. It is good to see that UK Liberal Democrats are supporting the Africa Liberal Network. Throughout Africa, communities and small entrepreneurs are an essential part of traditional society. It seems to me that UK Liberal Democracy is in tune with this, while we have more informed views than some reactionary African states about basic social needs which we can bring to the table.

Monday, 8 February 2016

Belated moves to reform prisons

So David Cameron is at last facing up to the facts that there are too many people in prison, that the present prison regime encourages drug abuse and harm to prisoners, and that there has been no official support for reform - save a half-hearted attempt to encourage restorative justice (but without any visible funding) by Kenneth Clarke. Apart from Mr Clarke, the prime minister has consistently appointed Home Office ministers who appeal to the retributivist instincts of Tories, even during the days of the coalition when I am sure his Liberal Democrat partners were pressing him to be more progressive. There is more background information in this Independent article.

His latest appointee, Michael Gove, is clearly set on reversing the trend and I think it has been unfair of Mr Cameron to claim the credit for the initiative. One worry I have is that they are intent on copying an American model, that of the state of Texas, rather than look at the more long-standing justice and reform models of the Scandinavian nations. Could it be that a US-based private company will be involved in running their "reform" prisons?

Another worry is that no attempt seems to have been made to get the prison officers onside. A gulf, similar to that in the worst of British industry between the managers and the managed, has opened up between the governor class and the warders. It's the prison officers who manage, day by day, to keep the existing system from collapse or insurrection. There needs to be more cooperation between governors and staff. It is also important that staffing is brought up to the proper level. Extra expenditure here in the short term will lead to long-term savings.

It is also necessary to back up these reforms with a sensible parole system and a probation service which works. The experiment with privatisation of the latter has not been successful. We also need to cut back the mountain of imprisonable offences which Labour added to the statute book in the thirteen years they were in office.

I believe that if Wales had been granted jurisdiction over police and prisons in the devolution settlement, or in later Wales Acts, we here could have made a better fist of prison reform than in England, bringing reoffending rates below the UK average. Even now, the conservatives in Westminster seek to hold on to these powers in the latest Wales Bill (pdf of the draft here). It is not too late for parliament to release justice, policing and prisons from the reserved powers.

Saturday, 6 February 2016

Out of the mouths of babes and subtitlers

I am grateful to Private Eye for this rare light relief from the difficulties at Tata. From the organ's letters pages:

the subtitles for the hard of hearing  [...] quoted the trade minister as saying: "The Conservative government is 100% committed to steal in this country"


Off to Welsh LibDems' spring (spring??) conference today and tomorrow, so blogging may be sporadic. It was good to see our leader in Westminster, Tim Farron, coming down early and mucking in with canvassing in Cardiff on Thursday.

Friday, 5 February 2016

A perverse finding

A man fleeing two charges of serious sexual misconduct in an EU country which is a signatory of the EHCR voluntarily holes himself up in the embassy, to another signatory of the EHCR, of a nation which has a poor human rights record. A valid international arrest warrant has been issued. Yet a UN Working Group has found that he has been unlawfully detained. I am among the first to condemn the authoritarian bent of the Conservative administration here, but I believe that, in the case of Julian Assange, Theresa May and Michael Hammond have it right.

One of Assange's supporters claims that the charges are fabricated, that the complainants were coerced by the Swedish police and that Sweden is the creature of the CIA who will have Assange extradited as soon as he sets foot on Swedish soil. This ignores the evidence that the upholding of human rights is more robust in Sweden than it is in the UK, where Assange chose to reside for some time before his trip to Sweden. If the US authorities wanted to eliminate him, they could have done it in a country which is more friendly than most to the USA.

Julian Assange's integrity as a witness on his own behalf may be assessed by reading Ian Hislop's report of a conversation he had with him back in 2011.

If an international group wants to criticise the UK for threatening detention of peaceful protestors, they could start with how the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 is being applied.

Right appointment at the right time

I've always been a fan of Robert Croft and couldn't be more pleased that he has been appointed head coach of Glamorgan CCC. He has international experience as a player and latterly as a coach. Moreover, he is Glamorgan and Wales through and through. The appointment more than makes up for the non-Welsh player signings that some members have been snarky about on Facebook.

Planning constipation

The habit of house-builders (and big supermarkets!) of sitting on land which has planning permission, not developing it until profits can be maximised, continues. The Local Government Association states that 475,000 houses are waiting to be built in England (and one assumes that, proportionately, Wales is in the same situation). This in spite of relaxation of building standards by both the UK and Welsh governments thanks to pressure from the builders. The Association asserts that the figures prove that the planning system is not a barrier to house building. There are some who disagree, as this article points out.

Private Eye and The Independent are on the side of the LGA and pour scorn on David Cameron's plan to demolish 100 tenanted estates. This would clearly reduce the housing available to the poor in favour of homes for the better-off. It is reckoned that the Tories' "starter homes" are affordable only to those with a household income of over £70,000.

Liberal Democrat Peter Black's plans for Wales are in bold contrast. I myself have called for an Irish-style "use it or lose it" planning framework.