Saturday, 18 November 2017

Jane Dodds' inspiring speech

Once again, thanks to our Welsh party leader - and a contingent from Flintshire! - for coming to Caewern on a cold winter's evening and giving a boost to Sheila Kingston-Jones' by-election campaign in Bryncoch South. Many photos were taken and one has found its way on to the Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats Facebook page already.

Jane spoke feelingly about her dedication to Wales, regretting the failure to provide the infrastructure to enable the whole of the nation to fulfil its potential. She was passionate about the environment.  She criticised the Conservative government, with the support of the Labour opposition, for embarking on the Article 50 process on the basis of what was, at bottom, a protest vote. Something had to be done about those people stuck in poorly-paid dead end jobs - which, thanks to zero-hours contracts, may not be permanent anyway. There had been a failure to inform them about what the European Union had done and could do for them, and the party had a duty to fill that gap.

There was much to chew over, but one of her ideas stuck out for me. One way of restoring hope and dignity, she said, would be a Universal Basic Income. She believed that the Canadian Mincome experiment had been a success. The Finns had just embarked on a similar venture and, one year in, it looks promising and she had similar hopes for the Scottish government's investigation of the idea in an area of Glasgow. I see from the wikipedia article that the Manitoba initiative of Mincome had been supported by a Liberal government in Ottawa and closed down by a succeeding Conservative one. (Now with a Trudeau back as Canadian prime minister, Ontario is reviving the idea.)

Those of us with long memories will know that under the banner "citizen's income" the idea has been around in UK politics for some time. Indeed, I seem to recall that it was once part of  SDP policy, and the SDP was a co-founder of the Liberal Democrat party. When Universal Credit was first announced, merging a number of disparate state benefits, it seemed as if civil service policy-makers were preparing the way for a vehicle for delivering a citizen's income in the UK. It soon became clear that the Conservatives were instead using UC as a means of increasing the numbers of working poor. I believe that it can still be rescued, but it needs the Chancellor immediately to eliminate the injustices of UC's current parameters and for a patient re-examination of the system design, delaying the present hurried national roll-out.

In order to fund UBI, Jane Dodds said that we should not be afraid to advocate an increase in tax for those most able to bear it and I agree with her.

Afghan hero dog wins Dickin Medal refers. Mali received five-star treatment, including TV spots, yesterday. He continues to serve by participating in training his successors and their handlers.

Now, how about giving refuge to those Afghan people whose lives are constantly under threat simply for acting as interpreters for Western forces?

Friday, 17 November 2017

New Welsh party leader to address local campaigners

The council by-election in Bryncoch South has attracted much interest in the Welsh Liberal Democrat party. It is many years since a Welsh local authority campaign has attracted so many activists from outside the local authority area, and I cannot remember it happening in my twenty-odd years of membership of the Aberavon and Neath party. So many volunteers have come forward that a mini-rally was scheduled for Caewern community centre at 17:30 today. Now Sheila Kingston-Jones' campaign has been given an extra boost by the news that Jane Dodds, the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats is making the Caewern meeting one of her first public appearances since her election last month.

Jane has already set down a marker:

My priorities are clear. Setting out our stall as a progressive and reforming party for Wales based on the values of liberalism, freedom, and equality. Creating an attractive narrative about our Party and Welsh liberalism to reconnect with voters.  We must train, support, develop and encourage our members and activists, creating the next generation of candidates and activists across Wales.  We must engage with our businesses, our farmers and our communities to listen to their ideas about what we need to do to make Wales a vibrant, outward looking country.  We must reach out to the disenfranchised in our society, seeking to be a voice for those who have been marginalised and left behind. 

I hope you will help me to turn our fortunes around.  We have amazing councillors all over Wales standing up for their communities, and we have Kirsty Williams in Government improving the education and life chances of our children. There is plenty enough to be motivated about, and plenty to be proud of. We may have been down, but we are not out.

There is lots to do. I’m going to get to work straight away, and I hope you will join me.
Rebuilding our party will need a team approach. It will need a Wales wide Liberal Democrat approach. Over the coming months I am planning to meet as many of you as possible to start shaping our agenda, and shaping our way back to start winning once again.

It is heartening that Jane sees Bryncoch South as a springboard for the restoration of Liberalism to its traditional place in Welsh politics.

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Youngsters priced out of football

Former Liberal Democrat leader (and long-suffering Blackburn Rovers fan) Tim Farron has responded to this year's BBC report into football ticket pricing, which shows that two-thirds of young people say they are priced out of attending top flight matches.

He writes: “The expense of tickets is clearly deterring young fans from accessing elite level football. With all Premier League and Champions League games being broadcast on a pay to view basis, this is a real shame. It also has an impact on those who take up the sport. Playing football improves health and well-being, yet these prices are alienating a generation of people from the game. But for those priced out of watching premier league games, there are plenty of great clubs in the lower divisions to follow including a team from Lancashire in league 1..."

I am pleased to pass on BBC-Wales' observation that the dearest season ticket for the Swans costs less than the cheapest season ticket at no less than seven other Premier League teams.

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

The political aspect of the EU

There is a key debate this morning in the European Parliament about the Polish government's attempt to dictate to their judiciary, a clear breach of the separation of powers which Poland signed up to when joining the EU. Typically, UKIP - the heirs to the appeasers of the 1930s - forcefully argued that the Union should be oblivious to anti-democratic and discriminatory trends in member states.

I hope there will be at least a summary on an EU web site which I can link to later in the week.

There are excellent replacements for the Foreign Secretary

Most of us who are agitating for Boris Johnson to be sacked are not using the issue as a means of unsettling the May government, as the Conservative-supporting sections of the media have alleged. We are genuinely concerned that the UK should be represented abroad by a responsible statesman who commands respect.

For me, the ideal Conservative replacement would be Alistair Burt who regularly displays his diplomatic qualities at the despatch box, and who has built up international respect through his work as a junior minister in the FO. However, one understands the obsession which party managers have with which way ministers voted in the EU referendum and Burt was a Remainer. Last night's re-showing of Middleland reminded us of the qualities of Rory Stewart, a Leaver and a strong defender of the military, but one who is attuned to the plight of oppressed people in the world.

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Advance fee fraud has a long history

Thanks to last month's Digital Human on Radio 4, I now know that the spam-checker-avoiding emails which occasionally hit my in-box and which are clearly a prelude to a breach of clause 419 of Nigeria's criminal code , have their origin in the days of the penny-post and the telegraph. The classic scam was known as the Spanish prisoner swindle, and is described here. The example letter quoted is remarkably similar in terms to those emails purporting to come from Africans wanting to smuggle hot money out of their country.

Castle-fort of Barcelona
22nd December 1893
Mr. W. _____
Dear Sir - Notwithstanding having not the pleasure of being aquainted with you, I taken the liberty of writing you this letter in order to trust you with a secret that I never had thought to be obliged to entrust nobody with, but the sufferings that I am induring in this prison and my love for a young daughter of 16 years old who is in the actuality in a collge in Badajoz to make you my revelation, in the hope that you will be good enough as to help me recover a sum of 840,000 pesetas (33,600l) in gold money and french bank-notes that I was one day constrained to hide in the neighbourhood of your locality.

- and so on.