Friday, 31 July 2015

Nursing staff levels

In addition to the difficulty in recruiting and retaining nurses, mentioned here before, not enough nurses are being trained, it has transpired. There has unfortunately been a history of Welsh-trained nurses departing for well-paid jobs across the border or even across the Atlantic, but that should be no excuse for rowing back on training.
The Conservatives are the latest group to draw attention to the nurse shortages. I suppose it is too much to hope that they will withdraw their call for a cancer drugs fund which would divert money from more pressing needs such as nurse recruitment.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

Jo Grimond

I share a birthday with Jo Grimond (1913-1993), a fact which I was not aware of until I received my regular update from ODNB. A scion of Dundee's jutocracy, he became leader of the Liberal party on the resignation of Montgomery's Clement Davies. The biography goes on:

The party of which Grimond became leader on 5 November 1956 had just six MPs, reduced to five in the Carmarthen by-election in February 1957, and was arguably at its lowest ebb since the First World War-uncertain of what it stood for, unappealing to the electorate, and seemingly destined to be wiped out as a force in British politics. Grimond rapidly rallied the party and showed himself to be the most attractive and popular leader of the Liberals since Lloyd George. His greatest success lay in attracting both young people and an impressive coterie of intellectuals into the Liberal fold on the basis of its appeal as a fresh, forward-looking, and radical force, without either the ideological baggage or the class consciousness of the Conservatives and Labour. He brought back into Liberalism the intellectual ferment that it had last known in the early days of Beveridge and Keynes.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015

A balanced "shadow cabinet"

It would have been possible to dole out multiple portfolios to the other seven members of the House of Commons, much as David Steel was forced to do when he was leader of a smaller parliamentary Liberal Party. However, Tim Farron in drawing up his list of spokesmen has been able to call upon a wider constituency in not only a much larger Liberal Democrat representation in The Other Place compared with the late 1970s, but also in the devolved parliaments. He has further taken the step of naming people in local government as well as two former MPs, Lynne Featherston and Lorely Burt, unfairly swept away in the rout of May. (But is there a hint of future ermine in those two choices? I hope so.)

This widening of the field of selection has also enabled him to balance his team by gender. In the process, he has avoided creating a "women's issues" ghetto.

However, just as interesting to me is the political balance. It would have been possible to draw his people solely from the "social liberal" area of the party, much as the party in the Commons is now skewed that way. This would have been a mistake in that it would have laid the party open to the sort of "loony leftie" attack which has been launched by the media on Jeremy Corbyn, who looks likely to gain most first preferences in the Labour leadership election. Tim has largely gone for expertise and experience it seems, at the same time producing a balanced team reflecting all shades of political opinion within the Liberal Democrat ambit.

Two questions intrigue me: why is Mark Williams, MP for Ceredigion, not named? Did he, like Nick Clegg, turn down a spokesman slot in order to concentrate on constituency affairs? And who is to be the deputy leader? I note that the top slot in the list is that of economics, occupied by Susan Kramer who is a Londoner, a woman (obviously) and from the world of business, thus complementing the leader. But, as I understand it, the deputy leader of the parliamentary party has to be a member of the Commons. If there is not to be a change to the constitution, perhaps there is one answer to both questions.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

London property scandal finally dawns on PM

There has been a release to UK media of a speech by David Cameron on his Far East tour. Private Eye and the Independent of the media I habitually read have reported for some time on the scandal of anonymous companies owning swathes of London property. Others, including the Guardian, clearly have done so also. It comments on the Cameron speech:

In March, Transparency International concluded that shell companies are a common way for moving corrupt money around the world, hiding funds that were intended to be invested locally. It added: “The corrupt are helped to buy properties by lawyers, accountants and estate agents who do not ask where the money is coming from – which by law in most countries, including the UK, they are supposed to do.”

The question is: why has no action been taken by the Chancellor and DCLG to expose the end-owners of this real estate, and why has this conduit for dirty money, which must add to the overheating of the metropolitan economy, not been raised as an issue at prime minister's questions?

Monday, 27 July 2015

The noisy American

I gave a little cheer when I first heard how Mike Huckabee had mounted a moderately successful campaign for the Republican presidential candidacy in 2008 without the aid of huge donations from vested interests.  I even hoped it might lead to a reversal of the trend whereby the richest campaign secures the nomination and thence the White House.

However, as his reactionary views became clearer my admiration cooled. It vanished altogether to be replaced by anger at his latest claim that the agreement over nuclear power developments in Iran hammered out after years of hard negotiation would lead Israelis "to the gas ovens". Leaving aside the fact that the Iranian leaders are hardly rejoicing at the terms of the agreement, so that Iran is not a threat to Israel in the near or even medium term, where is the evidence of annihilation camps in Iran today?

There is some evidence of discrimination against Jews, but not to the extent of many other Islamic states in the region, including some of the United States' close friends. This wikipedia article estimates there are still around 90,000 Jews in Iran, down from historic levels before the Islamic revolution, admittedly. However, the seeds of this revolt were sown by the US/British intercession in the 1950s which replaced a constitutional monarchy with autocratic rule by the Shah leading to a police state systematically removing all moderate as well as socialist opposition.

A more prosperous Iran does not mean a less prosperous Israel. On the contrary, raising the economic level of one player should help the whole region.

Pyle, Graham Greene's Quiet American, naïvely believed that a "third force" would help matters in Indo-China. Instead, his efforts were destabilising. Greene's novel was fiction but clearly based on his observations of American interventions abroad, both official and the deniable.

I suggest that Mr Huckabee sticks to domestic matters for the remainder of his campaign and leaves it to the UN to police the Iran agreement.

Transparency of housing associations

Jac o' the North is obsessed that the housing association Cantref thrives on importing "white trash" to north Wales. He wants to know more about the HA's finances. Looking beyond his views about English incomers (of which I was one nearly fifty years ago), he has a point:

Naturally I tried to make enquiries into Cantref’s financial health, but unless you’re prepared to pay through the nose for them there’s no way of getting the figures. The problem is the status of housing associations. If they were charities then it would be a simple matter to visit the Charity Commission website and get the latest accounts gratis. If they were companies then it would be easy to get a financial picture from any number of sites, and pay for specific documents. These would also be available – and usually cheaper – on the Companies House website.
But because housing associations are Industrial and Provident Societies, registered under the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Act 1965 it means they are registered with, but not regulated by, theFinancial Services Authority, which then means you have to apply for any document you want and the cost becomes prohibitive.

It is surely illogical that HAs which, if not for their social function, would rank as medium to large enterprises are not as open to financial inspection by members of the public. There is more of a public interest in HAs than in commercial organisations of a similar size.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

North American wildfires

Wildfires in the US regularly appear on our TV news, so much so that the British public must have grown blasé about them. (However, this photo of burning forests in Montana competing with the Aurora must be nearly unique.) Much more exceptional is the continuing conflagration in Canada which is worrying scientists and not only in the Dominion. Considering the implications, it has received scant attention here. Not only must it be a symptom of global warming, it could be adding to ice melt as its fall-out increases absorption of heat from the sun.