Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The price of milk

My fridge is on the blink. I hear the motor clicking in and out but to no effect. It defrosted itself over the weekend and has not returned to the less than 4 degrees C I am used to having it run at. It's a good old Lec which has served us well for over twenty years. Therein lies the rub. I suspect that the trouble is a loss of refrigerant which would at the time of manufacture have been an ozone-depleter banned throughout the EU since 2000. Before 2014, I would have been allowed to top up the original refrigerant probably seeing me through for the rest of my lifetime. Now it looks as if I shall have to buy a replacement refrigerator.

So I am now in the situation of the sizeable minority forgotten by public figures when challenged over the price of milk. If MPs and the like actually know this, it will be from a trip to the supermarket and the purchase of a four- or six-pint container. Those who have no personal or convenient public transport have to pay corner-shop prices, for less economic smaller quantities if they cannot keep milk for more than a few days. So I am going to have to lay out around 88p for a two-pint carton; a penny or two more would buy me four pints in Lidl.

These are the sort of calculations which need to be taken into account when devising cost of living indices for pensioners and those on low incomes.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Islam and Judaism in the EU

It will come as no surprise that there are more Muslims than Jews in the EU. Thanks to a recent posting on the European Parliamentary Research Service Blog and a wikipedia article I now know how wide that gap is, and that because the number of identifiable (this is a very hazy area) Jews is diminishing, the gap is probably widening.

What may surprise some is the ratio: over ten to one. Nor does the UK have the highest Muslim population. We are outnumbered by France and Germany, and Cyprus tops the league in terms of percentage population at over 20%. Hungary, which is the EU nation most resistant to taking Middle East refugees, has less than 1% Muslim population, as do Poland and Czechia.

It is good to see that the EU has taken action against both Islamophobia and anti-semitism while there are signs (including this one) that political parties here are going backwards.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Shadow Treasurer speech

That was an interesting speech by John McDonnell to the Labour Conference in Liverpool today. In many ways it was a repudiation of the Blair-Brown-Mandelson attitude towards the banks and financial services industry. He promised to abolish tax avoidance - though not admitting the vehicles for tax avoidance provided by the Blair-Brown governments. There were promises to intervene in industry, including threats to renationalise some companies. So far, so socialist, as his ringing acceptance of the label in his peroration made clear.

But there were a couple of policies which an old Liberal would have endorsed. He spoke at length in favour of worker participation on company boards and of worker cooperatives (the one successful policy which the Liberal side of the Lib-Pact pact of the 1970s was able to push through). He also supported the demand for "sectoral collective bargaining". I had to look up this piece of jargon, which turned out* very similar to the wages councils (steadily dismantled by the Thatcher government and given the final blow by Cameron) which had their origin in the Liberal government trade boards established in 1909.

There was also an endorsement of small business and even independent traders. He went so far as to promise support for this sector in implementing a genuine legal minimum wage. This is a considerable break from the monopoly-loving Labour of the past (though McDonnell also promised to support BT in providing broadband).

Another refreshing aspect was the absence of attacks on Liberal Democrats - indeed, there was implicit praise for Liberal Democrats in the Lords who cooperated with Labour to halt some oppressive Tory legislation.

There was the usual backing track of attacks on Conservatives, deserved to a great extent, but the ritual does get wearing after a while. However, there were at least firm policy proposals which can be debated, rather than the woolly mess which has marked Labour economic policy in the past.

*From a helpful Canadian site:
How would unions obtain sectoral bargaining rights?
A sector would have two defining characteristics:  a geographic scope and type of work involving “similar tasks”.  So for example if this was applied in Ontario, you could have a sector such as “employees working in fast food in the City of Toronto”.  There would be questions for the labour board to sort out, such as how narrow the tasks can be divided.  Can a sector be “employees working in coffee shops” or “employees working women’s apparel”?
Once a historically underrepresented sector is identified, then any union that can obtain at least 45% support majority support at two or more employers in that sector can apply for a sectoral certification.  The union would have to win a vote at each location as well as  win a majority of all employees combined.  If the union is successful, it would obtain a sectoral certification.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

India - Pakistan still a flashpoint

One never knows how far Amit Varma's tongue extends into his cheek, but this article's reading of the relations between two Commonwealth members seems deadly serious.

Our conflict with Pakistan will not be ended by diplomacy. China supports Pakistan, America needs Pakistan for Afghanistan reasons, and all diplomatic manouvering on this subject is just theatre.

But surely he goes too far when he accuses Pakistan of acting like a madman and suggesting that India should go the same way?

If Pakistan’s generals saw Modi and his minions as unhinged reactionaries driven by bigotry, Islamophobia and a virulent nationalism, they might back off.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Secondary education

Some Brexiteer on "Any Questions?" yesterday asserted that Liberal Democrats would get nowhere because we were obsessed with Europe. She cited Tim Farron's federal conference speech of last Tuesday. Well, in the words of Paul Simon, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. The overwhelming impression I had was, after necessarily considering what the effects of Brexit would be, that Tim's major concern was with the threat to extend selective education beyond its current redoubts in England. He echoed Kirsty Williams' determination that there would be no reintroduction of the 11-plus on her watch as education minister in Wales.

(Incidentally, in a previous post I laid part of the blame for the sheep-and-goats tripartite system on the wording of the Butler Education Act 1944. I should have checked instead of relying on memory. As Nicholas Timmins points out in "The five giants", though the preceding White Paper had made clear that the tripartite system was expected, the Act merely required education according to age, ability and aptitude.)

You can judge the speeches for yourself. The text of Tim's is here and Kirsty's here.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Glamorgan - a dying fall

Just when it looked as if there would be a belated fourth win to achieve some respectability at the end of the four-day campaign, there was a clatter of wickets after lunch yesterday to present Leicester with a 26-run victory. Typically, there was one good individual score (by Will Bragg), but most others failed. It is the inconsistency in batting throughout the season which has held the county back. On the plus side, there have been some encouraging debuts by younger players and one hopes that Chris Cooke will be over his herniated disc condition by the start of the 2017 season.

Another problem which seems to have been solved is that of clearing out the lower order. No opposition at the latter end of the season has run away to a huge total after suffering early reverses, a recurrent difficulty in previous matches, and there is apparently a type of bowler for any wicket. Retention could be a problem, which probably comes down to finance. On the whole, I am cautiously optimistic.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Sewage competition

None of the discussion I have seen or heard so far about creating a competitive market for water supply touches on the complementary requirement to remove and treat sewage. Welsh Water has a good record in this area and there is a danger that competition on price could drive down standards.