Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Conservative MP seeks to remedy the final indignity for Chagos Islanders

While bevies of prime Californian cheer-leader are imported to entertain the military on Diego Garcia, and there are modern leisure facilities on the island to fill the rest of US and UK servicemen's idle time, the grandchildren of the dispossessed islanders are treated by the UK government like any illegal immigrant.

The Conservative MP for Crawley sought to put that right with a Ten-Minute Rule Bill yesterday. He explained:

I am sure that I need not recap the tragic events that have led to this moment, but I believe it necessary in order to put the Bill in context and to grasp the gravity of Chagossian history. It was almost half a century ago that then Prime Minister Harold Wilson gave an Order in Council to remove the inhabitants of the British Indian Ocean Territory so that a UK-US military base could be established on the strategic main island of Diego Garcia. In the years that followed, a community that had lived peacefully found itself exiled and ignored with scant regard for its rights or wellbeing. We cannot change history, but we can support those removed from their homeland and their descendants who are not covered by the existing law and protections that, as Britons, they should enjoy.

The legislation currently assumes that just one generation of Chagossians will be born in exile and, although many members of the community born in exile have received British citizenship, their children have not. As such, when these families have come to the UK, as is their right, their children have been treated as immigrants like any others by the Home Office. Therefore, they are subject to the usual financial costs and administrative implications. At this time, we can ease the burden. We can provide assistance to those whose story is not recognised in the country that removed them from the place—a British territory—that they call home. Of course, had the population not been evicted half a century ago, all born on the islands would already have British citizenship status.

It is disgraceful that a back-bencher has to initiate legislation to right this wrong, and by the least promising method - no Ten-Minute Rule Bill has made it into law since 2002. At the very least, the government should make time available for its progress, but one hopes that Mrs May is shamed into taking the measure on board as government legislation.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The forgotten side of Churchill

There is yet another film, after so many films and TV movies, portraying Winston Churchill as the great war leader. At the same time, a recent book celebrates Churchill the young warrior and the calumny that he shot the miners in Tonypandy is being revived on social media. But all this obscures an important aspect of Churchill's character, the liberal social reformer. As the synopsis of a 1996 book puts it:

Winston Churchill ranks as one of the founders of the welfare state. With Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George, he was the principal driving force behind the Liberal Party's welfare reforms of 1908–1911. At the Board of Trade, he pioneered measures to reduce poverty and unemployment through state intervention in the labour market. In 1909, he toured Britain campaigning for the ‘People's Budget’ and its radical proposals for the taxation of wealth. At the Home Office, his penal reforms as well as his measures to improve working conditions in shops and coal-mines were reflections of a continuing drive for social reform that was cut short by his transfer, in 1911, to the Admiralty. In the course of a lifetime in party politics, Churchill often touched on social questions, and there were other phases of his career in which he bore some responsibility for the development of social policy.

Those reforms sprang from an unlikely alliance between Lloyd George, a man who had worked his way up through the law and politics from a poor North Wales village and Churchill, from a patrician family - aided by William Beveridge, a prickly, self-assured, scion of the Raj who argued for social reforms backed by dogged research into existing schemes on the continent. Churchill and Ll G eventually fell out, and one wonders whether history would have been different if their alliance had continued.

Churchill never lost his feeling for social justice as his giving a free hand to RA Butler to draw up the 1944 Education Act showed.- and of course the Beveridge Report was published under the wartime coalition government which he headed.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

We need fair taxes

There has been much discussion about "austerity" lately, or to describe it properly, unwarranted cuts in support for the people who most need it. It is too easy to blame the shortage of public funds on the move to leave the European Union, though the fact that we are not benefiting from a rise in global trading activity as much as fellow-Europeans must be a factor. No, the real reason is deliberate government policy to reduce the tax contributions from those most able to make them.

William Wallace is not a name well-known to the general public (except for those who saw a historically dubious biopic starring Mel Gibson), but he is a distinguished and respected academic in the field of international affairs. He wrote on Liberal Democrat Voice over the Christmas period:

The IMF’s annual report on the UK economy recommends that taxes should be raised, in order to reduce the deficit further without cutting public investment and services.


Britain has one of the lowest tax rates of any developed democracy, after the USA and Canada. It is also one of the most unequal, after the USA. Other democratic states tax wealth and income more progressively, and provide higher-quality public services from that revenue. Germany, on Eurostat figures, raised 40% of GDP in tax in 2016, against the UK’s 35%, without ruining its economy or losing its business elite. 

Lib Dems achieved their largest parliamentary gains in 1997 with a manifesto which included putting a penny on the standard rate of income tax for the sake of education, so we should not be afraid of doing so again. Indeed, current policy is to rescue the NHS via a hypothecated tax. I would like to go further and say that we must also provide for our underfunded social services.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Possible GKN takeover

I see that Vince Cable objects to a Scottish-based private equity company taking over UK industrial conglomerate GKN. Melrose's profile suggests that they are a cut above the average asset-stripper, but Vince knows more about finance and knows more people in business than the average citizen (and probably most Conservative MPs) so one must accede to his expertise.

I do know that GKN itself grew by amalgamation and takeovers. The G stands for "Guest", the family which was responsible for the historical prosperity of Merthyr. Nettlefolds (screws) and Keen (fasteners) were Birmingham-based and it seems that it was Arthur Keen who drove the amalgamation of the companies in the interest of vertical integration.

There is more here.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Lib Dems should be shouting more about bread-and-butter issues

The party has attracted thousands of new members, overtaking the Conservative party in size and in a more representative age profile, through being the only UK-wide party to advocate remaining in the EU. However, being seen as a one-issue party has its dangers, especially when that issue is not the uppermost concern of ordinary working people.

We should be re-emphasising our basic belief in freedom from the constraints of poverty, which is threatening more of the people who figure in Mrs May's much-trumpeted employment figures. An aggravating factor is the way Universal Credit has been applied, as explained by Stephen Lloyd MP in a recent newsletter:

I secured a debate this week on the impact Universal Credit is having on the private rental sector. This is an issue I tried to address when I was last your MP. The then Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, was insistent UC tenants should receive their housing benefit direct and, in theory, they’d then pass the housing benefit onto the landlords themselves. I saw all those years ago this would lead to major problems - particularly in the private sector where, frankly, many landlords already don’t like letting to tenants on benefit and that this stipulation could kill the market stone dead. With 1.2m tenants in the private sector on benefit across the UK many of which are on automatic payments to landlords, as part of the previous benefits regime, and all of whom over the next few years will be moved to UC. So you can understand where I’ve been coming from!

On my return to parliament I saw immediately that I’d been proved right and landlords were refusing to take UC tenants as all too often either the money wasn’t being paid over or there were long delays. So I ramped up my opposition again straight away, joined by many others including a number of the landlord trade associations all of whom I met soon after the election. They told me clearly what was happening on the front-line and it wasn’t pretty. I raised these concerns in the Chamber, by letter and generally lobbied as hard as I could for the government to finally see sense. Then, credit where it is due, they finally began to acknowledge what we’d been telling them - in my case for years - and did a U-turn announcing in the recent budget that it would now be possible for landlords to receive money direct on behalf of their UC tenants if they were on automatic payments under the old benefit system. There are still too many caveats though so I aim to keep pushing to get to where I believe the policy really should be; an automatic default payment to private landlords for anyone on UC. In the debate this week I was, unusually, also supported by three conservative MPs so I am hopeful we will win this one. Not least as it’s common sense.

Housing and social inequality generally are also concerns for Layla Moran, tipped as a future leader of the party. I do not expect to be quoting her much here since her party brief, education, is a matter devolved in Wales, but this profile shows what drives her.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Guido champions ignorance

"Propaganda" used to be a neutral word. If it had not taken on its twentieth century negative connotations, one could not have objected to Guido Fawkes' description of Europe Direct as a "propaganda service". What is wrong with an extra outlet providing information about how the EU works, and what facilities are available to businesses, while we remain members of the Union? There has been a distressing lack of information - and a wealth of disinformation - from official sources (including the BBC) in the UK.

Incidentally, Cardiff City's Labour council seems to be equally Europhobic, as it has taken down the link from the council's web site to Europe Direct's office in the capital.