Sunday, 31 May 2009
The RSPB West Glamorgan Local Group will be manning a stall.
Mitsubishi Motors New Zealand general sales and marketing manager Peter Wilkins said the economy's recovery was in the hands of the rural sector, and goats, like Tritons, were "hardy, versatile units which will integrate directly into existing farm operations''.
Goats improved farm productivity by defending against weeds, were cheaper than toxic sprays, and there was no risk of goat flu affecting the tourism industry, he told NZPA.
"We are aware that three years of drought has severely depleted sheep and beef populations, so what better time to float the goat?''
Saturday, 30 May 2009
Now I have seen the no2eu party election broadcast. It features several trade unionists inveighing against the EU and European Parliament.
Such things as directives on health and safety, working time, agency workers and combatting ageism in the workplace are important for the lives of working people. They would not have been implemented in the UK if we hadn't signed the Maastricht treaty and subsequently the Social Chapter. Indeed, New Labour has obstructed the implementation of at least one of the directives until the last moment.
One expects opposition to the EU from Conservative backers, who are keen to exploit the common European market while getting away with lower employment standards. It is strange to see trade unionists standing shoulder to shoulder with them.
[Later] I see that no2eu is strongly backed by the Communist Party Enough said.
One has to ask, though, if this is still his party's official line or whether this has also been revised in the light of the Labour/Plaid coalition in Cardiff.
Tuesday, 26 May 2009
The question is, what system to use? Alan Johnson's resurrection of the Jenkins plan is more cunning than it looks. Liberal Democrats favour the system of single transferable vote in multi-member constituencies. As the advice on Electoral Reform Scotland's web page explains, "STV gives voters more choice than any other system. This in turn puts most power in the hands of the voters, rather than the party heads, who under other systems can more easily determine who is elected, meaning that under STV MPs' responsibilities lie more with the electorate than those above them in their party."
Roy Jenkins' suggestion of "AV with Top-up", while proportional (if the arithmetic is done correctly), does include an element of party control in that "top-up" candidates are supplied from a list. Jenkins does recommend that voters should be allowed to use their "top-up" vote to distinguish between candidates on their preferred list, but parties would be able to choose who to put on those lists in the first place. Moreover, their opponents would characterise successful "top-up" candidates as "second-class" members, as Labour has done in Wales.
But how could Liberal Democrats object if AV+ were advanced by the government in a referendum? Its proposer was a member of the party and the then party leadership accepted the report when it was first published, followed, somewhat grudgingly, by the membership . The party would be put on the spot, having to choose between accepting a less-than-ideal solution or appearing perverse to the voting public, most of whom are ignorant of the niceties of proportional voting.
Saturday, 23 May 2009
"I'm All Right, Jack" will surely be shown by one or other of the terrestrial TV companies in tribute to Hackney. But I hope they will also show its precursor, "Private's Progress", which featured (Kite apart) most of the same cast. The two together show how the crooked NCO and the amateurish officer class of the war comedy transmuted easily into the bent management and boardroom of a certain kind of industrial company.
silicon.com draws attention to the government's refusal to stump up more cash to help Bletchley Park stay afloat until the museum can support itself.
In debate following a question in the House of Lords last Tuesday, the chamber was told funding is needed to help keep the site financially viable while restoration work to the home of the World War II codebreakers is carried out.
During the session, Labour peer Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall petitioned the government for more money in the House of Lords.
"The fundraising effort is going pretty well, as is work to improve both the buildings and museum facilities. Visitor numbers are rising very rapidly and it will be self-sufficient once capital building work is completed.
"They are suffering considerable difficulty in continuing in the interim.
"Could he [the government spokesman Lord Davies] encourage his friends at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport to reconsider their willingness to support this project?" she said.
It seems that Liberal Democrat peers Wallace and Clement-Jones have family connections to Bletchley Park. Tim Clement-Jones asked: "My Lords, this might not commend itself so much to the Minister: my parents met in Hut 3 at Bletchley Park, as did the parents-in-law of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace. So there are nests of Bletchley Park supporters surrounding the Minister. He has given a lukewarm reply. Is there not some form of scientific heritage funding that could be found for a short period to assure the revenue funding of Bletchley Park before it becomes financially viable? It could then turn into one of our major tourism attractions, demonstrating the full wartime history and the importance of computer science in this country."
Lord Davies of Oldham, the deputy chief whip of the House of Lords, rejected the call for government funding, adding there has already been substantial support for restoration work from English Heritage and Milton Keynes Council, which have donated a total of £930,000 between them towards restoring the manor house and general site improvement.Lord Davies also rejected the suggestion that Bletchley should be associated with the Imperial War Museum to recognise the importance of its role in cracking codes used by the Nazis during World War II.
Friday, 22 May 2009
Independent reports that wind generators are suspected of killing 400 goats on Taiwan. The turbines' continuous noise is said to deprive the animals of sleep.
The hundreds of turbines on Welsh hills don't seem to have disturbed the equanimity of our sheep.
Thursday, 21 May 2009
Although not in the Moran (or any number of Tory and Labour MPs) class, his alleged economy with the truth makes it impossible for him to continue as a front-line spokesman for the party.
A four year interval is judged correct for Euro elections, Welsh Assembly (and Scottish Parliament), county council and even community council elections, so why not for Westminster? Why should a Prime Minister and ruling party be able to manipulate the date of a national decision to suit their own purposes?
Wednesday, 20 May 2009
He disputes a statement in the leaflet that the Labour/Plaid Welsh Assembly Government is planning to spend £40m on government offices. Well, I am not an AM (nor is Cllr Taylor), so I shall leave it to someone more knowledgeable to confirm or deny his charge.
However, I assume that the writers of the Liberal Democrat leaflet (which I admit I have not seen) based their text on such statements as this from Betsan Powys's Blog:
"All of which gives the news that the Assembly Government is planning to spend £41.8 million on modernising its headquarters in Cathays Park the stench of dreadful timing, the appearance of a government that is planning to refurbish its ivory tower. After all it's our money. It all comes from the core budget and "shouldn't they spend it on opening a new school or hospital?" (A pound for each time visitors to the £70million Senedd have asked me that and the noughts would be adding up nicely by now)."
We are so used to Labour double- or even treble-counting their expenditure on social services, that it comes as a surprise to find one of their number denying that they are spending any money at all.
The electorate should not be allowed to forget that, out of the 12 MEPs elected on the UKIP ticket in 2004, two have been indicted with fraud. UKIP was forced to throw both out of the party as a result of the allegations being made public.
Ashley Mote, elected a UKIP MEP for South East England was convicted of eight counts of benefit fraud after it was discovered that he claimed £73,000 in benefits between 1996 and 2002 whilst failing to notify the benefits agency that he had begun earning money through various other sources.
Only a month ago, Tom Wise, MEP for the East of England, was charged with having funneled £39,000 of expenses meant to pay his researcher into his personal bank account. Now an independent, the charges relate to a time when Mr Wise was a UKIP MEP.
UKIP may claim that it acted properly in expelling these two MEPs as soon as the allegations were discovered - however, in the case of Tom Wise, this was only after an internal investigation by UKIP had attempted to cover up the evidence of fraud. As for Ashley Mote, his case was pending when he was selected as a Euro candidate.
Other UKIP MEPs are also no strangers to riding the gravy train; unfortunately that train seems not to stop in Brussels. UKIP MEPs Travor Colman and John Whittaker were 765th and 764th respectively out of 777 MEPs in their percentage of attendance at plenary sessions of the European Parliament over this parliamentary session. Nigel Farage, the party leader, came in a more respectable 640th (statistics from www.votewatch.eu).
As so eloquently expressed by UKIP’s founder Alan Sked in a letter to the Daily Telegraph in 2004,
Given that there is little reason to occupy seats and then vote No to everything, one could easily conclude that UKIP candidates are in effect standing for the money - salaries, pensions and expenses.”
The BNP is no better. A report by Searchlight to Parliament in 2007 revealed a long history of financial irregularity within the Party’s accounts.
BNP Councilor James Lloyd was removed from Sandwell council for not attending a council meeting in six months despite having claimed the full allowance for doing so. Other BNP Councilors in Barking claimed their full councillor’s allowance for attending council meetings of £9,810 per year, despite only attending only six meetings.
It seems to me at least, that the only reason why UKIP and the BNP have not been some of the worst offenders in the MPs’ expenses scandal is that they have no MPs.
* George Turner is a Liberal Democrat member, now living in Italy.
And for confirmation that old men can be reformers, remember that Pope John XXIII was a month short of his seventy-seventh birthday when elected.
One of the "young" candidates cited is John Bercow, who, at 46, is hardly a spring chicken. If the Commons really wants a young Speaker who also has good ideas for bringing parliament into the 21st century, then they should drag Jo Swinson kicking and screaming to the Chair.
Whoever is eventually selected must be supported by honourable members when he or she proposes reforms, ignoring the efforts of the whips if they stand in the way.
Tuesday, 19 May 2009
Dr Ken Ritchie, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society said:
"Westminster Villagers have done themselves few favours in the last week. But now is the time for perspective. This problem is not rooted in the ethics of moats and scatter cushions. And it is bigger than the minority of parliamentarians who have been fiddling the system.
"These revelations have revealed a crisis of accountability at Westminster, a gap between people and politicians that has become a chasm. We have a government elected on a little more than a third of the vote. We have an enfeebled parliament that fails first to be representative, but which fails fundamentally to hold that government - or itself -to account. And for all the talk of convincing mandates barely one in three of our MPs can claim a majority of votes cast in their seats.
"It would take more than a political earthquake to chuck out the occupants of our safest seats, and no number of Martin Bell's alone can stop this rot. It is becoming abundantly clear while you can change your party leader or even change your government - only a new set of rules will deliver the real change our politics needs.
"The Prime Minister can show real leadership by finally delivering on Labour's promise of 1997 - and deliver a referendum on our voting system. In fell one swoop the government could give us a parliament that is both effective and responsive. It could put safe seats, parachutes and cronyism behind it and embrace a new kind of politics. Our political classes are already driving citizens into the willing arms of dangerous anti-politicians at the fringes - only through radical institutional change can they reconnect with the voters they have so long taken for granted.
"Time is short and it is not the time for more self-flagellation. Now is the time for action. The Government has until the Queen's Speech to show how serious they are about restoring faith in our democracy."
Sunday, 17 May 2009
Saturday, 16 May 2009
Has this happened in a principal authority in Wales before?
Herbert Gladstone, son of the Grand Old Man and Home Secretary in Campbell-Bannerman's and Asquith's Liberal administrations in the early years of last century, agreed to the formation of a separate police force for Merthyr. The change seems to have been effective for the fifty years of the force's existence, before it was merged into what was to become the South Wales Constabulary,
Now Merthyr is making the headlines for an opposite reason, the number of children put in prison. Merthyr tops the table of youth custody rates at 12.6%, almost 1% ahead of Liverpool. Another South Wales authority, Bridgend, comes in twelfth at 10.1%, ahead of Lambeth, Manchester and Nottingham.
Too many children nationally are imprisoned. Alex Carlile QC (Lord Carlile of Berriew) says that the current number of children in custody is "a national disgrace".
According to the Independent, the Prison Reform Trust says that despite the official policy of jailing children only in exceptional circumstances, many children in jail have not committed serious or violent offences. At least one third are locked up for non-violent crimes like breaking Asbos or theft. In 2006, 286 children were imprisoned for motoring offences, 192 for drug offences, 26 for fraud and forgery and two for drunkenness.
We are building up trouble for the future in Bridgend and Merthyr. As Chris Huhne said in his conference speech last year: "if you put a young man into prison for the first time, there is a 92 per cent chance he will offend again. Our prisons are colleges of crime."
Thursday, 14 May 2009
He selects the following apposite quotation:
“… the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant.”
There is also a session next week at the Hay Festival.
Wednesday, 13 May 2009
John said that you should get involved in politics if you want to make the world a better world, your country a better country, or your area a better area. He was a candidate five times in Birmingham before he was finally elected. Most people give up after one or two tries, but you shouldn't expect immedate success if you are serious about politics. You should regard being a MP as a vocation, not a career.
Two of the most frequently-cited reasons for people not standing for parliament came up early on the programme: not wanting to be beholden to a party; and the financial advantage which the parties have. I think this is only part of the story.
Lack of money, or party affiliation, is not in itself a bar to election. What is needed is recognition. With the best will in the world, you can't, as an individual, get round to all the voters in your constituency before an election - or, at least, if you do, you have to start so early that most will have forgotten you by the time polling day comes round. If you are already known to the voters - Martin Bell in Knutsford, and Dr Richard Taylor in Wyre Forest are independent MPs who come to mind - for particular points of view which chime with their own feelings, you are at least half-way there.
Martin Bell was familiar from his TV appearances as a brave foreign reporter, and his stand against political sleaze (including a promise to stand down after one term, which he duly did) certainly matched the national mood. It did help that Labour and LibDem candidates did not stand against him. Many of their activists delivered for him, as did actor David Soul. That advantage was not available to Dr Taylor, but he was well-known for leading a campaign against closing a local hospital. He is still in the House of Commons.
So, failing name-recognition with the majority of voters, having a party label gives your prospective constituents an immediate indication of your general views before they even see you. It also gives you a certain standing.
Where electorates are smaller, such as in community councils or smaller wards on principal councils, the personal approach is not only feasible but also welcomed. Here, independents come into their own and indeed some county councils are not run by party groups.
Finally, there is the question of selection. We Liberal Democrats are told we should pick more women (or ethnic or other minority) candidates. My response is that this is a bottom-up, not a top-down, party. We do not parachute favourite sons and daughters in to parliamentary seats, as Labour can and does, and as the Conservatives do to a certain extent. If you agree with us to the extent of wearing our party colours in an election, and you are not male or white or middle-aged, it only takes a slight push at a half-open door for you to do so.
Tuesday, 12 May 2009
The honeymoon period for Obama and Biden obviously covers the financial frailties of their families. Perhaps the media's tolerance was extended to the Bush family in the first months of the presidencies of father and son, but I don't recall it.
An Australian banking analyst-turned-financial blogger living in Bronte, a beach-side suburb of Sydney, has uncovered a financial scandal linking US Ponzi schemes to the offices of a hedge fund owned by the son and brother of the US Vice-President, Joe Biden. This does not seem to have been noted in the mainstream British press (though the Sydney Morning Herald web-site, where I read the story, from which I quote below, remarks that the Financial Times has run a series about the connections).
The story is this: John Hempton, a former Platinum Asset Management analyst (self-described as a political left-winger who took joy in attending the victory party for Maxine McKew after she unseated the former prime minister, John Howard, at the 2007 Australian election) launched his blog, Bronte Capital, last year. He made his name by detailed investigations into such organisations as the New York hedge fund-of-funds, Paradigm Global, and Royal Bank of Scotland.
Later he began investigating a US hedge fund salesman with a history of marketing what he politely deems "scuzzy product", including Ponte Negra, an alleged Ponzi scheme accused of fraud by the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
To Hempton's great surprise, he found that the salesman, Jeff Schneider, also worked for Paradigm, which is owned by the Vice-President's son, Hunter Biden, and his brother, James Biden, and operated from the 17th floor of 650 Fifth Avenue in Manhattan - an office tower with a colourful past which has housed the disgraced arbitrageur Ivan Boesky and the Glencore founder Marc Rich. Ponte Negra shared an office, phone number and common marketer (Schneider) with Paradigm. More research revealed that the first time Paradigm's name had been linked to the seamier side of finance.
Before the Bidens took ownership, it was associated with a Canadian fund that was later discovered to be a Ponzi scheme, and, after the Bidens took over, it launched a joint venture with the cricket-loving Texas billionaire Allen Stanford's outfit, called the Paradigm Stanford Core Alternatives Fund.
Hempton is at pains to say he is not alleging the Bidens are crooks, though he says that their due diligence - before buying the fund and in its oversight of sales staff afterward - was sloppy. "There is no question that they housed within their doors a Ponzi, a fraud," Hempton says.My own scenario is that the Bidens are too naïve for their own good and that they have been taken in by affable salesmen like Stanford and Schneider. Nothing that they do reflects on their more exalted relative.
The same must be said of the indiscretions of the Bush twins. I am in favour of keeping family out of political campaigns, unless they themselves opt in to the process. But if the media have to drag them in, let us have even treatment.
Monday, 11 May 2009
For instance, it led me via a couple of clicks to the "Paris Hilton of Romanian politics". As a former Liberal Democrat, she should perhaps pass her contact details to Lembit. ;-)
“He'd be doing everything he could to get some depth in understanding and promote dialogue on both sides.
“I started to think about this in the wake of the 7/7 bombings in London. About 1,500 people study each year, and so I asked them what they knew about Islam.
“With one or two honourable exceptions, they had a woeful lack of knowledge.
“Yet it's the big issue for British society if we are going to live together."
Gladstone would certainly have approved of the expansion of knowledge, and keeping up-to-date with current developments, but I feel it is going too far to suggest that he would have promoted dialogue. Though his Anglican religion led him to his Liberal views, he could be most illiberal in defending that religion against encroachment by Catholicism. In his sixties he could still describe the Roman Church as "an Asian monarchy; nothing but one giddy height of despotism and one dead level of religious subservience" in a pamphlet (Roy Jenkins' "Gladstone", p 391 in the Papermac edition). Given his condemnation of the actions of the Turks in Bulgaria, I feel he would have been equally (and needlessly) alarmed at the spread of Islam in Britain today. (However, he did not discriminate against individuals on the grounds of their religion; he proposed Catholics for peerages and was also responsible for the first ennoblement of a Jew, Lionel de Rothschild).
For more about the history of the library, and Rev Francis's plans, see the Daily Post article by Peter Elson here.
Saturday, 9 May 2009
"Lord Lawson, the former Conservative chancellor, has suggested British troops leave Afghanistan as a way of cutting government spending.
"The Afghan mission was 'wholly unsuccessful', he told the BBC, and unjustifiably costly given the cuts in public spending needed in the future."
The first reaction of many will be that the author of the Lawson boom, which contributed to the economic mess we are now in, ought not to be offering advice to HM Treasury at present.
However, there is no doubt that our forces in Afghanistan, a large proportion of whom are Welsh, are making sacrifices for no visible return.
For a long time, Paddy Ashdown has argued for a co-ordinator, a sort of UN commissioner, the rôle he filled in Bosnia, and one he could well have taken up if (reportedly) president Karzai had not seen such a strong-man as a threat to his own position.
As he said on The Andrew Marr Show last month: "there's no coordination. There's no plan, there's no speaking with a single voice. The British think Afghanistan's Helmand, the Dutch thinks it's Oruzgan, the Canadians think it's Kandahar, the Germans think it's the Panshir Valley, and the Americans think it's bombing from B-52s. Now if you don't have a single plan and a capacity to speak with a single voice, you're not going to get anything done."
My own view is that there has also been a failure on the civil front. Pacification should have been followed up with road and rail construction, support for SMEs and trade. In such a poor country, a little aid goes a long way, and it doesn't necessarily need coordinating. There could be a mix of aid agencies and commercial organisations. Why don't our big supermarket chains look at sourcing goods in Afghanistan, initially at a loss, if necessary?
A big step which the international community could take would be to license Afghan farmers for legitimate production of poppy for medical purposes.
Friday, 8 May 2009
As Harold Macmillan used to say, problems are soluble. The simple solution to this one is to have an objectively-devised and independently-administered system.
Guido Fawkes puts it thus: "Who made the rules? MPs. Who benefits? MPs. Who decides how much they are paid? MPs. Who judges rule breakers? MPs. It is a fundamental legal principle, that you should not be a judge in your own case (“nemo debet esse iudex in propria causa”). MPs are always judging other MPs caught red handed, that is why despite huge amounts of money being embezzled, not a single MP has gone to jail."
Melvyn Bragg's "In Our Time" programme yesterday dealt with Magna Carta. Although this document is now readable only by scholars, and contains the local and particular (for instance, clearing fish-weirs from the Medway, wiping out debts to Jews) as well as the constitutional, one innovatory principle rings down the years: kings do not make the law, and no king is above the law.
We are said to live in an elected dictatorship. MPs expenses would be a good place to start rolling it back.
Wednesday, 6 May 2009
The Prime Minister's response, to a question by Iain Duncan Smith, at question time in the House, was more guarded, but still indicated a change of heart by government in the light of their defeat last week.
Incidentally, the former leader of the party put the only question from the Tory benches which concerned policy, rather than Gordon Brown's position within the Labour Party.
The First Minister should instead have mentioned the farm payments scheme, which Wales implemented with few difficulties, while DEFRA in England fouled up an over-elaborate IT system to administer their payments.
(Lower than top marks to the Evening Post for not putting the report on their web pages as well as in the print edition. Could it be because the story was not centred on Swansea?)
Government health organisations and QuANGOs round the world have risen to the challenge. There are too many to cite here; just give "World Asthma Day 2009" to your favourite search engine and see.
Tuesday, 5 May 2009
Meanwhile, the British campaign for fair votes continues.
Monday, 4 May 2009
This came back to mind when I was listening to the repeat of BBC Radio 4's "Archive" programme on Pete Seeger (just a few days left on "Listen Again"!). Seeger was asked by Vincent Dowd whether music changed anything, and typically did not answer the question directly. It was left to contributor Robin Denselow, a long-time student of folk music and of political protest, to say that what music did was to make people feel good about themselves. He had no doubt that the civil rights movement in the States felt better for having such anthems as "We shall overcome" and "This land is your land". That the latter did not in itself change anything was evidenced by the fact that fellow-patients of its author Woody Guthrie, by then hospitalised by the chorea which was to kill him, loved the song but few shared his political views. Moreover, both Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton used it on their election campaigns.
Incidentally, Seeger was remarkably optimistic for someone who has just entered his tenth decade. As someone who lived through the depression, the paranoid 1950s and the Cuban missile crisis, he is in a good position to judge. He feels that this is the best time, because of the information revolution. I couldn't resist the thought that, if the World Wide Web had existed fifty years earlier, Seeger would have known enough not to be taken in by Stalin's rhetoric. Joining the Communist party was a cause of much trouble for him until comparatively recently, and it seems to be the only decision in his life he feels apologetic about.
He was grateful to his lefty (his word) reputation for one thing, though; while he was most associated with the communists, he was able to live his private life in seclusion. Now that a new generation recognises him as a standard-bearer for environmentalism, he and his wife have to cope with piles of mail, records and invitations. The latter he turns down (Vincent Dowd was obviously lucky, or persistent, in obtaining the interviews he did). If you want to see me, he says, come to the festivals he and his friends run in the Hudson Valley.
The anthems associated with the green movement are no less political for not being tied to a particular party. Perhaps we may see a revival in the songs of Malvina Reynolds, which were eclipsed in the materialist twentieth-century end years. "Little boxes" and "What have they done to the rain" are as relevant today as when they were written.
Sunday, 3 May 2009
There was a marvellous commemorative service at St John the Baptist, Neath Abbey, this afternoon. It was attended by two Lords (both former MPs), the High Sheriff and the Lord Lieutenant of the county, members of the legal profession, three AMs, the mayor of Neath Port Talbot, the mayor of Neath, county borough councillors, and chairmen and councillors from Coedffranc and Dyffryn Clydach communities. (This is all from memory; I hope to fill out the list after comparing notes with Cllr. Keith Davies, who was the prime mover of the celebration.)
Lord Morris of Aberavon, a former attorney-general, gave the address, pitched perfectly for the occasion and the audience. He was obviously well aware, even before being invited to speak to this occasion, of the career of his predecessor as a senior elected law officer (Sir Samuel had been solicitor-general in the Asquith ministry). Sir Samuel made less of an impact as a politician, though, than on his appointment as president of the divorce, probate and admiralty division. Lord Morris said that he had brought admiralty law, in particular prize law, into the twentieth century after it had been virtually moribund since the days of the Crimean war. In doing so, he had earned an international reputation.
There was some splendid singing by the Skewen chorale. The service in the church was followed by a short ceremony at the graveside, during which flowers were laid on behalf of the county borough council and Aberavon & Neath Liberal Democrats. Afterwards, we repaired to the hall in the nearby school which Sam Evans had attended as a child, for tea and cakes.
The picture shows Lord Morris, the Mayor of Neath Port Talbot, the Mayor of Neath and Lord Livsey after the graveside ceremony, with the Rev. Mark Williams in the background.