Tuesday, 29 September 2009
However, I did catch an evangelistic speech by Lord Adonis. He made the case for the investment in rail over road in the near term, and promised interventions which would make life easier for both passengers and industrial users of the railway. Sadly, the Labour Party website has not yet seen fit to put up a video of the speech.
But why, oh why, couldn't Labour have embarked on this programme at the start of its ministry rather than at the fag-end of it? Even a few years later, a change of heart would have reaped benefits. Work on the electrification of the South Wales main line could have been under way in 2007, helping to ease the recession and providing a modern railway ready for the upturn predicted for next year.
There is consolation in that not only Liberal Democrats are committed to the future of rail, but also now the Conservative Party has signed up to green transport policies. Assuming we can believe the latter, all the parties are now on the right track.
Monday, 28 September 2009
The cause of this gripe is a need to find out when Labour is to discuss transport policy. If any Labour member reading this can let me know the day and times, I would be very grateful.
Sunday, 27 September 2009
It was noticeable how much more at ease Gordon Brown is among friends, and especially with the young Labour candidates, than he is in the House of Commons these days. (Of course, he was hardly pressed with difficult questions in Brighton.)
Also noticeable was that the eyes of party leader and deputy leader hardly ever met. Brown had a handshake and a pat on the back for every parliamentary colleague's speech, Harman joined in the applause but otherwise ignored the speaker. In the question-and-answer session, Harman was never content to let Brown have the last word, but had to add her own spin.
Harriet Harman clearly has her own agenda, which John Prescott, for one, does not like.
If a political party can have a meaningful conversation with the electorate in this way, then how much more important is it for the Welsh Assembly government to reach out to local communities. It was a sad day when the Labour Assembly Government decided to abandon the regional meetings which enabled ministers to explain WAG's approach to given topics and then to hear from local activists and concerned citizens on them.
Saturday, 26 September 2009
The event did have a momentous outcome. After ten months of a government led by Dudley Senanayake, Bandaranaike's widow Sirimavo was elected as the world's first female prime minister in July 1960.
Friday, 25 September 2009
There can be no objection to releasing workers on genuine grounds that they are no longer capable, but, as B&Q stores have shown, some people well over the traditional retiring age can still do a good job. A compulsory retirement age of 65 is arbitrary, unfair and an anachronism.
Now if Sir Peter Viggers had described his duck house as "secure reception area for foreign guests flying in", or Douglas Hogg had put his moat maintenance down to additional security measures, perhaps they might have been able to put off the day of retirement a little longer.
And Margaret Moran (Labour, Luton South) was clearly providing a large number of safe houses.
Thursday, 24 September 2009
According to a BBC report, a spokesman said: "There is nothing in electoral legislation that would cover that kind of stuff. Our job is to provide guidance for those people taking part in an election and to help them stay within the law."
But he "makes clear that complaints about potentially defamatory material, under electoral laws, remain a matter for the police and that cases will be investigated".
The phrase "don't hold your breath" comes to mind. A serious allegation was made against a candidate in the last Assembly elections in the form of a widely distributed anonymous leaflet. Although the police investigation has not officially been closed as far as I know, there have not yet been any arrests. If the perpetrators of a leaflet, which involves considerable effort to print and distribute, cannot be tracked down, what hope is there of nailing the producer of an online video spoof, which may not even be hosted in the UK?
Wednesday, 23 September 2009
Tuesday, 22 September 2009
She said: “I have spent many years campaigning for a society that is based on integrity, trust and morality. And it is clear that this belief is at the very core of everything the Liberal Democrats do."
There is more here.
F31 Rail Franchises
i) The growing number of passenger rail franchises now being agreed with substantial and
increasing amounts of premium to be paid to the Treasury.
ii) That rail franchisees also have to pay their share of the costs of Rolling Stock Operating
Companies’ and Network Rail’s charges.
iii) That Britain’s rail fares are already among the highest in Europe.
iv) That in most cases franchisees are awarded a private monopoly with no choice of provider
being offered to the rail traveller.
Conference condemns recent increases in both regulated and unregulated rail fares, which are
higher than the then rate of inflation and bore particularly hard on those who depend on the railway to commute to work.
a) The fact that the Labour Government has continued to pursue a highest premium model of
awarding monopoly franchises, with clear problems and stresses now becoming evident
across the rail industry and consequent large fare increases which are little more than a
stealth tax on one of the greenest modes of transport.
b) The way this franchise model has led to companies overbidding for franchises, creating the
situation where both GNER and now National Express have handed back the East Coast
franchise to the Government, leaving the taxpayer with a greater cost to bear.
c) The apparent inability of the Office of Rail Regulation to force transparency in how individual
fares from individual stations are set even for regulated fares, and its past acquiescence in
disproportionate increases imposed on particular classes of passenger who use off-peak
services and in differing fares being applied arbitrarily to apparently similar journeys from
Conference further notes belated moves by the Government to end the situation where individual regulated fares are allowed to increase by more than the RPI+1% cap in ways that further increased fare inequalities as long as the overall ‘basket’ of regulated fares increased by no more than the cap.
Conference demands that:
1. The Government retain the East Coast franchise until the end of the current franchise term
as a public interest franchise, to act as a public sector comparator to drive up standards and
drive down costs across the rest of the rail network.
2. The Government scrap the failing franchise system and replace it with one that prioritises the passenger over higher premium payments; new franchise conditions must lead on quality of service and of passenger experience, including, where possible, fare reductions, with rolling
reviews to ensure standards are being met.
3. The government guarantee that any surplus from franchise premiums should continue to be
invested in rail improvements, to include improved services, more rolling stock, and, where
economically viable, the reopening of stations and lines.
4. As soon as possible overall annual increases in rail fares should be at no more than inflation,
as part of the wider agenda of promoting green forms of travel.
An amendment proposed by Linda Jack and supported by Lembit Opik, which called on the party to consider renationalisation was clearly lost, but attracted considerable support.
During the debate, it was revealed that a survey by the Swiss multinational bank UBS earlier this year showed UK train fares to be not only the highest in the EU, but the highest in the world.
Sunday, 20 September 2009
My first thought was: what is Price running away from? He has escaped serious questioning about the use of his MP's communications allowance to help Welsh Assembly nationalist candidates. That is not likely to be brought up again, so that can't be it. It is more likely that Plaid anticipates a hung parliament after the next general election, and a deal with another party. History suggests that Plaid will not be too particular as to who that deal is done with, so long as it serves their narrow self-interest. Dissociating himself from a move which is almost certain to end in tears, to return and take over from a discredited leadership in 2014 when he is still young, would seem to be astute and in character.
Friday, 18 September 2009
Amid all the doom and gloom, the Green Dragon and the Crown & Sceptre in Cadoxton keep their doors open. Indeed, the latter continues its status in the Good Beer Guide 2010.
Other pubs in the county borough which are listed are the Butchers at Alltwen, the Pontardawe Inn ("Gwachel") and the Pink Geranium in Pontardawe, the Borough Arms and the David Protheroe in Neath, the Lord Caradoc in Port Talbot and the Wern Fawr in Ystalyfera.
Thursday, 17 September 2009
Adrian Hamilton, in the Independent of 3rd September, gives an objective survey. "The history channels continue to be skewed to the era, with documentaries endlessly repeating the pictures from the archives, the reminiscences of the participants and the views of the armchair strategists. To the despair of, I suspect, most women, and most of the young, the Second World War lives on with a glow that almost no other historic occasion holds. Why so? It is partly that, for all the revisionist history, the Second World War has gone down as the 'good war'"
But, he points out, only the Russians celebrate the period with the fervency of the Anglo-Saxons. "For the losers, the occupied as well as the Axis, the Nazi era is still one they would rather forget. And who can blame them? There is little to be gained, even if there is much to be learnt, by trawling over a bitter and humiliating past."
It is not as if Britain's feats of arms were unique and superior. "A whole generation of historians," Hamilton writes, "has served to reinforce the point - accepted by veterans but ignored by the popular narratives - that platoon by platoon, equipment for equipment, the Germans were much better fighters than we were."
We sneer at the Americans for claiming many of the technical advances actually made by Europeans during World War II (cracking the Enigma cipher, digital electronic computers and radar for instance), but we cannot deny that mainland Europe would not have been liberated without that massive war machine. We would not even have been in the position to do so if Hitler had not had to fight the Russians. And let us not forget the sacrifices made by Australians, Canadians, Indians, New Zealanders and other citizens of what was then still the Empire.
The current orgy of self-congratulation distracts from the shortcomings in manning (except in Whitehall!) and equipment of today's armed forces. I suggest that it is thus dangerous as well as annoying.
Tuesday, 15 September 2009
Expecting to see TUC coverage on BBC-Parliament starting at 14:15, I was entertained by music which did not rise to the heights of Alan Price's mood music for the LibDems and a barely informative caption.
Could it be that the ten minutes was spent in hectic rewriting of Gordon Brown's speech?
Since the crucial parts have been trailed, and are being delivered as I write, one wonders what the problem was.
I am surprised at the claim that Brown is going to start building council housing again, at a time when there is no sign that New Labour is resiling from the Thatcherite drive to privatise council housing stock. Has he had a word with Rhodri Morgan? Has that word been passed down to Neath Port Talbot Council, which has postponed its tenants' ballot, possibly in anticipation of a change in policy?
Another statement, which may not be reported, is hugely debatable. Brown can hardly proclaim that UK is leading the way on green personal transport when Renault of France has made the most significant announcement of zero-emission cars so far.
Monday, 14 September 2009
British Waterways have arranged a seminar for Neath Port Talbot councillors for mid-November on the subject of the Swansea, Neath and Tennant canals. One trusts that the Port Tennant Navigation Company will be represented, since British Waterways does not own their canal.
If any reader has an interest in the course of these canals through the borough, and wants information they cannot get from other sources, or has matters they wish to raise, please let me (or another member of the council) know within the next eight weeks.
Sunday, 13 September 2009
Radio 4 this morning relayed the poignant blog of Sultan Munadi the New York Times translator and reporter who was killed, probably by "friendly fire", in a recent commando raid. He described how he spent two years among the unsympathetic glass, concrete and steel of Germany, and how he longed to get back to his birthplace in the Panjshir Valley. Having survived Soviet bombing and the "prison" of Taliban rule, he looked forward to a better situation. "Being a journalist is not enough," he wrote, "it will not solve the problems of Aghanistan. I want to work for the education of the country, because the majority of people are illiterate. That is the real problem facing many Afghans. I am really committed to come back and work for my country."
That raid also took the life of one of our own, Corporal John Harrison, as well as three Afghans. It succeeded in its prime objective of rescuing the Anglo-Irish journalist Stephen Farrell. It transpired that Farrell had been warned that his trip was fraught with danger. There were calls from fellow-journalists for the New York Times to withdraw him from war zones in future. There is a line between bravery and foolhardiness.
It is this thing, the World Wide Web, which has done most to jeopardise the lives of reporters in conflict zones. There was a time when journalists were as untouchable as holy men or diplomats. When the only mass media were the newspapers and radio, their correspondents were valued by all sides as the only people who could provide an outlet for the combatants' cases.
Now journalists are as disposable - or as usable as hostages - as any other citizen. Any insurgent with a computer or even a mobile phone can get his views onto the Internet within seconds. The blatant slanting of news by some US TV news channels does not help the safety of Western journalists, either.
Friday, 11 September 2009
Paul Staines (Guido Fawkes) has ticked me off for describing him as a Tory, proudly saying that he had never been a member of the Conservative Party. My defence is that I was harking back to the early, pre-C0nservative and -Liberal days, when there was no recognised party structure.
Ivor Bulmer-Thomas in "The Growth of the British Party System" (1967), wrote: "The name Whig was properly given to adherents of the Presbyterian cause in Scotland in the latter half of the seventeenth century and was applied to the exclusioners [supporters of a Bill to prevent James, Duke of York, from succeeding Charles II] in derision. The term Tory, an anglicized form of an Irish word meaning a pursuer, was even less polite. In its original sense it was used in the seventeenth century to denote one of the dispossessed Irish who became outlaws and lived by killing and plundering the English settlers and soldiers. It was equivalent to 'bog trotter', and was applied to their opponents because they noticed that the Duke of York tended to favour Irishmen for his friends. Narcissus Luttrell in 1681 wrote of the duke's supporters and the exclusioners: 'The latter party have been called by the former whigs, fanaticks, covenanteers, bromigham protestants, &c.; and the former are called by the latter tories; tantivies, Yorkists, high-flown church men, &c.'"
High-church man? Pursuer with Irish connections? Fits Guido to a T, I would say.
Nor would he disown the company of Dean Swift, Alexander Pope, Isaac Newton or Samuel Johnson, I suspect. They were all identified as tories (though Johnson was not that political).
Perhaps I was at fault in using a capital letter, since latter-day Conservatives are happy to describe themselves as "Tories". I shall be more selective in future.
Incidentally, I was pleased to note that "Narcissus Luttrell" defeated the major search engines. I do hope that Bulmer-Thomas did not invent him or her.
It's all more income for Capita, who run the checks.
Update: the situation is not as bad as the original short report implied. According to Liberal Vision, informal arrangements will not be affected. My question about the evidence base remains, though.
John has been reluctant to say much about the Phoenix/Alchemy contest, but reading between the lines of his communications on the subject, it seems to me that the Alchemy bid was always going to be the most realistic.
The Phoenix prospectus would not have stood up to close scrutiny. But ministers were not prepared to accept the Alchemy medicine of slimming down Rover to make it viable, preserving some jobs for the long term. They were seduced by Phoenix's promises to keep all the workers on.
How about being consistent, and banning those politicians who were taken in from ever being in government again? The guilty team at the DTI in 2000 were Stephen Byers, Richard Caborn and Patricia Hewitt.
Thursday, 10 September 2009
I have more doubts about the second. It's not so much the title ("How should we fight the nanny state?") as the indication of the direction the event is to be steered. Co-sponsors are FOREST, the pressure group which wants to rescind the ban on smoking in public places.
Since Sara Scarlett, a leading light in "Liberal Vision" has in the past praised Anne Widdecombe, and attacked Jo Swinson for her campaign for "Real Women", I think we can see where this is going. Scarlett has also attacked federal president Ros Scott and valued campaigner Duncan Borrowman. It is no surprise that she was the object of a move to withdraw her party membership.
Politics is not a matter of black-and-white, no matter what the Glenda Slaggs of the red-tops may say. I agree with Scarlett on some things, especially the thrust of her piece on the isolation and professionalisation of MPs. It would have been nice, though, if she had divulged what she does for a living.
Update: blogger.com notifies me of a recent post on Liberal Vision. by Barry Stocker on the subject of Adam Smith. However, this post is not accessible. Was it removed because Adam Smith is seen as not libertarian enough?
Wednesday, 9 September 2009
I can think of a few Labour ministers, on both sides of the border, that it could apply to.
*Not to mention the "War song of Dinas Vawr": "The mountain sheep are sweeter, but the valley sheep are fatter; and so we deemed it meeter to carry off the latter (etc)".
Tuesday, 8 September 2009
The laptop was then stolen. It had been stored in a locked office, but not encrypted, according to the ICO. The person who downloaded the data to the laptop was breaching council policy, but there was no block on them doing so.
Joyce Redfearn, chief executive of Wigan Council, has signed an undertaking stating that the council will encrypt data on portable devices in future.One trusts that the Welsh Assembly Government already has advice to local education authorities in place.
Sunday, 6 September 2009
“What can a [chief executive] do to warrant the kind of packages put together compared to the other people working in the organisation? I do think things should be spread about a bit more.”
He is following in the footsteps of John Spedan Lewis, who wrote: "Capitalism has done enormous good and suits human nature far too well to be given up as long as human nature remains the same. But the perversion has given us too unstable a society. Differences of reward must be large enough to induce people to do their best but the present differences are far too great.
"If we do not find some way of correcting that perversion of capitalism, our society will break down. We shall find ourselves back in some form of government without the consent of the governed, some form of police state."
His solution (not original, but apparently reached independently of other workforce-involvement schemes) was that residual profits should be distributed annually to the employees - thenceforward known as "partners" - in proportion to their pay in the form of non-voting shares carrying a fixed dividend which they would be free to sell without affecting the control of the business.
It is noteworthy that the John Lewis group (which includes Waitrose) is one of the few British corporations to thrive during the recent economic crunch. Ironically, eight years ago there were some senior John Lewis partners who felt that the organisation was behind the times, that it should demutualise in search of expansion and higher profits - much as permanent building societies were doing. Fortunately, they were advised that it would take an Act of Parliament to do this and JLP survived.
Friday, 4 September 2009
I, too, remember him as a columnist in the Daily Mirror, and a rather better writer than the much-lauded Cassandra, in my opinion - though he was generally not as vitriolic as his predecessor. But he was also the author of a novel, "Office Life", which was turned into an enjoyable television play starring Jenny Agutter.
This was a shrewd, if sidelong, commentary on the deceptive nature of the Thatcherite economic revolution, continued unquestioningly by Blair and Brown. It would stand repeating.
Its terms of reference are restricted to bottle-conditioned ales (that is, those in which fermentation continues in the bottle). Therefore, local specialities like Hurns Brewing Company's Tomos Watkin range are not included, but Welsh craft beers are well represented.
In South Wales, we have Vale of Glamorgan, Rhymney (which produces a bottled dark for CAMRA), Otley (based in Pontypridd, not Yorkshire!), Kingstone, Ffos y ffin, Dare and Breconshire breweries. There is the Neuadd Arms Brewing Co, which suggests a good way of breaking the journey on the Heart of Wales railway. North Wales boasts Conwy, Jolly Brewer (Wrexham), McGivern (Wrexham, no web site known) and North Wales (Moelfre). West Wales has Penlon.
Over the border, there is Whittingtons Brewery, based in Newent, birthplace of the famous Lord Mayor of London. I don't know if Peter Black is a beer man, but if he is, the products should appeal to him: A Winter's Tail (a winter ale) and Cat's Whiskers (a bitter).
I'd still like to know what happened to Jigsaw (or was it Puzzle?), a cinnamon-flavoured wheat beer (produced in Shrewsbury, if I recall aright), which was very refreshing in the times when we had hot summers.
Tuesday, 1 September 2009
If only the engineering and financial obstacles to connection of our two canals could be overcome, Neath Port Talbot is well placed to share in this success in future.