Thursday, 29 October 2009
The latest scandal concerns the Rural Payments Agency. The RPA lost confidential data belonging to anyone who has ever claimed a single farm payment in England. According to Caroline Stocks of the Farmers Weekly, computer tapes containing the bank details, addresses, passwords and security questions of more than 100,000 farmers were discovered missing in May after they were transferred from RPA offices in Reading to Newcastle. Although DEFRA was alerted straight away - " it is Farmers Weekly's understanding that" DEFRA made no attempt to inform anyone. There is more here.
Hat-tip to Jonathan Calder.
Wednesday, 28 October 2009
He also recommends that there should be an end to "flipping" and other abuses of the allowances for housing. However, the terms "horse" and "stable door" come to mind. No action is going to be taken against current rogues, in spite of pressure from Nick. Stephen Tall puts it much better in
Monday, 26 October 2009
Friday, 23 October 2009
The party's spin doctor complained this morning about the concentration on Griffin and the policies that the BNP is most well-known for. In private he must have been cheering. If other topics of the moment - the economy, for instance - had been discussed, the lack of coherent policy across the board would have been exposed. I remember from one of my previous election hustings that the flakiness of the nationalist fringe candidate (either UKIP or Referendum Party) was really exposed when questioning moved away from his comfort zone. We had some hint of that last night when the one serious non-race question, that of homophobia, came up.
I am not as great a fan of Bonnie Greer as Peter Black evidently is, judging by his view of last night's proceedings, but I thought she did a more thorough demolition job on Nick Griffin than the other members of the panel by patronising him - or, rather, by dealing with him as a nanny would treat a wayward charge.
I would also agree with Peter Black that Chris Huhne did well, in spite of his being excluded for long periods by David Dimbleby. It was unfortunate that Huhne appeared to pander to the Conservative/BNP anti-EU line by bringing up the subject of the free market in labour being opened up to East European accession countries, something that was seized on by the cunning Griffin.
I thought Griffin destroyed one of his party's own arguments by citing the persistence of male DNA through from Iron Age remains to the present day. As Bonnie Greer had pointed out, soldiers - though not necessarily citizens, as she suggested - from all over the Roman Empire, including North Africa, had been posted to legions garrisoning this country for the four hundred years of the empire. Many must have settled. Since then, there have been waves of immigration, largely fleeing persecution on the continent, yet the character of Britain has hardly changed. If we can stand two millennia of migration, then the restricted* inflow of the current decade is hardly going to alter things.
Dimbleby's concentration on Griffin had another unfortunate side-effect: the policies of the three major parties were not examined. I would have thought that Baroness Warsi's position was uncomfortably close to that of BNP, for instance, and Chris Huhne's attack on the government's lack of control was not answered by Jack Straw.
"Question Time" didn't tell me anything new about the BNP, but it did confirm what a slippery character Nick Griffin is. It was summed up for me by his assertion that David Duke was a member of a nice chapter of the Ku Klux Klan when he had posed with Griffin, but had since gone to the bad.
*It would be minimal if the government policed its own laws effectively
The Local Health Services and Democratic Involvement Bill seeks to require, among other things, Primary Care Trusts to obtain prior approval for their spending plans, involving relevant local authorities.
Dr Pugh harboured few illusions about the odds of the Bill making it to the statute book, but in his presentation he made one or two sharp points.
"The local NHS is a huge taxpayer-funded service, affects everyone, is important to everyone, but is sadly totally remote from democratic decision making," he said. "Those who take the trouble to get elected to secure a mandate can make decisions about [where people] may smoke and what, but not about what happens in the local NHS in their area.
"MPs can protest at the actions of such bodies, [but] the thought of allowing anyone who has gone through the sordid process of getting elected anywhere near decision making has given successive Governments the vapours, and has been resisted hook, line and sinker, much to the satisfaction of hospital chief executives and health service managers."When an MP raises in this place decisions that their constituents oppose, and tasks a Minister about it, time and again the Minister, with almost comic sincerity, in Pontius Pilate fashion, says, 'This is a matter for local decision making,' as though 'local decision making' implied that local people—outside the quango circle—had any part in it.
"That is a perversion of democracy, but it satisfies the professionals, who like the prescription and genuinely fear the alternative—democratic accountability. [...] Liberal Democrats are very comfortable with the idea of elected health boards. We believe in removing appointees who have been whisked smugly or, in some cases, humbly into power because they have impressed some other appointee who has previously been whisked smugly or humbly into power, and replacing them with elected individuals who have had to impress the citizens served by the local trust, who gain community support and approval, and who, ultimately, justify their position to the people whom they serve.
"My Bill is simply a bridge to that position. It involves even less change, and uses existing institutions. I propose that primary care trusts, as currently constituted, lay before the health scrutiny committees of existing councils, as currently constituted, their annual plans and their big decisions—not for scrutiny or consultation, but for approval, agreement and amendment. I propose a kind of democratic lock on the local NHS: a move beyond mere consultation. I propose a genuine redistribution of power from one existing institution to another existing, established institution. This is such a good idea that I believe that the model has already been embraced voluntarily in some areas."
Dr Pugh concluded: "I genuinely see no reason why this model cannot work—in fact, it does work— and produce not simply good decisions, but good decisions with a popular mandate. That would be nice. Our NHS could be reclaimed, without micro-management or meddling, and not with government by experts but with popular government, expertly informed."
Sadly, the Bill will almost certainly fail to get a second reading, so we won't even hear the government's arguments against it, but these would no doubt be similar to those of Edwina Hart in centralising the NHS in Wales.
Tuesday, 20 October 2009
There will almost certainly be a BNP candidate in Neath in the forthcoming general election. I hope that Mr Hain will not boycott any public meetings at which all candidates are present. After nearly forty years of political experience at Westminster, following leadership of a group dedicated to ending apartheid in South Africa, he is in the best position to give the lie to BNP's underlying racist philosophy.
I intend, as the Liberal Democrat candidate for the constituency, to do my best to defend the British tradition of tolerance, but it would be so much more effective to have two of us on the platform doing so.
Monday, 19 October 2009
Sunday, 18 October 2009
There are those who dream of connecting the Swansea and/or Neath canals to the Brecon & Montgomery. It won't happen in my lifetime, but I'd like to see movement towards this.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Pam Giddy advises MPs complaining about being asked to return expenses & allowances: "when you are in a hole, stop digging".
It is unfortunate that the Liberal Democrat leader got the taxpayers to fund his redecorations. (For the rest of the LibDem record, see Liberal Voice.) However, both Nick Clegg and Conservative leader David Cameron put their hands up and have agreed to pay back their excessive claims without demur. Unfortunately, too many Labour and Conservative members are continuing to whine about "unfairness".
The main complaint now appears to be that Sir Thomas Legg, the retired senior civil servant charged with cleaning up after the expenses scandal, is changing the rules. (Incidentally, I confess to a wry grin, when the Legg letters were first made public, that strict civil service standards, which I and my colleagues used to groan about, were being applied to politicians' claims.) Just because the Fees Office passed dubious claims does not make those claims retrospectively right. One might as well say that one should not be charged with old crimes because the local police turned a blind eye at the time. Honourable members (and let us remember that the majority are still honourable) have to attest that any expenditure must be incurred wholly, exclusively and necessarily in the performance of parliamentary duties.
What part of "wholly, exclusively and necessarily" don't they understand?
Monday, 12 October 2009
The news came as a shock. Adrian Masters had sat in for him on "Called to Order" for the last two weeks, so one assumed he had been ill, but it was announced that he would return shortly.
Sunday, 11 October 2009
Now, courtesy of the India Uncut blog, comes this story from the Times of India. In true Robb Wilton fashion, an Indian desk sergeant refused to book a self-confessed murderer because the crime did not occur in his district.
Thursday, 8 October 2009
A sign that Conservative hypocrisy is not dead came in William Hague's speech when he lambasted Labour for closing post offices - a process which the Conservatives had set in motion.
Forgive me if I am not convinced by the "Ready for Change" slogan. The applause in the Manchester Central auditorium for the more liberal parts of Cameron's speech was hesitant and lukewarm, and there are too many people from the Powell-Boyle-Thatcher project still around at the top level of the party.
Tuesday, 6 October 2009
I suspect that the message was also directed at the media. The Conservative leadership certainly does not want appear to be triumphalist, but it may be more than that. Private polling may be supporting what many of us expect: that, on present voting intentions, there will be a hung parliament after the next election. They would prefer to be able to say "I told you so" to the editors, rather than the other way round.
No doubt many Conservative activists are salivating at the thought of another 40+ majority alla Thatcher 1979. They should remember that there was only one similarity between then and now: a discredited Labour government had only just started pulling itself out of a hole with international financial support.
The arithmetic is different: Callaghan in 1979 did not have an overall majority; Brown still has a nominal superiority of over fifty.
The parties were different. In 1979, the Conservatives could argue that they were providing a free-market alternative to failed socialism. In 1996, Brown and Blair took economic liberalism on board and, apart from a change in the language since Brown became prime minister, the New Labour project has hardly deviated thereafter. Cameron and company seem to be presenting themselves as better managers - rather as Blair did in 1997 - not offering a different philosophy.
Finally, there is the position of the third party. The Liberals under David Steel had restored confidence in the UK economy by going into coalition with Callaghan, quitting in 1978 when the crisis was over. The party was still punished at the ballot for its association with Labour, when the only alternative was seen to be Mrs Thatcher. Thirty years later, the parliamentary third party, the Liberal Democrats, is ten times the size of its 1979 counterpart and far from being seen as a natural supporter of New Labour. If people merely want to vote "not Labour", there is a realistic choice, depending on where they live.
No wonder the Conservatives are wooing Liberal Democrat supporters. This morning's conference session on local government, with its obsession with potholes, traffic lights and bendy-buses looked like a videoconferencing version of a classic LD Focus leaflet.
Disappointingly, the message was the same invocation of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) which has disfigured Labour's pronouncements on crime since their 1996 conference. In one respect, the Conservatives have gone backwards. Last year, they were honest enough to state that their hard line on early release and on replacing fines with prison would involve building more gaols. This year, there was not a mention of the cost of their programme: neither the buildings, nor the extra staffing required for the increased discipline in prisons. Dominic Grieve wants a policy of zero tolerance of drugs in prison, but surely he knows that in the most under-staffed prisons, warders tacitly accept the easy availability of drugs which keep prisoners quiescent.
Chris Grayling seemed to think that the only cause of youth offending was the low price of drink, and that preventing supermarkets from selling booze below cost price would solve that problem. (The supermarkets say that they don't sell below cost, and I believe them; their purchasing power is such that they can drive down the cost to them and probably still leave a healthy margin in their normal pricing. I doubt that they make a loss on price promotions especially since the practice on many other lines is to force the supplier to share part of the cut.)
The only positive messages came from the discussion sessions. Such as Mary Smart, Junior Stuart and others whose names I didn't catch, were working practically on the ground in various ways to turn round the lives of offenders. It was good to see them given a national platform. They (and those in the same field who spoke to Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth) ought to be an encouragement to others in the community to do the same. Sadly, apart from a few words of praise, there was no encouragement from either of the Conservative spokesmen in the way of commitment to help from government.
Monday, 5 October 2009
It was clever of them to get one of their weakest pitches out of the way on the first morning. Sir George Young outlined some very desirable democratic changes to House of Commons procedures at length, but dismissed the allowances and expenses scandal, which arguably implicated as much mis-spending on the part of Conservative MPs as Labour ones, in a couple of sentences at the beginning.
Sir George rightly drew attention to the Select Committee system which has proved so valuable over the last twenty years. What he omitted was the name of Norman St John Stevas, the prime mover of the changes. He was not Margaret Thatcher's favourite person, which may have had something to do with his air-brushing out of Conservative history this morning.
(Given the keynote of austerity sounded by Eric Pickles, it was rather tactless to fill in the gap between presentations with a backing track which, if I heard correctly, repeated the mantra "Shop till you drop".)
Thursday, 1 October 2009
Steve James, on Radio Wales this morning, reckoned that if Maynard goes, Dalrymple will also. While I have had my doubts about some of the cricket manager's pronouncements, I have none about Dalrymple's captaincy. In my view, he is the best since Tony Lewis, his bowling changes being particularly astute. It should be remembered that, though Glamorgan finished in the middle of the second division table, the gap between success and mediocrity was narrow. If memory serves, there were three matches in which Glamorgan were on the brink of victory having the opposition nine wickets down. If two of the three had gone the county's way, we could have been celebrating promotion now.
At least I have Web access and can post my last letter below. I am sorry for any reader who put a letter in and is not online. Anyway, I am not about to let Alun Llewelyn have the last word:
Letter to Neath Guardian "points of view"
Does Alun Llewelyn (“points of view”, September 24) really claim that the economic policies of the current coalition government in Cardiff are “Plaid-led”? If so, he must be accepting responsibility for the overwhelming financial pressure on local authorities to persuade their tenants to say “Yes” to housing stock transfer.
Of course this is not so. We both know that the Plaid Cymru housing minister is following the Labour policy made in Westminster, just as the Nationalists have done about-turns on fair votes and local income tax in return for their ministerial seats.
Prospective parliamentary candidate,