Wednesday, 30 December 2009

David Taylor: a loss to parliament

Jonathan Calder draws attention to Tam Dalyell's obituary of the Labour MP for North-West Leicestershire. Mr Taylor sadly succumbed to an  unexpected heart attack while enjoying a Boxing Day walk with his family.

Mr Dalyell rightly praises Mr Taylor's principled votes against his party's leadership, which of course ensured that he never got the ministerial post he was clearly fitted for. He also points out that Mr Taylor, as an accountant and former computer services manager, was one of the few MPs with practical experience of IT.

Gordon Brown has a cheek

According to a leaked version of his New Year message, Gordon Brown  will assert that a vote in next year's general election for any party but Labour will wreck the economy. He has a bloody cheek.

It was his government's lax supervision of the markets which led to the economic breakdown in this country and, arguably, contributed to the world-wide financial failure of confidence. (Some of the world's largest banks are headquartered in London.)

It is natural for the Conservatives to remind voters of this. What they do not say is that Brown took his economic strategy largely unchanged from that of Thatcher and Major. Their pitch would also be more convincing if they had Ken Clarke in the shadow treasury post, rather than the lightweight George Osborne.

Vince Cable is the most credible of all the treasury spokesmen in the Westminster parliament. So far from wrecking the economy, installing him in no. 11 Downing Street would not only accelerate the improvement (still slower than all the other major economies) domestically but also restore the international confidence on which the UK more than ever depends.

Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The propaganda allowance

I recently wrote to the South Wales Guardian welcoming the decision of the government to accept the recommendation to abolish the "Communications Allowance". Peter Black passes on a Times report that this joy was premature.

My letter dealt with Adam Price's misuse of the allowance to influence the last Welsh Assembly election, but local Labour MPs have been just as blatant in using it for self-publicity in advance of the 2010 general election.

Saturday, 26 December 2009

Gladstone once more

In advance of the GOM's bicentenary next Monday, BBC Radio 4's "Week in Westminster" celebrated with a visit to Hawarden followed by a discussion. Michael Crick's interviews of the present-day William Gladstone and the St Deiniol's Library custodian, Reverend Peter Francis, were informative, but what followed was even more interesting.

Lord Steel, Lord Adonis and David Willetts MP were invited to discuss Gladstone's legacy, both to the nation and to present-day politics. David Willetts as an heir of Mrs Thatcher was predictably the most critical, praising Gladstone's free-market instincts, but deprecating his social interventionism. The biggest surprise was Andrew Adonis's knowledge of, and enthusiasm for, Gladstone, almost exceeding that of the former Liberal leader, David Steel.

There was talk of Gladstone's international policy. The panel seemed to think that he wanted to intervene too much, citing his campaign to eject the Turks from the Balkans. However, none of the politicians recalled his ending of the Anglo-Afghan war and of the first Boer War. He was against colonial expansion in Africa, so would surely have opposed neo-colonialists on both sides of the Atlantic if he were alive today.

It's a programme well worth catching when it appears on iPlayer.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Happy Christmas, everybody

I hoped to decorate this message, but found I had only the tired old holly which people have surely seen too much of. Perhaps I'll be able to work something up for what's left of the twelve days of Christmas.

Anyway, have as good a time as Mr Darling will let you, and best wishes for 2010.

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

England already has one win in SA's World Cup

December "Railwatch" magazine reports that a £2bn railway is being built to Johannesburg's Tambo International Airport. This is expected to play a key rôle in South Africa's staging of the football World Cup in June and July of next year.

The leader goes on: "The four-car trains are being built in Derby by Bombardier and are based on the Electrostars already operating in Britain. Some are being assembled in South Africa using parts made in Britain."

Admittedly, Bombardier is a Canadian company, but it is good to see the Derby factory exporting again.

On a more local railway issue, Jenny Randerson is calling for a simpler and fairer fare structure on Wales's railways.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Win-win on the Montgomery canal

According to a BBC Wales report, prisoners from Shrewsbury gaol may soon be working on the maintenance of the Montgomery Canal. Some will be learning new skills in the process, hopefully fitting them for a life outside with no temptation to re-offend.

Objections from trade unions have been anticipated by a promise to pay the rate for the job. In any case, there has been a shortage of workers coming forward to do these jobs vital to the canal.

There is clearly scope for Bridgend and Swansea prisons to adopt a similar scheme as the Swansea, Neath and Tennant canals are rejuvenated.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

The Copenhagen potch

The best comment so far is Dave Brown's cartoon, an adaptation of Gustave Doré, in today's Independent ("Nobama's Ark"). Considering that it must have been delivered to the editor, never mind conceived, well in advance of the final communiqué, it shows good foresight.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

GW Bush emails recovered

There seems to be a concerted effort to annihilate the reputation of the previous US president. My impression of the Chilcot Inquiry evidence so far is that it has exposed more of the US failings in the Iraq enterprise than of the British end. Now there are reports like this one that computer technicians for the Obama administration successfully recovered lost emails, which cover a period of 90 significant days of GW Bush's presidency.

The US public will likely be most interested in domestic matters, such as the firing of the US attorney for Arkansas and the outing of the CIA agent Valerie Plame after her husband criticised the Bush administration. However, there may be some interesting additional information on Iraq.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Exchange at a PACT meeting in Maesteg

Councillor: Is Maesteg train station a designated area under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000?

Police representative: Who's asking?

Councillor: That's confidential!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

No fuss about women on our shortlists, Mr Cameron

This is illustrated by the announced candidates to compete for the seat of David Howarth, who is quitting Westminster at the next general election. There are three men and three women on the shortlist.

Of course, this is only to be expected from a party which has legislated for gender balance on its shortlists since its inception.

LCO on the Welsh Language

I have just been watching on BBC-Parliament the debate on the floor of the House of Commons. I gather these things are usually finished off in committee, but the Secretary of State for Wales felt that it was "important" for it to be debated by the whole house. There followed speeches of self-congratulation by Peter Hain and Cheryl Gillan, followed by a succession of other Labour notables, on how they had improved the Order by compelling the untrustworthy - and unworldly? - Welsh to act reasonably and commercially. Ms Gillan seemed particularly concerned that those nice mobile phone companies should not be frightened away from Wales by having to cater for people whose first language is Welsh*.

This orgy of colonialist back-patting was interrupted only by David Davies (Con, Monmouth) who was against the whole idea of devolution in the first place, and by Hywel Williams (PC, Caernarfon) and Mark Williams (Liberal Democrat, Ceredigion) who, while welcoming the order, suggested that perhaps Westminster does not need to micro-manage Cardiff (my gloss).

The "importance" of this debate seems to have been to give Welsh Labour MPs an opportunity to read into the record a speech which can be relayed in friendly media at home. When the fourth - or was it fifth? - Alun Michael rose to deliver very much the same ten-minutes worth, I decided that Neil Pearson in "Vent" would not only be more entertaining but more enlightening as well.

* Hywel Williams gave the lie to that by demonstrating that Iberian subscribers could get help in Catalan.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Gladstone's legacy

I posted about the developments at St Deiniol's Library earlier this year and speculated how the GOM might have viewed them. The custodian of the library, Peter Francis, interviewed on BBC Radio recently, opined that Gladstone would have welcomed the inclusion of the study of Islam. The reverend gentleman quoted from a speech from the Midlothian campaign: "Remember that the happiness of his humble home, remember that the sanctity of life in the hill villages of Afghanistan among the winter snows, is as inviolable in the eye of Almighty God as can be your own." There is much more on the Liberal History Group web-site; this page contains much that still rings true today.

Following his bicentenary, the group is to hold a meeting in the National Liberal Club in London at the end of January
"to find out what Gladstonian Liberalism was and how it came to dominate late Victorian politics, and to discover just how much of the classical liberal inheritance the Grand Old Man has actually passed down to the current-day Liberal Democrats". People draw a distinction between Gladstone's "non-interventionism in economic and social affairs, self-help and an emphasis on personal and political, as opposed to social, liberalism" and David Lloyd George's (and, for a time, Winston Churchill's) approach.

Gladstone's birthday was on 29th December. Coming so late in a year which has been full of anniversaries, and during the twelve days of Christmas, it may not be celebrated with the fervour associated with his contemporary, Charles Darwin, but Gladstone's contribution to British politics was as crucial as Darwin's was to the world of science.

Thanks to Liberal Democrat News for this

Saturday, 12 December 2009

CFLs are good, but not that good

Compact Fluorescent Lamps, usually billed as energy-saving - or long-life - bulbs, are certainly worth having. However, as BBC Radio 4's "More or Less" pointed out this week, manufacturer's claims do exaggerate. The rule of thumb adopted by their association is that an incandescent light-bulb's wattage should be divided by 5 to give the equivalent CFL. Thus 12-watt CFLs are marketed as the equivalent of a traditional 60-watt bulb. In fact, for various reasons the conversion factor is nearer 4. A US technical body believes that 3 is more realistic.

One should also remember that bulbs should be disposed of safely

Thursday, 10 December 2009

LibDem persistence pays off in Merthyr

Amy Kitcher has just brought to our attention the triumph of a local Liberal Democrat activist in exposing less than scrupulous accounting on the part of Merthyr council over the distribution of the Biffa Community Fund.

This is the key point of her email: "I am so proud of the actions of my ward colleague councillor Bob Griffin who instigated the investigation by reporting the Council to the Audit Office. He has been on the receiving end of much criticism and innuendo from other councillors who have tried to twist his motives. Yesterday, he was totally vindicated when he received a copy of the response from the Audit Office to the Financial Controller with the following statements:

'It is not clear what criteria you apply when signing applications as approved as they are not documented on the form. I suggest that the approval form that you sign be amended to make it clear that payments are made both within the powers of the Council and for the benefit of the ward residents; and

'The recipient of the monies should be requested to provide receipts confirming that the expenditure was defrayed in accordance with the approved application. I appreciate that this may not be possible in some cases, for example, where you have made a contribution to the total cost of an event. In such cases written confirmation that the event (or some other form of spend) went ahead should be obtained. Internal audit may be able to assist in identifying an efficient manner of implementing such a requirement.'

"The whole incident highlights the critical difference between the Lib Dems and other parties: Councils often ask Councillors to be their uncritical cheerleaders. Other parties often agree. We do not. We are there to serve the electors, monitor what the Council does, and criticise and get things done better when necessary. This can make us unpopular, we we don't care.

"We recognise that “Yes Minister” mentality is alive and living in local government. Council officers and local councillors all too readily enter a conspiracy of mutual support and cooperation to conceal each other’s mistakes. We act differently."

The phrase "councils often ask councillors to be their uncritical cheerleaders" strikes a chord. I am always ready to praise Neath Port Talbot CBC when it does things right, but I do not leave my critical faculties at the doors of the civic centres.

Canals: a third way

It was not absolutely clear from DEFRA questions in the House of Commons this morning, but it appears that the British Waterways property portfolio is not to be included in the government's "fire sale" after all. Indeed, DEFRA under-secretary Huw Irranca-Davies accepted the point put by the Conservative Michael Jack that the contribution from property was essential to keep the canals in good order.

Instead, the government, prompted by Alun Michael, is looking at that entity beloved of New Labour, a "third way". The idea is a kind of National Trust for inland waterways. NT, as I understand it, relies on donations from the public as well as entrance fees and sales from its shops. Is the government planning on replacing the taxpayer contribution with charitable donations? Surely there has to be a "dowry" from the government, if only to cover the bedding-in period before other funding reaches the required level. Presumably this is a matter being considered in the current negotiations referred to by Messrs. Michael and Irranca-Davies.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Weasel words on canals

Following various postings on the threat to our waterways, including mine here, it was announced in the Lords on Monday that the Labour government was publishing "an asset portfolio listing the state-owned assets that the Government could commercialise over the medium term. This includes options for the future sale of the Tote, the student loan book, the Dartford crossing and the High Speed 1 rail link, and for potential alternative forms of ownership for British Waterways agreed by myself and the Secretary of State for Defra." (My italics.)

This is being written in advance of Prime Minister's Questions and the Pre-Budget Statement. It will be interesting to see whether questions in either session will tease out details of the government's intentions.

Otto, Count Lambsdorff dies

Last Saturday December 5th, Honorary President of Liberal International Otto Graf Lambsdorff suddenly and unexpectedly passed away at the age of 82. Largely unknown over here, even in his prime, he was one of the most significant figures in post-war European politics.

The following is taken virtually verbatim from a Liberal International feed.

Current LI president Hans van Baalen described Lambsdorff as one of the most inspiring liberal politicians of the past century and as a courageous statesman who was one of the architects of post War Germany. “He was one of the most open, direct and when necessary bold political fighters for a free market economy and civil liberties, and because of this he earned the name ‘Marktgraf' [Market Count].”

Van Baalen: “Together with Adolfo Suarez, David Steel and Frits Bolkestein, Otto Lambsdorff made Liberal international a more political organisation. His focus was the integration of the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe into the world economy and the international political community. As President of FDP, Liberal International and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty, Otto Lambsdorff taught us, the new political generation, not to indulge in political correctness but to speak out, even if it makes you controversial”.

Otto Graf Lambsdorff was born in Germany in 1926. He studied Law and Political Science at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne. He was admitted to the bar at the local and district courts of Dûsseldorf in 1960.

In 1951 he became a member of the FDP and in 1972 a Member of Parliament (Bundestag). He was Minister of Economics in several cabinets under Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and Chancellor Helmut Kohl from 1977 to June 1984, when he resigned as Federal Minister of Economics. From 1984 until 1988 he was the Parliamentary Spokesman on Economic Affairs. He has been leader of the FDP until 1993.

During his years as Minister and as Member of the Parliament he fought for lower corporate taxation and against state subsidies and bureaucracy, and helped deliver the FDP one of its most successful era's of widespread appeal among the German electorate.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Vote for your favourite market

NABMA, The National Association of British Market Authorities ( is running a vote for Britain's favourite market. I am torn between Neath and Swansea.

Party list voting system fault exposed

Mohammed Ashgar, who was elected in 2007 for Wales South East on a nationalist ticket, has defected to the Conservative Party. I don't have much sympathy with Plaid as a party,  but I do think that their supporters in the south-east have been let down. It is highly unlikely that they knew anything about Mohammed Ashgar as an individual, so they could expect that the members of the list chosen by the party would follow the nationalist line.

It all points up one of the drawbacks of list systems.

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Playing fields of Eton

Chris Dillow comments on Gordon Brown's jibe about Conservative economic policy being forged on the playing-fields of Eton.

I agree with most of what he says. Eton - which produced George Orwell and Captain Hook (according to Barrie) as well as "toffs", remember - is irrelevant. However, it is relevant that a clique is seen to have formed, through school and university, round the Conservative leader. It could just as easily have been Sandfields Comp. and Ruskin College. They are perceived as looking after their own. It is this which Cameron has to rebut.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Amélie Mauresmo retires

Wimbledon is going to be that much more boring in 2010. The woman I most enjoyed watching, who proved that a woman can be fit - muscular, even - but still graceful, announced her retirement at a news conference in Paris during the week. As Paul Newman's article in The Independent makes clear, she is not going to be stuck for alternative employment, but I do hope that the BBC commentary team can sign her up for the June fortnight if RTF don't grab her first.

One item of information still eludes me: does she pronounce her name the French or the Spanish way?

Thursday, 3 December 2009

ID cards and more on civil liberties has an indictment of New Labour's attempts to impose ID cards on the UK population. From the original consultation paper in 2002, in which it was envisaged that ID cards would be rolled out to the general public in the UK from 2007/08, that by 2013 it would be compulsory to carry one, and that the card would incorporate biometric data, to today's situation, there has been a steady retreat and a slew of missed deadlines. The government should admit defeat now.

On the same day, the Independent newspaper starts a campaign against the misuse of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The Liberty web-site sums up the situation: "Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 allows the Chief Constable to designate an area within which individuals may stop and search a vehicle, driver, passenger, pedestrian and anything carried by a pedestrian for the purpose of searching for articles which could be used in connection with terrorism. There need not be any grounds for suspecting the presence of such articles. Failure to stop and/or obstructing a police constable acting under section 44 is a criminal offence. Currently, the whole of greater London has been designated as such an area under s44."

Photography is considered to be usable in connection with terrorism. This has led to the ridiculous situation of the snapper of a fish-and-chip shop being stopped and searched, because he happened to be in a Section 44 area. The newspaper article doesn't say whether DNA swabs were taken, but it would not surprise me if the police tried it on.

Later: I see that Peter Black beat me to it with a reaction to the Indy article. There is also a worrying comment to his blog that S.44 has been applied to Swansea. Presumably the use of this law is regarded as an operational matter, but surely our representatives on the South Wales Police Authority can press the case for common-sense and proportionate application of anti-terrorist provisions?

Pembrokeshire Care and Mobility Centre

Just putting in a word for the day job of LibDem Stephanie Kate Ashley. She says: "Don't get ripped off!".

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Green-Red Conservatism is failing

The newspaper opinion surveys have caught up with reality. For a long time it has been obvious that the Conservatives under Cameron would not win an overall majority in a general election. Now there is a fresh challenge from traditional Conservatism.

It is clear that the fresh bloom has been wiped off the Cameron leadership. They need a new leader to get the media onside again. The Conservatives don't want to lose their younger, vigorous, image. On the other hand, only a return to more reactionary politics is going to stop their volunteers and voters drifting off. It would help their image if the leader had not been to Eton. In view of the knee-weakening effect that US Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin had over the scribes this side of the pond, the answer is obvious: replace Cameron with Nadine Dorries.

Canals must be allowed to sustain themselves

I have commented before on the detrimental effect on British Waterways of the failure of the English farm-payments scheme. Now, according to Sharon Bowles MEP, there is a threat to another income stream for national waterways:

"Gordon Brown's £16bn sell off, which is expected to include British Waterways' waterside property portfolio, signals a desperate attempt by the Government to reduce £800bn of national debt.

"Profit from the waterside property is vital to fund the maintenance and upkeep of a 2,200 mile network of canals that British Waterways manages throughout the UK. Selling the properties at rock bottom prices would not be in the interests of the taxpayer and would create serious long-term funding and environmental problems."

Landslips and water-flows affect rail travel in Wales

Arriva Trains Wales has announced, yesterday and today, closure of two lines in Wales. The landslip near Tondu is going to affect journey times to and from the capital from the Llynfi valley, as buses replace trains. The economic impact of the Caersws-Machynlleth closure is probably less than it would have been in the tourist season, but it is still troubling.

It is likely that both are related to the increased rainfall we have experienced in the last eighteen months. This is probably more to blame than any failures of maintenance, but perhaps Network Rail should look at uprating its standards in view of the undeniable effects of climate change.