Thursday, 29 April 2010

Future for jobs looks twice as bad for Wales as for England

The latest KPMG Labour Market Outlook shows a welcome rise in expectations of new hirings in the private sector in the UK as a whole, while the public sector is expecting to continue to sack people. This is itself is bad news for Wales, which has a large public sector, but worse news is that even commercial employers in Wales are not optimistic, and employment is predicted to continue to fall in the next quarter.

Constructive engagement with the EU

This article by Catherine Bearder MEP shows the distinction between Liberal Democrats and the Labservative parties in the EU. Our MEPs are contributing to the improvement of EU policy and directives, not just accepting goodies from Europe then shouting from the sidelines when something happens they don't like. Sitting in on the fringe debates at party conference, I was struck by the way our representatives are punching above their weight in the European Parliament. (I hope Sharon Bowles does not take that as meant literally.)  The article also points up the lack of involvement by Labour ministers who, after all, are part of the final decision-making body in the EU.

This all reminds me: why do we not hear more about the work of our local MEP, Derek Vaughan, after his promise to make Neath more visible in Europe, and Europe more visible in Wales?

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Murdoch disowns Murdoch

I speculated in another place that, as David Cameron's opinion poll ratings stubbornly refused to rise to a level which would indicate an overall majority, Rupert Murdoch, desperate to preserve his reputation as ever the champion of the winning side ("the Sun wot won it" etc.) would instruct his newspapers to fight an even more dirty fight. Instead, he has let it be known that he was against backing Cameron in the first place. According to Private Eye, Sir Rupert "only backed Cameron with deep reluctance after months of badgering from Rebekah [Wade, a News International editor] and [son] James."

Incidentally, there is a superb centre spread in the "Election Special" Eye mocking the anti-Clegg smears which appeared in the popular press after the first TV debate.

A greater and continuing oil scandal

The media are beginning to wake up to the probable dire effects of the explosion in an oil rig off the coast of Louisiana (see earlier posting). The worrying news today is that experts have as yet failed to cap the well. It cannot be a coincidence that the rig's operation was outsourced by BP, which has been implicated in earlier accidents in Alaska and Texas.

The Independent yesterday drew attention to an older scandal which has still not been addressed: the damage to human and natural resources, the waste of energy and the probable contribution to Earth's greenhouse gas burden, in Nigeria. The article is headed: "Visible from space, deadly on Earth: the gas flares of Nigeria", which neatly sums up an issue which is anything but neat.

A Julian Bream story

John Amis recounts: " mutual friend John Warrack went with Julian to the Royal Academy show one year and they went into one room dominated by a large nude. Julian:'Christ, I know ‘er'. Silence in that room and bystanders waited for the next pronouncement. 'What a smashing pair of plonkers'."

More at John Amis online.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Campaign for a servicemen's PTSD recovery centre in Wales

Gelli Aur (Golden Grove) has become available to a charity which seeks to heal the mental wounds of our men & women who have served in Afghanistan and other conflicts - provided the money can be raised to buy the mansion. It seems to be a rare opportunity not only to save a historic Welsh building while it is still basically sound, and to do something merciful and constructive for our brave service people.

Monday, 26 April 2010

A guest article by Sir Hardly Anyone

Sir Hardly Anyone is the outgoing Conservative MP for an English county whose name he cannot quite recall at present, and a former contributor to BBC Radio's "Week Ending" programme. His contribution is dictated to his prospective successor, Miss Tamsin Aylist-Sloane.

I am grateful to Frederick Little for the opportunity to make a modest contribution to the debate on the British electoral system. I am informed that his "Blag" is read by millions around the world via the wonders of the Interweb. If my message is read by only a modicum of the people who count in this country, it will have done some good.

The subject of proportional representation has once more raised its ugly head. The powers that be have successfully resisted its siren call since the early years of the century when that Welsh oik Lloyd George attempted to foist it on us, along with those other foreign nonsenses, old age pensions, accident insurance and the wages councils, which nearly ruined my poor dear father ... sorry, drifting off there ... where was I? Oh yes, foreign imports.

It is said that we are alone in the civilised world in adhering to what I believe is now described, in today's argot, as "first past the post". (I have long suspected that political journalists are drawn from the ranks of those who have failed to succeed as racing tipsters.) That is not correct. Our cousins across the Atlantic have retained the traditional electoral system which we bequeathed them, along with Imperial measures, and they are all the better for it.  If the tried and trusted traditional system of voting is good enough for Great Britain and the United States of America, the two greatest nations on God's earth, why should we change it?

However, the new leader of the Liberal party, Nick Clegg (what an oafish name) is attracting more support than the Liberals have had for many a long year. It is said that he may hold the balance of power after the next general election, and that he will use this to force a change in the electoral system. This is only to be expected from an old boy of that nest of dangerous radicals, Westminster School, which also produced, may I remind you, Michael Flanders and Donald Swann.

Resist, good people! If we adopted proportional representation, we would no longer have working majorities in the House of Commons. No more could a British Prime Minister count on loyal support for actions guaranteeing world peace, like the ousting of dictators like Madman Hussain and the eradication of hundreds of thousands of his fanatical supporters. No more could a British Prime Minister have the ability to correct the injustices of local government taxation, whereby my family paid hundreds of times more hard-earned money to the council than some "worker" who did not have enough get-up-and-go to lift himself and his family out of ... sorry ... anyway, the rating system had to go. What is fairer than each man making the same contribution? I am only sorry that wets like Heseltine and Major did not have the backbone to resist the mob. Their Council Tax compromise is at least preferable to the iniquitous Local Income Tax, which is another abortion which would be forced on us should Clegg have his way.

My friends point out that the system occasionally fails. Socialists such as Callaghan and Brown sometimes reach the top of the greasy pole. I am not unaware of these dangers, but these may be removed by two simple measures.

Firstly, the existing constituencies must be redrawn. We must return to the days when county constituencies were the norm and industrial towns mere adjuncts.

Secondly, this socialist experiment of paying MPs must end. It has only resulted in a lower class of member scrabbling around for yet more money, with results which are plain to see. Far better to have a House comprising those of independent means and thus of independent mind. The best of us derive our living from the land but I do not despise those who come from trade, like our own dear Margaret.

So, vote Conservative on May 6th! At a pinch, if it is the only way to keep a Liberal out, vote socialist. At least these Labour johnnies know their place and respect our traditions.

Now, my dear, the choice of restaurant is yours.  The memsahib is not expecting me back at the Hall until tomorrow, so perhaps we can take in a show this evening?

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Cameron's two bad propositions

I don't need to write the piece I was planning about David Cameron's latest gimmick: a general election after six months if a prime minister is replaced while in office. Richard Baum has already written clearly why this further attempt to Americanise our system of government is wrong. I would only add that the Great British Public is not keen on too many elections, as turnout figures since 1997 show. Only when there is obviously a great change in the offing, as in this year, is there great enthusiasm for voting. Therefore, a ballot on a replacement prime minister is unlikely to give a firm endorsement.

His (and those of Osborne and, sadly, Ken Clarke) more potentially dangerous utterances concerned a "hung" parliament. For reasons I have already laid out, this outcome of the general election is almost certain. That logic applied even before the boost given to my party by the TV debates. Therefore, to say that the international economic community will inevitably downgrade the UK's standing if Westminster goes to "No Overall Control" is irresponsible. The Conservatives were quick to accuse the then Labour opposition of "talking the country down" in 1994 when the economic situation is not as fraught as it is now, so they should have more sense. Thankfully, the markets, which are usually quick to factor in political developments, are not unduly perturbed.

Besides, this implicit attack on the Liberal Democrats may have an unwished for effect, that of strengthening Labour. If voters took it seriously, they may opt for the certainty of what they know, which in the majority of seats would mean returning a Labour member, rather than change.

Friday, 23 April 2010

An unremarked disaster

If it had not been for a little political diversion here, and Obama getting tough with Wall St over there, the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico would surely have led the TV news on the national networks both sides of the Atlantic. As it was, it occupied less than a minute on BBC News at 9 this morning. It seems to me that the incident is going to be more damaging to the North Atlantic, because of the drift from the Gulf of Mexico, than the shipwrecks of the Torrey Canyon and Exxon Valdez. It is difficult to see how the economies of the Gulf itself and the Caribbean are not going to suffer for some time to come.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Liberal England: Nick Clegg really is what David Cameron pretends to be

Liberal England: Nick Clegg really is what David Cameron pretends to be

The Daily Mail and reactionary groups

Peter Black posts, exposing the Daily Mail's hypocrisy in smearing Nick Clegg with links to a Nazi. The Mail's history of cuddling up to dictators and of resisting social reforms is well-known to students of the media in this country. When I was in my first job in London, the senior clerk, a long-time socialist, showed me a pre-war headline from the Mail which warned that a vote for Herbert Morrison's Labour party in the London County Council elections was equivalent to endorsing a Soviet Russian takeover. I should explain that Morrison occupied the same relative place on the political spectrum as the Blairites do today.

The Mail's proprietor has a more pragmatic and less philosophical reason for not wanting to see Vince Cable in the Chancellor's office. He is not domiciled in the United Kingdom and has made maximum use of our current tax laws. Much of the saving, which enables us to promise to take the first £10,000 of earnings out of tax, detailed by Vince at the manifesto launch consists of closing tax loopholes.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Tom Ellis

This is a belated tribute to the former MP for Wrexham, and early member of the SDP, who died a week ago. I was one of those privileged to hear his moving speech to the Welsh Liberal Democrat spring conference in Wrexham a few years ago. In it he related how he had entered politics, what caused him to be disillusioned with Labour after his early enthusiasm and how he had found his true home in the Liberal Democrats.

There is a full obituary by Meic Stephens in the Independent with a rather sour tailpiece by Tam Dalyell.

It is to be hoped that he was able to appreciate the surge of support for the Liberal Democrats, almost certainly leading to at least a strong influence on government policy, before he passed away.

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Alphabet soup and national characteristics

There is a large cardboard box labelled "campaign material" in the spare bedroom. It is a repository for stuff left over from elections past which could be useful in future. Rooting through it for rosettes for this year's effort (and not looking forward to ironing them - why can't they be made from crease-resistant fabric?) I came across a copy of Liberal Democrat News for March 2005.

So many of the items marked up for use in Focus leaflets still resonate today, after a further five years of Labservatism. One in particular struck me as particularly applicable to Wales.

In an article headed "A bonfire of the inspectorates", we called for the scrapping of seven inspection agencies, netting £400m. The figure must be nearer a billion today. The article continues: "There is now an alphabet soup of inspection bodies, each with their own acronym, their own head office, their own chief executive and their own armies of inspectors.

"Yet despite this growth there is scant evidence of any improvement in services, with less than half of inspectors making any specific recommendations. A 'tick the box' culture has been created which short-changes consumers and staff. A staggering 96 per cent of local government employees think inspections take up too much time - time that would be better spent providing an improved service."

Since then, we have had the mid-Staffordshire NHS Trust scandal, where a hospital given a clean bill of health by one government QuaNGO was found by an independent inquiry to have shown "callous disregard" for its patients. This inquiry in itlself cost £1.8m.

In Wales, inspection bodies seem to cover up more than they expose - unless the target is a Liberal Democrat-run council, of course. Let us hope that the savings achieved in the rest of the UK by abolishing the excrescences are mirrored in Wales - though the suspicion that many of them provide "jobs for the boys" must give cause for concern that there will be strong resistance.

Also in the paper was this typical shaft from a speech by Vince Cable: "Brown and Blair between them have fashioned a Britain based on an eclectic choice of role models: American inequality, French centralisation, Italian ethical standards and Chinese civil liberties." To this, one can now add "Greek economics"

Monday, 19 April 2010

Annoying, useless, hypocritical self-publicists

The socialists (both Labour and SWP, in a rare show of unity) who attempted to disrupt Nick Clegg's Swansea meeting this morning failed to do more than annoy the crowd. If they had really been concerned about the closure of schools, why weren't they picketing the Labour/Plaid coalition in Cardiff, which made the rules forcing councils to close small schools? Where were they when Labour-controlled  Neath Port Talbot council proposed its programme of rationalisation? Instead of shouting nnd waving their little banners, why don't they ask Labour in London and in Cardiff, why Wales receives £587 less per pupil than in England?

The fact is that, although education is devolved to Wales, the best chance for Swansea and other Welsh councils to receive extra money for schools is a Liberal Democrat government in Westminster. Nick Clegg has promised a rise in the Welsh settlement to parallel the extra spending on education in England.

Sunday, 18 April 2010

Neath Ales

From a small brewery hidden somewhere near the railway station, a range of bottled beers has appeared with very little fanfare. In addition to being stocked by some local stores, they are also available by order from the new web-site.

I have tried only Neath Gold so far and found it very much to my taste, though at premium prices it is clearly going to be a rare treat for me. I wish good fortune to the proprietors.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

More air passengers to be thrown onto the roads

The shuttle bus from Rhoose railway station to the terminal at Cardiff International airport is to be withdrawn, according to this BBC report. I see that a taxi firm "may" be interested in providing a replacement, but it does seem to be a retrograde step.

Of course, if the terminal had not been moved from its previous position near the railway to its present one on the opposite side of the field, the shuttle would not have been necessary in the first place.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Labour's retro manifesto cover

Guido Fawkes believes that the Labour graphic designers pinched their ideas from Conservative posters of the first half of the 20th Century. It seems more likely that their inspiration was socialist iconography, like this poster of Chairman Mao.

Tuesday, 13 April 2010

Whistle-blowing still not effective

It may well be blown away in the gale of other general election issues, but Lynne Featherstone's post about the role of the local health management team in the Baby Peter affair, and about the suppression of a key report, raises very serious questions. It seems to me that the culture of competition, introduced into the health service by the Conservatives, and hardly mitigated by Labour in England, has discouraged openness. Nor is the system for protecting whistle-blowers working to the benefit of the public.

Lynne's posting also raises questions about the retention of high-quality doctors and nurses. (See also Peter Black's blog about the drain of Welsh medical talent) If Great Ormond Street, a high-profile hospital, with an international reputation, has staffing trouble, then the NHS in England is in serious trouble.

Australian Labor government criticised for threat to Internet freedom

It takes something serious for Australia's closest ally to criticise its government publicly, but this is what the US Ambassador has just done.For all its otherwise liberal measures, the Rudd administration appears to be reverting to socialist type, as it aims to join the same club as China and Iran in attempting to control Internet Service Providers.

Saturday, 10 April 2010

Afan Valley features in BBC environment programme

Helen Mark visited the county borough before going on to Merthyr for "Open Country" last week. It was an informative production, but to my mind spent too much time on the past and not enough on the present and future. The story of the Six Bells disaster was movingly told, and obviously something that we must not forget, but was this really the place to tell it?

Thursday, 8 April 2010

Guy Kewney, premier computer journalist dies

Even though he warned us on CIX some time ago that he was terminally ill, it still comes as a shock that Guy has died. He was posting only last week.

More when I can collect my thoughts. In the meantime, there are these links.

Also see Guy's IRC chat room(s) - irc:// #kewney & #hunky


I used the word "premier" advisedly. He was not only at the top of the tree up until the end (see the tributes on David Tebbutt's teblog, above) but Guy was also in at the beginning of the personal computer revolution. He was writing like an angel (to quote Scott Fitzgerald)  even then. I reckon there were only two or three people in the field at the turn of the 1980s, on both sides of the Atlantic, who came close to him. He wrote good SF, too.

What may not be well known, except by those of his generation, is that Guy came into computer journalism with.a solid technical background. He had worked for Leo Computers, a UK company whose claim to fame was that it had produced the world's first business computer, at a time when we were still serious contenders in the world computer market.

He had a foot in so many worlds. Where mine and his intersected was on CIX, the computer conferencing system which he championed from its beginnings in the 1980s. He continued to contribute, when many of his colleagues moved on to glitzier sites on the Web, because I think he liked the unique atmosphere.  We sometimes crossed swords, in the most gentlemanly way, in cix:cricket,for he was a great cricket enthusiast.

I feel bereft.

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Key part of new NHS IT is well behind schedule is reporting that the first live implementation of NHS's patient administration system has failed to meet its deadline.

"The Lorenzo patient administration system - a computer system designed to handle electronic patient records and book appointments - was scheduled to go live at hospitals under the Morecambe Bay University Hospitals NHS Trust in Kendall in Cumbria at the end of March

"The hospitals would have been the first in the country to be running the latest version of the software but CSC, the US supplier installing the system, failed to hit the 31 March target for delivery.

"The Lorenzo system has been being rolled out to health trusts by CSC since 2008 but its implementation has repeatedly slipped. The Department of Health (DoH) has now told CSC it must submit a revised plan for how it will implement the system or risk being dismissed as a contractor to the DoH."

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Racist death threats

This posting by the Liberal Democrat candidate in Barking shows that the BNP has not lost its snarling core, no matter how much Nick Griffin strives to give it some intellectual garnish.

Meanwhile, there is disturbing news from South Africa.The white supremacist Eugene Terreblanche was murdered by two hands on his farm. It was not a political act as such. The men were after back wages (reported on the radio this morning to be something less than £30) they claimed they were due. However, it appears that the norm in Zimbabwe, that rough justice may be meted out to farm owners if they are of European ancestry, is being imported across the border. President Jacob Zuma needs to send a clear signal that the new multi-racial Republic will not tolerate this.

Welsh Exchanges named in great BT fibre broadband expansion

Bridgend (assuming that is Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr, and not the one in Scotland)

Connah's Quay




Newtown Llantwit

Er... that's it.

{see the full list here)

Some good broadband news

Ofcom is to crack down on ISPs who are less than honest about speeds which they provide. I have heard a number of complaints about a certain provider in this area which appears to degrade the service to long-standing customers in order to demonstrate high bandwidth to new ones.

TK Maxx fraud enabled by insecure wireless networks

There has been a conviction in the case of the TK Maxx credit card details theft, mentioned here just over two years ago. The details of how Albert Gonzalez achieved his coup have now been revealed.

Saturday, 3 April 2010

Labour punishes small nations for public's generosity to Haiti

Did the ethical dimension to the UK government's foreign policy die with Robin Cook? For years, Private Eye has been inveighing against CDC. What was once, as the Commonwealth Development Corporation, a means of funding development in some of the poorest countries in the world, is now virtually no more than an equity investor, albeit one wholly owned by the UK state (The latest story concerns a scheme to allow a Nigerian oil company, Oando plc, to avoid paying tax in its home country. Private Eye estimates that the company will gain by more than $7m annually, tax which would buy a lot of schools and hospitals.)

Now comes the news that the much-trumpeted VAT concession on the Haiti relief single "Everybody Hurts" and the linked CD is being recouped from the part of the Department for International Development's funds which has not been privatised. The Independent quotes Ed Davey, the Liberal Democrat foreign affairs spokesman: "This sleight of hand is a step too far. People who bought this CD in good faith will be disgusted to find out that what the Prime Minister presented as an act of generosity was little more than the daylight robbery of funds intended to help some of the poorest people in the world. Gordon Brown must come clean on what aid programmes have suffered in order to fund this hollow gesture." Liberal Democrat Malcolm Bruce is chairman of the International Development Committee. He said that Mr Brown had been "disingenuous" and "deceitful" in claiming the VAT would not be claimed by the Treasury.

"Anyone going out to buy this single would have thought it was adding value to the campaign and the very fact of cancelling VAT was designed to increase the numbers buying it,"

MITS Altair designer dies

The heading may not mean anything, but Henry Roberts was the man who built the platform from which Microsoft was launched. The Altair was one of a number of home computer designs which formed a bridge between the bare circuit boards of the home computer clubs and "Practical Electronics" wonks, and the first consumer products, like the Commodore Pet. You had to add your own peripherals, like a screen, a storage device - usually a floppy disk drive - or a modem to connect you to the pre-Web Internet, but otherwise, it was a built computer which worked out of the box.

It is gratifying to learn that Roberts, while enjoying his position in computer history, after years of medical studies ended as a general practitioner in Georgia.

"As for every other new advance in computer electronics that surfaces almost daily, there was always a part of Roberts that remained engaged and fascinated, according to his son. 'He did think it was pretty neat, some of the stuff they're doing with the processors.' And the iPad? 'He was interested to see one.'"

Thursday, 1 April 2010

Centre for Alternative Technology's WISE completion in jeopardy

CAT was counting on receiving £500,000 in costs as a result of a high court action against contractors, Frank Galliers Ltd.. However, Galliers have since gone into liquidation and CAT is unlikely to see a penny of the money owed to it.

Please join me in making a contribution towards completing this project. Details are here.