Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Perils of automated stock trading

Anne Hathaway

It seems that certain programs which respond to headline news are confusing Berkshire Hathaway, the investment vehicle of "The Sage of Omaha", Warren Buffett, with the star of "The Devil Wears Prada", Anne Hathaway. Every time the actress features favourably in the media - such as before the Oscars - Berkshire Hathaway stock rises. More here.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Robert Tear

I've just learned from my following of Jessica Duchen's blog of the death of that marvellous man, Robert Tear - a Welshman, though, if I recall correctly, settled in SE London. I cannot add more to her tribute here.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Social Democrats: heirs and step-heirs

Last Monday, there was a celebration of the founding of the SDP, whose thirtieth anniversary it is today. Although they gathered under the banner "The Class of 81: who are the true heirs of the SDP?" I have the impression from Chris Nicholson's report that the air was heavy with nostalgia and "what ifs". However, I did like Bill Rodgers' judgment of the heritage, that “the Liberal Democrats [are the heirs] – but the modern Labour party are the step-heirs”

I did try to get the leader of the SDP group on Neath Port Talbot council, Tony Taylor, to comment, but he has so far not responded to my email. I suppose, as the senior elected member of the party in the whole of the UK, he feels it right to maintain a dignified silence.

I cannot trace a contribution from ex-SDPer Polly Toynbee, either.

Monday, 21 March 2011

The EU and us

There is a good Web site explaining the EU which is rather more readable than the older-established official ones:

I like the myth-busting section, e.g.:

Myth - Brussels rules mean that tightrope walkers have to wear hard hats.

Reality - there are EU rules on working at heights, but they apply to industrial and construction workers, not circus performers.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Are we on our way to a virtual House of Lords?

Clive Soley ("Electronic Lords versus Clockwork Lords") surely has the most rational response to their Lordships' decision to allow non-mechanical hand-held electronic devices in: "I would argue that it is perfectly acceptable to use any electronic device as long as it does not cause unnecessary disturbance to others. For example, I would not take my lap top in as it is fairly large and given the crowded nature of the Chamber it would be anti-social. I would also not use a hand held device if sitting next to someone who was speaking as it could distract them. Common sense courtesy should be the guiding principle and would work in almost all circumstances."

People of my generation will remember the Brabazon committee. It is good to see that the current Lord Brabazon, chairman of committees, is as enthused by state-of-the-art developments as his forebear. As quoted by, he brushed off the suggestion that the devices would lead to a decline in parliamentary etiquette: "My noble friends Lord Higgins and Lord Cormack worried that people working away on their handheld devices would be a distraction and that it would not look good on television. At least it would prove that those noble Lords were awake and not asleep," he said.

Friday, 18 March 2011

This is one by-election where the Conservatives would have loved to have had AV

Tunbridge Wells Pembury
date: 17/03/2011
LD Claire Brown 578 (43.3; +2.7)
Con 460 (34.5; -24.9)
UKIP 296 (22.2; +22.2)
Majority 118
Turnout 35.41%
LD gain from Con
Percentage change is since May 2010.
 - but congratulations to Claire Brown, anyway.

Thursday, 17 March 2011


I've just taken delivery of The Wales Yearbook 2011. It's an invaluable guide to public affairs, including key businesses, in Wales, especially in an election year.

Denis Balsom, the editor, makes a significant point in his introduction to the 2011 Assembly Election section: "In Wales, one assumes that the Assembly election will take precedence amongst the parties and the politicians, but the electorate may well be exposed to greater UK literature and media coverage concerning the Referendum than more local electoral material.

"There may also be a danger that discussion of a preferential voting system, AV, may influence or confuse Welsh electors' participation in our own dual ballot [...] There remains doubt that this system is fully understood, even though this will be the fourth Assembly election fought under these rules. The regional, Party list vote, is not designed to be the voter's second choice, but weeks of discussing preferential voting for the AV referendum may lead voters to use their 'second' vote in such a way." [My emphasis]

Another special factor this year, which affects Liberal Democrats disproportionately (no wonder Labour and the Conservatives were keen to see it in the legislation), is that the names of list candidates will not appear on the ballot paper. So supporters of prominent current AMs such as Peter Black and Eleanor Burnham will need to be reminded by the party of their presence on the list, and that to be certain of a Liberal Democrat AM in their respective areas, they need to put a cross in both Liberal Democrat boxes. This is true even of Mid and West Wales, where there is no guarantee that Wyn Williams will hang on to the seat vacated by Mick Bates - though as a local, Welsh-speaking farmer and businessman, he ticks all the right boxes. Liberal Democrat Liz Evans has a better chance of turning out controversial agriculture minister Elin Jones in Ceredigion than Denis Balsom gives her credit for, but LibDems in mid-Wales should rather be safe than sorry.

In fact, the advice of  "vote twice for the party of your choice" applies to all parties throughout Wales except for Labour in South Wales West and South Wales Central, where so many Labour candidates will be elected to constituencies (Pontypridd and Merthyr notwithstanding) that a vote for the Labour list in these two regions would be wasted. No doubt canny Labour voters will use their list vote tactically to mitigate the possibility of their least favourite party succeeding.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

Monday, 14 March 2011

Two progressive opposing views on the AV referendum

David Owen, former Labour Foreign Secretary and a founder of the Social Democrat party, together with David Alton, the former Liberal MP and others on the liberal democratic side of politics, feel that moving to AV would jeopardise the chances of achieving a truly proportional voting system:

Chris Rennard, veteran Liberal and Liberal Democrat campaigner, disagrees.

LibDem Spring Conference 2011: dispiriting and upflifting

The advent of the coalition government has reduced the threat of a police state but seems to have shifted the heavy surveillance to the ruling parties themselves. The rights and wrongs of the heavy police and security personnel presence in Sheffield are worth a separate essay, but I want to deal with the effects.

The conference venue, the city hall, was barricaded off with a two-metre solid steel fence. All attenders (except presumably for the very senior figures in the party who no doubt had a separate secure entrance) had to first pass through a single heavily-manned gate, then be given an international airport-style shake-down. One representative even complained that his diabetic wife had a sugar solution taken away from her. The whole procedure must have added about five minutes to my entry, given the amount of metal I usually have about my person and had to deposit in the security guards' trays, but even more lightly-loaded attenders suffered delays.

Two factors made the Sheffield situation worse: the fact that the security procedures were in place throughout the conference, not just for the high-profile events involving the appearance of the party leader; and, second, that there was no room for the fringe events within the city hall, so that these took place in the two main conference hotels - outside the "ring of steel". The result was irksome, to say the least.

On top of all this comes the ever-mounting cost of attending Conference. There is a lot to be said for holding our regular assemblies in central English cities. They are more accessible to not only representatives of English parties but also to Scots who baulk at travelling to a distant west country seaside town. However, overnight accommodation in Sheffield, or Birmingham, tends to be geared to the needs of business people, whose custom is not seasonal and who can be relied on to pay premium rates. There is little chance of a cheap deal in a B&B off-season, as is the case with a seaside resort.

The good bit

In spite of all the obstacles, there was a very good turn-out. Even the internal party business sessions, usually attended only by the LibDem anoraks, were popular and attracted more participation than usual.

The conference organisers seem to have made an effort to ensure that there would be real debate, that the event would be much more than a rally for the Dear Leader and the coalition government. The result was at least two very good debates whose outcomes were positive but also critical of ministerial policy. (There are podcasts available, as well as my own take on the English NHS debate at

As always, there was the buzz in the refreshment rooms, the bars, the corridors and the fringe meetings. Not even Facebook or CIX can replace this. Let us hope that the young activists who most benefit from it are not priced out of Conference in future.


At first sight there is an error of learning in Jaxxlanders' report that "Carl Sergeant is about to send in the gauleiters" (plural) to Ynys Mon. The word means the "leader of a district" (in Nazi speak, a political district), so there should be only one dictating the affairs of Anglesey. But then it occurred to me that this is Labour they are writing about: Labour in Cardiff never create one appointment when they can get away with half-a-dozen.

Friday, 11 March 2011

Andrew Symeou

I support the European Arrest Warrant, because it ensures that accused cannot delay coming to trial in this country by fleeing across European borders, but the EU needs to ensure that there is protection for the rights of the accused in all jurisdictions. Sarah Ludford MEP has been campaigning for a fair hearing for Andrew Symeou in Greece where he was extradited nearly two years ago.


Well done, John Hemming. There is comment here on Liberal Democrat Voice.

Thursday, 10 March 2011

Movement on Strasbourg at last

This may seem a rather anoraky post in the midst of our struggle towards recovery in the UK, but it is significant all the same. One of the longest-running economic sores in the EU is the cost of maintaining a separate parliament building in Strasbourg, in order to satisfy French amour-propre. There is now a sign that the European parliament is yielding to pressure from Liberals and Conservatives to reduce the number of times that Brussels has to move to Strasbourg.

Monday, 7 March 2011

Top Ten walks in Neath Port Talbot

As I have often said, the constituencies of Neath and Aberavon are mainly rural, in spite of the legacy of coal and the still thriving steel industry. Congratulations to the Environment people in The Quays for producing this lovely overview and guide to walking in the county borough.

Unfortunate clash

I see that Friends of the Earth Cymru are staging a "Question Time" for Welsh general election candidates next Friday at 7pm for 7.30 start in the Lord Mayor's Reception Room, Brangwyn Hall, Guildhall, Swansea SA1 4PE. If they had checked their political calendar, they would have seen that this is the first day of the Liberal Democrats federal conference in Sheffield, though I gather that for personal reasons most of the local LibDem candidates are not able to make the trip.

Those of us who are attending the Freedom ceremony for Bonnie Tyler in Port Talbot that afternoon will have to make a quick dash to one or the other!

Friday, 4 March 2011

A *very* good afternoon for Wales

Will Roger Lewis, leader of the "Yes" campaign, dare echo Ron Davies's much-rehearsed response to the referendum result which set up the Assembly in the first place? It is increasingly certain that the Senedd will have law-making powers as a result of yesterday's referendum vote.

However, the nay-sayers raised a number of valid points which need to be addressed, not only by the 2011 new intake of Assembly Members, but also by those of us  who will vote them in. There is the slippery slope argument, the question of quality of representation and the remoteness of decision-makers in Cardiff from many communities in Wales.

Taking the Taffarchy first, it is surely right to devolve not only power to the unitary authorities but also work to the regions. WAG offices which deal with regional problems, like transport and stimulating commerce & industry are prime candidates for moving out to the regions. And why doesn't WAG look again at reviving regional committees?

Doubts have been raised about the quality of "the parish council on the bay" as some have put it. My view, based on some experience, is that the standard will rise as more responsibility is taken on. But this puts a heavier onus on us the voters to make sure we put people in that we trust to take reasonable decisions, not just because of the colour of rosette they wear.

Only the most die-hard nationalists see the vote as the thin end of a wedge leading to full independence. Certainly, all the Labour MPs who weighed in  behind the "Yes" campaign this time, were largely against devolution in the 1990s.

[00:50 2011-3-5, on return from Welsh LD spring conference rally] What must be guarded against is legislation-itis, something which the Labour Westminster administration suffered from for most of its existence. There were mutterings yesterday about civil servants going round various ministers asking for suggestions for items of legislation. If this is true, I hope they were told where to get off.

We got what we deserved

If you pick a man with Lancashire roots for a Yorkshire by-election, and then signal that you are not interested in the result by not mounting the normal LibDem by-election campaign, then you deserve a kicking. What is most worrying about Barnsley Central is that Dominic Carman went in with an explicitly anti-BNP pitch and was beaten by both the BNP candidate and UKIP. The latter's good showing is worrying in turn for the Conservatives.

Congratulations to Dan Jarvis, who is clearly going to be a MP of special quality. However, Labour is mistaken to treat this by-election as a judgment on the coalition. There were special circumstances in Barnsley Central, chief being the huge majority left behind by the disgraced former member, Eric Illsley. It would have been a huge shock if Labour had done badly yesterday.

There have been many more council by-elections in the last nine months than Westminster ones. Here the trend is for Labour to do very well, but Liberal Democrats have also shown a net gain, both at the expense of the Conservatives, of course.

Finally, I hope that Dominic Carman persists. He has had two bruising election campaigns (he stood in east London in the general election) and deserves a more winnable seat. The trouble is that even the older Conservatives seem to be in robust health ...

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

South Wales rail electrification

Philip Hammond, Secretary of State for Transport, has just announced in the House of Commons (hooray! there have been whispers about the decision, but no premature press releases by-passing Parliament) that the Great Western main line will be electrified into South Wales - but only as far as Cardiff. While we should be grateful for the first electrification in Wales, it does appear short-sighted not to bring the region of Tata Steel and the upcoming extension of Swansea University within its ambit.