Friday, 30 September 2011

Which is the blip, this summer or this autumn?

"Last night on Twitter, noting that according to the Met Office this summer is one of the coolest in decades. Guido mocked Global Warming Theory"(from Guido Fawkes on August 31). On the brink of what is predicted to be the warmest October 1st on record - in parts of Wales, at least - has he commented on climate change again?

As he virtually admits later in the article, extreme weather events are seized on by partisans on either side of the global warming argument. What counts is the run of climate statistics over a period.

He also mocks a paper of 2000 which claimed that winter snowfall in the UK would be a thing of the past. On the other hand, I can remember an earlier study (unfortunately, too early for the Web) which predicted that, as ice south of Greenland receded, the warm North Atlantic Drift would tend to flow further to the west, reducing the warming effect on the British Isles.  Also, as this official Scottish-Norwegian educational briefing explains, when snowfalls do occur they will tend to be heavier.

And why is Chinese billionaire Huang Nubo buying land adjacent to northern sea-lanes, which would become more heavily used as circumpolar passages open up? Follow the money.

We can rebuild him

You would have thought that puerile jokes about Ed Balls' surname would died out by now. It is over fifteen years since Michael Heseltine made his "it's not Brown's, it's all Balls'" quip at a Conservative conference. Yet this week's "Private Eye" captions its pictures of the shadow chancellor in action on the football field: "Spot The Balls-Up".

Clearly, he will have to change his name. One recalls a former prime minister who was born with "Ball" as a last name. He sensibly dropped it and became "John Major". Ed should copy this, and since his surname is plural, become "Majors". To complete the macho image, he could borrow the forename "Lee" as well - after all, he is the 37 Billion Pound Man.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Too much hype

Political reporters do spout some rubbish. Norman Smith of the BBC described Ed Miliband's speech to the Labour conference today as "crucial". Chambers Dictionary's main (ignoring street slang) definition of the word is "testing or decisive; essential, very important". The speech is hardly more testing than the Labour leader's first Prime Minister's Questions session. Unless he makes a complete pig's ear of it, it is not going to be critical for Miliband, given the longevity of Labour leaders and the fact that he is still in the honeymoon period. Given that virtually all Labour's business backers have already deserted and that affiliated trade unions will remain loyal, it is not critical financially.

Electorally, the spring 2012 conferences, before the local government elections, will have more impact. By then, the various internal committees will have reported, and Labour will have a coherent set of policies to be judged by.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Balls dismissed even before he speaks

Commentators have not waited for Ed Balls to deliver his widely-trailed Liverpool speech, but have condemned it already. Mary Ann Sieghart is especially destructive. She concludes "In order to be listened to again, [Labour] has to display a high degree of humility. Shadow ministers must admit that the last government wasn't always good at spending money wisely. They must accept that the public sector will now have to make do with much less, just like families all over the country. And they must acknowledge Brown's irresponsibility in assuming that his debt-fuelled boom would last for ever.

 "The question is: can Balls face doing all that? The man for whom the words 'dogmatism' and 'certainty' could have been coined? The man described by Anthony Seldon and Guy Lodge in their latest biography of Brown as a 'mafia politician' and 'Rottweiler' who bullied Treasury officials to massage their forecasts so that Labour wouldn't have to cut spending?"

Any claims to a new "golden rule" should be judged with that last sentence in mind.

[Later] In the event, Balls apologised for just two specific things: the 75p pension increase, and the abolition of the 10p income tax rate. He would have done well to have listened to former Labour general secretary, Peter Watt, interviewed on Sunday's "World at One". While Labour did not cause the economic crisis, Watt said, "we weren't in as good a position as we should have been when the recession hit." He reckoned that until Labour came to terms with that fact, they would not have credibility in the country at large. There was virtually no evidence of that in today's speeches from Liverpool.

Friday, 23 September 2011

Denmark's Liberal BOGOF*

The headlines in this country may have proclaimed yet another Scandinavian female prime minister - and then probably just because she is married to a Kinnock - but the following posting from Liberal International reminded me that Denmark has two fully-accredited Liberal parties.

More seats for liberals in Danish parliament

Both LI member parties in Denmark achieved excellent electoral support in last week's parliamentary elections. LI full-member Venstre, led by outgoing Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen remained the largest party, increasing their share of seats to 47 in total, whereas LI full-member Radikale Venstre reached its best electoral result in 38 years, increasing their number of seats from 9 to 17. Although remaining the single largest party, Lokke Rasmussen's Venstre is likely to lead the opposition while social democratic Helle Thorning-Schmidt, supported by Radikale Venstre, is set to become Denmark's first female prime minister - despite her own party's electoral defeat. In a statement Lokke Rasmussen assured Venstre's supporters that the party will keep pushing for a strong reform program and leave ‘a significant political footprint'. Radikale Venstre's leader Margrethe Vestager, expected to take a seat in the next government, said her party is ready to ‘take responsibility'. Negotiations for appointing the new cabinet will begin in October, until which Lokke Rasmussen's cabinet will remain in office as a caretaker government.

(*Buy one, get one free)

Edgar Allan Poe would have been happy in Turkey

"A town council in central Turkey has taken a radical step to avoid any premature burials," reports Memphis Barker in The Independent, "equipping its morgue with an electronic warning system – just in case any of the bodies it contains show signs of life."

(Edgar Allan Poe appeared to be obsessed by catalepsy and premature burial.)

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Norman Baker on transport under the coalition

Norman Baker's speech to our autumn conference is here. When I watched it on BBC-Parliament, I was heartened by the amount of LibDem philosophy which has informed the Ministry of Transport's programme. Particular points of interest were the confirmation that electrification of the Valley Lines would be investigated (though sadly there was no mention of a study of the benefits of electrification west of Cardiff), localising decision-making and his ambition to see the end of "RPI plus" in regulation of rail fares. Railfuture will also be pleased that he made no mention of guided busways.
 (All right, so it's a Scottish train, but it's a bit more attractive than the Sprinters and Pacers on Swanrail.)

Monday, 19 September 2011

Savage cuts?

Thanks to Liberal Vision for putting me on to this graph and to Daniel Furr's blog (disclaimer: I do not go along with most of their economic liberal content). It demonstrates the take-off under Gordon Brown from around 2002. It also shows that rhetoric about coalition spending cuts is inaccurate.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The headlines are already written

Nick Clegg's Liberal Democrats today voted for addiction hell.
Hard-working families will be torn apart by druggie free-for-all under Liberal plans.

and the leaders will say:
We say to David Cameron: wake up! The Birmingham conference of the Liberals has finally revealed the true face of the most dangerous political party in the civilised world. The party which has insinuated itself into the so-called coalition. Liberals would throw away the victory enjoyed by Britain and America in the war against drugs and drag this proud nation down to the level of Holland and Portugal, where illegal drug use has sky-rocketed since legalisation.

Except that all the "facts" above are misstatements. Portugal has decriminalised drugs, not legalised them. The Netherlands have decriminalised to a limited extent. Proscribed drug use has actually declined in the last ten years in Portugal, while there has been no improvement here and the situation is worse in North America.

The motion passed this evening was hardly conducive to a free-for-all. It actually reads:

F20 Protecting Individuals and Communities from Drug Harms

Conference notes:
I. That drugs are powerful substances which can have serious consequences for the individual user and society in general; and that it is therefore right and proper that the state should intervene to regulate and control the use of such substances as it does the consumption of legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco and both prescription and over-the-counter medicines.
II. That the misuse of drugs can blight the lives of individuals and families and the purchase of illegal drugs can help to fuel organised crime.
III. The need for evidence-based policy making on drugs with a clear focus on prevention and harm-reduction.
IV. That there is increasing evidence that the UK’s drugs policy is not only ineffective and not cost-effective but actually harmful, impacting particularly severely on the poor and marginalised.
Conference further notes:
i) The positive evidence from new approaches elsewhere, including Portuguese reforms that have been successful in reducing problematic drug use through decriminalising possession for personal use of all drugs and investing in treatment programmes.
ii) That those countries and states that have decriminalised possession of some or all drugs have not seen increased use of those drugs relative to their neighbours.
iii) That heroin maintenance clinics in Switzerland and the Netherlands have delivered great health benefits for addicts while delivering considerable reductions in drug-related crime and prevalence of heroin use.
iv) The contribution of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to the 2010 Drug Strategy consultation which states that “people found to be in possession of drugs (any) for personal use (and involved in no other criminal offences) should not be processed through the criminal justice system but instead be diverted into drug education/awareness courses or possibly other, more creative civil punishment”.
v) The report of the Global Commission on Drug Policy whose members include former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, former heads of state of Colombia, Mexico, Brazil and Switzerland, the current Prime Minister of Greece, a former US Secretary of State and many other eminent world figures, which encouraged governments to consider the legal regulation of drugs in order to, “undermine the power of organised crime and safeguard the health and security of their citizens”.
vi) That the United Kingdom remains bound by various international conventions and that any re-negotiation or new agreements will require international co-ordination.
Conference believes that:
A. Individuals, especially young people, can be damaged both by the imposition of criminal records and by a drug habit, and that the priority for those addicted to all substances must be healthcare, education and rehabilitation, not punishment.
B. Governments should reject policies if they are demonstrated to be ineffective in achieving their stated goals and should seek to learn from policies which have been successful.
C. At a time when Home Office and Ministry of Justice spending is facing considerable contraction, there is a powerful case for examining whether an evidence-based policy would produce savings, allowing the quality of service provided by these departments to be maintained or to improve.
D. One of the key barriers to developing better drugs policy has been the previous Labour Government’s persistent refusal to take on board scientific advice, and the absence of an overall evaluative framework of the UK’s drugs strategy.
E. The Department of Health and devolved equivalents should take on a greater responsibility for dealing with drugs.

Conference calls for:
1. The Government to immediately establish an independent panel tasked with carrying out an Impact Assessment of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, to properly evaluate, economically and scientifically, the present legal framework for dealing with drugs in the United Kingdom.
2. The panel also to consider reform of the law, based on the Portuguese model, such that:
a) Possession of any controlled drug for personal use would not be a criminal offence.
b) Possession would be prohibited but should cause police officers to issue citations for individuals to appear before panels tasked with determining appropriate education, health or social interventions.
3. The panel also to consider as an alternative, potential frameworks for a strictly controlled and regulated cannabis market and the potential impacts of such regulation on organised crime, and the health and safety of the public, especially children.
4. The reinvestment of any resources released into effective education, treatment and rehabilitation programmes.
5. The widespread provision of the highest quality evidence-based medical, psychological and social services for those affected by drugs problems; these services should include widespread availability of heroin maintenance clinics for the most problematic and vulnerable heroin users

Speaker after speaker, many at the sharp end - doctors, care workers, bereaved parents - came up to attest that the current regime is not working. The final resolution* is a sober, evidence-based, attempt to move forward. It is a sad fact that in some previous years, conference committee has fought shy of allowing progressive motions on substance abuse to go forward. Congratulations to them for being bold this year.
*there were some minor amendments, whose text I do not have to hand


Saturday, 17 September 2011

Picking up the pieces

As might have been expected, Neath Port Talbot council resolved unanimously not to proceed with the meeting I referred to yesterday. In the light of the reports of two deaths in Cilybebyll which we already had (and the news of the third fatality came through as we were sitting) nobody felt that this was a day on which we should engage in political debate, let alone a discussion on members' allowances.

There has been much criticism of the scale of TV reporting. Correspondents contrast the sixteen deaths and many more injuries on the roads of the UK every day with the loss of just four men. My response is that multiple fatalities on the roads do make the headlines in Wales. More to the point, my English friends ignore the emotional charge of news about mining disasters, something which we thought we would not see again in this country. There was also the human interest in the families waiting in Rhos community centre with dignity, hoping against hope that there would be a happy outcome.

Secretary of State Cheryl Gillan announced that there would be a full investigation, probably after the machinery of the Health and Safety Executive had already started moving, as it was compelled by law to do. It is generally assumed that water broke through from an adjacent flooded abandoned working. If so, it is important to determine the circumstances which caused this. What cannot be doubted is the promptness, extent and dedication of the rescue effort.

I may not know personally the men who died, or their families, but I know many people who do. I feel their sorrow. Nor must we forget the survivor who is fighting for his life in Morriston Hospital. I trust that he will pull through.

Peter Black, one of the local AMs, has blogged on the tragedy. I echo Peter's remark: "In the meantime our minds and our hearts now turn to the families and their grief. They have borne the trauma of the past few days with dignity. It is time to leave them and their community in peace to come to terms with their loss."

Friday, 16 September 2011

Cilybebyll drift mine accident

I'm only blogging this because I am one of the few bloggers in Neath Port Talbot, and I assume it would be expected of me. Like many people I was up most of last night hoping for good news only to have those hopes chipped at by the sad news at 8:30 that one of the four trapped men had died. The fact that, because of the difficult conditions, the man's body could not be identified let alone recovered must add to the heartache of the family and friends of the mine workers. Worse is the uncertainty about the whereabouts of the remaining three.

But things are changing all the while and BBC News may well have more up-to-date news. I shall shortly be leaving for a council meeting. I doubt that we shall be at our best. There will be many members who have strong links to the community in Rhos and may even have spent time at the community centre last night. I recognised council leader Ali Thomas, Pontardawe councillor Mike James and Alltwen member David Lewis in the various broadcasts from Rhos and I have no doubt there were others.

Bethan Lewis, one of the regional AMs and a local resident, also contributed to the reportage. To their credit, all these people did not indulge in political grandstanding, which is a temptation easy to succumb to. Full marks to the two Conservative AMs who stayed off our screens and also to Peter Black AM, who could have broken his journey to federal Liberal Democrat conference starting tonight, but refrained from doing so.

One of the London-based interviewers last night wondered whether the mine was unusual. In fact, with the departure of deep mining, which is only possible because of expensive infrastructure, small entrepreneurs have reverted to one of the earliest forms of winning coal: identifying a seam where it is exposed and following it down. There are several such drifts in South Wales.

There is one final observation. As the helicopter shots show, this is not an industrial area, but farmland. If one did not know there were mines in the area, one could not guess from the small collection of sheds. Not far from the sad scene is the ancient church of Cilybebyll, set in picturesque country (the rector made a touching personal contribution to reports). When I lived in Alltwen, this was one of my favourite walks. The nearby village of Rhos and the Delffordd estate are attractive. There is no good place to have an accident like this, but the fact that it has affected such good people in such a pleasant area is all the more heartbreaking.

Biosphere 3

Biosphere 2 is described in this Wiki article. It is, as far as I know, the first experiment to determine whether human beings could live in a closed system, dependent on plant life converting carbon dioxide into oxygen. The experiment was effectively terminated when the oxygen levels failed to reach those calculated, and the participants began to suffer the ill-effects of oxygen starvation. One theory for the failure was that the oxygen demand of the curing concrete using extensively in the new construction was not taken into account.

This should not be a factor when TV's favourite geologist, Iain Stewart, steps into a container at the Eden Project, as reported by the Indy.

Thursday, 15 September 2011

Glamorgan finish on a high

(I'll leave headlines about the county being in the pink to the Western Mail or whoever.) It was an excellent performance in a match which was in the end all about self-respect but could have been, bar a couple of bad results, about promotion. Alviro Petersen was a real find and I am happy to admit that my initial doubts were ill-founded. Now the county must build on what has obviously been a transitional season and not tinker again in 2012. The manager, Colin Metson and the new captain, Mark Wallace, wicket-keepers both, should at least be on the same wavelength.

Repeat offenders

Responding to the latest statistics about convictions resulting from the English city centre riots, Ken Clarke said the figures confirmed that it was existing criminals who went on the rampage. However, as Tim Harford has pointed out in passing on Radio 4's "More or Less", 80% of criminals who come before magistrates in the normal course of events are repeat offenders; the figure in relation to the riots is 75%. Therefore, there were rather more first-time offenders taking advantage of the disorder in Tottenham and elsewhere, suggesting that most of the crime was opportunist.

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Boundary Commission report brings out the geeks

Liberal Democrats, and Liberals before them, have notoriously included more than the usual number of electoral anoraks in their ranks. It is therefore predictable that, after the implications for sitting Liberal Democrats had been analysed, the fine print of the Boundary Commission review for England would be scrutinised. Mark Pack, the party's Uebergeek, posted on Liberal Democrat Voice that

This is, colleagues in Scotland in particular note, an England only policy announcement:

We consider that the use of commas in existing constituency names is currently inconsistent and sometimes does not aid clarity. We have therefore taken a policy decision that commas will no longer be included in the names of constituencies.

to which Maria responded:
So, let me get this straight: the Scots can still have constituencies with commas while the English can’t? I see a new debate coming on, a debate to make the West Lothian Question pale into insignificance by comparison.

and Peter Black flew the flag for Wales:
 Of course it does not apply to Wales either and we have additional vowels and consonants in our alphabet 

Well, the Welsh alphabet includes ff, ll, ch and th, but it has no need of k, q, x or z. This caused me to wonder whether there is any existing Westminster constituency with q in its name. (I did wonder about z, with the departure of "Zetland", but of course there is "Devizes".)

Sunday, 11 September 2011

Awe fatigue

I normally listen to Radio Wales's Sunday Supplement and national BBC's Broadcasting House all the way through, but this morning I drifted off or even physically switched off at the coverage of the commemoration of the genocide in New York's twin towers. It would have been bearable - no, that's hardly the word in the circumstances - would have had more impact if the ceremonies had not been trailed at length on Radio 4 and the News Channel in the previous weeks.

But I am glad I caught the last five minutes of Broadcasting House, to hear Paddy O'Connell's perfectly judged personal recollections of that dreadful day and especially his reflections on the ten years since.

More on top rate taxes

Tom Papworth on Liberal Vision compares taxes levied on high-earners in leading Western nations. He omits Canada, which gets so many things right. This helpful table from the Canada Revenue Agency shows that the headline rate is 29% - but that is for the nation as a whole. Individual provinces levy on top of that, so that people earning more than $150,000 pay percentages ranging from 39 (Alberta) to 50 (Nova Scotia). There does not seem to have been a vast exodus from Nova Scotia to Alberta, which means that a local income tax in this country, and Scotland's using its tax-varying powers, would not be the disasters prophesied in conservative quarters.

Thursday, 8 September 2011

LibDem Maelo Manning beats Madonna's daughter in global blogging states.

Congratulations to the author of libdemchild, who comes in at 7 on a top ten global list of child bloggers, ahead of Madonna's daughter Lourdes.

Monday, 5 September 2011

Darling testimony is important

The reaction of the politicos on yesterday's Sunday Supplement to the extracts from Alistair Darling's memoir were "quelle surprise!". The implication was that the battle between Nos. 10 & 11 Downing Street was (a) already common knowledge and (b) ancient history. Well, the fights which raged between Tony Blair and Gordon Brown have now been well attested, though one was not sure at the time whether the struggle was between the two principals themselves or between the armies of special advisers which each had built up. The more recent disputes, between Darling and Brown, may well have been accepted as fact in the Westminster village but we ordinary citizens were aware of no more than appeared in the press. It was all too credible, as Labour apparatchiks told us, that these rumours were manufactured by the evil Tory media. Indeed, some of the more sensational "leaks" of last week turn out not to not to be in Darling's book at all.

So the book puts on record not only that infighting between the Prime Minister and Chancellor went on right to the end of the Labour administration, but also Gordon Brown's optimism that the banking crunch would be no more than a temporary check to the "borrow and spend" strategy which he had instituted in 2004. In an interview to coincide with the book launch, Alistair Darling said: "Gordon had decided on an economic strategy built around the proposition that the economy would recover over the next six months." This resulted in Brown briefing ferociously against him when he gave an interview suggesting Britain faced its gloomiest economic outlook for 60 years.

What makes all this still relevant today is that Labour's more responsible chancellor is now on the backbenches and Ed Balls, the unrepentant apostle of "borrow and spend", is the official  opposition Treasury spokesman.

Another interesting insight is this:
 Mr Darling reflects ruefully on the briefings suggesting Mr Brown would call a snap election in autumn 2007. He says: "The problem was that the spin machine was allowed to run out of control and fed the story." He says the confirmation there would be no election was a disaster: "It emerged in a disorganised, haphazard way, on a Saturday afternoon, accompanied by briefings from the bowels of No 10, heaping blame on the supposed author of this misfortune, Douglas Alexander. Who told Damian McBride, Gordon's press secretary, to do this remains opaque. It was extremely hurtful for Douglas, who was a loyal supporter of Gordon."

At the time, and against the official party line, I thought that Brown should not even have toyed with the idea of an early election. It was an unnecessary expense for a parliament which had another eighteen months to run. But even worse was to signal an election, put government and party machinery on standby, then call it off, especially as the ostensible reason was a Conservative surge in opinion ratings on the back of a promise to cut inheritance tax - as if the average voter cared much about inheritance tax. Brown was unnecessarily spooked. A 2007 election would almost certainly have returned another Labour government, albeit with a reduced majority, or at least a parliament in which Liberal Democrats could have supported Labour in return for concessions on civil liberties and more responsible financing.

Sunday, 4 September 2011

True Devolution

Neath Port Talbot councillors have been sent draft copies of Labour Welsh Government's proposals for reorganising local government. The document is large, and I have not yet tackled it, but media comments suggest the idea is to reduce the number of bodies responsible for delivering local government services without devolving any more power to them.

Scottish Liberal Democrats are fighting increasing centralisation by the SNP up there. A motion for the SLD autumn conference concludes:

Conference welcomes the initiative of Scottish Liberal Democrat Leader Willie Rennie to establish a Home Rule Community Rule Commission to design and promote a precise federal approach to the future of Scotland within the United Kingdom; looks forward to receiving proposals from the Commission in the early part of 2012; and believes that this blueprint can build on the principles developed by the Steel Commission, will map the next constitutional steps after the Scotland Bill and provide an inspiring and positive vision for the future of our country.
Conference welcomes the further task of the Commission to examine how power can be transferred to local communities, to start to reverse the centralising tendencies of Scottish Government.
Conference encourages all interested people and civic bodies to engage with the Home Rule Community Rule Commission.

You can read the full motion and comments upon it in Caron's Musings.

Saturday, 3 September 2011

The Israel Philharmonic Prom

Earlier, I wrote: "Anyway, aware that merely listening to tonight's concert is not going to have any physical effect on the Netanyahu regime, I intend to enjoy a quintessential Prom mix comprising the avant-garde, the popular and the unfamiliar, played by an excellent orchestra."

In the event, Radio 3 did not see fit to let us hear most of the concert because of some audible demonstrations in the Albert Hall audience. Nor did we have any explanation at the time. One could have guessed, but I needed to piece together the story from news items and from postings on Cix. It now seems that BBC is going to grant us edited highlights on TV.

I am sorry that the concert was taken off air. What we did hear, Webern's Passacaglia, was to my ear enhanced by the distant choral counterpoint of the protestors!  In particular, having heard earlier in the day Gil Shaham's captivating account of the Barber violin concerto, I was looking forward to what he could bring out of Bruch's first.  Maybe enough of his performance survives to form part of the TV broadcast.

I deprecate the nature of the protest. However, it goes too far to say, as at least one letter to the press claims today, that the protest was anti-Semitic. The protestors, so one of my correspondents informed me, seemed indistinguishable from a normal Proms audience, the sort that had enjoyed much Mahler and Mendelssohn, not to mention the Jewish composers featured in the Film Night Prom. If the IPO had not been so closely identified with the Israeli state, and in particular with its armed forces, I am sure there would not have been so much trouble.

Ironically, the aforementioned Passacaglia was written by a man who clearly shared Catholic Austria's systemic anti-semitism of his time. I wonder if the programme schedulers were aware of Webern's past?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Cloud computing could compromise EU data

Liberal Democrat MEP Sarah Ludford draws attention to the possibility that personal data, theoretically protected by EU legislation, could be accessed by the American authorities under the Patriot Act. The Commission's response to liberal MEPs probing has so far been unsatisfactory.

She's going to be branded as just another Jew-hating Jew

Jessica Duchen has written a hard-hitting piece in support of the orchestral musicians' letter in The Independent criticising tonight's appearance at the Proms by the Israel Philharmonic. Headed "Proms exploited for arts propaganda campaign", the letter states:

The IPO has a deep involvement with the Israeli state – not least its self-proclaimed "partnership" with the Israeli Defence Forces. This is the same state and army that impedes in every way it can the development of Palestinian culture, including the prevention of Palestinian musicians from travelling abroad to perform.
Our main concern is that Israel deliberately uses the arts as propaganda to promote a misleading image of Israel. [...]

The Director of the Proms, Roger Wright, was asked to cancel the concert in accordance with the call from the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott (PACBI). He rejected this call, saying that the invitation is "purely musical". 

I tend to sympathise with Mr Wright. Radio 3 has a record of putting music above politics. The BBC has had at the Proms Daniel Barenboim's West-East Diwan Orchestra, which I trust will be back in future years. Almost certainly it was the Barenboim name which swayed the decision.

Back in the early 1960s, the BBC invited Yevgeny Mravinsky, the legendary conductor/trainer of the  Leningrad Philharmonic to conduct a Prom. This was by no means a friendly gesture to the Soviet state which sponsored the orchestra. If anything, it was the reverse, as the USSR, a decade after Stalin's death, was still reluctant to allow more than a few trusted musicians with exit visas. In the event, Mravinsky upset the authorities in some way and was barred. On a personal note, I missed the chance to see one of the world's greatest in action. By the time he was back in the state's good graces and was permitted to travel to London, I had already settled in Swansea.

I do have doubts about Proms programming being so dominated by foreign orchestras. It is fine to take some weight off the BBC Phil, but the price is to become more dependent on the visitors' agenda. Moreover, not every orchestra in the 2011 season has, in my opinion, reached the world-class standards espoused by Mr Wright.

That is clearly not a criticism which can be levelled at the IPO. Ms Duchen and the signatories to the Indy letter argue for a boycott on political grounds, in the same way that South African sports teams were boycotted in the apartheid era. There is a parallel in that sportsmen were regarded as liberals by SA nationalists and one has the impression that there is less support for their country's war crimes among Israel's intellectuals than the people who put Israel's present regime into power. But there is doubt that a cultural boycott, even if were possible, would have the same effect on the Israeli electorate than a cricket and rugby boycott affected the sports-mad South Africans. Another sidelight is that the IPO's conductor is Zubin Mehta, an Indian who, if I remember correctly, was not totally comfortable when he was in charge of the conservative - to say the least - Vienna State Opera orchestra.

The Jewish Chronicle has already labelled the boycott call as  "absurd" and "anti-Israeli". One recalls their hounding of Jenny Tonge when she made her emotional response to the plight of Palestinian women.  Unfortunately, too many in positions of power in this country take the JC as representative of Jewish opinion and ignore the more measured reporting of Israel's own Haaretz which will no doubt treat the call for the IPO boycott, as it has reported previous campaigns against Israeli actions, dispassionately. One trusts that Ms Duchen will not suffer professionally as a result of her blog, but she shows no signs of being personally affected by any potential criticism as an "ashamed Jew".

Anyway, aware that merely listening to tonight's concert is not going to have any physical effect on the Netanyahu regime, I intend to enjoy a quintessential Prom mix comprising the avant-garde, the popular and the unfamiliar, played by an excellent orchestra.