Saturday, 31 January 2015

A North American continental weather-shift?

Those climate-change sceptics pointing at the record falls of snow in New England as proof that 90% of the world's scientists are engaged in a gigantic hoax should look at the other side of the continent.
There has been a warming trend in the western States and provinces of Canada (the temperature in Alaska did not dip below zero Fahrenheit for the whole of 2014) and a reduction in precipitation. Particularly worrying is the paucity of snow in the mountains. The thirsty state of California depends on the resulting melt-water.

Lost in the post

My second reaction (after the initial paranoid feeling that such data were worth much to certain people) to the story that a disk containing details of three sensitive cases had gone missing after being put in the mail was: what was wrong with "the bag"? It turned out that one of the less publicised coalition government cuts was to the government courier service. From the final report (pdf):

A secure car service for Government Minsters and senior officials was first started in 1946 and an inter-departmental postal service (IDS) was introduced in 1961 to provide a speedy and secure mail courier service between Government buildings. The Government Car and Despatch Agency was formed in 1997 to continue the provision of these two core services to central Government departments and other public bodies. The services and the Agency remained largely unchanged until 2010 when, as a response to changes in the way Ministers travelled and a reduction in the demand for mail services, the Government decided to reform the GCDA. That was largely achieved by closing down the mail service and significantly reducing the cost of providing a car service and by transferring the Agency’s responsibilities to its parent Department.


Having said all that, the Royal Mail is pretty secure. Thefts from it are rare enough to hit the national press when they occur. In my experience, its major failing is in delivering to the wrong address, something which is unlikely to happen in the case of government departments. There is clearly more to this story than we have been told so far.

Friday, 30 January 2015

Midwife of the symphony

Today is the 300th anniversary of Wagenseil, famous in his own day but now overshadowed by Mozart and the Haydns. However, he deserves to be remembered for his moulding the symphony in the form we know it today.

See also http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b050shnh


The other Winston Churchill

The orator, writer and inspirational war leader will be remembered predominantly as London celebrates the 50th anniversary of the progress of his cort├Ęge through her streets.

We will also hear the counter-message that Churchill was an imperialist, a warmonger and a xenophobe - Boyd Tonkin laid out most of the case for the prosecution in last Saturday's Independent. I would only add his fascination with biological and chemical weapons.

Churchill certainly enjoyed military action. Indeed, his reputation as a military officer who was no armchair warrior may have told against him when he was in the political wilderness and trying to reverse successive 1930s governments' refusal to rearm in the face of rising fascism on the continent. We should all be thankful that he finally succeeded in deposing the appeasing Conservative leadership, or we might now be living in poverty in a client state of a European Nazi empire, to which we would have had to yield most of our then empire. Without cross-party support from the two Clements, Labour's Attlee and the Liberal Davies, he might not have succeeded.

But there was another side to Churchill. He may have despised "lesser breeds without the law", but he had a feeling for the ordinary Briton which was rare in his class*. He formed a remarkable bond with David Lloyd George, the aristocrat and the scion of impoverished farming stock together seeing through some remarkable social improvements. Indeed, Nicholas Timmins in "the five giants" quotes Churchill as declaring that Liberalism was "the cause of the left-out millions". Backed by an indefatigable researcher and civil servant, the young William Beveridge, Churchill was responsible in whole or in part for the creation of a nationwide network of labour exchanges, the first UK unemployment insurance scheme and the first minimum wage legislation in the UK. Towards the end of the war, and long after he re-ratted to the Conservatives, he gave RA Butler his head in producing the 1944 Education Act.


* One example is his resistance to deploying the military against striking miners in Tonypandy in the face of overwhelming demands from the local civil authority, as this memo makes clear. It is depressing that senior Labour figures continue to retail the myth that Churchill fired on the miners.

Thursday, 29 January 2015

The Danish blew in again

After bacon, butter, cheese, Mariella Frostrup, Sandi Toksvig and Borgen, we in Aberavon have another Danish import. (I am not referring to the Labour general election candidate who, though married to the Danish prime minister, appears to be Swiss.) According to the Evening Post, the Danish export credit agency Eksport Kredit Fonden is involved in the transfer of ownership of the contentious Margam wood-burning power plant. This has yet to be built and will almost certainly import its fuel - though not from Denmark.

On top of all this, it appears that Viking sperm also contributes to the Danes' balance of payments. According to a BBC TV documentary, it is particularly in demand in Britain.
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It could be only 90 days to the general election

Postal voters should receive their ballot pack about a week before polling day, May 7th. So voting for them could start in the last week of April.

If you want a postal vote, be sure to register in good time. There is advice on About My Vote Web pages.

Wednesday, 28 January 2015

Syriza

The most encouraging news from the incoming government in Greece is that:

Syriza intends to curb the powers of the Greek oligarchs to whom  [established parties] To Potami and Pasok were close, saying their ability to evade tax and break state regulations with impunity must be ended. 

A major cause of Greece's troubles has been her inability to collect tax.

[Later] They will be assisted by the confirmation of an EU directive against tax avoidance. One hopes that the UK government will cooperate in the closing of loopholes which exploit cross-border financial transactions.

Tuesday, 27 January 2015

Auschwitz remembered

It is right that Auschwitz should be remembered, but at such length, and on news programmes? I suggest that it is each younger generation, who do not routinely watch the terrestrial TV news bulletins, who should be the target of the details of Nazi atrocities. The rest of us know only too well what was done in the name of purging the master race.

There have been genocides before and since, too. Full marks to BBC reporter Victoria Fritz who asked survivor Freddie Knoller about the genocides which have occurred since the Shoah and what lessons should be learned from the latter. He replied that such things happened only under a dictatorship, and that democracy was the best defence. Unfortunately, this may be true of state-administered genocide, but recent history has shown that nations are capable of exporting genocide to client states.

Monday, 26 January 2015

There ought to be a Godwin's Axiom on state finance

Alex's Archives takes Nick Clegg to task for using Greece as a comparator for our the coalition government's fiscal rescue. Just as a resort to a comparison with the Nazis is a last desperate throw in an Internet chat-room argument (Godwin's Axiom) so Greece is usually trotted out as a DIRE WARNING. I must admit to resorting to this tactic myself: when commentators suggest that having ones own currency and being able to let it lose its value is a great advantage, I am wont to cite Argentina or Zimbabwe.

Of course, Greece, Spain and Portugal are extreme cases and very unlike the UK. These examples did not convince me of the need for a coalition. Italy did. It is similar to us in so many ways, with a highish debt to GDP ratio which is manageable in normal times. When even Italy struggled to finance its sovereign debt after the credit drought struck, that's when I was frightened and convinced me that the coalition agreement had after all been a good thing in restoring international confidence in Britain. Italy is still struggling.

Sunday, 25 January 2015

Conventional economics and crashes

For a long time, it has been obvious to the man in the street that the concept built into traditional economics that everybody in market economies behaves in their own best interests is unreal and often dangerous. My more academic friends on CIX keep telling me that this simplistic idea went out of the window a long time ago, but it seems from this programme that there is still dissatisfaction with current economics courses. This group also seems to be relevant.

What worries me is that those of our political masters who graduated from PPE courses at the end of the last century are steeped in the conventional wisdom.

Saturday, 24 January 2015

Female leaders debate

Bea Campbell, on Any Questions? last night relayed an interesting idea from one of her followers on Twitter. Why not have a televised debate by the leading women in each political party? She named prominent female figures: Theresa May, Harriet Harman etc. It's a pity that she couldn't call to mind the leader of Plaid Cymru. It is less forgivable that she did not name-check from the Liberal Democrats Jo Swinson or Lynne Featherstone who have done so much for the standing and well-being of women at home and internationally,

But it is a good notion and right up the Channel 4 street, I would suggest.

Friday, 23 January 2015

The Boulting & Hackney analysis

When "Private's Progress" was shown on BBC-2 recently, I thought it a shame that it was not followed by its sequel "I'm all right, Jack", either on that Saturday or the following one. The films were based on novels by Alan Hackney, who also co-wrote the screenplays. With two exceptions, the major players of the second, set in industry, had moved seamlessly from the first, which featured the army of the fag-end of the second world war. The fiddles of the other ranks were matched by the criminal exploits of officers - incidentally, it may have been the first movie to use that now-familiar plot of "liberating" Nazi-looted art. The collusion of crooked officers and crooked NCOs continued in civvy street as they moved into boardroom and factory management respectively. Even the army psychiatrist (a twitching John le Mesurier) found a new calling as a time-and-motion man. There were just two new major characters in the sequel: the iconic Marxist shop-steward Sidney Kite (Peter Sellers) and his blonde bombshell daughter Cynthia (Liz Fraser).

Lo and behold, yesterday's Film Programme not only announced that a new print of "I'm all right, Jack" was to be released on DVD and Blu-Ray, but also included an interview with Liz Fraser. (Fraser confirmed Sellers' reputation as a self-obsessed villain in personal affairs and the extent of restrictive practices in the film industry. She also cast new light on the sad end of Joan Sims, who died in dire financial straits, in spite of being a stalwart of the "Carry on" series. Fraser revealed that "Carry on" producer Peter Rogers had refused a financial helping hand when requested by Sims and Fraser.)

My view of the films has always been that they were even-handed in their treatment of corruption at the top and bottom of society. Although Hackney and the film-making Boulting brothers ended as the driest of Thatcher supporters, the Boultings at least were more radical and idealistic in their younger days (John even served in the International Brigade in Spain). It was Sellers' performance as Kite which sealed the reputation of "I'm all right, Jack" as purely an attack on the unions.


Thursday, 22 January 2015

St Dunstan's anniversary

One anniversary that the Speaker of the House of Commons did not mention this week was that of the Blind Veterans charity which was founded as St Dunstan's by Sir Arthur Pearson in 1915. He believed that no one who has served our country should battle blindness alone.

Incidentally, I see that the veneration of St Dunstan goes back a long way, since Lanfranc, William the Conqueror's Archbishop of Canterbury, was a devotee.

Wednesday, 21 January 2015

Chilcot delay

John Rentoul, Tony Blair's biographer, categorised Nick Clegg's comments on today's announcement as "irresponsible". Would he say the same thing about the Conservative former home affairs spokesman David Davis ("Frankly this isn’t good enough … It is incomprehensible as to why this is being delayed. We need to know why.") or the ministerially very experienced Conservative statesman Douglas Hurd who had said the delay had gone beyond “questions of mere negligence” and was now a “scandal” with dangerous implications.

Conservative priorities

I relay the wind-up from Dr Julian Lewis's speech in the Trident renewal debate yesterday without comment.

 It would be an outrageous betrayal of the first duty of government—namely, defence—if either of the two main parties, if there were a hung Parliament after the next election, allowed this matter to become a negotiating issue in forming a coalition.


Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Test of loyalty

If I were a British imam, I would feel slightly offended and more than a little insecure after reading Eric Pickles's letter. Although not as sharp as some of the headlines yesterday made out, it is the fact that it was sent out at all which is disturbing. A clue, perhaps, is the source. Mr Pickles was the Conservatives' election campaign guru before George Osborne took over. It was clearly intended as a signal to the Tory core vote rather than a serious attempt to communicate with a faith community. If the latter, surely it would have come from the Home Office rather than the Local Government department? Why are Muslims singled out?

There has been no similar missive directed to the large Hindu community, nor to synagogues - quite rightly so. If anyone's loyalty to the United Kingdom or to the British way of life is to be doubted, it is they who amorally take advantage of our over-liberal financial controls. Perhaps certain merchant bankers and multinational company executives should be reminded of their allegiance.

Monday, 19 January 2015

Green addendum

Simon Oliver, a former insider, on LibDem Voice confirms my recent assertion that the Green Party is as much socialist as ecological these days. He does pay tribute to their attention to human rights, but argues that Liberal Democrats are in a better position to deliver green policies.

The Green Party, which I was a member of briefly in the late 80s, has hard left socialist roots and is widely considered both anti-capitalist and paradoxically authoritarian and localist. It has a wide range of policies, all of which take note of environmental concerns (which do not begin and end with climate change, any more than ours do) but only reference those concerns where necessary. Lately it has been adopting a less hard line approach and on many matters, such as human rights, is decidedly liberal.

[...]

Preserving biodiversity with local nature reserves allows us to take our kids out for a day, usually free, to explore and become familiar with nature. These are the kinds of things Lib Dem councils and councillors have always done.

The Green Party get all this, up to a point and, thanks to the Lib Dems breaking the two party duopoly of national power, are in with a shout at more MPs and a greater say in national decision-making. I’m hoping that more people vote Green than UKIP (who have shown repeatedly an ignorance of and opposition to environmental issues). But if you really want action on environmental issues, vote Lib Dem.

I still believe that, if we are to have leaders' debates on TV, that Natalie Bennett should have the same exposure as Nigel Farage.

By the way, the claim by the Greens that they have overtaken in LibDems in membership is misleading, as their figures include Northern Ireland which ours do not. If you add in the numbers from Alliance, our sister party in Ulster, then we are still ahead. But more positively, the fact that both we and the Greens continue to add members must be a good thing.




Sunday, 18 January 2015

Religious diversity in the House of Commons

Sunday seems to be the appropriate day for  a comment about James Arbuthnot MP's "coming out" as an atheist. Jewish and Catholic MPs have long self-identified and in recent years we have seen a gratifying and overdue influx of Muslim members. Between 1892 and 1922, we saw the first Parsi members, Liberal Dadabhai Naoroji, Conservative Sir Mancherjee Merwanjee Bhownagree and Communist Shapurji_Saklatvala. Given the Tata family's big influence in the UK and especially in Wales, it may not be long before another Parsi commoner joins Lord Bilimoria in parliament.

James Arbuthnot may have been correct when he asserted that: “It may be true that the pressure on a Conservative politician particularly of keeping quiet about not being religious is very similar to the pressure that there has been about keeping quiet about being gay,” before emphasising that he was not gay. However, he may be mistaken about the younger generation of Conservatives. For instance, I remarked that Chloe Smith affirmed rather than take the oath on the bible when she was inducted into the Commons, and that did not prevent her gaining a junior Treasury post in the first year of the coalition government.

What piqued me in the Independent article was Edward Leigh's argument "that prayers taking into account Britain's Christian heritage could help in the fight against extremism, as 'a little religion actually stops outrageous intolerance'. The former aide to Margaret Thatcher claimed Britain's whole foundation was built on Christian values." Margaret Thatcher's religion always struck me as rather Old Testament, like those so-called Christian fundamentalists in middle America. Rather than turning the other cheek, she rejoiced in smiting enemies hip and thigh and I believe she would have been the first to have complained about being swamped by Samaritan immigrants.



Saturday, 17 January 2015

Geoff Pullar

I was sad to read of the death of Geoff Pullar at the age of 79 on Christmas Day. The timing probably accounted for the delay in the appearance of the newspaper obituaries. The Telegraph beat the Indy by nearly a month and confirmed my recollection that Pullar had an apprenticeship in the jewellery trade to fall back on if his cricket career had not taken off. However, the Indy gave an alternative and much more plausible explanation for his nickname than the generally-accepted one:

He was known by the nickname Noddy, although not, as once was thought, because of his propensity for nodding off in the dressing room as he waited to bat. It was coined by his Lancashire colleague Ken Grieves, who likened Pullar’s red Triumph TR3 to the sports car Enid Blyton’s Noddy drove around Toytown. 


Friday, 16 January 2015

German Free Democrats relaunch


The FDP, which is facing state elections in Bremen and Hamburg later this year, has launched its "new vision" for Germany.  One wonders if the message of sound finance and defence of civil liberties, including sharing chancellor Merkel's condemnation of Pegida, is sufficiently distinctive to enable it to restore its reverses of 2013.

Thursday, 15 January 2015

Another example of what the Liberal Democrats are for

In the House of Lords on Tuesday, Lord Roberts of Llandudno urged legislators not to damage free speech as part of the fight against terrorism.

[Later] Regarding Cameron and May's desire to break into encrypted communications, Peter Higgins, a member in Colchester, posted on Facebook:

I am a mathematician and I teach a University course in cryptography, although this is not my research field. However, all parties need to talk to real experts before they sound off about banning encryption. (The PM is obviously clueless and has no scientific advice.) It would be possible to try to stop the general public having access to encryption that is virtually unbreakable. Public Key Cryptosystems, used in online banking for example, even if you are unaware of it, are designed to be very strong but not absolutely impregnable. The trouble is, it is not that hard to produce unbreakable ciphers. If the toughest ones were taken off the market, a black market would appear pretty well overnight as the knowledge of how to produce practically unbreakable ciphers is in the public domain.

Julian Huppert said very much the same thing in the House on Monday.

Wednesday, 14 January 2015

A Capel Curig footnote

Further to my post of 2011, I have discovered that another pair of artists found refuge in Capel Curig. Did they use the Oliver studio, I wonder?

Encouraged by Cedric Morris, [Lucien] Freud painted and drew as the urge took him, without undue concern for academic accomplishment. Work proceeded piecemeal. For example, a picture of a box of apples, begun at Morris's farm, where the art school reconvened following the fire, was completed with the insertion of a mountain, his backdrop during a two-month spell of work in the autumn of 1939 near Capel Curig in north Wales undertaken with a fellow student, David Kentish. The poet and novelist Stephen Spender joined them for the last weeks there and contributed literary inserts to what he and Freud called the 'Freud-Schuster Book' (Schuster being Spender's mother's maiden name): an improvisatory album of Freudian skits and observations ranging from mock missionary types and big game hunters to grinning Welsh ponies and a shapely oil lamp. Two months later came Freud's professional debut when a self-portrait drawing from the Welsh sketchbook was published in Horizon, the literary magazine founded by Spender and Cyril Connolly with financial backing from Peter Watson.

[Thanks to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography]

Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Unfinished business

The Charlie Hebdo and the Hyper Cacher atrocities, or rather the extended coverage of the reaction to them, have swept reporting of other disasters from BBC News and most of the press. We are only now catching up not only with the news of a slow improvement in the Ebola situation and the much more horrendous Muslim-on-Muslim slaughter in northern Nigeria. The kidnapping of both girls and boys by Boko Haram continues, as statements in both houses of parliament in response to an urgent question by Sarah Teather revealed.

In the Lords, Qurban Hussain stretched parliamentary procedure by linking the Nigerian genocide with that in Peshawar. To be fair to the BBC, the return to school after the terror attack by Taliban was covered by the corporation.

But one had to turn to al-Jazeera to discover that President Assad continues to oppress his people and that various extremist factions are taking advantage of the situation by wreaking havoc across Syria. There is more hopeful news from Libya, but this is another lawless situation created by the big powers which has been rather lost sight of.

I see that Lord Hussain was born in Kashmir and that several of my Facebook friends* also have a special interest in this region. (Good luck to the Muslim Liberal Democrats who are standing in the elections in May, by the way. I hope they will increase the diversity both in parliament and in local councils in England.) The Telegraph published a brief history of this beautiful but troubled area in 2001. Since then, a few initiatives have been tried but have failed to resolve this long-running dispute. Pakistan clearly does not want to cede the third of Kashmir which she controls, and India will not yield independence to what she suspects will become a Pakistani puppet state.

Perhaps the answer is to revive a concept that has rather gone out of fashion: a condominium. Pakistan and India could agree to share responsibility for a demilitarised Kashmir. Since both nations are members, the Commonwealth would act as arbiter if one party felt that the other was exceeding its bounds, thus overcoming the main reason for failure of condominia in the past.

I hope that progress can be made in all those trouble situations and that the 2015 general election will return a less isolationist Commons.

* I trust that the security services have not put me on a watch list because of the large number of Muslim names that figure in my list of friends

Monday, 12 January 2015

La dolce vita

The news of the death of Anita Ekberg hit me with a shaft of nostalgia. I remember seeing  Federico Fellini's rambling masterpiece  as a callow young civil servant in London and thinking: "Aye, aye, something different is happening here." It was one of the films that marked the transition from the so-called kitchen-sink era to the swinging sixties, which, as the film attests, actually got started in the late fifties. It is not surprising that one of its characters, Paparazzo, gave his name to a species of freelance photographer. From the stunning initial shot of a statue of Christ being airlifted to a site in the Eternal City, surely a sardonic reference to Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph des Willens, to the deliberately incoherent final scene on the beach, it chronicles a decadent society and the progress through it of a disillusioned journalist. (There is also a superb score by Nino Rota, with a little help from JS Bach.) I wonder if the latter-day decline of Silvio Berlusconi, who must also have seen La Dolce Vita on its first release, also marks the end of a period of hedonism or whether Italy will renew her excesses.

Ekberg was the survivor of a trio of blonde bombshells from the 1960s (and probably the nearest to a genuine blonde among them). In the last of a series of BBC films about Monroe, Mansfield and herself, she was seen in her late sixties giving one of what appeared to be a regular series of parties at her home in Italy. She was rather proud of the fact that she was physically so much bigger than the other two (though, to my mind, Mansfield had the greater acting ability - when she put her mind to it) and complained how her first husband was lovely when sober but a wife-beater when drunk and had robbed her of the money she had made up to that point. (There was not much sign of poverty in that BBC profile.) The impression of ungraciousness tends to be confirmed by the Indy's obituary.


Saturday, 10 January 2015

Leftovers

A Facebook friend recently bemoaned the number of leftovers she had after the Christmas holiday. "We always overestimate the amount of food we need", she wrote.

I wondered what her ancestors in the valley, who would have used every part of the family pig except the squeak, would think. As to  traditional Yule sweetmeats, the load of sugar in them acted as a preservative.

Coincidentally, in a recent Book Club on Radio 4, Marina Lewycka, born in a refugee camp and brought up by Ukrainian refugee parents in Yorkshire, reminisced about her student days. She had been surprised at the quantity of stuff which her colleagues in neighbouring digs threw out. She said that if her parents had been living with her, they would have raided those dustbins - and I don't think she was entirely joking.

I have rather more sympathy with today's single parents who rely on packaged meals. There are too many who blame poor people for not being able to cook. What those critics fail to realise is that the food bank clients are not only money-poor, but also usually time-poor as well, having to either work long hours or to juggle two or more jobs.

However, it is certainly true that people of my generation have a different cast of mind when it comes to using and re-using basic ingredients. My motto is that of Bernard Spear's music-hall creation, Loupy Lou. This character was a Greek or Italian immigrant cook, a forerunner of Harry Enfield's Stavros. One didn't question too closely the contents of meals in the local caff in the days of rationing. Spear used to sign off the act with this chorus:

Here we go Loopy Lou;
Here we go Loopy Lie;
What I don't put in the stew
Goes into the shepherd's pie.

So there are two or three stews and curries in the freezer (a luxury few post-war scrimpers and savers possessed) which should see me through the next few weekends.

Friday, 9 January 2015

I agree with Dave Brown

http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/charlie-hebdo-cartoon-i-knew-i-had-to-express-defiance-because-i-wanted-to-be-true-to-the-spirit-of-the-magazine-9965467.html

The Independent cartoonist writes:
Some people are now calling for newspapers to print depictions of Mohammed, but in this case it's not really the subject. It wasn't Islam, or Muslims in general, who carried out this atrocity. It was a small group of madmen. We have to point out their insanity. You've got to see who the real culprit is, and target them, and resist taking this rather more scattershot approach. There's nothing wrong with offending people, but in this case it's not the religion that we should be mocking. It's a particular strand of a criminal, barbaric, medieval mindset that has access to modern weaponry.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/charlie-hebdo-murders-dave-browns-second-cartoon-in-response-to-the-atrocity-9966249.html


Thursday, 8 January 2015

Unfair to Green Party

I am not a great fan of the Green Party. I believe that more can be done to achieve its more sensible aims through Liberal Democracy. It is not only too extreme, but also of recent years has attracted an authoritarian socialist element which is not able to make headway in any other English party.

However, I also believe that it is a more coherent and relevant organisation than UKIP. The decision by Ofcom that UKIP is a "major party" for electoral broadcast purposes but that the Greens are not suggests a worrying bias, either conscious or unconscious. The Greens run an English council and are challengers in at least one other. UKIP's highest council representation is at 29% according to this Channel 4 News analysis. The Green Party is longer-established (founded 1985 as against UKIP's 1993) and its predecessor, the Ecology Party, goes back ten years further. Only in its slavish following in our corrupt media is UKIP ahead of the Greens.

If we are to have TV and radio debates featuring the party leaders - and it is not certain that they shed any more light than heat on electoral issues - then surely the only criterion for inclusion should be whether a party can theoretically form a government, i.e. that they field candidates in a substantial majority of Westminster seats. I suggest that it is too early to rule parties in or out.

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Magna Carta's dirty secret

Melvyn Bragg's otherwise extremely informative introductory series on Magna Carta does not touch on the clauses we were not told about in school.

The British Library has an English translation of the charter which King John put his seal to - but later repudiated - in 1215. The offending clauses are:

(10) If anyone who has borrowed a sum of money from Jews dies before the debt has been repaid, his heir shall pay no interest on the debt for so long as he remains under age, irrespective of whom he holds his lands. If such a debt falls into the hands of the Crown, it will take nothing except the principal sum specified in the bond.

(11) If a man dies owing money to Jews, his wife may have her dower and pay nothing towards the debt from it. If he leaves children that are under age, their needs may also be provided for on a scale appropriate to the size of his holding of lands. The debt is to be paid out of the residue, reserving the service due to his feudal lords. Debts owed to persons other than Jews are to be dealt with similarly.

As Jonathan Romain lays out here, there are other clauses which do not mention Jews by name, but clearly do apply especially to the Jewish money-lenders who the rebel barons wanted to be free of. (I did suggest some time ago that substituting "pay-day loan merchant" for Jew in the foregoing might justify reviving the clauses.) However, they were dropped from the last revision of the charter, the one that matters, the one that was agreed to by the governing council of Henry III in 1225.




Tuesday, 6 January 2015

“Electoral reform could, like Lazarus, rise from the dead in 2015”.

The words of Professor Vernon Bogdanor in an article in a recent Financial Times – http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/8f0628f0-8220-11e4-a9bb-00144feabdc0.html#axzz3NwEFBTh8 – drawn to out attention by Anthony Tuffin of www.stvAction.org.uk.

He also reports that:

There is a lively debate about electoral reform on http://www.conservativehome.com/thetorydiary/2015/01/the-conservative-push-for-tactical-votes.html. Although Conservative Home seems an unlikely forum for it, it has happened before and I have no doubt it will happen again, especially if the Conservative Party loses seats, and perhaps power, to Labour in May because it loses votes to UKIP.

There is also an excellent article in the The International News of Karachi - http://www.thenews.com.pk/Todays-News-9-294140-The-worst-electoral-system - where the writer argues persuasively for Pakistan to scrap FPTP.

It seems to me that it will be difficult for any measure to restore faith in its legislature on the part of Pakistanis, but that a fair voting system would make the best contribution to doing so.


Monday, 5 January 2015

Nick Clegg's new year message: a core of truth, but the wrong emphasis

http://www.libdems.org.uk/national-interests-first contains a video of Nick Clegg's 2015 curtain-raiser.

In times past, the Liberals and Liberal Democrats would present manifestos as if for a party of government, costed and all (please note, Chris Bryant), even though the chances of coming to power were much lower then than they are now. Today's message reminds me uncomfortably of the pitch of the German FDP, whose highest aim appeared to be to secure at least one ministry in a coalition government, either with the conservatives or the social democrats. The FDP is no longer represented in the national parliament, and may not have any regional seats after this year's round of elections.

If it were me, I would have said: "Because of our experience in government in the last four-and-a-half years, we are better equipped to take the reins than we have ever been. We are more united over the big questions of the day than either the Conservatives or Labour*. In a minority government, we have pushed through reform of pensions, reduced taxation for the lower paid, improved civil rights and resisted attacks on employment rights, to name but a few. Just think what we could do if we had a majority.

"But that experience has also shown that the British voter and the world at large have no reason to be afraid of a coalition government. We are ready to do whatever is in the best interests of the nation."

What do I know? Nick is advised by a consultant with an international reputation.

* and certainly more than UKIP who have different policies according to which candidate you speak to

The EU explained: What it costs & how it works


Origins: The origins of the EU are in the post-war efforts for European reconciliation and integration. Beginning with 6 countries and 170 million people the EU now has 28 members with about 500 million people, bringing together Europe, from the west coast of Ireland to the east of Poland and from the Mediterranean to Scandinavia. Today the EU is the richest and most influential trading bloc in the world. Britain joined in 1973.

What the EU costs

The UK’s contribution to EU Budget

100% → £1750 billion = size of UK economy in 2014 = £4800 million per day = about £75 a day per person.

40% → £730 billion is UK government spending for 2014-15 = £2000 million per day = £31 a day per person

0.4% → £6-7 billion is UK net contribution to EU budget = £18 million per day = 30p a day per person


Thanks to the European Movement UK for the foregoing. Note that from the opening sentence the Movement is unapologetic about the political dimension of the EEC and EU. There is more here.







Sunday, 4 January 2015

Make straight your ways

Channel 4 News has had some fun comparing the road pictured in the Conservatives' New Year poster with an original taken by a German photographer near his home in Wetzlar. There are many examples of long straight roads on the continent of Europe, laid down according to generally accepted wisdom by Napoleon to facilitate the movement of his armies across his short-lived empire. But he never had his wicked way in England as Chesterton celebrated in The Rolling English Road:

I knew no harm of Bonaparte and plenty of the Squire,
And for to fight the Frenchman I did not much desire;
But I did bash their baggonets because they came arrayed
To straighten out the crooked road an English drunkard made


I am quite prepared to believe the Conservative back-room boys when they protest that the image is totally English. It certainly looks like the product of photo-manipulation software (British, I trust) rather than any real road in England or Wales.

However, there is another explanation which the Conservatives may not care to admit to. They could have used a picture of one of the roads laid out in the early eighteenth century by General Wade (an Irishman, be it noted) to assist in the British subjugation of the Highlands of Scotland. The lack of trees or shrubs points to a wind-swept northern location. If so, it is something which Salmond and Sturgeon could make great use of.