Friday, 29 July 2016

May decision sensible and overdue

The rational mind of the banker which Theresa May was for many years of her pre-political life has clearly spotted the flaws in the grandiose scheme to build a nuclear power station of a barely-tried design at Hinkley Point in Somerset. This effectively experimental large-scale project, of which any conceivable profit will go to state-owned firms in China and France, is to be reviewed.

I trust that my party will not defend Hinkley Point C to the death simply because the original decision to proceed was taken by Ed Davey.


Monday, 25 July 2016

Japanese knotweed: Aphalara itadori to the rescue

Councillors in the 'noughties will recall that after dog droppings, speeding motorists and unauthorised parking, the biggest complaint in their casebook was Fallopia japonica (or Polygonum cuspidatum or Reynoutria japonica - even its botanical name was a nuisance), aka Japanese Knotweed. Virtually indestructible by normal methods, any bit with two ends can lead to a fresh infestation. Hence, it is legally treatable only by certificated specialists. It does not make the headlines as it used to, but it is still a pest plant.

I was just getting to the end of my term as councillor when the first announcement was made of a possible biological control. The plant-louse aphalara itadori was identified as one of the few bugs which would eat the knotweed and, better still, appeared to specialise in it, so that there was not likely to be any collateral damage as with previous releases of intended biological controls (look up "cane toad"). Still, there needed to be extensive trials in a closed environment to be certain. It seems these have now concluded successfully and live releases, including some in south Wales have started.


Sunday, 24 July 2016

Swansea cricket week

I can remember when the bank holidays (we had only two during the cricket season then) saw Glamorgan entertain whatever tourist team was visiting Britain then. At least one of those fixtures would have been in Swansea. The county's luck was due to a historical anomaly, which was removed when there was a massive overhaul of fixtures. (Was this part of the MacLaurin reforms?)

However, Swansea still has a cricket week in high summer and there are attractive visitors starting next Sunday, when the county XI meets Hampshire in the One-day Cup. This is followed by a four-day county championship match against Northampton. John Williams of the Balconiers who have done so much to hold on to the cricket week has called for more sponsors which I hope he will find.


Saturday, 23 July 2016

Closing the lid on North Wales child abuse?

It seems that the last major case will be heard in September. Operation Pallial will be taking no new evidence after the end of next month, though the operation will continue until all evidence in its possession is followed up.

It will be interesting to see what Cathy Fox makes of the news.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Kashmir: hidden news

We have been quite rightly exercised about the threats to democracy in Turkey and before that the dangers of home-grown terrorism in France. However, these issues have caused Western media to take their eyes off the situation in Indian-administered Kashmir. There have been intermittent media closures following heavy-handed policing.

There is background information on the disputes in Kashmir and Jammu here.


Thursday, 21 July 2016

German hospitality to Britain over a generation

Tom Peck of the Independent does not neglect the trivia of Mrs Merkel's meeting with Mrs May yesterday. He relates that the two prime ministers retired to a "meal of veal and mushrooms followed by marinated wild berries and ice cream". The Chancellor clearly has a healthier life-style than her mentor, Helmut Kohl, who insisted that Mrs Thatcher sample his favourite Saumagen when he entertained the Iron Lady.


Dies Natalis

Around 70 years ago, at the Three Choirs Festival, Gerald Finzi conducted the first public performance of what is generally regarded as his master work, Dies Natalis. When I first heard the cantata, it made an immediate impression on a father of young children. I relived the words of Traherne through not only my own recollections but also as if through the eyes of Catherine and Alice.

I am grateful to the World Record Club for introducing me to the work. That particular recording by Wilfred Brown and an orchestra conducted by the composer's son has not been surpassed. It may still be available in some form. If so, and you have not heard it, seek it out.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Combatting underage drinking in Glantawe

The Evening Post reports an attempt by South Wales Police in the Pontardawe area to replicate the success in reducing drink-related antisocial behaviour and damage to health produced by these initiatives. I wish them well and hope, if successful, similar ventures can be rolled out in other parts of the county borough.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

Remember "The Entertainer"?

I couldn't believe this in The Independent. Less than a fortnight after Andrea Leadsom implied that there was something peculiar about Theresa May for not having children - and was quite rightly slapped down for it - Owen Smith  appeals to the homophobic vote in his campaign for the Labour leadership.

I was reminded of the words of the song John Osborne put in the mouth of Archie Rice, the sleazy washed-up music-hall comedian in "The Entertainer": "Thank God I'm normal". The play was taken to be an allegory for British decline at the time of the Suez adventure, summed up in Rice's closing: "Don't clap too hard – it's a very old building." This could apply to the Labour Party also.

MCC v Nepal

Two of my interests coincide at Lord's today. I trust that Gurkha support organisations will take advantage of the first official cricket match between England and Nepal.

Monday, 18 July 2016

Labour unity

On the face of it, the decision by the parliamentary Labour party to stage a hustings to select one candidate to challenge Jeremy Corbyn is bizarre. Voting by the alternative vote system is now well-established and there is therefore no danger of vote-splitting. Jonathan Calder suggests one possible reason - Labour contests can get personal and nasty, and the results will not play well with the voters at large. News media will store up the insults and replay them during a general election campaign.

A more likely explanation is fear by the Eagle camp that Owen Smith will be more attractive to rank-and-file Labour and confidence that she has more supporters in the Westminster village.



Two of the five fastest first-class double centuries involve Glamorgan

Aneurin Donald's effort in Colwyn Bay yesterday will have to be added to this table.
Fastest 200s - in minutes
Player
RJ Shastri (200*)113Bombay v BarodaBombay1984-85
GL Jessop (286)120Gloucesterhire v SussexHove1903
CH Lloyd (201*)120West Indies v GlamorganSwansea1976
GL Jessop (234)130Gloucestershire v SomersetBristol1905
VL Trumper (293)131Australians v CanterburyChristchurch1913-14
I am glad to say that I was there when Clive Lloyd equalled the then record - and would have beaten it if he had not refreshed himself with a glass of water part way through.

Didcot power station

Will there be a formal inquiry into the botched demolition? The suspicion remains that if a specialist company, with access to the plans for the sophisticated construction of the plant, had been employed, four men - including one from Swansea - need not have died.

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Mondeo man - and mums - betrayed

The periodical of choice for middle-income households was among those reporting that the very people targeted by the political parties from New Labour on have actually become poorer over the last twenty years.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

Turkey: a warning shot

Judging by the statement which presenters on Turkish broadcasting stations were made to read out, the leaders of the failed coup see themselves as heirs to the generals who in the past have seized power in defence of the nation's secular constitution and of democracy.

The revolution seems to have been put down (bar a few locations where as I write BBC World Service reports that plotters are holding out) but Mr Erdo─čan and his supporters would be well advised to heed the disquiet about the direction he has been taking Turkey.

Post Brexit vote bounce

This has been a particularly good week for Liberal Democrat gains in by-elections in principal authorities (i.e. county councils or unitary authorities, rather than parish and town councils). Most heartening is the fact that two have been achieved in Cornwall, a region which turned to the Conservatives in the 2015 general election.

Mark Pack has details.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Good luck to a new local medium


Bay TV launched this week. It is available on Freeview channel 8 in the Swansea Bay area. I understand that the unexpected death of a key player in the launch programme held up its appearance on Virgin Media at the same time, but Bay TV will in a week or so's time appear on Virgin channel 159 with an online offering to follow.  

Teething troubles were clear on the first day, with sound levels not what they should be. However, these were rectified by midweek. With a mixture of experience and new young talent in front of the camera, and good use being made of local musicians, Bay TV has made a promising start. The next weeks and months are going to be critical, as TV eats up material at a great rate. I wish the new channel well.


Thursday, 14 July 2016

It''s what Wales voted for, part 8

http://peterblack.blogspot.co.uk/2016/07/welsh-assembly-remuneration-board-to.html


Commencing on a false pretext

People of middle-age and above will remember well Mrs Thatcher's inaugural speech from the middle of Downing Street. In it she cited St Francis as praying "Where there is discord, may we bring harmony. Where there is error, may we bring truth. Where there is doubt, may we bring faith. And where there is despair, may we bring hope." There was immediate discord after she learned that Norman St John Stevas, an expert in such matters, had pointed out that the prayer was a French fake. There was more discord to follow, not to mention doubt and despair.

Mrs May's accession speech also began on a false note. In her opening remarks praising her predecessor she said:  "Under David’s leadership, the Government stabilised the economy, reduced the budget deficit, and helped more people into work than ever before. But David’s true legacy is not about the economy, but about social justice. From the introduction of same sex marriage, to taking people on low wages out of income tax altogether, David Cameron has led a one nation government". One can accept that just the act of initiating a stable government restored international confidence in the UK economy and that the Conservatives would have reduced the deficit (far more drastically than if they had not been in coalition, in fact); one can argue how much LibDem ministers in the Business department contributed to the increase in skills and in employment; but it is effrontery to claim that Cameron introduced same sex marriage or raising the low-pay tax threshold. Both these were resisted by Conservatives and, in the latter case, mocked by David Cameron before the 2010 election. They would not have been achieved without Liberal Democrats in government.

It is to be hoped that the rest of Mrs May's speech was more sincere.

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Another expert reveals his knowledge about Saddam's WMDs

Nigel Jones, who plied his trade in IT before being elected as MP for Cheltenham, gained unique access to knowledge about the nature of Saddam's missile programme long before Dr Kelly carried out his official research. He made it known to his party leader when the question of invasion came up in the Commons. Charles Kennedy must surely have passed the evidence on to fellow privy councillors, yet both the major parties (with honourable exceptions) chose to believe the unattributable assertions presented by Tony Blair.

[Later] Dutch Liberals consistently doubted the pretext for going to war, too.


A hard look at the Cameron legacy

Caron Lindsay in her LibDem Voice piece this morning responds to the fawning commentary which had already started shortly after the announcement of Theresa May's accession. Cameron's historical reputation will surely be as a trimmer, rather than a leader, who led the UK's exit from the European Union.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Paul Flynn on the Conservative leadership

I have been catching up on Hansard.

Paul Flynn, the veteran (as he admits himself) Labour MP for Newport West, rather over-indulged himself on his first appearance as shadow Leader of the House. Last Thursday, he was more succinct and all the better for it. The pleasures of listening to Mr Flynn include his artistic deployment of the English language and his wit. Thanks to his loyalty to his current leader, we will now be able to enjoy both regularly on a Thursday morning when the Commons sit. From last Thursday:

"The House is grateful, as ever, to the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe [Ken Clarke]. He is a rarity on the Government Back Benches as a man who is occasionally caught in possession of an intelligent thought, and who speaks real English—the language that the rest of us speak. This week, he gave us vital intelligence on the three remaining candidates for the leadership of the Tory party: one of them is 'bloody difficult'; one does not expect to deliver on the extremely stupid things she has been saying; and one would declare war on at least three countries. We have a legitimate interest in this, because the winner of this race will also be the Prime Minister.

"I suggest to the Conservatives that they perhaps repeat the great success that they had in Totnes, where they introduced the system of a primary vote in which everyone took part. It would be wonderful to have the chance to write-in a candidate such as the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe. Happily, at his time of life, he has passed beyond the stages of ambition and vanity that afflict many in political life. If he is reluctant to return to the Dispatch Box because he is of a certain age, let me remind him of what I have discovered: the Dispatch Box is a vital support and a wonderful alternative to a Zimmer frame."

Now we know that the winner is the "bloody difficult" one. We shall know what direction she wants to take us in by the selection of her cabinet, of which we should be receiving whispers at least tomorrow night.


Another footpath allowed to fail

Neath Port Talbot County Borough Council has not been good at looking after public footpaths: This news item depresses me, but does not surprise:
http://www.porttalbotmagnet.com/coastal-path-bridge-is-shut-over-safety-fears/

It is a pity that there is not a community council (as would be the case in Neath) covering this area, as community councils in the county borough have been generally more concerned about their stewardship of footpaths.



Monday, 11 July 2016

And Tories accuse the EU of being undemocratic!

The appearance of a conspiracy to enthrone Theresa May as Conservative party leader (and thus as prime minister) along the lines of this article is very much there. If I were a Conservative member, I would be spitting tacks over the denial of my right to vote on the way the party should be led post-referendum in parliament and into the next election.

More importantly, Mrs May has stated her resistance to a general election before the scheduled date of May 2020. Now, I have long been a traditionalist in that electors in each constituency put into parliament a man or woman to exercise judgment on their behalf. MPs decide who is or is not capable of carrying out the job of government and should be allowed to get on with it. We elect them on a prospectus for five years and only if they find that parliament is unworkable should they come back to the country. Thus I refused to join in the clamour for a general election when Brown succeeded Blair, especially since the differences between them were purely personal and that Brown simply continued the New Labour programme the country had voted for in 2005. Nor am I a believer in the Great Leader theory of politics.

However, the EU referendum has created a unique situation. David Cameron announced beforehand that he would agree to be bound by the referendum vote. This in itself was a dangerous break with our constitutional conventions. By all means state that the government would be guided by the referendum if there were to be a sizeable majority of all those eligible to vote, but to capitulate in advance to a simple majority, however slim, of those voting predictably led to the creeping disaster which we now face.

So the House of Commons which was overwhelmingly in favour of remaining in the EU is now expected to debate and vote on measures to leave it. Mrs May asserted her support for Mr Cameron's line on Europe (though I always suspected she had her fingers crossed behind her back as she did so, judging by her antagonism to the European Convention on Human Rights) and has only since the vote said that there is no going back from Brexit. The majority of her colleagues were elected on the same official Conservative premise.

Surely the country is entitled to a fresh House of Commons which would either sincerely carry out the will of the people (as Brexiters would see it) or repudiate what was a rogue poll of people, unaware of the effects on their standard of living, deceived by vested interests (as Remainers would see it)? The alternative is for this parliament to stagger on for another four years, attacked for its lack of legitimacy by all sides.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

No EU deception by Heath

It may be of little use to convince Eurosceptics, but there is more evidence that Edward Heath was unapologetic in promoting the (then) European Community as more than a mere common market. From the entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

For his maiden speech on 26 June 1950 Heath chose a European theme that flowed directly from his own experience before, during, and immediately after the war. He remained loyal to the theme of a united Europe for the rest of his life. In 1950 the Labour government decided not to take an active part in the Schuman plan, which led to the creation of the European Coal and Steel Community. Heath criticized this caution as a lost opportunity. Although he was at all times ready to argue the case for Europe on economic grounds, he never concealed either in this speech or later his own personal conviction that the essence of the case was political. In his memoirs he wrote that 'the raison d'etre of the European Union is political, to integrate Germany into Europe, using its powerful geopolitical position for the benefit of our continent as a whole' (Heath, 144). Nearly fifty years earlier his maiden speech foreshadowed this emphasis.

He was convinced that the nation-state was dead, as he said forcefully to Ken Clarke. The latter recollected this in Radio 4's Archive program which celebrated Edward Heath's centenary today.


Friday, 8 July 2016

Railfuture

Yesterday evening's meeting was not so dominated by Brexit as I expected, though some unexpected benefits of EU funding were revealed. Rather, the disregard for rail users by some sections of train operating companies dominated discussion. In particular, concern was expressed about the lack of information given out to passengers, especially on interruptions to service. The imminent closure of the Severn Tunnel for a scheduled six weeks' work on electrification this autumn is a particular worry.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

It's what Wales voted for, part 7

Peter Black writes:

"UKIP nominated Gareth Bennett, the AM who during the Assembly elections suggested that the litter problem in Cardiff was caused by Eastern European immigrants, to be a member of the committee which promotes equal opportunities.

"As one of my erstwhile colleagues said, they are doing it on purpose [...] Mr. Bennett's membership of that committee undermines its function and purpose and impacts on the Assembly's reputation amongst those it is meant to champion."


Future of rail in Wales

I am off to the quarterly Railfuture Cymru meeting this evening. While Railfuture is agnostic about Brexit, I imagine much of the discussion will be about the implications for investment in railway development in Wales.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Speedo and Sparky

In the end, it was not to be. Portugal timed their run to the final better than Wales. There were a lot of tired legs and tired minds out there and there really was not a two-goal difference in the quality of the teams. Win or lose tonight, though, Wales performed magnificently in making it through to the semis in Euro 2016. Moreover, though this squad has been described as a golden generation, there are indications that there are young talents ready to take their place.

Much has been made quite rightly of Gary Speed's setting that generation on its way. Although his, and that of his assistants, style of play was different from that of Chris Coleman, if he had lived he would surely have seen his boys succeed equally in Euro 2016. Tribute has also been paid to the bravery of Chris Coleman in picking up the mantle of his long-time friend and to mould his team to a different style without losing their esprit de corps. It will be a debate lasting long into the future whether the greatest Welsh manager was Speed or Coleman.

I would like to put in a word for Mark Hughes' contribution. Although his tenure had a dying fall in lack-lustre performances overshadowed by rumours about his leaving the Wales job for a more lucrative managership in the Premier League, he had in my opinion at the start of his managership changed the Welsh from a collection of individuals to a team with a purpose, something that John Toshack (briefly) and Speed and Coleman were able to build on. Also, one of his last acts as an international manager was the emotional gesture of putting on as substitute for the last two minutes of a match against Germany a man whose club and international career had been broken by a road accident, whose recovery had come too slowly to resurrect those careers in any meaningful way. That man was Chris Coleman. It was surely significant in the building of a team that is together, stronger.


Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Swifts

This is the RSPB's call for help for what used to be one of the iconic birds of high summer. The charity identifies lack of nest-sites in England and Wales as one of the reasons for the decline. I doubt that this is a major factor round here. There have been few changes in the built environment in Skewen and Neath Abbey, yet the number of swifts has dropped markedly. Indeed, I have seen or heard none so far this year, and cannot remember any in 2015 either. Borough-wide, the council's planners have been doing their bit in requiring swift facilities in developments where appropriate.

But if you have been luckier, please let the RSPB know.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Standing up for the ordinary spiv

Nigel Farage's Brexit victory speech rings hollow. The privately-educated son of a stockbroker did not feel sufficiently connected to the ordinary people, the decent people, to take up manual labour or menial employment in a worthy profession. Instead, he went into commodities trading (or speculating with other people's money, as some might see it).

The true winners from Brexit will be the financial operators who will no longer be subject to regulation from the EU.

Farage's xenophobia may be real as Alix Mortimer fears, or it may simply have been a cynical pitch to the racist element in our society in order to boost the Leave.EU vote. After all, neither of his two wives were English-born. The test will be if he accepts an arrangement with Brussels which permits free movement but excludes any outside regulation of the UK's financial institutions. If he is true to his rhetoric, nothing but a clean break with the EU would be good enough for him and for UKIP.

[Later: I seem to have my answer: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-36702468 - but of course Farage has resigned and unresigned once before.]



Friday, 1 July 2016

Good Energy founder says Britain must not backslide on environmental commitments

Juliet Davenport details her reactions to the Brexit decision and sums up:

"Without Europe to challenge and cajole, there is a huge risk that the UK will backslide on its environmental commitments and ambitions. We must not let that happen."