Monday, 26 June 2017

Linen-chest politics


The Americans would call Mrs May's bribe to the DUP to keep quiet during key votes "pork-barrel politics". Because of Ulster's best-known export, perhaps we should call it "linen-chest politics". If there were any justice, there would be a consequential annual top-up payment of £1.6bn to Wales, but of course Mrs May knows that her small band of Welsh MPs will never rebel. Realpolitik rules.

Government apologists will point to the Swansea City Deal of £1.3bn, but that money is spread over five years at least. Mrs May should immediately make some amends by insisting the GWR electrification should be wrenched back to its original timetable, increasing prosperity for the whole of South Wales, not just the Bay region.

The Barnett by-pass

The Scots seem to be even worse done by than us in Wales. If they had an NI equivalent top-up outwith the Barnett formula, I calculate they are due £6bn over the two years that the agreement with the DUP is to run.   I have just heard Damian Green reeling off a list of Scottish city deals and contributions to arts projects which top up Barnett, but my mental arithmetic produces a total of less than £2bn. I shall read the Hansard report with interest, and if I have done the minister an injustice I will of course correct this record.

Breaking the Great War deadlock


One hundred years ago, the first North American Expeditionary forces arrived in France.


Women in science

This France24 series, with its weekly daytime slot, looks admirable. One would have expected a French medium to be rather chauvinist but instead this programme is refreshingly international.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

John Simon

Probably the first Jamaican-born MP died on this day in 1897. More to the point, John Simon stood up for British Jewry, though he represented Dewsbury, a seat with a minimal Jewish community. (Dewsbury today has a large immigrant population, mostly Muslim.) He was only the second professing Jew to be admitted to the Bar of England and Wales.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Anti-terror measures stepped up at the cost of day-to-day policing

Amber Rudd's statement to the Commons yesterday made clear that anti-terror operations will be strengthened by giving firearms training to more officers but that no new money would be given to the police overall. The implication is that more front-line policemen and women will be diverted to state security while prevention and investigation of crimes which affect ordinary people up and down the country will be starved of resources.

The fact that both Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos for the recent general election pledged  restoration of cuts in the police service which have occurred from the noughties onward, while the Conservatives have made no such provision, points up Tory priorities. The Tories are more concerned about the security of the state than the security of ordinary people.

What is worse is that they have given up on the only piece of legislation which offered hope of reform of criminal justice, the Prisons and Courts Bill. Instead, there is a vague promise of making the courts more efficient.




Thursday, 22 June 2017

Orla Lowe, did you know about this sharp practice?

I challenge Mrs Orla Lowe, my Conservative opponent in the Neath constituency in the recent general election, whether she knew about the activities revealed in tonight's Channel 4 News. An outfit named Blue Telecoms operating from offices in Market Chambers, Neath, made cold calls apparently pushing people to vote for Conservative candidates in Wales. In itself, this is a nuisance, but not illegal (provided telephone preferences are observed). What is illegal is not accounting for these canvassing calls under individual candidates' expenses returns.

Throughout Wales, and markedly in Neath, Conservative candidates leapfrogged Plaid Cymru candidates and depressed Liberal Democrat votes. Did the Blue Telecoms operation contribute to this, to Conservatives' holding on to Brecon & Radnor, and possibly to Mark Williams' losing Ceredigion?
The Conservative party must come clean about its expenditure. We know Channel 4 will persist until it gets all the answers, and this time there will the party will not be helped by expiring deadlines.



More evidence for declining real wages

There are some worrying graphs here.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Of hung parliaments and the government's bona fides

Graeme Cowie does not post often to his blog, but when he does it is after due consideration. He has recently delivered two magisterial judgments in the field of his special expertise, constitutional law.

In his analysis of the prime minister's position with particular reference to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and parliamentary arithmetic, he puts right certain journalistic assumptions. In particular, he dismisses the easy assumption that, in view of Mrs May's successful call for an early election, the FTPA changed nothing. He concludes:

The truth is that the old system that preceded the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would have handled this type of situation no better than the current one. It allowed Prime Ministers to escape resignation by appealing immediately and directly to the country, even when an alternative viable government could be formed from the democratically elected Parliament. These decisions are no longer a privilege the Prime Minister enjoys, exploiting in the process the political sensitivity of the Crown. It is instead for Parliament itself to decide.

For a Parliament man like me, that is, when all is said and done, a no bad thing.

He followed this up with a dismissal of the chances of success of a judicial review of Mrs May's "confidence and supply" agreement with the DUP.

I cannot claim to have followed all the thought-processes of a trained legal mind, but I am convinced that the supply and confidence arrangement will not be susceptible to overriding by the court on the grounds specified. Mrs May's position will be safe (for the time being). However, the fact that the Queen's minister and, therefore, her government are dependent for the continuing confidence of parliament on one of the players in the Northern Ireland arena must shade their status as joint impartial guarantors in the formation of a new power-sharing government in Stormont.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

French developments

There is a summary by France24 of the outcome of the French elections which concluded last Sunday. It seems from this side of the channel that president Macron and his LREM party might loosely be described as economic liberals, while his junior partners in the National Assembly, the Democratic Movement, have travelled from centrist conservatism to social liberalism.

I cannot remember a larger majority for change in the Assembly. There seems little doubt that president Macron and his prime minister Edouard Philippe will be able to put through measures to liberalise the French economy. However, the history of the Fifth Republic is studded with instances of extra-parliamentary forces snookering the will of parliament. Expect strong resistance from the trade unions, who will no doubt claim that, because the turn-out in both halves of the parliamentary election was so low, Philippe has no mandate.

Both party leaders are committed Europeans. One can therefore expect a stiffening of the EU27's tough line in the Brexit negotiations which have just opened. Moreover, if Macron succeeds in reducing business overheads, one may expect the French entrepreneurs who migrated to south-east England to benefit from our better business climate to consider returning. So what may be good for the French is not necessarily good for the UK.

[Later] It is not going to be plain sailing for the LREM/MoDem coalition. One of its stated aims of cleaning up the administration has been struck a blow by the allegations of misuse of MoDem party funds which have led to the resignation of the defence minister.


Monday, 19 June 2017

Jo Swinson may well be Liberal Democrat leader - but not yet

I cannot claim to have met Jo Swinson, but, already a busy MP, she came to the 2006 by-election in Dunfermline and West Fife and I overheard her conversation with party workers. She struck me then as a clear-sighted and determined person. In coalition, she was a late call-up by Nick Clegg, first as a stand-in for a Jenny Willot taking maternity leave, but later as a junior minister at BIS. Less tainted than most of the pre-coalition intake (she voted against the rise in tuition fees, for instance), she would seem to be the natural successor to Tim Farron. However, she has early ruled herself out, preferring to stand for the deputy leadership. Admittedly, she still has a young child and a constituency remote from Westminster to look after, but one suspects a long-term plan. There is a hint in her Liberal Democrat Voice statement:

My reflections and conversations about a range of factors have confirmed my conviction that the right role for me now is Deputy Leader.
Four weeks ago today, I ran a marathon.  Training for and running marathons teaches you a lot about planning, perseverance, and resilience. Creating lasting political change is a marathon, not a sprint.

If this parliament runs its full course, the typical Liberal Democrat pattern would be followed, gaining momentum through by-election and local authority successes. However, the chances are that there will be an early general election, when the advantage will still be with the well-endowed conservative parties, before the dire effects of Brexit hit the general public. For this reason, the new leader's reign will almost certainly be seen as a failure in that we will not regain the heights of 2006.


Sunday, 18 June 2017

Churchill was right (continued)

After posting Friday's piece, I came across this, which concludes:

I suspect, therefore, that the Tories are now rather like the party they were in the days of the Corn Laws: they represent interests which are hostile to economic progress.  
There is of course nothing original in the claim that landlords’ interests are a block on economic growth. As somebody once said:
Unearned increments in land are not the only form of unearned or undeserved profit, but they are the principal form of unearned increment, and they are derived from processes which are not merely not beneficial, but positively detrimental to the general public…The land monopolist only has to sit still and watch complacently his property multiplying in value, sometimes many fold, without either effort or contribution on his part!
That was Winston Churchill in 1909. Tories like to compare themselves to him. But in one respect at least, they are more reactionary now than he was a century ago.  
Today's Tories might retort that, by 1909, Churchill had been seduced by the Liberals and would not return effectively to Conservative politics until after the Great War. However, there was probably little to choose between the instincts of the Edwardian Churchill and those of the man who, looking forward to reconstruction after the Second World War, agreed to commissioning the Beveridge Report and gave RA Butler his head over the Education Act 1944.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Could Michael Sheen work another miracle?

I am looking forward to today's Radio 4 programme about the sadly-neglected Plaza in Port Talbot. Michael Sheen has achieved good publicity for his home town before. Port Talbot councillors now dominate the ruling group on the council. Can the last art deco cinema in the area not only be saved but also revived?

Friday, 16 June 2017

Winston Churchill was right

According to next week's Radio Times, Ian Hislop will reveal in a forthcoming programme on immigration that the main reason for Winston Churchill "ratting" from the Conservatives to the Liberals was his objection to his former party's Aliens Act 1905. It puts to shame those xenophobic UKIP and Conservative members who mistakenly call Churchill in aid for their views.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

AR Gurney

Thanks to Terry Teachout for bringing a playwright previously unknown to me to our attention. Gurney seems to have been the US equivalent of William Douglas-Home, a writer of drawing-room comedies which rely on recognition of, even identification with, their milieu on the part of audiences. Such work does not travel well, but we in the UK have become so much more familiar with US life, thanks to TV and social media, that it might be worth a London production of one of his most successful plays as a tribute on his passing.

Only his "Love Letters" has been shown on TV in the UK as far as I can see. It has also been remade in France as well as in some other continental countries, as have a couple of his other plays.

The Lords may still say "no"

Lord Thomas of Gresford sees no legal reason why the House of Peers should roll over in the face of joint Conservative/DUP Bills, even if these should pass the Commons. He explains why here.

Before reading the Liberal Democrat Voice article, I had not realised that Liberals had been ignored when the Salisbury Convention had been drawn up originally.

St Alice Day

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Are faith and English liberalism incompatible?

This evening, Tim Farron announced his resignation from leadership of the Liberal Democrats for a reason that would have put him at the top of the tree in US politics: a very public evangelical Christian faith. Mrs May can put it about that she is a vicar's daughter and vote in line with rather Old Testament beliefs, but her party was comfortable with that - at least until she made a massive electoral miscalculation. Indeed, it would be difficult for an English Conservative to lead the party without at least a token adherence to Christianity, preferably Anglicanism. Tony Blair did not hide his high church leanings, though admittedly on Alastair Campbell's advice  he did not push them ("We don't do God"). But leading Liberal Democrats who are clearly committed to Christianity have been subject to continuous sniping, Indeed, I have speculated in the past that this is the reason for Sir Alan Beith not achieving the party leadership or the Speaker's Chair, both of which he would have fitted.

Tim's voting record on social issues has been virtually completely liberal. He also does not break promises. One of the people touted as a possible successor was one of those who, when in government, broke a pledge to the NUS over tuition fees. Tim did not.

I write as an agnostic, but not a militant atheist, so I believe I can take an objective view. A party which explicitly reaches out to all faiths and none should not penalise members for strongly held personal views which do not intrude on their public life. Good luck to Tim's successor.


Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Campaign at half-cock

It looks as if the Liberal Democrat campaigns people were expecting a general election some time later this year, when the implications of our leaving the EU would have been clearer and bearing down on the people who voted Leave in the belief that things could not get worse for them. The main pitch, of calling a halt to Article 50 talks, with a tweak to call a further referendum in order to accommodate MPs in Vote Leave constituencies, would have been laid down. Candidates were certainly put in place ready for a snap election.

In the event, Mrs May pulled the trigger early. Rather than rejigging the campaign to concentrate on the social issues which were so rewarding for Mr Corbyn, and on which our proposals were not only better but also more affordable, it was clearly decided it was simpler to go ahead with the existing template, less effective though that would be at this stage of the EU 27 talks. I guess that we would still have been squeezed in the presidential campaign deliberately launched by Mrs May, in which the media left and right were all complicit, but we might have saved or even gained a few seats in Wales and other Leave areas.


Monday, 12 June 2017

Jeremy Corbyn

Let us be clear: Jeremy Corbyn did not win the general election, nor have enough like-minded MPs in the new parliament to form a viable coalition.

Having said that, his qualities which attracted so many new members to the Labour party after his election as leader obviously enthused a large minority of voters, especially young voters. I was one of the first to welcome not only his standing in that leadership election (which was by the skin of his teeth) but his success as at last giving Labour some point in existing. It has paid off for Labour. Ironically, his fiercest critics within the party have now come to appreciate him while I have come to find fault with his swithering where he used to be so firm, particularly on nuclear weapons and the EU. These are matters on which the government needs the strongest opposition, yet Corbyn seems to have fallen in with the May line on both.

Corbyn is still not liked or trusted by New Labour. There is open hostility to Theresa May, not only from Conservative commentators and ex-MPs but also from current members. Leanne Wood is said to have been rescued by the result in Ceredigion. Nicola Sturgeon may be under pressure in spite of delivering the second-best SNP Westminster tally in the party's history. Tim Farron is the most popular leader of his party, in spite of the Telegraph's stirring. If only we could translate that into votes as Corbyn has done.


Sunday, 11 June 2017

Picking up more post-election threads

Paul Walter, in his Liberal Voice piece, nails so many issues.

The Conservative party likes to boast that it, combined with our FPTP electoral system, provides strong and stable government. Well, a fat lot of strength and stability the Tory party and FPTP system have given us in the last two years!
 - a point that could equally be made about the last Major government, not to mention Wilson/Callaghan from 1974 to 1979.

We’ve had two Prime Ministers, Cameron and May, who will have historians squabbling for years as to whether they are the worst or second worst or third worst Prime Ministers in the history of this country!
No argument there.

David Cameron put party before country when he promised an EU referendum, ending with his political shredding.
Here I part company with Paul. A referendum was necessary, especially as we Liberal Democrats had already floated the idea in the 1990s. It should, however, have been held in the early years of the coalition government (instead of that pointless AV affair) while the arguments could still have been discussed for the most part dispassionately and the Labour leadership's stance was unambiguous. Moreover, the electors should have been told that, constitutionally, they were giving an opinion not a final judgment. This rested with parliament, although if there was a more than 75% vote for a change (the usual percentage for constitutional amendments in clubs and societies throughout the land), the government would have taken notice.

I always told anyone who would listen that May’s decision to call an election was the right thing for the country. After the June 23rd 2016 referendum we needed a national democratic event to sort-out the situation. So I commend May for calling the election [...]. The rub is that May didn’t call the election for the good of the country, she called it for the good of herself.
- calling it not straight away, but delaying it until it caused maximum damage constitutionally, confusing the issues in the local government elections. It had one no doubt desired effect, hitting the smaller parties in the pocket and, with the presidential-style media blitz, squeezing their vote.

The result of the election gives me great reason for optimism. The arrangement with the DUP won’t last five years. It is constitutionally correct that the make-up of Parliament dictates the government. And the DUP will be involved long enough to stop a hard Brexit by means of keeping the porous Irish border. Dependent on which parties provide the deputy speakers, Theresa May will have a working majority of 8-10. With by-elections happening on average at the rate of 2-3 a year, that isn’t going to last her five years, plus there are bound to be enormous complications in Ireland, because of the DUP’s involvement in sustaining the UK government.
Another factor will be the tension between the DUP members who follow an old-time religion and Mrs May's loyal unionists in Scotland who gained thirteen seats for her and who are led by an out gay woman.

At least the UK will have a working and continuing administration for the time being, which will calm the international money markets.

it is becoming more and more crazy that this country has not, at least as an interim “holding” solution, gone for the Norway (EEA/EFTA) option. The ludicrous and (I believe) unconstitutional decision by Theresa May to rule out membership of the Single Market, and even, unbelievably, the Customs Union, was one of the most heinous acts of any British Prime Minister ever. The sooner we come to our senses and realise that EEA/EFTA memberships offers us a temporary sanctuary while we compose ourselves, the better.
For the sake of commerce, industry and agriculture, this is the only practical solution, although it involves accepting free movement of labour, which will not please a sizeable section of the Leave vote. Also disgruntled would be the black end of the financial services industry, which was looking forward to a stop to and possible reversal of regulation. It does, however, satisfy the other Leavers' demands, that EU directives do not have to be passed into UK law.



Saturday, 10 June 2017

Nick Clegg

I must admit that my first reaction on hearing that Nick Clegg had lost his seat in Westminster was one of relief, both for him and the party. It frees him from the mundane work of parliament, the constituency and the party which always seemed to be irksome. He can move on to a more high-profile rôle while he is still relatively young - though a peerage might prove useful.

For the party, it removes a focus on which the media might build a theme of challenge to the leadership, at a time when Tim Farron needs to consolidate. Of course, it is sad to lose Sheffield Hallam, which Richard Allan first held for us when the constituency was formed in 1997 and then passed on to Nick in order for the latter to move from Strasbourg to Westminster. However, smart money is on another general election in the near future and students may well pass judgment on Jeremy Corbyn's failure to abolish tuition fees.


Friday, 9 June 2017

Better gender balance

A third of the new Liberal Democrat bench will be female which must be our best female-to-male ratio ever.

I am sorry that Jackie Pearcey in Gorton (surely robbed of a by-election win by Mrs May's bizarre demand for a general election), Kelly-Marie Blundell in Lewes, Eluned Parrott in Cardiff Central and Jane Dodds in Montgomery did not make it even better. But maybe their turn will come as this May-fly parliament can not stagger on much beyond Christmas.

Even crossing my toes would not have worked

03:20 I lost my deposit and finished behind UKIP again. However, as I watch BBC-Wales coverage it seems I am not alone, and even such a great campaign as Rory Daniels' in Llanelli achieved only a 3% return. Plaid slipped from second to third place in spite of an excellent campaign by an Alltwen-based candidate. The Conservatives benefited from fielding a candidate who, for once, lived in the constituency instead of being parachuted in, but even more from the media (including the BBC, sad to say) presenting the general election as simply a clash between the personalities of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May. But of course congratulations must go to Christina Rees who with her team has returned Neath to the heady days for Labour of 2001 with an absolute majority over all other parties, in spite of some ill-informed personal criticism on social media and even from within her own party locally.

03:50 Kate Hoey has won and Nick Clegg has lost. So there is a two-seat swing towards a hard Brexit. It also seems that the anti-gay campaign in Vauxhall came off.

08:00 Woke to find Andrew Neil on BBC-1 and Piers Morgan on ITV-1. Luckily, BBC-Parliament was relaying BBC Scotland's more intelligent coverage. There was some great analysis of the situation not only in Scotland but also in the UK as a whole.

Scottish LDs missed out on a fourth gain by only two votes in North-East Fife after the returning officer refused a fourth recount. However, Jo Swinson will be back at Westminster. The estimable Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP in the last Commons, and Alex Salmond both lost their seats to Conservatives. There will be a constitutional issue as so many Conservatives from a Scottish parliament regional list were successful that, saving one being allowed a dual mandate, the party will be one short in Holyrood until 2021.

I was struck by the amount of poetry quoted. Alex Salmond said au revoir rather than adieu with a couplet from Sir Walter Scott: "And tremble, false Whigs, in the midst of your glee, You have not seen the last of my bonnet and me!". The chair of the panel responded with a line from Browning's "The Lost Leader": "Never glad confident morning again! ", only to be topped by veteran political editor Brian Taylor who recalled Shelley's memorial to the Peterloo massacre which closes:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many - they are few



There were so many near misses by Liberal Democrats in England and a desperate loss by Mark Williams in Ceredigion which means that there will be no Liberal or Liberal Democrat MP in Wales probably since the 1890s. I take comfort from the fact that the party still has its largest membership ever and that the last time we had a surge in membership it took a few years for that to be reflected in parliament. We should take inspiration from that Shelley verse.


Thursday, 8 June 2017

Crossed fingers

Stray thoughts to be added to as the day wears on.

10:03 Just back from casting my ballot.

Nothing I write now is going to make much difference to our vote in Aberavon and Neath. (Let's face it, nothing I have written here up until now has been taken notice. Well, perhaps there were a few minor improvements have been made around Neath, for which the Labour council claimed credit.)

I just hope that by this time tomorrow there is not a majority May or a majority Corbyn government, nor that a year from now we will not have to say: "I told you so". If Mrs May gets her majority, she and her hard-line free marketeer friends will achieve the dream of London as a totally independent lightly regulated financial capital of the world at the expense of industry and SMEs which benefit from the single market and customs union. Mr Corbyn is only slightly less suspicious of the EU, but what worries me most about a Corbyn administration is the quality of his shadow cabinet. He has not been helped by the last-minute resignation of one of his most experienced figures, Diane Abbott, because of ill-health.

There were some snippets in the i newspaper this morning that caught my eye. Fishermen will not vote for any party which wants to remain in the EU, and I can see their point. Almost alone of groups in the UK, they are worse off under a common EU policy. However, I would advise against trusting the Conservatives on this issue, because it was Margaret Thatcher who negotiated away the UK's fishing rights in the first place when she did not have to. Does Mrs May believe she is a tougher negotiator on behalf of Britain than Mrs Thatcher was?

Then hats off to the i for featuring Sophie Walker of the Women's Equality Party among its portraits of leaders. However, a significant rise in the Liberal Democrat vote would do more for women's equality in parliament than the WEP, because there are so many strong women (including several with experience of actual government, Mr Corbyn) in the Lib Dems target seats.

10:30 My agent has phoned to say that the chill he picked up returning from a short break in France has got worse. I think our little tour of the constituency today may be curtailed. Hopefully, the dope the doc. has given him will restore his fighting strength for the count tonight.

13:30 Back from delivering admission tickets to some of our counting agents and dropping in on just a few of the polling stations on the way back. All very quiet, but the weather has been dreadful. Just enough time to buy a couple of packed sandwiches from Arbourne's ready for tonight, then to put my head down for an hour or so.

17:00 Dozed for an hour or so in between listening to Radio 4. Interesting item on the science programme about Homo Sapiens finds in Morocco putting our species' history back at least another hundred thousand years. A researcher stated that the shape of the brain-case indicated that we have developed larger brains over the years. Sometimes I wonder. Coincidentally, Haaretz has reported Israeli finds which tend to confirm that Neanderthal man hung around there later than generally assumed.

18:30 Back to the i, and the election summary. Under "leadership", it once again raises the fact that Tim Farron is uncomfortable talking about his church's teaching on homosexuality. The fact is that he has practically always voted in a liberal way when there have been debates on termination, same-sex relationships or similar social issues. There is not a mention of the fact that Theresa May has tended to vote in a more illiberal way than her membership of the tolerant Church of England would suggest. It is a transparent ploy to dissuade our supporters to stay away from the polls rather than a genuine political point.






Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A Belgian stand-off?

David Hancox's letter to the FT refers.

We could have a hung parliament* after tomorrow. Tim Farron clearly regards both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May as bad prime ministers and will not take the parliamentary party into coalition with them, so there may well be no prime minister for some time to come, unless either May or Corbyn are ditched by their parties.

Not so long ago, Belgium went for 589 days without an elected government. The country ticked over quite well in the care of her civil servants, and only hit trouble when a prime minister was appointed. Perhaps we should not fear a "Belgian stand-off".

* My guess is that Conservative gains in Scotland plus the perennial support of the NI unionists will see Mrs May through. The irony of a Conservative administration being dependent on Scottish votes for survival will not be lost on the Labour Party.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

What must be said about Mrs May

There was not enough time in tonight's NPTOnline hustings to complete my reasons for not giving Mrs May another five years, but fortuitously, while the Evening Post was shooting in Swansea, the lady herself laid out the main one.

Civil rights are under threat from this person, whose authoritative façade clearly masks insecurity. I do not subscribe to the "false flag" hypothesis: that shadowy figures in our security services instigated the Manchester and London Bridge attacks in order to give themselves more power. But I do think that jihadists, who would thrive under a more oppressive régime, rushed the crude atrocity into effect last weekend in order to take advantage of the election campaign, counting on provoking just the sort of response which occurred. (Manchester Arena was the result of longer-term planning and probably originally was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Lee Rigby killing.)

Peter Sallis: an affectionate remembrance

I shall always remember the first time I saw Peter Sallis on screen. It was in a BBC TV whodunit serial named "The Widow of Bath" based on her own novel by Margot Bennett. Sallis played Cady, a not wholly admirable character, but like most of his parts, someone one took to ones heart. Amazingly, he had made his TV début twelve years earlier and acting was not even his first career. After that, the family made a habit of "Cady-spotting" as Sallis popped up frequently on TV, generally in small character parts, but also as the put-upon Gerald Swinney in "How to Get Rid of Your Wife". He was blessed with a face that hardly seemed to change over the years, but also the ability to achieve instant sympathy. One cannot imagine his crowning achievements, Clegg and Wallace, played by any other man.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Salafist influence

Since a media release from Tom Brake, there have been two bombings in Kabul costing at least 100 lives and an atrocity in London, which took seven. Innocents, including women and children, were the targets of terrorists driven by an extreme view of Islam which has its roots in the Arabian desert. Mrs May had a chance to make a statesmanlike statement in response, without breaching the voluntary moratorium on national political campaigning. She failed both tests and also failed to acknowledge the source of our troubles, as Tim Farron has pointed out.

Some history:
The then Prime Minister David Cameron announced a review of foreign funding of extremism in the UK in December 2015, following calls for a review by Liberal Democrats in exchange for support of airstrikes against Daesh in Syria. ("As part of this, I can announce today that we will establish a comprehensive review to root out any remaining funding of extremism within the UK. This will examine specifically the nature, scale and origin of the funding of Islamist extremist activity in the UK, including any overseas sources. It will report to myself and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary next spring." David Cameron, House of Commons, 2 December 2015).

Amber Rudd last week suggested that arms sales to Saudi Arabia are good for British industry during the BBC Debate in Cambridge. When challenged over arms sales to the Saudi regime, she responded: “I will make no apology for being a government that wants to defend this country. We will make sure that our defence budget is well-funded and we will do that by having a strong economy and make sure we can do that by having a strong industry.” (BBC Debate, 31st May 2017).

Tim reacted with an open letter to the prime minister, of which these are the main paragraphs:

As you will no doubt remember, in December 2015, David Cameron promised an enquiry into foreign funding of extremism in the UK. As Home Secretary at the time, your department was one of those leading on the report.

Eighteen months later, and following two horrific terrorist attacks by British-born citizens, that report still remains incomplete and unpublished. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia in particular provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, espousing a very hard-line Wahhabist interpretation of Islam. It is often in these institutions that British extremism takes root.

Now is not the time to brush this under the carpet once more.

You will agree with me that the protection of our country, of the British people, is the most important job of any government. Certainly, more important than potential trade deals with questionable regimes, which appear to be the only explanation for your reticence.

When will this report be finished and published? And what steps do​ you propose to take to address one of the root causes of violent extremism in the UK?

But the malign Salafist influence spreads wider than the UK. The self-destructive Syrian uprising which led to Da'esh and the virtual destruction of the ancient Syriac Christian and Yazidi communities came on the back of Saudi money. Terror groups have sprung up wherever Islam has spread, attacking preferentially Shi'a Muslim and Christians. The unholy deals which were struck between US interests and the kingdom of Saud back in the 1930s and 1940s have had terrible repercussions.


Rural difficulties

Our excursion into Cwm Gors at the weekend reinforced the message I had previously from friends and other farmers in the constituency: nobody, except the largest landowners, makes a living from farming alone these days. Doing other people's books, testing drones or catering for townies' leisure pursuits are a few of the activities keeping the wolf from the door.

Fast broadband would help to counteract the effects of isolation and give access to public services which civil servants increasingly assume are available to everybody with smart phones and tablets. "Wireless internet" schemes are being rolled out by government-aided entrepreneurs and one such is coming to the area between Pontardawe and Gwaun-cae-gurwen. It seems to me that the funding model is not robust, as one such company failed in Monmouthshire leaving subscribers without the service they had come to depend on. However, I am assured that the company involved in the Cwmgorse area is more substantial and has other successful schemes behind it.

My muck-raking friends on the Neath Ferret would no doubt wish me to include a photo of a donkey wearing a rosette. I am sorry to disappoint them. Instead, I spotted (sorry for the pun) a Gloucester pig which provides the tail-piece.


Sunday, 4 June 2017

Contrasts

Frenzied knife attacks in the Borough, London, within a stone's-throw of Southwark Cathedral, and almost certainly driven by religious and racial hatred. My heart goes out to the family and friends of the victims, so arbitrarily picked on.

A joyous day in Cardiff as different nationalities mixed in celebration before and after a hard-fought sporting event. There is hope for us.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Robert Morley. 26th May 1908 - June 3rd 1992 Actor and anthologist

 "Anyone who works is a fool.  I don't work: I merely inflict myself on
the public."

It is fair to say that he always played versions of himself, but otherwise he was being unduly modest.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Rough sleeping

The two big concerns about Neath today, judging by letters to the Ferret, are the lack of public cleanliness in the town and rough sleeping. As a Westminster candidate, I have to reply to electors' letters that the remedy for both is largely in the hands of the Welsh government and the county borough council.

However, the Liberal Democrat manifesto does offer some hope to the young homeless, restoration of the cuts to their housing benefits. Tim Farron obviously feels for them. He has said:

It is a national scandal that so many people are sleeping on the streets in 21st century Britain.
By increasing support for homelessness prevention and properly funding emergency accommodation, we can end rough sleeping across the country. The evidence suggests that supporting people and giving them long-term, stable places to stay is far more successful in tackling homelessness than constantly moving them to different temporary accommodation.

Under this government, homelessness has soared and the stripping of young people of housing benefit threatens to make matters even worse. This election is a chance to change the direction of this country and stand up for a Britain that is open, tolerant and united."


The weapon Tim has chosen in the fight against homelessness is Housing First, which has had "huge success in countries such as Finland where it has all but eradicated rough sleeping." (Inside Housing, 10th April). This article reports that the Welsh Government is considering moving towards Housing First and even the Conservative minister Sajid Javed has backed a feasibility study. It is surprising that Jeremy Corbyn has not publicly committed UK Labour to it.


Thursday, 1 June 2017

The pearls from the BBC TV debate

The Liberal Democrat press office watched the debate by the leaders (minus one) on BBC TV last night so I didn't have to. (After half-an-hour, I switched to Springwatch on BBC-2.) Here are the points they picked as standing out from the ill-managed and ill-tempered proceedings:

Top Tim TV debate moments clipped


1) “How dare she call an election and then run away from the debate.”


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UADY1jhDilY

2) He brought the house down with his invitation to the audience: "make yourself a brew. You're not worth Theresa May's time. Don't give her yours."

3) Tim received a loud cheer when he took on UKIP’s Paul Nuttall for demonising immigrants, recalling the man who was racially abused on his way home after working 50 hours to treat victims of the Manchester bombing. “He was a doctor. That is what happens,” he thundered “when you demonise immigrants.”

4) He told Jeremy Corbyn that he wouldn’t have the money to improve public services because Corbyn’s Labour traipsed through the division lobbies supporting the Conservatives and UKIP on Brexit. 

Wednesday, 31 May 2017

EU27's negotiating directives

The 27 members of the European Council excluding the UK have authorised Brexit talks to begin and have published negotiating directives.  These are they, as taken from the official media release:

Negotiating directives and phased approach

This first set of negotiating directives is intended to guide the Commission for the first phase of the negotiations. They therefore prioritise issues that have been identified as necessary for an orderly withdrawal of the UK, including citizens' rights, the financial settlement and the situation of Ireland, as well as other matters in which there is a risk of legal uncertainty as a consequence of Brexit.
The first phase of the talks aims to provide as much clarity and legal certainty as possible and to settle the disentanglement of the UK from the EU. Once the European Council deems sufficient progress has been achieved, the negotiations will proceed to the next phase.
An agreement on a future relationship between the EU and the UK can only be concluded once the UK effectively leaves the EU and becomes a third country. However, discussions on an overall understanding of that future relationship could start during a second phase of the negotiations.
The negotiating directives may be amended and supplemented during the negotiations.

Citizens' rights

The first priority for the negotiations is to agree on guarantees to protect the rights of EU and UK citizens, and their family members, that are affected by Brexit. The EU27 insist that such guarantees should be reciprocal and based on equal treatment among EU27 citizens and compared to UK citizens. This should cover, among others, the right to permanent residence after five years of legal residence, including if this period is incomplete on the date of withdrawal but is completed afterwards.
The negotiating directives specify that workers, self-employed persons, students and other inactive persons should be covered, as well as frontier workers and family members. Guarantees should protect residence rights and free movement, as well as all the rights attached to them (such as health care). All rights should be protected for the lifetime of the persons concerned.

Financial settlement

The EU27 agree there must be a single financial settlement and the UK must honour its share of all the obligations undertaken while being a member. The UK should also fully cover the specific costs related to the withdrawal, such as the relocation of EU agencies currently based in the UK. The agreement should include a calculation of the total amount and a schedule of payments, as well as further rules and arrangements to address specific issues.

The situation of Ireland

The EU is committed to continue to support peace, stability and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. Nothing in the UK withdrawal agreement should undermine the objectives and commitments of the Good Friday Agreement. Negotiations should aim to avoid a hard border, while respecting EU law. Issues such as the transit of goods will need to be addressed.

Goods placed on the market and procedures based on EU law

The negotiating directives also cover other issues were arrangements are needed to reduce uncertainty and avoid a legal vacuum. This includes addressing what will happen with procedures based on EU law and with goods already on the market. For instance, if a product is already placed on the single market before the withdrawal, it should be ensured that it can remain in the market afterwards.
Other matters where there may be a need to reduce uncertainty or avoid a legal vacuum, such as services, will be covered in future negotiating directives.

Next steps

The Commission will agree with the UK the dates for the first negotiating sessions. The first formal meeting between the EU and the UK negotiators is likely to take place in June.

Swee'Pea

When Duke Ellington learned of the death of Billy Strayhorn (known affectionately within the band as "Swee' Pea") fifty years ago today, he did not leave his house for days. Lena Horne was so devoted to him that she declared that she would have married him if he had been straight; when she briefly came out of retirement, Strayhorn compositions featured heavily in her stage show and on the album that resulted. This article gives a measure of the man.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Glamorgan's first win in proper cricket this year

My Facebook view is usually peppered with posts from Glamorgan Cricket, mostly trying to sell tickets for events at the Swalec Stadium, but also giving updates on matches. However, they have been very quiet about yesterday's win. Are the Cardiff-centred management reluctant to give any publicity to St Helen's, which they would like to cut from the fixture list altogether? Thus I have to call on Sky Sports to provide a report on the dramatic events.

Congratulations to Michael Hogan for his first win as captain, to Nick Selman for rising to the occasion and to all the others who contributed to the win. Praise should also go to the Durham captain Paul Collingwood for making a very fair declaration even though it meant a personal sacrifice.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Clegg peddling nonsense?

The Tory propaganda machine has been swift to label Nick Clegg's warning about leaving the Schengen Information System as "peddling nonsense".

Say what you like about Nick Clegg (and I do believe he is an instinctual liberal), he does know something about the EU, having worked there for something over two years and been a MEP for five. So he is better qualified to speak about the institutions of the European Union than a gang who clearly believed you could leave the Union and retain all the rights of membership while sloughing off all the responsibilities.

From a background briefing from Nick Clegg's office:

  1. The second-generation Schengen Information System allows police forces to share real-time ‘alerts’ on suspects, vehicles, firearms, and other property. The system contains some 66 million reports, including information on 35,000 people wanted under a European Arrest Warrant, as well as alerts on suspected foreign fighters and missing people. It also plays an important role in counter-terrorism operations by allowing suspects under surveillance by intelligence agencies to be flagged on the system.
     
  2. SIS II alerts are made available to the police through the Police National Computer (PNC) and to Border Force officers at the immigration controls at our ports of entry. In the year ending 31 December 2016, a total of 19,355 people were stopped and questioned under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at ports and airports in Great Britain. This is equivalent to 53 people a day. 
     
  3. The UK only gained access to SIS II in April 2015. Since then, it has rapidly become the second-largest user of the database. Much of the UK's access is automated: for example, suspect vehicles filmed on police Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras are checked electronically against the database. UK police and security services queried the database over half a billion times in 2016 - equivalent to 16 checks a second.
     
  4. Due to the sensitive nature of the data held on SIS II, access is limited to EEA countries that abide by the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ is the guarantee that EU citizens’ data isn’t wrongly added to the system or misused as a result. Theresa May has insisted that the UK must leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ when we leave the EU. Unless this position changes, UK authorities will see their access to the database cut off on 29th March 2019.
     
  5. Since the UK connected to the new system in April 2015 these alerts have been available in real time to officers on the ground via the Police National Computer. Further details of the UK’s use of SIS II are here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/521926/The_UK_s_cooperation_with_the_EU_on_justice_and_home_affairs__and_on_foreign_policy_and_security_issues.pdf
     
  6. Statistics on the use of SIS II across the EU are here: http://www.eulisa.europa.eu/Publications/Reports/SIS%20II%20-%20Statistics%202016.pdf
     
  7. UK authorities queried the SIS II 513,349,896 times in 2016. This is the equivalent of 1,408,658 queries a day, 58,694 queries per hour, 978 queries per minute, or 16 queries per second.
     
  8. These UK queries generated alerts on 28,472 persons of interest along with 113,414 vehicles and 1,768 firearms.
     
  9. The UK is the second biggest user of SIS II after France. Across the whole of the EU, the system was queried almost 4 billion times in 2016.
     
  10. Julian King, the Conservative UK EU Commissioner for the Security Union, has described SIS II as “the biggest and best EU-wide law enforcement database we’ve got.”
     
  11. The European Commission has recently published proposals to strengthen SIS II in the wake of the Paris attacks by combining it with EU criminal records and fingerprint databases: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-17-1303_en.htm


Paragraph 4 is surely the key rebuttal to the Conservatives' charges.

Mrs May's Millwall strategy is working for her

The hard-core supporters of Millwall FC, who had a reputation for hooliganism beyond even that of the Chelsea Shed, used to chant: "No-one likes us, but we don't care."  Mrs May, who is keen to take us out of the EU and whose long-term aim is to abrogate the European Convention on Human Rights, has now lost the UK the friendship of Germany, the most economically successful country in Europe and probably its most democratic. Holding hands with Donald J Trump is insufficient compensation.

I am not the only one to be struck by the Millwall parallel in this strand of modern Conservatism. Former chairman of the Conservative party, the last governor of Hong Kong and ally of John Major, Chris Patten, expressed it in an interview for the New Statesman.

What of the football club? Well, having shaken off its past reputation for violence, Millwall has just struggled back into the second tier of English football.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Use of personal data

My MP before the dissolution*, Stephen Kinnock, is among many suggesting that the Conservative Party is using personal data gathered for other purposes in a targeted campaign for this year's general election. This is an offence under Data Protection legislation. Of particular interest are the details hoovered up in last year's referendum by the official Leave campaign, which according to one source should be purged this month.

* he and I were still awaiting - after a month or more - a reply from government about the cost of outside consultants at the top level, particularly in HM Treasury. This is a question I will take up again at the earliest opportunity in the new parliament.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Two manifestos

I still await my copy of the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto for this year's general election, but at least I have sight of the final draft of Liberal International's 2017 manifesto. I reckon some of the more social liberal parties affiliated to LI might have some misgivings about the weight given to trade and economics towards the end, but no liberal would quibble at the first half of the document.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Promising start to the Hogan captaincy

Glamorgan had the opposition all out on the first day at St Helen's today. Taking over the captaincy has done no harm to Michael Hogan's bowling form; he finished with 5 for 49. It will be seen when Glamorgan bat tomorrow whether freedom from responsibility allows Jacques Rudolph to score as we know he can.

A major problem remains, that of the bowling second change. It does not take anything away from Paul Collingwood, who held the Durham innings together until he had a rush of blood against Andrew Salter, but Glamorgan leaked too many runs before the second new ball became due.

St Helen's needs to smarten up if the ground is to avoid the final axe, having had its fixtures whittled away over the years. The scoreboard which was on the side nearest the Patti Pavilion and which disappeared when the seating there was stripped has not been replaced, nor has the one which used to be on the other side of the pavilion. There was a coarse cricket-style telegraph near the pavilion steps, but being at ground level this was largely invisible.

Then there are the scorecards, though the fault here clearly lies with the county's travelling office. Time was, if you bought a scorecard after an interval, it would show the wickets which had fallen up to that interval. Perhaps that is too much to ask for, but at least they should get the team list right. There was at least one change for each team from that printed in the scorecard. Presumably patrons were informed at the start of play (which I had to miss through awaiting a postal delivery) but there was no further indication of the changes.

They say no total is good or bad until the other side has batted. There is an event at the Gnoll which claims attention tomorrow, but I hope that Glamorgan can put Durham under real pressure.

Manchester Arena and the House of Saud

Patrick Cockburn in the online Independent and print i spells it out. I was on the right track in pointing out the Abedi family's history as jihadist opponents of Gaddafi but the roots turn out to be in the deeply reactionary (and significantly for the Manchester Arena and Paris Bataclan atrocities, misogynistic) Islamic sect which dominates Saudi Arabia.

Jeremy Corbyn may have a point in drawing attention to the effect that invasions of predominantly Muslim countries have on the perception of UK and US governments with ordinary Muslims. However, he is wrong to link the particular suicide bombing which is at the forefront of our minds to the Iraq adventure.

It is similarly wrong of UKIP to blame Theresa May for this terrorist act. They should look to Kenneth Clarke or Michael Howard who were Home Secretaries in the period when the Salafist Abedi family was given right to remain in England.


Thursday, 25 May 2017

Gambling

Football commentator and former international John Hartson had the guts to expose the details of his addiction to gambling on Radio 4's Money Box Live yesterday. He made the point that while losing thousands of pounds caused him financial difficulties, similar sums would spell disaster for a working man who earned a fraction of the income of a sporting superstar.

Only an effort by an addict him- or herself, with the aid of organisations like Gamblers Anonymous, may produce a lasting cure as has been achieved by Mr Hartson. However, it must surely be right to reduce the temptations to gamble and in particular make it less easy to gamble away large sums of money very quickly. Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) do just this. As a parliamentary candidate, I endorse the campaign by amusement machine operators at least to drastically cut the stakes which may be placed on FOBTs and I trust my fellow-candidates have taken the same stance.



Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Roots of Manchester atrocity may lie in Libya

There has been speculation that the Manchester Arena bomber was radicalised as a result of the Iraq invasion. However, as details of his family background are filled out, it is clear that little radicalisation or even training in the use of armaments were needed and that the roots of his action may lie earlier, in Libya. (Incidentally, the UK police and security forces are seething at the release to the US press by their US counterparts of intelligence which they wanted to keep confidential for the time being.)

The Home Office must have known when they admitted the Abedis to England in 1993 of the family's radical Islamist leanings. Presumably their reasoning was that "my enemy's enemy is my friend", the same reasoning that led the USA to arm Osama bin Laden and his followers against the Russians in Afghanistan. If so, it has rebounded on us. The Home Office's values were skewed then (and it was illiberal under both Ken Clarke and Michael Howard in the early 90s) and continue to be so. People of violence are given leave to stay, while those suffering persecution because of their sexuality or religion are denied asylum.


Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Manchester Arena suicide bombing

I had turned on the BBC News Channel at 11 o'clock last night. News was already coming through of a loud bang at the end of Ariana Grande's concert in the Manchester Arena. Mobile phone footage from inside the auditorium shown by the BBC did not identify the source or nature of the explosion. There appeared to be no material damage. It was natural to assume that it had any one of a dozen causes. In view of the BBC's tendency over recent years to follow the popular press in sensationalising events and the reports becoming repetitive, I turned off the TV and switched to clearing up outstanding matters on the Internet. Thus my earlier posting may seem insensitive. I can only plead ignorance.

At 3:10 something woke me up. Checking on the TV news again, the full horror was brought home to me. Memories of Arndale were aroused - on that occasion, nobody was killed. Last night, though the physical destruction was less, the personal desolation was much worse. I believe the timing was deliberate, twenty-one years after Arndale, and probably advanced three weeks because of the snap election and taking advantage of a concert attracting a young audience making the atrocity more appalling. I deeply sympathise with the families and friends of those killed and seriously injured last night. They would have included not only young people themselves but also parents waiting in the foyer to pick up their children. My thoughts also go out to the performer herself, not much older than most of her audience, who must be affected.

Then the reactions on Facebook started coming in as friends woke up to the appalling news. Public political campaigning has by common consent been suspended, and no doubt many concerts and other public events. It is important, though, that this cessation out of respect is only temporary, or the terrorist will have won.

Thoughts of South Wales Police will turn to extra security for the Champions League final on 3rd June. Up to now, Cardiff has been regarded as a happy and welcoming venue for sporting finals, with unobtrusive policing. Regrettably, with the new terrorist tactic of attacking people outside a popular venue after an event, the security net will have to be thrown wider and probably inconvenience people not involved in the sport at all. I trust that people will understand and support the police.

I wrote that political campaigning has been suspended. That is not completely true. One popular newspaper, sinking below even the level of previous editors Kelvin Mackenzie and Piers Morgan, has sought to blame Jeremy Corbyn for causing last night's bombing by being soft on terrorism. All political leaders should condemn this gutter journalism.

It's not Mrs May's uey which worries me, it's what she has stuck to

Mrs May has grabbed the headlines by merely suggesting that her next government would look at the possibility of keeping the cap on the cost of social care. However, what interested me was what she had to say about the future relation between England and Wales, seeing as how she was speaking in Wrexham and launching the Welsh Conservatives version of her manifesto. The answer was: not very much. The main manifesto says:

We are a United Kingdom, one nation made of four – the most successful political union in modern history. Its very existence recognises the value of unity – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales achieve less as two, three, or four, than as the United Kingdom together. This unity between our nations and peoples gives us the strength to change things for the better, for everyone, with a scale of ambition we simply could not possess alone.

and

The United Kingdom Government has in the past tended to ‘devolve and forget’. This Conservative government will put that right. We want the UK Government to be a force for good across the whole country. So we will be an active government, in every part of the UK. We will work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the new devolved authorities in England, for the benefit of all our people – but that will not be the limit of our actions in the four nations. We are ambitious for everyone in Britain and will leave no-one behind in our efforts to spread opportunity and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom.

which suggests more interference than most previous central governments have indulged in.

But the most worrying aspect of the May manifesto is the indication that she is still determined not only to repeal the Human Rights Act but to take us out of the European Convention on Human Rights altogether. The only concession she makes is that it will not happen in the next parliament.

We will not bring the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. We will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway but we will consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes. We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Welsh looked-after children fostered out of area

A BBC investigation has found that 131 children from Wales are currently in care placements outside the country. There is a helpful map on the BBC's web pages. One should also take into account the number of children placed away from their home area within Wales.

Jennie Welham, from Action for Children, pointed out that sometimes the placements were for good reasons if, for example, the child would be living with relatives, which she said was "preferable for identity purposes".

However, "As a child, if you're placed out of an area, out of Wales in particular, away from your family, your community, your school, your friends, activities you might have been doing, it's a big deal. Children find themselves in a strange environment, a different culture, so it's not only that you might lose your home, you lose everything that goes with it."

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Some Swans predictions came true

I was right to predict Swansea City's survival (though I had their finishing position wrong, thanks to the successive glitches against Middlesbrough and Tottenham). Paul Clement did prove to be the right man for the job. Llorente, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Mawson fulfilled expectations.

Now the task is to plot the advance of the club back to Europa Cup qualifying at least. Part of the solution must lie in developing the players from the successful under-23 side. It cannot be a coincidence that the side which came up from the championship included so many Welsh-qualified players and players that the club had developed. Certainly, some positions can be strengthened only by dipping into the transfer pool but not to the extent that they destroy the esprit de corps which was almost lost in the 2016-17 season.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Labour and digital freedom

There has quite rightly been criticism in Neath of the threat to our digital freedom foreshadowed by the Conservative manifesto. In the interests of fairness, it is necessary to point out that the Blair-Brown governments led the way with ID cards (which the coalition put a stop to) and the Digital Economy Act which was pushed through in Labour's last few days in government. Liberal Democrats vigorously opposed the Bill, as we have consistently opposed all abridgements of personal freedom, and were supported by 23 Labour rebels and just a few Conservatives, David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) to the fore, plus Adam Price of Plaid Cymru.

The Labour rebel roster represents all wings of the party. It is unlikely that all of them have ever been in the same lobby together, before or since:

Abbott, Ms Diane (Lab); Burgon, Colin (Lab); Challen, Colin (Lab); Corbyn, Jeremy (Lab); Davies, Dai; Dismore, Mr. Andrew (Lab); Drew, Mr. David (Lab); Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Lab); Grogan, Mr. John (Lab); Hoey, Kate (Lab); Howarth, rh Mr. George; Jones, Lynne (Lab); Joyce, Eric (Lab); Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter (Lab); Lazarowicz, Mark (Lab); Love, Mr. Andrew (Lab); Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert (Lab); Mitchell, Mr. Austin (Lab); Palmer, Dr. Nick (Lab); Reed, Mr. Andy (Lab); Simpson, Alan (Lab); Todd, Mr. Mark (Lab); Truswell, Mr. Paul (Lab); Watson, Mr. Tom (Lab).

Sadly, the Corbyn-led "opposition" has shown less spine in standing up to the May administration since the EU referendum.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Conservatives would drop third hasp of pensions lock

I have written in the past that 2.5% was too high as the fall-back in the pensions triple-lock, but I did not advocate doing away with it altogether, as Mrs May threatens to do. Instead, I proposed a figure more in line with our long-term growth rate.

However, I am informed by a party colleague more au fait with these things that the UK state pension still lags behind the EU average and that the 2.5% would take us towards that. On the other hand, the prices index component of the lock looks like predominating over the period of the next parliament as the effects of the reduced value of sterling continue to feed through. So perhaps a one-off increase to achieve parity is called for.

Australia has troubles with defence procurement, too


An Australian warship has been dry-docked while its propulsion system is sorted out, while the sister ship is undergoing further sea trials.

I note that the ships
were built by Spanish firm Navantia using a propulsion system made by German firm Siemens. British firm BAE Systems integrated the ship's systems.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fake news, fake quotes and now fake images

Fake news, lies or half-truths given credibility by appearing in a respected medium has been with us for centuries, going back at least as far as the Jewish blood libel. It has increased in danger in this century as it has taken in reputed journals. The Web allows it to spread world-wide, as it does with made-up quotes. I have recently seen debunked an extract from a play ascribed to Aneurin Bevan and cobbled-together passages from Winston Churchill made to suggest a view which was completely opposite to that of the great man.

Stalin had an image of Trotsky air-brushed out of a group photograph of the early Soviet leadership. That would have taken an hour or more of painstaking work in a photographic workshop. Now, thanks to computer technology, very little effort is required to produce convincing synthetic full-colour images and equally convincing sound-tracks, as Discover magazine reports:

Though audiences have become more attuned to the little things that give away a digitally manipulated image — suspiciously curved lines, missing shadows and odd halos — we’re approaching a day when editing technology may become too sophisticated for human eyes to detect. What’s more, it’s not just images either — audio and video editing software, some backed by artificial intelligence, are getting good enough to surreptitiously rewrite the mediums we rely on for accurate information.

The most crucial aspect of all of this is that it’s getting easier. Sure, Photoshop pros have been able to create convincing fakes for years, and special effects studios can bring lightsabers and transformers to life, but computer algorithms are beginning to shoulder more and more of the load, drastically reducing the skills necessary to pull such deceptions off.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Bread-and-butter issues

It has been clear for some time that people in Wales are far more concerned about issues in the general election that affect them immediately rather than the longer-term effects of leaving the EU. That also came out in a series of interviews Michael Crick did recently for Channel 4 News in a northern English working-class constituency which Mrs May is targeting. Nobody whom Crick spoke to spontaneously raised the subject of Brexit.

Now it seems that the subject has slipped down the agenda of those arch-Remainers in Greater London. In this piece by Jonathan Calder, Vince Cable

suggests that Brexit is no longer the main concern of voters as they focus more on bread-and-butter issues like health and education.

As to the main subject of Jonathan Calder's posting, there may well be a new party after the general election, but unless it takes more than one "big beast" from established parties together with most of the thousands who joined the Liberal Democrats its long-term future will be as a niche organisation like the Women's Equality Party or UKIP.




Victimhood and other PPB ploys

Vaughan Roderick does not give much for the Nationalists' chances in the general election. The masochistic party political TV broadcast I caught will not help. The terms "playing the martyr" and "Romans in Britain" came to mind.

I have, more by luck than judgment, missed most of the PPBs so far. I gather that the main Liberal Democrat one has been repeated so many times that it sends people to sleep, and that the Welsh party has not had enough shekels to produce its own. So I am glad I have missed that. The UKIP one on Channel 4 caught me unaware before I could find the remote control. It featured lots of hands with leaflets going through doors. They cannot have been real doors, because there was not a set of dog's teeth in sight. Or is the message that dangerous dogs are on UKIP's side?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

Manifestos

It looks as if the Lib Dem manifesto is to be released some time tomorrow. There will be few surprises, because the main points have been extensively trailed (see https://www.facebook.com/aberavonandneathlibdems/ and the local party web-site). Apart from a welcome boost to health and policing, the emphasis is on the future and youth.

That is a contrast with the Labour manifesto whose USP is a return to 1964, though we are spared a commitment to renationalise steel. (There is, however, an intriguing suggestion that a Corbyn government would adopt a land value tax, an old Liberal policy.) Some people would welcome natural monopolies being taken back into public ownership, but Messrs. Corbyn and McDonnell have almost certainly underestimated the cost of doing so and overestimated the take from their tax proposals.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Workers' rights

Any pronouncement by Mrs May including the word "rights" has to be screened carefully. Her assertion that her proposals for unpaid leave for carers and a nebulous promise to protect people in the "gig economy" represent the "greatest expansion of workers' rights" in the Conservatives' history is demonstrably false when set against Disraeli's record. Admittedly, the Conservatives did little since. In the twentieth century, advances were made only by Liberal and Labour governments against Conservative opposition.

As Sky News reports, Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor, was scathing.

"The Conservatives tried to ban workers from striking and were blocked by the Liberal Democrats in government," said the former business secretary, who clashed with No.10 over workers' rights in the coalition years.

"It's clear they aren't the party of workers' rights and that you can't trust them to care about you and your family."

One measure that Vince could not prevent was the hike in employment tribunal fees which effectively barred all but the comfortably-off and TU-backed from appealing against being sacked unjustifiably. Earlier this year, a review launched by the Conservative government reported. It recommended only some tinkering around the edges.


Sunday, 14 May 2017

I welcome Liberal Democrat commitment to fair pay for public servants

http://aberavonneathlibdems.blogspot.co.uk/2017/05/lib-dems-commit-to-780-pay-rise-for.html refers.

Restoring the uprating of public sector pay in line with inflation is long overdue. (It should be recalled that if David Cameron and George Osborne had had their way, there would have been no pay rises for nurses etc. at all. It was only pressure from their Liberal Democrat coalition partners which forced the concession of 1% pay rises.)

Apart from the inherent justice of the policy, there will be practical benefits. It should improve morale. It might keep more directly-employed nurses in the service, reducing the need to pay over-the-odds to agencies for temps.

It might even encourage the Labour-run Welsh Assembly government to level up pay for junior nurses in the principality. I was shocked to discover, that for all Carwyn Jones' criticism of regional pay, junior nurses in Wales are paid less than in England (in Scotland, they are paid more.) The Royal College of Nurses pay scale tables are here.


Financial Transaction Tax

It does not help that the media continue to describe all versions of FTT as "a Robin Hood tax", but I am sorry that Vince Cable has dismissed FTT out of hand:

Labour's economic policy is less Robin Hood than Mickey Mouse. It has already put our Financial Services sector and advanced manufacturing industry at risk by backing Theresa May’s extreme plans to leave the single market and customs union. Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs to vote in favour of Article 50 despite the government making no concessions to them whatsoever. Labour has waved the white flag on Brexit, voting alongside UKIP and the Conservatives and giving Theresa May a blank cheque. Unlike Labour, we would give the British people a vote on the final deal. People should have hope and vote Liberal Democrat to change Britain's future.

After all, FTT was originally proposed by that great liberal thinker, John Maynard Keynes. It need not be set at such a level as to drive financial institutions out of the City of London, but if its net was spread to include a wide range of transactions it could make a useful contribution to the budget and, because of automation, need little manpower to maintain.