Monday, 1 May 2017

Violent protests against foreign fat cats

It is amazing how history repeats itself. Resentment against people from mainland Europe making money in English towns was alive and well five hundred years ago, on "Evil May Day".

As in centuries before, May Day was a holiday in the Tudor calendar under the reign of King Henry VIII. But in the weeks leading up to May in 1517, tension was rising in the City against the many foreigners who had made London their home, some becoming very wealthy.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Sad to see Orient leave the Football League

Clearly a victim of off-field shenanigans, a club which seldom hit the heights but had a comfortable existence for most of its League history should not have been driven to this. I feel particularly sad because the first Liverpool match I watched after I moved down to London was at Brisbane Road. I can't remember any of the detail of the match except for the wing-switching of Alan A'court, who scored both the 'pool's goals, and Ian Callaghan . Orient must have been good, because they shared the spoils on that occasion and were at the end of the season joint promotees to the top division with Liverpool. What I remember most was the walk from the station (Lea Valley?) through lines of trees bearing spring blossom in a park which now seems to have been replaced by a business estate. It makes a depressing but apt parallel.

Air pollution

A study part-funded by the British Heart Foundation, showing a link between air pollution and both heart disease and stroke, strengthens the case for government action. Ed Davey, who was Energy Secretary in the coalition government and before that an environmental campaigner, was understandably exercised. He said “The health risks associated with toxic air are becoming clearer by the day. Yet still this government is failing to come up with a proper plan to reduce air pollution in our cities. The Conservatives must not kick the can down the road any longer. The longer we wait to tackle the air pollution crisis, the more people will die prematurely at the hands of this silent killer.”

He hailed the high court decision to compel the government to publish its action plan on pollution, which ministers had attempted to hold back until after the general election on specious "purdah" grounds: : “This is a dramatic defeat for the Conservative government. Ministers have used taxpayer money to try to hide proof of their environmental failures. And they have even failed there, too. With scientists showing the health impact of air pollution being far worse than we thought, it is disgraceful for the Conservatives to try to bury the truth from voters.”

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Swing to populism not universal

Liberal International points out that in local elections in Finland earlier this month, the hard-line Eurosceptic party, the Finns, saw their support tumble from 17.7% in the 2015 national election to 8.8% this time. Liberal parties maintained their position.

Friday, 28 April 2017

Leading health academics find Cancer Drugs Fund a dangerous waste of money

The Daily Telegraph reports that a study by King's College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine labels the Conservatives' Cancer Drugs Fund “a 'quick-fix' election promise that wasted more than a £1 billion and left dying patients in agony”. It seemed from the start to be a gimmick that played on English electors' deep-seated emotions, to the benefit of multi-national drug companies rather than to the NHS as a whole. The latest study, and the changes that have been made to the policy, tend to confirm this view. The report in the normally Conservative-supporting Telegraph goes on to say that the analyis "concluded that less than half of the drugs provided by the fund had undergone adequate clinical trials before being used, and the average median life extension they afforded was just 3.2 months. The study also pointed to evidence suggesting the medicines were too toxic for some patients, forcing them to abandon treatment."

If Andrew RT Davies's Welsh Conservatives had had their way in the 2016 Assembly elections, the NHS in Wales would have been burdened with a cancer drugs fund. However, the response by Carwyn Jones and Vaughan Gething, the New Treatments Fund, appears to be open to the same criticisms as the English scheme.

Blue Riband production moves to Poland

This story would, before the referendum, have been cited as one of the malign effects of the European Union. A multi-national company has shifted production of a popular British confection to another EU state because costs are less there. It was done by Cadbury, even before the Kraft/Molendez takeover. In that case, Poland was also involved, along with the Republic of Ireland.

Now there are fellow-Remainers who blame Brexit for the move, which seems illogical. If anything, Brexit should increase the incentive to keep sweetie production here because of the tariff barriers which would be erected. However, it could be that the York factory relies on Continental labour which would be choked off if Mrs May has her way.

There is a short history of Blue Riband on Morrisons' web pages. I had not realised it was originally as Scottish as Tunnock's tea cakes or Barr's Irn-Bru. I do recall it becoming more bland in flavour in the 1960s, which must be when Rowntree took over Gray Dunn.

Thursday, 27 April 2017

Triple lock under threat

The latest posting on the blog of the local party (though clearly a reproduction of a Great George Street media release) applies. It is possible to read this as a fulfilment of one of the few realistic warnings by George Osborne before the EU referendum. However, it is quite likely that the Conservatives were always going to drop the commitment from any post-2015 manifesto. They had stopped claiming credit for the specific (and Liberal Democrat) policy some time ago.

It was noticeable at Prime Minister's Questions yesterday that the blow which shook Mrs May was landed not by the leader of the official opposition with his six questions but by Angus Robertson with his two.

Authoritarians and science

When I put up my UK version of the Holocaust Museum's poster on Facebook, Gary Lewis of Pencoed suggested that I add "and science" to the fourth sign up from the bottom. One looks at the words and deeds of ultra-Conservatives on both sides of the Atlantic and takes his point. From denial of accepted scientific opinion on climate change to repudiation of warnings of the effects of pollution on the air and seas, the Trump administration is taking the US backwards. Leading figures in our Conservative party are no better, but thankfully have less power. Indeed, the democratic process in the Western world should ensure that this official obscurantism is reversed over the electoral cycle.

Thinking back to the archetypal fascists, Mussolini and Hitler, one would have to say however that the reverse is true. The fascist movement in Italy is linked with an artistic revolution which embraced science and technology. The mixture of absolutism and science had its adherents in England, too.

Like Mussolini, Hitler welcomed innovation as a means of reviving the German war machine and making it more efficient*. The Nazis applied science to mass executions in the infamous gas chambers. The philosophy behind those mass executions could be found in the theory of eugenics, which was accepted by some serious scientists in the first half of the last century and which lingered after the second world war in Canada and Sweden. It is said that among Hitler's reading material in Landsberg gaol in 1924 (when he wrote Mein Kampf) was an essay by HG Wells promoting eugenics.

Perhaps we should not watch out for disdain for science as a sign of fascism, but rather for an obsession with science to the exclusion of development in the arts.

*He missed out on the computer revolution, though. One wonders whether history could have been changed if he had given more support to Konrad Zuse.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Antisemitic candidacy terminated

I am all for local Liberal Democrat parties choosing their own candidates, but there are limits. Locals clearly thought they had made the popular choice for the strongly Muslim Bradford East constituency in re-selecting David Ward, who has consistently blamed "the Jews" for most of what has gone wrong in the Middle East and perhaps for some of our own ills, too. I don't know what levers Tim Farron pulled, but it has been announced this afternoon that Bradford will have to think again. For Ward to continue would be a source of embarrassment for our general election campaign and probably for some local government elections in parts of England too.


"The great near-art form of the twentieth century" (David Lean, as recounted by a name-dropping Warren Beatty on the latest Film Programme)

Tory party leader not questioned on her homophobia

An interview with Mrs May was broadcast on Radio Wales this morning. There were questions about the ground she wants the general election to be about (leaving the EU) and splits within the Conservative Party, but not about her consistent record of voting against every reform of the law as it relates to same-sex relations. Nor was there investigation of Mrs May's desire to remove all our civil protections by abrogating the European Convention on Human Rights. Perhaps the usually excellent Felicity Evans did put the questions but Conservative Central Office refused to sanction broadcasting the recording if they were included. We should be told. This is a subject I intend to return to when the general election campaign proper begins.

BBC: now we know

No sooner had I posted this than seeming confirmation that BBC management have an interest in keeping their cushy jobs came through. (Praise the online people - who are the only ones under threat in government pressure for cuts - for posting this information.)

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

What has the BBC got against us?

The corporation has given more prominence to opinion surveys (more and more discreditable) than to the remarkable surge in membership of the Liberal Democrats or, scandalously, to our record in council by-elections since this time last year, not to mention the changes in vote share in parliamentary elections:

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The tendency of the Beeb in recent years to suck up to the people in power has been noted elsewhere. But this is more than blind support for the Conservatives. Could it be that they believe that a Liberal Democrat government would look seriously at the way the BBC is funded?

Non-EU trade

The HMRC statistical release of Non-EU trade by declared Currency of Invoicing statistics is due to be published today.

Monday, 24 April 2017

From settings of Longfellow to Sports Report

Looking forward to my regular dose of Private Passions, I mused not for the first time on what got me hooked on orchestral music first of all. Much must have been subliminal, from the old Kolster-Brandes radio mounted high (so that my infant fingers could not fiddle with the knobs?) in the living room. BBC broadcast a wide range of music* on the Light Programme in those days, and on the Home Service enlightened Children's Hour producers would use light classical pieces as incidental music to serials. Sometimes the music was not so light. One sci-fi series effectively used a piece of Bartok's night music.

All this was consciously reinforced later when I was allowed to go to the pictures on my own. I can't say I remember Hugo Friedhofer's score for Joan of Arc, but Vaughan Williams' orchestral music (later to be amplified into a symphony) for Scott of the Antarctic certainly made an impression as did the Cornish Rhapsody, the theme of Love Story, a vehicle for Stewart Granger and Margaret Lockwood. Not long after seeing the film, I was allowed to accompany my parents to rich acquaintances (I am guessing the family of an officer who knew my father during the war) who possessed a radiogram and stacks of 78s. Invited to pick something, and no doubt expected to light on a dance band number, I spotted Cornish Rhapsody. "Oh, you won't like that." I was told, but I did and I believe the company did too.

Before writing this post, some research was necessary to refresh my memory. I had assumed that the pseudo-concerto was by Addinsell or Alwyn or one of the émigré composers given employment by sympathetic British studios in the 1940s. Instead, it turned out to be by Hubert Bath, the man also responsible for Out of the Blue, the long-time signature tune of Sports Report.

Bath was almost as prolific a composer for British film as the aforementioned composers, and certainly the earliest of the three because he contributed to the sound-track of Blackmail, Alfred Hitchock's and Britain's first talkie.

But he was much more than that, as this appreciation shows. He wrote operas and set poems based on literary greats like Hardy and Longfellow. He wrote orchestral suites, cantatas - I would love to have heard his Men on the Line for the male voices of the Great Eastern Railway - for piano, organ, some inventive combinations, and for brass band. One of his band competition pieces was in use until the 1970s. He would make a great Composer of the Week - if only enough of his work has been recorded.

Bath died at Harefield, Middlesex on 24 April 1945, just days before VE Day.

*even jazz, thanks to the persistence of Charles Chilton, as he revealed in his reminiscences

Sunday, 23 April 2017

Cuts to social services, yet the government does not stop this rip-off

And where was the "socialist" opposition?

Online VAT fraud cost the taxpayer between £1 billion and £1.5 billion last year but not a single prosecution has taken place, according to an investigation by the National Audit Office.

Liberal Democrat Shadow Chancellor Susan Kramer was expectedly angry:
“It is a disgrace that not a single VAT fraudster has been brought to justice. Taxpayers are being ripped off to the tune of £1.5 billion and small businesses are being undercut, but still this Government won’t act.

“This chronic failure to go after online fraudsters will be made even worse by a hard Brexit. Our Chancellor should be stepping up European cooperation to tackle tax evasion, instead he is threatening to turn the UK into an offshore tax haven.”

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Possible LD coalitions

I am still in the middle of a campaign to get more Liberal Democrat councillors into the chamber of the civic centre in Port Talbot. National politics comes well down the list of my concerns at present. However, Tim Farron's honesty in not ruling out a coalition as a result of the general election on June 8th has raised a mini-storm. A comment on an unrelated post here seems to invite my own views.

I want to see the Liberal Democrats as the largest party in the new House of Commons - in these volatile days, not an unrealistic aspiration! Failing that, I would want Tim Farron to go into coalition with a party, or cross-party group of MPs, on a programme which closely matches our manifesto, but we should not go into government for the sake of it. We should be prepared for constructive opposition, even in a hung parliament. As a believer in proportional representation, which leads to a wider representation of opinions in national parliaments, I believe this is the only valid stance.

However, a sticking point for me would be serving under the present prime minister, who is the most untrustworthy I can remember (and I am including David Cameron in the comparisons), or under the current leader of the Labour party who has been a grave disappointment even to his own supporters.

Jennie Rigg puts it all more bluntly.

Wise words from a Liberal party historian

William Wallace (Baron Wallace of Saltaire) writes on Liberal Democrat Voice:

Theresa May has defined this seven-week election campaign as all about Brexit. But it won’t be, and it can’t be, however hard she and her party, and the partisan right-wing media, try to hold attention to that. (Did you see the Daily Mail font-page headline on Wednesday, ‘Crush the Saboteurs’?) The condition of our schools, the tightening squeeze on their budgets while Mrs. May wants to spend money on grammar schools, the continuing cuts in grants to poorer local authorities, the deepening crisis in the health service, will all attract public attention – because they are closer to most people’s immediate interests than the long-term future of Britain and our place in the world.

As a son of England he naturally concentrates on the way the Tories have impacted on the NHS and education there. However, whatever happens to spending by those English departments is reflected in the settlement for Wales. Affecting Wales directly are cuts to social spending, the privatisation of the parole and probation services, the withdrawal of legal aid from those who most need it and attacks on civil liberties. I would expect the LD candidates for Aberavon and Neath to speak to these and more in the coming general election campaign, and to the Labour so-called opposition's failure to halt them.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Farage backing into the limelight again

Nigel Farage contends that he is too busy in Brussels to consider standing in this June's general election, according to a BBC report. This will be yet another excuse for the Beeb to replay what has passed for their prime-time coverage of the European Parliament, one of Farage's vicious and mendacious personal attacks on fellow-MEPs and their elected officials.

It is rather like covering Cruft's by repeatedly showing a mongrel pissing against the judges' table.

Women's Party?

It is noticeable that of the seats which are perpetually on our target list (including many that Liberal Democrats ought to win back from the Conservatives), more than in previous years have women candidates, and good ones at that. Sandi Toksvig used to be a LibDem; will she return to the fold, or at least give us an endorsement?

The LD "snap" candidates are shown here.

Thursday, 20 April 2017

At last: Bob Marshall-Andrews realises he is really a liberal

Mark Pack reports. It can only be his tribal connection to the Labour Party which has prevented him from making the break before. Bob Marshall-Andrews has a great reputation of standing up for civil and human rights to the extent that he had a record of rebelling against the Blair-Brown governments which is surely second only to the current leader - who he clearly despises for rather different reasons.

I cherish his response to criticism from Labour HQ in the run-up to a general election. When threatened that if he did not moderate his rebellions he would not receive a constituency visit from prime minister Blair, he responded with words to the effect: "Can I have that in writing?".

He and wife Gill have also made a contribution to ecological housing (in conjunction with Future Systems) at Druidstone in Pembrokeshire.

Who do Europhiles vote for?

This cri de coeur from a socialist-inclined but EU-supporting citizen on Facebook is typical:

My background and general educational upbringing tip me firmly into the Labour camp but JC has disappointed me with his weak capitulating stance on Brexit. I am also a greeny at heart but I know it's a wasted vote and I still haven't forgiven the Lib Dems after their broken student loans promise - so where do I go?

As a democrat, I would say: vote for the person who best represents your philosophy and your feelings about what needs to be done for the country and for your community. The weight you place on our position within the European Union has to be balanced against social policies which might affect you more. For instance, the front-runner may be an anti-article 50 Conservative, but one who also wants in England to privatise the NHS, reintroduce the divisive tripartite education system and remove tenant protection.

As to student loans, the message still has not got through: the 2010 LD party manifesto called for the abolition of the student loans system. We did not get our way on this because there was a majority in the Commons in favour of retaining the system, naturally including the Labour party who had introduced it in 1998 in spite of a manifesto pledge that they would not. There were many candidates who personally signed up to a NUS pledge to (a) improve the system; and (b) vote against an increase in fees. It is a matter of regret that individual Liberal Democrats in government - though not, I am proud to say, Welsh Liberal Democrat MPs including junior minister Jenny Willott - individually went back on (b), but it was not a party failing. Moreover, even the NUS would admit that the changes to the system thrashed out by Vince Cable were a vast improvement, thus fulfilling (a).

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Metal theft still a cause for concern

Residents of Cadoxton wardened housing had trouble with metal thieves while I was a councillor in that ward. There were also thefts on the Great Western main line. Counter-measures were taken and there seems to have been no recurrence round here. However, metal theft is clearly still a cause for concern in England, because there is a symposium in Westminster later today. The introduction states:

Metal theft affects everyone, whether they know it or not. This crime continues to pose a significant problem in the UK, with an estimated cost to the UK economy of £770 million according to the Association of Chief Police Officers. There are also personal, societal and environmental costs, whether it is damage to a church roof, power outages or rail passengers and train operating companies faced with costly delays after cable has been stolen from the railway.

Latest figures reveal that there were 16,155 metal theft offences recorded by the police (42 forces) in the year ending March 2016, a decrease of over a third (38%) compared with the same forces for the previous year. Over the same period (for the same 42 police forces) infrastructure-related metal theft offences, which include those that have a direct impact on the functioning or structure of buildings or services, decreased by 36% while non-infrastructure-related metal theft decreased by 40%. There were 3 metal theft offences per 10,000 population in England in Wales in the latest year.

Despite these decreases, which the government suggests show that the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, which came into effect in October 2013, is working, as the price of metal again begins to increase, challenges remain. Consequently, the government responded to a request from the British Metal Recycling Association (BMRA) to review the existing legislation. The government launched a consultation in December 2016, which will close at the end of January. They have indicated that they will engage with representatives of the scrap metal and metals recycling industry, the energy and rail networks, the Church of England and other religious bodies Historic England, as well as representatives from Gypsy, Traveller and Roma organisations, local authorities and the police.

A particular question that remains to be answered is whether the government will reintroduce funding to tackle mental theft that came to an end when the taskforce, established to provide a co-ordinated response to metal theft, was disbanded in October 2014. While this is unclear, it is more important than ever to promote multi-agency working to ensure the most effective response to metal theft, something that is already in effect, as the police are working with Historic England to crackdown on theft from churches and historic buildings.

The Scrap Metal Dealers Act is one of the little-noticed but important achievements of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition and it would be a pity if the current all-Conservative government relaxed enforcement.

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Mrs May breaks her word again

She was going to continue to 2020. Yet, for tactical - and possibly transitory - reasons she has decided to ask the Commons to vote this government out of office.

Of course, if she had been honest, she - as the head of a government which had changed the policy on which it had been elected, under a different PM - would have submitted to a general election in the autumn of last year.

[Later] A colleague on Facebook writes: "One also wonders how much the timing has to do with the Police reports to the CPS on the expenses scandal?"

If the CPS decides to proceed with enforcement action, then twelve Conservative seats could change hands, more than reversing the government majority.

Winston Churchill and a federal Europe

For some reason, Churchill's attitude to a community or union of European nations has come to the fore recently. Even after achieving what they claim is a decisive and permanent victory, Leavers have found it necessary to stitch together various one-liners from Churchill, from different contexts, and claim it is a coherent passage from a speech to parliament. This they cite as a clear declaration by the great man that Britain will always stand alone. (Remainers had been guilty of the lesser sin of quoting from a genuine speech, but cutting out a key sentence .)

This, from the online Hansard archive, sums up Churchill's real attitude. It comes from an adjournment debate on foreign affairs in May 1953:

Where do we stand? We are not members of the European Defence Community, nor do we intend to be merged in a Federal European system. We feel we have a special relation to both. This can be expressed by prepositions, by the preposition "with" but not "of"—we are with them, but not of them. We have our own Commonwealth and Empire. One of the anxieties of France is lest Germany, even partitioned as she is now, will be so strong that France will be outweighed in United Europe or in the European Defence Community. I am sure they could do a lot, if they chose to make themselves stronger. But, anyhow, I have always believed, as an active friend of France for nearly 50 years, that our fortunes lie together.

Churchill resisted the break-up of the Empire and cherished our Commonwealth links. However, if he were alive today he would surely recognise the reality of the situation, that we were no longer the Mother Country able to call on the unquestioning support of Commonwealth nations. He certainly approved of European cohesion. Earlier in the same speech he had said:

As I have urged for several years, there is no hope for the safety and freedom of Western Europe except by the laying aside forever of the ancient feud between the Teuton and the Gaul. It is seven years since, at Zurich, I appealed to France to take Germany by the hand and lead her back into the European family. We have made great progress since then. Some of it has been due no doubt to the spur to resist the enormous military strength of Soviet Russia, but much is also due to the inspiring and unconquerable cause of United Europe. We have Strasbourg and all that it stands for, and it is our duty to fortify its vitality and authority tirelessly as the years roll on. We have the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, which has done such beneficent work in consolidating the material strength and sense of unity of European countries; we have the European Payments Union and there is also the European Coal and Steel Community, on which I believe we have observers.

Uncollected business rates

Unpaid council tax has long been a burden on local authorities. Last year, ITV news reported that Neath Port Talbot CBC had £4,336,360 outstanding, the fifth highest out of the twenty-two authorities in Wales.

Non-collection of council tax attracts more unwelcome attention, but Neath Port Talbot has trouble with business rates, too. (Technically, these are National Non-Domestic Rates, or NNDR for short - Powys CC provides a useful explanation.) There are at least half-a-dozen viable businesses in Neath town centre which are not shown as paying NNDR on the schedules published on the county borough's own web-site, while appearing on the official rating list (to query what a premises should be paying in NNDR, go to

This failure may be seen as victimless as regards Neath, seeing that the money is not retained by the county borough but goes to the government for redistribution. However, not only does the shortfall have to be made up in other ways, but it is also unfair on competing businesses in the town who honestly stump up their business rates.

It could be, of course, that the records are incomplete: NNDR has been paid but has not been recorded. If so, I apologise to the county borough's officials, but would query whether "Freedom of Information" really means what it says if the published data are wrong.

Afan valley commercialisation

It seems that the doubts I raised on Facebook about the loss of access for leisure cyclists and walkers to parts of the Afan valley as a result of a commercial enterprise are shared. This article also points to the minimal business record of the man behind the Cwm Afan scheme, so enthusiastically endorsed by Labour in Neath Port Talbot and in Cardiff Bay. A contributor to Jac's article writes:

There are leisure facilities already present in the valley, most notably a mountain bike centre which has had substantial council investment from the taxpayers of Neath Port Talbot, and of course a building up at Glyncorrwg which has a café, which was funded by Communities First. 

The ‘ponds’ at Glyncorrwg are a series of reclaimed colliery reservoirs stocked with fish. The cycle paths, which taxpayers paid millions into, are the ones which run along the trackbed of the old Rhondda to Swansea railway line from Blaengwynfi (Rhondda tunnel) down to Port Talbot, and its spur up to Glyncorrwg.

The forest plantation came into the possession of Natural Resources Wales (Forestry Commission). The old coal tips were reclaimed at public expense, the land having been gifted to the council from the National Coal Board.

There are some similarities to doubts raised by David TC Davies MP about the "Circuit of Wales" business plan.

Saturday, 15 April 2017

Lies, damn' lies and Labour tabloids

You would think from "Local Voice", the Birmingham-printed "newspaper" which is being pushed through Neath and Port Talbot doors, that the council is putting more money into education.

What is actually happening is that Labour-run Neath Port Talbot council has budgeted for an increase in school building. They are actually cutting the money available to run the schools - this in spite of an increase in the pupil deprivation grant obtained by Liberal Democrat education secretary Kirsty Williams.

It is rather like building grand new hospitals but denying them the money to spend on more doctors and nurses.

Friday, 14 April 2017

70th anniversary of the World Federation of Liberalism

Liberal International reports:

  On 10 April 2017, Liberals from around the world came together on the same spot at Wadham College, University of Oxford, where Liberal International was established 70 years ago this month. In 1947 Liberals from 19, mostly European, countries united in the aftermath of the horrors of World War Two to form our political federation and promote a world order based on liberal values; today, with over 100 members across 5 continents, our liberal movement is truly global.

Newsletter Pics - Thumbnail =>- LI_1947_2017.png

Thursday, 13 April 2017

Not a time for new retail development

The trend is against town centre shopping. The Evening Post today bemoans the "lost shops" of Swansea city centre. Neath is therefore swimming against the tide in its town centre redevelopment. A leading councillor points to the comparatively low vacancy rate in Neath, but I would contend that this is a result of a good mix between housing and shopping in the centre of Neath and that anything that tips the balance is a bad thing.

Liberal Democrat values outweigh referendum vote

It is worth reading the comments to this posting on Liberal Democrat Voice. There are very few who are absolutist about the EU.

Wednesday, 12 April 2017

"A backward trend in local elections"

Thus begins Lawrence Bailey's column in the Evening Post yesterday. The former Swansea Labour leader bemoans the way in which national politics have come to dominate local campaigning. It seems to me that this is more of a problem in England. Certainly all of LibDems' election literature here has concentrated relentlessly on local issues, though Labour must feel handicapped by the retrenchment of the press in Wales. More people locally are influenced by the Daily Mail and the Sun than by more local media.

He goes on to twit Liberal Democrats for not fielding enough candidates to achieve a majority on Swansea City Council. It seems to me that he should be grateful to the media for once, in not giving due prominence to the remarkable resurgence in local government elections on the part of the Liberal Democrats. If more of our people had been aware of our success elsewhere they would surely have had the confidence to come forward in the expectation of winning.

Labour, too, have had their troubles. I have heard of difficulties of filling their slate of candidates in some Neath wards, while on the other side of the county borough de-selections have resulted in former Labour councillors standing as independents against the new appointees. As Mr Bailey says, "expectations are that it could get messy."

Senior council executive salaries: it is a seller's market

Guido is making much of the level of salary paid to some local authority chief executives. I am not going to defend some of the extreme figures quoted in his article, nor of the above-average pay in one neighbouring authority.

However, having sat on at least one council meeting exercising a choice of senior executives, I can attest that the pool of suitably-qualified local government officers who are prepared to up sticks to a new authority is disappointingly small. It might be larger if party political considerations did not play a part, and if agents and head-hunters did not get involved, but even so, it is a seller's market.

There is also the publicity factor. Local authority chief executives operate in the public eye while their equivalents in business pull in many times their salary while not being subject to the same sort of scrutiny - until they misbehave egregiously. It should be noted that Jes Staley's annual bonus at £1.2m is twice the highest salary quoted by Guido.

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

GPS monopoly being broken

The European Parliamentary Research Service Blog gives an update on the EU's Galileo and Copernicus systems.

Galileo, the long-awaited European global navigation satellite systems, is at a turning point in its history: it reached initial operational capacity in December 2016 and is expected to be fully operational for 2021. This autonomous European civilian tool, which can be used anywhere on earth, transmits positioning and timing data from space for use on the ground to determine a user’s location. Alongside it, the European geostationary navigation overlay system (EGNOS), which improves the accuracy and integrity of the American global positioning system (GPS) over EU territory, became fully operational in 2011.

Delays and cost over-runs can be explained through political, technical, industrial and security issues. It is estimated that by 2020, the EU and ESA will have invested more than €13 billion in these programmes. This public investment, although much larger than that initially planned, matches the cost of similar programmes such as GPS, and is justified by the need for the European Union to have strategic autonomy in the field.

Securing the Copernicus programme
The Copernicus programme is a user-driven programme which provides six free-of-charge operational services (atmosphere monitoring, marine environment monitoring, land monitoring, climate change, emergency management and security) to EU, national, and regional institutions, as well as to the private sector. The programme builds on the initiative on global monitoring for environment and security launched in 2001. It aims at filling the gaps in European earth observation capacities. Data is provided from space infrastructures, particularly the sentinel missions developed under the programme, and in situ infrastructure supported by the Member States. Copernicus services are mainly operated by European Union (EU) agencies.

The Navstar Global Positioning System was developed by the United States Department of Defense. It remains under the control of the US authorities who can selectively "turn off" parts of the system. However, under President Clinton, the US renounced the use of "selective availability".

Monday, 10 April 2017


The extent to which Mrs May has misled us over immigration is laid out here. The graph which is based on the same data as the government's Brexit White Paper is particularly illuminating.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Alexander "Greek" Thomson

When I was on a contract in Glasgow, I passed a prime example of the work of this great architect, who was born 200 years ago today. Depressingly, it had fallen into a state of decay. One trusts that it has been rescued in time for the bicentennial celebrations.

It is interesting to see from wikipedia that Thomson was a pioneer in sustainable building. There is much more to be discovered at the Alexander Thomson Society website.

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Ken Livingstone - the Welsh connection

Jonathan Calder praises the Ken Livingstone of the past (and deprecates his recent witterings on the subject of the Third Reich). I must admit that he was an attractive personality in those days. I remember his taking part in a Radio 4 nature trail and giving herpetology a good name. But one should also remember the ruthless way he deposed the then leader of London Labour - and the man the 1981 electorate assumed would be the leader of the GLC - Andrew Macintosh, in a back-stage coup. His co-conspirator was the late Illtyd Harrington, uncle of Hinterland's Richard Harrington.

Friday, 7 April 2017

The EU needs to take Hungary in hand

The EU cannot (quite rightly) resist Turkey's application for membership on the grounds of her civil rights abuses and slide into dictatorship while at the same time turning a blind eye to similar moves in Hungary. Tom Arms details how far the birth nation of George Soros has moved towards crypto-fascism.

If the Conservative government were communitaire, it would be leading the fight to bring Hungary back into line, just as the EU slapped down the neo-Nazis in government in Austria at the end of last century. Sadly, Tories see the EU only in terms of monetary flows.

Civil servants and gifts

When I read my Private Eye this morning, I wondered if the civil service had become more corrupt in the decades since I left it. Back then, accepting the smallest of gifts was looked at askance. If a member of the public, having been helped strictly in the line of duty, left a bottle of wine on your doorstep out of gratitude, you were expected to hand it back. I am gratified to discover that things have not changed much.

So this report in the Eye is either defamatory or relates to an elevated layer of government where normal rules do not apply:

Arms manufactureres that have pocketed the fattest cheques for the Ministry of Defence over the past decade showered the officials who pay them with fifts, dinners and cocktail parties worth a combined £100,000. [...] senior officials at Defence Equipment and Support [...] accepted more than 1,000 gifts and hospitality worth £40,000 in total. More junior but still important staff, including top military personnel, [accepted £60,000 worth].

Thursday, 6 April 2017

This is not what Wales voted for

If people had wanted an extra Conservative, they would not have voted UKIP.

European Parliament vetoes diesel emissions supervisory agency

UK Tories and Kippers help swing the vote

There was a vote in the European Parliament recently which points the way in which the Conservatives want to go in future. They are resisting any pan-European agency, even if the target is better, consistent, testing of motors' exhaust emissions and hence better consumer protection. 

New European supervisory agency rejected, British MEPs made the difference
The MEPs rejected the setting up of a separate and independent European agency for vehicle surveillance that would have had the power to test vehicle emissions in laboratories and in real driving conditions. This independent body was aimed at addressing the problem raised by the inquiry committee concerning the maladministration by both member states and the European Commission. The vote on the establishment of this agency was very close: 333 voted in favour, 347 against, while 9 Members abstained.
The call for a new European agency would have been a strong signal from the European Parliament for “more EU” at a time when European unity is facing great challenges. Not surprisingly, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s political party voted against the agency, as well as the governing party in Poland Law and Justice (PiS), which have tended to reinforce its reclusive position in the EU over the past few weeks.
Many political groups have been divided when voting on the establishment of a new European agency. For instance, the Italian 5 Star Movement voted in favour and did not follow the majority of its Eurosceptic group, Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD). Similarly, the opinions in the centrist and far-left political groups have diverged substantially, with some Members voting on national lines in both groups (for example, French MEPs took position in favour of this new agency, while the Czech and Dutch Members opposed it).
- See more at:

Centenary of US' entering the Great War

On 6th April 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed a declaration of war on Germany. The entry of American troops was to break the impasse in Europe.

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

We need more MPs like Sarah Olney

She clearly has a higher IQ than the rest of us, but otherwise she is very human, a professional and a wife and mother. I hope even those who are partisans of other parties will ignore the purely party aspects of these interviews and agree that there should be more grounded MPs in the House of Commons.

Tuesday, 4 April 2017

Napier's bones

Today is the four hundredth anniversary of the death of John Napier, the inventor of logarithms.

Monday, 3 April 2017

Network Rail

John Redwood raises concerns about the priorities of Network Rail. It is sadly not the only quango which has been distracted from its main purpose by the attractions of financial manipulation.

It's what Wales voted for, part 14

Has UKIP gone to pot?

BBC reports that UKIP members in North Wales are to meet to discuss deselecting a regional AM, Michelle Brown. The allegation is that she has brought the party into disrepute. Eighteen instances have been cited, including this story;

Saturday, 1 April 2017

The capital is to get an improved train service

Arriva Trains Wales News
29 March 2017, 16:09

ARRIVA TRAINS WALES is set to double capacity on some of the busiest trains into Cardiff

Details at

If I learn of any improvements for commuter services from West Wales and on the Maesteg line, I shall not hesitate to post them here, but do not hold your breath.

Labour MEP's broadcasts do more harm than good

There was a rare appearance by Derek Vaughan on Radio Wales this morning. He was defending the place of Britain in a greater Europe. If I recall correctly, the last time he was on, he was arguing against Brexit.

Does he not see that by surfacing only when his own lucrative job in Brussels and Strasbourg is under threat he only strengthens the impression of Leavers that the EU benefits only those politicians on the gravy train? Considering that his office employs an assistant in South Wales, the dearth of information as to what MEPs in particular and the EU in general have done for Wales during his term is scandalous.

My own party is not blameless. While individual Libdem MEPs in England were very good at keeping their constituents informed regularly about events in the European Parliament, we did not nationally keep up a commentary on the EU as we did on the Westminster parliament (except in the early years of the coalition, but that is another story). The BBC neglected its duty to keep the British public informed about an institution that has an effect on our lives, and other players hostile to the European project rushed to fill the gap. Libdem campaigners would argue that the first call on limited funds must be to get Liberal Democrat MPs and councillors elected, but that does not mean that all campaigning funds should have been spent in that way. Business, too, was unaware of the danger of ignorance until it woke up on June 24th.

BBC announces Farage appointment

The British Broadcasting Corporation has announced that Nigel Farage will be the new director of news and current affairs. The board of governors has expressed its hope that this appointment will put to rest allegations of bias and usher in an era when the BBC's coverage reflects the objective views of the majority of its viewers and listeners.

Mr Farage (who is expected to be awarded a knighthood in the upcoming Queen's birthday honours) was characteristically humble in his own media release. "It is about [adjective deleted] time. The first thing I shall do is kick out the whingeing lefties like Andrew Neil. Clearly I will have to retain one or two real communists in order to maintain balance and will consult Donald and Vladimir on this.

"I will also crack down on the use of consultants and look hard at how privatisation is going. I have already asked an independent think-tank, the Institute for Direct Democracy in Europe, to investigate and report back."

It is understood that Mr Farage is anxious to restore balance to the Corporation's European coverage. Talks have already begun with the Netherlands' Party for Freedom with a view to replacing all BBC-Parliament's reports from the EU with "The Geert Wilders Hour".

Mr Farage sees no conflict of interests in retaining his rôle as political adviser to Fox News. He also plans to stay on as a Member of the European Parliament. Replying to criticism at the time he took the job with Fox, Mr Farage said: "those who are professional politicians always need to climb the greasy pole because it is their only chance to boost their earnings. The politician with outside interests is much freer. I can do a much better job on the occasions when I visit Brussels."

[Later] In the past I have removed my pre-lunch posts of April 1st. I have left this one up as I feel it may prove to be prophetic.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Purchase of the United States Virgin Islands, 1917

A glimpse into the US Department of State archives reveals a complex and unedifying history of the US Virgin Islands. The simple statement that Denmark sold them to the US on 31st March 1917 conceals the fact that the States were virtually holding a gun to the Danes' heads. Denmark agreed to a transfer in a referendum, but the inhabitants of the islands were not consulted nor were they guaranteed the same protection from racial discrimination as they had enjoyed under the Danes. The islands were administered by the US Navy from 1917 to 1931.

Pleasing extreme vegetarians over polymer notes has high environmental cost

My reaction to the news that the Bank of England was planning to use palm oil in the manufacture of future polymer notes was the same as that of the Independent.

On Thursday, the Bank said that the “only practical alternative” to animal-derived additives are those derived from palm oil - an ingredient which has been controversial for its contribution to deforestation.

I understand that most vegans base their stance on respect for animals. They should consider that increased use of palm oil threatens one of our most endangered and endearing animal relatives, the orang-utan.

Thursday, 30 March 2017

Punishment for MPs who transgress

Guido reports that a committee recommends that MPs who break their code of conduct should be prosecuted in the criminal courts. To me, this seems an expensive way of persuading members to keep to the strait and narrow, besides potentially adding to the already bloated prison population. We should be reducing the number of imprisonable offences, not adding to them.

Far more effective in my opinion would be to compel MPs standing again to publish as part of their paid-for election communications a list of all reproofs and censures they have earned during their previous term in parliament. For most voters, who do not follow the minutiae of the Commons, this would be the first they would know of how their former representative was regarded by his fellows.

A counter-factual: Sarah Palinsky as Russian president

One hundred and fifty years ago today, Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. for $7.2 million or 2.5 cents an acre. What could have happened if she had hung on to the territory?

It's what Wales voted for, part 13

ITV News reports:
UKIP's leader in the Senedd, Neil Hamilton, has been ordered to apologise after telling a fellow AM that "suicide is an option". He made the remark to Labour's Eluned Morgan, who was expressing her regret that Britain was leaving the European Union.
Today's a profoundly sad day for the nation and also for our children and our children's children. Of course, those who will pay the highest price for Article 50 will be those who can least afford it.
AMs repeated to each other what they had heard Neil Hamilton say and the Lywydd (Presiding Officer) Elin Jones ordered him to apologise. He seemed reluctant to comply.
What was unparliamentary about the remark? ... In deference to you Llywydd, I will apologise for whatever remark I am supposed to have made.

Eluned Morgan said that she would have liked an apology as well but the Presiding Office ruled that she had accepted Neil Hamilton's apology on her behalf.

Wednesday, 29 March 2017

Meanwhile, in another part of the forest

Several news stories have been buried recently, most of them not uplifting.

In America Westinghouse Electric, one of the pioneering companies of the electrical revolution in the US and also one that drove the development of nuclear power from submarines to generating stations, has filed for bankruptcy*. The New York Times writes:

Westinghouse Electric Company, which helped drive the development of nuclear energy and the electric grid itself, filed for bankruptcy protection on Wednesday, casting a shadow over the global nuclear industry.
The filing comes as the company’s corporate parent, Toshiba of Japan, scrambles to stanch huge losses stemming from Westinghouse’s troubled nuclear construction projects in the American South. Now, the future of those projects, which once seemed to be on the leading edge of a renaissance for nuclear energy, is in doubt.
Westinghouse designs were once favoured by the Thatcher governments but only one power station using the Westinghouse SNUPPS system was commissioned, Sizewell B, which will be running until 2035. More to the point, Westinghouse's troubled owners Toshiba had pitched a Westinghouse design for the Moorside complex near Sellafield. The Lancashire Evening Post has the story.


The Guardian last week followed up its investigations into modern-day slavery in the former British protectorate. Qatar is the richest state per capita in the world. The recent announcement of a $6.28bn investment in the UK by Qataris may have contributed to the silence on the part of the rest of our media on the shady foundations on which so much of the state's infrastructure is built.

... and finally

A man in southern Sweden received an unusual surprise on Monday when postal workers somehow managed to confuse him with Vladimir Putin, delivering mail addressed to the Russian President through the Swede's mailbox. More here.

* Westinghouse Brake and Signal at Chippenham, stemming from George Westinghouse's other great invention, the railway air brake, was a separate company and has long since been swallowed by a series of conglomerates. It is now part of Siemens.

Tuesday, 28 March 2017

No you-know-what in our campaign

I see that some parties in England on the Remain side of the EU debate are intent on using the disillusionment with the process of Leaving to encourage tactical voting to get rid of Conservative and Socialist local councillors. This may have some limited effect, though I suspect the "Richmond effect" will not transfer so easily as its enthusiasts expect. But I disagree on principle with majoring on national issues in contests which will affect the direction of local councils for the next four or five years. Besides, it risks putting off voters who are natural Liberal sympathisers but are also dubious about the EU, if they believe we are just a one-issue party.

I am glad to say that none of the Liberal Democrat literature that I have seen being prepared for the county borough elections in Neath Port Talbot mentions you-know-what. We certainly have more than enough local matters to fill our Focuses!

Monday, 27 March 2017

Labour has it both ways again

Welsh Labour's official response to the Boundary Commission's proposals for the definition of the new, larger Westminster constituencies required by legislation accepts the carving up of Port Talbot and the consigning of Skewen to Swansea East (pdf here). The only counter-proposal they make in respect of the Bay region is a minor adjustment of one of the Swansea wards. The introduction to the document states:
This submission is made on behalf of the Labour Party and the Welsh Labour Party. It is being presented as an overall response to the Initial Proposals of the Boundary Commission following a detailed consultation process within the Labour Party involving all Members of Parliament, Constituency Labour Parties and others within Wales.

Yet local Labour representatives (no names, no pack-drill as they used to say in the army) seeking re-election make a show of objecting and claim that they were always opposed to the Neath and Port Talbot proposals.

Even if I were not a member of the party, I would be impressed by the Liberal Democrat counter-proposal (pdf here) which was drawn up by an expert in the field of local authority mapping. It genuinely has taken into account local views and I am happy to fall in with it.

Sunday, 26 March 2017

On the morrow of the march for Europe...

..I quote extensively from quaker Jonathan Fryer's post of last Friday:

As the Metropolitan Police had been warning for months that there would almost certainly be a terrorist attack in a London, following those in Paris and Brussels, the Westminster outrage should not have been a shock, but of course it was. Nothing can truly prepare one for the random carnage caused by pure hate. For everyone directly or indirectly affected by the assault its repercussions are bound to be traumatic, and even though the death toll was mercifully lower than in incidents in France, Belgium and Germany, every life lost or person seriously injured is one too many. There were three aspects to the Westminster attack that seemed destined to inflict the maximum psychological damage. Firstly, the random nature of running into pedestrians (including young tourists) on Westminster Bridge, the symbolic heart of London as a visitor destination. Secondly, the fatal stabbing of a policeman, someone serving in the line of duty to protect the public. And thirdly the targeting of Parliament itself, the centre point of British democracy. Whoever planned the outrage (on the first anniversary of the Brussels attacks) has clearly thought it through. But that should not make us panic, or indeed make us cowed. For years Londoners got on with their lives when the IRA bombing campaign was happening; every waste bin was suspect and many were sealed as a defensive measure. The best response to the latest threat is to keep calm and carry on, while championing the values that underpin our society. That means eschewing ethnic or religious profiling in our daily lives; the idiot who posted “Kill All Muslims!” as a reaction on his Facebook page has been promptly un-friended.  I think the Westminster attack makes it all the more important for that message of solidarity [(the big March for Europe)] among Europeans (of whatever ethnicity) to be heard loud and clear.

Image may contain: 1 person, sky and outdoor

Thanks to the Facebook page of the 48% for the image.

Devastating explosion in New Ferry, Wirral

The early news reports last night of a "big explosion in Birkenhead" certainly grabbed my attention as an ex-Wallaseyan. Full marks to the Liverpool Echo for keeping us up-to-date. Fortunately there have been no deaths, though there have been injuries, and no houses have been affected. A dance studio has been completely obliterated but, such is the generosity of Merseysiders that a fund to replace it has already started.

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Port Talbot Parkway less used than valley railway stations

Rail Wales, the magazine of Railfuture in Wales, has published a list of the twenty most used rail stations in Wales. Neath is ninth, with 837,000 passenger entries and exits in 2015/16 (up by a percentage point on previous years). Twentieth is Treherbert, with 510,000 movements. Port Talbot Parkway does not appear, as it did not in the 2013/14 figures. Port Talbot could be underestimated because of a failure to record arrivals out-of-hours, but the same is true of Neath.

If the ranking is genuine, then one wonders why so much money has been spent on a futuristic new Port Talbot station building when a few relatively simple, but necessary, upgrades would have sufficed. Meantime, Neath has languished with nothing to show for the thousands which the council spent on a study.

Friday, 24 March 2017

Brexiteers still fighting the war they said they won

Simon Wren Lewis has it right. Now that the BBC, post-referendum, feels free to report European matters dispassionately instead of pulling its punches, Leavers want to continue to muzzle the corporation in order to inhibit the counter-referendum movement in the country which will surely grow in line with inflation and in inverse proportion to wage growth as the Brexit negotiations proceed.

Guess which EU nations want less food regulation?

PJvw43.4 Food - Degree of support by country [draft3][16.03.2017] (1)

Who would have thought that France was happier with more intervention from the EU on nutrition and food choice than the UK? The chart above (from the EU's Votewatch site) shows only Czechia and the Netherlands as wanting more freedom on food standards than our government.

Thursday, 23 March 2017

Keith Palmer gave his life for others

There were other innocent victims

Our sympathy goes out to the family and friends of PC Keith Palmer who yesterday was the first point of defence against a terrorist attack on Westminster, and bravely rose to the challenge.

One of the other victims has been identified in the press as a young woman who was born in Spain but saw her future as a wife and mother in England. Another has yet to be named. The fourth fatality was of course the attacker.

Our thoughts must be with all concerned. I also felt for the visiting Breton children caught up in the attack, and their parents. The Guardian had the details:

The three injured French students were part of a group of teenagers visiting London from the Saint-Joseph de Concarneau lycée (secondary school) in Brittany and were halfway through a week-long visit to London. There were four classes on the trip – about 96 pupils, all aged 15 and 16. About a dozen pupils were believed to have been walking on the bridge when the speeding car ploughed towards them.

The injured teenagers were taken to hospital where doctors were reported to be trying to save the life of one of them late on Wednesday. The condition of a second teenager was said to be “critical”. There was no information on the third student’s injuries.

The local French newspaper Le Télégramme reported that one student ended up on the car bonnet, according to other pupils. They had arrived in London on Sunday evening. The newspaper said the headteacher, Xavier Rebillard, had spoken to parents who had gathered at the school to wait for news.

We must wait for the report of the official investigation into yesterday's tragedy, of course, but surely the immediate calls from all sides not to overreact are correct.

Wednesday, 22 March 2017

Blind Veterans and technology

Blind Veterans (see sidebar) have started a supporter newsletter named "Debrief". I was particularly interested in the article in the first issue dealing with technological assistance. At the charity's Brighton centre, in addition to other assessments, IT instructors

help assess veterans' needs and run various workshops and training sessions to help meet them. They start by asking blind ex-service men and women about their lifestyles, what they do and what they want to do, how they communicate and who they want to communicate with.

For those with some residual sight, there is software to make tablet computers usable. For these and others there is also the Amazon Echo Dot and its incorporated voice-driven assistant, Alexa. Such devices enable blind veterans to lead fulfilled lives, and for those still of working age, productive ones.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Councillors should take the bus once in a while

After scrapping one of the best train/bus interchanges in the country, Cardiff City Council still does not have funding in place for its planned replacement bus station. Describing the situation as "outrageous", Liberal Democrat council group leader Elizabeth Clark said she feared Cardiff wouldn’t “have a proper bus station again”.

Meanwhile, Neath Port Talbot has been taking out bus shelters - even relatively new ones - and gradually replacing them. The new ones (presumably to be subsidised by advertising in illuminated panels) are airier and more attractive than the old blue jobs. Time will tell whether they are more vandal-resistant. The trouble is that the programme is too long drawn out. For instance, my regular stop for a week or more has had neither shelter nor bus stop sign. The new shelters still do not have printed timetables. The optimist in me anticipates a linked electronic indicator system such as the one which has been in operation in Cardiff for many years - there are already indicators in Neath's Victoria Gardens. The cynic fears that this is an attempt to push would-be passengers to the council's phone app. Everybody has a mobile these days, right?

In each case, the council clearly believes it is doing good and that the upgrades will be better than what went before. However, officials should make sure that the transition is as swift and as painless as physically possible. The Cardiff example is egregious, but passengers in Neath are suffering a period of inconvenience and there is no intimation as to when it will end. If councillors had to rely on public transport as their young, old and physically handicapped citizens have to, perhaps these people - and those of us who believe that public transport is the "green" future - will receive more consideration.


One of those widely-celebrated festivals I had never heard of, I was alerted to Noruz (or Nowruz) by, of all things, a point of order raised in the House of Commons on the first of this month. Marking the start of the Zoroastrian new year, dedicated to fire, and also having been adopted by the founder of the Bahá'í faith as the start of their new year, it is one of the great survivors of the Islamic takeover of Persia/Iran.

[Later] The festival is being used to demonstrate against the unjust detention of three women, including that of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, imprisoned in Iran since April 2016. Mrs Ratcliffe has UK as well as Iranian citizenship.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Wet blanket time

I don't wish to disparage Ms Lynn's great - and occasionally brave - war effort, but she was not the only "forces' sweetheart"*. Anne Shelton and Gracie Fields also did their bit.

The great "British" flag-waver "The White Cliffs of Dover" originated in America from a poem by Alice Duer Miller and cribbing from Harold Arlen and Yip Harburg's "Over the Rainbow" by jobbing song-writers Nat Burton and Walter Kent when the US authorities wanted a song to encourage reluctant Americans to support Britain against Hitler - and months later to  boost the morale of a nation which was dragged into war by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

*actually, my ex-ATS mother used to refer to her as "adenoidy Vera".

[updated 2017-03-21]

Liberal Democrats stick to multi-lateral policy

Caron Lindsay sums up the nuclear weapons debate at the Liberal Democrat conference here. I was saddened by the large majority by which the abolitionist amendment was defeated, but at least my conscience is assuaged. A chest infection prevented my attendance in York, but as it turned out my one vote would have been irrelevant.

It seems to me that insufficient weight was given to the economic argument. As I wrote around the time of the 2015 debate:
The nuclear deterrent may have been just that in an earlier age but it is not one now and the cost of Trident replacement - conservatively, £15bn for the hardware, and £2bn annual running costs - could be better diverted into more relevant areas of defence.

The costs have gone up, but another serious argument has arisen as a result of the US presidential election. Who would have thought even two years ago that we could be prevented, by means of its built-in technological lock, from deploying Trident against the only major power likely to threaten us militarily, namely Putin's Russia? Yet the White House is now occupied by one who is friendly to authoritarian Russia and antagonistic towards the democratic Germany. If Putin decided to follow in the footsteps of Catherine the Great and extend the Russian empire westwards, would the US president enable Trident so that we could threaten nuclear retaliation, or would our fleet have to float impotently while we attempted to stem the progress of the Red Army with our conventional forces?

It is more likely (though still a remote possibility, thank goodness) that we will be dragged into a war in the far east, and be expected to deploy Trident on behalf of the United States and Japan against China, the nation the current UK government is depending on to fund so many of our technological developments. Just the threat of such an alignment would surely persuade Beijing to pull out.

It will be argued that Trump is a temporary aberration. But he is going to be there for nearly another four years, and who is to say he will not renew his mandate in 2020? The established parties in the United States seem to be eroding, increasing the chance of mavericks with good PR and money succeeding to the presidency in future.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Netherlands not a pointer to France

It seems to me that Liberal International is optimistic when it proclaimed in the warmth of the Dutch results:
The election, which saw the highest turnout of Dutch voters in 30 years amid earlier concerns that the far-right party of Geert Wilders would emerge with the most seats, is seen as a bellwether for the French elections later this year.

 France sticks to a first-past-the-post system (though with a run-off election) of voting which favours the leading parties. Nor does she have an explicitly liberal party. These are major differences with the Netherlands. So it is almost inevitable that Marine le Pen of the National Front will be one of the two candidates for president in the final vote on 7th May. The signs of a racist campaign are already evident - and that was from the conservative, not the fascist, camp.

The prospects in Germany which also has a proportional system and now a resurgent liberal party are much better. It would be great if the increasingly racist AfD were to be stopped in its tracks next September - but a lot can happen between then and now.

Friday, 17 March 2017

St Patrick and Banwen

This is what the contributor to ODNB has to say:

Patricius, or Patrick, was born in the late fourth or first half of the fifth century in Roman Britain, that is, south of Hadrian's Wall. His father, Calpornius, was a deacon; his grandfather, Potitus, a priest. His mother may have been called Concessa. Patrick's family were of free birth and belonged to the local gentry. In addition to (or perhaps before) being a deacon, his father was a decurion, that is, a member of a 'city' council. Calpornius lived at the vicus ('small town') 'Bannauem Taburniae' (or 'Bannauem Taberniae'), owning a nearby country estate (villula) run by slaves, which was where Patrick was captured by Irish pirates (see below). Emendation to 'Bannaventa Berniae' produces a plausible place name, but it still cannot be securely identified: Bannaventa near Daventry is too far from the coast for Irish raids; the Banna on Hadrian's Wall, now identified with Birdoswald, is on a military frontier with no appropriate villa sites nearby. The villa could well have been in south-west Britain, or perhaps somewhere not too far from the coast between Chester and the Solway Firth; Wales is unlikely.

People round here would object to that off-hand dismissal, with no reasons given for it. The Irish influence in this region after the Romans left was strong. I still believe that Banwen has as good a claim as any place to be Patrick's original home. It will be objected that no villa has been found in the Dulais valley. I would counter that there has been no serious digging there, which is not exactly a trendy area for archaeology.

Anyway, whether Patrick was from England or Wales, he was still an immigrant to Ireland, which gave current Taoiseach Enda Kenny an opportunity to lecture Donald Trump on the subject.

The godfather of descriptive maps

I had assumed that infographics and before them the visualisation of data on maps were twentieth-century developments.  To be sure, there has been an explosion in such things as cheap computing power has made them more accessible and reproducible, but it seems the pioneer was one Charles Joseph Minard in the nineteenth century. Only a couple of his significant works are reproduced in this article by Betty Mason, but there are more in a pdf by Michael Friendly of York University.

It seems that we have a blind spot when it comes to French innovation.

Not enough judges

This week's Law in Action on Radio 4, which included an interview with the Recorder of Cardiff, was worrying.

Joshua Rozenberg presents the specialist legal magazine programme. This week he looks at why there's such a shortage of Judges The Judiciary is still reeling from last year's "Enemies of the People" headline. Low morale is rife and many Judges are fed up with the job. Vacancies for senior Judges and circuit Judges are now at an all-time high. What can be done to address this situation? The programme includes interviews with three senior Judges.

Those in authority made clear that the shortfall would not be met by lowering standards. However, there will have to be more recourse to "part-time" judges which, while proving acceptable so far, must raise some concern.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

Prima facie electoral malfeasance

Just what the Conservatives - and the allegations go right into Downing Street - did wrong in at least twelve electoral districts in 2015 is summed up by Mark Pack's posting. This makes it clear that the £70,000 fine imposed by the Electoral Commission is not the end of the matter. The EC does not have powers of prosecution, so it passed documentation of the linked criminal issues to the Metropolitan Police. Other police forces have passed papers to the Crown Prosecution Service.

Before those of us worried that Nigel Farage may get into the House by the back door, and before UKIP start cheering, it should be pointed out that queries were raised about the UKIP expenses in South Thanet at about the same time as those of the Conservatives. This investigation has not gone away.

Channel 4 News topped its news bulletin tonight laying out unequivocally what the Conservatives have done and what the effect of such breaches of the law has on our democracy. There was also a plea from the Electoral Commission for more powers of investigation and of enforcement. The maximum individual fine the EC may impose is £20,000 which is nothing to a political party with deep pockets.

In contrast, the BBC, finally having to catch up with Channel 4 in view of the official report, played down the news. They hardly questioned the official Conservative line that the offences were down to poor administration and that the party had cooperated with the Commission - both assertions that Jon Snow and Michael Crick were able to refute [sic] on Channel 4 less than an hour later.

updated 2017-03-16 19:25

Netherlands Liberals and Greens make gains

The English media were talking up the prospects of Geert Wilders' racist PVV party in yesterday's Netherlands general election. In the event, PVV made some gains but far from the quarter of the seats expected by the BBC. The initiative remains with VVD ("economic liberals") to form a government. The Labour vote crashed, but the Green Left advanced. Both these outcomes were remarked on by the BBC, who were typically silent about D66 (the nearest equivalent to UK Liberal Democrats) recovering ground lost at the last election.