Thursday, 13 December 2018

MPs have funked cannabis decision yet again

In a fairly full House of Commons (it was a day of many Brexit-related events), Norman Lamb's Ten-Minute Rule Bill  which aimed to legalise and regulate cannabis use was defeated in a vote in which fewer than 150 members participated. One suspects that a majority sympathised with the aims of the Bill, but dared not put their heads above the parapet.

The main argument against the proposition seemed to be that cannabis is a "gateway" drug. Much the same thing can be said about tobacco. The active ingredients of cannabis are surely less physically addictive than nicotine. Inhaling any combustion products of leaves cannot be good for the lungs, but why is smoking tobacco legal but not cannabis? If you ban one on health grounds, you should logically ban the other.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

We must have more time

The pound sterling has fallen around 3% in value in the last week. Mrs May's public determination that she will hang on has arrested a further plunge in the markets, but there is no sign of a recovery. The time has come for MPs to put aside tribal loyalties and unite to put in power a cross-party government which will restore international faith in the economy and the institutions of the United Kingdom. This government would comprise pragmatic politicians, not ideologues - or those motivated solely by self-interest. The first action must be to amend the Withdrawal Act so that the impractical leaving deadline of 29th March can be put forward by at least a year and agreement to the extension sought with the EU27, who will surely agree.

This will give time for the DUP and those on the Conservative benches who believe that there is an IT alternative to a hard border in Ireland to demonstrate its practicality. I am prepared to believe that the appropriate hardware exists, but what about the software? I do not know of any place in the world where a physical border has been totally replaced by technology. And the Irish border is more complicated than any in the rest of Europe.

If this technological solution is shown to be the mirage that I believe it to be, then the only statesmanlike decision must be to withdraw the Article 50 letter.

Putting the anti-Brexit case better than I

I quote from the comment by "staberinde" on Chris Dillow's blog:

UK voters send MEPs to the European Parliament, and may choose who represents them. The elected UK government sends ministers to the Council of Ministers, where they may exercise a national veto on anything they don't like. For anything requiring QMV, we are one of four member states with more votes than anyone else.
The EU rules we are subject to are those freely agreed to in negotiation for things we valued - and the mechanisms which hold us to those agreements are the same as those which apply to our counterparties.
The European Commission has a mandate set out in the Treaty of Rome, to which we were free signatories, to offer suggestions which pursue an ever-closer Union. These are subject to votes by the Council of Ministers.
There is no terrible democratic deficit in the EU. There is a far greater democratic deficit in the UK, with its archaic and unfair voting system, unelected second chamber and lack of an English parliament.
The golden age of power and prosperity conjured by Brexiters is that of Empire. Unless you plan on invading vast swathes of the world, you will not secure the unfair control and access to resources which made Britain so rich and influential more than a century ago. Let it go.
To imagine that any of the bigger economies will give the UK a better deal than the EU is delusional. Our market is marginal to them, while theirs are critical or game-changing to ours. That's a terribly weak negotiating position. And if we can't even get the deal we want out of the EU, what makes us think we'd fare better against Trump and China?
I'd have far more time for the 'take control of our borders' aspect if the UK government had actually attempted to do so. If controlling immigration numbers was so important, why did successive governments refuse to make significant hires to the Passport Service, IND and Borders Agency?

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Shorting the pound

During today's emergency debate on the Meaningful Vote, the full scale of a government deception was laid out. In spite of the fact that the media had sussed out as early as last Friday that the prime minister intended to prevent a vote on her deal, a succession of ministers and other spokespeople were sent out to broadcasting studios to maintain that today's vote would go ahead as scheduled. This exercise, which persisted through to Monday morning, must have postponed the plunge in the value of sterling which occurred when the prime minister got up to speak yesterday afternoon. The scenario of persons close to government making money from shorting the pound is all too credible. I trust that the authorities are already looking into suspicious movements on the money markets.

Monday, 10 December 2018

An angry democrat writes

The fact that I have been building up day-by-day a schedule of how we got here, a post that will now have to be scrapped or at best postponed, is annoying but not the most serious of my concerns. Mrs May scuttling out of a meaningful vote on her deal with the EU27, simply to save her face and that of the Conservative time-servers who have clung to her in the cabinet, is an affront to democracy. Hundreds of MPs last week sat through hours of passionate and informed argument about our future relationship with the EU - and that was on top of two sessions on the nature of legal advice to the PM over her deal. Over one hundred speeches - many of high quality, showing hours of preparation - were delivered, not to mention several telling interventions.

All that is to be virtually thrown away. That time wasted could have been spent usefully on examining the difficulties facing the country: homelessness, police and local authorities being starved of funds, the troubles of the retail sector, the plight of the working poor and the legal aid desert come to mind. As the chairman of the Backbench Business Committee said last Thursday:

by next Thursday it will have been eight weeks since we had any Backbench Business in the House, and I am pretty sure that when the Committee was established, the Standing Orders were written with the intention that the 27 days of parliamentary time would be over a one-year Session, not over two years. I remain disappointed that we are not getting any additional time, or notification of additional time

We have been told that the aim of Mrs May and her Brexiteers is to regain parliamentary sovereignty. Her true aim is clearly to strengthen the grip of the administration over parliament.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Prince of Wales makes nostalgic steam trip - but for how much longer?

The heir to the throne made a visit to the principality last Friday by means of the royal train, hauled by steam locomotive Clan Line. One wonders how much longer HRH will be able to indulge this piece of nostalgia. As Chris Austin ("What is the future for black gold?") writes in December's railwatch:

Coal supplies are a downstream product from the electricity supply industry and railways use the large lumps mined, whereas power stations typically require small coal and dust as their furnaces are fed by conveyor belt.

With Government plans to phase out power stations by 2024, future supplies for heritage railways are uncertain [...] The remaining British coal mines would not be able to sustain production just for the heritage sector. Railways such as the West Somerset are proud to burn coal from the Ffos y Fran opencast site near Merthy Tydfil, which is ideal, as the Great Western fireboxes were designed to burn Welsh coal. But this supply depends on the coal continuing to be needed for Aberthaw power station.

The recent Welsh government decision to block planning permission for new coal mines apart from "exceptional circumstances" is another obstacle to the supply of low-sulphur coal which steam locomotives require and which Wales is best placed to provide.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Post Office trial: Treasury may win even if the Post Office loses

Nick Wallis posts in his latest report that:

A possible unexpected side effect of the Post Office's hardball position on the contract is the warning signals it sends out to existing Subpostmasters. If, contractually, you and your business and your entire family's livelihood are at the whim of a computer system you have no control over, you're f***ed.

Having seen the performances of the procession of employees called to the witness box on behalf of the Post Office there is no way I would let them near my business in a million years. Yet they are authorised to take life-changing decisions with no implications for them, even if they get those decisions catastrophically wrong.

I said in a previous piece: if you are a Subpostmaster and you read the factual information that now exists on the record about the NFSP [National Federation of SubPostmasters] and you still believe they are looking out for your interests, you are [a] fool (they unfortunately refused to advance a counter argument to that, but I am all ears if there is one).

The more this message gets out, the more will wavering potential sub-postmasters be deterred and existing sub-postmasters be encouraged to retire early. The result will be more Post Office closures which has been the Treasury's unwavering aim since the days of John Major through New Labour to the present administration, deflected only briefly by Vince Cable and Ed Davey in the coalition period.