Friday, 17 January 2020

Televising his honour's sentencing remarks

The Secret Barrister lays out his objections to the Ministry of Justice's proposals. Most are those of an insider, things that a lay person would not have thought of, but I was gratified to see that he also echoes my first reaction to them:

We already see with regularity fully-explained sentencing remarks divorced from their context, misquoted or distorted by lazy reporters and special interest groups, and judges unfairly monstered as a consequence. The ability of anyone so inclined – from bad-faith editor to Twitter troll – to clip decontextualised video footage and circulate it virally to make a dishonest point about ‘soft sentencing’ or ‘loony judges’ is a modern reality.

It is the misuse of clips from parliamentary debate which reinforced my misgivings on this, but the SB makes a more subtle point and it is worth reading the whole piece when you have time to do so.

Back to basics

It is good to see that my party has not succumbed to the temptation to quetsch about Brexit in our response to the PM's programme as laid out in the Queen's Speech. We need to reassert our real reason for existence after a poor presidential-style election campaign, unsuited to the then leader.

Our constitution begins: "The Liberal Democrats exist to build and safeguard a fair, free and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and in which no one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity." Sadly, for the latter part of the coalition, our then leadership took its eye off the first of those enslavements and belated attempts by the rest of the parliamentary party to redress the balance were thwarted by the Tories. Our support for membership of the European Union flowed from those basic principles and from our internationalist outlook - something else we need to reassert in the face of a prime minister who is determined to pander to the ignorant flag-waving segment of his party.

Thursday, 16 January 2020

Cardiff congestion charge

We should give a grudging welcome to Cardiff City's plans to tackle road traffic congestion in the city centre while regretting that the programme was not started earlier. Pollution is only going to get worse during the four years before the charge is due to be brought in. It is a pity that earlier proposals to tackle air pollution specifically were dropped. I would like to see the council encouraging the take-up of electric vehicles by announcing in advance that non-polluting cars and vans will be exempt from the charge.

It would help if the Westminster government would revive the coalition's programme of electrifying the Great Western main line west of Cardiff. By this means, trains at Cardiff Central need not start their diesel engines when they are at their most polluting.

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Priorities

It seems that in business circles, the annual pronouncements of Larry Fink are awaited as eagerly as those of Warren Buffett. His company, BlackRock, does not have the best of reputations here, but as the world's largest asset manager, its chairman needs to be listened to. His 2020 view is that future investment needs to be aimed at those combating climate change.

It is regrettable therefore that leading Brexiteers like Nigel Farage and Mark François are expending their energies in planning events designed to do nothing more positive than rub the noses of the losing side in the Brexit election of December in their defeat. We should expect our elected representatives to concentrate their efforts on charting the UK's way forward in our exposed economic future.

Taking our cue from Mr Fink, what is being done to encourage investment in green technologies? The UK has a decent record of reducing dependency on fossil fuels compared with other G7 nations, but it has largely been on the basis of importing the products of the leading nations in this field, especially Denmark and Sweden. (These imports are going to be more costly after the 31st of December, unless we negotiate a fair trade deal with the EU.) Now that the once-off benefit of eliminating coal from our energy supply has been achieved, the spotlight shifts to road transport. Where is the British manufacturer prepared to follow Nissan in building a mass-market electric car in the UK? (Jaguar's i-Pace will be produced in Austria; the Welsh-built Aston Martin Rapide E is aimed at a niche market) How secure is Nissan's investment in Sunderland?

More importantly, where is the investment in battery technology? It seems there are no plans for any of the large players to produce high-capacity rechargeable batteries in the UK. And why is it in climate-change-denying Australia that the most promising battery development to date has occurred?

Government and industry need to direct more investment into green research and to building up the supply chain for servicing the green industries of the future. It will take time, but we must start now.

Tuesday, 14 January 2020

Flying dilemma

So the government has found a way of keeping Flybe aloft without cutting air passenger duty, which would be a regressive move in terms of its green policies. (Worryingly, though, ministers have promised to "review" the tax.) In finding ways of easing the airline's tax debt, the government could be said to be flouting the EU's state aid rules - and also Conservatives' own competitive instincts.

However, as comments by business flyers quoted in the BBC report indicate, the carrier is essential for certain classes of workers. Certainly, delays to and cancellation of large parts of the rail electrification programme which Liberal Democrats established while in coalition has thrown more travellers within Britain onto the roads and airways, but for journeys to other parts of these islands and to Scandinavia there is no practical alternative. Additionally, Flybe can point to the fact that the majority of its fleet consists of the relatively economical turboprop aircraft.

Monday, 13 January 2020

Fall in foreign industrial investment in UK

So far, I have found only the French version of EY's assessment of the appeal to foreign investors of the leading industrial nations of Europe (including Turkey).

La France reste étonnamment attractive et conserve la 1ère place européenne pour les sites de production d’entreprises à capitaux étrangers.

EY - La France confirme sa position de n°1 européen
  • En 2018, la France a vu se réaliser 339 projets de création et d’extension d’unités de production.
  • La perspective du Brexit fait chuter le Royaume-Uni de ce podium européen (-35%, 140 projets).
  • 70% des dirigeants d’entreprises étrangères sont confiants quant aux perspectives de l’industrie en France.
  • Néanmoins, les industriels restent « prudents » dans leurs investissements, avec une majorité d’extensions et des projets qui ne créent qu’une trentaine d’emplois en moyenne.
EY - La France confirme sa position de n°1 européen

My rusty French (I scraped an A level over a generation ago) suggests that this means UK was not at the top of this league in 2018 or even 2017 as various Leave supporters implied that we were. Indeed, we were not even in bronze medal position in 2018, because of a precipitate fall of 35% in the number of new investment projects, thanks to Brexit. I can only assume Guido Fawkes, Boris Johnson, Saved Javid et al. ranked financial speculators as investors to justify their claims.

Ernst & Young Global Limited (to give EY its full title) is based in London. One wonders whether the press office here will produce an English-language version.

Friday, 10 January 2020

A test for the American president

The earthquakes in Puerto Rico which began last Tuesday have not made the broadcast news headlines. We should be grateful to the online news department of the BBC for putting the reports on social media.

Puerto Rico is a US territory with no democratic representation in the States proper. The US administration has not noticeably contributed to relief for the island after last year's hurricane damage. Surely, after this latest blow, President Trump should loosen the federal purse strings to help a country in his own back yard for which his nation is responsible? He could direct the savings made by "bringing the boys home" to the reconstruction of Puerto Rico.

There is no sign of movement so far. This should be a warning for those of our politicians who see the future of England and Wales as a dependency of the US.