Saturday, 19 October 2019

Eeyore - a pointless trivioid

Anu Garg featured one of my favourite characters from children's literature in last week's sequence of Words of the Day. In the loving radio adaptation of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories for the Children's Hour of my youth, Eeyore was played by the former stage actor and stalwart of the BBC Repertory Company, Carleton Hobbs. (Pooh was Norman Shelley, who had also stood in on occasions for Winston Churchill in war-time radio broadcasts - but that is another story.)

I recall that in a celebration of his career (possibly this one?), "Hobbo" revealed that he based his characterisation of Eeyore on the distinctive intonation of Sir Ben Greet, who he would have worked for in his youth. So, always assuming that the BBC has saved at least some of the Pooh recordings, there is a record of what one of the great actor-managers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras sounded like.

Friday, 18 October 2019

Rhos council election

Liberal Democrats on the up, led in Westminster by a charismatic young Scot, and Labour-dominated councils seen as out of touch with local residents. It was made for a Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate in Rhos and in 1999 I almost succeeded in the first Neath Port Talbot unitary election. In dreadful weather I managed to canvass about two-thirds of the ward and who knows? if I had got round Gellinudd as well, I might have garnered the 90-odd extra votes needed to win my first council seat.

History is partially repeating itself in 2019, but there are two key differences. Firstly, I no longer live in Alltwen (it may not have been in the ward, but it was at least next-door) and secondly, Plaid Cymru, who have taken over as challengers to Labour in Rhos, are potential allies in the fight to remain in the EU. So, tempting as it was to campaign in what should be more rewarding territory for us than in two previous by-elections, I deemed it, shall we say, diplomatic, not to stand this time. Local members felt the same way.

There may be more to say when the nominations are published next week.

Thursday, 17 October 2019

More from the EP front line

Reports from British Lib Dem MEPs on how they are making a difference continue to flow. In her latest, Judith Bunting describes the

round of Commissioner-Designate hearings, which provided us MEPs with a great opportunity to scrutinise what are essentially incoming European Ministers. I was able to attend more last week, including, Margrethe Vestager’s, whose proposed portfolio is “Europe fit for the digital age competition” and Frans Timmermans’, whose proposed portfolio is “European Green Deal Climate Action”. The hearings are a great help to highlight any issues, such as financial irregularities or potential conflicts of interest, incredibly democratic!

She adds:

As the only mainstream anti-Brexit party, it’s fallen to the Lib Dems to protect the relationship that the UK has with our European allies. Amongst the back-turning, the shouting, and the insults, never before has it been so important to treat our closest allies with the respect they deserve.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Lipstick on the pig

A conservative civil service and a Conservative government react to demands for change in one of two ways (sometimes both): introduce a new tax with an appropriate name, or set up a new ministry or quango surrounding it with a fog of PR presentation. Neither measure is designed to upset the status quo.

The proposed Office for Environmental Protection fits neatly into that scenario. Fossil fuel suppliers need not fear their future market. The truth is that ecological recovery will not come from a grand gesture at the top but from a series of local decisions. Received wisdom about "efficiency" and "rationalisation" needs to be queried. Every local school closure increases car use. (Wales has a more enlightened policy than England in this respect.) Every closure of a local hospital or clinic in favour of a central facility miles away may reduce the journey times of some specialists but increases the travel of nursing and other staff, not to mention patients and visitors. Cancellation of rail electrification schemes maintains our dependence on diesel and our exposure to particulates. One can list several other government departments and local authorities who have made similar regressive moves.

What we need is not more spin, but a general change of attitude throughout government, top to bottom.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

EU representatives show their democratic power

The Liberal Democrat European Group reports:

Sylvie Goulard, a former MEP and close ally of President Macron, was dramatically and overwhelmingly rejected by MEPs as the Commissioner-Designate for the Internal Market. Central to this decision were the allegations that she used a European Parliamentary Assistant for political work at the national level and criticisms about her topping up her MEP wages with a salary from a US-based think tank. After President Macron expressed his shock and disappointment at the vote, France is now expected to put forward a new candidate.

This decision has such significant consequences because it casts serious doubt as to whether incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen can take office on 1 November (the original plan), as the incoming Commissioners cannot take office unless they have all been approved by the Parliament. Moreover, the Renew Group (to which our Liberal Democrat MEPs belong to) was the only Parliamentary Group to support Goulard and this split between Renew and the other groups could spell trouble for this legislative term.

Bravo, EIB

Bankers and bean-counters generally have a reputation of  undue conservatism. So it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the European Investment Bank, in which the UK has a stake, proposes to end investment in fossil-fuel projects. The EIB has invested billions of euros in oil, gas and coal extraction over the years, and been criticised for it, but it appears that the current proposal is based not only on ethical considerations. The bank has to think long-term, as Deirdre Cooper of Investec pointed out on BBC TVs Business Briefing this morning. There is no point in sinking funds into a project over thirty years if it is likely to fail down the line.

Sadly, the politics of Germany and Poland, which depend on imports of natural gas as well as the extraction of coal, especially the filthy lignite, mean that those nations will oppose the move and appear to have persuaded the European Commission to take the same line. One trusts that the UK representative on the board, ignoring the personal financial interests of his political masters, will be more progressive - and hard-nosed.

Monday, 14 October 2019

Two elections

It appears that Poland has re-elected the PiS (Law and Justice) party with a higher majority on an increased turnout. The nation has enjoyed an increase in prosperity under PiS, though the party's anti-immigrant stance and authoritarian approach to justice may have helped. As against that, commentators have pointed out that the Polish upper house of parliament has a liberal majority.

The "Arab spring" in Tunisia continues to bear fruit. An unfettered presidential election has seen the favourite, media mogul Nabil Karoui, defeated by an older, greyer - in several senses - Kais Saied, who has benefited from the votes of the younger generation. Good luck to him in his aim of reducing corruption in Tunisia!