Monday, 4 July 2022

Local schools in Neath Port Talbot may gain a reprieve

There is an early sign that the coalition is putting clear (or should that be "rainbow"?) water between themselves and the Labour junto they replaced last month. The first NPT News issued by the coalition announces that it:

wishes to review the decision taken in respect of school reorganisation in the Swansea Valley. It seeks to establish if alternative ways to bring 21st Century School standards to the Swansea Valley can be achieved which would be more acceptable to the community.

If this means that the excessive centralisation, which led to good, popular, local schools being closed, can be stopped or even reversed, then it is very welcome. If the coalition looks at the carbon footprint of the reorganisation, then it is doubly welcome.

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Senedd bloat

 On today's Sunday Supplement, Huw Irranca-Davies did not claim, as some summaries have done, that the Labour/Plaid Cymru plans for the future of Welsh government would improve the quality of Senedd members. He did say that it was not a case of "jobs for the boys". But logical analysis surely shows that increasing the number of Members of the Senedd by over fifty per cent and drawing those members from closed party lists is the recipe for filling the Welsh parliament with party hacks. Indeed, I remember when Labour used to denigrate the then Members of the Welsh Assembly (AMs) who  emerged from top-up regional lists because they had not been directly elected in a constituency.

It was also naughty of him to claim total "liberal" support for the Labour scheme because Liberal Democrats have consistently argued for an increase in the number of elected eyeballs to scrutinise legislation. As far as I know, the party has not had a chance to debate these particular proposals. I am not saying that all Welsh Lib Dems are against them, but informal soundings suggest that opinion in the party is divided and they need to be put to the test at the Welsh AGM. Labour has had the opportunity to have a conference to debate them (the inspiration for the Irranca-Davies interview this morning). We should to, before our leader commits herself further.

Saturday, 2 July 2022

Qatar hypocrisy

 Homosexuality is illegal in Qatar. However, the authorities in Doha have promised that LGBTQ fans will be perfectly safe in the state, a former British protectorate. It is not the only example of Qatar's two faces. It is a hereditary monarchy in which all the civil power is held by the ruling family, yet it hosts a liberal broadcasting organisation with world coverage in Aljazeera. The organisers of the World Cup boast of fair working conditions for the men who built the stadiums, yet rights have not improved for those involved in construction otherwise.

 It is quite understandable that out fans do not take the moratorium on homosexuality on trust and are reluctant to follow their teams in the World Cup finals in person. Sadly, this is not going to change the law in Qatar. 

Friday, 1 July 2022

Arbuthnot's 18th century treatise on lying

 Thanks to Melvyn Bragg and guests for putting me on to this work by the Scottish doctor, mathematician and satirist, Dr John Arbuthnot. Set aside the flowery language, the classical references and the fact that Arbuthnot was a Tory opposed to the Whigs, and much of his prospectus stands up today. It is hard to know whether he was being sarcastic or serious when he suggested that lying was necessary in politics and financial affairs, but there are clearly many people in high places today who believe both. There is less doubt when he goes on to say:

The Seventh Chapter is wholly taken up in an Enquiry, Which of the two Parties are the greatest Artists in Political Lying. [The author] owns the Tories have been better believed of late; but, that the Whigs have much the greater Genius's amongst them. He attri­butes the late ill Success of the Whig-Party to their glutting the Market, and retailing too much of a bad Commodity at once: When there is too great a Quantity of Worms, it is hard to catch Gudgeons. He proposes a Scheme for the Recovery of the Credit of the Whig-Party, which indeed seems to be somewhat Chimerical, and does not savour of that sound Judgment the Author has shown in the rest of the Work It amounts to this, That the Party should agree to vent nothing but Truth for three Months together, which will give them Cre­dit for six Months Lying afterwards. He owns, that he believes it almost impossible to find fit Persons to execute this Scheme. Towards the end of the Chapter, he in­veighs severely against the Folly of Parties, in retaining such Scoundrels and Men of Low Genius's to retail their Lyes; such as most of the present News-Writers are, who besides a strong Bent and Inclination towards the Profession, seem to be wholly ignorant in the Rules of Pseudology, and not at all qualified for so weighty a Trust.

Thursday, 30 June 2022


 Time was, my heart was in my mouth every time a British woman was forced to play two or more shots in a game, waiting for the inevitable unforced error. Find a winner, finish the point off quickly, I said mentally. Katie Boulter has broken the mould. First at Eastbourne and now gloriously on Centre Court she has succeeded in out-rallying foreign players. Harmony Tan, who harried the great Serena Williams to defeat, will be a tough opponent, but I look forward to an exciting match.

Wednesday, 29 June 2022

The Scots are owed a further referendum ...

 . . . but they should still vote "no".

One suspects that the reason for Nicola Sturgeon's declaration today has as much to do with keeping the SNP in power in Holyrood and protecting her MPs as a genuine belief in the viability of an independent Scotland. However, the ground has shifted since the first independence referendum of 2014. That was conducted on the basis that the UK would remain in the EU. Indeed, a major argument - something that English unionists conveniently forget in the current debate - was that Scotland would be excluded from the EU if she became independent. The legal advice from EU bodies was that an independent Scotland would not be allowed to "inherit" membership but would have to apply to join. Spain for one, wary of encouraging splits from her own provinces, gave a clear indication that she would veto Scottish membership. Scotland clearly benefited more than England from EU membership and recognised the fact, as was shown in the later Brexit referendum, so it is a fair assumption that the danger of EU exclusion swung the 2014 vote against independence. For a long time, opinion soundings had shown that the decision was on a knife-edge, before the EU issue gained prominence.

Scottish voters were not to know that Tory machinations were already under way to achieve Brexit. So a second referendum where the ground rules are known is surely just. However, unless there is a clear indication from the EU that a Scottish application would be welcome, I suggest that Scots had better work with the devil that they know instead of the deep blue sea that they do not. The Scottish economy is in deficit and even if it could once rely on oil production to support it - which was debatable even at the time that independence was first mooted - it cannot now. The UK as a whole, member of the G7, is trusted to borrow at prevailing rates. Scotland almost certainly will not. EU contributor nations like France and Germany will not be happy to accept another debtor nation and one can expect Spain's resistance to continue. 

Monday, 27 June 2022

Heart-warming news from Iraq

 It does not compensate for the continuing break-downs in utility supply or the sporadic religion-inspired terror attacks, but at least the street scene in Iraq is becoming brighter and more inspirational. The mayor has clearly taken the hint from the unofficial graffiti relieving the concrete structures in the capital city by commissioning art works from Wijdan al-Majed, a 49-year-old artist and instructor at the Baghdad College of Fine Arts. She has taken inspiration not only from local heroes but also such influencers as Max Weber, the German sociologist. But you do not need to know who all the subjects of the murals are in order to enjoy the vibrant colours.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

International anti-drug abuse day


In 1987, the United Nations General Assembly decided that every year 26 June should mark International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking. The idea was to demonstrate its commitment to the fight against drug abuse, illicit production and trafficking, and their nefarious effects on individuals and on society as whole. The illicit drug market generates huge profits for organised crime, and is estimated to be the source of approximately one fifth of global crime proceeds. [From this EU briefing.]

Repressive measures, which the current UK government is wedded to, have been ineffective. The time has surely come to follow the lead of more progressive nations.