Monday, 19 April 2021

Gun ownership: battle for the hearts and minds of the English-speaking world

 This documentary is two years old (al-Jazeera should really be more open on the face of its films as to when they were originally released) but it seems that the issue is still live. It shows how the bigoted, racist One Nation party in Australia wants to reverse that country's strict gun control laws instituted in the wake of the mass shooting at Port Arthur, and is happy to solicit covert help from the USA's powerful gun lobbyists, the NRA. Complementarily, it also shows how concerned the NRA is that the successful action taken by Australia and New Zealand, who used the Australian law as a templete, could resonate with the voters in America. There is hidden-camera footage of NRA activists demonstrating how to discredit the gun control movement and its adherents using social media, shamelessly lying in the process.

Two thoughts occur: though One Nation's Pauline Hansen is an extremely effective politician, One Nation is still in a minority in the Senate. The PR electoral system allows such minority views to gain public expression while showing how small a minority they represent.

Secondly, if Australia and New Zealand can hold the ring, then the pressure for a more civilised gun regime in the US will increase. On the other hand, if there is a retreat down under, our home nations could be next in the line of NRA's fire.

Sunday, 18 April 2021

Comedy horror

Having replayed last week's Film Programme, I wonder if there might be a comic slant on the situation the film crew find themselves in. They have been shooting The Power in a superannuated hospital of the type which used to be known as a lunatic asylum. This has been on the brink of being disposed of for some time but remains in constant demand as a TV and film location. Some of the people who spoke to Antonia Quirke for the programme claim to have heard the sound of children crying on one of the deserted corridors. 

What if the ghostly inhabitants of such a building wanted to protect it from an evil property developer and therefore tried to scare off said developer while at the same time contrived to prolong the stay of the last film crew using the premises? Their motivation would not be revealed until the final reel, of course.

Saturday, 17 April 2021

Peter Ustinov

 Yesterday was the centenary of one of the most remarkable men of stage and screen of the twentieth century. There is a biography on the Internet Movie Database which neatly summarises his remarkable background and his varied achievements. He was probably at his best as a raconteur. BBC4 was wise to show his performances on Parkinson on Thursday, but their choice of film showing him as an actor (Topkapi) was not so worthy of his talents. I would like to have seen a revival of Private Angelo, which was something of a hit for him in its time. He not only took the title part but also wrote the dramatisation for the screen of Eric Linklater's book. 

It is surprising that the adaptations outnumber his own work. Probably his best original writing is in  Romanoff and Juliet a superficially light-hearted romantic comedy set against the background of the Cold War but which has some sharp points to make about the futility of the stituation. Typically, it started as a stage play in which Ustinov himself had written a key part for himself, one which he carried forward into the screen version. It is good to see that it is in Talking Pictures TV repertoire of classic films.

He also wrote Beethoven's Tenth (with himself as Ludwig, of course) premised on the return to life of the composer in the twentieth century. Clearly thought too highbrow for the English-speaking market, there was a French TV version which surprisingly did not cast the multilingual Ustinov.

Finally, radio listeners of a certain age remember with affection In All Directions, written, acted and improvised in partnership with Peter Jones.

Friday, 16 April 2021

EU'a recovery fund may be too little, too late

 Euronews briefing earlier this week reported that the €750 billion recovery fund that EU leaders agreed last July is still on stand-by

Despite the new rise in infections, the re-imposition of restrictions and the closing down (again) of businesses, the much-awaited package, also known as Next Generation EU, is paralysed. In fact, the cash doesn’t even exist. At least, not yet.

The European Commission is still waiting for the ratification of the Own Resources Decision, the legal instrument that would allow the executive to borrow the money on the financial markets and then distribute it in the form of grants and loans. As of today, only 17 out of 27 member states have ratified the bill, with approval from every country needed for the process to continue.

As we told you last month, the German Constitutional Court delayed the country’s signature and is now examining an emergency appeal that argues the Own Resources Decision breaches EU law. It’s still not clear when and how the Court will respond, but the decision has already cast an ominous shadow over the whole process.

"It was German Chancellor Merkel, together with President Macron, who very much pushed exactly for this financial facility (that) we have created on the basis of Article 122 in the Lisbon Treaty," Johannes Hahn, the EU Budget Commissioner told Euronews this week.

"It's important that they (the German court) lift their reservation. And I'm also confident that this will be done in due time so that we are indeed not losing any time."

The Commission is also waiting for the recovery and resilience plans that each EU country has to submit before April 30. These plans must lay out the reforms and public investment projects that will be financed by the billions of euros from Next Generation EU, and they have to be approved by both the Commission and the Council.

But these programmes are also proving to be controversial and divisive. In Poland, the ruling coalition is split on how the money should be spent and repaid. Even the pro-European opposition parties are threatening to vote down the plan because they fear the current right-wing government will not use the cash in a fair and transparent manner.

Brussels is feeling the pressure. Southern countries are increasingly impatient and investors are becoming concerned over the lack of action. To make matters more awkward, the US Congress managed to pass a colossal $1.9 trillion relief bill in a matter of weeks, a fact that only served to underline the EU’s tardiness. The International Monetary Fund has welcomed the Biden-led initiative with open arms: the forecast for the US economy has been upgraded to an impressive 6% in 2021.

The Commission hopes that the recent developments will turn out to be just temporary hiccups and the eagerly anticipated cash will arrive in summer. The team of President von der Leyen deliberately designed Next Generation EU to advance the twin goals of making the bloc more sustainable and digital. Around 30% of the bonds (equal to €250 billion) will be green bonds, making the EU the largest issuer of this kind of debt security.

"At the end of the day, we will only be successful if each and every member state is contributing to this reform agenda because it's about the recovery of the single market and the single market is only as successful as every part of the single market is," Hahn told us.

The clock is ticking and the pandemic rages on. And the recovery fund still has a long path ahead.

The EU is a great and necessary institution, which the UK was ill-advised to leave, but it does not respond well to emergencies. Such things as response to epidemics are best left to individual nations. In the long run, the measures taken by China and the US will lift the global economy, including European nations and the proposed recovery fund, if it is ever ratified, will prove to be irrelevant for all but the very weakest economies in the EU.

Thursday, 15 April 2021

Key dates

A reminder from our friend Anthony Tuffin of Real Democracy

The critical dates for voting in next month’s elections are:


  • You must be registered to vote by midnight on Monday 19 April (next Monday).
  • The deadline to apply for a postal vote for the elections in England and Wales on 6 May is 5pm on Tuesday 20 April (next Tuesday)..  The deadline for Scotland has passed.


To apply for a postal vote, go to where you can find a link to an application form. Download it, complete it and send it to the Electoral Registration Officer. [at the Civic Centre in Port Talbot]

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

More from the foothills

 The Chris Mullin of 1999 to 2002 was prescient about policies (he early caught wind of Tony Blair's eagerness to fall in behind GW Bush in the plan to invade Iraq and condemned it, and also predicted a disastrous outcome for New Labour's embracing of PFI) but not so good at assessing people. Here he is about someone he saw as a fresh young libertarian:

More than once, when we reached an impasse [on a select committee on drugs], David Cameron came to the rescue. The more I see of him, the more I like. He's bright, personable and refreshingly open-minded.

In the light of Greensill, what does Mullin think of him now?

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

River pollution

 I missed the Panorama programme on this subject yesterday (BBC Wales shunted it to a late night slot). However, it is clear that the negligence of water companies in England in allowing the frequent overflow of raw sewage into watercourses is greater than that of Dwr Cymru, which at least has no shareholders to answer to. Presumably there were no complaints from Scotland where water and sewerage are predominantly still under public control.

 One trusts that the Westminster government's laissez-faire attitude to the water companies who are a crucial factor in English public health will be rigorusly questioned in the House this week.

Monday, 12 April 2021

What has gone wrong with nursing?

 Has anything changed for the better since this special report by Christina Patterson for the Independent starting 12th April 2012?