Monday, 21 May 2018

A very Russell T Davies scandal

Swansea's own Russell T Davies has done gaily for the Thorpe scandal what Cardiff's Andrew Davies did heterosexually for Jane Austen. Russell T was interviewed for the Sunday Supplement*, when
he confessed to playing up the Welsh connections - which are nevertheless fascinating. He also said that he had given a preview of the whole three-part series to Norman Scott who had pronounced himself satisfied with the result. Only later did the Daily Mail publish a piece in which Scott was said to have complained about the way he was portrayed.

Personally, the only characterisation I did find convincing was Ben Whishaw's Norman Scott. Hugh Grant was just Hugh Grant with a deeper voice than usual and surely Leo Abse was higher-pitched and sounded slightly posher than  played him? As I recall Lord Arran he was more Benjamin Whitrow than . With so many actors and a writer having to rely on court transcripts, a novelisation and newsreel footage for their characterisation, it was good to read at least one recollection of one "who was there", Lord Thomas of Gresford.

I felt for the son of Thorpe and Caroline Allpass who, though he has managed to keep out of the public eye, must suffer every time there is a reminder of his mother's tragic death and the scandal which will ever be associated with the name of his father.

* The programme was also notable for an interview with Peter Tatchell on the illiberal "Section 28"  ("Clause 2B" in Scotland) introduced by Mrs Thatcher which ramped up discrimination and violence against homosexuals. In the course of this Vaughan Roderick matter-of-factly came out. There was also a telling contribution from Rodney Berman in the papers review.   

You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone

The European Parliament think tank has been issuing, in advance of next year's EP elections, a series of articles about the benefits to the ordinary voter of EU membership. A recent one caught my eye, bearing as it does on small farmers in Wales, a significant sector of the economy. A pdf explains Direct Payments to Farmers.

More than three quarters of farm holdings in the EU are small - below 10 ha - with the very large majority of those below 5 ha. In order to address the specific situation of these farms, member states can apply the small farmers scheme (SFS), a simplified direct payment scheme granting a one-off payment to farmers who choose to participate. The maximum level of the payment is decided at the national level, but in any case may not exceed €1,250. The small farmers scheme includes simplified administrative procedures, and participating farmers are exempt from greening and cross-compliance sanctions and controls. The scheme is applied in 15 EU countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Slovenia.

Note that the UK has chosen not to participate. It is quite happy to take the basic payments for greening, payments which are said to favour such people as the Duke of Westminster and Paul Dacre, Brexiteer editor of the Daily Mail, disproportionately. £1,000 may not be  a lot, but cutting administrative procedures was one of the reasons cited by Welsh farmers who voted Leave in 2016.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Names of the "royal wedding peers" have emerged

The Guardian has published the names of the peers whom Theresa May has appointed in the midst of the brouhaha about a certain love match in Windsor. The Liberal Democrats have already protested this apparent reverse spin and have wisely not taken up the single peerage which was on offer. These additional appointments push the Lords roster towards the 800 mark at a time when the Conservatives are still intent on reducing the elected membership in the Commons by fifty.

One name leaps out as that of a Brexit fanatic: Sir Peter Lilley. Of the other ex-MPs, Sir Edward Garnier was a declared Remainer, Sir Eric Pickles a Eurosceptic, Sir John Randall not known but as a supporter of David Cameron probably a Remainer, Sir Alan Haselhurst a Remainer and Sir Andrew Tyrie a Remainer. So Remainers just out-weigh Leavers; perhaps Mrs May was attempting to slip the appointments past the Brexiteers, who will no doubt have been absorbed by all things English royal family over the last few days. They would be consoled by a DUP appointment, that of William McCrea who has been criticised in the past for being soft on unionist paramilitaries.

The three Labour appointees repay service to the party but include one person accused of tolerating anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn.

The appointment of Sir Andrew should be welcomed. His was a rare voice of reason over financial matters on the Conservative benches and in my opinion retired too soon from the Commons. Perhaps he was persuaded to go, with the promise of a barony as a sweetener, by an administration whose budgets he frequently criticised from his position as chairman of the Treasury Select Committee.

Diana Barran, as recently retired CEO of SafeLives, which seeks to end domestic abuse, is another worthy appointment as is that of Catherine Meyer, the founder of Action Against Abduction. One notes that Sir John Randall is Vice-Chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation, so liberal causes are well represented.

The fact remains that the House of Lords is now far too large because the system of appointments has been misused by successive governments. It could all have been so different if the Lords Reform Bill had been allowed to proceed in 2012. It received overwhelming support at Second Reading, including a majority of Conservative MPs, and all that was needed was agreement to a programme motion to prevent the Bill being talked out by the reactionaries (on either side of the House!). However, the then leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband opposed this and would not discuss any alternative to Nick Clegg's proposed timetable. It is typical of Labour hypocrisy that they are now spreading the story that it was the Conservatives who blocked Lords reform.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Government maintains its iron control over MPs

Once again, the plight of the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill sponsored by Afzal Khan MP, which cannot be enacted because the government will not move the necessary money resolution, was highlighted at business questions. The shadow leader of the House made the point that Bills much lower down the pecking order had received their money resolutions while the Afzal Bill, only the ninth to be brought forward, was still stalled. The leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, insisted that the government looked at Bills on a case-by-case basis. They want to stall it until the final Boundary Commission report is published. However, the Boundary Commission had been instructed to work on the basis of a reduced House of 600 MPs, while the Afzal Bill would fix the number at 650.

The point was made in a debate on the matter last week, and reinforced by two Conservative MPs,  including the normally ultra Christopher Chope, that if the government did not like the Bill, it should have turned out to oppose it in democratic debate rather than resort to this underhand use of an arcane parliamentary mechanism.

This sort of thing is not raised on the doorsteps, but it points to the perpetual drive by government to take power to itself and therefore the need for parliament - even in the unlikely form of the House of Lords on occasions - to insist on its democratic rights.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

We should boycott Israel's Eurovision Song Show, says prominent Lib Dem

Paul Walter wrote in Liberal Democrat Voice of an enjoyable experience in Lisbon at the Eurovision Song Contest final. But he concluded:

This was a “bucket list” trip for me. A one-off. Any temptation to become an annual Eurovision camp follower was cut short with the prospect of a 2019 contest in Israel.
From a musical point of view, Israel deserved to win last Saturday. The scoring system is, nowadays, fairly balanced between national juries and the vote of viewers throughout the 42 participating countries. So, they won fair and square.
On Sunday I was resolved to resist any 2019 Eurovision trip to Israel. While I might one day tour Palestine, Israel and Jordan as a triplet itinerary, visiting specifically Israel for Eurovision would feel like condoning injustice.
Then came Monday’s events – described by the High commissioner of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, as “outrageous human rights violations”. In a further tweet, @UNHumanRights condemned “the appalling, deadly violence in #Gaza (on 14th May) during which 58 Palestinians were killed and almost 1,360 demonstrators were injured with live ammunition by Israeli security forces.” Yet another @UNHumanRights tweet said “The rules on the use of force under int’l law have been repeated many times but appear to be ignored again and again. It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured: women, children, press, first responders, bystanders, & at almost any point up to 700m from the fence.”
I was struck by the words of American Rabbi, Rabbi Latz who said:
I am a rabbi. I love Israel. I condemn without reservation the bloodshed in #Gaza. Not so hard. You can challenge the Israeli government’s policies without being anti-Semitic.
Audrey Bruner of Jewish Voice for Peace said:
As a Jew, I have a responsibility to speak out publicly when violence is committed in my name.
This is a horrifying day to be a Jew. We dishonor our ancestors who yearned to be free for generations when our freedom comes at the expense of another people. If we are to be free, the Palestinian people must be free as well. Those who deny their freedom deny ours as well.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb commented:
I am shaken to the core that Israeli military forces are continuing to shoot unarmed men, women & children engaged in nonviolent protest. We cannot be silent. The killing/maiming of Palestinians seeking their human rights must stop.
It’s a long way away, but I think it would be unconscionable for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to hold the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel, after the events of Monday.
If the EBU somehow do hold the contest in Israel (which would entail considerable security and arena capacity issues, apart from anything else) then the UK should boycott it. If we participate, it will be condoning the “outrageous human rights violations” on Monday.
OK, there is blame on both sides and the events should be properly investigated, but to go ahead with planning a cheery family event in Israel next May, and somehow pretend things are normal, would be ludicrous and unethical.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Dorothy Wadham née Petre

Today is the 400th anniversary of the death of the first woman to found an Oxbridge college. There is a slight personal connection in that my mother's father, a master at Monmouth School, graduated from Wadham as did the senior English master at Oldershaw Grammar when I was there.

Margot Kidder

The Canadian-born (what would US TV and film do without a ready supply of talent from across the border?) actress died last Sunday. It is sad to think that, if her bipolar disorder had been diagnosed earlier, she would have had a more rewarding career, apart from the rôle for which she has always been associated. She was the perfect Lois Lane, tough, independent-minded but feminine. The parts she had to accept after Superman in order to pay the rent were unworthy of her, including Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, of which she is quoted as saying:

A noble attempt at saying something about the nuclear proliferation on the planet through Superman. Unfortunately the script was just dreadful. I mean there's no two ways about it, that script was terrible. And there's that old saying in Hollywood - you can make a bad movie out of a good script, but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script. And I don't think it had a chance from the get-go.

At least she did manage to keep working in spite of a breakdown and a bad accident, and I cherish the memory of catching her in one of the many Mary Higgins Clark TV adaptations in which she played the secret other love of the heroine's late father. Typically, she was independent (an artist), feisty and with a wry sense of humour.

That was clearly what she was like away from the screen. According to her IMDB bio (which is worth reading in full), she made the great sacrifice of becoming a US citizen in order to vote against George W Bush because of his promotion of the Iraq invasion. It seems inevitable that she would support the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders.