Friday, 27 February 2009

Portuguese Water Dogs

The White House's promised "first puppy" is to be of the Portuguese Water Dog breed, according to the BBC. (I am grateful to a dog breeder who contributed to "Good Evening, Wales" for the information that they got their name because they were used to swim between fishing-boats with messages in the days before mobile phones.)

Our friend Gary Lewis of Maesteg will no doubt confirm that they are more robust than the breeds which suffer grotesque genetic deformities, such as are listed here.

However, I worry that they may not be the complete answer to Malia Obama's allergy problem. Dog and cat saliva is a major allergen, as I found to my cost when young, staying with an aunt who kept poodles. This is another breed whose selling point is that it does not shed hair.

Freedom Bill

I am grateful to Jonathan Calder (Liberal England) for this posting:

Chris Huhne, the Lib Dem shadow home secretary, sets out the case for the bill in a Guardian article:
The Liberal Democrats are determined to resist the slow death by a thousand cuts of our hard-won British liberties. George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four was a warning, not a blueprint. Yet the Big Brother society that he satirised is growing before our eyes. Our forebears who fought so hard for the rights we have had stripped away would be shocked at what we've lost.
He also lists the 20 measures in the bill to "restore the fundamental rights that have been stripped away in recent years":
  • Scrap ID cards for everyone, including foreign nationals.
  • Ensure that there are no restrictions in the right to trial by jury for serious offences including fraud.
  • Restore the right to protest in Parliament Square, at the heart of our democracy.
  • Abolish the flawed control orders regime.
  • Renegotiate the unfair extradition treaty with the United States.
  • Restore the right to public assembly for more than two people.
  • Scrap the ContactPoint database of all children in Britain.
  • Strengthen freedom of information by giving greater powers to the information commissioner and reducing exemptions.
  • Stop criminalising trespass.
  • Restore the public interest defence for whistleblowers.
  • Prevent allegations of "bad character" from being used in court.
  • Restore the right to silence when accused in court.
  • Prevent bailiffs from using force.
  • Restrict the use of surveillance powers to the investigation of serious crimes and stop councils snooping.
  • Restore the principle of double jeopardy in UK law.
  • Remove innocent people from the DNA database.
  • Reduce the maximum period of pre-charge detention to 14 days.
  • Scrap the ministerial veto that allowed the government to block the release of cabinet minutes relating to the Iraq war.
  • Require explicit parental consent for biometric information to be taken from children.
  • Regulate CCTV following a Royal Commission on cameras.
This will not, I trust, remove CCTV cameras from our public areas, where they are popular in giving shoppers, parkers etc. reassurance. Rather, the regulations should govern who sits watching the screens and what use is made of the recorded "footage".

Monday, 23 February 2009

EU more socially democratic than New Labour

For some time, I have felt that the government should have revived Girobank, which operated through the Post Office network. As some of you may remember, Mrs Thatcher privatised the bank, selling it off to the Alliance & Leicester Building Society in a closed deal. Having absorbed the customers and their funds into its main mortgage base, A&L cut the post office connection and quietly merged Girobank with Sovereign Finance. The name finally disappeared in 2003. The success of the financial choices made by A&L and indeed the overall strategy initiated by the Conservatives, continued by New Labour, may be judged by the fact that A&L was taken over by Banco Santander of Spain last year.

To be fair to Labour, the new government accepted that there was a continuing need for a basic bank account, readily available to all. However, instead of building on existing expertise within the public sector (such as in National Savings & Investments), Blair and Brown maintained the Tory aversion to public enterprise. In 2001, they gave the contract to operate the Post Office Card Account (POCA) to Bank of Ireland. (This is now part of a Republic of Ireland bank rescue scheme.) Moreover, government support for both the POCA and post offices has dwindled and only the collapse of most of the deregulated high street banks has reprieved them.

Now, the European Commission has launched a public consultation on "Financial inclusion: Ensuring access to a basic bank account". Internal Market and Services Commissioner Charlie McCreevy is quoted as saying: "Evidence shows that today many Europeans are still not guaranteed access to a basic bank account, leading to a greater risk of economic and social exclusion and preventing them from enjoying the full benefits of the Internal Market. We are determined to explore ways to remedy this situation. This public consultation will allow the Commission to gather views and ideas on this issue in order to assess whether an EU policy response is needed."

GIRO originated in continental Europe, and the pioneers of the scheme in the UK envisaged close links between GIRO systems across Europe. Easy money transfer for small businesses and holiday-makers across national boundaries was one dream. Perhaps we are about to start realising this.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Andy Burnham

Peter Black has a piece about Labour in-fighting over the leadership after the party's inevitable decline at the next election, and the attempts at damage limitation.

It was fascinating to hear Andy Burnham on "Any Questions?" last Friday manfully defending Gordon Brown, Harriet Harman and Hazel Blears.

According to a BBC profile:
Mr Burnham and James Purnell - his predecessor as culture secretary - used to be flatmates and played in the same football teams: Red Menace and its successor Demon Eyes.

He is also a lifelong Everton supporter. The BBC note didn't say which position he favours. Friday night's performance suggests that he is a cultured last line of defence like the late Brian Labone.

Friday, 13 February 2009

Questions to Peter Black

Inspired by a recent posting in Liberal England, I have put 20 questions to one of the longest-established political bloggers.

Updated 2009-2-17

What made you decide to start blogging?

I have always looked upon the internet as a useful way of interacting better with my constituents and as a forum to widen the audience for my views and for Liberal Democracy. In the early days I used to have a weekly diary piece on my website. This developed into a proper blog following help and advice from some well-wishers.

What is your best blogging experience?

Not sure that there is such a thing. Winning an award as the best blog by a Lib Dem holding public office at the last Liberal Democrat Conference was nice and a huge surprise.

And your worst?

Not really had a bad experience though the reaction to my post ‘Time for Ming to shape up’ ( took me by surpise.

What do you regard as your best blog entry?

Favourite blogs?

Liberal England and Annie Rhiannon (

What inspired you to go into politics?

I sort of fell into it. I have been active since the age of 14, joined the party because it best matched my liberal beliefs and convictions and then followed through the logic by standing for office to get things done and change things for the better.

You are one of the longest-serving political bloggers in the UK, and one of the top two or three in Wale. How, in your view, has political blogging progressed over the past five years?

There are more people blogging but longevity is not a feature of most blogs. Progress can be measured by the number and diversity of voices in the blogosphere but it remains poorer for the failure of a large number of full time politicians to engage with it.

We seem to hear less from Nick Clegg than we do of Gordon Brown and David Cameron. Why is this?

Not sure if this is true. The media are naturally focussed on the so-called two parties of government but I think Clegg is holding his own.

Is there anywhere abroad which you haven't been to, that you would like to visit?

Lots of places. I would particularly like to go to Italy, which for some reason I have not yet visited.

Is there anywhere abroad you have visited, that you would love to revisit?

San Francisco – great City, wonderful chocolate.

Who, excluding the present leader, do you regard as the best Liberal
Democrat/Liberal/SDP Party leader, and if different, the best Prime

Since I have been active it has to be Ashdown even though I did not vote for him as leader.

Which political figure has been your greatest inspiration?

Not really into this hero-worship, inspiration stuff. All the people who brought me into politics were ordinary activists like my former English teacher. David Penhaligon however stands out for me as somebody who was both inspirational and inspired.

Favourite Bond movie?

Live and Let die

Favorite Doctor Who?

Peter Davison

Chocolate, vanilla, or mint?


Visiting for the weekend?

Laugharne or Bath

Favourite national newspaper?

I read the Western Mail every day out of duty but prefer the Guardian

What would you say your hobbies were?

Don’t much have time for hobbies these days but enjoy watching films and was once reasonably good at chess.

what would you say were your three favourite songs and three favourite
books (bar the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare)?

Bohemian Rhapsody

Smoke on the water

‘How you remind me’ by Nickleback

Catch 22 by Jsoeph Heller

The Passion by Jeanette Winterson

Collected Poems of T.S. Eliot

Thursday, 5 February 2009

Dr Jenny Gristock

I still miss the weekly science news column which Jenny Gristock penned for the Evening Post over twelve years. She has now been recognised for her contributions to the public understanding of science.

Monday, 2 February 2009

Stopping the data leaks: does Glamorgan have the answer?

It is over four months since Mike Fatkin (chief executive) and Len Smith (head groundsman) left Glamorgan Cricket, and we still don't know why. Even a man with close links to the county, Peter Walker, cannot discover the reasons, as he told Radio Wales today. He is therefore going to stand for the presidency at the annual elections.

All those government departments which have suffered leaks of information should clearly take lessons from Glamorgan Cricket.