Sunday, 28 February 2010

Llynfi lines improvement delayed indefinitely

In response to pressure from Liberal Democrats in South Wales West, Ieuan Wyn Jones (minister for the economy and transport) has stated that the reopening of the line between Maesteg and Caerau may be investigated at some time in the future, but that priority has been given to Hirwaun-Aberdare and a former freight line on Anglesey, for which feasibility studies have been commissioned.

Thursday, 25 February 2010

The case for co-ops

I trust Dr Rory Ridley-Duff of Sheffield Business School will not object to my copying large chunks of his letter to yesterday's Independent . The Cooperative movement in this country has, by an accident of history, come to be associated with the Labour Party. However, I venture to suggest that the Toad Lane pioneers, if they had a vote, would have been split between Liberals and Conservatives. There have been leading Liberal and Liberal Democrat Cooperators down the years. More significanctly, three years ago, Iain Duncan Smith saw the cooperative principle as a way of improving local services, something which was not remarked on much at the time. More notice was taken when David Cameron recently relaunched the policy, with particular reference to schools.

Dr Ridley-Duff writes: "Labour, and particularly Ed Balls, would do well to review the intellectual sources underpinning the Conservative position, as they expose the intellectual weakness of New Labour's leadership on the issue of co-operative economics and participatory democracy." One could add that the Coop has led the way on Fair Trade and ecological matters, where the government has faltered.

But he goes on to twit the Conservatives: "why is the policy only being suggested for public sector institutions? Why is David Cameron not championing this for the banks (as Mutuo are doing)? Why is he not arguing for workers to have a right to take over insolvent companies (as happens in Argentina and Venezuela)? Why is he not championing employee-ownership as a business succession policy (as both the Employee Ownership Association and Cooperatives UK argue)?"

He concludes: "The UK is one of only four EU countries without co-operative law: an appalling indictment of a government that includes Cooperative Party MPs. Hopefully, the current news story will move them to action."

One of the few areas of UK industry to survive the Thatcher/Howe economic blitz of the 1980s was that of small co-ops and employee-owned businesses, enabled by possibly the only Liberal-inspired legislation during the Lib-Lab pact. The "Sheffield" approach may show a way out of our current difficulties.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Trudi Styler does not part-own the Moon after all.

In the Online Independent, a par on Duncan Jones's debut movie reads: "The film features an astronaut who is stranded on the Moon, with suspicions that he has been cloned, and it was partly financed by Trudi Styler, the wife of the singer, Sting."

However, this is clearly a correction of the equivalent in the print edition: "The film features an astronaut who is stranded on the moon, which was partly financed by Trudi Styler, the wife of the singer, Sting."

I knew Trudi Styler's reach was global. I am reassured that it does not extend into other parts of the solar system.

Needless cruelty to greyhounds

How can anyone treat an animal which has given so much, like this?

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Facebook page for general election campaign

As mentioned earlier, there is now a Facebook page for the LibDem campaign for Neath: Thanks to Jon Clarke for helping me set this up.

Dark Skies

Businesses are beginning to realise one of the great features of central Wales, its lack of light pollution. According to the BBC report, people working in the tourist industry are taking part in astronomy workshops so they can attract some of the 250,000 stargazers in the UK.

Scotland has shown the way, as I blogged last November.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Walks in Neath Port Talbot

There is welcome new publicity for public transport in the Swansea Bay area. I am particularly pleased that Baytrans has included a full programme of walks in Neath Port Talbot in their prospectus. Visitors should however be counselled that bus services are subject to change, and they should make sure to obtain the latest timetables before planning their trip.

I am glad to see that the demanding, but rewarding, Sarn Helen walk is on the schedule.

Beer-drinkers charter

It's not party politics, right? I don't necessarily agree with everything that CAMRA proposes, but I'm happy to pass on  the link to the latest campaign.

Monday, 15 February 2010

A one-legged duck

As soon as the modalities (sorry, I've been reading too many Nigerian emails) have been sorted out, my 2010 general election campaign for the Liberal Democrats in Neath will be the subject of a Facebook page - link to be notified in due course.

Accordingly, there will be no more party political stuff on this site until after electoral hostilities have ceased. That's not going to stop the support of these pages from the other leg, my personal interests, but postings will be less frequent.

G-Cloud benefits and pitfalls

G-Cloud is the jargon for the UK government's adoption of "cloud computing", providing common software and datacentres to the Whitehall network, reducing the cost of local provision. There is a "cheatsheet" here.

However, there are dangers. Traditionally, government departments held only data which were required for their purpose, and not shared even with other departments. So, the department responsible for personal benefits would not have access to an applicant's record of vehicle ownership. These physical and philosophical boundaries have been broken down in the last generation, something which the British public is just waking up to. G-Cloud is going to increase the pressure to aggregate personal information and spread its access across government, in the process increasing the risk of sensitive information falling into inappropriate hands.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Government IT after the general election digests Conservative and Labour plans and Liberal Democrat proposals.


Steph Ashley, in a provocative post about Lib Dem beliefs, writes:

As for things individual Lib Dems stand for that make my hackles rise - here's one solid example that highlights a recurrent problem. Tom Brake and his Early Day Motion of 2008 to ban cannabis seeds (still highlighted on his own website here: Banning things is not high on any liberal agenda, frankly.

I would go further. There are far too many motions on both Federal and Welsh conference agendas which call for new laws and not enough calling for existing pointless laws and regulations to be removed. We seem to be falling into the same trap as New Labour, the belief that passing a new law will make the world better. In Labour's case, there is usually adequate existing law, and all that is required is more efficient administration of it.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Will recorded heritage go the same way as chocolate?

"On an Overgrown Path" reports that "There is now a real possibility that [EMI] will breach its loan agreements at the end of March, causing control to pass to financial conglomerate Citigroup. Which means many of the great classical (and rock) recordings of the 20th century could be in the hands of American bankers".

In the case of rock and pop, the situation may not be quite so serious, in that the classic recordings of the 1960s will lose copyright in the next few years. The disappearance of many great orchestral recordings of later years, some of composers who had not had decent recordings before, is worrying, though.

"What's the BMW law?"

Congratulations to Afghanistan on their victory over USA which confirmed progression to the Super Fours of the cricket World Twenty20 Qualifiers. According to BBC reporters, cricket is the most popular sport in Afghanistan. They have a powerful patron in the form of President Karzai, though, from the same BBC News report, he is not totally au fait with the Laws as yet.

Fair votes

Stephen Tall asks, on Liberal Democrat Voice, on how the party can sell Single Transferable Vote in Multi-Member Constituencies (the method preferred by Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru*). He then details, and I mean details, how this can be done.

Alternatively, we can just point people to John Cleese.

*at Westminster, at least. Both Hywel Williams and Elfyn Llwyd voted for the Liberal Democrat amendment to the Government's late addition to the Constitutional Reform and Governance Bill. (Adam Price was absent from proceedings.) Presumably Plaid in Cardiff have been converted to AV.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010


Before you sign up to support the creation of a protected marine environmen, be aware that the proposals do not allow for the resettlement of the islanders displaced by the UK, in defiance of a succession of legal judgments.

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A-list candidate would be hit by Cameron tax proposals

One of the few Conservative policies which David Cameron has not back-tracked on is his proposal to favour married couples over single people. He told the press recently: “I’ve always said this is more about the message than the money… I believe we need to try to build a society that is more about ‘we’ rather than ‘me,’ where we celebrate togetherness.”

This may not sit well with Susan Douglas, the former Sunday Express editor, who "is an unofficial adviser to Mr Cameron", "has a seat on the board of the [...] Centre for Policy Studies, one of the Tories' think-tanks of choice", and a strong contender for candidacy in the Conservative-held constituency of Stratford-upon-Avon, according to the Independent. There has been a split with her husband, Niall Ferguson, who has left Ms Douglas and their three children for the controversial Somali-born lawyer Ayaan Hirsi Ali. A friend of Ms Douglas is quoted as saying that the probable divorce was due to Professor Ferguson's "conducting a private life in a manner more akin to that of a Premiership footballer than a professor".

Mr Cameron's message does not seem to be getting through to the darling of conservative academia on both sides of the Atlantic.


Monday, 8 February 2010

Some surprising people have asthma

I am one of those boring old fogies who reckon that these modern beat combos all sound the same. But just occasionally one leaps out as, in my opinion, justifying their publicity, like Franz Ferdinand. Now I learn from the February-April issue of Asthma magazine that Alex Kapranos, singer and joint songwriter, has had asthma since the age of seven. He says: ¨Sometimes when I'm on stage I'll feel my chest tightening - I've used my inhaler on stage a few times - but in a way I feel I've actually got quite strong lungs because of the asthma and when I'm not having any symptoms they're really quite powerful".

Sunday, 7 February 2010

John Dankworth

Just come in from our spring conference, and all set to post my take on proceedings, I turned on BBC-News to see the sad news which has put conference reports out of my mind.

I suppose I should justify the posting by a connection. Back in 1961, Johnny Dankworth (as he then was) was not only respected within  the jazz fraternity (and sorority) but had also had a couple of what would now be called "crossover" hits. So it was a bit of a coup for the Civil Service Clerical Association to book Johnny Dankworth's big band for a rally in the Albert Hall. There must have been a jazz fan on the CSCA's executive. So as a young civil servant I enjoyed a great concert free (if you don't count the union subs). The campaign was only a minor success, but the memory of the concert remains.

In my catholic record collection,  there has to be a Dankworth album, and it's "What the Dickens!", a series of portraits in jazz - in appropriate styles - of characters from JD's favourite (his  only, according to his sleeve note) literary inspiration. Even before today's announcement, it was top of my list for transfer to digital media.

What came over even during John Dankworth's life-time was his generosity. He will be much missed.

Friday, 5 February 2010

Tanni Grey-Thompson to be independent peer

The House of Lords Appointments Commission has nominated four new peers, all of whom would sit on the cross-benches. Among them is Tanni Grey-Thompson, the recently-retired paralympian - and probably Wales' most successful athlete. I know that Dame Tanni has studied politics as an academic subject, and that she has fronted at least one Labour Party-sponsored event, so it is interesting that she has chosen not to associate herself with any particular party.

The other nominations are:

• Sir Michael Bichard, Chair of the Design Council and Director of the Institute for Government
• Tony Hall, Chief Executive of the Royal Opera House and Chair of the Cultural Olympiad and
• Professor Ajay Kakkar, Surgeon and Medical Researcher with a special interest in thrombosis

One assumes that, unless some financial or moral skeleton is found in the cupboard, all will be confirmed in due course.

Durham's EDDY project

Yesterday, LibDem leader Nick Clegg took advantage of a visit to Durham to launch the party's manifesto policy on crime and policing (which will no doubt appear on the party web page in due course).

Being forewarned and curious, I found the following:

"EDDY evolved from the Durham Youth Enterprise Scheme, (DYES), which was founded in 1994.

"When the DYES programme was first piloted in 1994 it was developed after research into youth crime and anti social behaviour and, in particular, youth criminality."

"Most recently a young man appeared on national television praising the programme and its success, he made mention that EDDY has had a dramatic impact on his life and has enabled him to pursue his life’s ambition to join the HM Forces. Nathan is currently excelling at the military college at Harrogate."

So far, so good, but there is a paragraph further down which clearly needs updating:


"The Rt. Hon Tony Blair PM continues to be patron of the programme. Regular contact has been made with No 10 to keep the PM abreast of the expansion and improvements of the programme. Unfortunately due to his hectic schedule the PM has not been able to respond to the needs of the programme and it has been decided to identify a new patron."

Thursday, 4 February 2010

Hung Parliaments

Just as it is beginning to dawn on Westminster commentators, what many of us have been pointing out for ages, that a no-overall-control situation at Westminster is more likely than not, comes this message from a LibDem activist in Scotland. He describes the budget settlement in the NOC Scottish Parliament.

"It was budget day. Or more accurately, the day of the vote on the SNP government's budget. It is, of course, a hung parliament. The Nats needed the support of at least 2 other parties to get their budget through. So, last week, they sat down and negotiated - with us, with the Greens, with the Tories and even with Labour. There was no panic, no disaster, no chaos. No parties merged with any other. All the opposition parties stated what things they would like added (we wanted more money for college places and action on public sector pay, the Tories wanted an independent budget review and more transparency on spending, the Greens wanted a home
insulation scheme, Labour wanted the Glasgow airport rail link restored).

"Result? The government conceded the Tory and Green demands, and just enough of ours to allow us to abstain. Budget passed.

"The point is, despite the nay-sayers' claims that hung parliaments are disastrous, civilisation didn't end today. On the contrary, it was all remarkably civilised. It was real grown-up politics, and the final result is a much better reflection of what the public actually want than what would have happened if one party had been allowed to ram its own programme through."

New stats put child killings in proportion

Research carried out by Bournemouth University, and to be published later in the year in the British Journal of Social Work, shows that the number of violent deaths among children in England and Wales has fallen by almost 40% since 1974. The rate per million is much better than that of the United States and Germany, and roughly equal to that of the Netherlands. Italy, Spain and Japan have about a third of our fatalities pro rata, and even France has around a half - but the situation is not as terrible as recent headlines imply. They do not justify the huge jump in referrals, inspired by the Baby P case, which throws a burden onto local authority social services. The BBC report is at

There is still room for improvement - 84 children in England and Wales die violently each year, seven a month on average. The police need to be more pro-active, not waiting until there is the chance of a prosecution before taking action. Bureaucracy needs trimming, something that I know my own authority, Neath Port Talbot, is working on. Staff shortages and rapid turnover need to be curbed. Perhaps recruitment could be broadened - surely degree-level qualifications are not necessary for as many levels of social worker as are currently specified? Education is no guarantee of good character and certainly not of life experience.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Political colours

There was a nice interchange in the Commons yesterday evening during the Third Reading debate on the Flood and Water Management Bill:

John Redwood:I am glad that the Liberal Democrats support the proposal. Their spokesman, the hon. Member for Cheltenham (Martin Horwood), has brightened up our debates, because it is the first time that I have seen someone come along with carefully prepared and beautifully typed-out scripts on each of the provisions, with his notes on the Liberal Democrat amendments on yellow paper, his notes on the Conservative amendments on blue paper, and his notes on the Government amendments on light pink paper-that paper should probably be dark red now, as they have moved on.

Huw Irranca-Davies [MP for Ogmore and government spokesman on the Bill]: Deepest red.

Mr. Redwood: Exactly. I am sure that the Minister is upset that the notes on the Government amendments are only on mild pink paper.

Martin Horwood: I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that if he had tabled any amendments, the notes on those would have been on extremely dark blue paper.

Mr. Redwood: I think that was a compliment, but I cannot be sure.

Fewer than one thousand post offices in Wales

Figures obtained by Roger Williams MP (Lib Dem, Brecon & Radnor) are published by Freedom Central.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Dominican farmers helping Haitian neighbours

I am grateful to Suzanne Fletcher for this story of Fairtrade and non-Fairtrade farmers in the Dominican Republic overcoming the difficulties of cross-border traffic to help people in Haiti after the destructive earthquake.

Monday, 1 February 2010

Israel army tacitly admits war crime

The disproportionate use of artillery against civilian targets in the Gaza Strip war last year, formerly denied by official Israeli spokesmen, has now been admitted by implication. Two officers, identified as Brig. Gen. Eyal Eisenberg and Col. Ilan Malka, have been reprimanded for their approving the firing of artillery shells toward a U.N. compound. This resulted in a blaze which destroyed thousands of kilograms of food and other aid, and wounded three people.

It was widely reported at the time that the attack involved the use of white phosphorus, though the Israeli authorities continue to deny that this was the case.

The reprimands may not be the end of the story. Israeli servicemen and women are not immune from prosecution in civilian courts.