Thursday, 30 September 2010

Neath & Port Talbot Ramblers

The Neath and Port Talbot Ramblers Association has published its Winter Walks programme.

There are more details at

Tuesday, 28 September 2010

A prisoner's right to vote

Having found myself in agreement with Peter Hain over a question of arithmetic (see previous posting), I must protest at his gratuitous & illiberal attack on Nick Clegg (which is remarkably similar to that by David Cameron before the general election) for advocating that the UK should finally legislate to give all but the worst offenders the vote.

In fact, as Robert Chesshyre pointed out in an article in the Independent in February of this year, "the Government pledged – reluctantly and under extreme pressure from the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) – to introduce votes for at least some convicted prisoners". So Nick was only stating the policy of the last Labour government.

Chesshyre goes on: "the Committee of Ministers at the Council of Europe is fed up with British foot-dragging. A blanket ban on votes for convicted prisoners (those on remand or in jail in civil cases can vote) was declared 'unlawful' by the European Court six years ago." (It should be noted that the Council of Europe goes back further than the EU, and that the UK was a member from the start,) "European ministers, tired of waiting, have warned 'the substantial delay in implementing the judgment has given rise to a significant risk that the next UK general election will be performed in a way that fails to comply with the Convention on Human Rights'." So far nobody has demanded that the election be declared null and void on these grounds, much to the relief of Returning Officers up and down the land. 

Chesshyre believes that the foot-dragging had more to do with the fear of screaming headlines than with the practical or moral problems. I had the sneaking suspicion that Labour may also have been influenced by the fairly well-established fact that most habitual criminals would vote Conservative, given the chance. 

It is not as if the proposal is to allow Ian Huntley and his ilk the vote. "Most European countries set a threshold relating to the crime or length of sentence," writes Chesshyre,. "Those considered particularly bad or dangerous can't vote: the rest of the prison population can. By failing to take the necessary action, we [find ourselves] in a minority many might consider dubious company – Bulgaria, Romania and Armenia are among our fellow naysayers. Our major European partners – France, Germany and Italy – all allow some (in practice, usually most) prisoners to vote."

We are often told that voting is not just a right, but also a responsibility. If we are to reintegrate prisoners into society,  the ability to vote is as important as visitation rights.

Those Labour membership figures

We must give due credit to Peter Hain for giving a more credible account of the situation than Harriet Harman. In the story in the Evening Post, he speaks only of "tens of thousands" of additional Labour members, not the thirty-two thousand claimed by Ms Harman. Moreover, he does not assert as she does that thousands of Liberal Democrats switched membership, merely that some former LibDem voters joined Labour. This last claim, of course, cannot be proved or disproved, given our secret ballot.

From the posting and comments at, we can be fairly certain that the increase in Labour membership since last year is 21,394, that is, the difference between the figure stated in Labour's accounts for the year ending 31st December 2009 (156,205) and the declared membership for the issue of leadership ballots.(177,559). It should be noted that this figure is only 559 more than they reportedly had in May 2007. Labour has done no more than share in the general rise in political activity since the turn of the year, benefiting all parties, as it became obvious that we were heading for a close election.

Finally, to round off the correspondence started by my posting about Ms Harman, the authentic version of Godwin's Axiom: "As a Usenet discussion grows longer, the probability of a comparison involving Nazis or Hitler approaches one." There is a corollary that: "once this occurs, that thread is over, and whoever mentioned the Nazis has automatically lost whatever argument was in progress".

For those who don't like my researches into The Big Lie, may I offer this gem from CH Spurgeon, the great 19th century nonconformist preacher: "If you want truth to go round the world, you must hire an express train to pull it; but if you want a lie to go round the world, it will fly: it is as light as a feathe, and a breath will carry it. It is well said in the old proverb, 'a lie will go round the world while truth is pulling his boots on'.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

A singular disappearance

I know this is going to read like a letter in green ink from Disgusted Of West Cross, or just another example of my "onanism" as one of my many anonymous followers recently put it, but I have to get this off my chest. For some time now, I have been niggled by the misuse of "criteria" and "phenomena" as single nouns, when in fact they are plurals. The last straw was loaded this morning on Radio 4's "Broadcasting House" in an otherwise impeccable piece by Dr Mark Roodhouse on the "phenomena" of the spiv. One is used to daily journalists, not noted for respecting the English language, blurring distinctions of usage, but Roodhouse is an academic's academic.

I have to hold my hand up at this point, as a contributor to the degradation of "datum" as a singular. The word was safe in its scientific haven, where the tradition of Latin had not died, but once the explosion in IT in the 1960s occurred, all sorts of half-educated people had to be recruited as programmers and systems analysts/designers. It is little wonder that we picked up mathematical and scientific terms from the pioneers of computing without completely understanding them. The fact that we called IT "Automatic Data Processing" in those days is indicative.

Many will object that this does not matter. Greek and Latin are dead languages. We have managed with "sheep" and "fish" as both singular and plural in English virtually since English existed as a separate language.
One answer is that language helps shape our thought, as Orwell memorably pointed out in his essay on language and political thought. If our perception of distinctions in language is dulled, then our thinking, in particular our ability to analyse, is also dulled. To a handyman whose only tool is a hammer, every screw looks like a nail.

My response is that these distinctions are still useful. The best example is the word "medium". As a noun it has several meanings deriving from the sense of an "intervening means, instrument or agency" (Chambers). (Hence the medium who professes to act as an intermediary between us and the spirit world, and who is still pluralised with a final "s".) In the sense of a means of transmitting information, it was famously used by Marshall McLuhan. So far, so good. We could refer to the "print medium", or the "medium of radio", and use the plural "media" to cover all the various means of communication. Unfortunately, somewhere along the way "media" has come to mean just "television" and, unless that word is rescued, we are going to have to find a new, probably more cumbersome, phrase to describe the gamut of press, broadcasting and the arts.

There is hope. It is fashionable on this side of the Atlantic to sneer at American dumbing-down, and also to assume that scientists are not interested in the finer points of language, but, in my experience, all the scientists from the USA who have contributed to "Material World" or BBC news programmes speak of "a phenomenon" or "a criterion" and treat "data" as a plural. It must be something to do with the high regard in which correct English usage is held over there, most visibly expressed in the competitive spelling bees culminating in a national championship. I remember when these used to be a teaching tool in English & Welsh schools. Perhaps they should be brought back.

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Cordoba Institute

While checking BBC-Parliament for the start of the transmission from Liverpool and the Liberal Democrat Conference, I chanced on the repeat of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's talk to the Council of Foreign Relations in New York last Monday. (There is an audio version on the Council's web-site.)

It occurred to me that here was a man who was intellectually head-and-shoulders above those orchestrating the campaign against a Muslim cultural centre in Lower Manhattan. (It should be noted that there is already a Muslim meeting place ten blocks away from where the twin towers stood.)

Rauf's Cordoba Institute takes its name from the Muslim regime in Spain, before it was swept away in 1492. Under the Muslims, all were allowed to practise their religion freely and arts, science & philosophy thrived.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Richard Livsey has died

I feel almost a personal loss. The BBC report is here.

[Later] Peter Black has filed a more worthy tribute on Freedom Central.

Television licensing

So the BBC Trust has condescended not to demand yet another increase in the cost of a TV licence. Perhaps they should look at a progressive reduction in the fee, now that the major investment in iPlayer and their web pages is behind them.

It is instructive to look back to 1964, when BBC-2 - clearly a major investment - was launched. BBC had long since lost its monopoly, but still provided rather more TV proportionately than it does now in this multi-channel age. Yet the licence fee was £4, or about 22.7% of the average weekly wage. [Figures from The Times newspaper of that year, via their online archive.]

The average weekly wage now is £446.50. If the broadcasting licence now cost the same proportionately as it did in 1964, it would be just over £101. Instead, it is £145.50. Where is the extra £44 going? Those of us of a cynical disposition wonder whether it is spent on expensive star names, an inflated political news department and non-jobs such as the director of the advisory centre for politically correct reporting - all right, I made that last one up, but Janet Street-Porter, a former BBC executive, has referred to similar horrors in her occasional reminiscences of her time at the Beeb.

One can quite understand government reluctance to abolish the licence fee in favour of funding the BBC from general taxation - it raises questions of perceived independence, for one thing - but they should remember that the licence fee is a regressive tax. It is probably the UK's worst example, next to vehicle licensing. They should therefore bear down on the BBC to continue to cut costs.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

The Small Back Room

I have just been listening to Simon Heffer discussing the Powell and Pressburger film. All he says about the movie, which he admires, is true, but he does not give credit to the original novel by Nigel Balchin. Pressburger's script follows the novel fairly faithfully, certainly in terms of the main characters, though I dimly recall the conclusion to the novel as being more ambiguous than the film-makers' upbeat ending. The typical Archers' quirky touches do not detract from the central character study, and the visuals are great.

The one objection I have is in the climactic scene on Chesil Beach where Sammy Rice, coming off a massive bender, is attempting to defuse a deadly new German explosive device. In those days before speaker-phones, Rice gives a running telephone commentary on his actions to a young ATS corporal, who relays it to the brass in their hut at a safe distance from the site of the device. The tension builds as the camera moves in on the face of Renée Asherson, playing the ATS corporal.- then to my mind, dissipates as there is a cut to Rice and the bomb.

As Rice, this was David Farrar's finest performance. Sadly, his career went downhill from then on, as he tried to make it in Hollywood and, apart from a few supporting roles, failed.

Voulez-vous bloggen?

Mark Pack calls pour kurzen Blogposten in einem message sur Voix Democratiaid Rhyddfrydol pour célébrer European Day of Languages auf sechs-und-zwanzigsten September.

William Robert Grove QC

Died 1 August 1896 Lawyer, Judge and Physical Scientist.Physics, Chemistry Patent Law Criminal Law, Royal Institution, Royal Society, Privy Council Known for Conservation of energy, Invention of the Fuel Cell, defending William Palmer.
Born in Swansea in 1811, Grove was the only child of John, (a magistrate and deputy lieutenant of Glamorgan), and his wife, Anne, née Bevan.  At the Royal Institution, Grove met Emma Maria Powles (died 1879) and married her in 1837.  In 1839, Grove developed a novel form of electric cell, the Grove Cell, the precursor of the fuel cell which powers the Honda FCX Clarity
In the 1840s, Grove collaborated with Gassiot at the London Institution on photography. From 1846, Grove reduced his scientific work in favour of law, to pay for his young family. He became a QC in 1853. 

Groves's daughter Imogen Emily (died 1886) married William Edward Hall in 1866. His daughter Anna married Herbert Augustus Hills (1837–1907) and was mother to Edmond Herbert Grove-Hills ("Colonel Rivers"), and John Waller Hills.

The lunar crater “GROVE” is named for him.
The current and annual Grove Fuel Cell Symposium and Exhibition is organised by Elsevier.

[Information provided by Paul Nicholls-Jones (mail: who is backing the campaign
for Swansea City to celebrate one of her world famous sons on his bicentenary next July 2011.]

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Oldham & Saddleworth electoral court

There is a report of proceedings so far in the ground-breaking electoral court in Saddleworth at One can quibble with the accuracy of some of the words used ("refuted" should read "rebutted", and Mr Watkins' barrister would have "re-examined" rather than "cross-examined" him) but otherwise llooks like a fair summary.

Monday, 13 September 2010

Harman goes on telling porkies

Harriet Harman, presumably positioning herself for a leadership challenge after Mr Miliband fails to lead Labour to victory at the next election, not only tells a lie about Liberal Democrat membership, but also repeats the lie afer being corrected. She puts herself in the position of the cartoon Jewish villain depicted by Hitler & Goebbels, telling a lie so colossal that no one would believe that someone "could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously".

Sunday, 12 September 2010


There is a timely piece by Andy McSmith in The Independent on the Thatcher/Howe budget of 1981. This "is firmly embedded in the mythology of the Conservative Party," he writes, "Margaret Thatcher believed the three great tests of her mettle that defined her as a prime minister were the miners' strike, the Falklands War, and the 1981 Budget." McSmith opines that: "Osborne is hoping that the 2010 autumn statement will do for his political reputation what the 1981 Budget did for Thatcher's and Howe's." There is a coincidence in the amount - £4bn - which Howe aimed to take out of the economy. Of course, £4bn was worth rather more then than it is now, so the effect was greater.

McSmith sketches in some of the background: " The Labour government had, at great political cost, pulled inflation down into single figures from the peak it reached in the mid-1970s." (One must not forget the major contribution in restoring financial stability, at much greater political cost, by the Liberals.) "The incoming Tory government had ramped it back above 20 per cent by putting up the most basic costs such as heating bills and rent and by awarding public sector workers a 25 per cent pay rise to avoid another 'winter of discontent'." Another significant factor, which McSmith does not mention, was an early decision by Chancellor Howe to "follow the market" with bank rate rises and consequently produce a spike in the sterling/dollar rate. This combination cut a swathe through British industry - indigenous machine-tool manufacture was virtually wiped out overnight - in turn signalling the reorientation of UK trade towards financial and intellectual products and away from traditional industry.

Thatcher and Howe hoped to have killed off Keynesianism in its native land. The fact that the Bank of England is pumping money back into the banks (in the form of "monetary easing") shows that it has returned in another form. Cameron and Osborne aspire to the re-balancing of the UK economy so that we are not so dependent on the City of London. These are two breaks with Thatcherism. So are those leaks about slashing the welfare budget merely red meat being thrown to the "dries" to keep them docile, or is this cabinet of millionaires really so insensitive to the reality of life in areas of high unemployment as to carry them out? Next month's spending review will tell us.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Scientific Research: EU expands while UK contracts

While Vince Cable signals an accountant's approach to blue-sky research (at least he doesn't go half as far as Mrs Thatcher, who gave the impression that only direct, applied research had her approval), the EU has embarked on a € 6,4 billion research package, the biggest ever allocated by the European Commission. It covers a range of scientific disciplines, public policy areas and commercial sectors. This project is a key element of the so called 'EU 2020 Strategy'that was launched in spring of this year, and also forms the basis of the so called EU Flagship Project 'Innovation Union', which is set to be presented later this year. However, European Liberals feel that "more steps are needed, as the European future cannot afford another Lisbon."

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Great apes will no longer be experimental subjects

The European Parliament has passed landmark legislation to ban animal testing on great apes and wild-caught primates. This will pass into law as it has been agreed with EU governments.

Animal experiments in science and research will be greatly scaled back: only tests that cause the least pain will be allowed, and thanks to the Liberal group the most severe and prolonged tests will be completely outlawed.

Testing on smaller monkeys will be permitted but only if the animals have been bred and raised in captivity, as this makes them more used to the laboratory environment.

More on Sarah Ludford's blog.

Monday, 6 September 2010

John Toshack

As I write, it appears, from BBC Wales reports, that John Toshack is minded to step down from the Welsh managership. It would be his own decision, and no pressure has been put on him by the Welsh FA.

Toshack is probably the most technically equipped manager Wales has had. He and Brian Flynn have brought on the most talented group of young players for a generation. What he hasn't done, it seems to me, is enthuse the team. What was clearly missing in Montenegro at the weekend was self-belief and a real desire to win. Toshack is quoted as saying that he has taken the team as far as he can. To my mind, that is a long way. What is needed now is someone who can take his squad and inspire them to run through walls for Wales, something we haven't seen, in my opinion, since the days of Mike England.

Friday, 3 September 2010

Footpath dead ends and new beginnings

The Ramblers' "Dead End for Walking?" campaign was launched recently, to warn of the risks to public paths from threatened cuts in local authority spending. The campaign web-site highlights areas in England where footpaths are under threat, but the same considerations apply in Wales. St Illtyd's Walk was already being starved of support before the current round of cuts, and there are threats to rights-of-way on Sarn Helen and connected footpaths. It is thanks to Cllr Steve Hunt in Seven Sisters that these concerns are kept on the agenda.

Having faintly damned our council, it is only fair to praise our Environment people for their participation in piloting Ramblers Cymru's "Communities on Foot" toolkit and creating the Community Walking hub at Glyncorrwg Ponds. The hub will be formally launched during the Corrwg Hills festival of walking, starting on the 12th September and lasting six days. The only thing missing is a grid reference for the centre: I make it 873985, and it's on OS Explorer 166 (Rhondda & Merthyr Tydfil).