Thursday, 31 January 2013

BOSS was as bad as Peter Hain said

A Radio 4 documentary yesterday presented a fascinating analysis of a now little-remembered incident. The blurb says:

"In 1982 South African undercover police bombed the London offices of the African National Congress. The attack was just one in a string of operations mounted by the apartheid regime against its enemies on the streets of the capital. Jolyon Jenkins speaks to both sides - the bombers and the bombed"

Mrs Thatcher's government was not inclined to play up a bomb attack on British soil by the agents of a foreign power. At that time, Nelson Mandela was still no more than a dangerous terrorist in their eyes. Clearly a blind eye was turned to the activities of South Africa's Bureau of State Security in Britain.

However, Scotland Yard was not as systemically fascist as some incidents would lead us to believe. One of the heartening anecdotes was that of an ANC staffer who found that BOSS had started a hate campaign amongst her neighbours, accusing her via anonymous letters of being a terrorist who prepared bombs at home. She drew the inference that preparations were being made for an explosion at her house while she was inside it. Hearteningly, the Met. Police was very helpful in putting an end to the threat.

One other striking aspect of the programme for me was the utterly respectable jobs now occupied by the then activists whose reminiscences we heard.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Liberals and independent schools

Alison Willott, whose liberalism cannot be questioned, has a letter in today's "Independent". It is a response to criticism of Nick and Miriam Clegg's reported uncertainty over whether their children's imminent secondary education should be at state schools.

John O'Farrell (Voices, 28 January) does not consider the main reason why people pay for a private school. It is because they offer choice.

We wanted our children to be able to study ancient Greek – it was my own degree and my mother's and we are passionate about the subject. We also wanted a school with excellent music. Some state schools may offer these but the only way you can access them is to move house into their area. Since we lived within walking distance from both sets of grandparents, moving house was not an option.

And yes, our children did go on to read Greek at university. Their music experiences were sublime; and they did cross-country running, and fencing, and drama, and debating. Their schoolmates, incidentally, came from a wide range of backgrounds.

We chose to pay for this, and had to economise accordingly: [...] I'm perfectly happy with that – it was our choice, but please don't say we are the ones being subsidised.

Make all state schools offer excellent music, drama, sport, fencing, debating, car maintenance classes, photography classes, as well as small classes and a wide range of subjects to study, and private schools will wither on the vine. It's the state schools that have to change.

Alison Willott


What I want to know is whether daughter Jenny intends to include the Iliad in her bedtime reading for her young family.

Monday, 28 January 2013

Balance of the sexes in public life

Rosemary Butler, the Welsh Assembly's presiding officer, has written to the leaders of the four parties represented in Cardiff Bay. She seems to think that a decline from 52% to 44% female representation is somehow a failure and that top-down action is necessary to bring the figure back up again.

The first thing to be said is that the numbers are relatively small, compared with Westminster or even the Scottish Parliament. It needs only a couple of the 60 AMs to change sex (through the electoral process, of course) for the headline percentage to change dramatically. My own party, with only six AMs at the outset, went from an ideal 50-50 representation in 2000 to a period before the last election when there was a 17%-83% male-female split!

As party leader Kirsty Williams points out, "the Welsh Liberal Democrats have a strong and proud record on female representation. As well as being the first party to elect a female leader, we also have a female President, a female vice-President and, until recently, a female chief executive." Writing as the secretary of a local party which has a woman in the chair and a woman treasurer, I also feel that the Liberal Democrats must have been doing something right.

From the foundation of the party in the 1980s, anti-discrimination was built in to the articles of the Liberal Democrats. Candidate selection, right up to the final short-list, had to have gender balance. This continues, and is not widely enough publicised. The other Westminster parties took time to catch up and, in my opinion, sometimes over-corrected. Positive discrimination produced one or two inadequate representatives in safe seats.

But we cannot be complacent. As Kirsty also said, "there is more that can be done on this issue [and] we will continue to work to ensure that we increase female representation in the party". One of the difficulties we have is in persuading women to put themselves forward in the first place. It is surely significant that, in the UK as a whole, we have better representation of women at a local and regional level than we do at Westminster. We must find the reasons for this and counteract them.

It would help if public bodies in Wales set a better example. The Welsh Government has done reasonably well: the first permanent secretary (head of the civil service) was a woman, and so is the current incumbent. June Milligan is the director-general of local government and communities and the chief veterinary officer is Dr Christianne Glossop.

Where, however, are the female local council chief executives or directors of finance - or female council leaders, come to that? It cannot be said that male-dominated Welsh local government has covered itself in glory.

End of a great library?

There are disturbing news reports that "Islamist" rebels retreating from the combined French and Malian forces have set fire to the central institute in Timbuktu which houses a unique collection of ancient manuscripts. A few may remain in private hands - if I recall Aminatta Forna's 2010 documentary correctly, many citizens of Timbuktu have their own small collections which one hopes they have concealed - but if the reports are true, there has been cultural destruction greater than the bombing of Coventry and Dresden in the last world war.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Lead times

I want to tell you a story. The details have become blurred over the years, but it is basically true.

One autumn, a keen systems designer, whom I shall call "Mark", in a division of a large corporation had a bright idea. He could see a way of combining the various existing management data into a single easily-read report. He took an outline of his proposal to his head of department, who thought it worth taking to the finance director. The finance director called a meeting and asked when the scheme would be ready. Mark made some back-of-the-envelope calculations - so many weeks detailing, so many weeks programming, so many weeks testing, add on contingency for error-correction etc. - and said "June". The finance director said he would think about it, but after a few days informed the other two that the budget would unfortunately not allow for the new work.

Mark went back to his routine work and thought no more about his scheme until the next April when he had a call out of the blue from the top floor. We've had second thoughts about your program was the message; we can see how much management time it would save and we'd like you to go ahead with it. It will be ready by June as you promised, won't it?

Mark learned from this episode never to give fixed dates in future, but to quote only elapsed time when asked when projects would be ready. When he told me the story several years later when we were both IT contractors, it confirmed my impression that higher management in large commercial undertakings could be as impractical as that in the civil service.

Unfortunately, politicians, because so few have real-world experience, are generally burdened by the same mind-set. They seem to believe that projects can be turned on and off like a tap.

Clegg is *not* endorsing Plan B

BBC broadcasters' spin is misleading. The website editor is more scrupulous. Nick Clegg specifically regrets cutting so much capital spending, as Stephen Tall lucidly explains.

It seems to me that in the panic generated by the Greek crash, decisions were rushed. It was easier to make percentage cuts across the board, rather than take time to discriminate. It was clearly necessary to show progress in cutting the structural deficit in order to "get the bond-holders off our backs" as the deputy prime minister put it. Only Ed Balls would disagree with this; Labour's outgoing chancellor would have cut slightly more government expenditure than the coalition is doing. It was right to replace the PFI-based "Building Schools for the Future" scheme.  However, within the envelope of budget cuts it would have been possible to retain some capital projects (e.g. in the Wales budget) while reducing spending on administration elsewhere. The restructuring of the NHS in England comes to mind.

Having said all that, the coalition has been rather bolder than Labour in authorising several big railway expansions. The GWR and Valleys Lines electrification is one example and, whatever one thinks of the environmental impact, HS2 is also going to generate a lot of construction work.

Friday, 25 January 2013

Second-hand smoke

When Peter Black relayed on Facebook his blog post about the smoking storyline in Casualty, some FB friends cast doubt on the perception that smoking in the workplace affects the health of co-workers. I can offer some personal experience. For many years, I was an IT contractor. I was always glad to land a job with an insurance company, because these firms were the first to ban smoking on their premises. The big insurance companies are not known for their philanthropy, but are good at calculating odds assessing statistics and they would have had access to the best and latest relevant scientific data.

Our place in the EU

As Peter Black points out, the much-trailed speech to Bloomberg's "On the move" (video here) was that of a PR man. However, the shape of the European Union envisaged by Mr Cameron and his ilk is beginning to be discerned. It is that of little more than a common market. The UK would have tariff-free entry to the continent and our financial institutions would be allowed to trade there without restrictions. Our professionals would presumably be allowed to practise in the rest of the EU, but we would be permitted to set a cap on the numbers of other EU nationals entering the UK. We would cooperate on terrorism, but would not participate in the European Arrest Warrant, instead relying on cumbersome and uncertain extradition arrangements. Above all, we would unwind all the social measures mandated by the EU. The relationship would be purely commercial.

On the other side of the English Channel, the French would be happy to see the UK out of the EU altogether. They have never wanted us in the first place. (I can't resist the thought that the products of the Paris Institute see themselves as the heirs to Napoleon or even Charlemagne and resent any challenge to their potential rule over a new European empire.) The Germans are more agnostic. They would prefer us to stay in the EU as is, but would not go to the stake for us.

What can be predicted is that the other EU members would not allow the UK to compete with them having the unfair advantage of much poorer employment conditions, and health and safety standards. They would no doubt expect a continuing contribution to the EU budget, as Norway and Sweden do.

However, there are many smaller nations who want us to stay and not purely for our budget contribution. They look to the UK, with its tradition of parliamentary democracy, to counteract the authoritarian tendencies of the EU institutions. They also agree with us that reforms are needed to common policies. There are signs, however, that they are repulsed by the anti-Europe rhetoric of Tories (and some on the Labour benches) amplified by our media.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Royal succession

Constitutional discussions always raise some historical sidelights. This interchange came about in the debate on the Succession to the Crown Bill last Tuesday:

Wayne David: Let me refer to an issue that is, in some ways, particular to the people of Wales: the title of Princess of Wales. Since 1301 the eldest male heir has usually been invested with the title of Prince of Wales, and as I understand, that position is bestowed at the discretion of the monarch. Edward II did not invest his eldest son, the future Edward III, with the title, but investiture later became custom and practice. The position confers no automatic rights or responsibilities, but it follows that if there is to be no gender discrimination in the royal succession, consideration ought to be given to the title of Princess of Wales being given to a female heir apparent.

Paul Flynn: My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. He will recall from history that the title of Prince of Wales was the result of a promise that the people of Wales would have a King who could not speak a word of English. He could not speak a word of any language, including a word of Welsh. Is it sensible, with the pride of Wales at heart, to continue to perpetuate that royal confidence trick?

Wayne David: My reading of history is that when Llywelyn was defeated by Edward I, a promise was indeed made. The King of England at that time could not, of course, speak Welsh, but he could not speak English either. He spoke Norman French. It is important to make that point when considering such issues because it is easy for some people to translate modern ideas of nationality into mediaeval situations. It is important that the historical reality of the United Kingdom is recognised, and there is a specific niche for Wales with regard to the Prince of Wales, and hopefully, in future, for the Princess of Wales. If it were appropriate to have a Princess of Wales I hope that people in Wales would welcome such a development, and I ask the Minister whether she would welcome such a move.

Later, Nicholas Soames contributed:
"Consequent to the Bill—this is why my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset [Jacob Rees-Mogg] was completely right to ask for the House to have more time to deal with the matter—a large number of Acts will require the House’s attention and amendment, including the Bill of Rights 1689; the Act of Settlement 1701; the Union with Scotland Act 1706; the Coronation Oath Act 1688; Princess Sophia’s Precedence Act 1711; the Royal Marriages Act 1772; the Union with Ireland Act 1800; the Accession Declaration Act 1910; and the Regency Act 1937. Those are not things to be consigned to the dustbin of history at the flick of a pen;"

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Timetabling, a threat to parliamentary democracy

In the debate on the motion to timetable the Succession to the Crown Bill, John Redwood, Conservative member for Wokingham, spoke* thus: "One of the worst constitutional innovations of the previous Government was their decision to automatically timetable every piece of legislation they brought before this House, which I regretted and opposed at the time. When the coalition Government took office, I was very pleased with their language, because they told us that they were committed to a stronger democracy and a stronger Parliament. What better proof could there be that they not only have those beliefs, but wish to put them into action, than that they not automatically timetable every Bill brought before us?

"I rise to speak on the timetable motion because there is a feeling in the House that it is wrong and because it relates to a constitutional Bill. If there is any kind of legislation that should be hammered out and discussed in full on the Floor of the House, it is on matters relating to our constitution. We are the custodians of the constitution. That constitution either expresses the freedoms we believe in or it lets us down, depending on our point of view and the state we have reached. It would be a great day if the Deputy Prime Minister**, a former lover of freedom and of an independent Parliament, rose from the Front Bench and said, 'I hear what you say. We will give you the freedom to debate this at the length of your choosing.'

"[It is] important to allow proper consideration on something of this magnitude. We have heard today from hon. Ladies and Gentlemen who have a range of very different views on the country they belong to, the oath they wish to swear and the allegiance they wish to show. We are going to the heart of what this nation is, how it expresses itself and how it represents itself at the highest level. I think that it is quite wrong to shorten debate on that. It might be that when we get to the debate we will not need much more time than the Government have allowed, but surely they can trust a free Parliament. Surely, on this issue, they can let Parliament have its way and discuss what it wishes for a reasonable length of time.

"Before the Labour Government, previous Governments always reserved the right to introduce a guillotine motion if they felt that the Opposition were behaving unreasonably and not allowing sensible progress to be made. All democratic Oppositions ultimately agree that Governments have a right to get their legislation through if it has been properly advertised and argued for in general elections. Surely, on this issue, this is the time for the Deputy Prime Minister to strengthen his reputation, make his name with a blow for freedom and allow us to speak for as long as we wish."

In the event, the timetable motion was passed without dissent. Honourable members were no doubt concerned to remove the anti-Catholic and anti-woman aspects of royal succession without delay. There was also the potential difficulty of allowing amendments which might have to be referred back to other countries of whom HMQ is also head of state.

But I hope that the Department for Constitutional Affairs will take to heart the general principle enunciated by Mr Redwood. Even senior Labour members now regret their administration's introduction of the routine of timetabling Bills.

This government's assumption on taking office that timetabling is the norm led to the farce of a Bill on reform of the House of Lords, which had the support of the majority of the Commons, being left in limbo because the DCA felt that they could not succeed with a timetable motion.

I think that this House of Commons is the most democratic of my lifetime. However, there are still areas where the Establishment can limit the ability of our representatives to express themselves. Timetabling is one of them and I hope that the government will resort to it only when absolutely necessary.

* columns 200-201

**Nick Clegg

Monday, 21 January 2013

Parental smoking and asthma

John Leech MP draws attention to a report of a drop of 12% in diagnoses of asthma in children since the introduction of the smoking ban in England. I am cautious about inferring a causal link at this stage and on the minimal information I have seen so far. However, my own personal experience as the son of parents who both smoked inclines me to believe the headlines, especially as a similar fall was reported in Scotland, coinciding with the earlier legislation in this country.

In the mean time, there is more information at Asthma UK.

Friday, 18 January 2013

Gleision mine disaster manslaughter charges

BBC Wales and The Independent are reporting that the manager of the drift near Rhos in which four miners suffered fatal injuries has been charged with their manslaughter. The limited company which owns the mine has also been charged.

Presumably complications arising from the possibility of criminal charges caused the delay to the official government report.

[Update: the initial hearing will be in Neath magistrates' court on 1st February]

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

Geoff Thomas

It was sad to hear the other day of the early death of one of the leading players of the Swansea Town (later City) side which entertained us at the Vetch when I arrived in Swansea with DVLC. Always entertaining, he was no angel as Doug Livermore will recall from a highly-charged clash with Cardiff. But what I shall remember with most pleasure was his power and skill with the dead ball, something which would not be surpassed until Jan Molby joined the club.

Friday, 11 January 2013

Russian Liberals write to French tax exile

Thanks to Liberal International for passing on this open letter from Yabloko the Russian Liberal Party.
Dear Mr. Depardieu,

In connection with your plans to settle in Mordovia, let me ask you a few questions as so to say your new compatriot.

1. A few days ago you visited Mordovia and, as you put it, you were stunned by the hospitality shown to you there. Vladimir Volkov, President of the Republic of Mordovia, offered you in a handsome gesture an apartment or a plot of land under a house. The generosity of the head of the region struck many people in the republic, especially the residents of Tambovskaya street in Saransk.
Do you know that this street is located close to the monument to Yemelyan Pugachev you were taken to see? Dozens of families had been living there in their private houses for years until the brother of the President of Mordovia put an eye on this plot of land. After trials in the controlled courts these families were deprived of their property titles and were unable to buy new housing with the compensation [assigned to them by the courts’ decisions]. Also there are many people enlisted in the housing queues in Mordovia (low income families, families with many children, handicapped, etc), they have been waiting for years to get from the state the housing they must get in accordance with the law. According to media reports, the head of the Republic donates you an apartment in one of the new apartment blocks in Saransk.

Here comes my first question. Do you think it is possible to accept such a gift taken away from one of these unfortunate Saransk families?

2. In a letter to Channel 1 you called modern Russia a "great democracy". Do you know that the party of your friend Vladimir Putin obtained 104 per cent of the vote in the Republic of Mordovia in the parliamentary elections of 2007?

And here comes one more question in terms of clarification: Do you think that the greatness of a democracy is measured by the amount of votes obtained by the ruling party at the elections?

3. In Russia people associate the decision of President Putin to grant you citizenship and the fuss around it in the state-owned media with the desire of the government to divert public attention from the “Anti-Magnitsky law” which has come into force. You probably know that Russia has adopted this law prohibiting to Americans to adopt Russian children in response to the U.S. entry ban for the persons responsible for the murder of Sergei Magnitsky.

And here comes my third question. Could you, as a Russian citizen, tell us about your attitude to this law the Russian society is so concerned about?
With a great respect for your talent,
Vladimir Gridin,
Chairman of the Mordovia branch of the YABLOKO party 

See also:
Human Rights

Thursday, 10 January 2013

David Cameron and an EU referendum

For some time, I have wondered why the prime minister has not sponsored an in-out referendum on the EU in this parliament. Granted, it is not written in to the coalition agreement, but he could have given tacit acceptance to a Private Member's Bill authorising a referendum.

I had dreamed that his abandonment of his pre-election anti-EU rhetoric was a result of a realisation of the benefits of membership once he got into government. However, it appears that the real reason is that the pressure from the US State Department which was partly responsible for our entry to the European Community in the first place has continued. An official, possibly alarmed by the increased coverage of UKIP and Tory europhobes in the UK media, has broken cover.

It has not swayed John Redwood, though.

Borgen still on form

It was good to see that Borgen has not suffered the second-series fall-off that afflicts so many innovative dramas. "Homeland" and even "Forbrydelsen" are recent examples. Admittedly, the dilemmas in the first two episodes were resolved rather too neatly and the dialogue was occasionally clunky, but these traits were noticeable in series one.

Episode one certainly came in with a bang, almost literally. I didn't notice much discussion among my Facebook friends on this one, possibly because prime minister Nyborg came to a different conclusion about her troops in Afghanistan than they would have done. Incidentally, there was no nonsense about protecting hard-working families on the streets of Denmark in Birgitte's speech of justification to the nation; the troops were there to help bring peace and democracy to Afghanistan.

Episode two tackled the EU and introduced a thread which I suspect will develop through the series: the growing estrangement between the PM and her party rank-and-file. It is tempting to see parallels with Nick Clegg's position, but it is more probable that the scriptwriters are drawing on their own country's history and that of their neighbours. After all, continental Europeans have been at this coalition lark longer than we have.

Proportional voting apart, Borgen portrays a political system much more like our own than that other favourite of politically-aware viewers, The West Wing. Do the Danish parties have conferences like ours, I wonder? If so, I hope that is a subject the writers have tackled.

I say "have tackled", because Radio Times announced in its preview of this series that series three has just finished shooting, and will be the last. DR has been canny in not letting their dramas outstay their welcome. No doubt UK TV executives have commissioned scripts for a Westminster equivalent, but history suggests that "me-too" will fail in this case. Borgen works because it is sufficiently distanced from British politics to be intriguing, though the personal situations are all too familiar. The British TV audience can lap up satire ("Yes, Minister", "The Thick of it") or thrillers ("House of Cards", "State of Play") based on Westminster, but more serious drama has not caught on. There has been no successor to "First Among Equals" since the dramatisation of Jeffrey Archer's novel was aired 26 years ago.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Spot the deliberate mistake

This is not literally true. Well, even Labour wouldn't contemplate adding more than the typical wage to the income of everyone on state benefits. The statement would be more accurate if the words "will increase in percentage terms" were added after "wages", but of course Central Office is more interested in feeding the prejudice against "scroungers". 

It is not as if benefits are overly generous anyway. I must say that I agree with Charles Kennedy, Adrian Sanders, Andrew George, David Ward, Julian Huppert, John Leech and Sarah Teather. who refused to support the government measure which imposes a 1% cap on benefit increases until 2016. It should be remembered that there is already a squeeze on housing benefit in the pipeline. 

On the positive side, things would have been even worse if LibDem ministers had not resisted the Treasury proposal for a zero increase. 

Acknowledgements to Guido for the image, by the way. 

Monday, 7 January 2013

Coalition Government Mid-term Review

Strong, stable and firm leadership was the Cameron buzz-phrase at the top of his presentation of the mid-term review. It was interesting thereafter to hear his list of the successes of the coalition and contrast them with Nick Clegg's.

  • On the NHS (in England, implicitly) he claimed success for the Lansley/Hunt reforms. I'll leave it to other commentators how they have turned out in reality over the border, but it seems to me that the reforms were neither in the Conservative manifesto, nor the Liberal Democrat one, nor in the coalition agreement. The abolition of one tier of management seems to have been achieved at the price of installing a supervisory board. At least the loophole which gave money to private firms for virtually doing nothing has been closed.
  • Pensions: naturally, Cameron concentrated on the change in balance in the public sector.
  • Education:  - he went out of his way to praise Michael Gove's free schools and expansion of the academy system, neither of which apply to Wales, but didn't mention the pupil premium which, thanks to Kirsty Williams, does.
  • Employment: Cameron rejoiced in the creation of many more private sector jobs. 
  • Transport infrastructure. Apart from the contentious HS2, Cameron was probably on solid ground here. He did not mention the Keynesian implications of the rail infrastructure programme, presumably for fear of stirring up the Tory backwoodsmen, but this has surely been one of the coalition's achievements over the last administration.
  • Banking reform: it was good to hear Cameron championing the sort of changes Vince Cable has been pressing, against opposition from the chancellor and (presumably) Treasury advisors.
Of the programme for the next two years, child-care, a mortgage deposit scheme, reducing poverty in old-age, long-term care, limiting state power and increasing  private interest in the motorway network, only the last two would sound warning bells for most Liberal Democrats, though no doubt economic liberals would welcome them wholeheartedly.

There was no mention of Europe.

In his summing-up, Cameron hit several Daily Mail buttons: "striving", "aspiration", "hard-working families": in other words, he was not expecting many votes in 2015 from social security claimants.

In his contribution, significantly, Nick also said that the coalition was helping people "get on in life" but he did add fairness to its list of aims. To the catalogue of achievements he added those most closely associated with the LibDms: taking lower-paid out of tax, the pupil premium , closing tax loopholes, triple lock on pensions, apprenticeships (surprising that Cameron didn't bag this one for himself) and the Green Investment Bank.

There were too few questions from the political hacks to form a statistically significant sample, but it was still interesting that the interrogation was mainly on the party political aspects of the review, and hardly anything on the actual policies, even the contentious ones. There was no question on the NHS, only one on education (on university education at that) and one on the EU. The tired old marriage simile was used again and put down by Cameron who preferred to see the coalition agreement as similar to the guarantee on the Ronseal tin.

Where do I stand?  I agree that stability has been the main benefit of coalition. The steady reduction of the fiscal deficit has restored confidence. It has, in Nick Clegg's phrase in an earlier Q&A session, kept the bond-holders off our backs. The suggestion that UK can safely return to economic imprudence because she controls her own currency is rebutted by the example of the government of Argentina, which once again has resorted to sabre-rattling to distract its voters from the mess that defaults and devaluations have left it in.

There has been one major unforeseen benefit of coalition government: the installation of pensions expert Steve Webb as a minister. There is the probability of a pensions structure being developed which will be robust for a generation, instead of having to be revisited every two or three years. The fact that two of the three major parties are signed up to it should guarantee its success. It would only be jeopardised by the break-up of the coalition which is threatened by the dry bones (and hollobones) of the Thatcher tendency.

On the other hand, I have been disappointed in two areas in which I thought Liberal Democrats had more in common with Conservatives than with Labour: personal freedom and decentralising government. Having made a good start on civil rights, Theresa May is taking a step backwards with proposals for secret courts, and the Conservative ministers in DCLG seem as keen on micromanagement as their Labour predecessors.

We signed up to an agreement and we should stand by that. There is not only a moral imperative, but also an economic one. The country can not yet afford a return to uncertainty. On the other hand, Liberal Democrat ministers do seem to have been browbeaten into accepting more cuts in social security than they need to.

Saturday, 5 January 2013

The twelve scandals

Twelfth Night, misrule and all that: here is a cartoon reminder from Unlock Democracy of why we need a change in the voting system

Friday, 4 January 2013

The legendary Charles Chilton

Those of us who fondly remember "Riders of the Range" on radio and in the Eagle comic followed by "Journey into Space" were greatly cheered by Charles Chilton's revelation on a BBC Radio 4 reminiscence programme that not only was he still alive -and lively - in the twenty-first century but also that he had maintained a private archive of recordings of his work. We also learned of his socialism (which led to the radio ballads and to "Oh, what a lovely war") and his previous achievements, including contriving to produce the first jazz programmes on BBC against the prevailing conservatism of the management. I, for one, looked forward to further revelations. Sadly, he has died, aged 95.

The print obituaries will no doubt cast light on other aspects of his career, but it is already clear that he will go down as one of the great radio producers, not only in the UK but in English-language broadcasting worldwide.