Saturday, 30 November 2013

Another might-have-been

Sir Cyril Townsend died on the 20th November. He was Conservative MP for Bexleyheath from 1974 to 1997. I hadn't realised quite how liberal he was until I read John Barnes' obituary in the Independent today. He would clearly have been at home in Heath's Conservative party (and if he had been born earlier would have made a good minister under Macmillan) but for most of his parliamentary career was at odds with the Thatcher administration. Barnes writes:
In 1990 he gave his support to Michael Heseltine’s candidature for the leadership. Although far happier with John Major’s leadership than Thatcher’s, he was dismayed at the growth of euroscepticism and stood down from Parliament in 1997. Eventually his continued support of the European cause led him to join the Liberal Democrats in 2006.
If Thatcher had remained as party leader instead of Major would Townsend have moved to the Liberal Democrats earlier, and what effect would that have had on the 1992 general election?

Friday, 29 November 2013

An illusion shattered

I was brought up believing that our armed forces were exemplary in their conduct of anti-terrorist campaigns in the 1940s and 1950s. This is not the fault of my parents, but of the impression created by the press and the BBC. The first chink in the post-war governments' PR armour came with the revelations by Barbara Castle and others of the atrocities committed at Hola camp in Kenya, which made front-page news in the Daily Mirror. Still, these seemed to be an isolated case and we had the shining example of our hearts-and-minds strategy in Malaya, as opposed to the vicious communist forces.

Now comes confirmation that not only were our forces brutal, but that there was a standing policy of destroying all papers relating to our colonial past as the UK retreated from Empire. The papers which helped the Hola victims gain compensation were the ones that "got away", saved one assumes by the last governor of Kenya,, more enlightened than his colonial masters.

We probably still have a better record in counter-insurgency than most, but the difference is less marked than it used to appear.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Another shortsighted rail "improvement" in Wales

I can do no better than quote Aled Roberts AM (from the Daily Post's report):

Mr Roberts said: “When the transport minister announced that she had agreed a £44m scheme with Network Rail and explained that it would improve north-south journey times and links with Wrexham , everyone assumed that she was backing the original Network Rail Scheme. 

 “But it now appears that the Welsh Government has cut the construction of a second rail track between Wrexham and Gresford from the plan to lay a second railway line to Chester. 

 “The effect of this U-turn is to reduce by half the number of trains that will be able to use the Wrexham to Chester line. The inevitable consequence will be congestion, especially when the new prison opens and generates an extra 1,000 passengers a week. 

 “It will also make it less likely that there will be direct services to the north-west of England. “Wrexham could be condemned to years of rail congestion and delays if the Welsh Government does not reverse this U-turn and adopt the original plan.” 

 He added: “Not only must we consider the rising number of passengers visiting the prison, there is also the issue of the increasing number of freight trains that are using this line, particularly to the Kronospan factory in Chirk. 

 “Today the business minister agreed to provide me with a statement as to the nature of the new Network Rail scheme. I also asked that the statement confirm whether an assessment has been made showing how the revisions to the Network Rail plan will affect rail passenger capacity at Wrexham and connectivity with London and Manchester.”

One is reminded of the decision to provide only a light-railway single line when Bridgend-Maesteg was reopened. Passenger volumes since have shown what a shortsighted decision this was.

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Drawbacks of easier fast travel

Yesterday, Radio 4 broadcast a programme about the dangers from zoonoses - diseases which circulate among animals which can leap to infect humans. More frightening is the possibility that they are capable of mutating to allow human-to-human infection.  Contact with both domesticated and wild animals which harbour pathogens has long imperilled the lives of people in Africa and South Asia. An increase in the attractiveness of these places as holiday destinations and availability of jet travel to them puts more of the world's population at risk

Now there is a warning that the United States could see epidemics of dengue fever, once thought eradicated there, for the same reason.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Dogpile's new name

There were search engines for years before Google, and even meta-searchers which collated the results of several engines. Dogpile, which became webfetch on this side of the pond, was one of these. Now Infospace, which owns both brands as well as seems to be embarking on a further programme of rationalisation.

For the serious searcher, there are tools which can not only refine search criteria but also link with your own personal data. Infospace provides these, as well as other providers such as Copernic. But webfetch has been free, which I trust zoo is also.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Birth of a hundred conspiracy theories

Just two days after the assassination of President Kennedy, Jack Ruby, a business failure and a shady figure on the fringes of the Mafia, shot dead Lee Harvey Oswald and thus ensured that the true reason for the assassination would never be known.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Fifty years ago today

Everybody of a certain age remembers where they were. My memory is of a Ministry of Transport cricket club cheese-and-wine party held in the resident clerk's flat at the top of St Christopher House, Southwark. It was going so well that the drink ran out and a small party had to be sent out to seek more supplies - not a difficult task as the area was well-supplied with pubs and wine merchants, not to mention Becky's Dive Bar underneath the Hop Exchange. When they returned, they passed on the reports that President Kennedy had been shot. Nobody believed it at first. A senior executive officer, who should have known better, made an off-colour joke (mercifully, I cannot remember the details). After some confusion, JHH (Jimmy) Baxter gathered us all together and embarked on a long story about an epic Scottish club cricket match in which he may or may not have taken part. The punch line was weak, but it didn't matter. It had taken our minds off the tragedy in Dallas.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The Cooperative movement and politics

Jonathan Evans, the Conservative MP for Cardiff North, spoke up for the mutual and cooperative principles in British business in questions on the Business Statement in the House of Commons today. Jason McCartney (Conservative, Colne Valley) in the same session questioned the failure of the Co-op to provide a dividend this year, which enabled Leader of the House Andrew Lansley to make the point that the Labour Party had benefited from soft loans from the Co-op. If I recall correctly from his blog, John Redwood shops at his local Cooperative store in Wokingham.

I assume all three are Co-op members and wonder whether they, and other Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who are also Cooperators, have been assiduous in attending general meetings of the organisation in order to question its far-too-close ties with the Labour Party. I must confess to being remiss in this respect after a single foray back in the 1990s. Perhaps if more of us had persisted, the Co-op would not have landed in the mess we see today.

Mr Evans is wrong, though, in advocating that mutuals should not involve themselves in politics. They cannot shackle themselves in this way while their conglomerate and multi-national rivals are active in the political sphere. What is clear is that the Co-op should not have tied itself to one political party. While acknowledging the common roots of the Labour, TU and Cooperative movements, I feel that the Co-op should have taken stock of its political strategy a long time ago. Most of its aims of social justice in the retail sector had been met, and it was already moving to a "green" agenda when New Labour came to power in 1997. The Blair/Brown governments were very helpful to the big supermarkets, who now have huge power especially over planning decisions. Indeed, Terry Leahy of Tesco and David Sainsbury were Labour supporters. That power is inimical, I would suggest, to ecologically-aware retailing and to local choice.

Therefore, donations to the Liberal Democrats (of course) and to the Green Party would have done more for the Co-op's interests than continuing to serve the Labour Party slavishly. The Cooperative Party is theoretically an arms-length organisation, but it is constitutionally bound to promote cooperative principles and should at least have made it known to the MPs it sponsors that its support was not unconditional.

As to the way in which a disgraced Labour councillor with no business experience was able to surf to the top of a prominent retail bank, we await detail from one of the three inquiries whose launch has recently been announced.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Liberal Democrat responsibility

When I read Andrew Grice's snide comment, which could have come straight from Labour's media department, that "We might have expected the Lib Dems, who know a thing or two about making rash, uncosted promises in opposition, to play Labour at its own game" followed by "Yet Nick Clegg has adopted a more grown-up approach than his senior coalition partners", I thought that he had it arse-about-face. Just because we expected the criticism that a third party could make unrealistic promises, from early on Liberal Democrat election manifestos were costed, and vetted by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.

To take an example of the party's scrupulousness, the contentious tuition fees policy was rigorously costed for the 2010 election manifesto, even though the party hierarchy had been outvoted by conference over its inclusion. It did not fail to be put into operation because it was financially unviable, but because the party was outvoted on the issue, both Conservatives and Labour standing on a policy of continuing with the student loans system and increasing fees. It was the leader's election machine which advised candidates to sign up to the NUS pledge. It was Nick who stood in front of the "Tory bombshell" VAT rise poster while Vince Cable was elsewhere advising that the economic situation was so bad that a VAT rise could not definitely be ruled out.

Now it is Nick who is pushing for the coalition to cut taxes without saying how to pay for it. I trust that our next manifesto will be more honest.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Legislation in limbo

Thanks to a post on the Lords of the Blog website by Lord Norton of Louth, I now know that there are 147 pieces of legislation, sections or schedules of Acts which have received the Royal Assent since 1977, which are not in force because the necessary Commencement Order has not been made or Statutory Instrument laid. The full list obtained in a parliamentary answer in the Lords is here. (The term "full list" may be a misnomer, judging by Lord McNally's introductory remarks.) The list includes two Acts which had not been brought into force at all. The Mortgage Repossessions (Protection of Tenants etc) 2010 was brought into operation since that parliamentary answer, but nothing seems to have been done about the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Act 2010.

It is not alone in limbo. The Easter Act 1928 is a famous example. This would fix the date of Easter, but requires the agreement of both Houses of Parliament before a Commencement Order can be issued. Since this agreement has never been obtained (too many bishops in the Upper House?) it has never come into force. However, the reason for the 2010 Act being in limbo is obscure. According to the preface to an explanatory note issued in March 2010 to our legislators (pdf here)

This Bill would disentangle insurance proceeds payable to an insolvent company or
individual from insolvency proceedings. This makes it easier for a person injured by the
insured to access the proceeds of insurance policies payable to the debtor. It is a largely
uncontroversial measure, previously proposed by the Law Commission and Scottish Law
Commission, and, following consultation, has widespread support from the majority of
stakeholders. It applies to the whole of the United Kingdom

The Bill was part of the new, expedited procedure for bringing through Parliament, Law Commission Bills that command widespread consensus and support. It addressed situations of real hardship. It originated in the Lords, where, in committee, there was a reference to a quibble by the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers, but otherwise nothing to obstruct its smooth passage. In the Commons, it was welcomed by both sides of the House with no debate.  So why has it not been brought into force?

Sunday, 17 November 2013

I'm missing Beryl

 - not to mention those Charmin bears, killed off by a rebranding exercise. Joanna Quinn clearly finds it difficult to finance her own work since advertisers on TV became seduced by CGI to the detriment of the craft of individual animators (Nick Park being a rare exception). However, it's a long time since we saw some of the classics on TV. Perhaps Channel 4 will oblige?

Friday, 15 November 2013

From a transit of Venus to a slave-state boundary

Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon arrived in Philadelphia on November 15th 1763 to begin a survey to settle a dispute between the early colonists of North America. The boundaries that resulted between Maryland, Pennsylvania and what was to become Delaware came to have symbolic status. Mason and Dixon were skilled geometers. They had been appointed after the diputants had sought the advice of James Bradley, the then astronomer-royal. Mason was Bradley’s assistant at the observatory, an Anglican widower with two sons. Dixon was a skilled surveyor from Durham, a Quaker bachelor whose Meeting had ousted him for his unwillingness to abstain from liquor. In 1761 Mason and Dixon had sailed together for Sumatra, but only made it to the Cape of Good Hope, to record a transit of Venus across the sun to support the Royal Society’s calculations of distance by parallax between the Earth and sun. There is more historical detail here.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Labour feel so strongly about the bedroom tax - not

It was an unequivocally aggressive motion put by Labour in the House yesterday:

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House regrets the pernicious effect on vulnerable and in many cases disabled people of deductions being made from housing benefit paid to working age tenants in the social housing sector deemed to have an excess number of bedrooms in their homes; calls on the Government to end these deductions with immediate effect; furthermore calls for any cost of ending them to be covered by reversing tax cuts which will benefit the wealthiest and promote avoidance, and addressing the tax loss from disguised employment in construction; and further calls on the Government to use the funding set aside for discretionary housing payments to deal with under-occupation by funding local authorities so that they are better able to help people with the cost of moving to suitable accommodation.

Yet we now know that, even after Ms Reeves and various other Labour figures criticised minister Iain Duncan Smith for his absence, over forty Labour MPs - including both those for Swansea seats - could not be bothered to turn up to vote.

Moreover, Ms Reeves had dodged a key question put to her in an intervention:

John Hemming (Birmingham, Yardley) (LD): Obviously it was the Labour party in government that introduced the bedroom tax—in the private sector. On 19 January 2004, Labour Ministers said:

“We hope to implement a flat rate housing benefit system in the social sector, similar to that anticipated in the private rented sector”.—[Official Report, 19 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 1075W.]

The question for the shadow Secretary of State is, “When did you change your policy?”

It is something that Steve Webb picked up on in his reply on behalf of the government:

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): One of the strangest things in this argument about the private rented sector is that during the passage of the Welfare Reform Bill I never once heard the Government mention it—it is one of those later justifications. The problem is that people in the private rented sector were not suddenly told one day, “Your house is too big; you have to start paying for the extra rooms regardless of whether you can move.” That is a huge difference and the two things are not comparable. If we want to talk about equalising, perhaps we should equalise rents.

Steve Webb: I am interested that the hon. Lady mentions rents, because if we compare private and social tenants, she is saying that social tenants, who already benefit from subsidised rent, should not have to pay for an extra bedroom, whereas private tenants paying a market rent should pay for it. That does not seem fair to me.

In an intervention on the hon. Member for Leeds West, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) pointed out something that has not hitherto been flagged up—Labour’s intention to extend the principle of the local housing allowance to social tenants. Let me quote Hansard from January 2004 when the late Malcolm Wicks stated:

“We hope to implement a flat rate housing benefit system in the social sector, similar to that anticipated in the private rented sector…We aim to extend our reforms to the social rented sector as soon as rent restructuring and increased choice have created an improved market.”—[Official Report, 19 January 2004; Vol. 416, c. 1075W.]

Interestingly, the Labour party planned to do that, yet when this Government do it, suddenly it is somebody else’s problem.

John Hemming: From what the Minister has said, the Labour party was quite happy to have a bedroom tax, not just in the private sector but also in the social rented sector as soon as rents had gone up.

Steve Webb: I congratulate my hon. Friend on drawing the House’s attention to the Labour party’s plans. Not only did the Labour party invent the principle of paying for an extra bedroom, it intended to extend it.

There is little doubt that making these cuts when there was little one-bedroom accommodation for those affected to move to has caused hardship, as was recognised by the last Liberal Democrat federal conference. However, one has to ask what Labour did to provide extra social housing when it was in power, especially since the trend towards single-person occupation was already marked early in the Blair-Brown administrations.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

What Olympic legacy?

The message in this report was to be expected: so far from encouraging participation in sport, last year's Olympic Games in London has if anything deterred people.

UK Ltd (or should that be London Ltd?) has made money out of the 2012 event, but more was expected.

The point is that sport - except possibly at the highest professional level - should be fun. Competition is good, winners should receive their due share of praise, but nobody should be thought less of for being on the losing side. Ambitious sports teachers should remember Boris Becker's reaction to attacks from the media when he lost to an unseeded Australian in the first round at Wimbledon in 1987: "I lost a tennis match – it was not a war, nobody died out there."

I would like to see more concentration on schoolchildren getting the best out of themselves. Tim Woodhouse of Women's Sport and Fitness Foundation, giving evidence to the Commons' Culture, Media and Sport select committee this morning stressed that PE in schools should concentrate on health, rather than competition. If I recall correctly, something like four out of five girls - irrespective of religion, though that is a complicating factor - are put off PE. A major factor is the poor state of changing-rooms, in addition to PE being seen as "not cool". (Incidentally, it was depressing to see how poorly attended the session was, both in the gallery and in the committee seats.) It is reasonable to conclude that his remarks apply to Wales as well as England.

Monday, 11 November 2013

What would the Conservatives of yesteryear think?

The ODNB entry for Sir (Benn) Jack Brunel Cohen, Conservative MP for Liverpool Fairfield from 1918 to 1931, notes that not only did he help to shape the British Legion, becoming its first honorary treasurer, he later chaired the national advisory council (Ministry of Labour) on employment for the disabled, which gave rise to the Disabled Persons (Employment) Act of 1944. He "thus achieved his longstanding aim of requiring employers to have a quota of disabled people among their workforces. He became the chairman of the Ministry of Labour's national advisory council to oversee the working of the legislation. Cohen stood down as the British Legion's treasurer in 1946, but in that year became vice-chairman of Remploy Ltd, which grew out of the Disabled Persons Employment Corporation, founded in 1945, and was its chairman in 1955."

I believe he was not alone in that generation of Conservatives who, having seen action in one or both world wars, regarded it as a public duty to assist the disabled in employment. One wonders what they would make of the current crop of Tories who, following Labour's lead, have virtually eliminated Remploy.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Music for BBC SF operas

It was good to see Ron Grainer acknowledged in print as the originator of the Dr Who theme. It seemed as if the priesthood now in charge of the franchise had written him out of history. The genesis is described in an article in yesterday's Independent.

The producer Verity Lambert asked Ron Grainer, composer of the opening music for Maigret and Steptoe and Son, for a tune with a beat that was “familiar yet different”. A single A4 sheet was despatched from Grainer's home in Portugal to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, where Delia Derbyshire was placed in charge of fully realising Grainer's composition – and, at a time before synthesisers, had to create each new sound from scratch. The swooping noises on the soundtrack were created by Derbyshire painstakingly adjusting the pitch of an oscillator to a carefully timed pattern, while the rhythmic hissing sounds were the product of filtering white noise. All of these musical effects had to be captured on individual tape recorders.

In that same article, Holst's Mars was cited as the theme music for the first two Quatermass serials on BBC-TV, but of course there was much more underscore than that. There is a list here. (Not listed is another piece of library music entitled if I recall correctly "Tank Action", very derivative of Mars.) Trevor Duncan features heavily, but I notice a couple of heavyweights in the list, Mátyás Seiber and Hans May, like producer Rudolph Cartier a refugee from the Nazis.

Saturday, 9 November 2013

The Song Show

There is still no sign of a replacement for what was an entertaining but intelligent weekly survey of popular song - mostly American, but a good proportion of British, with the occasional Continental dash. Without this programme, I would not have heard of Susannah McCorkle, Annette Hanshaw or Dave Frishberg. It is good to have an extra hour of swing and other big band music (though Clare Teal's chirpiness sounds a bit forced). She includes vocal jazz standards, as do Jazz Record Requests,  Geoffrey Smith's late night programmes and even Composer of the Week (!) on Radio 3. On Radio 2, there are plenty of programmes tied in with current stage and screen musical releases and regular looks at the star writers and performers. However, there is nothing which covers the sweep of popular song from the end of the Victorian ballad to the start of hard rock, as Russell Davies used to.

Friday, 8 November 2013

IDS should learn from Polaris technology

 - it's not quite rocket science

Andreas Whittam-Smith, in the pages of the newspaper he co-founded, has twice in recent months attacked the election-timetable-obsessed Cameron government for failure to plan. In September, the peg on which he hung his argument was HS2; yesterday it was Universal Credit.

There are various ways of planning and controlling large projects. PERT/CPM and Gantt are the most well-known. There is an overview here. The irony is that, as Mr Whittam-Smith points out, the huge US healthcare insurance programme has suffered setbacks, in the nation which established a means of bringing big government projects in on time.

In addition to answering the questions posed by Mr Whittam-Smith, DWP needs seriously to apply a project-planning tool. By "seriously", I mean that a permanent control team headed by a senior executive has to be set up, realistic estimates have to be drawn up, outcomes reviewed regularly and anyone with a stake in the outcome has to be involved. That does not mean that ministers should micro-manage the project; the planning charts would be hierarchical and the higher up the chain of command, the broader and less detailed the charts become. It should still be possible to see in what areas the pinch-points are occurring.

Of course, DWP civil servants may already have done all this but then been hit by a political diktat - the end-date shown by the planning software displeases the minister, who imposes his own go-live date. As a consequence, corners are cut and time-scales artificially shortened - testing is usually the function which suffers. I've seen it happen at close quarters; happily, the first major check caused a pause for thought and reassessment, putting the project back on track to a successful implementation. Sadly, any lessons learned from this experience would have been lost along with experienced staff as government computing was privatised from 1979 onwards.

It is clear that both Iain Duncan Smith and probably the permanent secretary are floundering. It needs someone at ministerial level - and therefore with some clout - with IT management experience to be put in charge for the duration of the Universal Credit implementation. As a Liberal Democrat, I immediately think of Richard Allan, but no doubt there are Conservative Lords or MPs with similar experience. However, there are advantages to appointing a LibDem. There is an outside chance that the Conservatives will not be the largest party in the Commons after the next election. The UC programme is virtually certain to continue into the next administration, and for the sake of continuity a Liberal Democrat would be more acceptable than a Conservative at the helm in 2015. From the Conservative point of view, a LibDem would be a convenient scapegoat if there were a further failure in the UC system.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

Alfred Russel Wallace

The co-discoverer of evolution by natural selection and designer of the Mechanics Institute in Neath died 100 years ago today.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Sir William Henry Preece (15th February 1834 - 6th November 1913)

If he is known today, it is for his resistance to change. As the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography recounts:

As electrician to the Post Office (which was then responsible for all communications in the realm), although he had been the first in Britain to demonstrate a working telephone, he told a parliamentary inquiry in 1879 that he foresaw little demand for the device in Britain, saying the telegraph and a "superabundance of messengers, errand boys and things of that kind" already met the need. Like other Post Office officials, Preece resisted anything that might undercut the existing telegraph system, an attitude that did much to delay the spread of the telephone in Britain.

However, this Welshman (born and died near Caernarfon) was a great administrator and populariser of science and technology.

Mexican Independence

Two hundred years ago today, Mexico declared independence. It was a false start. The country got into debt with France, who in 1863 sent her armies in to make recovery. They installed a puppet emperor - a Hapsburg, no less - but failed to support him. He was overthrown and assassinated in 1867.

We do things differently today. Imagine invading Iceland when their banks failed, holding millions in UK local authority deposits, then installing Sir Mark Thatcher as Viceroy.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Swansea City FC and the Cooperative Bank

Having read the Post's report of chairman Huw Jenkins' thoughts on Swansea City, I trust the club will continue to do things the right way. The nub was "that's the biggest challenge I've got, to make sure that [...] everybody working with the club believes if we keep doing things differently, we can compete, irrespective of the size of the club or budgets." I believe that the reckoning will come for the clubs whose current success is dependent on individuals whose wealth may be transient. I also believe that some would not stand prolonged scrutiny by Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs.

It seems to me that the failure of the Cooperative Bank resulted from a desire to compete with the Big Four, adopting their tactics and neglecting the bank's stated principles. If they had stuck to the latter, they would have found that the field had "come back to them" in racing parlance. For instance, they have a bill for mis-sold PPI just like the others.

Then there was the purchase of an overvalued asset in the shape of the Britannia Building Society (rather like a certain club owner - allegedly). This acquisition was convenient - I put it no higher - for the Labour government in that they could claim that no major building society was forced to close as a result of the credit crunch under their stewardship. Unfortunately, the Coop did not benefit from a sweetener from the taxpayer as the Nationwide did when they took over the Dunfermline. Ironically, Labour would have found it electorally dangerous to bail out the Coop as they had with the outright capitalist banks, especially as the party had - and still has - a large overdraft (reckoned by Guido to be over £3m). The final straw was an assessment that the bank was undercapitalised to the tune of £1bn. Maybe if Labour had been returned they might have softened the blow, but a Tory chancellor was never going to shed tears over the bank's predicament. Osborne probably rejoiced over the hedge funds' success in defeating a previous rescue attempt which would have left the Coop movement with more control over the bank.

Euan Sutherland, the new chief executive, has insisted that the change of ownership will not affect the bank's ethos because it is written into the constitution. However, constitutions can be changed and there was a reminder yesterday of commercial reality with the news that branches and jobs are to go.

Vivien Leigh

There are rare screen actresses whose beauty is timeless. In my opinion, Vivien Leigh born on 5th November 1913 was one of them.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Eco warriors under false colours?

Thanks to jaxxlanders for drawing our attention to the report in the Mirror about claims on the public purse some of our richest MPs make for heating their homes. Top of the list must be Nadhim Zahawi, "a millionaire Tory who claimed a staggering £5,822 in just 12 months – more than four times the average household energy bill – to power and heat his £1million constituency home in a sprawling 31-acre estate. [...]  The Stratford-upon-Avon MP even boasts on his website of his 'achievements' on the Energy Bill Committee at improving 'energy efficiency measures to homes and businesses'."

However, neighbouring Labour MP, ex-cabinet minister Peter Hain, is not far behind. He has claimed £4,571 on his Ynysygerwn property which he has designated as his second home. He said he had no choice because the property only uses expensive heating oil.  This is in spite of the solar panels which he had installed, aided I believe by the limited grants which were then available. (For more background, see the Telegraph's original report on the expenses scandal.) Mr Hain has been prominent in recent years in speaking out in favour of a Severn Barrage promoted by his wife.

Saturday, 2 November 2013

25 years of Internet infections

"On November 2, 1988, Robert Morris, Jr., a graduate student in Computer Science at Cornell, wrote an experimental, self-replicating, self-propagating program called a worm and injected it into the Internet" There is more here about the damage it wrought.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Gwent levels under threat again

Top of priorities for Carwyn Jones, First Minister, is to resurrect the scheme to build a new section of the M4 motorway, bypassing Newport. He hopes to be able to do this through the borrowing powers which have been promised by David Cameron and Nick Clegg in their long-delayed response to Pt 1 of the Silk Commission Report (pdf here).

Apart from my worries about the scheme in itself (the environmental damage, the irrelevance to Wales as a whole), I am concerned about allowing the devolved government the power to borrow, especially as it is likely to be dominated by Labour for the foreseeable future - and we know what Labour did to UK borrowing when in Westminster. The major cause of the Spanish economic crash was not (as it was in London) a failure to regulate their central banks, but the over-extension by local banks on the back of a splurge by local regional governments.

I do welcome the devolution of some minor taxes and the possibility of varying income tax. The latter would bring us into line with Scotland. However, a BBC political correspondent suggested today that Mr Jones is not so keen on this. I can foresee the response by many in the House of Commons (and not all on the Conservative side) to this stance when the enabling measure comes before parliament, that Wales will beg or borrow but not take responsibility for raising extra cash from its citizens.