Thursday, 31 July 2014

The debagging

I have now received "Wounded Tiger", Peter Oborne's history of cricket in Pakistan which a first glance shows to be as thoroughly researched as his biography of Basil d'Oliveira.

Naturally, I turned to the section on the debagging of the Pakistani umpire Idris Baig, and it seems that my supposition about the effect this had on Peter Sainsbury's test career was completely mistaken. Sainsbury, along with Tony Lock (Surrey), Alan Moss & Fred Titmus (Middlesex), Ian Thomson (Sussex) and Allan Watkins (Glamorgan) was entirely innocent. Indeed the members of the guilty squad fared rather better in terms of caps or a MCC career: Donald Carr, Billy Sutcliffe, Harold Stephenson, Peter Richardson, Brian Close, Roy Swetman, Jim Parks and Ken Barrington. (A stray thought: that touring party was well-endowed with wicket-keepers.)

Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Let the festivities continue!

One of the anniversaries I missed in July last year was the passing of the Doctrine of the Trinity Act 1813 (also known as the Unitarian Toleration Act - there is a pdf briefing by today's Unitarian Church here). Until that date, British citizens who subscribed even to most of the tenets of the Established Church except for the three-personed God were liable to prosecution for blasphemy and in danger from the mob. Joseph Priestley, the independent discoverer of oxygen, was one such - though his support for the principles of the French Revolution did not help.

I'm grateful to Boyd Tonkin in the Independent for the information about the 1813 Act in an article prompted by the granting of religious status to Scientology for the purpose of wedding ceremonies. (As I understand English law, this does not automatically mean that Scientology is to be regarded as a religion in all spheres of administration, though no doubt their lawyers will seize on it as a precedent.) Mr Tonkin plots an unsteady but relentless progression to religious toleration from 1689 to this year's Supreme Court ruling. (I would suggest that there was an earlier significant move in Cromwell's official re-admission of the Jews in 1656.) His conclusion is that it is better to allow wacky religions to proliferate than to live in a state dominated by one church. Leaving aside so-called Islamic republics, there are still states where a particular Christian doctrine dictates the bounds of legislation.

So thanks to a dissenting Whig politician I can safely assert that Yuletide is not just for Christians. It is in practice as much a family festival as a religious one, and I am glad that I was able to see all of my immediate family at the end of last year. The United States hived this aspect off to Thanksgiving, but they also pumped up the commercialisation of Christmas inspired by Charles Dickens and Henry Cole.

Monday, 28 July 2014

What happened to MPs' hinterland?

Recent developments locally on the Labour parliamentary candidate selection front (Aberavon constituency after pressure from above by a narrow vote adopted the husband of the current Danish prime minister and Neath is to have an all-woman shortlist - implication: another outsider favoured by the top brass) caused me to look up a post on Peter Black's blog last year. Simon Danczuk represents a constituency not far from the constituency he was brought up in and had to work for a living in a menial job in order to finance his academic studies before gaining a place at Lancaster University where he studied economic sociology and politics as a mature student. But he is an increasingly rare specimen in a party where pedigree - or, at worst, who you know - seems to count for more than experience or local roots.

Because there are no safe Liberal Democrat seats, LibDem MPs have usually got there by working their constituencies over at least one electoral cycle, and cannot afford to give up the day job. So they are more likely even than Conservatives, who also tend to have constituency associations resistant to being bossed, to have local candidates. I fully expect that to be the case when we come to make our selections for Neath and Aberavon.

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Further thoughts on Enoch Powell

There is so much that is contradictory about Powell. Since his death, he has widely been reported as homosexual, but there seems no firm evidence of a physical same-sex relationship. In spite of a conservative background, his logical mind led him to reject both religion and capital punishment. He encouraged and benefited from a racist political campaign, yet was not himself a racist, as his respect for the culture of India (the result of a war-time army posting) and his protest at the Hola massacre showed.

Saturday, 26 July 2014

GDP milestone

The news that the UK economy had expanded to a level slightly above that of the 2008 peak was confirmation of the confidence created by the coalition government in 2010. It is not the end of the story, though. This comment on the Guardian blog on the matter is typical of the warnings:

Rob Wood, economist at Berenberg, agrees that growth was "not balanced this quarter":
The service sector (+1.0%) was strong while manufacturing (+0.2%) and construction (-0.5%) were weak. The longer the recovery remains unbalanced the less sustainable it may seem to aim for growth continuing around these rates.
That being said, manufacturing and construction suffered from an usually weak May and could bounce back strongly in June and through Q3
Manufacturing data from other European countries was also weak in May, suggesting the global economy had a hiccup.

Besides the continuing over-dependence on the service sector, wages are stubbornly refusing to rise as they have in previous periods when unemployment fell. This has two bad effects on the budget deficit: benefits to the low-paid continue to flow, where they would normally taper off, and the increased tax take from "wage push" has not materialised. This is presumably a factor in the unexpectedly high figure for government borrowing.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Peter Sainsbury

There is nothing which reminds one so savagely of ones own years as the passing of a boyhood hero, particularly if the last memory is of the person in their prime. I have already noted the passing of David White. This week came reports of the death of Peter Sainsbury, another key member of Hampshire's first championship-winning side of 1961. Starting purely as a left-arm spinner, he had worked his way up the batting order to establish himself as a reliable no. 5 from the start of that season. But his distinctive contribution (apart from his habitual creams, in distinction to traditional whites) was as a tenacious close fielder, usually in "boot hill".

Stephen Chalke's obituary in the Independent questions why Sainsbury never gained a full England cap, and details the near misses. I believe I can add a further factor: the England 'A' (the equivalent of today's Lions) tour of Pakistan in 1955 of which Sainsbury was a part. There are MCC papers relating to it, but the catalogue web page includes the note "Part of this file is closed". If memory serves right, this was the infamous "debagging" tour referred to here. Not many of those young players graduated to the full England XI.  Fred Titmus whose county record could not be ignored, made it but only after a lengthy break.

Later: a day after posting the above, I learn that Peter Oborne's new book about Pakistani cricket lifts the lid on the debagging affair. It is now on order.

Offshore beats onshore wind on biodiversity criterion

Putting up wind turbines offshore is more expensive than the land-based equivalent. Though I wouldn't go as far as "communities" minister Eric Pickles in calling in on-shore schemes which have already been approved by local planning committees, as complained about by Ed Davey, I have long had doubts about sterilising large areas of countryside - and presenting a hazard to birds - for the benefit of an intermittent power supply. I was therefore pleased to read this article in the Indy recently which shows that offshore wind installations provide a haven for a variety of wildlife and attracting those lovable seals, which are near the top of the food chain. Perhaps it will go some way to redressing the balance.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Bizarre and gratuitous slaughter - the Johannesburg station bomb 50 years on

At 4:33 p.m., in peak hour on a Friday afternoon in Johannesburg, on 24th July 1964, an explosion tore through the waiting cubicle above platforms 5 and 6 of Johannesburg's main railway station, leaving shattered glass, blood and lacerated bodies.

It had been planted by John Harris, a member of the African Resistance Movement (ARM) an underground​ ​group formed by members ​of the Liberal Party of South Africa​ without the Party's knowledge or approval​. (It should be noted that before the Pan African Congress accepted non-black members, the Liberals were the only multi-racial party. The African National Congress organised separately among the other official racial groups, ​the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), ​ the Coloured Peoples Congress and the Congress of Democrats respectively. The latter was predominantly a Communist front organisation, something which probably marred Nelson Mandela's reputation among Western leaders at the time.) Harris acted on his own. None of his ARM colleagues, certainly nobody in the main Liberal Party nor South Africa's Special Branch which had managed to penetrate ARM, knew of his planned atrocity.

Frederick John Harris had been a brilliant young man, a national junior quiz champion. In 1960, or thereabouts, still in his early twenties, he became chairman of SANROC which campaigned against apartheid in sport.  It seems that he also suffered from a mood disorder named cyclothymia. Sufferers have low days and mentally energetic days that might be mildly 'manic' -- over the top, but never comparable with the insane mania of bipolar/manic-depressive psychosis. Cyclothymia cannot interfere with either ones ability to reason and very definitely not with ones moral sense or consequences of ones action. It can, however, heighten the messianic sense of someone suffering from dissociative disorder or narcissistic personality disorder. (The diagnosis led to an unsuccessful appeal on mental health grounds against Harris's execution.)

Harris formed a close bond with the young Peter Hain, a friendship which has coloured the MP's view of events ever since. An otherwise touching portrait of his parents and of the struggles of the SA Liberal Party, "Ad & Wal", is marred by a long apologia for Harris.

This is the report of the bomb, on a South African politics web site, by a leading Liberal Party member:

Countdown: John Harris's bomb and execution

The police raids which resulted in the arrest and imprisonment of many members of the African Resistance Movement (ARM), and to the planting of a bomb at Johannesburg station, began in Cape Town on 4 July 1964.

Early that morning the ARM activist Adrian Leftwich was arrested at his flat in Lemon Lane, Cape Town, and later the same day so was Lynnette van der Riet, who had been with Leftwich when the Security Police called, but had been allowed to leave. Over the next few days more detentions followed in Cape Town: Leftwich's comrades Spike de Keller, Anthony Trew, Eddie Daniels, Alan Brooks and Stephanie Kemp.

Adrian Leftwich died in Britain on 2 April this year.

Mike Schneider, who had managed to evade the Security Police, raced to Johannesburg and warned ARM members in the city that Adrian Leftwich was telling the Security Police everything he knew. The Johannesburg group came to quick decisions. Ronald and Hilary Mutch (who had British passports) motorcycled across the border to Botswana; Mike Schneider took an ARM escape route to Swaziland with Rosemary Wentzel; and Hugh Lewin decided to stay and face the consequences.

At 5.30 am on Thursday 9 July, with his comrades safely on their way out of South Africa, Hugh Lewin called at the home of John Harris, who had been recruited into the ARM in 1963, and had so far been inactive. Lewin told Harris that command of the ARM now passed to him and to John Lloyd, who was temporarily away in Natal, attending a wedding. He also told Harris where the ARM's cache of explosives, timers, instruction manuals, etc was stored. Later that morning, at 10.30am, the Security Police arrested Lewin at his office and, later on the same day, another ARM member, Roman (then known as Raymond) Eisenstein.

On Sunday 12 July, John Harris recovered the explosives cache from the cupboard in Witwatersrand University where it had been stored by another ARM member, Dennis Higgs, and transferred the material to a luggage store in Johannesburg Station.

On Tuesday 14 July, John Lloyd returned from Natal. John Harris telephoned him, they met for a snack, and Harris told Lloyd (who had joined the ARM in December 1963 and played only a minor role, acting as driver in one or two missions) that command of the ARM now rested with the two of them. They discussed various sabotage possibilities, but came to no decisions, either then or at a further meeting on July 17.

On Tuesday 21, July John Lloyd was questioned by the police but not arrested, whereupon he told Harris that he wanted to lie low for a while as he was now being watched. Harris accepted this, and started that day to make a bomb consisting of eight sticks of dynamite, five gallons of petrol - which made the bomb too heavy to carry, so he disposed of three gallons into his car tank - two detonators, and a timer.

On Thursday 23 July, John Lloyd was arrested.

On Friday 24 July at 4.33 pm - peak hour on a Friday afternoon in Johannesburg, with throngs of people pouring into the station on their way home from work - an explosion tore through the waiting cubicle above platforms 5 and 6 of Johannesburg Station, leaving shattered glass, blood and lacerated bodies.

Mr B J Vorster, the Minister of Justice, appeared at the station very grim-faced indeed. Later that evening several of the previously detained ARM members, including Hugh Lewin, were brought to the station to view the bloodstained scene. Then Lewin was taken to The Grays, the much-feared Security Police Headquarters on the corner of Von Wielligh and Main Streets, and dragged into an interrogation room. He glimpsed John Lloyd slumped in a chair in an adjoining office, "flushed, mouth open, looking haggard and beaten", as he described it in a letter in 1995. Lewin was badly beaten and gave the interrogators John Harris's name as the last remaining ARM member still at large. At this stage he was quite unaware of any connection between Harris and the bomb blast, which he simply did not connect with the ARM.

At about 11 pm that evening Lieutenant H Muller and Sergeant J M Strydom arrested John Harris at his home, where he was sound asleep, and took him to The Grays, where he was subjected to a savage assault. After being taken to Pretoria Local Prison, where many political arrestees were being detained, Harris - either on the night of his arrest or the following night - informed Paul Trewhela, in a neighbouring cell, that his jaw had been broken, and the famous plastic and reconstructive surgeon, Dr Jack Penn, had been brought into prison to wire him up.

The most precise identification of the assailant (there may have been more than one) is by Hugh Lewin, who as noted above had already been interrogated and assaulted, and was in a room beneath where this was happening, and heard what was taking place. In his memoir, Bandiet: Seven Years in a South African Prison, Barrie & Jenkins. London, 1974 - banned in South Africa, and later issued in an expanded second edition, Bandiet out of Jail - Lewin identifies a security policeman, Erasmus, as "the man who had beaten up Harris.... his fists full of blood, particularly the right fist, one with a large ring on, messy with blood." (pp.38-39).

Early in the morning on Saturday 25 July John Harris guided Major W H Brit of the South African Railway Police, the Officer in charge of the case, and Lieutenant W J van der Merwe, to 33 Oxford Road where they found 82 sticks of dynamite, detonators, timers, batteries, rubber gloves and a book on electrical circuitry.

On the same day the morning newspapers in Johannesburg carried the following reports:

1 Die Transvaler reported that a bomb had gone off in Johannesburg station at 4.33 the previous afternoon. It stated that the newspaper had received a phone call at 4.27 pm that afternoon from someone asking in excellent ("suiwer") Afrikaans to speak to the Editor. He was put through and told the person who answered: "Dit is die African Resistance Movement wat praat. Daar is 'n bom in die hoofsaal van die stasie. As iemand aan hom vat sal hy ontplof. Dit sal om 4.33 ontplof. Waarsku die stasie". Die Transvaler then telephoned the Station Police and informed them.

2 The Rand Daily Mail reported the following sequence of events: (a) At 4.27 pm the previous afternoon the newspaper received a telephone call saying: "Listen carefully. This is a very important message. A time-bomb set for 4.33 will explode in the main concourse of Johannesburg Station this afternoon". The message was repeated and the caller rang off when asked to identify himself. (b) At 4.30 pm the Mail telephoned Colonel H Venter of the Security Branch in Johannesburg and told him of the call. (c) At 4.35 pm a member of the public telephoned the Mail to say a bomb had exploded on the station. (d) At 4.37 pm the Mail again telephoned the Security Branch to report the explosion.

On Monday 14 September John Harris appeared on formal remand on charges of murder and sabotage, having made a statement admitting guilt before a magistrate on 11 September. The case against him opened in Pretoria on Monday 21 September.

On 12 October John Harris confessed in court to planting a suitcase with dynamite and petrol in it next to a bench in the Johannesburg Station concourse at 4.05 pm, and then driving to the Jeppe Street post office and "telephoning the station and two newspapers to be cleared so that nobody would be hurt". This admission was contained in the confession he had written while in detention. Before Harris's statement was read out in court, the trial judge, Mr Justice Ludorf, asked Mr K E N Moodie QC (for the State): "Is this a confession?" Mr Moodie replied: "Yes". The judge then asked Mr Namie Phillips, senior counsel for the defence: "Are you objecting?" and Mr Phillips answered "No".

Evidence on the timing of this sequence of events, given both before and after the above confession in court, included the following:

1 On 22 September, Mr J H Openshaw of the Rand Daily Mail told the court that he received a call "soon after 4.20 pm" [note: this differs from the time given in the RDM news report of 25 July, above] on 24 July from an anonymous telephone caller who told him to listen very carefully as what he had to say was very important. The caller said that a bomb timed to go off at 4.33 pm had been placed in the main concourse of the station, repeated the message, and hung up.

2 Also on 22 September, Mr J J van Rooyen of Die Transvaler told the court that he received an anonymous phone call "at 4.27 pm" on 24 July from a man speaking good Afrikaans who said: "Dit is die African Resistance Movement wat praat. Daar is 'n bom in die hoofsaal van die stasie. As iemand aan hom vat sal hy ontplof." He then rang off.

3 On 12 October, Capt J Vermeulen, police staff officer in Johannesburg, told the court that he received "a mystery call at between 4.25 and 4.27 pm" on 24 July from a man who did not identify himself and said: "This is the African Resistance Movement. Can you hear me ? There is a bomb somewhere in the main hall of the station. It will go off at 4.33 pm. Don't touch it". Under cross examination he denied that the caller had said the bomb was near the main concourse, or that that station should be cleared.

In response to these testimonies, the senior defence counsel, Mr Namie Phillips, said only that John Harris (who had already formally confessed to planting the bomb at 4.05 pm) would state that the time of his telephone call to the police was more like 4.20 pm than 4.25 pm. For the rest he raised no fundamental objections to the times given, and there the matter rested.

The trial ended on Friday 6 November. Mr Namie Philips made a plea in mitigation based on three points: (a) That JH's mental condition was such that "here is a man who is not wholly normal"; (b) That John Lloyd had testified that JH had not intended to kill anybody; and (c) That JH had not acted for any motive of personal gain but only to create a spectacular political demonstration. No reference was made to the timing of the three warning telephone calls. Mr Justice Ludorf rejected Mr Philips' arguments and pronounced sentence of death.

An appeal was lodged, and on 2 February 1965 Mr H Hanson QC argued to the Appeal Court in Bloemfontein that Mr Ludorf's judgement should be overturned because (a) The Defence had established that JH was unable to distinguish between right and wrong at the time of the crime, owing to mental disease; (b) The State had failed to establish that JH's mental state was such that he was capable of formulating an intention to kill; (c) The passages from a neurological journal relied upon by Mr Justice Ludorf had not been referred to by any witness and were therefore not evidence; (d) And finally that, should the court find JH guilty of murder, it should find that his mental state had so impaired his judgement that the sentence should be a lesser one. Again no reference was made to the timing of the three warning telephone calls.

The appeal was rejected on Monday 1 March.

John Harris was executed in Pretoria Central Prison on 1 April 1965.


Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Ward's offence greater than Tonge's

 - but it is not for LibDem leaders to sack him

In 2004, then MP Jenny Tonge was removed from her position as a party spokesman by Charles Kennedy for making the following remark: "If I had to live in that situation – and I say that advisedly – I might just consider becoming one myself." pointing out that " …having seen the violence, humiliation and provocation that the Palestinian people live under every day and have done since their land was occupied by Israel, I could understand …" She made these comments after spending time with families in Palestine, and I believe reacted personally as a mother and grandmother. The party did not remove the whip, though, and it was a personal tragedy which caused her to give up her Richmond Park seat. After a few years she resumed public life, was made a life peer and fought again for her humanitarian cause, as detailed in Felicity Arbuthnot's article. (The article is wrong in one respect: the party in the Lords did not remove the whip. The Baroness voluntarily withdrew and now sits as an independent Liberal Democrat. I am grateful to Lord Greaves for this correction.)

Bradford East MP David Ward tweeted recently: "The big question is - if I lived in Gaza would I fire a rocket? - probably yes,". Not "might just consider", as Tonge said, but "probably yes". Last year he condemned "the Jews" for "inflicting atrocities on Palestinians in the new State of Israel and continue to do so on a daily basis in the West Bank and Gaza".  He had the party whip withdrawn temporarily for that outburst and looks likely to be disciplined similarly this time.

According to the Bradford Telegraph, "a Labour spokesman said: 'At a time when all sides should be working for a ceasefire and a peaceful settlement, it defies belief that a Liberal Democrat MP should tweet something so vile and irresponsible.'" Interestingly, there is no indication as to whether that spokesman was speaking from London or Bradford. I would guess the former. Local Labour will be keen to keep onside the large Muslim population, having lost the Bradford West seat in 2012 to George Galloway, long associated with Arab and Muslim causes. I don't expect to see the headline "Bradford Labour candidate condemns Hamas" any time soon. The comments to the online Bradford Telegraph are predominantly sympathetic to Ward.

As I started writing this posting, I had half an ear on a programme about John Wilkes. It is clear that I would have been with the establishment of the day in rejecting his xenophobic stance, as I am over Nigel Farage. However, it was a check to democracy for Wilkes to be prevented from taking a parliamentary seat to which he had been elected - six times before he eventually succeeded. I believe that Ward was less courageous than Tonge - there are probably more readers of the Jewish Chronicle in Richmond upon Thames than there are in Bradford East. I also condemn the racist tone of his earlier comments. But I am with Jonathan Brown, writing on Liberal Democrat Voice, when he says: "If his tweets are offensive, it is for the electorate to sack him should they wish, not his colleagues."

Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Tory donor snaps up cooperative family silver

One of the most profitable parts of the Cooperative group has been sold off to stave off imminent collapse, but it bodes ill for the future. The deal mocks the Labour deadwood that riddled the old management in that the new owner is headed by a major Conservative supporter.

Monday, 21 July 2014

The liberal James Garner

There are actors who are associated with parts at odds with their own personal convictions. Conservatives James Stewart and Gary Cooper in their heyday starred in liberal classics of the big screen, while John Wayne was often the mouthpiece for the radical writer/director John Ford. Complementary examples are harder to find, and are mostly in the ranks of character actors. (One such is Norman Lloyd, who played a Nazi saboteur in Hitchcock's 1942 film of that name and a few villainous capitalists after that. A socialist who survived the witch-hunts of the 1950s largely it seems through going into production, I see that he is in "A Place for Heroes" due to be released in his centenary year. Typically, his character is said to have a "checkered past".)

James Garner, as this obituary by Robert Sellers in the Indy shows, was, like his mentor and friend Henry Fonda, in the opposite category. He "seemed to epitomise the honourable man in a dishonourable world" and "roles like Maverick and private eye Jim Rockford [...] worked because they were so close to the real person". Indeed, probably his least successful part was as the buccaneering capitalist F Ross Johnson in "Barbarians at the Gate".

It did not surprise me to learn that according to IMDb, "He and his wife Lois Clarke were married at the Beverly Hills Court House just two weeks after they met at a political rally", "was involved with many humanitarian causes", "was a volunteer of Save the Children" and "had helped organize Martin Luther King's famous 'March on Washington' civil rights demonstration". My favourite of his later film rôles was in the satirical thriller "My Fellow Americans" which teamed him with Jack Lemmon as ex-presidents, Democrat and Republican respectively, reflecting each man's own politics. Also interesting was "The Skin Game" which made some keen points about slavery and racial politics through the medium of comedy. Even his biggest success, the Rockford Files had a liberal message at its heart, in that the hero was an ex-convict who made good. (Given the trouble that Garner had with gaining anything like his true worth in earnings from both "Maverick" and "Rockford", I wonder whether the conniving Angel in the latter came to embody untrustworthy Hollywood executives.)

An intriguing series, which I wasn't aware of until searching the IMDb entry because it wasn't shown over here, was "Nichols". The summary storyline reads: "In 1914, Nichols, a soldier, sick of killing, returns to his Arizona home town, named after his family, and is strong-armed into serving as sheriff by the Ketcham clan, who run the area. Nichols, who doesn't believe in toting a gun, scoots around via an Indian motorcycle. The Ketchams install as deputy their relative, Mitch Mitchell. The nasty deputy has a dog named Slump, and Mitchell is very dumb. A business-savvy local gal has an undefined relationship with Nichols, but it's obvious there's lots of action in the back rooms of her saloon. The strict moral lines of traditional Westerns are absent in this very Vietnam War era show's view of the Old West's dying days: the Ketchams aren't all bad, and little-respected Sheriff Nichols wouldn't mind ripping off the town to head for Mexico." I wonder if Warners can be persuaded to make the DVD available over here?

Garner was dismissive of his own acting ability. Maybe like Cary Grant and  his friend Paul Newman the range of parts he played was limited.  However, the true test is surely whether you could believe in the person you saw on the screen, and Garner passed that with flying colours. He seldom had the chance to play emotional parts, but I challenge anyone not to be moved by "The Notebook" in which he partners a dementia victim played by Gena Rowlands.

But in the end politics and dramatic criticism must give ground to the pleasure which Garner gave to two generations of viewers.

Sunday, 20 July 2014


This article niggled me enough to do some research to back up my recollections of travelling on a type of plane which was once seen as the future of air travel. In particular, writer Mark Leftly states that "turboprops are only built for short distances" and "one had to shout to be heard by the person sitting next to [one]". During the research, I found his statement that there were only two manufacturers of the type left was also in error: to Bombardier and BAE/ATP (builder of the ATR 600, the focus of the article) one should add Lockheed.

There is a history of turboprops here. One learns that though "it was a little-known Hungarian named György Jendrassik who sired the first true turboprop engine, designated the Cs1, in 1938", it was British company Rolls-Royce who made the engine a viable proposition and British airframe companies Vickers and Bristol who produced the first successful planes.

It was the Viscount of which I had happy memories. The passenger compartment was quiet, quieter than many of today's trains, and certainly a relief after the piston-powered Viking and Dakota which came before.

Bristol produced the Britannia, not just the military version celebrated here, but also seen as a medium- to long-haul passenger plane.  The type actually inspired the change of name of the former Euravia to the better-known Britannia Airlines when the company acquired its first Britannia.

Turboprop airline operation suffered a setback with a large fall in the price of  oil, making the faster turbojets a more attractive proposition. However, with the price of fuel creeping up again, and the need to replace some ageing short- and medium-haul, the type looks to be making a come-back. Although Pratt & Whitney power most of the new passenger models, Rolls-Royce is still involved since its acquisition of Allison.

Minimum wage and Green Party attitude to the EU

Courtesy of news updates from the European Movement I learn that the Bundestag, Germany's hower house, has approved the introduction of a minimum wage of €8.50 per hour from 2015. At current rates of exchange, I estimate that equates to £6.40 per hour, just below the £6.50 approved for the UK starting in October. Up until this year, Germany was one of the few nations of the EU not to have a minimum wage. Its introduction was a consequence of the coalition deal resulting from the last German elections. The legislation still has to be approved by the upper house of parliament, but it is assumed that it will pass without difficulty. It will be interesting to see what difference if any the change will make to Germany's competitiveness and to immigration flows on the Continent.

Jean Lambert, one of the UK's three Green MEPs, blogged confirmation that her party has shifted its stance from a socialist Euroscepticism to a more positive, but liberal and reforming one. It seems remarkably similar to Liberal Democrats' EU platform. She writes:

we will be working with our Green colleagues from across Europe to challenge and energise the Grand Coalition of centre-right, centre-left and liberal parties in the European Parliament, not simply to oppose it. We want a positive role for the EU.
Many of the areas we want to develop as Greens - the low-carbon economy, ambitious environmental legislation, the decent work agenda based on strong labour rights, reducing inequalities, a progressive migration policy, strengthening human rights, reform of the financial sector - are going in totally the opposite direction to the Cameron reform agenda for the EU. We see his agenda as going backwards and not providing any sort of positive vision for the EU.

So it's likely that a significant part of our time in this Parliament will be spent in putting forward a Green case for our continuing membership of the EU. It's not about business-as-usual or going backwards, but about reframing the EU, including its economy, to deal with the future of our planet, tackling inequalities and promoting human rights.

One trusts that this is genuine.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

Environment questions

It seems from Thursday's question time that my hopes for English badgers with the advent of a new minister at DEFRA have been dashed:

Maria Eagle (Garston and Halewood) (Lab): I congratulate the Secretary of State on her promotion and welcome her to her new job. However, I am appalled to hear the Under-Secretary of State, the hon. Member for Camborne and Redruth (George Eustice), confirm that she is going to continue with the discredited, unscientific, inhumane and ineffective badger cull. Is she aware that Professor David Macdonald, the chief scientific adviser to Natural England, which will have to license the culls, has described them as an “epic failure”, adding:

“It is hard to see how continuing this approach could be justified”?

Will she at least undertake to ask the independent expert panel which reported on the safety, humaneness and effectiveness of year 1 of the cull to report on year 2?

Elizabeth Truss: I thank the hon. Lady for her congratulations. Let us be absolutely clear: the reality is that bovine TB represents a massive threat to our dairy and beef industries. We are looking at the potential loss of over £1 billion of economic growth in our country. We need to look at the best scientific evidence. I have already spoken with the Department’s scientific adviser about this precise subject. We are progressing with our programme, as my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State outlined.

Meanwhile Dan Rogerson unspectacularly continues to deal with a threat which is becoming more important:

Mr Marcus Jones (Nuneaton) (Con): What steps she is taking to reduce the threat of disease to the UK's plants and trees. [904923]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Dan Rogerson): On 30 April, we published a plant biosecurity strategy, which addresses the recommendations of the Tree Health and Plant Expert Biosecurity Taskforce and sets out a new approach to plant and tree health. We have also produced a prioritised plant health risk register, the first of its kind globally; published a new tree health management plan; undertaken work on contingency planning; continued to commission high quality research; and recruited a senior chief plant health officer.

Mr Jones: Given the importance of trees to our economy and environment, not least in my constituency of Nuneaton where we recently lost a number of trees to disease, what action are the Government taking when specific threats are identified?

Dan Rogerson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise this. We have produced a prioritised plant health risk register to identify risk and to agree priorities for action. We have also produced new contingency plans for plant diseases and we will be testing them in an exercise later this year. The measures in the new tree health management plan set out clearly the approaches that we are taking, for example against chalara, phytophthora ramorum and oak processionary moth. As soon as we were aware of a threat to plane trees, we moved quickly to impose an import restriction on them.

Friday, 18 July 2014

In the Brown and nasty again

Rather sooner than I predicted, fraudster Michael Brown is back in the news again. The Parliamentary Ombudsman has criticised the Electoral Commission for accepting that Charles Kennedy acted in good faith in taking £2.4m (or £2.8m or £3m depending on which newspaper report you read). However, the dispute between the two bodies could well come before parliament to resolve, so we can expect ample bad publicity when the Commons reassemble - coincidentally a week or so before federal conference is to meet in Glasgow. Brown's extradition coincided with the start of postal voting in the 2012 local elections, where both Conservatives and Labour wanted Liberal Democrats to do badly. In the event, both coalition parties were at their lowest ebb at that time anyway (don't I know it) so the Brown effect was not noticeable. I did however comment at the time that Brown would probably be paroled at the start of the 2015 general election.

This is another case of the top brass getting the party into a mess through a failure to consult before taking a major decision. Perhaps if the offer of a big donation had not been made so close to the general election campaign, the leadership would have taken more people into their confidence. Faced with the large contributions made by big business to Blair's government, plus something from the trade unions, they clearly bit Brown's hand off. The deal was done by the time the news leaked out to the wider membership that a commodities trader had bankrolled the Charles Kennedy poster campaign. Note that there was no suspicion that Brown was any more crooked than the average run of City operators at this stage, but even so my recollection was of widespread indignation that the party should have stooped to what we had been criticising others for over many years. If put to a vote, I feel sure the donation would have been rejected.

As to Brown's credibility, I should point out that he took in many high-flying rich people, most notably Martin Edwards, the former owner of Manchester United, consistently in the world's top ten richest football clubs.

The impression that the Liberal Democrat treasurer is sitting on millions courtesy of Brown should also be corrected. All Brown's donation was spent in the 2005 election campaign, most of it on posters of Charles Kennedy. Those calling for the money to be returned should perhaps address JC Decaux and their ilk first.
Or maybe the West Indies and the England & Wales cricket boards should give back the money used to sponsor the Sir Allen Stanford cricket competitions between 2006 and 2008.

Shuffling the screenshots

I don't suppose there has ever been a British prime minister who has selected his cabinet purely on merit. David Lloyd George's 1916 war cabinet probably came close. Clement Attlee was quite capable of sacking a minister because he was "not up to the job" and was ruthless in replacing Ernie Bevin as foreign secretary when the latter's health declined. But in my lifetime, and in the bits of political history which I have read, cabinet construction and the filling of other government posts has been an exercise in balancing the different factions within the prime minister's party.

However, as Andreas Whittam Smith points out in yesterday's Independent, David Cameron has outdone his predecessors in cynicism. It goes further than purely placating different wings within the party but appeals directly to the backwoodsmen in the constituencies, the populist end of the media and the sections of the electorate Cameron feels he needs to appeal to. AW-S writes: "What did for Mr Gove were some pretty flimsy electoral calculations. One senior minister has been quoted as saying, 'There are half a million teachers in the UK and 300,000 teaching assistants.' These people are probably rightly assumed to have a hearty dislike of Mr Gove. And this political operative added: 'If you can get just an extra one or two extra percentage points with these groups, it [could] help you pick up two or three marginal seats.' But do the maths. Two percentage points of 800,000 is a mere 16,000 extra votes or roughly 25 votes per constituency. That is the true measure of the Prime Minister’s regard for Mr. Gove: he has been thrown overboard because a slight advantage might be gained in some marginal constituencies."

I don't know enough about the changes to the English education system to judge whether Gove was a failure as a minister. I do know that he was the first senior Conservative to offer an olive branch to LibDem activists after the party agreed to the coalition - something which was not universally popular - when he came to a LibDem local government seminar to discuss matters of mutual interest. David Willetts, who had publicly expressed his comfort at working with LibDem ministers, has also gone. Maybe his record of moderately supporting human rights has told against him. Elizabeth Truss, another junior minister and one who actually has a long-standing interest in education, would have been a natural to take over, but perhaps her past as a lively member of LDYS told against her. Instead, she will have the unenviable task of keeping farmers happy while presumably softening DEFRA's line on killing badgers. Cameron has apparently been told that the unpopularity of the education reforms will be used by Clegg in the general election campaign.  Logically, David Laws's days in the department are numbered.

The signal to the atavist Tories who want to see the end of the UK's commitment to the European Convention for Human Rights  is the sacking of Dominic Grieve, Damian Green and Kenneth Clarke and the replacement of Hague at the FO with a hardliner. The Guardian discusses that here.

Then of course there was the opportunity for the Daily Mail to put legs on display as Cameron promoted some women including (gasp!) two to the cabinet. Isn't it odd how more experienced but clearly less photogenic Conservative women have not made it into government?

The retention of Eric Pickles (the Conservatives' equivalent of Chris Rennard on the election front) and Iain Duncan Smith puts two fingers up respectively to cash-strapped English councils and people on benefits who struggle not only with below-inflation rises if not actual cuts, but also the mismanagement of Universal Credit. Indeed, a minister closely associated with cuts to disabled peoples' benefits (and incidentally has misled the House on a number of occasions, the latest here) has been given a virtual promotion.

I fear Nick Clegg's reshuffle, predicted for the autumn, may similarly be about presentation and settling old scores. I hope I am wrong.

Thursday, 17 July 2014

Labour leadership priorities

Ed Miliband's questions to the Prime Minister yesterday avoided the interim report commented on here on Tuesday. Does this mean that Labour have accepted the "bedroom tax"?

The interchange is in Hansard here. Note that the first two questions were about the froth of the cabinet reshuffle. Things improved with the next two, on poverty among working people and low incomes for young people. Then there was the tired hypocritical accusation of tax cuts for millionaires and a peroration which was not a question.

[Later] It appears that Liberal Democrats have stolen a march on Labour and also established clear golden water between us and the Conservatives. Some of us will see it as LibDem ministers finally paying attention to what party members have been saying for years, while the leadership will no doubt say it had to wait for the evidence as provided by the Ipsos/MORI report.

Women in prison

I had my doubts about the promotion of Simon Hughes from the back-benches to a post in the Home Office, seeing as a means of muzzling the then deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats in the Commons. They were dispelled by his performance in front of a select committee chaired by Sir Alan Beith yesterday morning. Flanked by Rachel Halford of Women in Prison, Juliet Lyon of the Prison Reform Trust and Michael Spurr of the National Offender Management Service, Simon demonstrated not only that he was a complete master of his brief, but was also determined to make positive changes in the treatment of women offenders in the short time that he had available to him before the 2015 election. One trusts that this is one person that Nick Clegg will leave in place when the LibDem side of the reshuffle takes place around conference time.

Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Undone by leg-spin again

Glamorgan last night missed a chance to make more certain of a place in the knockout phase of the T20 competition. After a promising start, their key batters were eliminated by Will Beer. Glamorgan (and Yorkshire) have poor records against right-arm leg-break and googly bowlers, probably because they have hardly ever employed one and because the staff have not come across them in their league cricket apprenticeships. On the other hand, Beer disposed of two Australians, Allenby and Walters, who would certainly have seen leggies back home. So it is surprising that Beer is said to be below Panesar, whose career has gone backwards since a promising start as a junior, in the Sussex pecking order.

Jenny Randerson "a rock of good sense"

In his interview on "Good Morning, Wales" this morning, Stephen Crabb, the new Secretary of State of State for Wales, unprompted, praised Baronesss Randerson. At the same time, he confirmed that Alun Carins would be brought into Gwydr House as his number two, ending speculation that Glyn Davies might be given the berth.

Earlier, Radio Wales journos had speculated that Stephen Crabb is the first bearded Conservative cabinet minister since the end of the nineteenth century. Mrs Thatcher would not have approved.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Liberal Democrats proved right on unallocated rooms benefit cut

As noted here, Liberal Democrat Conference last year called for both a report on the effect of the cut in housing benefit to occupants of social housing and an immediate suspension of the policy. The government commissioned the first but ignored the latter, with the malign effects shown in the interim report published today.

On a day when a government reshuffle dominated the headlines, the conflict in Palestine escalated,  women celebrated the Church of England finally coming in line with normal employment policy and the carnage on the Moscow metro hardly got a mention, it is not surprising that the report has made little impact so far. Prime Minister's Questions tomorrow should be interesting.

The pdf of the full Ipsos/MORI report is here.

Monday, 14 July 2014

How "austerity" hits society

Those of us who had childhoods in the 1940s and 1950s will be rather sceptical of the use of the word "austerity" in relation to the UK's current economic situation. Personal recollections of primitive domestic arrangements and a perpetual feeling of hunger are backed up by documentary evidence. This, about the end of rationing, gives some of the flavour. However, there is no doubt that the virtually all the UK population has suffered a cut in its standard of living since 2009.

The Mainly Macro blog, written by economist Simon Wren-Lewis, publishes a graph taken from a report commissioned by the Welsh Government from the Institute for Fiscal Studies on the impact of tax and benefit changes on Wales. No doubt the IFS report will be picked over in the coming weeks, not least, as Wren-Lewis points out, because the analysis can be extrapolated to England & Wales as a whole.

My first reaction to the graph was that it confirmed feelings I had for some time, that the coalition government is correct in its assertion that the richest are paying more proportionately than they used to under Labour. However, the major beneficiaries of the policies have been those on moderate to high incomes (apart from pensioners, those most likely to vote, presumably) and that the poorest are suffering far more than the richest. The very poorest 10% are doing better than the 20% above them, but still worse than those on above-average incomes.

This is further evidence that the next Liberal Democrat manifesto must aim to restore the fairness which is a major plank of the party's constitution.

Friday, 11 July 2014

Student grants are still available -

 - under the auspices of the EU. Catherine Bearder MEP writes about the record number of UK students on the Erasmus programme here and there is a pdf of Erasmus facts and figures here.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Training the industrial heirs

A recent Making History programme drew attention to a problem faced by industrial conservation groups, especially historic railway societies. As we lose the last generation of people whose real job it was to operate machinery or drive trains, there is a need to pass on their skills to another generation - and to ensure that there is a generation of volunteers to maintain and in turn pass on that skill set. As the Radio 4 programme explained, the well-funded organisations like the Bluebell Railway (and, from what I have seen, the Ffestiniog/Welsh Highland group) can afford to run their own training programmes, but this may not be true of smaller groups.

Even where that training is available, there is a second dilemma. It is all very well catching the interest of volunteers when they are young, but there comes a time when they need to support themselves and probably a family as well. There will be little time for actively supporting industrial heritage. The groups can only hope to maintain their interest and draw them back into volunteer work when other responsibilities diminish in later life.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Williams and democracy

In my lifetime, I have seen two major local government reorganisations which affected Wales. These were the Local Government Act 1972 and the Local Government (Wales) Act 1994. As Professor Andrew Davies observed on Radio Wales earlier this year, "each time it was said that this was to be the solution, but there is no magic solution".

Professor Davies had drafted Labour's manifesto for the 2011 Assembly election and included a recommendation that an independent commission be set up to "look at Welsh public services in the round", how to "raise performance, accountability and scrutiny".

Well, since then we had the Williams Commission and yesterday the Welsh Government's response to it. The recommendation for the reorganisation of local government is only part of the report, but it is the one which is making the Welsh headlines. Peter Black has already commented.

My own view is that the current unitary authorities already strain local democratic accountability. Powys is arguably already too large in terms of land area. The proposed mergers will further loosen the connection between the citizen and the decision-making executive while still not achieving the economies of scale or having sufficient power to attract high-quality directors. If we are to have a further concentration of power, let us go straight to four or five regional authorities, either appointed by the Senedd or elected by a fair voting system. I favour the appointed authority option, because it would cut out an irrelevant level of election (critics of UK democracy frequently draw attention to the large numbers of elections we hold) and ensure that ultimate control would be in the hands of the Welsh Assembly, which is already elected on a reasonably proportional basis.

Of course, my solution would bring community councils more into focus, but this would be no bad thing.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Those 114 files

In the first office I worked in, an outpost of the Ministry of Transport, every file ever opened since the organisation started (in the 1920s, if I recall correctly) was still on the registry shelves if not circulating for action. Certainly, purely transitory material was weeded out from time to time, but one could read the history of highways in London and, earlier, the whole of south-east England in those records. If a file went missing there was a hue and cry until it was found - usually in the cupboard or briefcase of a forgetful civil engineer.

As outlying offices were absorbed into the main MoT, filing systems were reorganised and ancient documents were archived in a huge depot at Yeading, near Heathrow. But as far as I know, they were catalogued and could have been retrieved if necessary.

So I was somewhat surprised to learn that one hundred and fourteen Home Office files which may have been connected with the investigation of paedophilia in high places have gone missing. Not only could they not be found, there was no record of what had happened to them, as Theresa May indicated in a statement to the House of Commons yesterday.

Since my days in the civil service, the accumulation of paper must have increased massively, because there have been at least two exercises in destroying files considered no longer relevant. Former Home Office minister Jack Straw revealed in his contribution to yesterday's proceedings that in his time he had found the department's procedures to be iffy.

Mr Jack Straw (Blackburn) (Lab): While welcoming today’s announcements by the Home Secretary and the observations by her shadow, may I press her on the issue of record keeping? When I became Home Secretary, it became very clear to me—I was asking for information in a quite unrelated area—that there had been a downgrading of the archiving and record-keeping functions of the Home Office. I say that in a non-partisan way, because this issue has continued and is made more complicated in the so-called digital age. Will the Home Secretary ensure that both panels look very carefully—taking advice, if necessary, from the head of the National Archives—at the adequacy or, I am sure, inadequacy of existing mechanisms and resources for ensuring that proper records are kept, particularly in areas such as this?

Mrs May confirmed that one of the things her new panel will be looking at is the background to the files' disappearance.

[Later] Mark Sedwill, permanent secretary at the Home Office, questioned by the Home Affairs Select Committee this afternoon, was unable to shed any further light on the missing files. However, he did say that investigative skills were not part of his armoury and that bringing in an outside professional might help. He had appointed Richard Whittam QC to head the panel looking into the matter. Further, practice in the Home Office had changed so that accusations received by the correspondence section of the department were referred immediately to the police.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Diary dates

Two events to celebrate CAT's fortieth birthday:
Saturday, 26th July: CAT at the National Library
Saturday, 2nd August: Carnival

- and locally:
13th July to 2nd August: exhibition of art by Richard Picton at Aberdulais Falls (see for an appropriate example of his work)
Saturday, 16th August: Neath fire station open day. Details to follow, I hope.

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Nigel Calder by his son

Today's Independent contains an appreciation of his father, one of those inestimable people who brought the understanding of science to millions, by travel editor Simon Calder. It is impossible to make sensible cuts to the piece in question ("An absent friend") so I hope that reporter and newspaper will forgive me for quoting it in full:

On the day I turned 15, my father sat down at the breakfast table, wished me happy birthday and said: "When I was 15, I hitch-hiked across Europe. What are you going to do?"

Nigel Calder loved the world. He wanted personally to go out and experience as much of it as possible, and he encouraged us five fortunate children to do the same. From mission control in Crawley, he and my mother, Liz, invited us to set off and explore, and do our best to enrich lives –including our own.

While as a father he unlocked the planet for us, as a science writer he sought to unravel the universe for everyone. The main purpose of many of his voyages was to meet scientists. He traced the frontiers they were exploring, then transmitted their discoveries to the world: from continental drift to climate and onwards to the furthest reaches of the cosmos.

In contrast, when I was 15, I hitched no further into orbit than North Wales. Yet it helped to open my eyes to the Earth's possibilities.

My father passed away peacefully last week, aged 82, surrounded by the continental drifters he nurtured so wisely and generously. He was a wonderful man and is now, sadly, an absent friend.

For Simon Calder's Q&A about enhanced airport security, see

Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Felix Dennis

Most of the obituaries concentrated on his contribution to sexual liberation at the start of his career, and to his arboretum at the end, but many of us will be grateful to him for spotting the need for a personal computer magazine in the UK and filling it. David Tebbutt, who was also in at the beginning of Dennis Publishing, has a short appreciation here.