Friday, 30 December 2016

Liberal opinion in Israel welcomes Kerry's speech

It is a pity that BBC reports only the views of the extremes in Israel. The Palestinian activists' welcoming of the parts of US Secretary of State Kerry's recent speech which aided their cause was reported, after prominence being given to ultra-conservative PM Netanyahu's sour and hypocritical* response to the US representative's permitting a UN motion critical of Israel's illegal settlements to pass.

But balance in news and current affairs is more than showing the ends of a seesaw. Time and space should also be given to the liberal and to the moderate conservative centre grounds. I was struck by the detailed examination of these matters given by Israel's Haaretz newspaper. Their consensus was that:
Kerry’s address was a superbly Zionist and pro-Israel speech. Anyone who truly supports the two-state solution and a Jewish and democratic Israel should welcome his remarks and support them.

The Haaretz analyst stressed Kerry's qualifications, of his:
personal connection to Israel since his first visit as a young senator 30 years ago. He told of climbing up Masada, swimming in the Dead Sea, going from one biblical city to another, seeing the Holocaust atrocities at Yad Vashem, and even told of how he piloted an air force plane over Israel to understand its security needs. There aren’t too many other American politicians who know Israel the way John Kerry does. There isn’t a single serving American politician who has delved as deeply into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has invested in studying and trying to resolve it as John Kerry. These things were clearly reflected in his speech. The secretary of state gave a cogent analysis of where things stand in the peace process these days. He noted the deep distrust between the parties, the despair, anger and frustration on the Palestinian side, and the isolation and indifference on the Israeli side.

He goes on:
When you read Kerry’s words, you see immediately that he accepted a significant number of Israel’s demands, first and foremost the demand that any future peace agreement include Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. Kerry also stated that a solution to the refugee problem would have to be just and practical, one that would not undermine the State of Israel’s character. He said that any future border would be based on leaving the large settlement blocs in Israel’s hands; he clarified that the permanent arrangement must constitute an end to the conflict and preclude any further Palestinian demands, and stressed security arrangements as a central component of any agreement. At the same time, Kerry’s outline includes a series of compromises that Israel would be required to make, first and foremost allowing Jerusalem to serve as the capital of both states. Kerry clarified that the borders of the Palestinian state would have to be based on the 1967 lines with agreed land swaps of equivalent size, and that Israel must recognize the suffering of the Palestinian refugees.

The main problem with Kerry’s outline is that he presented it too late. He knows that he made a mistake when in March 2014 he did not officially put his framework document, with the same principles that he enumerated in his speech, on the table. His senior advisers admit that if he could go back 33 months in time, Kerry would have presented his peace outline to both sides and summoned them to negotiate on its basis.  Such a “take it or leave it” move at that time would have forced both sides to make strategic decisions. Such a move would also have established the Kerry outline as the basis for all future talks. Its presentation only three weeks before Donald Trump enters the White House, as important as it is, gives it only symbolic worth.

*since the legitimacy of the state of Israel derives largely from a resolution of the United Nations, Netanyahu's use of such words as "disrespectful"  was particularly objectionable.

Thursday, 29 December 2016

Much more than raincoats

Charles Macintosh, who gave his name to waterproof coats generally, not just those made according to his innovative process, was born 250 years ago today.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography notes that "Macintosh's connection with the commercial applications of rubber has somewhat obscured his contemporary fame as an innovative chemist." His entry states: "During a long business career [in Glasgow and Manchester] Macintosh either invented or introduced from abroad a variety of chemically based processes with distinct commercial applications. In addition to the manufacture of sugar of lead these included a new method for calico printing, a variety of methods for dyeing cloth (particularly with Prussian blue), a valuable method of bleaching using dry chloride of lime, a method for preserving citric acid during ocean voyages, a manufacturing process for yeast, and a variety of inventions relating to iron and steel."

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Bob Bradley

It looked like a good fit. Bradley spoke the language and had experience of various other leagues, in addition to his success with the US national team, who won their group in the 2010 World Cup. However, it soon became clear that he had not succeeded in motivating a Swansea City side, shell-shocked from losing two managers in the space of a year. The attitude which has pervaded the team was summed up for me by the way that West Ham scored their last goal on Monday, Nathan Dyer playing two Irons' forwards, including the deadly Andy Carroll, onside, as he ambled back towards the half-way line.

Some of the seeds of the current decline can be laid at the door of previous managers (including the then-inexperienced Garry Monk) in making some poor decisions in buying central defenders. Thus, when Ashley Williams left, there was no-one ready to fill the breach and marshal the defence. However, Ronald Koeman at various clubs and Jaap Stam at Reading (currently in the Championship promotion race) have shown that a good manager with defensive experience at the top level can work wonders with players who are not out of the top drawer. In Stam's case, progress has been achieved playing the way that Swans used to do under Brendan Rodgers.

Swans are not yet completely adrift at the bottom of the Premier League table. There are good players throughout the team. Gylfi Sigurdsson, who is ever-professional, and Llorente, who is making a point to his national team manager, can be relied on to score goals. If the aimlessness particularly at the centre of defence can be cured, there is every chance that Swansea City can retain its place in the top division.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Biradari voting is a local problem

I agree with the Electoral Reform Society that the government's proposals for voter identification are a sledgehammer to crack a nut.  The ERS, which campaigns for changes to the electoral system to make it fairer, said the move was a "blunt instrument" that could deter people from voting. The only documents so far proposed as confirmation of identity, passport and driving licence, are less likely to be possessed by the poor and the elderly. Thus, unless a wider range of id (e.g. bus pass, tax assessment) is made acceptable, the move is sure to take out of voting a large section of the population.

In any case, voter personation is only a serious problem in a few localities in England, dominated by clans in particular ethnic communities. It is surely more sensible to give discretion to returning officers who feel they have particular trouble with voter fraud to institute special checks rather than impose the restrictions on the whole UK.

Monday, 26 December 2016

There should be films about Boxing Day

The sheer bulk of Christmas-themed films and TV movies was brought home by the nationwide launch of the True Christmas channel on 4th October (!) this year. Tom Lehrer has already protested the lack of popular songs dedicated to the Jewish festival of lights. I would like to make a similar stand for the remaining eleven days of Christmas, during which festivities traditionally continued through to the night of what-you-will. A start could be made with a drama about the period between now and the New Year, a combination of recovery from Christmas Day and optimism about the year to come.

Sunday, 25 December 2016

God jul!

Merry Christmas to all my readers and especially the loyal followers!

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Happy Hanukkah!

Greetings to all my readers about to celebrate the Jewish Festival of Lights, and a traditional Anglo-Saxon finger gesture to Donald J Trump and his racist acolytes!

It's also a good excuse to link to one of my favourite Tom Lehrer pieces.

Friday, 23 December 2016

Fashion in music

Radio 3's Composer of the Week this week has been Sergei Prokofiev, concentrating on the period after his return to the USSR. Tuesday's programme was dedicated to the ballet Romeo and Juliet, which Donald Macleod described as Prokofiev's best-known and best-loved work. This caught my attention, because when I was growing up the two pieces by Prokofiev one was most likely to encounter were Peter and the Wolf and the Classical Symphony, with the occasional outing for the march from The Love for Three Oranges. Although it was clearly consistently popular in Russia, the ballet did not make a great impact in the West until, I would guess, Margot Fonteyn and the asylum-granted Rudolf Nureyev formed their partnership at the Royal Ballet in the 1960s. Now many of Sergei Sergeyevich's more substantial works are in the standard orchestral repertoire. It doesn't hurt that the Dance of the Knights was taken up by Channel 4 for their NFL coverage and has since been used by Sunderland FC and Sir Alan Sugar.

The other, lighter, pieces by Prokofiev have not disappeared. However, other "light classical" works by such as Julius Fučík (the centenary of whose death passed almost unnoticed last September), Reznicek and Suppé are hardly heard these days. This in spite of the huge expansion of "straight" music on UK radio, both with Radio 3, which went 24/7 in the 1990s, and the advent of Classic FM.

One regrets the disappearance of several tonal composers during the period when Glock and Boulez dictated the trends on the Third. Gerhard and Rubbra and a few others (see various postings on are struggling back to recognition. However, in the swing back against serial music, several interesting British figures have disappeared. It would be interesting to hear some Humphrey Searle again, in particular his opera based on an Ionescu play, The Photo of the Colonel. His contributions to the Hoffnung concerts proved that not all twelve-tone composers were po-faced.

Thursday, 22 December 2016


Next year's French presidential election looks to be a three-way contest in the first round. Marine le Pen for the fascist Front National, François Fillon for the conservatives and socialist Manuel Valls are reckoned to be the only serious candidates, with Valls expected to be eliminated after the first round of voting. Valls has received very little coverage in this country, but he looks to be the most sympathetic to social democratic electors and has the great advantage that he is not Hollande.

Votewatch Europe has provided a useful pen-portrait of Fillon. As a Thatcherite, he is clearly not the person I would vote for, in spite of his Welsh wife already noted in this blog. However, he may be just the person to restore some discipline to France and thus steady nerves in the EU. His attitude to the Union certainly chimes with my own:

In his campaign programme, Fillon pleads for a “sovereign France in a Europe respectful of nations”. [...] With a pragmatic and not-federalist approach, the centre-right candidate for French presidency wants to “put aside the dream of a federal Europe” and “re-establish a more politically-functioning” EU. 

I look forward to Votewatch's feature on Valls.

Wednesday, 21 December 2016

Putin "manipulates transatlantic votes"

UK Progressive relays the United States establishment view that Russian computer experts acting on behalf of Vladimir Putin deliberately released confidential data which harmed the Democrat campaign for the presidency. In the UK, the referendum result is alleged to have been fixed by the Russians.

I incline to the view, expressed in  War on the Rocks  passed on by Liberal England, that Putin's aim has been less specific but rather more dangerous. He seeks to sow general mistrust in the pillars of Western democracy. I would place the message that "capitalism has failed" in the same bucket of disinformation. (Capitalism is permanent; what has failed has been the willingness and/or ability of elected governments and supra-national bodies to regulate financial and other markets.) So effective has this virus become that some otherwise respectable commentators have been passing it on.

So far, so defensible. A wilder speculation is that the BBC is genuinely the Bolshevik Broadcasting Company and that they have deliberately given Nigel Farage and other 'kippers extravagant air-time in order to spread the same mistrust of all our established figures.

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

We need to keep cash

In this season, nominally Advent, when money is flying about the UK faster than any other time of the year, someone brought up in the Hindu religion has some pertinent things to say about the trendy desire for a cashless society. Amit Varma is no Luddite. However, what he says about the dangers of a dash from cash in India is as true for the UK:

One, a fully cashless society would mean the end of privacy. There would be a digital trail of every action you take through your purchases and transfers. If you buy AIDS medication or a porn magazine or book a hotel room for a romantic alliance, this information can be accessed by the government – or any hacker with the requisite skills – and used against you. India has no privacy laws, and data protection is also a big worry – every week we hear stories of some some big hacking or the other, from the Congress in India to the Democratic Party in the US.

Two, a fully cashless society could mean the end of dissent. The government can use any data it gathers against you. (Even if you commit no crime, there is much you may be embarrassed by.) What’s more, they could make any opponent a pauper with one keystroke, freezing your bank account while they investigate alleged misdeeds. Just the fact that they have this power could have a chilling effect on dissent. Those in government now may well salivate over this, but tables turn fast, and when they are in opposition, would they want their opponents to have such power over them?

Three, a fully cashless society endangers freedom. Cash is empowerment: ask the young wife who saves spare cash from her alcoholic husband; or the old mother who stuffs spare notes under her mattress for years because it gives her a sense of autonomy. Indeed, in a misogynist country like India, cashlessness would hit women the hardest.

It is a myth that an advanced society must necessarily be cashless. In Germany, a country which knows the perils of authoritarianism, more than 80% of transactions are in cash, as citizens safeguard their privacy and freedom. Even in the USA, 45% of transactions are in cash. Note that Germany and the USA actually have the banking and technological infrastructure to enable cashlessness.

Monday, 19 December 2016

Vocal expressions of Christian celebration

After yesterday's rich aural tapestry of Christmas music from around the continent comes Mark Pack with a link to bureaucrats' letting their hair down with a Christmas carol quiz with a difference.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Labour Ditches Disabled People

The cross-bench peer Baroness Deech writes as one of the Lords of the Blog:

I had the privilege of chairing a Lords Select Committee on Disability and Equality in 2015-16, and wrote about it here – After a year of work, the opportunity presented itself last week of achieving one of our key recommendations, by securing an amendment to the Policing and Crime Bill, currently making its way through the Lords. The substance of it was that licensing authorities would be required, when licensing premises such as restaurants, clubs and pubs, to check that they were reasonably accessible to disabled people (elderly people too). Under current law, premises are already checked for the protection of children, public safety, the prevention of public nuisance and crime and disorder, so this would add little to the paperwork. In any case, it is a legal requirement to allow for reasonable accessibility. The problem has been the lack of ready enforcement.  Currently, if a disabled person finds they cannot access premises, the burden is on them to complain and maybe take legal action, a heavy burden. If applicants for licences had to think about accessibility on a regular basis, and mainstream it into their maintenance of the premises, it would be far less likely that a disabled person would turn up only to discover that they are blocked, with the distress that might cause. The amendment would also have had the result that the enforcement burden would shift to the licensing authority. You can read about it here

Who could possibly not favour such a proposal? Well, the government did not, because of “burdens on businesses” and alleged duplication of the law (not so, because this amendment would have made the necessary adjustments anticipatory, rather than after the fact). Hardly surprising so far.  The real shock was that Labour Lords were told to abstain.  Why? Apparently their “strategy” is to select which amendments to defeat the government on, and this was not going to be one of them.  So we lost the amendment 177 to 135.  14 brave Labour Lords rebelled and supported us.  The rest, I suspect, had no idea what was going on, had not understood the impact of the amendment and simply did as they were told.  Crossbenchers and LibDems were overwhelmingly on side. A few more Labour or Tory rebels and we would have been there.  It passes my understanding that the party that alleges that it stands for “fairness, equality and social justice” (quote from Labour Party website) could not be bothered to go into the lobby for disabled people and their basic human rights of participating in society on an equal footing with everyone else.

Friday, 16 December 2016

European Parliament narrowly fails to adopt more openness

VoteWatch Europe reports: The votes for electing the President of the European Commission will remain secret.

 – MEPs rejected more transparency on the election of the President of the Commission. An amendment tabled by the Committee on Constitutional Affairs proposed to replace the secret vote with one by roll-call (which means recording how each MEP voted). While a simple majority of MEPs supported this proposal, this was not enough for it to pass, as a qualified majority (376) was needed: 364 MEPs voted in favour of the amendment, whereas 316 voted for the status quo;

All the Welsh MEPs (including Nathan Gill - for once UKIP supported a move to improve things in the EU) voted in favour of the amendment, apart from Labour's Derek Vaughan. Why should UK Labour support continued secrecy?

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Funny old world of dress

At a time when legislators in Germany are looking at measures to prevent women wearing too much and France maintains her burqa ban, Middle Eastern states keep up their fight against immodesty. The latest government to tighten up is Israel, which according to the nation's liberal organ Haaretz has applied a new, stricter dress code to parliament. The new rules apply to all Knesset employees, holders of permanent entry permits and visitors.

A parliamentary aide was denied entry to the Knesset on Sunday when guards said her dress was immodestly short, and only allowed to go to work after her boss protested.  Shaked Hasson, who works for MK Merav Michaeli (Zionist Union), was delayed at the gate for about an hour, during which five different male guards examined her and said her dress was in violation of the Knesset’s dress code. The dress came to a little above her knees, and she wore stockings underneath.

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

EU - Cuba relations

France 24 reports that "the EU and Cuba on Monday signed a deal to normalise ties that had been blocked for decades by human rights concerns under revolutionary icon Fidel Castro".

Perhaps the EU negotiators have received assurances that Cuba is moving towards a more participatory democracy, and one appreciates that there are links between Spain and Cuba, but this deal looks premature. Cuba is still ruled by a self-elected white-skinned cadre and restrictions of people's freedom remain. I would like to have seen this normalisation held out as a prize for concrete steps towards liberal democracy.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Cimla Post Office: consultation, what consultation?

Cimla Post Office is to be moved from CK's food store to a less central position. It was bad enough that it was given up as a dedicated sub-post-office in the first place, but at least it was saved by the Liberal Democrats insistence on no post office closures in the 2010 coalition agreement. To add insult to injury, there seems to have been no consultation with the wider public about the proposed new move. The council clearly was consulted, because the first I heard of it was a posting by Cllr Andrew Jenkins on his web-site a couple of days ago. A less assiduous Labour councillor (and there are too many of those) would no doubt have let it pass. I checked with our members in Cimla and only one seems to have been aware of the impending move.

But it is too late to alert the wider public anyway: the link to the "consultation" web-page is broken and replaced by a message to the effect that the consultation period is over.

The real Herr Flick

One of the amusing grotesques on BBC-TV's "'Allo, 'Allo" was the Gestapo Sturmbannführer Otto Flick. There was a real Herr Flick who was rather more significant. all the more so for staying largely in the shadows. He was a successful industrialist who latched on to the rising Nazi movement at the right time but also thrived during the post-war American settlement.

Contempt for lesser breeds and a love of strong men seem to be features of a contemporary British figure.

Monday, 12 December 2016

Romani event in Swansea next month

Judith Woodman, Liberal Democrat spokesman on business in the last general election and a candidate for police and crime commissioner, has asked us to give publicity to an event in the Taliesin Centre on 20th January. Here are the details:

Taliesin Arts Centre Swansea University, Singleton Park, Swansea SA2 8PZ Friday 20 January 2017 - 9.30am - 1.30pm

The Romani Cultural & Arts Company is pleased to announce the Gypsy, Roma & Traveller Arts & Culture National Symposium II. The event, hosted by Taliesin Arts Centre, will feature artists Artur Conka and Billy Kerry plus guests including Rosamaria Kostic Cisneros, professional dancer, dance historian, critic, and Roma scholar of Coventry University and Isabel Raabe, co-founder together with Franziska Sauerbrey of the office for cultural affairs in Berlin who are also the instigators and coordinators of the international project RomArchive: Digital Archive of the Roma. This varied range of speakers with their diverse areas of expertise will stimulate conversation amongst the audience regarding the contemporary climate of GRT arts and the wider implications for society. 

This exciting event will take place in the context of the Gypsy Maker 2 project; the unique RCAC venture that facilitates the development of innovative works by established and emerging GRT artists. The project aims to stimulate dialogue across communities about the ways in which art continues to inform the lives of individuals and communities today. For this second phase of the project the RCAC has commissioned exhibitions of new work by Artur Conka, Roma, and Billy Kerry, Romani Gypsy. Examples of both artists’ work will be on display in Taliesin’s Oriel Ceri Richards Gallery space during the symposium. 

“The arts bring enjoyment and inspiration to our everyday lives.  Taking part in the arts, whether as an individual or a member of a community, helps bind us together in a celebration of our common humanity.  But the arts can also help us to understand what is distinctive and important to protect in the differences that define us all.  The arts help us to explore and express the things we have in common and our place in the world.  A fair-minded and tolerant society values and respects the needs, interests and creativity of everybody.  It’s a society that’s impatient of disadvantage, which embraces equality and celebrates diversity.  We want the arts in Wales to include everyone.  We know this will make the arts in Wales more vibrant, exciting and relevant.  We warmly welcome the contribution that this second Gypsy, Roma & Traveller Arts & Culture National Symposium will make to that debate.” Nick Capaldi, Chief Executive Arts Council of Wales

“I’m delighted that Taliesin is hosting the 2017 symposium and helping to break down the ignorance and prejudice that persists about GRT communities. Artists are again at the forefront of busting stereotypes and bringing light and understanding to what remains a serious problem in our society “–Sybil Crouch, Head of Cultural Services, Taliesin Arts Centre

‘As representatives of an international project that itself seeks to break down prejudices through promoting culture and the arts, we are convinced that Gypsy Maker 2 will play an important for the recognition and appreciation of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller culture—a culture that is centuries old, most lively and varied to this day.’  Isabel Raabe and Franziska Sauerbrey, Project Initiators and Directors of RomArchive – Digital Archive of the Roma

We anticipate that this exciting half-day symposium and exhibition showcase will generate great interest so please book your place early by writing to The Romani Cultural & Arts Company at:

We recommend that you book as soon as possible as delegate numbers are limited.

Kushti Bok; be well
Good luck and good health

Isaac Blake

The Romani Cultural and Arts Company
Temple Court
13a Cathedral Road
CF11 9HA

More on the Romani Arts website.

Sunday, 11 December 2016

Centenarians on screen - and behind it

Much has been made of Kirk Douglas hitting three figures, and earlier in the year Olivia de Havilland, but centenarians in the film business are more common than one might expect. This list on IMDb was last updated two years ago, so it may be expected that the roll-call now extends well beyond the 141 names recorded there. I am glad to see that one of my favourite entries, Norman Lloyd, is still with us and that the film he made when he was over a hundred achieved release.

Friday, 9 December 2016

Sleaford and North Hykeham by-election

The main result from yesterday:
Conservative (Caroline Johnson)               17517 53.5% (-2.7)
UKIP (Victoria Ayling)                               4426 13.5% (-2.2)
Liberal Democrat (Ross Pepper)                  3606  11.0% (+5.3)
Labour (Jim Clarke)                                   3363  10.2% (-7.0)
Others: Lincs Ind 2892. Independent 462, Loony 200, Independent 186. Independent 74. Bus Pass Elvis 55

First thoughts: The balance of the House has been improved. A man and a lawyer has been replaced by a woman paediatrician. The government's NHS policy is going to be increasingly interrogated from its own benches.

The UKIP vote did not fade as much as I expected. This, together with a similar slight fall in the Conservative Brexiter's vote, seems to demonstrate that East Anglia remains dominated by a desire to Leave. UKIP has taken over second place from Labour. It looks as if the party threw everything at this election, having given up on both Witney and Richmond Park.

There was a great Liberal Democrat campaign, reportedly reaching sections of the community not contacted for many years previously. Our campaigns depend to a larger extent than either Conservatives or Labour on volunteers. Not too many could have afforded to work in both Richmond Park and Lincolnshire, so it is understandable that our target of regaining second place was missed, but our vote increase augurs well for the future. It might have been a different story if the two by-elections had not come so close together.

Labour must be worried. Labour has polled consistently over 10,000 votes in this constituency in previous years. They clearly have an identity problem.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

Oh, my Crossleys and my Maudslays long ago!

Time was when we not only manufactured every part of our buses and coaches in the UK, but also sold them round the world. We must have been the biggest provider of public service vehicles to the globe. Our streets were full of Bristols, Leylands, AECs, Daimlers, Albions, Guys with the occasional Crossley and Maudslay. Gardner of Patricroft provided the motive power to those users who preferred their engines to those of the other manufacturers.

We still have bus-builders, who continue to produce innovative designs. However, the basic mechanics come from elsewhere. This was brought home by the news that Volvo would have to increase its prices to Alexander Dennis and others because of the fall in sterling. No doubt the US-based Paccar, in the forefront of "green" bus engine development as well as powering much of London's fleet, will follow suit.

Wednesday, 7 December 2016

The mean vote swing from UKIP to Liberal /Democrat in Witney and Richmond Park is roughly 16%. Feeding that into my copy of UK-Elect produces the following forecast for a general election held now:


Tuesday, 6 December 2016

The EU versus global forces

International socialists have long been against the European Union because it is a bulwark against communism.

Free-marketeers want to break up the EU because it is a bulwark against the power of multi-national companies.

Those who are fighting against globalisation should realise that the EU is on their side.

Monday, 5 December 2016

"Going fobbing"

From experience, I would say that teachers in Neath are good at keeping children active and interested in the streets outside them. However, the education authority might like to look at "Beat the Street", an initiative in urban Salford which gives an extra incentive to outdoor activity. (By the way, it's sad to see that diesel engines are no longer made in Patricroft for shipping all over the world.)

Sunday, 4 December 2016

Good choices for back-room staff at the Liberty

I gave a little cheer when I heard that Brian Flynn was to join the Swansea City staff. He has an excellent record as manager, assistant manager and youth team coach, though he has often been relieved of positions where the new appointee has garnered the credit for Flynn's achievements. It seems he will not be directly involved with the development of players. This is an understandable avoidance of conflict. However, with his contacts within the game at all levels, his knowledge of all corners of England and Wales and two years of scouting experience with Everton under his belt, he is an ideal addition to the scouting team.

Paul Williams I knew little of before news of his appointment, but his record spoke for itself. I had not realised his origins were Afro-Caribbean until the other day. An improvement in the club management's ethnic diversity is a bonus.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

Israel's submarines

Israel has recently concluded the purchase of a sixth cruise-missile capable submarine.  I reckon that makes the middle-eastern nation just one behind the UK, though "our" missiles are probably capable of more destruction.

The submarine builders, ThyssenKrupp, used to be strongly associated as separate firms with the Nazi war effort, which may seem ironic. However, earlier in the century the same armaments firms supplied both sides in the Great War.

A latter-day Yugoslavia

Brexiters are cheering the investment in London by China (this, for instance) and the US (though Private Eye reckons the Facebook investment is rather less than what was announced in 2013). Is the future for Britain outside the EU, playing East and West against each other, like Tito's Yugoslavia?

Friday, 2 December 2016

Liberal Democrats win back Richmond Park

Sarah Olney won the by-election over Zac Goldsmith by over 2,000 votes. Christian Wolmar, someone who would have been well-known to hard-pressed commuters by rail in the community, mustered only 1,515 votes on behalf of the Labour Party.

For the reasons set out earlier this is a good result. Additionally, it emphasises that the Liberal Democrats are the only party committed to keeping the UK within the EU and that Labour has lost trust, not only over the EU, but in its ability to deliver coherent opposition to the cuts in social services imposed by the Conservatives.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Barry Lloyd

Radio Wales has just announced the death of Neath's Barry Lloyd, who bowled off-spin for Glamorgan, at 63, no age these days. I remember him as an economical bowler and had the impression of a popular team player, borne out by these cricinfo stats and the recollections of Robert Croft and others. He took on the burden of co-captaincy at an awkward time for the county.

My commiserations to his family and friends.

A classic Davis Cup match

An exciting French team, captained by Yannick Noah and comprising Arnaud Boetsch, Guy Forget, Cedric Pioline and Guillaume Raoux, lifted the Davis Cup twenty years ago today. A strong Swedish team which included Stefan Edberg went down 2-3 on home soil. There was virtually no coverage on BBC at the time and the only footage that seems to be available now is here.

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Twin pendulums and the business cycle

Time was the business cycle was clear to even people of average intelligence (e.g. me). The world economy oscillated between high and low activity (or boom and bust if you are a journalist or Gordon Brown) over a period of around six years. A government could accentuate (back to Gordon Brown) or attenuate its effects on its national economy, but it could do nothing to affect the regular swing.

But something odd seems to be happening now. I reckon we should be on a marked upswing. I wonder whether the old model has been superseded. It was clearly based on the existence of a single major economy dominating the scene, as the United States arguably has since the Great War and probably the UK before that. When America sneezed, everybody else got the 'flu. With the emergence of China as a big player in the 21st century, we may now have a rather less predictable scenario, much as a twin-pendulum system displays chaotic motion. The worry is that on this model the peaks and troughs would not only be more unforeseeable but also more extreme.

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Protection of young footballers

Homosexuality is not paedophilia. Most child sex abuse is committed by men on girls.

Having said that, I find it difficult to believe that the two coaches at the centre of the current scandal did not also have consensual sex with adults and that those adults were unaware of the exploitation that was going on. There must also have been officials at both Crewe and Newcastle who at least had suspicions that abuse was taking place. Part of the reason for their not speaking out must be the lack of honesty within association football. Even rugby admits that it is no different from the rest of society, that there are gay men playing and officiating at the top level.

Even in the midst of another miserable playing season, Charlton Athletic FC maintains its Protecting Children Policy. Charlton was probably the first club in the English Football League to realise the need for a formal system of child protection, possibly in response to the news of Crewe Alexandra's trouble in 1998. It seems that not every club has yet caught up.

See also

Monday, 28 November 2016

Women voting in a general election

On this day in 1893, adult women voted in a national general election in New Zealand. This is rightly celebrated as the first such total suffrage in world history. However, it was not the first occasion on which women were able to vote on the same basis as men. As historian David Olusoga explained in his BBC2 series, in the 1792 elections in Sierra Leone, then a new British colony, all heads of household could vote and one-third were ethnic African women.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Fidel Castro

Jonathan Fryer says most of what I was going to write, good and bad, about the revolutionary leader. I would add to the list of crimes under the communist dictatorship the oppressive treatment of HIV patients, but also emphasise the maintenance of universal education and health care in the face of far worse economic pressures than the UK has had to endure.

One could have predicted Donald Trump's intemperate response to the announcement of Castro's death. Unforgivable in my opinion, considering that he is old enough to remember Batista, is the failure to acknowledge that what Castro replaced, a virtual Mafia fiefdom under a corrupt, brutal and divisive dictator, was far worse.

Tidal power

On the fiftieth anniversary of the opening of the first tidal power station (on the Rance estuary near St Malo), we still have no decision on the Swansea Bay lagoon project. You would think that fifty years' experience of the concept would be long enough to convince any politician.

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Anti-semitism in French North Africa

Daniel Lee, in the broadcast to which this blog post refers, forestalled any assumptions which we might have had about antisemitism in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria before and during the second world war. It seems that the Muslim citizens of the French possessions and colonies were generally well-disposed towards the Jews among them. Antisemitism was handed down by their colonial masters, even before Vichy attempted to impose its own "final solution". To his credit, the king of Morocco resisted signing Vichy decrees so far as he was able.

Tunisian and Moroccan descendants in France learned well, reinforced by Salafi-funded organisations there. The result is the violence visited upon Charlie Hebdo and Bataclan. There will almost certainly be implications for next spring's French presidential election.

Friday, 25 November 2016

A contribution to eliminating antibiotic resistance

Thanks to the Guardian's Political Science site for putting me on to Nesta. Actually, the particular post it flagged up was about Arloesiadur. This is a computing tool for, it seems to me, picking up trends before they become trendy, a useful aid to government policy makers. Civil servants are not always bad at picking winners and this may help the process.

Anyway, exploring Nesta further put me on to this news item which is worthy of wider dissemination (Radio 4, where are you?). Follow the link for details of the teams at work on one of the great menaces of our time. Here is Nesta's summary:

The Discovery Awards are small seed grants to help teams and individuals further develop their ideas for the Longitude Prize. This seed funding aims to help registered teams move their ideas forward, as well as to broaden the range of innovators competing for the prize by encouraging new teams to enter the race.

The Longitude Prize is a global science competition that will award £8 million to a diagnostic test that helps solve the problem of global antibiotic resistance. It is being run by Nesta and supported by Innovate UK as funding partner.

Saint Catherine's Day

Thursday, 24 November 2016

"Advise and Consent"

I am grateful to Terry Teachout for not only reminding me of Otto Preminger's film but also filling in the background to the book on which it is based.

The title of course comes ultimately from the section of the US constitution outlining the powers of the Senate as a check on an over-weening president. (I am sure that this consideration is going to be much discussed by the experts on both sides of the Atlantic in the months to come in view of the 2016 election result.) The phrase is used in particular of presidential appointments which must be made with the "advice and consent" of the Senate. The verb "advise" is what appears in the Senate rule book.

I do not know the book, but was impressed by the film. Like many interested in politics at the time, this first detailed exploration on screen of the working of the American system fascinated me. It seems that like many iconic movies, it was based on a poorly-written book. The ponderousness of the film which I put down to Preminger's heavy-handed direction was, it seems, inherent in the novel. 

Mr Teachout highlights how quickly the book fell from the public consciousness (so much so that the Liberal Democrats' super-wonk Mark Pack had not heard of it in 2014*.) but also how it has been taken up again by a new generation of political groupies.

Mr Teachout's key point is that we are no longer in a period when any shame would cause a prominent politician to commit suicide, even in the conservative United States.

"Advise and Consent" hinges on the suicide of a married senator whose wartime affair with a serviceman is about to be revealed by a political columnist. It isn’t generally known, but this plot element was loosely based on the real-life story of Lester C. Hunt, a Democratic senator from Wyoming who shot himself in his Capitol office in 1954.
Here’s what happened, according to Hunt’s Wikipedia entry:
Hunt was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1948, taking office on January 3, 1949. During his tenure in the Senate, Hunt became a bitter enemy of Wisconsin Senator Joseph R. McCarthy, and his criticism of McCarthy’s anticommunist tactics marked him as a prime target in the 1954 election.
Leading up to the 1954 election, Republicans held a Senate majority of one vote, and pressured Hunt to resign from the Senate. Republican Senator Styles Bridges warned Hunt that unless he withdrew, Wyoming voters would find out about the arrest of Hunt’s twenty-year-old son for soliciting prostitution from a male undercover police officer in Lafayette Square in July 1953. After some vacillation, Hunt announced that he would not seek reelection on June 8, 1954. Eleven days later, he shot himself in his Senate office.
One significant detail is missing from this dry account: Hunt’s son was president of the student body of the Episcopal Theological School of Cambridge. That would have upped the humiliation ante considerably in 1954 – but what about now? Can you seriously imagine a senator, or any other public figure, commiting suicide under similar circumstances today? In fact, let’s take it one step further: can you think of any secret so shameful that a contemporary public figure would rather die than face the consequences of its becoming known? I can’t.
Maybe the point on which the plot turns has lost its power, but the political fundamentals are the same. The film may be long, but I advise seeking it out. An incidental pleasure is enjoying the late flowering of such stars of Hollywood's golden age as Lew Ayres, Charles Laughton, Walter Pidgeon and Gene Tierney.

* See the notes to this article. Incidentally, "Fail-Safe" has been returned to late-night TV viewing, I am glad to say. Dr Pack had heard of another key political thriller, Gore Vidal's "The Best Man". I would recommend this work also

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

John Wallis

Not being a mathematician, I was unaware of this gentleman before, but he has been described as the most important British contributor to the discipline before Sir Isaac Newton. Born 400 years ago today, he is known for introducing the infinity symbol still in use today. As this source says:

In his Tract on Conic Sections (1655) Wallis described the curves that are obtained as cross sections by cutting a cone with a plane as properties of algebraic coordinates [...] Wallis developed methods in the style of Descartes analytical treatment and he was the first English mathematician to use these new techniques. This work is also famed for the first use of the symbol ∞ which was chosen by Wallis to represent a curve which one could traced out infinitely many times. He used the symbol again in the more influential work Arithmetica infinitorum which was published a few months later.

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Worker directors: yet another illiberal retreat

It seems like only a few days ago that I was praising Mrs May's conversion to German-style (and traditionally Liberal) worker directors. Yesterday, in her speech to the CBI, that was yet another firm policy pledge which weakened to an airy-fairy wish. Chris Dillow makes the attack from a Marxist economist's standpoint.

On the radio yesterday, an Economist magazine correspondent suggested that Mrs May's original idea was unworkable because under English law, directors had a "fiduciary duty" to their company's shareholders. Leaving aside the consideration that in view of recent City financial scandals "fiduciary duty" is disregarded anyway, the obvious retort is that the law can be changed. The TUC drawing up its 2013 paper entitled "Workers on Boards" was aware of the concept and clearly saw no difficulty.

A retreat from international law

The United States has consistently opposed membership of the International Criminal Court, although there was some cooperation during the Clinton and early Obama administrations. She prefers to enforce what she sees as international justice through military and economic muscle.

One of Vladimir Putin's early acts after being elected as president of Russia in 2000 was to sign up to the ICC, though this action has never been ratified. Now he has repudiated his signature, responding to the ICC's criticism of Russia's re-annexation of Crimea and no doubt mindful of possible prosecutions for war crimes in Syria. Russia thus joins Jacob Zuma's South Africa and a collection of other African nations whose human rights record is iffy in withdrawing from the ICC.

Monday, 21 November 2016

Welsh presidential connections

We may have lost the chance of a slim Welsh connection with the White House with the defeat of Hillary Rodham Clinton in the recent US presidential election, but the possibility of a Welshwoman in the Élysée Palace remains alive. M. Fillon has topped the poll in the first round of elections to select a conservative candidate in next year's race for the French presidency. The question is: will defeated Nicolas Sarkozy's votes transfer to M. Fillon in the run-off?

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Credibility, child abuse and Labour politicians

Having failed to dislodge the current head of the Child Abuse Inquiry on grounds of academic standing, personal bias or mismanagement, Labour's Chuka Umunna tries another tack: Alexis Jay cannot be trusted because she knows something about the protection of children. It is clear that Labour wants to destroy the Inquiry by any means, presumably because spinning out untested anecdotes of abuse indefinitely helps their political cause - or perhaps they are afraid that proceedings might unearth allegations against another senior Labour figure of similar status to Lord Janner?

Surely not only Professor Jay's record in handling the Rotherham inquiry but also her bold statements on being appointed to the Lowell Goddard panel last year give assurance enough to victims?

Besides, how can anybody trust someone who faked his identity on social media and possibly concocted his own wikipedia biography?

Friday, 18 November 2016

Child abuse inquiry withdrawals

I have to question the motives of the Shirley Oaks group in withdrawing cooperation from the Inquiry headed by Alexis Jay, and even more so the calls from some Labour spokesmen to restrict its scope. It is necessary to get as much evidence on the record as possible while witnesses are still with us and memories are relatively fresh. The alternative would allow the wildest conspiracy theories to linger while genuine abusers remain unidentified.

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Len Allchurch

I was lucky enough to see the last few seasons of Len Allchurch at the Vetch Field. Older spectators told me he was not as good as his brother, but he seemed pretty special to me.

There is more here:

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

More on Afro-Caribbeans on screen

This follows on from yesterday's posting about perceptions of Afro-Caribbeans in all walks of British life and from my posting in connection with Black British Cinema week. (By the way, I should have mentioned the work of Mouth That Roared, which is trying to counteract the low expectations and prejudice in the industry. Thanks to Francine Stock and The Film Programme for the link. That edition also contains an extended interview of David Oyelowo which is well worth listening to.)

It does not help the cause of non-white British actors that when a plum star part in a British film comes up, it is likely to go to a name from America. Clearly, this is to do with raising finance. One example is Forest Whitaker as Idi Amin in The Last King of Scotland. Another is the choice of singer Jill Scott to shed her urban sophistication (and no doubt put on a few pounds, as Renée Zellweger does for Bridget Jones) to become the traditionally-built Mma Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series. All three actors were superb, but one felt that there were British or Commonwealth performers who could have filled the rôles.

I am not arguing for the sort of protectionism enforced by Actors Equity and the Musicians Union in the 1950s where there had to be an arithmetical balance between performers crossing the Atlantic. How pointless those restrictive practices were, was shown when they were lifted. What is more clearly needed is a more enlightened attitude on the part of writers, commissioners and casting directors in the UK.

A stray thought: it occurred to me when his name came up in Homeland: when in Hollywood, did David meet his near-namesake Dorian Harewood? It is not a common surname, so one suspects that though they are unlikely to be related they may have a dark common heritage in the identity of a seller of slaves in the southern States or the West Indies or both.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Harewood on Afro-Caribbean prejudice

For many reasons, I dislike using the term "black" of people. In my opinion, it is only marginally better than "negro" or "darkie", both disapproved by the non-white community. However, the actor David Harewood used it throughout his thought-provoking programme on Sunday night so I suppose I had better follow suit.

Harewood put his case well. He got on well with his interviewees*, drawing more from them than a confrontational style would have done. For me, though, the stars of the show were Dr Faiza Shaheen and the graphic artist who put her dramatic statistics on the screen.

And those statistics were appalling. One knew that there was anti-black prejudice, but its extent was eye-opening. The odds against black children succeeding to the top job as compared with whites, even those who had not been to private school, were in double figures. Doors were shut at all levels. President Obama's big break came when he was elected president of the prestigious Harvard Law Review. Can one imagine a black Briton being in a position to accept such a post, let alone be offered it?

[Prejudice warning on] However, the programme skirted one or two issues. For instance, for all that screen productions in the USA and Canada provide more leading rôles to black actors, one suspects in the real world that the statistics regarding opportunities are much the same. At least we should have been presented with the comparative figures. I would also have been interested in a comment on the fact that of the big three black achievers in public life in the States (Condoleeza Rice, Colin Powell and Barack Obama), the two men were sons of British Commonwealth citizens, not Americans. Obviously we need to improve but flagellating ourselves does not help that improvement.

One key statistic stood out for me, and was not followed up. From an early age black children of Caribbean origin do worse than Black Africans and both do worse than non-blacks until they escape from the judgment of teachers. There is then a steep rise in achievements, but the Caribbeans never catch up. My guess is that most of the children of African origin come from professional families (lawyers, accountants or even civil servants) who entered the UK pre-EU immigration restrictions in order to better themselves. The West African states also have a tradition of civil structures below government level unlike the looser West Indian style so that African children learn discipline and how to "fit in" earlier. Most West Indians immigrated to fill manual or semi-skilled jobs and their expectation for their children was probably lower.

A more glaring omission was a comparison with children of Indian, Pakistani or Bengali parents, in particular those from the middle-classes expelled from East Africa. While it is hard to think of blacks who have made it outside the field of TV and sport, I would bet that more people could name TV presenters, journalists, MPs or even business leaders of sub-continental origin. No statistics at all, there.

So it is not just skin colour, nor even "African" features which are the major handicap, so much as lower expectations by black families and, even more, class prejudice. Unfortunately, the latter and racial bias feed into each other. [/Prejudice warning]

*I'm glad the producer left in the impromptu meeting with a beautiful Brummie cat in Harewood's old home street.

Monday, 14 November 2016

What's next in the sequence: Only, Connect, Cock?

I must admit my share in tonight's "Only Connect" mess. If I had realised how far my distance vision had deteriorated I would have gone to the opticians well before the Cardiff recording, I would have recognised Rodgers and Williams and probably made the connection with the SDP/Liberal Alliance.

I should explain. In the studio, the visuals are presented to the teams on domestic TVs mounted a metre or so above the opposition and on the afternoon in question on the same level as an annoying spotlight. (In the auditions we were sat at a desk in the Parasol offices with a small screen but one that was on the desk in front of us.) I realised I had a problem in the round recorded earlier that day when I found I struggled to make out text and had real trouble with pictures. Then, David made up for my deficiencies (Harriet had already admitted she had never been good at recognising faces). Unfortunately, David has no interest in football, so Brendan Rodgers completely passed him by. But my real failure was when the "answer" was read out by Victoria Coren-Mitchell. If I had not been so confused, I would have objected at the time that while the four people named were part of the SDP/Liberal alliance, they were not the Gang Of Four. At the very least that would have resulted in the Only Connect team digging out an alternative question and re-starting the recording.

That vision thing also resulted in my being slower than the opposition in the Missing Vowels round, especially in the geographic set. So apologies to David and Harriet for letting them down.

It should be stressed that after they realised the brick they had dropped, the Parasol team did their best to make amends and kept in touch with the CIx Networkers team members at every stage between the recording and tonight's broadcast. A bonus was that I several times heard again the honeyed tones of Chris Stuart, now with Parasol.

The wee magic stane

Twenty years ago, the Stone of Scone was removed from Westminster Abbey. Six days later, on St Andrew's Day, it was returned to the people of Scotland, to the capital if not its original resting-place. The significance is summed up here.

An earlier, unofficial, attempt to reclaim the Stone was celebrated by Robin Hall and Jimmie MacGregor.

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Thought for the day

There is not such a cradle of democracy upon the earth as the Free Public Library, this republic of letters, where neither rank, office, nor wealth receives the slightest consideration.
 - Andrew Carnegie, industrialist, (1835-1919) and the man whose foundation endowed libraries throughout the United Kingdom, including one in Evelyn Road, Skewen.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Journalistic cynicism

I could not in all conscience complain about the wall-to-wall UK media coverage on the horse-race across the pond (the BBC, spending licence fee money on dozens of reporters and celebrity presenters in the United States, was as usual the worst culprit) and at the same time add my commentary on this blog, beyond speculating on the outcome for us. However, I was impressed by this biting summary by an American journalist enough to want to share it:

Newspapers are just not influential any more. Every major newspaper in the United States endorsed Hillary Clinton. The only "newspaper" that endorsed Donald Trump was The Crusader, the house organ of the Klu Klux Klan.

 How do you explain that to a journalism class without handing out job applications for McDonalds at the same time?

Thirty years of trying to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable and where has it gotten us?

Is it too late to get one of those sweet telephone sanitizer gigs or get into the exciting world of couch insurance?

There is more here.

Ironically, many of my friends complain about the undue influence of the press over here, particularly on our country's relationship with the rest of Europe. However, the decline in employment of trained journalists is similar.

Friday, 11 November 2016

High definition then and now

The BBC transmissions from Alexandra Palace whose eightieth anniversary we are celebrating this month are described as the first high-definition public television broadcasts. This is to distinguish them from rather cruder pictures demonstrated by public broadcasters on the continent, as this excerpt from BFI Screenonline makes clear:

The new BBC Television Service had begun. Widely regarded as the first high-definition television service in the world, the truth of this description depends on your definition of 'high definition'. It is usually said to be at least 240 lines and at least 25 images per second - the definition of the BTL [Baird] system of the time. Unfortunately, the BBC, in a publication the previous year, had told how "Herr Eugen Hadamovsky, Director-General of the German Broadcasting Service, opened the world's first regular high-definition television service on Friday, 22 March" [1935]. The German system was 180-line, not so different from BTL's 240. However, the 405-line, 50-field interlaced performance of the Marconi-EMI system was a tremendous advance in comparison, and in this regard there is no doubt that Britain led the world in high-definition television. By contrast, the USA had no regular television services at this time, though numerous tests had been broadcast using low-definition mechanical scanning, and NBC was planning an electronic system with over 300 lines; the Soviet Union was running a regular service - but it was 30-line with whirling discs - and in France there were tests of 180-line, 25-frame mechanical scanning.

Now standard television has left 405 lines behind and high-definition has different parameters.

"It must never happen again" should mean it this time

No matter how often I pause at the war memorial in Cadoxton, I experience a tingle at recognising surnames of local families, like Bowen and Tennant and Hale, enscribed on the face and side. It is a reminder that fathers and mothers lost young men who would doubtless otherwise have gone on to enrich the community.

There are now eerie echoes of the time before the last war in Europe. A charismatic dictator, smarting at the decline in his nation's power feeds on similar feelings among his fellow-countrymen, on racism and xenophobia, eliminates liberal opposition, takes control of the mass media and by military force seizes territory which he claims is rightly part of the Motherland. A pro-business president-elect of the USA seeks to build metaphorical (and in the case of Latin America) physical walls and is passive in the face of that military expansion in Europe. A Conservative administration in Westminster yields to populist opinion and disengages from the continent.

Of course, there are differences. In 1933 a liberal and internationalist president took over in the US from a conservative, rather than the other way round. In the UK, that populist mood led to disarmament under Stanley Baldwin.The UK has not stood down even our conventional forces. But in terms of political readiness, we are as ill-prepared for a creeping takeover as we were then, a slow takeover which could lead to another hot war.

As Benjamin Franklin said, when the fledgling United States were considering freeing themselves from a colonial dictatorship:

If we do not hang together, we shall surely hang separately.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Military alignment

If I have one big concern about the Trump presidency, it is that it will give up on the defence of our friends on the eastern border of the EU. Clearly, one of Trump's first acts in January will be to officially recognise the takeover of Crimea and eastern Ukraine by his butty Volodya Putin. He has vowed to reduce his support for NATO on the grounds that not enough European nations (Republicans made a point of excepting us from this stricture) are not contributing their fair share. Since the federal deficit is bound to increase if he stands by his fiscal manifesto, he is going to have to find ways of narrowing the gap. Cancelling Obamacare on its own is not going to be enough, so one should not doubt that he will.follow through on his threat to NATO.

Besides, the US attention was already shifting towards China as a potential enemy rather than Russia. Trump may even seek an anti-China (and anti-Korea) alliance with Putin.

If Trump takes his eye off Europe, it is all the more important for the UK, in or out of the EU, to assert its support for Georgia and the Baltic States.

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Bad news for the US, rather better for the UK

I wish I had followed my hunches and put money on a Brexit/Trump double in the spring. However, I am happy this morning that Hillary Clinton did not win the White House/ The prospect of being dragged into another costly war has receded. Trump is far more likely to resolve disagreements with foreign powers by negotiation than by force of arms. Also, UK business can take advantage of the immediate (but temporary) fall in the value of the dollar to stock up on raw materials.

The predictions of disaster for the western world are also exaggerated. Mr Trump's inexperience may actually be an advantage as he will  have to pick expert advisers. The bad news for America is that one of the few policy promises he will actually stick to is the one to reduce taxes which will increase the US budget deficit and boost inflation.

Remainers should demand a new government, not a new referendum

Peter Black writes about a challenge to the June 2016 EU referendum, pointing out that though the legal case, based on the falsehoods used by Leave.EU and other "out" campaigners, may fail, the political verdict may well swing the other way.

I have argued for some time against imposing another referendum, as called for by Tim Farron, on the basis that we live in a representative democracy and that if the majority view in the Commons (reportedly three-quarters in favour of remaining in the EU) is at odds with a referendum, then the next step should be a test of parliament in a general election. Mrs May, with her proposal to go ahead with revocation of Article 50 without so much as an affirmative resolution in the House, appears to believe in that pro-EU majority. Personally I am not so sure, judging by the number of Labour MPs queuing up to say how much they respect the outcome of the referendum, but Mrs May, if the Supreme Court's judgment confirms that of the High Court, might not wish to take any chances and herself contrive a dissolution of parliament.

If there is a genuine groundswell from the electorate in favour of another referendum, that would be another matter. Prices are bound to go up during the winter, because of the fall of sterling against the dollar. We are not out of the EU, have not even started negotiations to leave, but we are in a "phoney war" period in which the international markets have taken a preliminary view of our finances post-Brexit. Sterling's recent blip, buoyed by a combination of the prospect of a Trump presidency, a calming statement by the governor of the Bank of England and the High Court decision, took it only marginally about $1.25, still ten per cent down on last year. So there may be enough people as winter draws on feeling cheated by the Leave prospectus, faced with increased gas, electricity and petrol bills, and no sign of the promised increase in the overall NHS budget, who will make their demands for another EU referendum.

Note that it would be a third referendum, not a second as minister David Davis said in his Commons statement on Monday:

There must be no attempts to remain inside the EU, no attempts to rejoin it through the back door and no second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union and it is the duty of the Government to make sure that we do just that. 

In questions on that same statement, Dr Julian Lewis said:

If the result had gone the other way, leavers like me would have unequivocally accepted it

I beg to differ. History shows that people who felt his way did not accept the verdict of the first EU referendum in 1975. Why should people like me who feel that both the Union and the UK are stronger for our presence within it cease to make the case, or censor ourselves when evidence against the Leave prospectus mounts up? Both sides should resign themselves to a re-examination of our place in Europe at least once in every generation.

Throughout his statement Mr Davis emphasised that this government is responsible for putting in motion the machinery for leaving the Union. At the outset, he said:

As the Government told voters:
“This is your decision. The government will implement what you decide”—

A referendum has no legal force in the UK. Constitutionally, referendums can only advise. It was a Conservative government decision to act on a narrow majority verdict. It follows that, because no government can bind its successors, a change of this government can change its EU policy.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

David Davis and the prerogative

The minister for Brexit was characteristically direct in his update in the Commons yesterday and as honest as his brief permitted. However, the SNP's Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) scored a direct hit yesterday to which Mr Davis failed to respond:

Does he agree, and has he told his boss the Prime Minister, that we could have saved this Government, their lawyers and Ministers, and High Court judges a lot of time and effort had Parliament approved the Parliamentary Control of the Executive Bill that he brought before the House on 22 June 1999? It would have clearly restricted the use of the Crown prerogative until
“the assent of the House of Commons has first been obtained”,
“to exercise executive powers not conferred by statute”.

The member for Haltemprice and Howden was right then and is on dodgy ground now.

Warning: there is more on democracy vs. dictatorship (or ochlocracy) to come tomorrow.

Marks and Spencer's verdict on Neath's shopping centre

It seems that the Neath M&S store (as has the one in Swansea) has escaped the axe in the company's big turnround programme. Pontypridd has not been so lucky. It is not clear, however, whether Neath will continue to sell clothing and footwear or merely become a high-end food outlet.

Monday, 7 November 2016

The lost leader

There was a good chance yesterday for Swansea City to gain their second win of the season against a Manchester United who had showed their fragility against Fenerbahçe last Thursday. The message should have gone out to the players to get in the faces of the opposition. I do not doubt that Bob Bradley is a good coach. He has also shown that he can motivate his fellow-countrymen. But there must be doubts about his strategic ability with a team of varied backgrounds.

However, what was most missed yesterday was a driving force on the field. Ashley Williams would not have stood for Sunday's abject display. Many of us feared the worst when the captain decided that he wanted to end his Premier League career at Goodison Park rather than the Liberty, and our apprehension that his was the loss Swans could least bear has so far proved all too well-founded.

Most of the players on the field yesterday were part of the side that survived in the League last year and produced the occasional pleasing display. The new centre-back pairing looks promising, but will need time to bed in. In terms of playing ability, one may have confidence that this squad can hold its own, if not hit the heights, in the Premier League. The big question marks are over character and motivation.

Sunday, 6 November 2016

This liberal Ministry of Justice amazes me

Time was, the Home Office was the most dysfunctional and reactionary of departments. It seems that the split into Home Office and Justice ministry has improved matters, the most conservative civil servants remaining with the Home Office (bad news for refugees and our relationship with continental jurisdictions) but the new ministry attracting more enlightened administrators. So the hints at restorative justice under Ken Clarke and trust in prison governors under Michael Gove is clearly part of a pattern continued by Liz Truss*. She is recruiting extra prison officers in order to reduce violence and crack down on drug-taking in prisons.

Ms Truss is quoted as saying that “This will be the first time ever that the secretary of state is not just responsible for housing prisoners but is responsible for their reform. We are going to put that in primary legislation.”

This is not going to happen overnight. It takes time to train prison officers and more again for them to come up to speed in the gaols. Nor, as the Guardian points out, does it restore the staffing levels to what they were pre-2010 - though there are commentators who believe that these were unnecessarily inflated by Labour before they left office. However, the emphasis on reform is very cheering. Moreover, there will be a long-term pay-off in terms of reducing reoffending rates and thus the cost of incarceration as well as to the economy generally. It would help also if the government defied the Daily Mail and the Daily Express to take off the statute book all those imprisonable offences which Labour created unnecessarily.

* It is probably a coincidence that Liz Truss was once a member of the Liberal Democrats