Thursday, 31 March 2016

Democracy night review

Last night's event was an outstanding success. Credit must go to Matthew Tucker for the organisation and Kay Lewis-Thomas for her firm chairmanship, but also to the young farmers themselves for the splendid turn-out and sharp questions.

As usual with an enthusiastic audience and many candidates, the hustings ran out of time. The only criticism I have of the planning is that not enough time was allowed for candidates' summaries at the end of the evening. There were two opponents' assertions in particular I wanted to challenge but did not have time to do so.

Labour's Jeremy Miles claimed credit on behalf of Carwyn Jones's government for granting £88,600 to the YFC in Wales in the 2015/16 budget. However, as this report makes clear, this is less than allocated in previous years and indeed Labour originally intended to cut the grant altogether. It was only vigorous political action spearheaded by Kirsty Williams which won back funding for the YFC.

I agree with Peter Croker-Jakes (Conservative) that empty pubs are a blot on the Neath landscape. However, he did not acknowledge that these result from the failed business model of public house ownership initiated by the Thatcher/Major governments. Liberal Democrat Greg Mulholland has fought over the last decade what often seemed like a one-man campaign against Conservatives and the establishment generally to achieve some reform of the system, and his fight goes on.

Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Democracy evening at the Neath Constitutional Club

These are the opening remarks I hope to make tonight:

First, I would like to thank Matthew Tucker and the Neath YFC for arranging this democracy evening. It’s good to know that the old-fashioned hustings is not dead in the age of social media.

As a Blaenhonddan community councillor a few years ago I recall the YFC’s volunteering to assist us with our efforts in the environment. We weren’t able to arrange anything on that occasion but we were grateful for the offer. Perhaps something has come of the initiative since.

I suspect that as a town-dweller whose expertise is computing, I shall be learning more than informing tonight especially when it comes to question time. I do enjoy walking in the countryside though, and I would make a plea to landowners here not to restrict access unreasonably. The people who abuse the right to roam are a small minority and can be dealt with.

My personal knowledge may be limited, but my party has strong links to farming. Our leader is married to a farmer, and another Liberal Democrat AM, Bill Powell, lives on the family farm. So we have good farming credentials. We have also consistently supported devolution. One of the advantages of devolution is that while the present government in Cardiff has messed around with Glastir, introducing in our opinion unfairness in the system and leading to a backlog of as I understand it around a thousand claims, this is as nothing compared to the foul-up of EU farm payments in England.

Our manifesto makes a strong commitment to agriculture which we recognise as essential, a major contributor to the Welsh economy and the backbone of rural communities. We believe that the natural environment is best cared for by a continuation of farming tailored to the needs of individual areas, including their environmental needs. We are concerned about the rise in the average age of farmers and the fall in average farm incomes.

Support for farmers should continue to be given to all farmers in an equitable way so as to maintain the balance between small and large, upland and lowland. The maintenance of food security should be central to any agricultural decisions made in Wales and that such decisions should always consider their long term impact on Wales' ability to continue to feed itself.

The manifesto commits to several policy initiatives to safeguard agriculture and food production across Wales and especially to embed food production using suitable systems into all environmental decision making in rural Wales. In view of the restrictions on time I’ll cut the statistics and most of the detailed policy points. What may be of particular interest here today is our call to review TAN 6 guidance on ‘Planning for Sustainable Rural Communities’ so as to achieve real progress in the delivery of affordable rural housing across Wales, important both for younger entrants as well as providing appropriate accommodation for farmers wishing to handover to the next generation.
The incoming Welsh government needs to develop further support for young farming entrants in Wales with an emphasis on the potential contribution of share farming and the significance of local authority owned agricultural holdings across Wales to provide access to the land.

I’m sure we will come on to EU membership later in discussion so I shall close at this point.

Port Talbot worker buy-out

This is being trawled by the Conservative government spin machine this morning. To a Liberal, brought up on manifestos in which co-ownership was a major plank, this is the most attractive solution to the problem of Tata's wish to withdraw. However, I am also deeply suspicious. If the joint government/private sector ownership of Royal Mail, in our 2010 manifesto, could not be pushed through by Vince Cable in coalition, how likely is it that Tories ruling alone are serious about intervening in the free market?

See also

Digital Indy suspends mortality

It appears that famous people have stopped dying. Since March 26th when the paper went digital only, the obituaries section of the Independent newspaper, one of the features which made it unique when it launched in 1986, appears to have gone into suspended animation. What are we not being told?

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

The Abbey works: uncertainty continues

The rumoured decision by Tata to sell its remaining UK assets is logical, in that the multi-national already has a rolling-mill in Ijmuiden in the Netherlands inherited from the Hoogovens side of Corus. One assumes that the running costs on the continent are less than in the UK. The company could have made the further coldly logical decision to wind down and ultimately close Port Talbot in order to reduce competitive steel-making capacity. The projected sale does offer a glimmer of hope, but one wonders whether another organisation has the financial capacity to support the works until global demand picks up again. The green shoots, in the form of rising commodity prices, are there but it could be at least another year before the recovery is in full swing.

Optimists will point to the recent deal done by the Scottish government with the Liberty group in transferring ownership of Tata's Scottish resources. However, there is a difference in scale and it could be that Liberty is already stretched financially.

It could all have been so much different if the UK government had cared about industry and shown that it had.

EU accounts have consistently been signed off by the auditors

It seems that the Euromyth that EU accounts are never approved persists, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary.

Try or (to show that Labour MEPs agree).

For an enjoyable demolition of other Euromyths, see the alphabetical list at with updates here.

Jews in Iran

They are a diminishing population, subject to discrimination at all levels according to the wikipedia entry. Kim Sengupta in the Independent paints a different picture, drawing on the experience of Ciamak Morsadegh a hospital surgeon newly elected to the Majlis, the Iranian parliament.

The MP is Jewish, representing the largest Jewish community in the Middle East outside Israel, one that is growing in size while those in almost all other Muslim countries in the region have shrunk severely or disappeared altogether – largely due to persecution.

Israel has long portrayed Iran as an implacable enemy, an existential threat, even. In recent years, Netanyahu's government mobilised its international backers in the US Congress and elsewhere to lobby fiercely against the nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers, with dire warnings about a dangerous regime acquiring weapons of mass destruction. The campaign failed. The nuclear agreement was signed. And the resultant easing of international sanctions – providing a road to recovery for the country's ailing economy – was a key factor in the sweeping gains by the reformists and their allies in the recent elections; a victory that should pave the way for great changes in Iranian politics and history.

There is still the unacceptable number of judicial executions in Iran, which is a continuing stain on a country which needs to be readmitted to the comity of nations. One trusts that this is a matter which can be addressed by Prince Charles on his probable visit to Iran.

Monday, 28 March 2016

Al-Jazeera to make massive job cuts

Al-Jazeera rose to prominence as it foolishly screened militant jihadists' snuff videos, presumably in a deliberate bid to gain publicity. However, the station soon settled down to become that with the greatest coverage of world events on terrestrial television, exceeding BBC News Channel. BBC remains the most impartial of all news media, but al-Jazeera after allowing for a slight bias towards Sunni Muslim régimes was close behind and ahead of the field dominated by special interests. I still feel deprived by al-Jazeera's decision to shift its UK transmissions to High Definition only. Now falling oil revenues compel the station's owners to make further cuts. The job losses are reported to be largely at the Dohar HQ but they must also impact its global news-gathering.

Just say .... whaaat?

Last Wednesday in the House of Commons Norman Lamb MP, a health minister in the 2010-15 coalition government, introduced a ten-minute rule Bill to legalise and regulate the use of cannabis. Such Bills are more a means of ventilating opinion than a serious attempt to legislate because of the shortage of parliamentary time to discuss private members' Bills - and ten-minute rule Bills have low priority. However, they are not always nodded through at first reading stage. It is open to another member to oppose and also for those in attendance to vote against the Bill's introduction. In times gone by, decriminalisation of drugs was such an emotive issue that Lamb's Bill would surely have not been easily approved. Times are changing.

A day or so earlier, the "war on drugs" initiated in the States was discredited by a quotation from an article in Harper's magazine. John Ehrlichman, an aide to President Nixon, confided in journalist Dan Baum:

“You want to know what this was really all about?” he asked with the bluntness of a man who, after public disgrace and a stretch in federal prison, had little left to protect. “The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”

Older followers will recall that Ehrlichman was involved in the Watergate cover-up and was gaoled as a result, so that his evidence should be weighed against his resentment against the Nixon regime. It still rings horribly true.

Sunday, 27 March 2016

Local wildfowl and wetland centre anniversary

On the 17th April, WWT Llanelli celebrates its 25th anniversary. Several special events are planned and cake is promised. Details are here.

Saturday, 26 March 2016

The asset-stripping of Britain continues

At a time when there should be more public knowledge of property ownership, guaranteed by an arm of government, Cameron, Osborne and cronies plan to sell the Land Registry of England and Wales. An announcement of a "consultation" (and we all know what that means) was sneaked out just before the holidays when most MPs had already departed Westminster. If this administration runs true to form (James Moore's commentary here), shares in the private company will be placed with a merchant cabal at a price less than two-thirds of true asset value, while the taxpayer continues to fund employees' pensions. But that is not the worst aspect of the sell-off.

Peter Black AM, who has knowledge of the Land Registry unrivalled within the Welsh Assembly, outlined back in November the needless damage which privatisation would inflict. He pointed out that Tory pressure for the sale was resisted by Liberal Democrat ministers during the period of the Coalition. I would also warn of the dangers that putting the Registry totally within the private sector would bring, including pricing (already too high in my opinion) which could make enquiries by ordinary people prohibitive, and pressures by large corporations threatening the objectivity of the organisation. I doubt the strength of the safeguards proposed in the official media release.

It appears from the wikipedia entry on land registration that England and Wales would be unique in the civilised world in putting the operation of the registry in private hands. Even in the Land of the Free, individual state governments administer land registers.

Scotland, which anticipated England and Wales by over two hundred yearshas more sense.

Friday, 25 March 2016

Chile - liberals chip away at Pinochet legacy

The absolute ban on abortion which was imposed during the dictatorship of General Pinochet has been amended in the Chilean Congress. It is proposed that a woman can secure a termination after a rape, where there is a risk to the health of the potential mother or if the foetus is determined to be non-viable.

However, the change requires ratification by the Senate before it can become law.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Border controls failing due to lack of staff

We do not need more border controls. The UK already has the strictest immigration legislation in western Europe. Indeed, we Liberal Democrats believe it is draconian and runs counter to natural justice in several areas.

What is needed is more staff and more expertise, as today's BBC report emphasises. Lack of staff to see deportees out of the country and to keep track of over-staying students is a major factor. The government clearly runs scared of the Daily Mail and its ilk protesting any increase in the civil service. The administration should impress on its critics that if they will the end they must also will the means.

Meanwhile, the Home Office seeks to bump up its expulsion figures by illegal means.

State socialism encapsulated

I am grateful to Lord Norton for leading me to this quotation from the late André Benard at the formal opening of the Channel Tunnel:

“The French have always been fascinated by theories from the Eastern Bloc; we are the last bastion of Marxist theory, where the citizens serve the state and the state serves itself. The tunnel acts as a liberalising counterbalance.”

Things have changed in France, but I wonder whether Corbyn and McDonnell harbour those aspirations.

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

We used to call it Rhoose

I am not one of those economic liberals who believe that all publicly-owned organisations are bad and that the free market cures every ill. There is such a thing as municipal enterprise* and I can think of several advances which were made in computer technology as a result of government ventures. Therefore, I did not condemn out of hand the Welsh government's purchase of the ailing Cardiff International Airport, merely terming it "a brave decision", reserving judgment until we could evaluate its performance in public ownership.

Since then, investigation by Jac o' the North (his reports are here and here) suggests that the price paid for what was originally developed in the public sector was inflated by passing through several hands. I note that the original transfer from the old Glamorgan councils into private hands occurred before devolution under the unitary reorganisation pushed through by Conservative Welsh Secretary, John Redwood.

Now we have the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee's report (pdf here) on the acquisition of the airport, and its subsequent performance. A quick glance suggests that their verdict is "could do better". I trust that the government acts on all their recommendations, in particular the improvement in transport links.

* I recall in particular the developments in public health achieved by Birmingham Liberals in the late 19th century, its municipal savings bank in the early twentieth and in our own time Manchester City Council's innovations in housing provision.

Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Brussels terrorism

I was going to comment on Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's column in yesterday's Independent anyway, but the terrible news (which is still coming in as I write) from Brussels makes it increasingly dreadfully timely. The BBC's Frank Gardner reports that Molenbeek, the municipality of Belgium's capital region where the organiser of the Paris bombings was allowed to hide for the last four months, has become the centre of militant jihad not only for Belgium and France, but also for the whole of western Europe. It seems that the terrorist organisation has been able to make use of the lack of cooperation between the French-speaking and Dutch-speaking police forces, and between both of these and the Belgian security forces. There is even a rumour that the police in Brussels are getting more security information from their counterparts in London because there is close coordination in the UK, and the UK and Belgian security services talk to each other!

But the disjointed nature of security measures in Brussels only enabled the Molenbeek cell to thrive; it needed an outside force to sow the seeds. Ms Alibhai-Brown identifies that force as Saudi Wahhabism. Disaffected Muslims from North Africa left stranded when the industrial boom which led to their recruitment fizzled out were ready receivers of the Wahhabist message. As I may have mentioned before, the Saudis were proselytising among Sunnis in Syria leading up to the civil war in 2011, which fits the pattern.

It has long been assumed in the West that the worst promoters of terrorism are Syria and Iran. However, one must now question the source of that intelligence. We know that both US and UK intelligence services, concentrating as they do on signals intelligence, are reliant on friendly third parties for information on the ground. Mossad is one of those sources; perhaps we rely on the Saudi intelligence services as well.

Tonight's ITV documentary "uncovering" Saudi Arabia is of interest.

Monday, 21 March 2016

Liberals did well in German state elections

The Liberal International report is here.

It should also be noted that, contrary to the immediate reaction in the UK media, the vote against the established parties was hardly a consistent protest against Chancellor Merkel's welcome to refugees and other migrants. In Baden-Württemberg the most successful party was the Greens, who fully support the Chancellor's policy in that area.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

This is not mending the roof

John Rentoul writes in today's Independent (the last Sunday print edition):

It looks as if Iain Duncan Smith has resigned in protest against cuts to disability benefits that he proposed – after the Prime Minister and Chancellor had already decided to abandon them. In fact, if you read Duncan Smith’s resignation letter carefully, his decision made more sense than that. He quit in protest against tax cuts favouring the better-off that George Osborne announced at the same time – tax cuts that are not being abandoned.

It is hard to see any justification for raising the threshold for higher-rate income tax as the Chancellor proposed in last week's budget statement. There is a need to reduce the deficit. Price inflation, certainly as it affects higher-income households, has been very low and looks like remaining so for the next year or so.  There is no evidence that current levels of income tax are driving out people essential to the British economy. This is doing better than most in the current global downturn, which in any case is showing signs of coming to an end. Surely this is the best time to crack on with fixing the roof.

A cynic may point to the fact that most journalists and all MPs are in the tax bracket benefiting from the new break and thus are not making more of a fuss about it. Indeed, the socialist shadow chancellor, John McDonnell is remarkable relaxed about it, though north of the border nationalist first minister Nicola Sturgeon has caught the public mood there.

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Antisemitism and political campaigning

The following exchange took place at Business Questions in the House of Commons last Thursday:

Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): The front page of the Jewish Chronicle today gives a litany of the anti-Semitism that, sadly, we are beginning to see more and more frequently in the ranks of the Labour party and in other institutions, such as universities, in this country. [Interruption.] May we have a debate on the increasing anti-Semitism in our public bodies and institutions?
Chris Grayling: This is a very important point. I agree with the shadow Leader of the House and my hon. Friend that anti-Semitism has no place in our society. However, when we hear words such as “disgrace” from Labour Members, we should remember that we have seen too many occasions in the past 12 months where they have tolerated anti-Semitism in their ranks and where Labour campaigners have used anti-Semitism in their campaigns. That is unacceptable—it is something they should change.
As I heard it, I immediately thought of the Conservative campaign against Susan Kramer in Richmond Park in 2005 which used antisemitic innuendo - something that only stopped when Zac Goldsmith became their candidate in 2010.

Religious and racist slurs continue to mar election campaigns. Islamophobia and hints of terrorism are evoked against Muslim candidates or even those with similar names. Openly Christian candidates are accused of homophobia because of church teaching. They will only abate if party managers instruct their troops on the ground not to use them and mean it.

Welcome change of heart by Labour over EU

Memories of the Blair-Brown government resisting progressive EU measures to the last ditch are beginning to fade as current Labour leaders come out against Brexit. One recalls Gordon Brown refusing to be part of signing ceremonies in Brussels, and of the last Labour administration having to be forced to legislate for sensible working hours and for outlawing ageism in the work-place. Socialists used to condemn the EU as a "rich man's club".

Jeremy Corbyn has reluctantly come to realise the benefits of membership and today Carwyn Jones, leader of Welsh Labour, has issued a warning about what Brexit would mean for Wales. In an interview for the Independent, he said that

 a vote to leave the European Union would spark a constitutional crisis that could put the future of the UK at risk.

[He warned]  of the disastrous political consequences if the separate nations of the UK vote different ways in June. The Welsh economy would “tank” in the event of Brexit, as EU grants to the nation disappear and multinational employers pull out. We might be in a position at some point in the future where the Welsh people are asking which union – the UK or the EU – we should be a member of.  We benefit from our membership of the UK, just as we benefit from our membership of the EU and it’s sad from a Welsh perspective that we are being asked to choose between one or the other. 

The article points out that rural areas like West Wales and the Valleys get far more EU funding than many other areas in the UK, while Welsh Labour says that nearly 200,000 Welsh jobs rely on EU membership and more than 40 per cent of exports, including 90 per cent of Welsh lamb, go to the EU.

The First Minister further attacked the “flag-waving nationalism” behind elements of the Brexit campaign. He said:

 an Out vote would signal the collapse of a £1.2bn regeneration and transport deal for South Wales that was announced earlier this week. [...] major firms and manufacturers would quit Wales if the country lost access to EU markets. We have companies in Wales who are here because it is their European base, and if we are not in the EU they will go elsewhere. It won’t happen overnight, but they will go after an exit vote. When I go abroad looking for investment to bring to Wales, EU membership is absolutely fundamental.

A favourite UKIP line is that "it's our money", that every £1 we receive from various EU funds costs the UK £3. Mr Jones' interview and the Indy's assessment point to Wales getting more back than it puts in.

Friday, 18 March 2016

Admirable employer retires

The late twentieth century saw a reversal of the Victorian sense that with wealth came responsibility. An equivalent of the great Quaker confectionery and banking families - Cadburys, Frys, Rowntrees, Barclays - is hard to find as it became a sin not to extract maximum profit. Employee owners like Scott Bader and the John Lewis Partnership are exceptions.

Another, Henry Engelhardt, retires this week as chief executive of the Admiral group. This article in Management Today outlines his enlightened management style, which one trusts will continue under his successor, who has been well prepared.

There is an interview with Henry Engelhardt on today's Good Morning, Wales starting about twenty-five minutes from the end.

Thursday, 17 March 2016

Asa Briggs

Tam Dalyell's obituary in the Independent concentrated on his public service, but it should not be forgotten that Lord Briggs was, as a historian, part of the movement which switched attention from kings and queens to what happened to ordinary people through changing times. For me it is a matter of regret that governments from Margaret Thatcher on and popular television have wrenched the emphasis back.

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Sugar in the budget

We will not know for certain what Mr Osborne was covering up in his glowing report on the economy until the Red Book is examined by the experts. My impression was that he was trying to sweeten what was very plain fare.

As to his sugar tax, why stop at soft drinks? Why not tax all the insidious sugar added to processed foods?

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

No hypocrisy, please, Mr Osborne

It has been extensively trailed that in tomorrow's budget there will be more cuts to support for the worst-off in UK society, while support for high-profile construction projects will be confirmed. Is it too much to hope that George Osborne will refrain from using the term "tough decisions"? It is only tough in the sense of being a bully to take one's troubles out on people who are least able to fight back.
The really tough decision would be to tell ones well-heeled friends, who are extending the gap between themselves and the poorest, that it is time for them to step up their contributions to the national exchequer. Another tough decision would be to tell state pensioners, who vote proportionately more than younger citizens, that 2.5% is no longer a sustainable guarantee of an annual increase.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Liberal progress in German provincial elections

It appears that the reinvigorated Free Democrats are among the parties to have benefited from disenchantment with the establishment in this week's local elections in Germany. It is difficult to find an English-language link at present. I await the Liberal International commentary.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Libya, Syria

It is hypocritical of the leader of the free world to criticise the post-Qaddafi settlement, considering the poor fist the United States made of reconstruction in Afghanistan and, in particular, Iraq. However, President Obama does have a point. Not enough was done in the immediate aftermath of the toppling of the Libyan dictator to restore genuine self-sustaining democracy, even if this meant partition along tribal lines and even if we lent military support while the new government or governments established themselves. But David Cameron should not shoulder all the blame. We may have been the last occupying power and there may have been a special relationship between BP and Libya, but Italy also has historical connections with the country - and surely the EU as a whole should have involved itself? If nothing else, this would have reduced the trouble caused by boat people crossing to southern Europe.

Syria came up in a debate in the Lords last Tuesday. The Bishop of Coventry put down a question for short debate: "To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their current assessment of the prospects for a political solution to the civil war in Syria.". It is worth reading the debate in full because of the authoritative contributions made to it, but a few points stood out for me: the lord bishop's statement of the casualties of the conflict - 400,000 dead, at least 10 million displaced and more than 13.5 million in need of humanitarian aid, greater than the depredations in Iraq; Lord Desai's identification of the roots of the conflict in the break-up of the Ottoman empire and of the need, in an ideal world, for a regional conference on establishing peace in the Middle East; and Alison Suttie's experience in a political reform programme in neighbouring Jordan. Former ambassador to Syria, Lord Wright of Richmond questioned the Government’s regular and continuing calls for President Assad to go as not only mistaken but reflective of a false assessment of the extent of support which the Syrian regime, for all its faults, still enjoys - particularly, but not only, from the Christian and other minority communities living throughout Syria. This contradicted Eluned Morgan's assertion that "the uncomfortable reality that many Syrians are more content with ISIS and what they perceive as Sunni protection than they are with the idea of living under Iranian Shia influence and any form of continuation of the Assad regime." Tell that to the Christians, Syrian Kurds and the Yazidis.

There is no doubt that Assad put down civil unrest with undue force, pressed to do so by his formidable mother. (Now that this power behind the throne has passed on, there may be more chance of compromise along the lines suggested by Lords Desai and Wright.) However, this must be seen in the context of the Middle East as a whole and was not more excessive than actions carried out by our friends in Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Most telling of a society largely at ease with itself in my opinion are the capital punishment statistics. At a time when Iran and Saudi Arabia were judicially executing people in their hundreds per year,  Syria's toll did not exceed seventeen.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Thank you, Sir George

He was producing minor hit records as far back as 1952, and he hardly stopped (for which the people of Montserrat must be grateful) even after his official retirement, but Sir George Martin will be forever linked with the Beatles. The partnership became greater than the sum of its parts. There will forever be disputes about who first put orchestral string sound on a rock hit (my money is on Buddy Holly with "It doesn't matter any more" from 1958), but there is no doubt that George Martin pushed the art of pop record production more than any other man.

Smiling villains

"O villain, villain, smiling, damned villain! My tables,--meet it is I set it down, That one may smile, and smile, and be a villain;" (Hamlet, Act 1 Sc. 5)

The plausible politician who reveals him- or herself in true colour only too late (pick your own example) is a cliché. Such revelations are key to large swathes of written art, and not just whodunits.

Rarer are characters who are known from the start to be villains yet are still engaging personalities. For me, the epitome is Charles Tobin (played by Dane Otto Kruger), the mastermind behind moves to keep the USA out of the anti-Nazi campaign in the second world war in Hitchcock's "Saboteur". He is not only a prominent benefactor, but also a loved and loving family man. Indeed, in an ironic reverse of a common plot device, the hero of "Saboteur" plays on Tobin's better nature, using a child as a shield for an escape.

I was reminded of Tobin by Hugh Laurie's playing of Richard Roper, in BBC-1's "The Night Manager". In this dramatisation of a John le Carré novel directed by Susanne Bier, Roper is a man you would happily spend an evening with if one did not know his business or the lengths he would go to promote it. Probably, like Tobin, he does not believe what he is doing is so bad and that international law is anti-competitive and therefore wrong.

What is worrying is the number of real-life Tobins and Ropers.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Women in music

Up too late to enjoy the "Through the Night" which comprised only women composers, I foresee my being tuned for the rest of the day to Radio 3's celebration of International Women's Day. It is good to see a mixture of contemporary composers, including a Welsh contribution, and those from the past, who are still sadly under-recorded.

Reporting of Irish election

The shared wisdom of the London media is that the recent election in the Republic of Ireland resulted in rejection of traditional parties and a period of administrative deadlock as no obvious coalition partners emerge.

Viewed from Liberal International, there was a doubling of liberal representation.

Monday, 7 March 2016

A further reason for rail electrification

The results of a recent personal, practical survey by a BBC journalist produced an unpleasant shock. Researching exposure to diesel pollutants over a cycle of mixed transport use, he found:

"The average reading I got on-board my air conditioned train was 8.5. A researcher from King's College conducted an experiment to mirror mine on his train journey from London to Exeter and came out with similar results.

"My time spent standing on the station concourse at London St Pancras, waiting for my train, produced a reading of 13.2.

"So it turns out that during the 80 minutes I spend sitting still on a train every day I am being exposed to more diesel fumes than when I'm walking or cycling down a street full of traffic in London."

So this adds urgent health reasons to the economic ones for electrification of the line to Swansea and to those in and around Cardiff, which must be one of the most diesel-dominated stations in the UK.

Thursday, 3 March 2016

There will be blood

Chloë Hamilton in the Indy (print edition only, it seems) wants us to stop using euphemisms for the menstrual cycle. Judging by this survey, she is fighting an uphill battle. Round the world, women seem to revel in rather jokey metaphors - though the French have an edge to their "Les Anglais ont debarqué" referring "to our historically bloody habit of invading their territory".

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

So internationally-acclaimed economist is worse than Mickey Mouse?

Labour has signed up Paul Mason and Yanis Varoufakis as economic advisers. Varoufakis has degrees in economics and related subjects. He has written or edited ten books on the subject.

George Osborne has a degree in modern history. He appears to have published nothing. If Mason and Varoufakis are inferior to Mickey Mouse, what does that make Osborne?

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

First planetary contact

Fifty years ago, a Soviet spacecraft crashed into the surface of Venus.  This was the first contact between a man made object and another planet.