Tuesday, 31 May 2016

More rebuttals

On zero VAT on fuel bills, and on parental leave, Caron Lindsay has this to say:

So, the latest salvo from the Leave camp is an assertion that the EU is stopping us from cutting VAT on domestic fuel.
There is one man amongst the ranks of the Brexiters who knows all about VAT on domestic fuel. That’s right. Step forward former Chancellor Norman Lamont. It was he who decided to put VAT on domestic fuel at the rate of 8% from April 1 1994. The EU didn’t force him to do this. He was doing it to cut public spending, something Tories have a bit of an obsession with. Not only that, but he would have been quite happy to raise it to 17.5% the year after.
Here’s a story from the Independent at the time where Mr Lamont is doing his usual Je ne regrette rien line.
Fellow now Brexiteer Michael Portillo, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, added his twopence worth:
And in an atmosphere of growing confusion, a damaging Commons row broke out last night after Michael Portillo, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, suggested that poorer people would not suffer too much because of the ‘swings and roundabouts’of the Income Support system.
parliamentary briefing from 1997 gives more detail.
Member States are only permitted to charge zero rates which were in place on 1 January 1991. No Member State can introduce a new zero rate or reintroduce a zero rate once it has been abolished. Following the abolition of the zero rate on fuel & power on 1 April 1994, the UK may charge a rate as low as 5% on these supplies, but no lower.
Had Norman Lamont done the fair thing by the poorest households at the time, none of us would be paying any VAT on our fuel now. If people want someone to blame, he is your guy, not the EU. He knowingly introduced a tax that he knew could not be put back to zero because of a change in EU taxation law that the UK Government had agreed. If the Tory government had wanted to, it could have vetoed that clause. Did it? No.
This is not the only issue where Leave have tried to blame the EU for the Tories’ actions. Yesterday, Jo Swinson had to slap down Steve Hilton for saying that the EU tried to stop the coalition from offering extra parental leave. Jo was the minister who introduced shared parental leave, a key Liberal Democrat policy, and she says that it was the Tories who put paid to that idea. From the Independent:
Jo Swinson, a former business minister whose portfolio in the Coalition included women and equalities issues, told The Independent there was no “conceivable universe” in which the EU could prevent Britain from offering workers extra parental leave.
Ms Swinson said that far from campaigning for more time off for new mothers and fathers, the Conservatives actually “fought tooth and nail” against a Liberal Democrat initiative to extend parental leave.
She said her party, led by Nick Clegg, had wanted to follow a successful Scandinavian trial which saw men take up a fairer portion of paternal leave if a greater number of weeks were offered to the couple as a whole.
“Maybe he (Mr Hilton) was negotiating on his side and it was blocked by his Conservative colleagues,” she said.
“But in my time, it was very much the Conservatives who were fighting tooth and nail our attempts to make shared parental leave a success.
“The way EU directives work is that they set out a minimum number of weeks; if we wanted to offer more we would be able to,” she added.
“I was minister from 2012 and parental leave was in my portfolio. I do not understand in what conceivable universe it could be true that the EU ‘blocked’ plans here.”
We do know that the EU has done more to ensure workers’ rights than any Tory Government ever has, securing such things as maternity rights, paid holiday, and limiting the amount of hours you can be asked to work*.
Do Labour voters interested in workers’ rights really trust the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove with them? They have not been known for supporting them in the past. The EU, on the other hand, has a proven track record of delivery on that front.
On the "failed" currency: the euro was launched with a value of 69p in sterling; it is now worth 77p. Where is the failure?

On the failed eurozone: it grew 0.6% in the first three months of this year. The US economy grew slightly more - but on revised figures. Hardly a failure.

There have been economic disasters in constituent members of the zone: the Republic of Ireland, Spain and Greece, but these have been caused by reckless populist governments rather than the existence of the euro. Those failures have been more than counter-balanced by Germany, one of the most successful economies in the world, and seven other eurozone nations with a better government debt to GDP ratio.

On immigration: no Brexiteer has said that they would stop all immigration. Indeed, Tim Martin of Wetherspoon's has admitted that around 4% of his staff are immigrants, and he wouldn't want to stop them coming to work for him. Leaving the EU would not make any difference to the distressing casualties at sea, which are emotively used by Brexiteers as an argument. What is needed is a reversal in the cuts to the coastguard, together with an augmented and upskilled Borders Agency - but of course the latter steps need money, and Michael Gove wants to give up VAT on fuel bills as well as spending £350m/week on the English NHS. This is where we came in.

* I would add protection from dismissal on grounds of age and from being forced to work excessively long hours.

Monday, 30 May 2016

Brexit lies on social matters rebutted

I wrote some time ago that, regarding exit from the EU, I was more frightened of the immediate effects on civil and human rights than on the economic issues (though I am persuaded of an inevitable financial decline after Brexit). I also remember the fight which the Blair-Brown government put up against the working time and the anti-ageist directives. I worry that an authoritarian government, such as we are likely to be stuck with for the next decade, will be quick to remove those protections.

Now there is confirmation from an employment rights barrister, together with a reminder of how Thatcher had effectively dismantled equal pay legislation. Sean Jones systematically dismantles a number of Brexit misstatements after a brief overview:

 two general points can be made immediately. First, the EU does not have the power to regulate Employment Rights generally. It is perverse to criticise the EU for not creating a right to a minimum wage, where Member States have been scrupulous to ensure it does not have the power to do so. Second, the EU law sets a floor not a ceiling. There is nothing to stop the UK having more generous rights whilst remaining a member of the EU. The only thing continued membership prevents is having less generous rights.

Sunday, 29 May 2016

A better-mannered debate

The first fifteen minutes of this morning's Sunday Supplement was occupied by a discussion by Patrick Minford and Vicky Pryce of the economic benefits (or the opposite) of leaving the EU.

The main point at issue was the importance of manufacturing. Pryce asserted that UK manufacturing would disappear on Brexit because other nations' tariff barriers, including those of our former partners, would go up. Minford disputed the extent to which this would happen and in any case maintained that traditional manufacturing was a thing of the past and that the future was hi-tech.

One recalls Mrs Thatcher saying very much the same sort of thing. When she, Geoffrey Howe and Michael Heseltine caused the death of mainframe computer manufacture in Britain, she claimed that manufacturing jobs would be replaced by higher-value programming work. In reality, the jobs of the writers of the software needed to make those machines usable disappeared with the computers. The direction of software development was taken over by the USA and the UK left to fill niches.

Patrick Minford implied in a eulogy three years ago that business services would take over as a mainstay of the Welsh economy. But what happens to the workers by hand in this hi-tech future? And how does Professor Minford square his vision of the future with cutbacks like this, which seriously affect our local economy?

Saturday, 28 May 2016

Cameron and Osborne should stick to known facts and rigorous analysis

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/05/26/pensioners-could-lose-32000-after-brexit-george-obsorne-claims/ refers.

The biggest danger to occupational pensions comes from the idea that Saj Javid is floating, that trustees be given the power to change the nature of indexation. This will be a threat whether we are in or out of the EU, just as house prices depend almost wholly on UK government policy. As to state pensions, no government is going to upset the sector of the population which consistently votes in higher numbers than any other.

Rather than exaggerate possible scenarios, Cameron and Osborne should point to sober analysis by respected independent bodies like the IFS.

There is also real evidence of the difficulty of withdrawing from free labour movement agreements while continuing to trade with the EU. Switzerland's troubles, outlined in an April 2015 article, continue. Brexiteers claim that Great Britain is strong enough to survive outside the EU and without formal trade agreements other than adherence to World Trade Organisation rules. Switzerland, with her habitual current account surpluses and a debt to GDP ratio just over a third of the UK's clearly has a stronger economy, yet her government does not want to jeopardise her treaties with the EU and the EU in turn is adamant that they are dependent on free movement.

Friday, 27 May 2016

Independent experts' verdict on Brexit

The Institute for Fiscal Studies is a determinedly independent body and does not (as Nigel Farage alleges) bend its views to those of the people who pay for its reports. Those political parties which have commissioned the IFS to review their manifesto costings (and I believe the Liberal Democrats were first to do this) are only too well aware that they do not temper their criticism in this way. The IFS's judgment on the consequences of the UK leaving the EU should therefore be heeded.

It does not endorse the apocalyptic visions conjured up by David Cameron and George Osborne, ranging from takeover by Putin and/or Da'esh to a doubling of Fiona's school fees (or something like that). However, it shows logically that there will be bad effects on the UK economy whether we continue to trade tariff-free with the EU (and therefore continue to contribute to the Union's treasury) or not.

It is purely a view from the standpoint of economists and does not touch on the social impact of Brexit, which I believe is the more imminent danger.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Another day, another academic report on Brexit

This report from Sheffield University's Faculty of Social Sciences (no doubt already painted by Nigel Farage as stooges of local MP Nick Clegg) points up the differing effects on the nations and regions of the UK in the event of Brexit.

Analysis of EU structural funds, which support regional economic development in EU member states, shows they are unevenly distributed across the UK’s regions. The UK’s poorest regions, particularly the North of England, Wales and the South West, tend to receive a higher level of funding than more prosperous regions in the south and east of England.

In a separate report, analysis of manufacturing exports from the UK’s regions to the EU shows how different areas have significantly different ‘trade in goods’ relationships with the EU. It also suggests that poorer regions (Northern Ireland, the North East and the South West) are most dependent on the UK's current ability to export manufactured goods and trade with the EU with relatively few restrictions.

It is yet further evidence that it is in Wales's interest to vote "Remain" in the poll which is about to open.

The music of Remain

Jessica Duchen lists reasons for music-lovers, performers and students to vote Remain on 23rd June:

• At the moment, UK musicians have the right to work anywhere in Europe and can therefore with ease take up posts at orchestras ranging from Berlin to Gothenburg to La Scala Milan with freedom should they be fortunate enough to be appointed. Likewise, European musicians can come to Britain and many do indeed bring their expertise to our finest orchestras. Standards have gone up enormously as a result and the performers' own horizons have a chance to expand unimpeded. If we lose, this, quality levels will most likely drop and career prospects for our own musicians will be unnecessarily hobbled.

• UK orchestras and chamber groups travelling around Europe don't need working visas at the moment. If suddenly a working visa is required for the Schengen area, logistics will be vastly more complicated and the cost of it all will rise considerably.

• Workers' rights. Matters like maternity leave, holiday pay and more are protected by EU directives. Take those away and the pro-Brexiters left in charge will get rid of your rights faster than you can say Emmeline Pankhurst. If you want to be in the hands of those who will skew the already dangerous imbalance ever more towards the employers, cutting the pay, the rights and the dignity of everyone else, then vote Brexit...

• Music students, want to avoid crippling debt from college fees? Go and study in Germany. It's FREE. If we leave the EU, this will no longer be possible. (And remember, just because our schools don't bother to encourage it, that doesn't mean you can't learn another language. You can. Anyone can. Speaking different languages is a major advantage and you won't regret the time and effort you put into it.)

Wednesday, 25 May 2016

Wales makes a net profit from EU membership

The Wales Governance Centre of Cardiff University has confirmed what Remainers here have been saying for a long time. Our back-of-the-envelope calculation that Wales gets more back from the EU than the nation contributes has now been backed by rigorous academic research.

Of course, the fact that part of that money coming back is from structural funds highlights that parts of Wales are among the poorest in Europe. So when Leave campaigners complains that the UK's contribution goes to backward nations in Europe, they imply that support for Welsh enterprises would diminish if they were successful in the 23rd June referendum. Indeed, how many of the projects listed in this Western Mail article do you imagine a UKIP government would support?

Tuesday, 24 May 2016


Georges Enescu (then usually rendered as "Enesco" in Britain) was known in my youth almost entirely for his Rumanian (sic) Rhapsodies. You hardly hear them these days, but they were popular - too popular for the composer's liking, apparently - on a par with Khachaturian's Sabre Dance or Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee. Airings of his music in the UK dwindled after his death, but one imagines France, where he settled, has been more kind to his reputation.

Jessica Duchen has written this appreciation and last weekend Radio 3's Music Matters was largely given over to Enescu. The occasion is the overdue London production of Enescu's magnum opus, Oedipe (Oedipus). Maybe this will renew interest here in a man Yehudi Menuhin described as "the most extraordinary human being, the greatest musician, and the most powerful influence someone has ever had over me".

For those of us who cannot afford to travel to London, let alone the price of ROH tickets, Radio 3 is scheduled to broadcast a performance on 4th June. Since I intend to attend the Leading Not Leaving rally in Swansea on that day, I shall have to trust my Evoke 3 to record it for me.

Liberals protest Russian encroachment

NATO is quite rightly publicly demonstrating that it will fulfill its obligations to Baltic member states against external aggression. An uneasy stand-off persists in Ukraine. But further south in Europe, Georgia - neither a member of NATO nor of the EU - is still subject to land grabs by Russian puppet states. Jonathan Fryer reports that Georgian troops face encroaching Russians, who have taken over South Ossetia and occasionally push forward their barbed wire barrier, separating Georgian farmers from their land and cutting them off from friends and family on the other side. Only last Friday, a raiding party came over the barrier and killed one young Georgian man.

Liberal International demonstrated its support for Georgia by holding its first ever executive committee meeting in the republic last week. Jonathan Fryer said:

The Georgian Defence Minister, Tinatin Khidasheli, was a keynote speaker. Slovenia’s former Defence Minister, Roman Jakic — recently one of LI’s Treasurers — made the point that NATO cannot say it has an open door policy and then turn people away, which offers a potentially challenging situation with regard to both Georgia and Ukraine.

Monday, 23 May 2016

Referendums in the EU

This article reveals that referendums in member states relating to EU matters are more frequent than one would have thought. It includes a useful table which goes back to 1972 and thus includes our earlier referendum on membership.

The summary hits the spot:

Despite the increased interest in some states, referendums remain controversial. On the one hand, advocates of direct democracy stress that referendums can, inter alia, foster citizens’ engagement and thereby improve legitimacy and governance. Critics, on the other hand, highlight the pitfalls of referendums. Especially in the aftermath of the French and Dutch rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in 2005, they suggest, inter alia, that in referendums voters tend to answer questions other than those on the ballot paper.

Those of us who were justified in our fears for Nick Clegg's AV referendum would heartily agree with the last comment.

Sunday, 22 May 2016

Leading Not Leaving rally

I have just picked up this message from the European Movement:

The EU Referendum is on 23rd June and our future is on the line. This will be one the most important decisions in our country's history.
Join us in SWANSEA at a LEADING NOT LEAVING RALLY with leading REMAIN supporters from all parties
· Lord Paddy Ashdown - Former Leader of the Lib Dems
· Laura Sandys - Chair of European Movement UK
· Stephen Kinnock - Labour MP for Aberavon 
· Lord Dafydd Wigley - Former Leader and MP for Plaid Cymru
· Chaired by Gywnoro Jones - Former Labour MP, Founding Member of the SDP and Member of the Council of Europe
Registration guarantees entrance, drop-ins welcome when all registered attendees have been admitted. Tickets are completely FREE.

What EU issue do you care about? The environment? Student life and the Erasmus programme? The Irish vote and peace in Northern Ireland? The Creative Industry? European Movement runs many campaigns to make sure that your interests are protected and your voice is heard, with Environmentalists4Europe,Students4EuropeIrish4EuropeCreatives4Europe and Register2Stay.
European Movement will be hosting a series of similar cross-party meetings across the UK.
European Movement UK is a grassroots, independent, pro-European organisation, working to give a voice to those who believe that Britain’s future lies side by side with our European partners.
How to get there:
 It is advisable to book accessible spaces (01792 636595)
Rail Links
High Street, Swansea is an accessible station.
Bus Links
Quadrant Bus Station is located in the City Centre. Buses are available from High Street Station to the Quadrant Bus Station.
Check out the website for information on accessibility and bus timetables.
The nearest bus stop to the accessible entrance to the Guildhall / Brangwyn Hall is the South Road stop.
Looking forward to seeing you there!
Please arrive at 18.30 for a 19.00 start.
Brangwyn Hall - Swansea, SA1 4PE - View Map

Saturday, 21 May 2016

Ignorance or grandstanding?

A group of MPs led by Peter Lilley has put down an amendment to the government's programme as set out in the Queen's Speech. I believe that Mr Lilley, an arch-reactionary and fierce opponent of the EU, knows very well that the Commission's negotiators early on laid down a line in the sand protecting public services. He is trading on ignorance in some socialist quarters who are putting it about that TTIP is a capitalist plot to privatise the NHS.

His amendment is meaningless and should do no harm. If the government is wise, it will not oppose it. Otherwise, it will merely fuel Brexit conspiracy theories.

Friday, 20 May 2016

In Parenthesis

I first heard of David Jones's epic in a documentary about Dylan Thomas. It was during a recording of In Parenthesis for the Third Programme that the young Richard Burton had met the poet and one-time amateur actor. For a year or so, this anecdote was all I knew of the work which took on mythical status in my mind. Then there was a new production in 1955 which I struggled to make sense of. Nine years later there was a hybrid production which interpolated the voice of Dylan Thomas from the 1940s. This was repeated in 1981, then silence until another new production in 2004.

Now, with the imminent centenary of the slaughter of Royal Welch Fusiliers in Mametz Wood, it is all happening. Welsh National Opera is mounting an opera based on the poem. Radio 3 celebrated this and also delved into the background in a programme last Wednesday. (Surprisingly, the appearance of Dylan Thomas's voice in a clip was not noted within the body of the programme but was remarked on by the continuity announcer afterwards.) From the tantalisingly short excerpts from it, it seems that Iain Bell's work serves Jones well and will give an extra lease of life to this remarkable piece.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Kirsty Williams and education

There were only two possible posts for the Welsh Liberal Democrat leader if she were to accept a position in Carwyn Jones's government. Kirsty has been hammering the need for improvement in both the Welsh NHS and education during the election campaign and in the years leading up to it in the Senedd. She has accepted the latter chair, subject to approval at a special meeting of the party. The terms on which she responded to the First Minister's approach are here.

There are two issues which are not listed in that agreement. Part of our manifesto was a commitment to a student living support grant, something which I believe Labour would have some sympathy with. It looks as if the First Minister does not agree with our costings.

The other matter is early years education, and the commendable introduction of Scandinavian-style methods. One trusts that Kirsty maintains a belief in evidence-based policy, because the evidence from Finland in particular is compelling. Again, where the application of those methods is failing in Wales is due to insufficient funding which needs to be rectified.

There will be resentment on the part of Labour AMs who have been passed over. I hope they will recognise the respect which Kirsty has built up across party boundaries over the lifetime of the Assembly and that it would be virtually criminal to waste her special qualities on the back benches.

In another part of the reshuffle, Vaughan Gething's promotion is also welcome.

It's what Wales voted for, parts 2 and 3

First, UKIP's Mark Reckless, who has clearly set himself up as the Senedd's barrack-room lawyer, attempted to prolong the process of appointing the First Minister when it was clear that there was only one possibility. He may well have been logically correct in his interpretation of standing orders, but there are times when the word of the law has to give way to the spirit in the service of pragmatic politics. Praise is due to the Presiding Officer for sticking to her guns.

Then UKIP parliamentary leader Neil Hamilton indulged in some antediluvian sexist rhetoric, when one would have thought that he would have done everything in his power to help people forget his tattered reputation. Peter Black comments here.

Writers on reform of the law and punishment

I am grateful to Lawrie Taylor for reminding me of the names of CH Rolph and Barbara Wootton. I see there is now a wikipedia entry for CA Joyce. Now the problem is: how to get access to their written work, given the state of our public library system.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

The EU debate has reached the dead cat stage

Both Boris Johnson and David Cameron are or have been advised by Lynton Crosby, who advises throwing a metaphorical dead cat on the table if you feel you are losing the argument. Boris's dead cat was the outrageous comparison of the EU to Hitler. David Cameron has responded with the view that Da'esh would welcome Brexit.

Tom Peck has a good response to the latter. I particularly liked his hypothetical video by al-Baghdadi:

The Isis social media team are furious. Vote Leave are threatening to sue. Al-Baghdadi himself has been been forced into rushing out his latest propaganda video weeks ahead of time. You can watch it on youtube now.
“My Muslim brothers, join the Holy War for the prawn cocktail crisp!” you can hear him shout, as he rides a tank up and down the side of a giant EU butter mountain in the desert. “As mighty Allah told the Prophet Muhammad, ‘Do not eat the infidel's straight banana!"
The crackle of unregulated Kalashnikovs rises in the background, as jihadi fighters burn copies of the EU working time directive.
“Death, my Muslim Brothers! Death to the European Court of Human Rights, which bans the throwing of gays from the tops of buildings! In the name of Allah, avenge the transferral of national sovereignty to Brussels!”

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

Lies and half-truths

The Electoral Commission's EU Voting Guide came through the front door this week. It includes statements by both the official Remain and Leave campaigns. Remain has drawn the short straw in that Leave has the prime page three, the one that immediately hits your eye as you open the booklet. The Stronger In campaign has also been scrupulous in quoting only facts and figures from official sources. One may suspect that the Treasury figures are somewhat overstated, but in the case of employment they are probably understated. The statistic that three million UK jobs are linked to the EU is at least fifteen years old. Recent estimates put that figure as nearer five million.

There is no such restraint on Vote Leave. There are no citations apart from the URI of their web-site. Four times they state that the EU costs us £350m every week, and only once do they hint that the UK gets around a third of it back. Nowhere do they admit that Wales as a whole receives more than she pays in.

They imply that Turkey is about to join, whereas that country, because of its recent assault on civil rights, is further away from being approved as an EU member than she was in 2005 when negotiations were opened. Even if Turkish citizens gain visa-free access to continental Europe as part of a deal on stemming immigration (and this deal at the time of writing is by no means certain), this will not affect us as we are not party to the Schengen agreement. Negotiations with only one other applicant nation have started. This country is the mainly white and Christian Montenegro, which Vote Leave does not mention. Three other countries - Albania, FYROM and Serbia - have applied and been given visa rights to the Schengen area, but this is only a short way along the "process of joining".

The free movement of people under EU law which Vote Leave alludes to frees the labour market across the Union, and is as helpful to workers in this country as it is to those in continental Europe. "Many migrants contribute to society" - the evidence is that most migrants from the rest of Europe
make a net contribution to the UK exchequer. "They also affect public services" - an ambiguous statement glossing over the many public and social service jobs which EU migrants fill.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Billy Meredith and Lloyd George

I am grateful to the journal of the IWA for the information that Wales' first superstar was a Primitive Methodist, a lifelong teetotaller and a supporter of Lloyd George's Liberal party.

Sunday, 15 May 2016

EU v NATO as peace-keeper

Molly Scott Cato writes in the New Statesman blog firmly giving all the credit to the European Union and its predecessors for keeping the peace in Europe since the second world war. Jonathan Fryer is more equivocal:

One can argue until the cows come home whether it was NATO or what is now called the European Union was more responsible for underpinning peace in Europe. If we are honest, it was a bit of both, but even more there was a feeling after the horrors of World War II: Never Again.

I am with JF. NATO almost certainly saved western Europe from Soviet expansionism and was therefore necessary. However, the EEC/EC/EU in its various namings was just as essential in keeping the peace within Europe. Greece and Cyprus present good evidence in support of this assertion.

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Electors trembling on the brink of leaving the EU

Taken from www.order-order.com

There are several groups aiming to resist the tide, including one sponsored by Boris Johnson's father

Targeted on the country’s 2 million higher and further education students, this is a crucial campaign to ensure they register and go out and vote on June 23. Young people are concerned that the over 50s will make their decision for them and that their voice will be under-represented. All social media links available from twitter @students4europe

Irish for Europe
The campaign will mobilise the 600,000 Irish-born people now living and working in Britain with a vote, as well as three million UK citizens who identify as Irish. The Irish are keen Europeans who appreciate the EU’s role in the peace process. All social media links available from twitter @Irish4Europe

Environmentalists for Europe
Led by Stanley Johnson and Barbara Young, this will target 4.5 million people who are members of environmental organisations, and work to drive home the message that the environment is safer within the EU.  All social media links from twitter @Env4Eur
Creatives for Europe
With over 2.8 jobs in the creative industries – larger than the automotive sector –  there are few in the sector who do not value the relationship with Europe, This group will be organising events throughout the country working with Equity, the NUJ and others. All social media links from twitter @creative4europe
Graphics and text courtesy of the European Movement.
336-338 Southbank House, Black Prince Road, SE1 7SJ

Friday, 13 May 2016

The online pack

Amit Varma writes of the benefits of online friendship and the malign effects of political groups. Regular users of social media must recognise the effects he describes, but have seldom seen them catalogued and described so neatly. The examples he cites are from India but easily recognisable from similar Western situations.

I have just one quibble. When he talks about mice turning into tigers, I would substitute "wolves" for "tigers". Tigers tend to be lone killers, and there is something of the pack about a motivated online group.

Then there's the threat to the NHS

The trade treaty being negotiated between the USA and the EU specifically excludes the NHS and similar public undertakings from the competition rules which everybody is so exercised about. If the UK leaves the EU, and wishes to negotiate its own treaty with the US, then this is likely to be on terms more favourable to the US as the stronger party. The NHS would thus be more open to privatisation.

The TUC has found other threats: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/brexit-TheNHS2.pdf

Thursday, 12 May 2016

BBC White Paper

My first reaction to minister Whittingdale's statement to the House today was similar to Angela Eagle's, that not only was it not as bad as leaks to the press had suggested but also that it seemed to go against most of Mr Whittingdale's previously expressed views about the corporation. I am particularly glad that no attempt will be made to cripple the corporation's online news coverage which is remarkably even-handed and provides detail which most commercial news media find it not worthwhile to lay on. Extending the period of the current charter renewal to eleven years, taking the next general election out of the equation, is a reassuring move.

It is also good to see the National Audit Office given the right to investigate the value for money of the BBC's organisation. However, guaranteeing the BBC annual inflation-linked increases in the licence fee is not conducive to financial discipline. (One trusts that the inflation measure will be the CPI rather than the discredited RPI.) Moreover, a historic opportunity to replace the licence fee, with its narrowing base, with a tax more related to people's ability to pay has been missed.

It's what Wales voted for, part 1

On Sunday Supplement at the start of the week, Plaid Cymru's Dafydd Elis Thomas said that he could not see himself pushing the same button as UKIP. Well, that resolve did not last long. Yesterday, Plaid pushed the same buttons as UKIP and the Conservatives in order to deadlock the Senedd. At a time when a First Minister should have been in place, selecting his ministers and readying himself to negotiate the policies to take Wales forward in these difficult times, decision-making is blocked.

One can understand UKIP, who have contempt for the Senedd and whose manifesto aimed to give power back to MPs and to local authorities, wanting to make Welsh government unworkable. Indeed, I warned against this at the start of the electoral campaign. The nationalists must have been driven by arrogance. But what drove the Conservatives to vote for a leader from the nationalists, whose philosophy must be even more antipathetic to them than Labour's?

Liberal Democrats have been consistent. The party's official response is "Under no circumstances will we work with UKIP." Kirsty Williams personally expressed exasperation: "I was not re-elected into the National Assembly to support a ragtag coalition made up of UKIP Assembly Members who at the moment can’t even agree with each other. That is not my politics and not something I will even contemplate. I am disappointed that Plaid think that this is a viable option.

"I wish it wasn’t the case, but the reality is Labour have 29 Assembly Members. It is therefore clear that they have the strongest mandate from the people of Wales. I therefore took the decision to vote for Carwyn Jones. It ended in a split vote and discussions will now need to take place to ensure Wales has a Government."

What happens now?

The Western Mail advises: "For the time being, Mr Jones will continue in the role as First Minister. Under Assembly rules, a First Minister must be nominated by the Assembly within 28 days of the election. The Assembly Members will have return to the Senedd to vote again. If the vote remains tied for 28 days, Wales can expect another election."

Police and Crime Commissioner election: detailed results

This is the breakdown of the South Wales poll according to the BBC:

I do not know Tim Davies. I know Mike Baker from his previous campaign, and from his advertisements (in the Evening Post and on the back of some buses) in this year's campaign. I know Linet Purcell from the last time I was on Neath Port Talbot Council. I would be surprised if she were recognised much outside the Neath valley. Yet she was the closest challenger to Tim Davies on first preferences and finished well in front of Mike Baker.

So the contest was decided on party lines. This is presumably what the Conservatives wanted when they introduced the PCC posts, to politicise policing. But countless US TV imports show us what can happen if we follow that path to its conclusion.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Iain Duncan Smith is so convincing

When Iain Duncan Smith says that the European Union is on the side of the bankers and against the have-nots, and that these are bad things, you know you can believe him. After all, he was a minister from the start of the Conservative-led coalition which was so tough on bankers. Above all, he was always a standard-bearer for compassionate conservatism. He declared in a speech to the Conservative Conference in 2010:

I am honoured to be standing here today as David Cameron's Work & Pensions Secretary. It is also my privilege to be chairman of the newly-founded Cabinet committee on social justice. This Conservative-led government has concern for the poor running through its DNA.

 - and we all know how compassionate and concerned for the poor, particularly those in council houses, the Department for Work and Pensions has been since that date. He speaks from real experience of how the poor live.

We must assume that the rabid Europhile David Cameron chained IDS to his desk for six years so that he was unable to attend any ministerial councils in Brussels, thus preventing him from arguing the case for the same sort of compassion in the rest of Europe. In particular, he could have eased the burdens imposed by the evil puppet-masters in Germany.

How lucky we are to have the considerate, altruistic, clear-eyed vision of Iain Duncan Smith telling us how it really is!

Tuesday, 10 May 2016

We do have allies in the EU

Confirmation of my view that the accession of northern European countries has strengthened the hand of founder-member Netherlands and of ourselves in aiming for a more democratic EU and a reduction in red tape comes in a bulletin from VoteWatch Europe. If only our ministers would also agree to Scandinavian-style transparency in decision-making!

New report shows strong impact of a possible Brexit on EU politics

The UK is the most outvoted Member State in the EU Council. However, it has supported more than 97% of the EU laws adopted in the last 12 years, a new report published by VoteWatch Europe shows.
The analysis looked at the role played by the UK’s Government and its MEPs in shaping the EU policy over the past 12 years. According to the study, the UK seems to have diminished its influence in the European Parliament in recent years, as a result of self-distancing of some of its own party delegations from the EU’s mainstream political families, as well as due to the results of the latest EU elections in the UK. Nevertheless, UK MEPs have captured many powerful agenda-setting positions, such as rapporteurships of key EU legislation and EP committee chairmanships
Professor Simon Hix, chairman and co-founder of VoteWatch Europe, explained that “the British opposition to EU decisions occurred especially on budget, foreign policy and foreign aid. Nevertheless, the UK was not the most oppositional government on several important issue areas: internal market, legal affairs, transport, environment, and fisheries.
The data shows that Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark are UK’s closest allies in the EU Council and would lose an important ally if Brexit occurs.
The study also argues that the main losers of Brexit among EU’s stakeholders are those that promote less regulatory burden for EU businesses and stronger protection of copyright. Last but not least, a possible Brexit would also push the remaining EU governments to pay more to EU’s coffers.

Monday, 9 May 2016

Unlucky Cymric

In the early hours of 9th May 2016, the White Star liner Cymric finally succumbed to the attack of the previous afternoon by the German submarine U20. The Welsh name does not seem to have been a good luck tag for a ship which suffered more than the usual number of marine incidents.

Sunday, 8 May 2016

I genuinely am frightened at leaving EU

 - but not by the economic arguments. They are real, but somewhat exaggerated and will not affect those of my generation personally since all governments are going to want to keep pensioners - who vote - onside. There will be "silent firings" as investment will move to continental Europe or offshore. But there will be a steady decline in our industrial economy followed by financial services, not a sudden collapse.

No, what I am fearful of is the threat to the livelihoods and well-being of ordinary working people. No longer bound by the EU's social chapter, this Tory government would tear up the protective legislation so that workers could be sacked for no reason or forced to work uncivilised hours. You won't hear these arguments from Conservative ministers, but reactionary back-benchers and commentators mutter about getting rid of the burden of health and safety legislation once we are outside the EU.

After that goes data protection and civil rights.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

Market conditions outside the EU

A constant argument by those who want the UK to leave the EU is that we pay them £16bn every year, which could be better spent by us on the NHS, on agriculture and various other things depending on which speaker you are listening to. I feel certain that if you added up all that spending it would come to more than the claimed £16bn. It would certainly be more than the net figure (£3.8bn per year in the period 2007-2013).

Ah, but that is still £3.8bn too much, say the Brexiteers.
Remainers: That is the entry fee for our largest market which takes nearly half our exports. We get much more back in terms of profit on trade. If we left the EU, we would still have to pay into the EU budget as part of any deal we struck with them, as Norway and Switzerland must do.

But we are British, we don't have to make any special deals. The Europeans love us, especially as we are their largest market.
Remainers: The EU may be Britain's largest market, but Britain is only about 8% of the world-wide market to which EU exports go. So, they are not going to make any special arrangements for us. If we have no deal, all our exports will be subject to the Common Customs Tariff, which averages about 3%. That's the difference between our present slow recovery and returning to recession. And there are still a few goods which have high tariffs - so any manufacturer making those would be devastated.

We can still get rid of all that red tape.
Remainers: All imports into the EU have to comply with EU regulations, so most UK manufacturers would continue to abide by EU regulations in order to be able to export.

We would also be subject to WTO anti-dumping rules, so - for example - if we spent state money rescuing our steel industry, we could well be accused of dumping cheap UK steel on the EU, resulting in punitive tariffs or a quota.

For the Brexiteers to claim that we would continue to have access to the Single Market on similar terms, but without free movement, or contributing to the EU budget, or complying with all the regulations and standards, is pure fantasy. It would amount to a more favourable relationship with the Single Market than France or Germany has.

I am indebted to fellow Liberal Democrats Richard Gadsden and Richard Phillips for these squelches.

Friday, 6 May 2016

First electoral post-mortem

I thought that after seeing all the election results (apart from those for police and crime commissioners) and catching up on sleep, I might have a chance of putting together a more objective consideration of the situation. A few more things have come into focus, but this is still going to be incoherent.

My first response in the counting-hall last night, after the realisation that I had lost my deposit and thus would not be able to replace the busted tuner in my sound system, was that UKIP would make the gain on the regional list that the pollsters had predicted. The message to Labour voters not to waste their list vote but use it to block Conservative and UKIP regional representatives did not get through to most. Useless votes piled up when they could have been used to keep Peter Black and perhaps even elect a Green. Some votes went to Plaid Cymru who have a second regional representative. The effect of this remains to be seen.

Steve Hunt did himself proud in his first run at a parliamentary election, especially as he confessed that he had done no canvassing or leafleting, relying on his reputation and his Facebook presence. As an independent, he no doubt capitalised on the feeling against party which has grown up. This anti-party feeling may also have some impact on the police and crime commissioner election, to be counted later this weekend. In Neath at least there were signs that Alun Michael, the Labour incumbent in South Wales, is going to be hard-pressed by independent Mike Baker.

Congratulations to Jeremy Miles who from his non-triumphalist accession speech, and from his demeanour at the Neath hustings, is clearly determined to represent all his constituents, across party boundaries as his predecessor Gwenda Thomas did.

UKIP made themselves a nuisance out of all proportion to their number in the 751-seat European Parliament. In the 60-seat Senedd, their capacity for disruption is even greater and there is a danger of the Assembly for Wales becoming dysfunctional. What is just as likely is that they will take the Welsh taxpayers' money and run, leaving no effective opposition to a complacent Labour government.

The people of Neath, Port Talbot, Bridgend and Swansea have lost the services of not only a hard-working and progressive AM in Peter Black, but also of an equally hard-working office which has taken up the cases of people let down by government and who other representatives have been unable to help.

In the past, Liberals and Liberal Democrats nationally have been saved by party representatives hanging on in Wales and the West Country. Now it looks as if it is England which is going to come to our rescue. Liberal Democrats made more gains in the local government elections than any other party. They even regained a toe-hold in Liverpool. Scottish Liberal Democrats have hung on.

Finally, my thanks to the few hundred people who did vote for me and the Liberal Democrats in Neath. I am not going to give up and the Liberal Democrats in Neath and Port Talbot are not going to go away.

Seeing antisemitism where none exists

An organisation which goes by the name of Jewish Human Rights Watch has branded Swansea City Council antisemitic. The cause is a motion which sought to distance the authority from a multi-national company building a railway making life easier for inhabitants of illegal settlements. The company was French (not Jewish) Veolia and the motion made no reference to Jews. As relayed on http://www.usacbi.org/2010/06/swansea-city-council-resolve-to-exclude-veolia-from-future-contracts/ it read:

“The UN not only does not recognise Israel’s annexation and occupation of East Jerusalem, but has repeatedly stated its view that the Israeli settlements in East Jerusalem and the West Bank contravene international law, and it has demanded that Israeli settlement activities and occupation should not be supported. The international trading company, Veolia, is a leading partner in a consortium seeking to build a light railway system linking Israel to illegal settlements in occupied East Jerusalem, a project that clearly not only contravenes UN demands but is in contravention of international law.
This Council therefore calls on the Leader & Chief Executive not to sign or allow to be signed any new contracts or renewal of any existing contracts with Veolia or any other company in breach of international law, so long as to do so would not be in breach of any relevant legislation.”

Now, one can argue that local authorities should not make moral judgments or refuse to deal with companies whose conduct in this country is legal, even though they may contravene international law abroad. By this way of thinking, the council's sole concern should be achieving the best deal for the council tax payer. Presumably this is why a number of Liberal Democrat councillors voted against.

However, what the motion is not is racist. Only a group which believes that the Netanyahu government can do no wrong and that it represents the whole of Judaism can see this refusal to deal with an amoral company as antisemitic.

One can easily envisage public bodies after the war refusing to deal with Bayer, or IG Farben, once the truth about the gas-chambers was out - would that be described as an anti-German, or anti-Christian, action?

JHRW has won the right to a judicial review of the council's decision, it seems. The BBC report reckons that local taxpayers will be faced with a bill of tens of thousands of pounds as a result. A finding against Swansea CC could see that multiplied tenfold. The winners in all this are JHRW who I doubt many had heard of before this controversy and the lawyers.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

The verdict will soon be returned

It's a nice view, but not exceptional for Wales or even the Neath valley. However, I have a soft spot for it because it is taken from a public bench overlooking Cwmgwrach. This gives respite after an hour or so's delivering leaflets in one of my favourite villages, where even strong opponents of Liberal Democracy are civil and pleasant to talk to.

Not much has changed in the view, apart from the solar panels in the village and the wind-turbines just visible on the horizon, since 2011 on the eve of the last Welsh general election. On that occasion, the villages of the witch gave an above-average vote to Welsh Liberal Democrats, and Peter Black was successful on the South Wales West list, so I felt I had to repeat the routine, rather like a sportsman wearing his lucky underpants for a key event.

2011 was a real low point for us, because in Westminster Liberal Democrats had been in coalition with the Conservatives for a year and budget cuts, including the Barnett money for Wales, had already started to bite. So there should be a bounce-back, albeit a small one. Whether that results in a restoration of the AM seat we lost five years ago is another matter.

On the other hand, voters could have taken their cue from the London media who told them that we are finished and that UKIP will push us down to fifth place. If that happens, it is also bad news for Labour who are riven in England by accusations of antisemitism and consorting with terrorists on the part of the leadership and the flood of new members from last year. It will be a sad day if that happens. Labour should be judged (albeit adversely) on the basis of their record in government in Wales, and we should be given credit for our achievements in the fields of health and housing in the last five years.

We shall know for certain in about four hours time.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Probation privatisation: worst fears realised

We could certainly do these things better in Wales. This report in the Independent is evidence that privatisation of the probation service was a mistake and all the more reason for policing and justice to be devolved to Wales.

The National Audit Office has found that "the Government has no way of knowing how well companies responsible for running the country’s probation services are performing due to a failure to collect accurate information", and that "some of the Community Rehabilitation Companies (CRCs) may be manipulating or withholding data from government agencies while others are putting financial profit above public safety by ignoring difficult offenders who require the most help because it costs them too much money to treat them". In an all too familiar story, the Government started with a "pilot" study but did not wait to find out the results to judge whether privatisation was appropriate for the probation service.

The report goes on: "A number of the companies that were awarded contracts had no experience of the sector at all and a number of others were set up shortly before being awarded contracts, meaning that they had no track record from which they could be assessed for their suitability.

It also states that "the Government has no way of knowing how well the CRCs are performing after failing to collect accurate data required to assess them" and there are suspicions that companies are manipulating data.

The remit of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) is "a broad responsibility for holding the police to account, setting the police budget and determining and meeting the priorities for policing and crime reduction in the local area". Yet they do not have any influence on probation, which is a vital factor in crime reduction. If the government is to continue with the PCCs (an experiment too early to evaluate, in my opinion), they should at least follow their logic through and give them oversight of the probation care companies in their area.

Read the complete report and weep. This could be the most blatant example yet of a blinkered government pursuing a policy based on political prejudice, deliberately disregarding evidence, and one that will likely affect public safety.

Police and Crime Commissioner election

Tomorrow I shall be voting:

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

Life expectancy gap widening

Put "rich live longer" into a search engine and you will reap reports explaining why there is a gap in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest of us, on both sides of the Atlantic. However, there is a disturbing trend for the gap to widen, as reported by a business school. The lead researcher puts this down to "life-style choices", but it is surely significant that the rich got richer and the poor comparatively poorer under Tony Blair and the discrepancy has continued under Cameron and Osborne.

Monday, 2 May 2016

Renewables have moved up generation league table

Rather late notification from my supplier (Good Energy) of this key point from a DECC statistical press release (pdf):

Renewable electricity generation was 83.3 TWh in 2015, an increase of 28.9 per cent on the 64.7 TWh in 2014, with bioenergy up by 27.8 per cent and wind generation up 26.4 per cent. Renewables’ share of electricity generation was a record 24.7 per cent in 2015, an increase of 5.6 percentage points on the 19.1 per cent in 2014. Renewable electricity capacity was 30.0 GW at the end of 2015, a 21.9 per cent increase (5.4 GW) on a year earlier.

Good Energy adds: "Renewables are now the second biggest generator of electricity in the UK. That’s only 5% behind gas and ahead of both coal and nuclear – a strong foundation for a 100% renewable future."

Sunday, 1 May 2016

The Sound Barrier

In the current Film Programme, Professor Christopher Frayling corrects some inaccuracies but introduces some of his own. The subject was The Sound Barrier, a David Lean film scripted by Terence Rattigan, made in the era before Lean's budgets and reputation became overblown. Rattigan, too, was on top form, writing about the flying that he knew so well. During the war, he had been in that most hazardous of occupations, a tail-gunner.

Professor Frayling correctly stated that Chuck Yeager had already broken the sound barrier in 1947, before the events in the British film supposedly took place. Rattigan knew this, but his reference to it in the script was cut out. He may also have known the history of the real British research carried out by the Miles Aircraft Company in the 1940s, research which was shared with the American Bell company under a wartime agreement. Both Yeager's exploit, and the research by Bell and Miles, remained official secrets for many years. Wikipedia says:
In 1944, design work was considered 90% complete and Miles was told to go ahead with the construction of three prototype M.52s. Later that year, the Air Ministry signed an agreement with the United States to exchange high-speed research and data. Miles Chief Aerodynamicist Dennis Bancroft stated that the Bell Aircraft company was given access to the drawings and research on the M.52,[ but the U.S. reneged on the agreement and no data was forthcoming in return. Unknown to Miles, Bell had already started construction of a rocket-powered supersonic design of their own, but with a conventional tail were battling the problem of control. A variable-incidence tail appeared to be the most promising solution; the Miles and RAE tests supported this. Later, following conversion of the tail, pilot Chuck Yeager verified it experimentally, and all subsequent supersonic aircraft would either have an all-moving tailplane or a delta wing.

It is possible that the implausible flight manoeuvre which is the key to success in the British film is a substitute for Miles' breakthrough tail design. In correcting the record, Professor Frayling could also have given credit to the real British contributors to early supersonic flight.

Frayling was plain wrong when he said that audiences didn't know what jets were in 1952. Both the Gloster Meteor and the de Havilland Vampire were in service in increasing numbers with the RAF and a familiar sight (and sound) near air bases in the late 1940s. The Comet (which features in The Sound Barrier) made its debut in 1952 but had already gained much press attention.