Thursday, 30 June 2016

Second thoughts

There will be none if Theresa May, who looks likely to be our next prime minister, has her way. But I do like this post, flagged up by Maria Pretzler.

Mrs May does not acknowledge that the referendum decision is of dubious validity, given that it was obtained by lies about the EU and promises, some of which have already turned to dust even before negotiations to leave have started. But another referendum, which would inevitably also be flawed, is not the answer. Tim Farron has already asserted that the Liberal Democrat manifesto for the next general election will major on a reversal of the decision to leave the EU. However, this bold declaration means nothing unless there is a general election before Article 50 is invoked. "Remainers" in the Commons cannot wait until there is a new leader for the Conservatives because that leader will almost certainly on appointment as prime minister send the letter to the European Council from which there is no going back.

Mark Pack explains how dissolution of parliament can be achieved under current legislation. One would have thought that it was in the interests of both sides of the EU debate to elect a new House - Remainers for the reason above, and Leavers because they will want a favourable Commons when it comes to voting on the terms of leaving the EU. The trouble is that clearly the disunited Labour party will not want to commit electoral suicide by supporting a dissolution.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Article 50

This is the clearest, if detailed, explanation of the mechanism of leaving the EU:

If you want to hear a discussion between legal experts which builds on the basic facts, I can recommend Joshua Rozenberg's special on Radio 4 yesterday.

Our Polish friends

Image result for Polish spitfire images

From an interchange following the prime minister's statement to the Commons about the aftermath of the EU referendum:

  • May I thank the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition for their condemnation of yesterday’s racist attack on the Polish Social and Cultural Association in my constituency, which I visited this morning? The centre was built almost 50 years ago by the same generation of Poles who fought for this country in the battle of Britain, Monte Cassino and the battle of the Atlantic. Will the Prime Minister express his solidarity with the Poles and all our migrant communities, which are, in the wake of last Thursday’s vote, feeling under threat?
I am very happy to do that. As someone who used to live in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency,
I know some of the Polish centres and restaurants quite well. They have made an amazing
contribution to our country. He mentions the battle of Britain. We should always remember
that—I do every time I go past the Polish war memorial—and we should say to those people,
“You make a great contribution to our country. You are welcome and you can stay, and these
attacks are hateful.”

It would be a sad day if, in addition to shutting out young Poles who come to the UK only to work (which would be bad enough), we also drove out the long-standing and well-integrated Polish community in West London. (I can vouch for the restaurants, by the way.) The original generation of Poles are those who escaped the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 to man a whole Spitfire squadron and play a big part in defeating Hitler. It is understandable that at the end of hostilities they preferred to stay than return to a homeland under communist control.

It seems to me that the thugs who want to racially-cleanse Ealing and Hammersmith are the spiritual descendants of those in the 1930s who cheered on Hitler and were prepared to let him have his will on the continent provided he left us alone.

We should be proud of the citizens of Llanelli (Carmarthenshire has an equally long-standing Polish presence) who pinned this picture to the doors of the Welsh Polish Association in the town:

Tuesday, 28 June 2016

EU referendum: the case against BBC

Chris Dillow has a blog post about BBC's record in covering the EU referendum. I agree with much of it, but most of all Norman Smith's advocacy of a more robust attitude on the part of the BBC in correcting misstatements. Indisputable lies like "Turkey is about to join the EU" were not refuted authoritatively, but instead their rebuttal was attributed to the Leave campaign. At the same time, genuinely debatable assertions like "the EU is a failed project" and "the euro has been a disaster" were accepted as a given, instead of proponents of either or both being given the chance to argue to the contrary.

I would go further than Mr Dillow. I believe the BBC lost the cause of truth about the EU long ago. Lord Reith offered the British people programmes to educate, inform and entertain. With the addition of "and services" after "programmes", this is still the basic mission statement of the corporation today. My contention is that in its news coverage, the BBC is more intent on entertainment than in education. Its news editors have a tabloid mindset.

 It is difficult to recall an item in daytime news bulletins on a subject for debate in the European Parliament, except for a couple of Nigel Farage's xenophobic rants. Today's 1 o'clock news was at it again. Contrast that with the excessive coverage given to US politics. We are instructed in the mechanism of selecting presidential candidates and in the internal politics of US parties, neither of which can be influenced by British voters. They do have entertainment value, admittedly.

Instead, the corporation responded to the need for information about EU matters with an occasional short programme put on late at night and in the hands of the Eurosceptic Andrew Neil. BBC-Parliament does now provide raw coverage of some European Parliament proceedings, but it seems only when neither the House of Commons nor the (unelected) House of Lords nor the Scottish Parliament are in session, and when there is no recent unbroadcast footage from the Northern Ireland Assembly.

Recorded-as-live EP debates are all very well, but even people who know a bit about European politics need the sort of guidance as to what is going on which is provided by the BBC in respect of the Senedd or the House of Commons.

The BBC should have been educating the British people regularly about the democratic structure of the EU, including the power that elected national ministers have over policy. It should have highlighted the debates in the EP about matters which affect us, such as mobile telephone roaming charges, vehicle emission limits, curbing bank bonuses and fisheries policy. It should explain the different political forces at work, including those of the UK-based parties and the groups to which they are allied on the continent.

If this had been the case since the UK's accession, the EU referendum vote could have been carried out on the basis of knowledge about the EU rather than on voters' judgments of the personal character of the leaders of each of the campaigns. It is not too late to put European affairs on the same footing as American coverage. Indeed, it is essential if, as is probable, there is a general election this year which is in effect a second referendum on our relationship with the rest of Europe.

It's what Wales voted for, part 6

The people of Pontypridd, a majority of whom voted to leave the EU, have seen an early casualty of Brexit.

Monday, 27 June 2016

As predicted

There was an immediate plunge in the value of sterling and in the stock market indices after the EU referendum verdict, as was to be expected. The markets do not like uncertainty. Once they had taken stock of the situation, those key indicators settled down. The FTSE 100 is now around the same level as it was before the vote. However, it should be pointed out that the 100 comprises large companies, often foreign-owned, which are not dependent on the single market or are exporters which will benefit from a weaker pound. A better overview of the effect on the British economy is given by the 250 next listed companies:

I am not a financial expert, but it seems to me therefore that pension funds which tend to be invested in the top companies will not suffer much from Brexit. On the other hand, UK-based companies most of whose business is in the UK are going to be under pressure leading to increased unemployment. It could be another case of the retired being better off than the economically-active.

Sterling is at $1.32 as I write, a value last seen 31 years ago. There is no sign of it rising soon; indeed there are predictions that it will decline further. So there will be an immediate effect on the prices of petrol and food, with gas and other imports to follow.

Finally, it remains to be seen whether investors in UK government bonds share the rosy opinion of our prospects outside the EU as Norman Lamont and others. If they do not, then the interest on our debt will rise and the accumulation of debt will accelerate. This is why George Osborne envisioned an extra budget this year, and one which would impact benefits. The question is whether the current cabinet will contrive an early election before then, scuttling out before the next administration has to carry the can.

Fair votes and the referendum

I have written a piece for the local LibDem party blog about the high turnout for the EU referendum. It consists largely of a piece by Anthony Tuffin of STV Action. It was directed largely at Liberal Democrat members and friends, but Anthony has also pointed out there are Labour Party activists who want to introduce fair votes. He said:
STV Bulletin - Post Referendum PR election?

There is no need to convince the nationalists. Scotland has had STV in local government for many years now, and their parliamentary elections, while conducted on the same top-up list system as ours in Wales, are at least proportional, unlike those for the Senedd. STV is also Plaid Cymru policy, I believe, as it is for UKIP.

Friday, 24 June 2016

Who sponsored the Lockerbie bomb?

There is a review of Kenny MacAskill's book, written from the point of view of an insider to the judicial process, in the current Private Eye. The review reinforces the evidence pointing to agents of the PFLP-GC as the perpetrators, not al-Megrahi put up by Qaddafi as a scapegoat. Given that Syria sponsored the PFLP-GC and that Iran later supported the organisation, and these were not among the West's favourite nations, I wonder why the Establishment was so keen to accept the Libyan explanation.

And were any related papers recovered from the looting which took place after Qaddafi's overthrow?

An uncertain future

The results of the EU referendum as they came through last night and through the early hours were depressing but not a total surprise. A week ago, a straw poll on a media appreciation panel showed 48% to 38% in favour of  Leave with 14% undecided. A vigorous correspondence on a local online medium was about ten to one (me) against staying in the EU. It has been obvious for some time that the man and woman in the Welsh street take their political information from the Sun, Mail and Express.

As predicted, the immediate outcome was a plunge in the value of sterling and the euro. Shares will open lower on the London Stock Exchange. There will be ups and downs before the currency and stock markets settle, but at what level?

The best future for the UK outside the EU will be in the European Economic Area alongside Norway. However, what the Leave voters most objected to were the contribution from the UK Treasury and the free movement of labour, both of which are implicit in the the Norway model. Whoever does the negotiating for the UK - and I cannot see the present ministerial team continuing long - has a very difficult hand to play.

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

The health service and the EU

Phil Hammond MD, writing in the current Private Eye :

cannot trace one prominent national medical, research or health organisation that has sided with Brexit. Doctors and scientists do seem to believe the UK is better off, healthier and safer in Europe.

The EU is not a prominent threat to the NHS as article 168 of the Lisbon Treaty clearly states that the organisation and delivery of health services is a national responsibility. A far greater threat to the NHS is the current UK government's creeping privatisation and outsourcing of vital service, and a lurch to the right from Brexit is likely to accelerate this.


Migration* is more complex and clearly puts strain on public services, including the NHS. However, EU migrants tend to be of working age, use the NHS less and pay taxes to fund it. Some even return home for healthcare because they can get quick access to specialists than in the UK.

Meanwhile there are 135,000 non-British European citizens working in the NHS and social care, about 10 per cent of the total, at all levels of the service from consultants to carers. 


As for the impact on research, Brexit would sacrifice our right to participate in the European Medicines Agency. We would have to pay to keep access to the centralised authorisation system, but have no influence on policy. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) would lose its vital European health technology assessments. To date, the UK has been the most successful country at winning competitively awarded EU funding for research and development in life sciences. After Brexit, the UK would have to pay to keep access to funding but have no influence in settting priorities in research and development.

Apart from the privatisation threat, all these considerations apply to the NHS in Scotland and Wales as well as England. Something I had not realised, and another good reason for staying involved in the EU, is the link between NICE and medical science expertise on the continent.

*Phil Hammond's evaluation of the "immigrant" situation chimes with my own. I am very happy for young fellow-Europeans to come over, take up vacancies which would otherwise remain unfilled, pay taxes which help fund my pension, then return home thus not being a burden on the state. I am sorry that Cameron and Osborne have not stressed the positive aspects of the free movement of Labour, and not made it clear that it is quite separate from the pressure from refugees from Africa and the Middle East. Of course, if they had done so they would have drawn attention to the fact that much of the latter is caused by our friends causing upheaval in the region.

Let's hear it for the social workers

Social workers have had a bad press for as long as I can remember. I guess the Daily Mail has not been among their greatest fans, which is why I chose the Mail's report on the tragedy widely reported by the broadcast media yesterday. The police have often been loth to intervene in child abuse cases until a watertight criminal case can be brought. But in this case social workers, the police and the young victim's teachers all did everything that was in their power to protect young Ellie only to be thwarted by an inexplicable legal decision.

The economic effects if "Leave" polls higher

These are the facts. Anything else the "Remain" or "Leave" campaigners say about what might happen after "Leave" is successful is speculation. However, it is safe to assume that inward investment, which has hitherto been attracted, to Wales and the English regions in particular, by our membership of the common market, would decline. The UK would probably not immediately fall down an economic cliff, contrary to the journalistic claims of some the "Remain" leaders, but the prospect is of a tailing off affecting our children and our children's children.

It should also be pointed out that £350m a week would not become instantly available on June 24th to spend on the NHS and all the other things promised by Vote Leave in their provisional budget (no mention there of the cost of increased border staff, by the way). Negotiation to untangle our relationship with the other 27 nations would almost certainly take the full two years stipulated by the current Treaty and final exit could be delayed until 2020. So we would still be making a contribution to the EU budget for years to come, Since this is based on three factors, all dependent on economic activity, this may come down from 2015's £8.5bn (£163m/week), but then so would much of our own government's revenue which is also dependent on a thriving economy.

Of course the UK could simply immediately renounce its treaty commitments and parliament vote to remove all EU-related laws from the statute book. Parliament has the sovereign right to do this, but the effect would be dismal. If the UK tore up treaties unilaterally, we would lose international trust for a generation at least. We would put ourselves in the same basket as Argentina and Zimbabwe. Who would negotiate tariff-free deals with us?

Tuesday, 21 June 2016

EU agrees moves against tax avoiders

One wonders whether a reluctance to submit to curbs on evasion and aggressive tax avoidance measures is the real motivation for the money-men funding the various sophisticated campaigns persuading us to leave the European Union.

Thanks to Catherine Bearder MEP for drawing our attention to today's media release reporting agreement new rules to tackle tax avoidance.

Once implemented, this legislation will put an end to the most common loopholes and aggressive tax planning schemes currently used by some large companies to avoid paying their fair share of tax. For example, all Member States will now have the power to tax profits being moved to low-tax countries where the company does not have any genuine economic activity (CFC rules). Previously untaxed gains on assets such as intellectual property which have been moved from the EU's territory can also be taxed (exit taxation rules), while countries have also been empowered to tackle tax avoidance schemes that are not covered by specific anti-avoidance rules (general anti-abuse rule).

This is another step in the right direction, but it has necessitated the agreement of member governments of the EU. Progress will clearly be at the pace of the most reluctant nations, the ones who benefit most from tax avoidance, such as Luxembourg and sadly the UK.

Swansea's Castle Square

This picture (taken from a local archive) is how I remember what was then the pleasant "Castle Gardens" when I first moved to the area. There have been two redevelopments since, neither an improvement in my opinion. Now comes news of another. The worrying phrase "a developer has approached the authority with a view to marketing the site" appears in the Evening Post. It looks unlikely that the welcome patch of green in the city centre will be restored.

Neath and Neath Port Talbot councils had the good sense just to maintain what our forefathers bequeathed us.

The positive case for remaining

Laura Sandys of the European Movement has sent me the following email, with which I agree. 


Between all the arguments and the mudslinging, what often gets lost in the debate around the EU referendum is the positive case for remaining.

Europe is our continent, and together with our neighbours we have achieved some amazing things: 3 million people have jobs in the UK related to trade with the EU; for the longest time in history we have had no war between EU states; and our environment is cleaner and safer, not just building a great today but an even better tomorrow.

These are my reasons for remaining – What are yours?

Print out our poster and fill it in to say why you’re voting to remain. Then take a photo and post it to your Facebook or Twitter account using the hashtag #Remain.
With just 4 days to go before the vote, now is the time for us all to show our colours.

Monday, 20 June 2016

"Ever closer union" is on the way out

I did not think I would see a French politician coming out against the concept of a United States Of Europe, but the Indy reported yesterday that the Brexit campaign has caused a rethink.

Both Jeroen Dijsselbloem, the Dutch politician who is head of the Eurogroup of Eurozone finance ministers, and Hubert Vedrine, a former French foreign minister, have suggested the EU response should be more realistic and more practical. Mr Dijsselbloem said: “The EU has moved ahead in leaps, but we haven’t always completed everything. That is our main task: to finish what we have started and show results to our citizens.” Mr Vedrine suggested the EU should abandon its federalist commitment to an “ever closer union” and move towards more limited, practical joint policies on trade, free movement, open borders and the environment.

The rising of popular anti-EU feeling in even the core EU states must also have got through.
The Netherlands was always the most democratic nation of the founding members of the EEC/EC/EU, but for a politician in the nation which still reveres Napoleon to have second thoughts is quite something.

Sunday, 19 June 2016

Let us return to normal politics

Andrew Grice writes in today's Independent:

The mainstream media is [sic] also part of the problem. Of course it was right to expose the MPs’ expenses scandal in 2009, but since then most newspapers have replaced a healthy scepticism about politicians with utter cynicism. Fear of hostile media coverage about their expenses and their families now deters high calibre people from entering politics. Despite a rigorous new expenses regime, much of the press gives the impression that MPs are only in it for themselves, an out of touch elite. Little wonder the public mood is anti-politics. In more than 30 years on the Westminster beat, I’m sure the overwhelming majority of MPs I have met came into politics to do good, not for personal gain or advancement. Just like Jo Cox.

She, like many MPs, was more in touch with the real world than most people in the media passing judgement on the political class. MPs have to be. Ministers from foreign countries are often shocked and horrified to discover that their UK counterparts still do regular constituency surgeries.

Cox was by instinct a unifier, a bridge-builder who wanted to see a more consensual politics. But a nasty, depressing EU referendum campaign shows we are travelling in the opposite direction. It has taken our political discourse to a new low.

I remember similar calls for a kinder, gentler politics after John Smith, the Labour leader, died of a heart attack in 1994, another tragedy for those of us in the Westminster village. The pause then was all too brief, and normal hostilities soon returned. I hope that after the death of Jo Cox, something will change permanently, which would be a fitting tribute to her. But I am not optimistic.

The connection between constituents and MP is part of what Britain has brought to the EU, part of the democratic contribution which that visionary Ralf Dahrendorf hoped for from the UK while we were still an aspirant member, blocked by the authoritarian de Gaulle. There is greater democracy in EU institutions now than when we joined (not solely from our efforts). This has been reinforced by the accession of Denmark and Sweden, where - as several imported TV series have shown - MPs are genuinely representatives, part of a normal community, not part of a ruling élite. This is a greater contribution to the European community than pounds and pence, and something which we should not withdraw.

Andrew Grice calls for a kinder, gentler politics. It is possible to campaign positively. Where an attack is necessary, it can be on ideas, not personalities, and in an objective, not incendiary, fashion. Nor should the normal democratic process be brought to a stop by a violent incident.  That is why I was saddened by the decision of all other mainstream parties not to nominate candidates for the by-election in Batley and Spen. Non-Labour voters have a right to a representative candidate in an election for a member who is going to represent them for the remainder of this parliament, which could be for another four years.

Labour now has a heavy responsibility to select as replacement someone who is as genuine as Jo Cox.

Friday, 17 June 2016

Fallen idol

Clement Freud was not only a "national treasure" as this article is headlined but also an exemplary MP. He worked hard for his constituents. Michael Meadowcroft wrote in an obituary: "He carried out as much as possible of his constituency casework by telephone and it must have quite impressive for constituents to receive a call direct from Freud after he had resolved their case. He would also follow up names mentioned in his local newspapers. If he couldn't make contact by 'phone he would regularly handwrite a note to the constituent." Another colleague remembered how he would sit attentively through debates in the Commons in which he had no direct interest and from which the party was unlikely to gain. Even then, most MPs were wont to shun the less glamorous debates or to stay just long enough to make a speech which would get into the media back home and then leave. He made a few friends across party boundaries. He was both a good Commons man and a good constituency MP, a rare combination. He supported many liberal causes, whether there was publicity to be gained or not.

So confirmation that the "womanising" referred to in the Meadowcroft and other obituaries was not restricted to those of legal age came as a devastating surprise. Better people than I were admirers of Freud. Craig Murray wrote this obituary in 2009 and three days ago explained how his view changed.

(I suppose there should have been clues in the revelations of the bisexual promiscuity of Lucian Freud. One wonders now whether the sexual practices of his younger brothers might not have been at the root of the rift between them and Stephen Freud.)

You never can tell. Bill Cosby, Stuart Hall and Rolf Harris all provided wholesome family entertainment and I believe they did so sincerely, though their celebrity status certainly assisted them in suppressing evidence of their darker private life. Publicly, they did a lot of good (how can one calculate the contribution Cosby made to the status and self-respect of African-Americans, for instance?). The same was true of Clement Freud. There were clearly people close to them all who were prepared to turn a blind eye to their faults for the greater good as they saw it, but scores of women had their lives blighted as a result.

Thursday, 16 June 2016

Jo Cox MP, killed while doing her job

The news has just come through of the death of the Labour MP for Batley and Spen as a result of a senseless gun and knife attack.

She had just completed a regular constituency surgery. The precise motivation for the murder has yet to be established, but it seems to have been connected with her position as a member of parliament. Sadly, around one-fifth of MPs have suffered some form of physical attack. One recalls the knife attack on Stephen Timms in 2010 and the samurai-wielding lunatic who took the life of the brave aide of Nigel Jones in 2001. Both those men survived. Jo Cox was sadly the first MP to have been assassinated since the Irish troubles led to the deaths of Airey Neave in 1979, Sir Anthony Berry in 1984 and Ian Gow in 1990.

It is probably too glib to lay the blame for her death at the door of the media, both print and broadcast, who have relentlessly denigrated the work of politicians, but the atmosphere they have created cannot have helped.

This is the opening of Jo Cox's speech introducing the adjournment debate she obtained in October last year on the subject of the plight of civilians in Syria.

Jo Cox (Batley and Spen) (Lab): Every decade or so, the world is tested by a crisis so grave that it breaks the mould: one so horrific and inhumane that the response of politicians to it becomes emblematic of their generation —their moral leadership or cowardice, their resolution or incompetence. It is how history judges us. We have been tested by the second world war, the genocide in Rwanda and the slaughter in Bosnia, and I believe that Syria is our generation’s test. Will we step up to play our part in stopping the abject horror of the Syrian civil war and the spread of the modern-day fascism of ISIS, or will we step to one side, say that it is too complicated, and leave Iran, Russia, Assad and ISIS to turn the country into a graveyard? Whatever we decide will stay with us for ever, and I ask that each of us take that responsibility personally.
To date, neither side of the House has a record to be proud of. Let me start with my party. One of the reasons it is such an honour to be standing on this side of the House is the deep, deep pride that I have in Labour’s internationalist past. It is pride in the thousands of people from our movement who volunteered to fight tyranny alongside their fellow socialists and trade unionists in the Spanish civil war; pride in the leaders of our party—and Robin Cook in particular—who demanded action to stop the slaughter of Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica and elsewhere, in the face of outrageous intransigence from the then Conservative Government; and pride in the action we led in government to save countless lives in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. In recent years, however, that internationalism has first been distorted, and now risks being jettisoned altogether.
My heart sank as I watched in 2013 when, following President Assad’s use of chemical weapons against civilians, we first voted against a military response and then supported taking military options off the table. Responsibility for the mishandling of that critical vote, which had such far-reaching international implications, falls principally on the Government, but we on these Benches carry some culpability for letting Assad ride roughshod and unchallenged across what should have been a sacrosanct red line. As a result, the international community lost all credibility in our subsequent efforts to stem the spread of, and the suffering in, this horrific civil war. Indeed, our failure to intervene to protect civilians left Assad at liberty to escalate both the scale and the ferocity of his attacks on innocent Syrians in a desperate attempt to cling to power.
I understand, of course, where our reticence comes from. It comes from perhaps the darkest chapter in Labour’s history, when we led this country to war in Iraq. Many Members in all parts of the House have been scarred by that experience, and understandably so; but let us all be clear about the fact that Syria is not Iraq. I opposed the war in Iraq from the beginning because I believed that the risk to civilian lives was too high, and their protection was never the central objective. I knew, as we all knew, that President George Bush was motivated not by the need to protect civilians, but by supposed weapons of mass destruction and a misguided view of the United States’ strategic interest.
I marched against that war, and have marched against many others in my time. Indeed, before I joined the House I was an aid worker for a decade with Oxfam. I have seen at first hand the horror of war and its brutal impact on civilian populations. I have met 10-year-old former child soldiers with memories that no child should have to live with. I have sat down with Afghan elders with battle-weary eyes. I have held the hands of Darfuri women, gang-raped because no one was there to protect them. From that experience, alongside a horror of conflict, I have the knowledge that there are times when the only way to protect civilians requires military force. I might wish that it were not so, but it is. That is why I firmly believe that the Labour Government were right to champion the adoption, in 2005, of a landmark global commitment to the best and most fundamental of our human ideals: the responsibility to protect civilians. I still firmly believe that a legitimate case can be made for intervention on humanitarian grounds when a Government are manifestly unwilling or unable to protect their own civilians. Sovereignty must not constitute a licence to kill with impunity.
The history of Iraq hangs over us all, and it should, but its legacy is awful enough without supplementing it with a new one of ignoring the slaughter in Syria. We must not let it cloud our judgment or allow us to lose sight of our moral compass.

The war in Iraq led to the deaths of thousands upon thousands of civilians. Its legacy must be to make us all put the protection of civilians at the centre of our foreign policy, not to make us sit on the sidelines while hundreds of thousands more are killed and millions flee for their lives.
It is a sign of the regard in which she was held across the House that one of her supporters in the debate (and a man who was swift to pay tribute on Radio 4's PM programme) was Conservative Andrew Mitchell.

My heartfelt sympathy goes out to her family and her parliamentary colleagues.

Basic Income

The question of a basic citizen's income has been raised recently. Here are the thoughts of (Lord) Ralf Dahrendorf back in 1999, given to the Demos think tank in London and quoted in the Independent:

Something has clearly gone wrong in the process of slaying the giants of 
Want, Disease, Ignorance, Squalor and Idleness.  I want to pursue what 
may well be called the New Social Question of those with but a tenuous 
hold on full citizenship with its attendant rights, opportunities and 
obligations.  If the welfare state has failed to bring them in, what 
else can be done to create a more inclusive society?  Let me look at two 
issues of great significance, fraud and work.

Put at its crudest, we must assume that between 2 per cent and 7 per 
cent of all money spent on social security - between £2bn and £7bn -is 
claimed fraudulently.

Crass cases and the presence of organised fraud underline this.  The 
other day, newspapers reported the case of a Belgian resident who 
regularly comes by Eurostar to collect a housing allowance in Haringey. 
 No-one would defend such practices, or indeed any violation of the law.

The key question is: is fraud really due to greed, or does it actually 
respond to need? Could it not be that many of those who manage to get 
housing benefits, or jobseekers' allowances, or even disability benefits 
to which they are not entitled, have no other source of income?  Indeed 
(to enter nearly-forbidden territory of discourse), is not benefit fraud 
a less destructive crime than mugging and break-ins and drug peddling 
would be?

What is necessary, above all, is to consider ways in which those who 
have no other source of income can be put in a position which makes it 
unnecessary for them to break the law.

Conservatives and Labour, and more particularly New Labour, have this in 
common, that they like to keep people under control.  Mr Darling says he 
has "ended the money-for-nothing culture", and is still accused by 
senior Tories of "outrageous laxity".  But what do they want instead?

In fact, the single most characteristic promise held out by Mr Blair's 
government in its social, economic and educational policies is - work.  
Welfare to work, education for employment, from benefit dependency to 
the independence of work - these are the phrases which recur in a 
plethora of green and white papers and ministerial statements.  Work it 
appears, will solve all problems.

It would be tempting to speculate precisely what problems can be solved 
by work. Problems of expenditure perhaps?  That would be nice for the 
Chancellor, and perhaps for us all.  Or is it problems of social 
control?  Is work the last bastion of a matrix of social control that 
used to be provided by family, school and neighbourhood which are 
frequently no longer available as disciplinary forces?  Is the 
insistence on work part of the same syndrome of creating a more 
organised, controlled society?

It can no longer be assumed that GAP growth equals employment creation; 
jobless growth is a fact.  Macroeconomic and supply-side conditions of 
growth do not by themselves create employment; they may do the opposite.
I suspect the most intractable aspect of the new social question is 
posed by men, especially young men.

They expect "regular" jobs, but cannot find them.  They begin to reject 
the entire official society which does not seem to have a place for 

Before long, they turn to crime or to drugs, or both.  They breed 
children but don't want to look after them.  They begin to drift, often 
in and out of prison.  We have a problem here which defies even social 

The real issues of our society are micro issues.  They require community 

The advantages of guaranteed basic incomes for whether they work or not, 
are evident.  The twin problem fraud and work would lose their sting.  
Short of a guaranteed basic income, there are already tested models of 
similar intent.  Working Families Tax Credits are a small step in the 
right direction, though they do imply work, and assume families which, 
for many, may not exist.

I do not think that we know very much about the society in which we are 
living. We have become obsessed with macro-data.  What we need is an 
ethnography of reality. In the meantime, experiments with basic income 
guarantees and the promotion of social entrepreneurs are not the worst 
immediate remedies.

I believe some of his assumptions about social behaviour were incorrect, but otherwise there are pre-echoes of today's debate.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Ten facts about the EU

Did you know that only 1% of UK government expenditure is our net contribution to the EU? This is less than our overseas aid and a seventh of our spending on the military. The UK is also a member of more supranational organisations than any other country.

There is more here.

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

The logical extension of Leave campaigns' message

UKIP does not extend the logic of their "take back sovereignty" campaign even to Wales. The party wants to diminish the powers Wales already has. It wants to take back Britain's contribution to the EU which is sent to poor countries in Europe (including Wales, though that is not spelled out). UKIP is a major component of Leave.EU.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Neath Port Talbot home care

There is a rather worrying letter from Linet Purcell in last Friday's Evening Post concerning the outsourcing of some home care work. It seems that power is to be delegated to council officers to decide the extent of work to be outsourced without further examination by elected members. This means that an opportunity has been lost "for all those concerned in home care to hear debated issues that will directly affect them before the decision has been made".

I am with councillors Purcell and Llewelyn on this issue.

EU democracy: a rebuttal

I would add that the (elected) European Parliament can now propose laws for the Commission to process, rather like our unelected House of Lords.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

EU shows year-on-year growth

A release earlier this week from Eurostat shows that EU GDP was 0.6% higher in the first quarter of 2016 than in the corresponding period last year. The eurozone grew slightly higher still. The Union has shown consistent, if unspectacular, growth since the end of 2014, contrary to Vote Leave's assertions. The trend is similar to the United States' performance, though the latter's peaks and troughs are more marked.

Saturday, 11 June 2016

After all, we invented the game

PM still not giving credit for LibDem contribution

At PMQs this week in reply to a question from Jeremy Corbyn, David Cameron said:

I absolutely abhor the appalling practice of not paying the minimum wage, and this Government have done more than any previous Government to crack down on non-payment. We have levied almost 5,000 penalties since 2010. [...] On the issue of zero-hours contracts, we legislated in the last Parliament to stop exclusive zero-hours contracts

That would be five years of government in coalition with the Liberal Democrats and a year with the Conservatives ruling alone.

Mr Cameron also said:

One reason that many people will want to stay in the European Union is that they believe it provides an underpinning of rights for workers and employment rights. I would make the point, in addition, that we in this House have repeatedly chosen to go over and above those rights: we have had the right to request flexible working for all workers since 2014; we went well beyond the EU directive on maternity leave by giving 52 weeks’ maternity leave; we have provided shared parental leave; and we give eight days more annual leave to full-time workers than the EU working time directive.

As Jo Swinson revealed, Conservatives resisted many of these measures. It is doubtful whether these improvements would have been achieved without LibDem pressure.

Friday, 10 June 2016

It's what Wales voted for, parts 4 and 5

Neil Hamilton, UKIP AM, lost no time after ousting Nathan Gill as leader of his party in the Senedd in reversing their manifesto commitment on the proposed M4 relief road. One suspects that not only did Mr Hamilton personally prefer the Black Route all along, but also relishes the prospect of making Labour dependent on UKIP AMs on a key policy issue.

Mr Gill naturally attacked him for the flip-flop. Mr Hamilton then counter-attacked, labelling Mr Gill as a part-timer who is inadequate both as AM and MEP.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

The Leader of the House has made a rod for his own back

At Business Questions this week, Chris Grayling replied to a request to allow Welsh to be used in Commons proceedings:

I have given question of the Welsh Grand Committee careful thought, as I said I would a few weeks ago in the House. English is the language of the House of Commons, and it would cost taxpayers’ money to make a change at this point. I therefore think that English should continue to be the language of the House, although if someone who cannot speak English arrives here, we may need to look at the issue again.

Does that mean that when a newly-elected MP who is fluent only in Polish, Hindi, Urdu or Gujerati turns up, he or she will not be required to make the effort to learn the common language of parliament? I know that Mr Gladstone was wont to pepper his speeches to the House with Latin quotations, but at a time when every well-educated man would be expected to recognise them.

Some other elections

Congratulations to Hillary Clinton on becoming de facto, if not absolutely formally, the first woman to be nominated by a major party as a candidate for the US presidency. (NB - and this is something several BBC news programmes got wrong and Clinton did not - not the first woman to run for president, as this page of women's history shows.)

There were some other real elections taking place.

In Peru, there is a real nail-biter which may or may not be decided today, depending on whether all the expatriate ballots have been received and counted. There is little to choose between the two candidates politically, but it will be significant if, as seems likely, Keiko Fujimori, daughter of the previous president jailed for corruption, is defeated by a 77-year-old economist who made his money as an investment banker in the USA. Kucynski

More significantly for the EU and the perception of newer member nations from the former communist bloc are the recent local elections in Romania. The dominant issue was graft, to the benefit of the Social Democratic Party and to the National Liberals.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Being part of the European community

I am writing this while listening to the magnificent soundscape of Oedipe (referred to in an earlier post). This was the work of a polymath born in Romania, who trained in Vienna and settled in Paris. George Enescu epitomises the ease with which those with the means to do so could move around Europe before the Great War changed everything.

A link to an earlier integrated Europe is that the former Roman province of Dacia, part of modern Romania, was a favoured place to retire legionaries to, with a grant of land.  The Roman Empire and later attempts to emulate it, none totally successful, used military power to impose an authoritarian régime on the peoples of Europe. The European Union differs in that it is a voluntary coming together of nations, through democratically-elected governments, in their common interest.

The decline in the study of foreign languages, in the sales of serious newspapers and the rise of the World Wide Web, dominated as it is by US interests, may well be the reason for ignorance of the big European picture and thus the apparent reversal in support for remaining in the EU over the referendum of 1975 (down from 67% to around 47% in the latest surveys).

Like Glynis Whiting, “I feel Britain has a shared history with mainland Europe [...] Britain was not invaded [in 1939], so I suspect that has made a difference to how the British feel. Yet there is a common culture.” Ms Whiting goes back to Latin and Greek and Renaissance art. I go back to sixth-form studies of French and German literature, and to my love of music in the European symphonic tradition. In literature, there was - and is - much interchange between Britain and Continental Europe. In music, the traffic was more one-way, but one should note that Benjamin Britten for one regarded himself as an international composer, rather than just a British composer. Art, literature and music have all to some extent been inspired by war, but I would suggest that in modern times at least they have been more impeded by conflict between nations. One has only to consider the swathe that was cut through the generation of artists, musicians and writers - from all the combatant nations - by the slaughter of one hundred years ago.

Europe has also seen the initiation of key steps towards modern government. Greece and Iceland were birthplaces of different forms of democracy, England (then part of a Norman kingdom stretching well into France) produced Magna Carta, France had its revolution introducing the idea of the secular state and other European countries and principalities produced influential thinkers*. It seems appropriate that Europe should see the birth of a new type of political entity, a federation which is not a super-state.

Brexiters say that it is possible to have the cultural connection without being part of the Union. But the right to free movement, the absence of war and the commercial and professional links make it all so much easier.

After the lies of one side and the exaggerations of the other are stripped away, I am convinced of the economic advantages (especially for Wales) of staying in the EU. I am genuinely concerned that a vote to leave will lead to a gradual but inevitable loss of civil, human and workplace rights in the UK. If the EU institutions were not amenable to democratic change, I might feel differently, but they are and I am happy to be part of it all. 0.6% of my tax bill is a small price to pay.

I shall vote Remain.

* including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels who were able to take advantage of British hospitality

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Facts about the EU and us

I am grateful to Paul Walter on Liberal Democrat Voice for the following:

Please spread the word about these independent fact-checking sites. It would be a crying shame if, on June 24th, we hear anyone saying:
"I didn’t vote because I was confused by the claims and counter-claims of both sides."

Monday, 6 June 2016

"Can" is not the same as "will"

Some prominent "leave" campaigners trumpet the fact that we can dramatically reduce our VAT rates if we are no longer bound by EU rules.  We can also spend the current contribution to the EU budget (net £8.5bn annually, £163m/week) on the NHS. We can stop people coming in and taking low-paid jobs. We can negotiate tougher terms of trade independently on equal terms with the USA, China and India.

There are other things we can do. We can allow the discharge of untreated waste into our rivers and seas. We can compensate already well-off agriculture barons for the loss of EU subsidy while forgetting about marginal farms in Scotland, Wales and the regions of England. 
We can also repeal all the worker protection legislation passed as a result of our signing up to the EU's social contract. We can abrogate the European Convention on Human Rights (all new members of the EU have to sign up to this; the main reason why Turkey is not going to be admitted any time soon is that is in breach of so many ECHR judgements) and make legal the torture of terrorism suspects (so much more convenient for our NATO allies). We can then discriminate against non-Christians or political parties we do not like.

You may protest that all these scenarios are improbable. However, given the record of those people in government, I fear that the first lot is least likely.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Deepcut: a final verdict which will not end speculation

The print edition of the Western Mail yesterday led its comprehensive coverage of the Cheryl James inquest with the headline: 'Evidence did not lead to verdict of Deepcut suicide'. That was the quoted response of her father, who was present throughout the proceedings. From this distance, it did not seem possible for any firm conclusion to be reached, given the way so much of the physical evidence had been removed, lost or destroyed so soon after the discovery of the body. It would not have been surprising to hear that the original open verdict had been confirmed. No doubt the coroner was under pressure to return a definitive conclusion. Mr James had clearly hoped that new or changed verbal testimony would have become available showing that Cheryl had been unlawfully killed. In the event, he still felt that some people were lying.

The twenty year fight for a court process more thorough than the original rush to judgment has at least caused some overdue improvements to be made in the treatment of recruits. It is doubtful if all these would have been achieved without the dogged campaign by the James family, supported by Private Eye  magazine and the former MP for Montgomery, Lembit Öpik.

Saturday, 4 June 2016

The really long view

Few people can have such an objective view of Britain's place in Europe over the centuries as Francis Pryor, the man who made his name excavating Flag Fen. (I took advantage of a contract in Peterborough a few years ago to spend a rewarding afternoon on a guided tour round the discoveries thus far, and I still have the book.) So his judgment on what has favoured us in these islands, and what has been to our disadvantage, should be respected.

His main message is that short-termism is wrong.

Friday, 3 June 2016

Those guilty of electoral fraud must be brought to justice

I apologise to the Independent for quoting all of today's first leader:

In his wonderful treatise on democracy and public life, the late Bernard Crick gave one of the 20th century’s most spirited accounts of why politics in its best form is the hallmark of our civilisation. In Defence of Politics recognised that the merit of democracy was that it made citizens stakeholders in their own future, and the act of scrutinising power and its abuses – which is the proper task of political reporting – informed the choices that we as citizens and stakeholders make.
Over the past few weeks, Crick’s namesake, Michael Crick of Channel 4 News, has been responsible for political reporting that is exemplary, brave, cunning and relentless: just the sort Sir Bernard admired. It has put the issue of election expenses, specifically by the Tories but also other parties, in the spotlight. And yet, for the most part, it hasn’t received anything like the attention it deserves. One reason given for that is the EU referendum, which has so galvanised Westminster that other political news is either ignored or simply seen through the prism of potential Brexit. Another is that because other parties are up to the same tricks, they have little incentive to help stir up media interest. That the latter notion should have even been floated shows just how in cahoots political parties and journalists are, and is a grim indictment of the democratic process.
The evidence is overwhelming: in several constituency battles, it appears the Tories allocated local expenditure, on which there is a limit, to national budgets, so as not to breach a threshold that may have inhibited their ability to campaign locally. What we know so far constitutes a pattern of behaviour, which it transpired yesterday may have claimed a high-profile victim: Ukip leader Nigel Farage. A judge yesterday threw out the Tories’ attempts to block Kent police from extending its investigation into whether the party broke election spending limits in race last May. If there is evidence of fraud, Farage may yet end up in the House of Commons.
The arguments contained in In Defence of Politics have never been more valid, or more urgent: British democracy is today in a perilous condition, with the reputation of politics in the gutter. Figures released by the Electoral Reform Society yesterday suggest less than half of people aged between 18 and 24 will vote in the EU referendum. Trust in MPs has plummeted since the expenses scandal, and the financial crisis, which Britain’s poor didn’t cause but did pay for through austerity, has added to a heavily depleted belief in the value of our parliamentary system.
It is precisely for this reason that the election expenses story unearthed by Michael Crick, matters so much. If there has been systematic abuse of the rules, and that has skewed the results in favour of the richer classes who already hold sway in our country, the voting public will have every right to feel a fresh grievance against those who devise their laws. If, as is widely suspected, this abuse crosses party lines and is regularly perpetrated by the likes of Labour and the Lib Dems, heads will likely roll, and deservedly so.
There is something appalling about the Tories’ attempt to stifle or sabotage the police investigation into this matter. It gives off a whiff of corruption, even if it falls short in practice. Everyone who believes in British democracy should hope that the several police investigations into these allocations or misallocations concludes swiftly, and with firm evidence of what was or wasn’t done criminally. If the evidence then points to intentional violation of the rules by senior figures in whichever party, then the full force of the law, and public opprobrium, should come down on those officials. Whatever their persuasion – and regardless of our preoccupation with Brexit.
The one sour note is struck by the leader-writer attempting either to be even-handed or cover all bases. There is no way that the Liberal Democrats could have indulged in the industrial-scale flouting of the rules on constituency spending limits for the simple reason that we did not have the money to do so. One also suspects that for the most part, even with their trade union funding, Labour could not have competed with the scale of Conservative spending either.