Friday, 30 September 2016

Parc Tawe

One trusts that the developer Hammerson knows what it is doing, but Parc Tawe has been half-empty for years and it is not clear that the changes which are about to start are enough to turn it round. In the age of the World Wide Web, retail parks will have to be special in order to survive.

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Antisemitism and the new old Labour party

This posting is a defence of the vice-chair of Momentum, Jackie Walker, someone of whom I must admit I had not heard until the current trial by media. Momentum may be guilty of many things, but it is unfair to use her to get to the Corbynist movement, and on such specious grounds.
  • It seems she has not denied the genocide of the Jews under the Nazis. There are other activists in Labour (and regrettably in other parties represented in Westminster) who have. They surely should be first up against the wall.
  • There is nothing wrong in preferring the term "shoah" (Hebrew for calamity or destruction) to "holocaust" for this particular slaughter. Indeed, it is preferred by many Jews and is the title of Claude Lanzmann's great film documenting it. 
  • More prominent people than Ms Walker have called for Holocaust Memorial Day to commemorate other victims of genocide. One such was the current mayor of London during this debate in the Commons.
  • It is right to remember that the Jews were not unique in suffering under the Nazis. The wedge was inserted with the elimination of the "feeble-minded" and proceeded through other groups who the Nazis denoted as sub-human (gypsies, Jews of course, Slavs and homosexuals) to those who were simply opponents of the régime, like liberals, social democrats and trade unionists.

There have been well-documented anti-semitic attacks from within the party on some of its Jewish MPs. They have been notable for their cowardice, being aimed at junior female members. This is where the media spotlight should be directed.

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

The price of milk

My fridge is on the blink. I hear the motor clicking in and out but to no effect. It defrosted itself over the weekend and has not returned to the less than 4 degrees C I am used to having it run at. It's a good old Lec which has served us well for over twenty years. Therein lies the rub. I suspect that the trouble is a loss of refrigerant which would at the time of manufacture have been an ozone-depleter banned throughout the EU since 2000. Before 2014, I would have been allowed to top up the original refrigerant probably seeing me through for the rest of my lifetime. Now it looks as if I shall have to buy a replacement refrigerator.

So I am now in the situation of the sizeable minority forgotten by public figures when challenged over the price of milk. If MPs and the like actually know this, it will be from a trip to the supermarket and the purchase of a four- or six-pint container. Those who have no personal or convenient public transport have to pay corner-shop prices, for less economic smaller quantities if they cannot keep milk for more than a few days. So I am going to have to lay out around 88p for a two-pint carton; a penny or two more would buy me four pints in Lidl.

These are the sort of calculations which need to be taken into account when devising cost of living indices for pensioners and those on low incomes.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Islam and Judaism in the EU

It will come as no surprise that there are more Muslims than Jews in the EU. Thanks to a recent posting on the European Parliamentary Research Service Blog and a wikipedia article I now know how wide that gap is, and that because the number of identifiable (this is a very hazy area) Jews is diminishing, the gap is probably widening.

What may surprise some is the ratio: over ten to one. Nor does the UK have the highest Muslim population. We are outnumbered by France and Germany, and Cyprus tops the league in terms of percentage population at over 20%. Hungary, which is the EU nation most resistant to taking Middle East refugees, has less than 1% Muslim population, as do Poland and Czechia.

It is good to see that the EU has taken action against both Islamophobia and anti-semitism while there are signs (including this one) that political parties here are going backwards.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Shadow Treasurer speech

That was an interesting speech by John McDonnell to the Labour Conference in Liverpool today. In many ways it was a repudiation of the Blair-Brown-Mandelson attitude towards the banks and financial services industry. He promised to abolish tax avoidance - though not admitting the vehicles for tax avoidance provided by the Blair-Brown governments. There were promises to intervene in industry, including threats to renationalise some companies. So far, so socialist, as his ringing acceptance of the label in his peroration made clear.

But there were a couple of policies which an old Liberal would have endorsed. He spoke at length in favour of worker participation on company boards and of worker cooperatives (the one successful policy which the Liberal side of the Lib-Pact pact of the 1970s was able to push through). He also supported the demand for "sectoral collective bargaining". I had to look up this piece of jargon, which turned out* very similar to the wages councils (steadily dismantled by the Thatcher government and given the final blow by Cameron) which had their origin in the Liberal government trade boards established in 1909.

There was also an endorsement of small business and even independent traders. He went so far as to promise support for this sector in implementing a genuine legal minimum wage. This is a considerable break from the monopoly-loving Labour of the past (though McDonnell also promised to support BT in providing broadband).

Another refreshing aspect was the absence of attacks on Liberal Democrats - indeed, there was implicit praise for Liberal Democrats in the Lords who cooperated with Labour to halt some oppressive Tory legislation.

There was the usual backing track of attacks on Conservatives, deserved to a great extent, but the ritual does get wearing after a while. However, there were at least firm policy proposals which can be debated, rather than the woolly mess which has marked Labour economic policy in the past.

*From a helpful Canadian site:
How would unions obtain sectoral bargaining rights?
A sector would have two defining characteristics:  a geographic scope and type of work involving “similar tasks”.  So for example if this was applied in Ontario, you could have a sector such as “employees working in fast food in the City of Toronto”.  There would be questions for the labour board to sort out, such as how narrow the tasks can be divided.  Can a sector be “employees working in coffee shops” or “employees working women’s apparel”?
Once a historically underrepresented sector is identified, then any union that can obtain at least 45% support majority support at two or more employers in that sector can apply for a sectoral certification.  The union would have to win a vote at each location as well as  win a majority of all employees combined.  If the union is successful, it would obtain a sectoral certification.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

India - Pakistan still a flashpoint

One never knows how far Amit Varma's tongue extends into his cheek, but this article's reading of the relations between two Commonwealth members seems deadly serious.

Our conflict with Pakistan will not be ended by diplomacy. China supports Pakistan, America needs Pakistan for Afghanistan reasons, and all diplomatic manouvering on this subject is just theatre.

But surely he goes too far when he accuses Pakistan of acting like a madman and suggesting that India should go the same way?

If Pakistan’s generals saw Modi and his minions as unhinged reactionaries driven by bigotry, Islamophobia and a virulent nationalism, they might back off.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

Secondary education

Some Brexiteer on "Any Questions?" yesterday asserted that Liberal Democrats would get nowhere because we were obsessed with Europe. She cited Tim Farron's federal conference speech of last Tuesday. Well, in the words of Paul Simon, a man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest. The overwhelming impression I had was, after necessarily considering what the effects of Brexit would be, that Tim's major concern was with the threat to extend selective education beyond its current redoubts in England. He echoed Kirsty Williams' determination that there would be no reintroduction of the 11-plus on her watch as education minister in Wales.

(Incidentally, in a previous post I laid part of the blame for the sheep-and-goats tripartite system on the wording of the Butler Education Act 1944. I should have checked instead of relying on memory. As Nicholas Timmins points out in "The five giants", though the preceding White Paper had made clear that the tripartite system was expected, the Act merely required education according to age, ability and aptitude.)

You can judge the speeches for yourself. The text of Tim's is here and Kirsty's here.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Glamorgan - a dying fall

Just when it looked as if there would be a belated fourth win to achieve some respectability at the end of the four-day campaign, there was a clatter of wickets after lunch yesterday to present Leicester with a 26-run victory. Typically, there was one good individual score (by Will Bragg), but most others failed. It is the inconsistency in batting throughout the season which has held the county back. On the plus side, there have been some encouraging debuts by younger players and one hopes that Chris Cooke will be over his herniated disc condition by the start of the 2017 season.

Another problem which seems to have been solved is that of clearing out the lower order. No opposition at the latter end of the season has run away to a huge total after suffering early reverses, a recurrent difficulty in previous matches, and there is apparently a type of bowler for any wicket. Retention could be a problem, which probably comes down to finance. On the whole, I am cautiously optimistic.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Sewage competition

None of the discussion I have seen or heard so far about creating a competitive market for water supply touches on the complementary requirement to remove and treat sewage. Welsh Water has a good record in this area and there is a danger that competition on price could drive down standards.

Wednesday, 21 September 2016

Kolpak and Brexit

Looking at the c.v.s of some of the players involved in the current Leicester v Glamorgan match, I was reminded of the means by which (especially) South Africans were enabled to be signed to England and Wales counties. The Kolpak ruling means that any player from a country which has a trading agreement with the EU has a right to ply his trade in an EU member state, regardless of any local league rules aimed at preventing foreign domination of teams.

There were over 60 Kolpak players in English cricket in 2008. Measures were introduced then and in the next year to stem the flow, but it is not clear how far these have been effective since there is no readily available list of those overseas players who are here under Kolpak rules and those who qualify under the government's point-based system. It is probably safe to say that, if EU membership is revoked, some counties will be scrambling to move people from the former to the latter category, and that the EWCB on the other hand will be in no hurry to meet their demands for GBEs.

In my estimation, the four-day game is going to be less affected by Brexit than by the sad decline in financial support for it. What will clearly be hit is the plan for a city-region-based Indian Cricket League style twenty-over competition, which must have overseas stars in order to succeed.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Edmund Rubbra

Rubbra is one of those composers who has clearly been undervalued through most of his lifetime and since, but whose music I have found difficult to engage with, unlike near contemporaries Rodrigo, Shostakovitch, Tippett and Walton. This must partly be due to the lack of exposure, which is being rectified by Radio 3's Composer of the Week this week. (I see that the last time Rubbra was celebrated by CotW was twenty years ago, which reinforces the earlier point.)

Monday, 19 September 2016

UKIP and LD council by-election performance

A speaker at the UKIP conference last weekend claimed 31 local authority by-election gains. No timescale was mentioned, but even so this sounded like a dubious statistic. So I went to the most independent record of by-election performance that I know in order to tot up UKIP's gains and losses since 2012 when there were the last major local election campaigns:

                Gains     Losses
2012               0              0
2013              14             3
2014              10             7
2015               9             10
2016 (so far)   5              7
               -------       -------
                    38            27

So the party has made a net gain of 11 over the five years in principal (county, borough and district) authority by-elections, but their major successes came in 2013, since when their performance has steadily declined. Anticipating the next question, here is the LibDem equivalent:

                Gains     Losses
2012              14             9
2013              15           19
2014              15             8
2015               9             7
2016 (so far)  17             2
               -------       -------
                    70            45

Apart from 2013, we made net gains in every year of the last five, and the pace has increased markedly in 2016.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The centre ground

Vaughan Roderick, on Radio Wales Sunday Supplement this morning, asked Mark Williams, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats, why LibDems were not taking advantage of the centre ground which had been abandoned by Corbyn's Labour party and an increasingly reactionary Conservative party. A better question might be: what has happened to the centre ground? I recall a discussion within our local party after the Welsh Assembly elections and before the EU referendum We tried to analyse our reverses in Wales, our defeat in the UK as a whole the previous year and the nature of the debate about the EU. For me, the conclusion was that the Kingdom had taken an illiberal turn and that electors once in the centre had moved to the extremes.

There are still liberal voices in the Conservative party but they have become marginalised. The alternative to the extreme socialist Jeremy Corbyn in the Labour party is not a tolerant social democrat but a combative careerist with a consistently vicious line in invective.

I only hope that we are at the top of a pendulum swing of mood, that we will move back towards tolerance and cooperation, and that it will not take another global war to bring us to our senses.

Saturday, 17 September 2016

BBC's UKIP bias continues

Today is the first day of the Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton. But you would not know it from looking at the BBC News or Parliament schedules. (There is an honourable exception in BBC Radio Wales, where former leader Ming Campbell was interviewed about our prospects this morning, and was able to publicise our recent record of by-election wins, and the consistent fall in the Labour vote across the country.) Instead, all the proceedings of UKIP's two-day conference in Bournemouth have been or will be shown, with repeats. Here is a reminder for BBC: UKIP has just one MP (who is out of the mainstream of UKIP anyway)  while even in the aftermath of the 2015 general election Liberal Democrats have eight.

Thus there will be no coverage of our discussions on nuclear weapons today or tomorrow's on European collaborative research and the Erasmus programme, education and restoring access to justice, important topics all, not to mention Kirsty Williams' speech. There is a sop in that the last day and a half on Monday and Tuesday will be shown, but nothing will be allowed to get in the way of the BBC's regular Sunday love-in with US politics.

Four-year electrification postponement sneaked out

This is from the official Network Rail media release headed "Severn Tunnel modernisation":

Autumn 2016
We’re working to transform the Severn Tunnel. The130-year old structure will close for six weeks from 12th September – 21st October 2016 to allow us to install electrical equipment that will ultimately power the new passenger trains.
The new fleet of electric trains will mean faster, quieter, greener, more reliable journeys between Swansea and London. With reduced journey times and more seats, journeys will be more comfortable for passengers.
The railway is set to be electrified from London to Cardiff by 2019 and to Swansea by 2024.[My emphasis]

Only last December, the then Minister of Transport, Patrick Mcloughlin, asserted that the line through Neath and Port Talbot to Swansea would be electrified by 2020 or 2021. Since then, there has been no statement from government about this further delay to the programme, which under the coalition would have seen Cardiff electrified by 2017 and Swansea soon thereafter.

Friday, 16 September 2016


In the week when government ministers have lost no opportunity to praise our paralympians
the May government announces that it must make "efficiency savings" by cutting funding to disability-supported housing. While our elite athletes are supported by lottery grants and public facilities, those disabled who are not stars are expected to fend for themselves. It is symptomatic of the Conservatives "to him that hath, it shall be given" ethos, which has also inspired Mrs May's attempt to turn the clock back on secondary education in England.

Spectacular LibDem by-election win

With acknowledgements to John B Grout

I report Liberal Democrat by-election gains only when they are spectacular - and this one was. It was in a ward in north-east Derbyshire where Labour has been strong and where there has not been much Liberal Democrat activity. The swing from Labour to LD - 35.3% - is off the scale.

It puts us all in good heart for the federal conference starting tomorrow. Aberavon and Neath LDs will be represented by our vice-chairman, Cen Phillips. Unfortunately, I cannot afford to attend this year but the feedback from conference gets better every year, so I shall not feel excluded. will be active again, there is to be a daily email update and I gather that for people with those smart phone thingies that there is an "app" giving coverage of conference.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Hinkley Point C go ahead

Mrs May has lifted the pause on the construction of the new nuclear power station of untried design. Some marginal legal ownership conditions have been added to the agreement, but, as the Guardian reports:

The government is keeping a guaranteed price of £92.50 to EDF for every megawatt hour of electricity generated, despite concerns that is far higher than the market rate.

This was justified by some wonk on the radio this morning on the basis that the spot price of electricity hit £200 per MWh in Tuesday's heatwave in England (the wholesale price is currently around £30 per MWh). But surely the point of new nuclear capacity is that it provides basic routine power? Moreover, I fear that there will either be an inflation cause regarding the guaranteed price or that it will be expressed in non-sterling terms, so that we will not even be able to take advantage of the decline in sterling's value as exit from the EU approaches.

I also wonder how the decision to go ahead with a Trident replacement, whose only logical targets can be China and North Korea in support of the USA, influenced the negotiations with the Chinese.

Wednesday, 14 September 2016

It's what Wales voted for, part 10

I see that the episodes of my occasional series are now into double figures. I am grateful to Peter Black for the latest UKIP assault on civilised discourse.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

Rather like Michael Foot, Cledwyn Hughes, who was born 100 years ago today, was brought up in a strongly Liberal family but switched to Labour. Both made several attempts to be elected to parliament under their new colours and both were ultimately successful, having long parliamentary careers. On the face of it, as Labour after the war was never less than the main party of opposition while the Liberals and Liberal Democrats were never better than third-placed, it would seem to have been a far-sighted move driven by political ambition. However, it seems from a discussion between D. Ben Rees and Vaughan Roderick on last Sunday's Radio Wales political programme, that Cledwyn Hughes did not lose his liberal instincts and that he established and retained respect across party lines.

Tuesday, 13 September 2016

Wales Bill passes the Commons

Although most on the opposition benches felt that the Wales Bill was only the continuation of a process, not the end point, they were agreed that it was a vast improvement on the previous draft. Accordingly, it passed the Third Reading stage in the Commons yesterday and one does not anticipate much trouble in the Lords.

During the Second Reading debate, Labour's Nia Griffith had made a case for allowing a public sector body to bid for the Wales and Border rail franchise, as is possible in Scotland. She pointed out that there was a precedent for a not-for-profit company based in Wales serving customers in England in the form of Dŵr Cymru Welsh Water. However, the opposition amendment was defeated on a whipped vote. Several other attempts to remove reserved powers from the Westminster government also failed.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Mark Williams concluded his Third Reading speech:

The Bill has taken into account many of the concerns that were raised during the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Welsh Affairs Committee. It is a far sight better than what we had previously, and I commend the Government for listening. As the hon. Member for Newport West (Paul Flynn) has said, however, we must not be misled into believing that the Bill provides the answer to all of Wales’s governance questions, because clearly it does not. It leaves open many questions, not least the problems of jurisdiction and the growing divergence between English and Welsh law, along with the issues of devolving policing and of youth justice.

Let me repeat what I said earlier about the issue of a separate or distinct legal jurisdiction. I do not favour and never have favoured a separate one, but the current system will sooner or later require substantial reform to cope with the growing divergence of English and Welsh law. There is an inevitability about that; the Government need to be mindful of it. They are partly mindful of it, as seen through their creation of the joint working group. That is a step in the right direction, too, but I suspect that we will return to these issues in the years to come. The Bill does not go far enough, but it is a step in the right direction.

I believe that the Bill will have a positive impact on the governance of Wales. It will provide greater accountability, greater clarity and a greater say over Welsh affairs to the people of Wales. I have said this before, but there was a party political broadcast in 1951, conducted by the then deputy leader of the Liberal party, Lady Megan Lloyd George. It was a UK broadcast, but she ended up saying “Home Rule for Wales” in Welsh: “Hunanlywodraeth i Gymru”. Many people in Wales understood what that meant. Many people had the aspiration. We are not yet there. I am not going to dismiss this Bill as a missed opportunity, but there are still many opportunities to be taken advantage of if Wales is to achieve home rule in the future.

Monday, 12 September 2016

Belarus: a new East-West struggle?

It is unlike the EU's parliamentary briefings to be so politically outspoken, but this is very direct about the prospects for, and democracy in, Belarus. Because Russia, to which Belarus has hitherto been so tightly bound, has been suffering from Western sanctions the Brussels and Strasbourg wonks assert that dictator Lukashenko is turning to the West for economic salvation. Clearly the EU will have nothing to do with him, and there is no hope for him if Putin buddy Trump wins the US presidency. I sincerely hope that both Mrs Clinton and Mrs May resist his overtures also, but our history with regard to Albania, Romania and Tito's Yugoslavia is not reassuring.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Secondary education evidence

Following yesterday's posting, I was gratified to see that Kirsty Williams responded promptly and characteristically with a firm rejection on behalf of Wales and liberal democracy of Mrs May's divisive secondary education policy.

In her statement, Kirsty quotes the Sutton Trust who found that "found that less than 3% of grammar school pupils were on free school lunches, compared with 20% across the country". This is evidence, against the Conservatives' "dogma and doctrine, rather than looking at what actually works for our young people."

There is even better evidence that comprehensive secondary education has not held back bright children from low-income homes. In 2011, Swift and Boliver published the results of a rigorous study showing just that. The report was even given prominence by the Daily Mail at the time. Dr Adam Swift admitted in an interview with Lawrie Taylor on Radio 4's "Thinking Allowed" (thanks to the Open University's collaboration with the BBC the episode is still available to download) that he did expect to see some beneficial effect of grammar schools. In the event, there was a slight advantage to some people from poor backgrounds who had managed to get into grammar schools but only in the lower half of the earnings table.

It is misleading to compare grammar schools in isolation with comprehensive schools. Secondary education needs to be looked at as a whole. When you do that, you do not find the disadvantages to the comprehensive system claimed by the Conservatives. Indeed, other research shows that the best predictor for upward mobility is not the school system but parental background and ambition.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

Sir Trevor Jones

I have just found out via Liberal Democrat Voice of the death of the great Trevor Jones. I must admit that I did not know him in his prime, because I had already left Merseyside to work in the Great Wen when he and Cyril Carr took control of Liverpool City Council, and it was more than a decade before I was to join the Liberal Party. However, the regeneration strategy adopted by Liverpool CC under their leadership, against the then current rationale of razing all old buildings and throwing up high-rises on an industrial scale, heart-warmingly made the national media, as did their policy of empowering communities. His reforms in Liverpool were swept away by a combination of doctrinaire socialism in Liverpool and doctrinaire "economic liberalism" in Westminster, but his legacy lives on.

Another reason to be grateful for being a citizen of Wales

Mrs May is insisting on a return to grammar schools in England - and therefore, though this was only implied, sink schools for those who fail an intelligence test at the age of ten. She says that this policy is popular with parents. The parents she means are no doubt the ones she mixes with in the Conservative party, not those whose children will not make it into the top echelon.

It is depressing that the prime minister is continuing the strategy of revealing government policy to the media leaving her ministers to pick up the pieces in parliament. There does seem to be a schism between Mrs May and her Education Secretary Justine Greening. In a statement to the House last Thursday Ms Greening hinted that there would not necessarily be an extension of the eleven-plus exam beyond those counties which for historical reasons still have it. However, Mrs May's media presentation made clear that was just what she had in mind. Ms Greening said that the government proposals will be based on evidence and will not be driven solely by academic achievements. Academic achievement was foremost in Mrs May's mind yesterday.

Part of the evidence both need to look at is the historical record. The tripartite system (grammar, secondary technical and secondary modern) ushered in by the Education Act of 1944 was driven by budgetary and workforce constraints. Idealists in the Ministry of Education looked to a comprehensive scheme of secondary education for all, but had to recognise that the country at that time could not afford the level of staffing necessary. I do hope that Mrs May's government is not driven by similar economic considerations, aiming to save money by driving down the salaries of teachers in second- and third-tier schools.

The prime minister, with the support of Kate Hoey (Labour, semi-detached), put forward the selective system in Northern Ireland as a shining example to the rest of the UK. Mrs May also wants to increase faith schools. Since the six counties are home to the worst social divisions and job discrimination in the whole of the kingdom, I suggest that education in Northern Ireland serves as a grim warning against further selection rather than a recommendation.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Anitbiotic resistance

Journalists specialising in the field of antibiotic microbial resistance (AMR) are expecting a significant statement from the United Nations after the General Assembly of later this month. Maryn McKenna in particular has been prominent in efforts to educate the American public. She is hopeful that there will be a stimulus to international action as a result of the UN's deliberations.

As acknowledged by Ms McKenna, the UK's Conservative-LibDem coalition government commissioned a wide-ranging review of AMR in 2014. Even before then, the Department of Health and professional journals were warning against the indiscriminate prescription of antibiotics, even in the case of viral infections. It is worrying that while GPs have taken these concerns to heart, there is still popular belief in antibiotics as a magic bullet. Denied antibiotics on the NHS, ignorant people are turning to private doctors or even online sites.

But prescribing policy is not the only area of concern. There is evidence that resistance can be passed on in meat. As long ago as 1998, the EU started banning the use of antibiotics as growth promoters in the rearing of animals - incidentally, an example of the benefits of qualified majority voting in the EU. It is probable that one of the reasons for deadlock in TTIP negotiations is that the USA is more relaxed about the prophylactic use of antibiotics in farming and continues to insist on unrestricted access to European markets of American meat as a condition of TTIP. You might consider lobbying Liam Fox MB to ensure that any future trade deals independent of the EU do not commit us to importing meat from countries which allow indiscriminate use of antibiotics in agriculture.

You could also tackle this quiz:

Happy birthday, Dennis Ritchie

1941 was clearly a vintage year. Today would have been the 75th birthday of probably the least well-known but the most significant of the people I have been celebrating since May (Bob Dylan's anniversary). Dennis Ritchie was a pioneer of the Unix operating system and of the C programming language. Unix is the system of choice for minicomputers and most software development across a range of IT depends on C. Unix inspired the development of Linux, which in turn spawned the operating systems of many smartphones.

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Severn Bridge

This side Hafren it is a "Welsh landmark", but to the Bristol Evening Post it is an "icon of the West Country". I have linked to the Bristol journal's site because of its account of the history of the crossing backed up by archive photographs. The design was inspired by work in the United States but taken pioneering stages further - there is an outline here.

I was a clerical officer in Ministry of Transport HQ at the time of the opening. I remember what a big event it was, and how staff were encouraged to travel to Aust to be a part of it - but with no financial contribution from the Department, not a great example of man- (and woman-) management.

Talking of finance, I also recall how the tolls were not only expected to pay the construction cost but also build up a fund to pay for maintenance. The South Wales Evening Post is rightly cynical about the way things turned out.

This and that on Brexit

Tim Farron has laid down the party line on the terms of the UK's future relationship with the EU. I agree that there must be a second referendum at the end of the negotiating process. Even the people who voted "leave" - especially the people who voted "leave" - will want to be assured that the final deal reached by Mrs May and Mr Davis with the other 27 nations of the EU matches their expectations at the time of the June referendum. We have a democratic right to say yea or nay to it.

But I maintain that there is a greater need for a general election, preferably on a fairer election map, before serious negotiations start. The existing House of Commons has a built-in majority in favour of remaining in the EU. That is at odds with the (admittedly slim) majority expressed in the referendum. One or other is an aberration and we need to know which.

As to the negotiations, opposition speakers have made great play with the reluctance of the PM and David Davis to state on the record what their stance is. Of course it is poor strategy to be entirely open before going into treaty talks. For one thing, it gives the advantage to the other side if they are not equally as candid and for another there will inevitably be disappointment at the outcome. Mr Cameron failed in this respect on more than one occasion. It is actually clear from examination of LeaveEU's bullish statements what outcome they feel they can achieve: free access to the Single Market without making any monetary contribution to the EU and without accepting free movement of labour across the Channel. Readers may wish to speculate how likely all the other 27 are to agree to this and how soon we will get the £350m per week pumped into the NHS as a result.

Mr Davis in his Commons statement on Tuesday and his responses to questions thereto was careful to distinguish between membership of the Single Market (which he is most definitely against) and access to it which he is generally in favour of. I felt he was as open as he could be with a difficult brief and it was heartening to hear his promise that "Parliament will be regularly informed, updated and engaged".

Finally, Welsh economy minister Ken Skates has been quick to link to Brexit the decision by Ford UK to reduce future engine production targets in south Wales. Much as I would like to brandish in the face of Leavers more evidence of reduced investment by multi-nationals as a result of Brexit, I believe the truth is more complicated. Indeed, Ford themselves stated that the decision was down to market conditions. It is significant that management guaranteed that there would be no job losses as a result and would still be taking on workers, though not as many as previously projected. There was also a hint from an academic interviewed on the radio the other day that Ford may be clearing the decks for another new engine design. Ford is perceived to be trailing in the race for a really popular electric car - could Bridgend be in a competition to produce a new electric power train?

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The Divan has led the way

 - let us hope that Chineke! becomes a regular fixture at the Proms, following the lead of Saïd and Barenboim's West-Eastern Divan Orchestra and Venezuela's el Sistema.

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

Monday, 5 September 2016

Media taken in by Green Party hype

We have been here before. As the BBC News website reported, from early on the Green Party in England and Wales had one male and one female principal speaker, rather than a single leader. That changed as recently as 2008, when Caroline Lucas took charge. So rather than being "the first ever" job-share (Daily Telegraph), the party is merely reverting to an earlier principle. The Telegraph is not the only organ to take the Green media release at face value - even the journos at the BBC have short memories.

Wales to subsidise transport conglomerate and London commuters

Welsh and Scottish taxpayers, and those in the regions of England, will be angered by the government's decision to throw £20m at the difficulties faced by passengers on Southern Railway. At 3.4% of the UK's tax take, I reckon the Welsh contribution to be £680,000. This comes at a time when Go-Ahead, the parent group of the franchise-holder, has reported healthy profits.

This is not necessarily an argument for renationalising the whole system (personally I am in favour of aiming for the mixed system which seems to be viable for all parties in Switzerland) but it certainly calls for central government to be more even-handed.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

US retreating from penal privatisation

It has already been pointed out that Conservative ministers pushed ahead with directly-elected police commissioners at the same time as the last such post was being abolished in the United States. Now, according to a report in Private Eye magazine,  the US administration has seen the light over private prisons.

It quotes a verdict by the Department of Justice's inspector-general that private prisons were more dangerous places than the 85% of institutions which remained under federal control, As a result, the deputy attorney-general Sally Yates announced on 18th August that private prisons would be phased out. "She ordered the US Prisons Bureau to 'decline to renew' private prison contracts because they are not as good as state-run jails and 'do not save substantially on costs'", the PE asserts.

The article says nothing about the departments of correction of individual states, where privatisation has a more substantial foothold. However, the federal decision may well influence state policy. It should certainly make HM government pause in its rush to privatisation, in view of the evidence already available from our own private prisons cited by Private Eye.

It is also another good reason to press for devolution of prison policy to Cardiff.

Friday, 2 September 2016

Proms conductor selection too conservative

Pliable makes a good case for non-pink-skinned conductors at the BBC Promenade Concerts. An equally glaring omission is that of female conductors apart from Marin Alsop. How good Ms Alsop is was brought home to us in this season's Prom 51 which included the most moving performance of Rachmaninov's Symphonic Dances I have heard in a long time. It seems she is now established as a regular Prom conductor - and quite right too - but also that she has filled a quota in the minds of the BBC, a quota that should not exist.

The royal household has moved with the times in appointing a female Master of the Queen's Music (joining a female Poet Laureate),  appointed on merit. Recent Proms controllers or directors have ventured beyond the format established by Sir Henry Wood, embracing jazz and pop (though why has Indian classical music fallen off the agenda?), so why should their choice of conductors and soloists be so conservative?

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Greek monarchy

Today is the seventieth anniversary of a referendum in Greece which overwhelmingly called for King George II to come home and take the throne again. He was not long to enjoy his restoration, dying suddenly of a heart attack in April 1947. The monarchy was abolished again as a result of another referendum in 1973. There is more about the Greek royal family here.

I see from a wikipedia entry that the Greek monarchy was a London creation. "In May 1832, British Foreign Secretary Palmerston convened with French and Russian diplomats, and, without consultation of the Greeks, decided that Greece should be a monarchy."