Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Twin pendulums and the business cycle

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

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 I wonder whether the old model has been superseded.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

Tuesday, 29 November 2016

Protection of young footballers

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

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

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

See also

Monday, 28 November 2016

Women voting in a general election

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

Sunday, 27 November 2016

Fidel Castro

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

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

Tidal power

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

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Anti-semitism in French North Africa

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

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

Friday, 25 November 2016

A contribution to eliminating antibiotic resistance

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

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

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

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

Saint Catherine's Day

Thursday, 24 November 2016

"Advise and Consent"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

John Wallis

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

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

Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Worker directors: yet another illiberal retreat

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

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

A retreat from international law

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

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

Monday, 21 November 2016

Welsh presidential connections

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

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Credibility, child abuse and Labour politicians

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

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

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

Friday, 18 November 2016

Child abuse inquiry withdrawals

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

Thursday, 17 November 2016

Len Allchurch

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

There is more here:

Wednesday, 16 November 2016

More on Afro-Caribbeans on screen

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Harewood on Afro-Caribbean prejudice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 14 November 2016

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

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

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

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

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

The wee magic stane

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

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

Sunday, 13 November 2016

Thought for the day

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

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Journalistic cynicism

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

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

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

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

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

There is more here.

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

Friday, 11 November 2016

High definition then and now

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Military alignment

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

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

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

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Bad news for the US, rather better for the UK

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

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

Remainers should demand a new government, not a new referendum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

David Davis and the prerogative

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 7 November 2016

The lost leader

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

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

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

Sunday, 6 November 2016

This liberal Ministry of Justice amazes me

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

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

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

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

Friday, 4 November 2016

Will these people listen to themselves?

Guido Fawkes lists reactions from leaders of the various Leave EU factions to the High Court ruling that the UK parliament must have a vote before the prime minister tells the EU president that she wants to take the country out of the European Union. Words such as "betrayal", "attempt to block or delay", "out of touch with the people" and "activist judges" leap out at one. It is all very reminiscent of David Blunkett's attacks (like this one) on the judiciary when he was Labour's Home Secretary.

Her Majesty's Press have gone even further. The Guardian reproduces the front page of today's Daily Mail branding high court judges "enemies of the people".

It seems to me that the justices have done no more than affirm that while referendums may advise, parliament is sovereign and that government is bound by the will of our elected parliament. I am sure that the majority of people corresponding with me who voted "leave", stating that they wanted their country back, respect British institutions, including our parliament and our independent judiciary. My "leaver" friends are not well served by the people who drove the referendum who, it seems, do not trust the MPs who gave them the referendum in the first place nor the judges who reasserted that the UK is still a representative democracy.

One is reassured by the fact that, while David Blunkett voiced his neo-fascist feelings while holding one of the great offices of state, today's would-be dictators are only on the fringes of power. On the other hand, there are rather too many of them.

Walter Cronkite

The venerated US broadcast journalist was born 100 years ago today. There is an appreciation here.

He will be remembered by later generations from the closing verse of Bob Dylan's "Black Diamond Bay":
I was sitting home alone one night in L.A.
Watching old Cronkite on the seven o'clock news

Today is also the 60th anniversary of the Soviet forces' crushing of the anti-communist revolt in Hungary. Vladimir Putin was just over four years old at the time of the event, which must have helped in forming his attitudes.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Financial boost for Montgomery & Brecon canal confirmed

Kirsty Williams has just confirmed on Facebook that the £2.5m which she trailed last July has been committed. The work will secure and improve the future of one of the UK's most beautiful and best loved waterways.

Ward heeler

With heavy activity in Richmond Park, and the peregrinations of the ambitious Labour councillor for Bryncoch South, on my mind, I was struck by this transatlantic coinage, courtesy of Anu Garg:

ward heeler (ward HEE-luhr) noun

   A low-level political operative who solicits votes and performs chores
   for his political bosses or political machine. Also called heeler.

[From ward, a subdivision of a city for voting or administrative purposes.
Heeler, from the idea of a hanger-on following at the heels of his boss,
and also as a reference to his door-to-door canvassing for votes. The term
has negative connotations and a ward heeler is generally considered to be
an unscrupulous character.]

  "He (Pierre Trudeau) ... dispensed patronage like the best ward heeler."
   Jeffrey Simpson, et al; Pierre Elliott Trudeau; The Globe and Mail
   (Toronto, Canada); Sep 29, 2000.

  "This time around, ward heelers worked their toxic magic in a dozen
   different ways, from unduly influencing voters to manipulating the
   final count with bogus votes."
   Richard S. Dunham, et al; Sleight of Hand at the Polls; BusinessWeek
   (New York); Nov 27, 2000.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

By Jingo, we'll turn the clock back

Peter Black, commenting on UKIP's leadership campaign, highlights candidate Peter Whittle's telling a hustings that the law should be changed so that “every school has a union jack and a picture of the Queen”. (Perhaps that is slightly better than Suzanne Evans attachment to the flag of St George which Guido Fawkes, reporting on the same meeting, tells us she wants to see on every house in Emily Thornberry’s street).

This crypto-Fascism is not as alien as younger readers might think. I remember a time when classes in junior schools were faced with a backdrop behind the teacher's desk consisting of a large map of the world (Mercator projection, of course, exaggerating the size of Canada and Australia) with the British Empire's overseas possessions and dominions highlighted in pink. Later, when the empire began to be dismantled and replaced by a more equitable Commonwealth, the maps fell into disuse only to be replaced by (rather smaller) portraits of a young queen. Perhaps my recollection is coloured by the fact that I was largely educated in HM Forces' schools up to secondary age, but I recall council schools being similar.

It is very unlikely that there was a law mandating these displays, though. The education chiefs would need only to have made the maps available as part of school supplies for them to be taken up readily by naturally patriotic school administrators, who, after both damaging world wars would have seen traditional British values triumphant. Similarly in 1952 and 1953 there was a wave of enthusiasm for a second Elizabethan age which would have inspired spontaneous royalist displays.

The point I would make is that though these expressions were understandable at the time, the world and the UK's place in it have moved on. Did educators miss a trick in 1972 by not opening their children's eyes to the other European nations which we had been joined to?

We are still in the top ten of nations, but our status depends more on membership of more than one group (UN, WTO and EU etc.) than the Commonwealth. We have not so much declined as been caught up with by other nations which have raised their game. We may be overtaken by France and India in the GDP stakes, but I see the only threat to our remaining in the top ten is returning to jingoism and an unaffordable isolationist stance.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016


The apparent u-ey by the May government over an inquiry into the events at Orgreave coking plant during the NUM-led strike of the 1980s, and in particular the actions of the police both during the conflict and after when spurious criminal charges were brought, is hard to understand. After the Conservative-led coalition did the right thing by the victims of Hillsborough (which also involved the South Yorkshire Police), the logical next step was to clear the air over Orgreave. Not to do so will fuel suspicions that the already-discredited South Yorkshire police leadership did not act on their initiative alone in crossing a legal boundary in combating the strike.

I lived through those events though I had no direct experience of them. In fact, though there were some clashes in Wales, the major confrontations took place in Yorkshire and the English Midlands. I was however sitting in a café in Pontardawe when a group of men, clearly returned flying pickets, "debriefed" friends on events in England. I overheard accusations that police officers had all deliberately removed their collar numbers (required to be worn at all times by Metropolitan Police officers and by many other forces). There was also systematic vandalising (smashing with batons of headlights etc) of vehicles from out of area.

There was a ministerial statement in the House of Commons today. Home Office minister Brandon Lewis excused the department's resistance to an inquiry on the grounds that nobody died at Orgreave and that "lessons had been learned" by the police. In the face of strong accusations of systemic illegality this is a lame response. The only arguments added from the Conservative back-benches were of the "two wrongs make a right" variety. One should not doubt that there was violence on the part of some of the flying pickets. The killing of a strike-breaking taxi-driver (hundreds of miles away from Orgreave!) is also on the record. However, that does not excuse the readiness of the police at the time to "get their retaliation in first". Nor does the failure of the Blair-Brown governments to mount a serious inquiry into incidents during the miners' strike excuse succeeding governments for not doing so. The conclusion I draw is that Mr Cameron was prepared to take an objective view of the actions of previous Tory governments, while Mrs May is more resistant to any investigation which could possibly further tarnish the reputation of Margaret Thatcher.