Wednesday, 31 May 2017

EU27's negotiating directives

The 27 members of the European Council excluding the UK have authorised Brexit talks to begin and have published negotiating directives.  These are they, as taken from the official media release:

Negotiating directives and phased approach

This first set of negotiating directives is intended to guide the Commission for the first phase of the negotiations. They therefore prioritise issues that have been identified as necessary for an orderly withdrawal of the UK, including citizens' rights, the financial settlement and the situation of Ireland, as well as other matters in which there is a risk of legal uncertainty as a consequence of Brexit.
The first phase of the talks aims to provide as much clarity and legal certainty as possible and to settle the disentanglement of the UK from the EU. Once the European Council deems sufficient progress has been achieved, the negotiations will proceed to the next phase.
An agreement on a future relationship between the EU and the UK can only be concluded once the UK effectively leaves the EU and becomes a third country. However, discussions on an overall understanding of that future relationship could start during a second phase of the negotiations.
The negotiating directives may be amended and supplemented during the negotiations.

Citizens' rights

The first priority for the negotiations is to agree on guarantees to protect the rights of EU and UK citizens, and their family members, that are affected by Brexit. The EU27 insist that such guarantees should be reciprocal and based on equal treatment among EU27 citizens and compared to UK citizens. This should cover, among others, the right to permanent residence after five years of legal residence, including if this period is incomplete on the date of withdrawal but is completed afterwards.
The negotiating directives specify that workers, self-employed persons, students and other inactive persons should be covered, as well as frontier workers and family members. Guarantees should protect residence rights and free movement, as well as all the rights attached to them (such as health care). All rights should be protected for the lifetime of the persons concerned.

Financial settlement

The EU27 agree there must be a single financial settlement and the UK must honour its share of all the obligations undertaken while being a member. The UK should also fully cover the specific costs related to the withdrawal, such as the relocation of EU agencies currently based in the UK. The agreement should include a calculation of the total amount and a schedule of payments, as well as further rules and arrangements to address specific issues.

The situation of Ireland

The EU is committed to continue to support peace, stability and reconciliation on the island of Ireland. Nothing in the UK withdrawal agreement should undermine the objectives and commitments of the Good Friday Agreement. Negotiations should aim to avoid a hard border, while respecting EU law. Issues such as the transit of goods will need to be addressed.

Goods placed on the market and procedures based on EU law

The negotiating directives also cover other issues were arrangements are needed to reduce uncertainty and avoid a legal vacuum. This includes addressing what will happen with procedures based on EU law and with goods already on the market. For instance, if a product is already placed on the single market before the withdrawal, it should be ensured that it can remain in the market afterwards.
Other matters where there may be a need to reduce uncertainty or avoid a legal vacuum, such as services, will be covered in future negotiating directives.

Next steps

The Commission will agree with the UK the dates for the first negotiating sessions. The first formal meeting between the EU and the UK negotiators is likely to take place in June.


When Duke Ellington learned of the death of Billy Strayhorn (known affectionately within the band as "Swee' Pea") fifty years ago today, he did not leave his house for days. Lena Horne was so devoted to him that she declared that she would have married him if he had been straight; when she briefly came out of retirement, Strayhorn compositions featured heavily in her stage show and on the album that resulted. This article gives a measure of the man.

Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Glamorgan's first win in proper cricket this year

My Facebook view is usually peppered with posts from Glamorgan Cricket, mostly trying to sell tickets for events at the Swalec Stadium, but also giving updates on matches. However, they have been very quiet about yesterday's win. Are the Cardiff-centred management reluctant to give any publicity to St Helen's, which they would like to cut from the fixture list altogether? Thus I have to call on Sky Sports to provide a report on the dramatic events.

Congratulations to Michael Hogan for his first win as captain, to Nick Selman for rising to the occasion and to all the others who contributed to the win. Praise should also go to the Durham captain Paul Collingwood for making a very fair declaration even though it meant a personal sacrifice.

Monday, 29 May 2017

Clegg peddling nonsense?

The Tory propaganda machine has been swift to label Nick Clegg's warning about leaving the Schengen Information System as "peddling nonsense".

Say what you like about Nick Clegg (and I do believe he is an instinctual liberal), he does know something about the EU, having worked there for something over two years and been a MEP for five. So he is better qualified to speak about the institutions of the European Union than a gang who clearly believed you could leave the Union and retain all the rights of membership while sloughing off all the responsibilities.

From a background briefing from Nick Clegg's office:

  1. The second-generation Schengen Information System allows police forces to share real-time ‘alerts’ on suspects, vehicles, firearms, and other property. The system contains some 66 million reports, including information on 35,000 people wanted under a European Arrest Warrant, as well as alerts on suspected foreign fighters and missing people. It also plays an important role in counter-terrorism operations by allowing suspects under surveillance by intelligence agencies to be flagged on the system.
  2. SIS II alerts are made available to the police through the Police National Computer (PNC) and to Border Force officers at the immigration controls at our ports of entry. In the year ending 31 December 2016, a total of 19,355 people were stopped and questioned under Schedule 7 of the Terrorism Act 2000 at ports and airports in Great Britain. This is equivalent to 53 people a day. 
  3. The UK only gained access to SIS II in April 2015. Since then, it has rapidly become the second-largest user of the database. Much of the UK's access is automated: for example, suspect vehicles filmed on police Automatic Number Plate Recognition cameras are checked electronically against the database. UK police and security services queried the database over half a billion times in 2016 - equivalent to 16 checks a second.
  4. Due to the sensitive nature of the data held on SIS II, access is limited to EEA countries that abide by the rulings of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). The ECJ is the guarantee that EU citizens’ data isn’t wrongly added to the system or misused as a result. Theresa May has insisted that the UK must leave the jurisdiction of the ECJ when we leave the EU. Unless this position changes, UK authorities will see their access to the database cut off on 29th March 2019.
  5. Since the UK connected to the new system in April 2015 these alerts have been available in real time to officers on the ground via the Police National Computer. Further details of the UK’s use of SIS II are here:
  6. Statistics on the use of SIS II across the EU are here:
  7. UK authorities queried the SIS II 513,349,896 times in 2016. This is the equivalent of 1,408,658 queries a day, 58,694 queries per hour, 978 queries per minute, or 16 queries per second.
  8. These UK queries generated alerts on 28,472 persons of interest along with 113,414 vehicles and 1,768 firearms.
  9. The UK is the second biggest user of SIS II after France. Across the whole of the EU, the system was queried almost 4 billion times in 2016.
  10. Julian King, the Conservative UK EU Commissioner for the Security Union, has described SIS II as “the biggest and best EU-wide law enforcement database we’ve got.”
  11. The European Commission has recently published proposals to strengthen SIS II in the wake of the Paris attacks by combining it with EU criminal records and fingerprint databases:

Paragraph 4 is surely the key rebuttal to the Conservatives' charges.

Mrs May's Millwall strategy is working for her

The hard-core supporters of Millwall FC, who had a reputation for hooliganism beyond even that of the Chelsea Shed, used to chant: "No-one likes us, but we don't care."  Mrs May, who is keen to take us out of the EU and whose long-term aim is to abrogate the European Convention on Human Rights, has now lost the UK the friendship of Germany, the most economically successful country in Europe and probably its most democratic. Holding hands with Donald J Trump is insufficient compensation.

I am not the only one to be struck by the Millwall parallel in this strand of modern Conservatism. Former chairman of the Conservative party, the last governor of Hong Kong and ally of John Major, Chris Patten, expressed it in an interview for the New Statesman.

What of the football club? Well, having shaken off its past reputation for violence, Millwall has just struggled back into the second tier of English football.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Use of personal data

My MP before the dissolution*, Stephen Kinnock, is among many suggesting that the Conservative Party is using personal data gathered for other purposes in a targeted campaign for this year's general election. This is an offence under Data Protection legislation. Of particular interest are the details hoovered up in last year's referendum by the official Leave campaign, which according to one source should be purged this month.

* he and I were still awaiting - after a month or more - a reply from government about the cost of outside consultants at the top level, particularly in HM Treasury. This is a question I will take up again at the earliest opportunity in the new parliament.

Saturday, 27 May 2017

Two manifestos

I still await my copy of the Welsh Liberal Democrat manifesto for this year's general election, but at least I have sight of the final draft of Liberal International's 2017 manifesto. I reckon some of the more social liberal parties affiliated to LI might have some misgivings about the weight given to trade and economics towards the end, but no liberal would quibble at the first half of the document.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Promising start to the Hogan captaincy

Glamorgan had the opposition all out on the first day at St Helen's today. Taking over the captaincy has done no harm to Michael Hogan's bowling form; he finished with 5 for 49. It will be seen when Glamorgan bat tomorrow whether freedom from responsibility allows Jacques Rudolph to score as we know he can.

A major problem remains, that of the bowling second change. It does not take anything away from Paul Collingwood, who held the Durham innings together until he had a rush of blood against Andrew Salter, but Glamorgan leaked too many runs before the second new ball became due.

St Helen's needs to smarten up if the ground is to avoid the final axe, having had its fixtures whittled away over the years. The scoreboard which was on the side nearest the Patti Pavilion and which disappeared when the seating there was stripped has not been replaced, nor has the one which used to be on the other side of the pavilion. There was a coarse cricket-style telegraph near the pavilion steps, but being at ground level this was largely invisible.

Then there are the scorecards, though the fault here clearly lies with the county's travelling office. Time was, if you bought a scorecard after an interval, it would show the wickets which had fallen up to that interval. Perhaps that is too much to ask for, but at least they should get the team list right. There was at least one change for each team from that printed in the scorecard. Presumably patrons were informed at the start of play (which I had to miss through awaiting a postal delivery) but there was no further indication of the changes.

They say no total is good or bad until the other side has batted. There is an event at the Gnoll which claims attention tomorrow, but I hope that Glamorgan can put Durham under real pressure.

Manchester Arena and the House of Saud

Patrick Cockburn in the online Independent and print i spells it out. I was on the right track in pointing out the Abedi family's history as jihadist opponents of Gaddafi but the roots turn out to be in the deeply reactionary (and significantly for the Manchester Arena and Paris Bataclan atrocities, misogynistic) Islamic sect which dominates Saudi Arabia.

Jeremy Corbyn may have a point in drawing attention to the effect that invasions of predominantly Muslim countries have on the perception of UK and US governments with ordinary Muslims. However, he is wrong to link the particular suicide bombing which is at the forefront of our minds to the Iraq adventure.

It is similarly wrong of UKIP to blame Theresa May for this terrorist act. They should look to Kenneth Clarke or Michael Howard who were Home Secretaries in the period when the Salafist Abedi family was given right to remain in England.

Thursday, 25 May 2017


Football commentator and former international John Hartson had the guts to expose the details of his addiction to gambling on Radio 4's Money Box Live yesterday. He made the point that while losing thousands of pounds caused him financial difficulties, similar sums would spell disaster for a working man who earned a fraction of the income of a sporting superstar.

Only an effort by an addict him- or herself, with the aid of organisations like Gamblers Anonymous, may produce a lasting cure as has been achieved by Mr Hartson. However, it must surely be right to reduce the temptations to gamble and in particular make it less easy to gamble away large sums of money very quickly. Fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs) do just this. As a parliamentary candidate, I endorse the campaign by amusement machine operators at least to drastically cut the stakes which may be placed on FOBTs and I trust my fellow-candidates have taken the same stance.

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

Roots of Manchester atrocity may lie in Libya

There has been speculation that the Manchester Arena bomber was radicalised as a result of the Iraq invasion. However, as details of his family background are filled out, it is clear that little radicalisation or even training in the use of armaments were needed and that the roots of his action may lie earlier, in Libya. (Incidentally, the UK police and security forces are seething at the release to the US press by their US counterparts of intelligence which they wanted to keep confidential for the time being.)

The Home Office must have known when they admitted the Abedis to England in 1993 of the family's radical Islamist leanings. Presumably their reasoning was that "my enemy's enemy is my friend", the same reasoning that led the USA to arm Osama bin Laden and his followers against the Russians in Afghanistan. If so, it has rebounded on us. The Home Office's values were skewed then (and it was illiberal under both Ken Clarke and Michael Howard in the early 90s) and continue to be so. People of violence are given leave to stay, while those suffering persecution because of their sexuality or religion are denied asylum.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Manchester Arena suicide bombing

I had turned on the BBC News Channel at 11 o'clock last night. News was already coming through of a loud bang at the end of Ariana Grande's concert in the Manchester Arena. Mobile phone footage from inside the auditorium shown by the BBC did not identify the source or nature of the explosion. There appeared to be no material damage. It was natural to assume that it had any one of a dozen causes. In view of the BBC's tendency over recent years to follow the popular press in sensationalising events and the reports becoming repetitive, I turned off the TV and switched to clearing up outstanding matters on the Internet. Thus my earlier posting may seem insensitive. I can only plead ignorance.

At 3:10 something woke me up. Checking on the TV news again, the full horror was brought home to me. Memories of Arndale were aroused - on that occasion, nobody was killed. Last night, though the physical destruction was less, the personal desolation was much worse. I believe the timing was deliberate, twenty-one years after Arndale, and probably advanced three weeks because of the snap election and taking advantage of a concert attracting a young audience making the atrocity more appalling. I deeply sympathise with the families and friends of those killed and seriously injured last night. They would have included not only young people themselves but also parents waiting in the foyer to pick up their children. My thoughts also go out to the performer herself, not much older than most of her audience, who must be affected.

Then the reactions on Facebook started coming in as friends woke up to the appalling news. Public political campaigning has by common consent been suspended, and no doubt many concerts and other public events. It is important, though, that this cessation out of respect is only temporary, or the terrorist will have won.

Thoughts of South Wales Police will turn to extra security for the Champions League final on 3rd June. Up to now, Cardiff has been regarded as a happy and welcoming venue for sporting finals, with unobtrusive policing. Regrettably, with the new terrorist tactic of attacking people outside a popular venue after an event, the security net will have to be thrown wider and probably inconvenience people not involved in the sport at all. I trust that people will understand and support the police.

I wrote that political campaigning has been suspended. That is not completely true. One popular newspaper, sinking below even the level of previous editors Kelvin Mackenzie and Piers Morgan, has sought to blame Jeremy Corbyn for causing last night's bombing by being soft on terrorism. All political leaders should condemn this gutter journalism.

It's not Mrs May's uey which worries me, it's what she has stuck to

Mrs May has grabbed the headlines by merely suggesting that her next government would look at the possibility of keeping the cap on the cost of social care. However, what interested me was what she had to say about the future relation between England and Wales, seeing as how she was speaking in Wrexham and launching the Welsh Conservatives version of her manifesto. The answer was: not very much. The main manifesto says:

We are a United Kingdom, one nation made of four – the most successful political union in modern history. Its very existence recognises the value of unity – England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales achieve less as two, three, or four, than as the United Kingdom together. This unity between our nations and peoples gives us the strength to change things for the better, for everyone, with a scale of ambition we simply could not possess alone.


The United Kingdom Government has in the past tended to ‘devolve and forget’. This Conservative government will put that right. We want the UK Government to be a force for good across the whole country. So we will be an active government, in every part of the UK. We will work closely with the Northern Ireland Executive, the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the new devolved authorities in England, for the benefit of all our people – but that will not be the limit of our actions in the four nations. We are ambitious for everyone in Britain and will leave no-one behind in our efforts to spread opportunity and prosperity throughout the United Kingdom.

which suggests more interference than most previous central governments have indulged in.

But the most worrying aspect of the May manifesto is the indication that she is still determined not only to repeal the Human Rights Act but to take us out of the European Convention on Human Rights altogether. The only concession she makes is that it will not happen in the next parliament.

We will not bring the European Union’s Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law. We will not repeal or replace the Human Rights Act while the process of Brexit is underway but we will consider our human rights legal framework when the process of leaving the EU concludes. We will remain signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights for the duration of the next parliament.

Monday, 22 May 2017

Welsh looked-after children fostered out of area

A BBC investigation has found that 131 children from Wales are currently in care placements outside the country. There is a helpful map on the BBC's web pages. One should also take into account the number of children placed away from their home area within Wales.

Jennie Welham, from Action for Children, pointed out that sometimes the placements were for good reasons if, for example, the child would be living with relatives, which she said was "preferable for identity purposes".

However, "As a child, if you're placed out of an area, out of Wales in particular, away from your family, your community, your school, your friends, activities you might have been doing, it's a big deal. Children find themselves in a strange environment, a different culture, so it's not only that you might lose your home, you lose everything that goes with it."

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Some Swans predictions came true

I was right to predict Swansea City's survival (though I had their finishing position wrong, thanks to the successive glitches against Middlesbrough and Tottenham). Paul Clement did prove to be the right man for the job. Llorente, Gylfi Sigurdsson and Mawson fulfilled expectations.

Now the task is to plot the advance of the club back to Europa Cup qualifying at least. Part of the solution must lie in developing the players from the successful under-23 side. It cannot be a coincidence that the side which came up from the championship included so many Welsh-qualified players and players that the club had developed. Certainly, some positions can be strengthened only by dipping into the transfer pool but not to the extent that they destroy the esprit de corps which was almost lost in the 2016-17 season.

Saturday, 20 May 2017

Labour and digital freedom

There has quite rightly been criticism in Neath of the threat to our digital freedom foreshadowed by the Conservative manifesto. In the interests of fairness, it is necessary to point out that the Blair-Brown governments led the way with ID cards (which the coalition put a stop to) and the Digital Economy Act which was pushed through in Labour's last few days in government. Liberal Democrats vigorously opposed the Bill, as we have consistently opposed all abridgements of personal freedom, and were supported by 23 Labour rebels and just a few Conservatives, David Davis (Haltemprice and Howden) to the fore, plus Adam Price of Plaid Cymru.

The Labour rebel roster represents all wings of the party. It is unlikely that all of them have ever been in the same lobby together, before or since:

Abbott, Ms Diane (Lab); Burgon, Colin (Lab); Challen, Colin (Lab); Corbyn, Jeremy (Lab); Davies, Dai; Dismore, Mr. Andrew (Lab); Drew, Mr. David (Lab); Gerrard, Mr. Neil (Lab); Grogan, Mr. John (Lab); Hoey, Kate (Lab); Howarth, rh Mr. George; Jones, Lynne (Lab); Joyce, Eric (Lab); Kilfoyle, Mr. Peter (Lab); Lazarowicz, Mark (Lab); Love, Mr. Andrew (Lab); Marshall-Andrews, Mr. Robert (Lab); Mitchell, Mr. Austin (Lab); Palmer, Dr. Nick (Lab); Reed, Mr. Andy (Lab); Simpson, Alan (Lab); Todd, Mr. Mark (Lab); Truswell, Mr. Paul (Lab); Watson, Mr. Tom (Lab).

Sadly, the Corbyn-led "opposition" has shown less spine in standing up to the May administration since the EU referendum.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Conservatives would drop third hasp of pensions lock

I have written in the past that 2.5% was too high as the fall-back in the pensions triple-lock, but I did not advocate doing away with it altogether, as Mrs May threatens to do. Instead, I proposed a figure more in line with our long-term growth rate.

However, I am informed by a party colleague more au fait with these things that the UK state pension still lags behind the EU average and that the 2.5% would take us towards that. On the other hand, the prices index component of the lock looks like predominating over the period of the next parliament as the effects of the reduced value of sterling continue to feed through. So perhaps a one-off increase to achieve parity is called for.

Australia has troubles with defence procurement, too

An Australian warship has been dry-docked while its propulsion system is sorted out, while the sister ship is undergoing further sea trials.

I note that the ships
were built by Spanish firm Navantia using a propulsion system made by German firm Siemens. British firm BAE Systems integrated the ship's systems.

Thursday, 18 May 2017

Fake news, fake quotes and now fake images

Fake news, lies or half-truths given credibility by appearing in a respected medium has been with us for centuries, going back at least as far as the Jewish blood libel. It has increased in danger in this century as it has taken in reputed journals. The Web allows it to spread world-wide, as it does with made-up quotes. I have recently seen debunked an extract from a play ascribed to Aneurin Bevan and cobbled-together passages from Winston Churchill made to suggest a view which was completely opposite to that of the great man.

Stalin had an image of Trotsky air-brushed out of a group photograph of the early Soviet leadership. That would have taken an hour or more of painstaking work in a photographic workshop. Now, thanks to computer technology, very little effort is required to produce convincing synthetic full-colour images and equally convincing sound-tracks, as Discover magazine reports:

Though audiences have become more attuned to the little things that give away a digitally manipulated image — suspiciously curved lines, missing shadows and odd halos — we’re approaching a day when editing technology may become too sophisticated for human eyes to detect. What’s more, it’s not just images either — audio and video editing software, some backed by artificial intelligence, are getting good enough to surreptitiously rewrite the mediums we rely on for accurate information.

The most crucial aspect of all of this is that it’s getting easier. Sure, Photoshop pros have been able to create convincing fakes for years, and special effects studios can bring lightsabers and transformers to life, but computer algorithms are beginning to shoulder more and more of the load, drastically reducing the skills necessary to pull such deceptions off.

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Bread-and-butter issues

It has been clear for some time that people in Wales are far more concerned about issues in the general election that affect them immediately rather than the longer-term effects of leaving the EU. That also came out in a series of interviews Michael Crick did recently for Channel 4 News in a northern English working-class constituency which Mrs May is targeting. Nobody whom Crick spoke to spontaneously raised the subject of Brexit.

Now it seems that the subject has slipped down the agenda of those arch-Remainers in Greater London. In this piece by Jonathan Calder, Vince Cable

suggests that Brexit is no longer the main concern of voters as they focus more on bread-and-butter issues like health and education.

As to the main subject of Jonathan Calder's posting, there may well be a new party after the general election, but unless it takes more than one "big beast" from established parties together with most of the thousands who joined the Liberal Democrats its long-term future will be as a niche organisation like the Women's Equality Party or UKIP.

Victimhood and other PPB ploys

Vaughan Roderick does not give much for the Nationalists' chances in the general election. The masochistic party political TV broadcast I caught will not help. The terms "playing the martyr" and "Romans in Britain" came to mind.

I have, more by luck than judgment, missed most of the PPBs so far. I gather that the main Liberal Democrat one has been repeated so many times that it sends people to sleep, and that the Welsh party has not had enough shekels to produce its own. So I am glad I have missed that. The UKIP one on Channel 4 caught me unaware before I could find the remote control. It featured lots of hands with leaflets going through doors. They cannot have been real doors, because there was not a set of dog's teeth in sight. Or is the message that dangerous dogs are on UKIP's side?

Tuesday, 16 May 2017


It looks as if the Lib Dem manifesto is to be released some time tomorrow. There will be few surprises, because the main points have been extensively trailed (see and the local party web-site). Apart from a welcome boost to health and policing, the emphasis is on the future and youth.

That is a contrast with the Labour manifesto whose USP is a return to 1964, though we are spared a commitment to renationalise steel. (There is, however, an intriguing suggestion that a Corbyn government would adopt a land value tax, an old Liberal policy.) Some people would welcome natural monopolies being taken back into public ownership, but Messrs. Corbyn and McDonnell have almost certainly underestimated the cost of doing so and overestimated the take from their tax proposals.

Monday, 15 May 2017

Workers' rights

Any pronouncement by Mrs May including the word "rights" has to be screened carefully. Her assertion that her proposals for unpaid leave for carers and a nebulous promise to protect people in the "gig economy" represent the "greatest expansion of workers' rights" in the Conservatives' history is demonstrably false when set against Disraeli's record. Admittedly, the Conservatives did little since. In the twentieth century, advances were made only by Liberal and Labour governments against Conservative opposition.

As Sky News reports, Vince Cable, the Liberal Democrat shadow chancellor, was scathing.

"The Conservatives tried to ban workers from striking and were blocked by the Liberal Democrats in government," said the former business secretary, who clashed with No.10 over workers' rights in the coalition years.

"It's clear they aren't the party of workers' rights and that you can't trust them to care about you and your family."

One measure that Vince could not prevent was the hike in employment tribunal fees which effectively barred all but the comfortably-off and TU-backed from appealing against being sacked unjustifiably. Earlier this year, a review launched by the Conservative government reported. It recommended only some tinkering around the edges.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

I welcome Liberal Democrat commitment to fair pay for public servants refers.

Restoring the uprating of public sector pay in line with inflation is long overdue. (It should be recalled that if David Cameron and George Osborne had had their way, there would have been no pay rises for nurses etc. at all. It was only pressure from their Liberal Democrat coalition partners which forced the concession of 1% pay rises.)

Apart from the inherent justice of the policy, there will be practical benefits. It should improve morale. It might keep more directly-employed nurses in the service, reducing the need to pay over-the-odds to agencies for temps.

It might even encourage the Labour-run Welsh Assembly government to level up pay for junior nurses in the principality. I was shocked to discover, that for all Carwyn Jones' criticism of regional pay, junior nurses in Wales are paid less than in England (in Scotland, they are paid more.) The Royal College of Nurses pay scale tables are here.

Financial Transaction Tax

It does not help that the media continue to describe all versions of FTT as "a Robin Hood tax", but I am sorry that Vince Cable has dismissed FTT out of hand:

Labour's economic policy is less Robin Hood than Mickey Mouse. It has already put our Financial Services sector and advanced manufacturing industry at risk by backing Theresa May’s extreme plans to leave the single market and customs union. Jeremy Corbyn ordered his MPs to vote in favour of Article 50 despite the government making no concessions to them whatsoever. Labour has waved the white flag on Brexit, voting alongside UKIP and the Conservatives and giving Theresa May a blank cheque. Unlike Labour, we would give the British people a vote on the final deal. People should have hope and vote Liberal Democrat to change Britain's future.

After all, FTT was originally proposed by that great liberal thinker, John Maynard Keynes. It need not be set at such a level as to drive financial institutions out of the City of London, but if its net was spread to include a wide range of transactions it could make a useful contribution to the budget and, because of automation, need little manpower to maintain.

Levelling up

For the first time in ages, Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats have two blokes as candidates for the general election. It has been a matter of pride for me as secretary that the local party has almost always chosen a gender-balanced ticket. However, the voters of Coedffranc West spoiled the picture by choosing Helen Clarke as their councillor for 2017-21. One can understand Helen's withdrawal as our parliamentary candidate-in-place in those circumstances, especially with a young family. In the rush to find approved candidates to fight Mrs May's snap election, balance went out of the window.

There is hope elsewhere. As I posted earlier, more of our target seats in England and Wales are being contested by women than in previous years. For those of you whose priority is to get more Liberal Democrat women into parliament, there is a helpful map showing you where to go.

Saturday, 13 May 2017

The missing Dylan Thomas script

The story that the Islamic Republic of Iran could be sitting on a Dylan Thomas film script is quite plausible. The Evening Post article refers to the "unreliable" poet, but the evidence is that given a deadline and no distractions (and there was little opportunity for getting smashed in Abadan), Thomas would come up with the goods. Documentary screen-writing was after all how he made a living in the war years, and the Central Office of Information was unlikely to employ regularly someone who could not deliver on time. One recalls also John Arlott's testimony that, for this Overseas Service poetry reading programme, Thomas was never drunk, always on time and well-prepared. However, if the script does emerge, it could disappoint. Judging by the COI work I have heard, the Anglo-Iranian documentary is likely to be rather conventional and uninspired, not much better than hack-work.

If anyone at that time was tearing his hair out over Thomas defaulting, it would be Douglas Cleverdon, the BBC producer who had taken on the Under Milk Wood project. The play for voices had been commissioned during the war, but it was Cleverdon who cajoled, bribed and bullied Thomas into completing it. The Iranian commission interrupted this process.

The fact that Cleverdon is barely mentioned is the only quibble I have with the permanent exhibition in the Dylan Thomas Centre, which I hope the article encourages people to visit. (Thomas was also an occasional panellist on "One Minute, Please", the forerunner of "Just a Minute", but it is unlikely that any recordings of this survive.) There is much material, particularly from his early years, which is new - to me, at least.

Friday, 12 May 2017

Political development

At the request of The Powers That Be in the party, I have contributed to a fairly detailed c.v. on the local party web-site. Looking at it again, I realise that it implies a uniform progression from Liberal to Liberal Democrat politics. The truth is a little more complicated.

Before I went to work in London and joined a trade union, my attitudes were largely those of the Conservative party of Butler (who had introduced the progressive Education Act 1944 under the all-party wartime coalition) and Macmillan who accepted the reforms of the post-war Attlee government, but felt that the nationalisation of commercial enterprises was wrong. Membership of the CSCA opened my eyes to some of the faults of the Establishment. I was temporarily seduced by Harold Wilson's espousal of technology, until he appointed TU dinosaur Frank Cousins to the relevant ministry. It was at that point, and assisted by the Liberal revival of the time, that I realised I was most in tune with the Liberal party, though it was not to be until the 1980s that I made the final commitment. 

Simpol solutions

All the identified candidates in the general election will have received an email from this organisation, whose aims are to inspire citizens around the world "to use their votes in a powerful new way to encourage governments to cooperate to solve global problems - problems like global warming, financial market regulation, environmental destruction, war, and social injustice. Cooperation among governments is essential because these problems cross national boundaries, and because competition to attract investment and jobs means that any government that moved first would make its economy uncompetitive, leading to inflation, unemployment, or even economic collapse. To solve global problems, governments must act together. If all governments act together, simultaneously, everyone wins. But while they fail to cooperate, it's the markets that continue to run politics - not we, the people."

It seems to me that this is just what the EU achieves for its member nations.

Thursday, 11 May 2017

Tidal lagoon (continued)

There are those who feel I should have objected to Tim Farron's commitment to the Swansea tidal power scheme when he announced it in Cardiff this morning, in view of my earlier posting about the business side of the scheme. On the contrary, I thoroughly welcome his endorsement of the principle of tidal power. Even if this particular firm is found wanting - and so far we have only Private Eye publicly casting doubts - planning consents are in place so that one potential cause of major delay to the project has been eliminated.

Wednesday, 10 May 2017

No criminal blame attaches to Conservative candidates

As has always been obvious from the heading, and must have been clear from many posts since it started, this is not an official Liberal Democrat blog. It should be emphasised again that these are my own personal views and not necessarily those of the party.

First of all, may I state that I have no quarrel with the CPS decision not to prosecute any of the candidates in the 2015 election expenses scandal. Indeed, I always was doubtful that criminal charges would succeed (while harbouring the secret hope that at least one of the participants had made a false step!). It is clear that the twenty-odd Conservative candidates investigated by the police, including three Welshmen subsequently elected, were unwitting stooges of Conservative Central Office (CCO) and the mastermind of the 2015 blue battle.

(I am told that there is currently circulating in the Swansea area an "independent magazine" which just happens to boost every Labour policy applying to the city. One imagines that Labour candidates will plead ignorance and omit their share of the benefit from their election expenses, buoyed by the CPS decision.)

Let us be clear. Election offences were committed in 2015. The Electoral Commission (EC) found the Conservative Party in breach of electoral rules and fined the Conservatives what the EC themselves described as a derisory amount, £70,000, the maximum the law currently allows. No doubt the official CCO media release today will imply that the party is guilt-free, but I hope the media will not be blinded.

There was other national campaigning by the Conservative Party which was ruled admissible by the EC, but which one might think occupied a grey area. Before the general election, individual voters in target seats were sent letters from party headquarters tailored to meet their own concerns, picked up during canvassing. To my mind, a stereotyped letter praising the party and distributed to all and sundry is all very well, but when a letter listing detailed policies is individualised it crosses a boundary in my opinion, especially if it emphasises policies which are at variance with the views of the sitting MP - e.g., a pro-Trident statement in a constituency where the MP was known to be anti-renewal.

There is probably little that can be done to stop clever people manipulating the local/national rules. However, where offences are committed, the fines levied should be a real deterrent, commensurate with the benefits the perpetrator expects to receive. Most of all, there should be a sensible cap on national electoral spending. It is wrong for parties to buy elections.

[Later] The Evening Post relays a story in the socialist-leaning Canary that excess electoral expenditure was incurred by the Conservatives in Gower in 2015. I believe the Post gives the Canary more credence than I would, but we shall see.

Swansea barrage doubts

It may not be innate conservatism, but also doubts about the business plan which have caused delay in government approval for the Tidal Lagoon. A Private Eye regular correspondent casts a beady eye on the prime mover's business record.

Tuesday, 9 May 2017

Theresa May has a long record of chipping away at human rights

I never thought I would endorse an Owen Jones article, but his summary of Mrs May's attitude to equal rights deserves wide distribution:

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Monday, 8 May 2017

There was another mainland European election yesterday

Liberals here are justifiably breathing a sigh of relief at the defeat of Marine le Pen by Emmanuel Macron in yesterday's second round in the French presidential election. Le Pen's 35% vote share must give cause for concern, though.

Macron is described as a liberal centrist. That description might also be applied to the Free Democrats in Germany. They saw their vote share increase in the Schleswig-Holstein state elections yesterday, but the headline news was that Angela Merkel's CDU took seats from the socialist SPD, who had previously been the senior partners in the ruling coalition, and that the reactionary AfD gained a foothold.

Next week's North Rhine-Westphalia elections, which will see results from the major industrial belt, will be interesting.


Here is a collection of my immediate thoughts in response to the volleys of political items which have been discharged recently. Going backwards from the latest:

One reads between the lines of pronouncements by political leaders. The pledge not to raise taxes made by John McDonnell carefully does not rule out milking employers' National Insurance Contributions nor increasing 0% and 5% VAT rates, such as that which applies to home energy bills.

(Incidentally, the refusal by Mrs May to guarantee the triple lock on pensions may be no more than a tease, and we may well see it included in the Conservative manifesto. After all, the Conservatives have been claiming credit for this LibDem initiative for ages. Tim Farron has done well in early confirming that we will stick with the policy, so that whatever Mrs May does will look like playing catch-up.)

The discussion on Sunday Supplement about Liberal Democrat performance in the recent local government elections missed one important factor: money. The Conservatives are notably well-heeled, Labour has lots of TU money and Plaid Cymru has devoted followers who are prepared to commit a large share of their income to the cause. It showed in the amount and quality of the literature which those parties put out. We are poor cousins by comparison.

I do agree with the consensus on the Radio Wales programme that the party is in danger of painting itself into a corner with our resistance to what Liam Fox calls "a clean break" with mainland Europe. Tim Farron's pro-EU stance has done wonders for the party's coffers in attracting new members. History suggests that enough will stay to provide the MPs and councillors of the future, as in the period leading up to 2006 when we reached our peak representation in Westminster. The Remain platform will also be popular in London and other metropolitan centres. However, we do need to stress our social policies. These are very different from the Conservatives', and the official "opposition" has not been vigorous in contesting Mrs May's agenda.

I am glad to see that recent party announcements, culminating in the welcome pledge to put 1p on income tax to restore the NHS and social services, have largely ignored Brexit. This is important for the nation of Wales and certain regions of England, where there is suspicion or resentment of the EU, but who will suffer hugely if the Conservative social cuts and privatisation of public services continue. Whether the media will play ball is another matter. All the major media have an interest in painting Liberal Democrats as a single-issue party, no matter how many policy statements on domestic issues made by Tim and our spokespeople.

A last thought on that general election timing. Clearly, the major reason for Mrs May's sudden change of mind was the imminence of dozens of investigations into the alleged election campaign overspend by dozens of Conservative MPs, investigations which will presumably be put on the back-burner now. However, another factor may have been the probable Liberal Democrat gain in a by-election in Manchester Gorton, a by-election which will not now take place. Seeing as how most marginal Conservative seats are those in which LibDems are the challengers, Mrs May and her strategic advisers did not want Liberal Democrats seen to be building momentum with a second by-election win in the parliament.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Icon theft in advertising is nothing new

Private Eye magazine has a regular feature on the doings of advertising agencies. It frequently reports on agencies ripping off prize-winning art or the work of other agencies. However, this is nothing new. The striking image of two beauties linking the two American continents, used by Liverpool shipping line Lamport & Holt, was lifted from the promotional brochure for the 1912 Pan-American Exposition. The US National Geographic reports on the research of P.J. Mode, a retired lawyer who collects maps that were specifically designed to persuade people in one way or another.

When the original logo was created, the artist, Raphael Beck, was selected from among 400 applicants, and a beauty contest was held to find two women to serve as models. “This logo was plastered everywhere, on things from the Pan-American Exposition,” Mode says. “And 10 years later, this steamship company, the Lamport & Holt Line, stole the image and put it on their advertising.”

The whole National Geographic article, on the power of maps as a tool of persuasion, is fascinating.

Saturday, 6 May 2017

Old, old story

No automatic alt text available.

Once again, Liberal Democrat vote share does not translate into actual seats. In this case, it is the outcome of the local elections in Great Britain. We increased our vote share over our performance in 2015 yet, except in Scotland*, lost councillors. I understand our actual percentage was well in excess of what opinion research was predicting.

It took five years for our last peak in membership to result in a record-breaking advance at Westminster in the 1997 general election. One hopes not to have to wait so long this time, nor that the UK will be an ungovernable wreck when it happens.

*where proportional representation is in force

Friday, 5 May 2017

Further civilising strides by Canada's ruling Liberals

Liberal Democrat International reports:

Legalising marijuana will make Canadians safer, insists PM Trudeau
Thursday 4 May 2017 17:05
As the Canadian government moves to legalise marijuana, the leader of the Liberal Party of Canada (LPC – LI full member) and Prime Minster, Justin Trudeau, has given a candid interview setting out how the shift in drug policy might bring about a fundamental change in Canadian society. Addressing the Canadian public’s questions and concerns regarding his plan to legalise production, distribution, and use of recreational marijuana, the Liberal prime minister said: “Convincing me to move towards legalisation was very much done on a policy basis; the fact that the current approach is not working, it’s hurting Canadians, it’s funding criminals and we have to make a change in our policy.”

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Recognising that adults in Canada are making the choice to are making the choice to use marijuana, Mr Trudeau added that “criminal organisations are making billions of dollars a year on that trade means that somewhere our system is failing… to keep Canadian safe.”
Referring to the counter-arguments to his policy in countries such as the United States of America, Justin Trudeau concluded “we see states like Colorado move forward with a commercial mind-set…  whereas we are approaching it purely from a health and safety standpoint.“

The full interview with Prime Minister Trudeau can be watched here.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The polls are about to open

Those of you who have not already voted by post in the 2017 local council elections have between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. to cast your ballots. This election has more direct effect on your local services than the other little affair in June which is receiving so much attention by the media.

Good luck to my fellow-candidates, Cen Phillips (Aberavon), Sheila Kingston-Jones (Cadoxton), Charley Cross (Cimla), Keith Davies (Coedffranc North), Helen Ceri Clarke (Coedffranc West) and Taz Taylor (Sandfields). Thanks to family and friends who have done so much for me in Bryncoch South.

Best wishes also to Liberal Democrats who are standing throughout Wales and in some contests in England.

Posting may be scant today

It's been a long night.

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

Why I am standing for Bryncoch South tomorrow

I have put up a mini-manifesto on my purely locally-political site. What caused me to throw my hat into the council ring again in this particular ward was anger that a young Labourite had clearly been using Bryncoch South as merely a rung on a ladder of political ambition, and that he had been drawing a councillor salary for the last couple of years on false pretences. To find out more, read the Neath Ferret, or, better still, its most regular contributor, Stan. Search on his web site - - for "invisible man".

There are other things I want to do if I am elected, like improving cycleways and footpaths in the county borough - easy enough on the old Neath RDC side, where community councils like Blaenhonddan and Dyffryn Clydach are doing a good job, but tricky for the rest. We also need an integrated bus time display system, like Cardiff's. The new indicator boards which have gone up in Victoria Gardens (and, by the way, when is a new bus station with decent access for the disabled to be set up nearer the rail station?) are helpful, but do not take account of late-running buses or cancellations. Nor do they help people waiting in the shiny new bus shelters outside the town centre. They also need maintenance, or they will go the way of the Port Talbot indicator of the 1990s. As one Plaid Cymru activist complained to me the other day, the trouble is that Labour councillors drive everywhere.

We also need to investigate the effectiveness of social services since so much was outsourced, and also how the county borough is fulfilling its duty to looked-after children. I am sure that at least two Liberal Democrat councillors will be elected tomorrow and a further three have excellent chances. I hope that I can be part of a largest-ever LibDem representation on the council.

Tuesday, 2 May 2017

Chinese influence in Afghanistan

One has to be worried that thirty Afghani journalists have undertaken a course in "media management" in Beijing.

Strong and stable leadership

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Strong leadership is not an end in itself. One wants to know where a putative leader intends to take us. The phrase "strong and stable leadership" is redolent of twentieth-century dictators, but surprisingly web searches turned up only more recent examples. There were hundreds of Mrs May references, of course, but also the following:

Australian Senator Pauline Hanson, whom even Paul Nuttall might reject as too extreme, praised Vladimir Putin's "strong" leadership;

"Strong and stable" is a favourite phrase of Hungary's Viktor Orbán. Typical is this extract from an address of last year, which (coincidentally?) also foreshadowed another of Mrs May's favourite themes:  “we need alignment of interests, reconciliation and cooperation. To this end, we need a large, strong and stable people’s party”; and

Also in Hungary, the leader of the nationalist and “radically patriotic Christian” Jobbik party Gábor Vona said: “The West is uncomfortable with the idea that Turkey will remain strong as long as Erdoğan is its leader. Turkey has a strong and stable government.”

So Conservatives who parrot the "strong and stable" message are aligning themselves with those who might be described as "elected dictators". Is this the future they see for the UK?

Monday, 1 May 2017

Violent protests against foreign fat cats

It is amazing how history repeats itself. Resentment against people from mainland Europe making money in English towns was alive and well five hundred years ago, on "Evil May Day".

As in centuries before, May Day was a holiday in the Tudor calendar under the reign of King Henry VIII. But in the weeks leading up to May in 1517, tension was rising in the City against the many foreigners who had made London their home, some becoming very wealthy.