Friday, 30 June 2017


From Robert Heckendorn's "On this day":

Jun 30 1817, Sir Joseph Hooker, botanist and zoologist, is born in Suffolk
Jun 30 1917, Lena Horne, entertainer, is born

Two people who made the world a better place.

Thursday, 29 June 2017

Tower block fires: some dates

1989 Alcoa inaugurates the Reynobond brand Aluminum Composite Material.
    It is recommended for wall cladding among other uses. The company produces three grades of the material with increasing degrees of fire-resistance.

1996 Kensington and Chelsea council devolves control of its social residential properties to a tenant management organisation (TMO). Although ultimate responsibility remains with the council and two councillors are at all times on the TMO board, it is claimed that the organisation will be "tenant-led"

1999: a fire started on the fifth floor of Garnock Court, a 14-storey residential block at Irvine in            Ayrshire. One person dies. The building had been refurbished with new uPVC windows and                polyester sheet cladding.

2000 a parliamentary inquiry into the Garnock Court fire reports. It does not condemn retro-fitting of wall cladding, but recommends improved fire testing procedures

2003 The Building (Scotland) Act passed.

2004 Building (Scotland) Regulations made under the 2003 Act which come into force on 1 May 2005. They contain the mandatory regulation: "Every building must be designed and constructed in such a way that in the event of an outbreak of fire within the building, or from an external source, the spread of fire on the external walls of the building is inhibited." There is no corresponding action in Westminster.

2006 Fire safety law in England changes in October 2006 with the introduction of the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005.
2006 Audit Commission team gives Kensington & Chelsea TMO a three-star rating. Leader of  AC team later joins the TMO and eventually becomes its deputy chief executive

2007; and
2008: tenant members of the Kensington & Chelsea TMO call unsuccessfully for extraordinary meetings to discuss fears over safety, financial malpractice and maintenance.

2009 A fire rages through Lakanal House, a 14-storey block built in 1958 in Camberwell, south-east London. Six people were killed, among them two children and a baby, when a fire caused by a faulty television in a ninth-floor home guts the building. The council is investigated over possible corporate manslaughter charges, but eventually is fined £570,000 under fire safety laws. No further action is taken.

2010 Tenants Services Agency abolished  by coalition government with a view to cutting costs while giving increased power to tenants of social housing.

2013 Grenfell Action Group starts raising fire safety fears, with particular regard to emergency service access to the flats tower.
In July a power surge in the tower kills a large number of electrical appliances. The TMO does not respond to concerns.

2014 GAG asserts that Grenfell Tower is a fire trap.

2015 Welsh government mandates sprinklers in new builds and change of use of houses and flats, care homes, rooms for residential purposes (other than in a hotel, hospital, prison or short stay leisure hostel), registered group homes and sheltered housing, as from the following January. There is no corresponding action in Westminster and builders protest at needless extra cost.

2016 Alcoa changes its trading name to Arconic
2016 Conservative Business Secretary unveils measures that will help deliver the government’s commitment to cut a further £10 billion of red tape.


There is more at and

Wednesday, 28 June 2017

Google misuses market dominance

Do you automatically think if you want to produce an online street map? I suggest that most people (including myself hitherto!) simply type in a postcode or street name to their browser and are automatically directed to Google maps. For that reason, Streetmap.EU Ltd's commercial director, Kate Sutton, went to the High Court in 2016 to seek a ruling against the multi-national giant, but was disappointed.

Now the European Commission has after lengthy deliberation come to a different conclusion over Google's misuse of its market dominance. The EC found that it unfairly favoured its own comparison shopping service over rivals in searches and fined the US behemoth €2.42bn.

The story is not over. Google may well appeal against the decision. Its main plank has been that the EC ruling "stifles innovation". This image of a nimble start-up trying to break through with a flash of mathematical insight may have appealed when Google was founded, but Alphabet (the parent company) is now as far removed from that in terms of capitalisation as the Ford Motor Company is from the Model T. The EC's spokesperson has already squashed the argument:
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "Google has come up with many innovative products and services that have made a difference to our lives. That's a good thing. But Google's strategy for its comparison shopping service wasn't just about attracting customers by making its product better than those of its rivals. Instead, Google abused its market dominance as a search engine by promoting its own comparison shopping service in its search results, and demoting those of competitors.
What Google has done is illegal under EU antitrust rules. It denied other companies the chance to compete on the merits and to innovate. And most importantly, it denied European consumers a genuine choice of services and the full benefits of innovation."
One of my reasons for wanting the UK to stay under the EU umbrella is just such resistance to large multi-national companies which is much more difficult for individual nations to maintain. EC antitrust rulings (one recalls a similar decision against Microsoft misusing its dominant position in the OS market) also rebut the view of socialists like Jeremy Corbyn that the EU is just a capitalist club.

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

The man who predicted Neptune

A boy born in abject poverty in the alpine region south of Lake Geneva 250 years ago grew up to be one of the greatest mathematical astronomers. I must admit I had heard of Laplace and le Verrier, but not of the man who contributed greatly to their work, Alexis Bouvard. At least the Australians have a constant physical reminder in the shape of Cape Bouvard in Western Australia.

Monday, 26 June 2017

Linen-chest politics

The Americans would call Mrs May's bribe to the DUP to keep quiet during key votes "pork-barrel politics". Because of Ulster's best-known export, perhaps we should call it "linen-chest politics". If there were any justice, there would be a consequential annual top-up payment of £1.6bn to Wales, but of course Mrs May knows that her small band of Welsh MPs will never rebel. Realpolitik rules.

Government apologists will point to the Swansea City Deal of £1.3bn, but that money is spread over five years at least. Mrs May should immediately make some amends by insisting the GWR electrification should be wrenched back to its original timetable, increasing prosperity for the whole of South Wales, not just the Bay region.

The Barnett by-pass

The Scots seem to be rather worse done by than us in Wales in terms of top-ups. If they had an NI equivalent top-up outwith the Barnett formula, I calculate they are due £6bn over the two years that the agreement with the DUP is to run.   I have just heard Damian Green reeling off a list of Scottish city deals and contributions to arts projects which top up Barnett, but my mental arithmetic produces a total of £693m.

And what about the English regions? One can well imagine Tory MPs in the English south-west becoming restive. The Cornwall devolution deal may not be enough to satisfy them.

Updated 08:45 2017-06-27

Breaking the Great War deadlock

One hundred years ago, the first North American Expeditionary forces arrived in France.

Women in science

This France24 series, with its weekly daytime slot, looks admirable. One would have expected a French medium to be rather chauvinist but instead this programme is refreshingly international.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

John Simon

Probably the first Jamaican-born MP died on this day in 1897. More to the point, John Simon stood up for British Jewry, though he represented Dewsbury, a seat with a minimal Jewish community. (Dewsbury today has a large immigrant population, mostly Muslim.) He was only the second professing Jew to be admitted to the Bar of England and Wales.

Friday, 23 June 2017

Anti-terror measures stepped up at the cost of day-to-day policing

Amber Rudd's statement to the Commons yesterday made clear that anti-terror operations will be strengthened by giving firearms training to more officers but that no new money would be given to the police overall. The implication is that more front-line policemen and women will be diverted to state security while prevention and investigation of crimes which affect ordinary people up and down the country will be starved of resources.

The fact that both Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos for the recent general election pledged  restoration of cuts in the police service which have occurred from the noughties onward, while the Conservatives have made no such provision, points up Tory priorities. The Tories are more concerned about the security of the state than the security of ordinary people.

What is worse is that they have given up on the only piece of legislation which offered hope of reform of criminal justice, the Prisons and Courts Bill. Instead, there is a vague promise of making the courts more efficient.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Orla Lowe, did you know about this sharp practice?

I challenge Mrs Orla Lowe, my Conservative opponent in the Neath constituency in the recent general election, whether she knew about the activities revealed in tonight's Channel 4 News. An outfit named Blue Telecoms operating from offices in Market Chambers, Neath, made cold calls apparently pushing people to vote for Conservative candidates in Wales. In itself, this is a nuisance, but not illegal (provided telephone preferences are observed). What is illegal is not accounting for these canvassing calls under individual candidates' expenses returns.

Throughout Wales, and markedly in Neath, Conservative candidates leapfrogged Plaid Cymru candidates and depressed Liberal Democrat votes. Did the Blue Telecoms operation contribute to this, to Conservatives' holding on to Brecon & Radnor, and possibly to Mark Williams' losing Ceredigion?
The Conservative party must come clean about its expenditure. We know Channel 4 will persist until it gets all the answers, and this time there will the party will not be helped by expiring deadlines.

More evidence for declining real wages

There are some worrying graphs here.

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Of hung parliaments and the government's bona fides

Graeme Cowie does not post often to his blog, but when he does it is after due consideration. He has recently delivered two magisterial judgments in the field of his special expertise, constitutional law.

In his analysis of the prime minister's position with particular reference to the Fixed Term Parliaments Act and parliamentary arithmetic, he puts right certain journalistic assumptions. In particular, he dismisses the easy assumption that, in view of Mrs May's successful call for an early election, the FTPA changed nothing. He concludes:

The truth is that the old system that preceded the Fixed Term Parliaments Act would have handled this type of situation no better than the current one. It allowed Prime Ministers to escape resignation by appealing immediately and directly to the country, even when an alternative viable government could be formed from the democratically elected Parliament. These decisions are no longer a privilege the Prime Minister enjoys, exploiting in the process the political sensitivity of the Crown. It is instead for Parliament itself to decide.

For a Parliament man like me, that is, when all is said and done, a no bad thing.

He followed this up with a dismissal of the chances of success of a judicial review of Mrs May's "confidence and supply" agreement with the DUP.

I cannot claim to have followed all the thought-processes of a trained legal mind, but I am convinced that the supply and confidence arrangement will not be susceptible to overriding by the court on the grounds specified. Mrs May's position will be safe (for the time being). However, the fact that the Queen's minister and, therefore, her government are dependent for the continuing confidence of parliament on one of the players in the Northern Ireland arena must shade their status as joint impartial guarantors in the formation of a new power-sharing government in Stormont.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

French developments

There is a summary by France24 of the outcome of the French elections which concluded last Sunday. It seems from this side of the channel that president Macron and his LREM party might loosely be described as economic liberals, while his junior partners in the National Assembly, the Democratic Movement, have travelled from centrist conservatism to social liberalism.

I cannot remember a larger majority for change in the Assembly. There seems little doubt that president Macron and his prime minister Edouard Philippe will be able to put through measures to liberalise the French economy. However, the history of the Fifth Republic is studded with instances of extra-parliamentary forces snookering the will of parliament. Expect strong resistance from the trade unions, who will no doubt claim that, because the turn-out in both halves of the parliamentary election was so low, Philippe has no mandate.

Both party leaders are committed Europeans. One can therefore expect a stiffening of the EU27's tough line in the Brexit negotiations which have just opened. Moreover, if Macron succeeds in reducing business overheads, one may expect the French entrepreneurs who migrated to south-east England to benefit from our better business climate to consider returning. So what may be good for the French is not necessarily good for the UK.

[Later] It is not going to be plain sailing for the LREM/MoDem coalition. One of its stated aims of cleaning up the administration has been struck a blow by the allegations of misuse of MoDem party funds which have led to the resignation of the defence minister.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Jo Swinson may well be Liberal Democrat leader - but not yet

I cannot claim to have met Jo Swinson, but, already a busy MP, she came to the 2006 by-election in Dunfermline and West Fife and I overheard her conversation with party workers. She struck me then as a clear-sighted and determined person. In coalition, she was a late call-up by Nick Clegg, first as a stand-in for a Jenny Willot taking maternity leave, but later as a junior minister at BIS. Less tainted than most of the pre-coalition intake (she voted against the rise in tuition fees, for instance), she would seem to be the natural successor to Tim Farron. However, she has early ruled herself out, preferring to stand for the deputy leadership. Admittedly, she still has a young child and a constituency remote from Westminster to look after, but one suspects a long-term plan. There is a hint in her Liberal Democrat Voice statement:

My reflections and conversations about a range of factors have confirmed my conviction that the right role for me now is Deputy Leader.
Four weeks ago today, I ran a marathon.  Training for and running marathons teaches you a lot about planning, perseverance, and resilience. Creating lasting political change is a marathon, not a sprint.

If this parliament runs its full course, the typical Liberal Democrat pattern would be followed, gaining momentum through by-election and local authority successes. However, the chances are that there will be an early general election, when the advantage will still be with the well-endowed conservative parties, before the dire effects of Brexit hit the general public. For this reason, the new leader's reign will almost certainly be seen as a failure in that we will not regain the heights of 2006.

Sunday, 18 June 2017

Churchill was right (continued)

After posting Friday's piece, I came across this, which concludes:

I suspect, therefore, that the Tories are now rather like the party they were in the days of the Corn Laws: they represent interests which are hostile to economic progress.  
There is of course nothing original in the claim that landlords’ interests are a block on economic growth. As somebody once said:
Unearned increments in land are not the only form of unearned or undeserved profit, but they are the principal form of unearned increment, and they are derived from processes which are not merely not beneficial, but positively detrimental to the general public…The land monopolist only has to sit still and watch complacently his property multiplying in value, sometimes many fold, without either effort or contribution on his part!
That was Winston Churchill in 1909. Tories like to compare themselves to him. But in one respect at least, they are more reactionary now than he was a century ago.  
Today's Tories might retort that, by 1909, Churchill had been seduced by the Liberals and would not return effectively to Conservative politics until after the Great War. However, there was probably little to choose between the instincts of the Edwardian Churchill and those of the man who, looking forward to reconstruction after the Second World War, agreed to commissioning the Beveridge Report and gave RA Butler his head over the Education Act 1944.

Saturday, 17 June 2017

Could Michael Sheen work another miracle?

I am looking forward to today's Radio 4 programme about the sadly-neglected Plaza in Port Talbot. Michael Sheen has achieved good publicity for his home town before. Port Talbot councillors now dominate the ruling group on the council. Can the last art deco cinema in the area not only be saved but also revived?

Friday, 16 June 2017

Winston Churchill was right

According to next week's Radio Times, Ian Hislop will reveal in a forthcoming programme on immigration that the main reason for Winston Churchill "ratting" from the Conservatives to the Liberals was his objection to his former party's Aliens Act 1905. It puts to shame those xenophobic UKIP and Conservative members who mistakenly call Churchill in aid for their views.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

AR Gurney

Thanks to Terry Teachout for bringing a playwright previously unknown to me to our attention. Gurney seems to have been the US equivalent of William Douglas-Home, a writer of drawing-room comedies which rely on recognition of, even identification with, their milieu on the part of audiences. Such work does not travel well, but we in the UK have become so much more familiar with US life, thanks to TV and social media, that it might be worth a London production of one of his most successful plays as a tribute on his passing.

Only his "Love Letters" has been shown on TV in the UK as far as I can see. It has also been remade in France as well as in some other continental countries, as have a couple of his other plays.

The Lords may still say "no"

Lord Thomas of Gresford sees no legal reason why the House of Peers should roll over in the face of joint Conservative/DUP Bills, even if these should pass the Commons. He explains why here.

Before reading the Liberal Democrat Voice article, I had not realised that Liberals had been ignored when the Salisbury Convention had been drawn up originally.

St Alice Day

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Are faith and English liberalism incompatible?

This evening, Tim Farron announced his resignation from leadership of the Liberal Democrats for a reason that would have put him at the top of the tree in US politics: a very public evangelical Christian faith. Mrs May can put it about that she is a vicar's daughter and vote in line with rather Old Testament beliefs, but her party was comfortable with that - at least until she made a massive electoral miscalculation. Indeed, it would be difficult for an English Conservative to lead the party without at least a token adherence to Christianity, preferably Anglicanism. Tony Blair did not hide his high church leanings, though admittedly on Alastair Campbell's advice  he did not push them ("We don't do God"). But leading Liberal Democrats who are clearly committed to Christianity have been subject to continuous sniping, Indeed, I have speculated in the past that this is the reason for Sir Alan Beith not achieving the party leadership or the Speaker's Chair, both of which he would have fitted.

Tim's voting record on social issues has been virtually completely liberal. He also does not break promises. One of the people touted as a possible successor was one of those who, when in government, broke a pledge to the NUS over tuition fees. Tim did not.

I write as an agnostic, but not a militant atheist, so I believe I can take an objective view. A party which explicitly reaches out to all faiths and none should not penalise members for strongly held personal views which do not intrude on their public life. Good luck to Tim's successor.

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

Campaign at half-cock

It looks as if the Liberal Democrat campaigns people were expecting a general election some time later this year, when the implications of our leaving the EU would have been clearer and bearing down on the people who voted Leave in the belief that things could not get worse for them. The main pitch, of calling a halt to Article 50 talks, with a tweak to call a further referendum in order to accommodate MPs in Vote Leave constituencies, would have been laid down. Candidates were certainly put in place ready for a snap election.

In the event, Mrs May pulled the trigger early. Rather than rejigging the campaign to concentrate on the social issues which were so rewarding for Mr Corbyn, and on which our proposals were not only better but also more affordable, it was clearly decided it was simpler to go ahead with the existing template, less effective though that would be at this stage of the EU 27 talks. I guess that we would still have been squeezed in the presidential campaign deliberately launched by Mrs May, in which the media left and right were all complicit, but we might have saved or even gained a few seats in Wales and other Leave areas.

Monday, 12 June 2017

Jeremy Corbyn

Let us be clear: Jeremy Corbyn did not win the general election, nor have enough like-minded MPs in the new parliament to form a viable coalition.

Having said that, his qualities which attracted so many new members to the Labour party after his election as leader obviously enthused a large minority of voters, especially young voters. I was one of the first to welcome not only his standing in that leadership election (which was by the skin of his teeth) but his success as at last giving Labour some point in existing. It has paid off for Labour. Ironically, his fiercest critics within the party have now come to appreciate him while I have come to find fault with his swithering where he used to be so firm, particularly on nuclear weapons and the EU. These are matters on which the government needs the strongest opposition, yet Corbyn seems to have fallen in with the May line on both.

Corbyn is still not liked or trusted by New Labour. There is open hostility to Theresa May, not only from Conservative commentators and ex-MPs but also from current members. Leanne Wood is said to have been rescued by the result in Ceredigion. Nicola Sturgeon may be under pressure in spite of delivering the second-best SNP Westminster tally in the party's history. Tim Farron is the most popular leader of his party, in spite of the Telegraph's stirring. If only we could translate that into votes as Corbyn has done.

Sunday, 11 June 2017

Picking up more post-election threads

Paul Walter, in his Liberal Voice piece, nails so many issues.

The Conservative party likes to boast that it, combined with our FPTP electoral system, provides strong and stable government. Well, a fat lot of strength and stability the Tory party and FPTP system have given us in the last two years!
 - a point that could equally be made about the last Major government, not to mention Wilson/Callaghan from 1974 to 1979.

We’ve had two Prime Ministers, Cameron and May, who will have historians squabbling for years as to whether they are the worst or second worst or third worst Prime Ministers in the history of this country!
No argument there.

David Cameron put party before country when he promised an EU referendum, ending with his political shredding.
Here I part company with Paul. A referendum was necessary, especially as we Liberal Democrats had already floated the idea in the 1990s. It should, however, have been held in the early years of the coalition government (instead of that pointless AV affair) while the arguments could still have been discussed for the most part dispassionately and the Labour leadership's stance was unambiguous. Moreover, the electors should have been told that, constitutionally, they were giving an opinion not a final judgment. This rested with parliament, although if there was a more than 75% vote for a change (the usual percentage for constitutional amendments in clubs and societies throughout the land), the government would have taken notice.

I always told anyone who would listen that May’s decision to call an election was the right thing for the country. After the June 23rd 2016 referendum we needed a national democratic event to sort-out the situation. So I commend May for calling the election [...]. The rub is that May didn’t call the election for the good of the country, she called it for the good of herself.
- calling it not straight away, but delaying it until it caused maximum damage constitutionally, confusing the issues in the local government elections. It had one no doubt desired effect, hitting the smaller parties in the pocket and, with the presidential-style media blitz, squeezing their vote.

The result of the election gives me great reason for optimism. The arrangement with the DUP won’t last five years. It is constitutionally correct that the make-up of Parliament dictates the government. And the DUP will be involved long enough to stop a hard Brexit by means of keeping the porous Irish border. Dependent on which parties provide the deputy speakers, Theresa May will have a working majority of 8-10. With by-elections happening on average at the rate of 2-3 a year, that isn’t going to last her five years, plus there are bound to be enormous complications in Ireland, because of the DUP’s involvement in sustaining the UK government.
Another factor will be the tension between the DUP members who follow an old-time religion and Mrs May's loyal unionists in Scotland who gained thirteen seats for her and who are led by an out gay woman.

At least the UK will have a working and continuing administration for the time being, which will calm the international money markets.

it is becoming more and more crazy that this country has not, at least as an interim “holding” solution, gone for the Norway (EEA/EFTA) option. The ludicrous and (I believe) unconstitutional decision by Theresa May to rule out membership of the Single Market, and even, unbelievably, the Customs Union, was one of the most heinous acts of any British Prime Minister ever. The sooner we come to our senses and realise that EEA/EFTA memberships offers us a temporary sanctuary while we compose ourselves, the better.
For the sake of commerce, industry and agriculture, this is the only practical solution, although it involves accepting free movement of labour, which will not please a sizeable section of the Leave vote. Also disgruntled would be the black end of the financial services industry, which was looking forward to a stop to and possible reversal of regulation. It does, however, satisfy the other Leavers' demands, that EU directives do not have to be passed into UK law.

Saturday, 10 June 2017

Nick Clegg

I must admit that my first reaction on hearing that Nick Clegg had lost his seat in Westminster was one of relief, both for him and the party. It frees him from the mundane work of parliament, the constituency and the party which always seemed to be irksome. He can move on to a more high-profile rôle while he is still relatively young - though a peerage might prove useful.

For the party, it removes a focus on which the media might build a theme of challenge to the leadership, at a time when Tim Farron needs to consolidate. Of course, it is sad to lose Sheffield Hallam, which Richard Allan first held for us when the constituency was formed in 1997 and then passed on to Nick in order for the latter to move from Strasbourg to Westminster. However, smart money is on another general election in the near future and students may well pass judgment on Jeremy Corbyn's failure to abolish tuition fees.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Better gender balance

A third of the new Liberal Democrat bench will be female which must be our best female-to-male ratio ever.

I am sorry that Jackie Pearcey in Gorton (surely robbed of a by-election win by Mrs May's bizarre demand for a general election), Kelly-Marie Blundell in Lewes, Eluned Parrott in Cardiff Central and Jane Dodds in Montgomery did not make it even better. But maybe their turn will come as this May-fly parliament can not stagger on much beyond Christmas.

Even crossing my toes would not have worked

03:20 I lost my deposit and finished behind UKIP again. However, as I watch BBC-Wales coverage it seems I am not alone, and even such a great campaign as Rory Daniels' in Llanelli achieved only a 3% return. Plaid slipped from second to third place in spite of an excellent campaign by an Alltwen-based candidate. The Conservatives benefited from fielding a candidate who, for once, lived in the constituency instead of being parachuted in, but even more from the media (including the BBC, sad to say) presenting the general election as simply a clash between the personalities of Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May. But of course congratulations must go to Christina Rees who with her team has returned Neath to the heady days for Labour of 2001 with an absolute majority over all other parties, in spite of some ill-informed personal criticism on social media and even from within her own party locally.

03:50 Kate Hoey has won and Nick Clegg has lost. So there is a two-seat swing towards a hard Brexit. It also seems that the anti-gay campaign in Vauxhall came off.

08:00 Woke to find Andrew Neil on BBC-1 and Piers Morgan on ITV-1. Luckily, BBC-Parliament was relaying BBC Scotland's more intelligent coverage. There was some great analysis of the situation not only in Scotland but also in the UK as a whole.

Scottish LDs missed out on a fourth gain by only two votes in North-East Fife after the returning officer refused a fourth recount. However, Jo Swinson will be back at Westminster. The estimable Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP in the last Commons, and Alex Salmond both lost their seats to Conservatives. There will be a constitutional issue as so many Conservatives from a Scottish parliament regional list were successful that, saving one being allowed a dual mandate, the party will be one short in Holyrood until 2021.

I was struck by the amount of poetry quoted. Alex Salmond said au revoir rather than adieu with a couplet from Sir Walter Scott: "And tremble, false Whigs, in the midst of your glee, You have not seen the last of my bonnet and me!". The chair of the panel responded with a line from Browning's "The Lost Leader": "Never glad confident morning again! ", only to be topped by veteran political editor Brian Taylor who recalled Shelley's memorial to the Peterloo massacre which closes:

Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number,
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you-
Ye are many - they are few

There were so many near misses by Liberal Democrats in England and a desperate loss by Mark Williams in Ceredigion which means that there will be no Liberal or Liberal Democrat MP in Wales probably since the 1890s. I take comfort from the fact that the party still has its largest membership ever and that the last time we had a surge in membership it took a few years for that to be reflected in parliament. We should take inspiration from that Shelley verse.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Crossed fingers

Stray thoughts to be added to as the day wears on.

10:03 Just back from casting my ballot.

Nothing I write now is going to make much difference to our vote in Aberavon and Neath. (Let's face it, nothing I have written here up until now has been taken notice. Well, perhaps there were a few minor improvements have been made around Neath, for which the Labour council claimed credit.)

I just hope that by this time tomorrow there is not a majority May or a majority Corbyn government, nor that a year from now we will not have to say: "I told you so". If Mrs May gets her majority, she and her hard-line free marketeer friends will achieve the dream of London as a totally independent lightly regulated financial capital of the world at the expense of industry and SMEs which benefit from the single market and customs union. Mr Corbyn is only slightly less suspicious of the EU, but what worries me most about a Corbyn administration is the quality of his shadow cabinet. He has not been helped by the last-minute resignation of one of his most experienced figures, Diane Abbott, because of ill-health.

There were some snippets in the i newspaper this morning that caught my eye. Fishermen will not vote for any party which wants to remain in the EU, and I can see their point. Almost alone of groups in the UK, they are worse off under a common EU policy. However, I would advise against trusting the Conservatives on this issue, because it was Margaret Thatcher who negotiated away the UK's fishing rights in the first place when she did not have to. Does Mrs May believe she is a tougher negotiator on behalf of Britain than Mrs Thatcher was?

Then hats off to the i for featuring Sophie Walker of the Women's Equality Party among its portraits of leaders. However, a significant rise in the Liberal Democrat vote would do more for women's equality in parliament than the WEP, because there are so many strong women (including several with experience of actual government, Mr Corbyn) in the Lib Dems target seats.

10:30 My agent has phoned to say that the chill he picked up returning from a short break in France has got worse. I think our little tour of the constituency today may be curtailed. Hopefully, the dope the doc. has given him will restore his fighting strength for the count tonight.

13:30 Back from delivering admission tickets to some of our counting agents and dropping in on just a few of the polling stations on the way back. All very quiet, but the weather has been dreadful. Just enough time to buy a couple of packed sandwiches from Arbourne's ready for tonight, then to put my head down for an hour or so.

17:00 Dozed for an hour or so in between listening to Radio 4. Interesting item on the science programme about Homo Sapiens finds in Morocco putting our species' history back at least another hundred thousand years. A researcher stated that the shape of the brain-case indicated that we have developed larger brains over the years. Sometimes I wonder. Coincidentally, Haaretz has reported Israeli finds which tend to confirm that Neanderthal man hung around there later than generally assumed.

18:30 Back to the i, and the election summary. Under "leadership", it once again raises the fact that Tim Farron is uncomfortable talking about his church's teaching on homosexuality. The fact is that he has practically always voted in a liberal way when there have been debates on termination, same-sex relationships or similar social issues. There is not a mention of the fact that Theresa May has tended to vote in a more illiberal way than her membership of the tolerant Church of England would suggest. It is a transparent ploy to dissuade our supporters to stay away from the polls rather than a genuine political point.

Wednesday, 7 June 2017

A Belgian stand-off?

David Hancox's letter to the FT refers.

We could have a hung parliament* after tomorrow. Tim Farron clearly regards both Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May as bad prime ministers and will not take the parliamentary party into coalition with them, so there may well be no prime minister for some time to come, unless either May or Corbyn are ditched by their parties.

Not so long ago, Belgium went for 589 days without an elected government. The country ticked over quite well in the care of her civil servants, and only hit trouble when a prime minister was appointed. Perhaps we should not fear a "Belgian stand-off".

* My guess is that Conservative gains in Scotland plus the perennial support of the NI unionists will see Mrs May through. The irony of a Conservative administration being dependent on Scottish votes for survival will not be lost on the Labour Party.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

What must be said about Mrs May

There was not enough time in tonight's NPTOnline hustings to complete my reasons for not giving Mrs May another five years, but fortuitously, while the Evening Post was shooting in Swansea, the lady herself laid out the main one.

Civil rights are under threat from this person, whose authoritative façade clearly masks insecurity. I do not subscribe to the "false flag" hypothesis: that shadowy figures in our security services instigated the Manchester and London Bridge attacks in order to give themselves more power. But I do think that jihadists, who would thrive under a more oppressive régime, rushed the crude atrocity into effect last weekend in order to take advantage of the election campaign, counting on provoking just the sort of response which occurred. (Manchester Arena was the result of longer-term planning and probably originally was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Lee Rigby killing.)

Peter Sallis: an affectionate remembrance

I shall always remember the first time I saw Peter Sallis on screen. It was in a BBC TV whodunit serial named "The Widow of Bath" based on her own novel by Margot Bennett. Sallis played Cady, a not wholly admirable character, but like most of his parts, someone one took to ones heart. Amazingly, he had made his TV début twelve years earlier and acting was not even his first career. After that, the family made a habit of "Cady-spotting" as Sallis popped up frequently on TV, generally in small character parts, but also as the put-upon Gerald Swinney in "How to Get Rid of Your Wife". He was blessed with a face that hardly seemed to change over the years, but also the ability to achieve instant sympathy. One cannot imagine his crowning achievements, Clegg and Wallace, played by any other man.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Salafist influence

Since a media release from Tom Brake, there have been two bombings in Kabul costing at least 100 lives and an atrocity in London, which took seven. Innocents, including women and children, were the targets of terrorists driven by an extreme view of Islam which has its roots in the Arabian desert. Mrs May had a chance to make a statesmanlike statement in response, without breaching the voluntary moratorium on national political campaigning. She failed both tests and also failed to acknowledge the source of our troubles, as Tim Farron has pointed out.

Some history:
The then Prime Minister David Cameron announced a review of foreign funding of extremism in the UK in December 2015, following calls for a review by Liberal Democrats in exchange for support of airstrikes against Daesh in Syria. ("As part of this, I can announce today that we will establish a comprehensive review to root out any remaining funding of extremism within the UK. This will examine specifically the nature, scale and origin of the funding of Islamist extremist activity in the UK, including any overseas sources. It will report to myself and my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary next spring." David Cameron, House of Commons, 2 December 2015).

Amber Rudd last week suggested that arms sales to Saudi Arabia are good for British industry during the BBC Debate in Cambridge. When challenged over arms sales to the Saudi regime, she responded: “I will make no apology for being a government that wants to defend this country. We will make sure that our defence budget is well-funded and we will do that by having a strong economy and make sure we can do that by having a strong industry.” (BBC Debate, 31st May 2017).

Tim reacted with an open letter to the prime minister, of which these are the main paragraphs:

As you will no doubt remember, in December 2015, David Cameron promised an enquiry into foreign funding of extremism in the UK. As Home Secretary at the time, your department was one of those leading on the report.

Eighteen months later, and following two horrific terrorist attacks by British-born citizens, that report still remains incomplete and unpublished. It is no secret that Saudi Arabia in particular provides funding to hundreds of mosques in the UK, espousing a very hard-line Wahhabist interpretation of Islam. It is often in these institutions that British extremism takes root.

Now is not the time to brush this under the carpet once more.

You will agree with me that the protection of our country, of the British people, is the most important job of any government. Certainly, more important than potential trade deals with questionable regimes, which appear to be the only explanation for your reticence.

When will this report be finished and published? And what steps do​ you propose to take to address one of the root causes of violent extremism in the UK?

But the malign Salafist influence spreads wider than the UK. The self-destructive Syrian uprising which led to Da'esh and the virtual destruction of the ancient Syriac Christian and Yazidi communities came on the back of Saudi money. Terror groups have sprung up wherever Islam has spread, attacking preferentially Shi'a Muslim and Christians. The unholy deals which were struck between US interests and the kingdom of Saud back in the 1930s and 1940s have had terrible repercussions.

Rural difficulties

Our excursion into Cwm Gors at the weekend reinforced the message I had previously from friends and other farmers in the constituency: nobody, except the largest landowners, makes a living from farming alone these days. Doing other people's books, testing drones or catering for townies' leisure pursuits are a few of the activities keeping the wolf from the door.

Fast broadband would help to counteract the effects of isolation and give access to public services which civil servants increasingly assume are available to everybody with smart phones and tablets. "Wireless internet" schemes are being rolled out by government-aided entrepreneurs and one such is coming to the area between Pontardawe and Gwaun-cae-gurwen. It seems to me that the funding model is not robust, as one such company failed in Monmouthshire leaving subscribers without the service they had come to depend on. However, I am assured that the company involved in the Cwmgorse area is more substantial and has other successful schemes behind it.

My muck-raking friends on the Neath Ferret would no doubt wish me to include a photo of a donkey wearing a rosette. I am sorry to disappoint them. Instead, I spotted (sorry for the pun) a Gloucester pig which provides the tail-piece.

Sunday, 4 June 2017


Frenzied knife attacks in the Borough, London, within a stone's-throw of Southwark Cathedral, and almost certainly driven by religious and racial hatred. My heart goes out to the family and friends of the victims, so arbitrarily picked on.

A joyous day in Cardiff as different nationalities mixed in celebration before and after a hard-fought sporting event. There is hope for us.

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Robert Morley. 26th May 1908 - June 3rd 1992 Actor and anthologist

 "Anyone who works is a fool.  I don't work: I merely inflict myself on
the public."

It is fair to say that he always played versions of himself, but otherwise he was being unduly modest.

Friday, 2 June 2017

Rough sleeping

The two big concerns about Neath today, judging by letters to the Ferret, are the lack of public cleanliness in the town and rough sleeping. As a Westminster candidate, I have to reply to electors' letters that the remedy for both is largely in the hands of the Welsh government and the county borough council.

However, the Liberal Democrat manifesto does offer some hope to the young homeless, restoration of the cuts to their housing benefits. Tim Farron obviously feels for them. He has said:

It is a national scandal that so many people are sleeping on the streets in 21st century Britain.
By increasing support for homelessness prevention and properly funding emergency accommodation, we can end rough sleeping across the country. The evidence suggests that supporting people and giving them long-term, stable places to stay is far more successful in tackling homelessness than constantly moving them to different temporary accommodation.

Under this government, homelessness has soared and the stripping of young people of housing benefit threatens to make matters even worse. This election is a chance to change the direction of this country and stand up for a Britain that is open, tolerant and united."

The weapon Tim has chosen in the fight against homelessness is Housing First, which has had "huge success in countries such as Finland where it has all but eradicated rough sleeping." (Inside Housing, 10th April). This article reports that the Welsh Government is considering moving towards Housing First and even the Conservative minister Sajid Javed has backed a feasibility study. It is surprising that Jeremy Corbyn has not publicly committed UK Labour to it.

Thursday, 1 June 2017

The pearls from the BBC TV debate

The Liberal Democrat press office watched the debate by the leaders (minus one) on BBC TV last night so I didn't have to. (After half-an-hour, I switched to Springwatch on BBC-2.) Here are the points they picked as standing out from the ill-managed and ill-tempered proceedings:

Top Tim TV debate moments clipped

1) “How dare she call an election and then run away from the debate.”

2) He brought the house down with his invitation to the audience: "make yourself a brew. You're not worth Theresa May's time. Don't give her yours."

3) Tim received a loud cheer when he took on UKIP’s Paul Nuttall for demonising immigrants, recalling the man who was racially abused on his way home after working 50 hours to treat victims of the Manchester bombing. “He was a doctor. That is what happens,” he thundered “when you demonise immigrants.”

4) He told Jeremy Corbyn that he wouldn’t have the money to improve public services because Corbyn’s Labour traipsed through the division lobbies supporting the Conservatives and UKIP on Brexit.