Monday, 31 July 2017

Some of the reasons I like Morrisons

They still stock regional British cheeses when Tesco have given them up and they are only an occasional item in Lidl.

 - and they now sell peas and beans in pods, useful if you do not have a freezer:

though because they are so young, they do not give that satisfying "pop" when you open them.

Moreover, Morrisons now sell 4 pints of  semi-skimmed milk for £1. Why should one pay full price for milk with part of the goodness taken out?

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Black chair in Birkenhead

On the eve of the anniversary of Passchendaele, there was a fascinating piece on this morning's Sunday Supplement about the Eisteddfod in Birkenhead which followed. Hedd Wyn, the winning bard, having died in the battle, the chair which would have been awarded to him was empty and draped in black. It seems that the pressure to hold the Eisteddfod at all, and on Merseyside (then having more Welsh-speakers than Cardiff!) in particular came from prime minister David Lloyd George, who used it to support the war effort.

The tragedy of Hedd Wyn is told in a moving film.

Saturday, 29 July 2017

Democracy in the EU

A post from the European Parliament members' research service bears out two of the points I have consistently said about our participation in the democratic process of the EU: the power of the Parliament has increased since our entry, and the electorate have not been well served by the people who should have been keeping us informed.

Generally, Union citizens do not seem to exercise their electoral rights as actively as they could. Regarding European Parliament elections, for example, overall turnout is low compared to national parliament elections, and has steadily declined since the first direct elections in 1979. This is despite the fact that the Parliament’s role has increased significantly over that period. According to Eurostat, in the 2014 European elections, turnout for the 28 Member States was 42.5 %, compared to an average 68 % in national elections. Nonetheless, turnout rates in European elections vary greatly among Member States: in 2014, from 13 % in Slovakia to 89.6 % in Belgium (where voting is compulsory). According to a Eurobarometer survey on Electoral Rights 2015, most people think turnout would be higher if more information were provided on the elections, the impact of the EU on citizens’ daily lives, and the programmes and objectives of candidates.

Friday, 28 July 2017

Police: back-office cuts hurt, too

A report published ten days ago by the HMICFRS (but commissioned when it was still just Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary) jointly with the Inspectorate of Crown Prosecution Services found serious failings in the operation of disclosure by police forces. As the preamble points out:

Disclosure of unused material is a key component of the investigative and prosecution process. When conducting investigations, the police have to retain every unused item which is considered relevant to an investigation. Each item is then reviewed to see whether it is capable of undermining the prosecution or assisting the defence case. If either factor applies it must be disclosed to the defence.

If this process is not done correctly and in a timely fashion, it may result in cases being discontinued or the trial process being delayed through unnecessary adjournments thereby incurring extra cost for the justice system and causing additional emotional distress to victims, witnesses and defendants. Ultimately, the failure to properly disclose material can lead to miscarriages of justice. The Criminal Cases Review Commission tells us that disclosure failures are the basis for a significant number of cases it considers.

A notorious failure was that of the breakdown of a case against the officers whose conduct led to the false imprisonment of the Cardiff Three. It is probably not a coincidence that a QC's report of his investigation into the collapse of the Mouncher trial was published on the same day.

Richard Horwell QC rules out deliberate mislaying of evidence in Mouncher, but it seems to me that cutting back-office functions to the bone offers great opportunities to those with malign intent. Malign or not, justice is not served by sloppy work by hard-pressed, over-worked and/or poorly trained staff, which must be the result of cutting financial support to police forces.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Against the Law

Even before 1954, there had been court cases involving sexual activity on the part of mutually consenting males ("acts of gross indecency") warranting a paragraph or two in the News of the World. Sometimes prominent figures, like the actor John Gielgud, were involved but were deemed to merit no more than a straight report.

Perhaps it was the involvement of a peer of the realm, coupled with the fact that one of those involved was himself a rising journalist, that brought the full front-page treatment to the Beaulieu affair. The reports three years earlier of the defection of Burgess and Maclean, in which homosexuality was a factor, may also have propelled same-sex relationships to the top of the press's agenda. Peter Wildeblood's 1955 book "Against the Law" gave an account of the affair and his fairly objective reporting elicited a great deal of public sympathy. Something had to give, and the Wolfenden inquiry was set up. It reported in 1957.

From there, Antony Grey's Quest for Justice: Towards Homosexual Emancipation takes up the story. He explains how two parliamentarians, Leo Abse, Labour MP for Pontypool, and Earl "Boofy" Arran, a hereditary peer, stirred a reluctant legislature into action. Lord Arran was already a controversial columnist in the London Evening Standard and well-known as a campaigner for protection for badgers, so when he led the way with his private Sexual Offences Bill in the Lords in 1965 it attracted some attention.

 It is worth at least skimming through the whole proceedings of the Second Reading debate if only to marvel at the unintentional humour of some of the opposition's remarks. It was also remarkable for the overwhelming expression of support in what was regarded as by far the more conservative of the two Houses of Parliament. As Lord (Frank) Byers pointed out, it also had the support of the broadsheet papers and the Daily Mirror - and of course the Liberal Council.

I did not attend that debate but was in the Strangers' Gallery for the closing moments of the earlier "motion for papers" (practically a sounding-out). I could have sworn that a noble lord asserted with great authority that this sort of thing did not go on in Scotland, though this is not recorded in the archive. Innocent as I was in those days, even I recognised that some of the artistic "goings-on" north of the border were at least camp. I was certainly there for Lord Arran's closing remarks, though he found it difficult to get started, close as he was to tears:

My Lords, I will not attempt to summarise this great debate. Too many good things have been said by too many good people to pick and choose. I will simply say that I have been surprised and delighted by the virtual unanimity of opinion in this debate on the need to implement the main recommendations of the Wolfenden 171 Committee on homosexuality. Lest noble Lords who spoke against should think I am disregarding them, I can say I am not. A former Chief Scout and a Commissioner of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland are major personages; but, as has been pointed out, out of 22 speakers I think 17 or even 18, have been broadly—and some of them very strongly—in favour. They have included four of the Lords Spiritual and other names which are noted and respected throughout the country.

The Sexual Offences Act eventually gained Royal Assent on this day fifty years ago. The wikipedia entry and an Independent piece on the thirtieth anniversary regret that not all the oppressive hangover from Victorian times has been removed.

Gay edifices: should Wales follow Historic England?

The process of listing buildings of LGBT significance begun by Historic England last year has been given a boost by the celebrations surrounding the 50th anniversary of the Sexual Offences Act which removed many of the Victorian restrictions on male same-sex relationships.

Those celebrations have rather obscured the memory of Wales' famous same-sex couple (in their time, internationally so) the Ladies of Llangollen. Their home is now a museum and presumably secure in local government ownership, but it would be a nice gesture to formally give it at least a Grade II listing.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

Discriminatory casting

The fine actor (and it transpired, renaissance man) Paterson Joseph revealed on Radio 3's Private Passions last Sunday that racist attitudes by casting directors are still a hurdle for dark-skinned actors to overcome. (Thankfully we are not as bad as American theatre people, if this extraordinary report is typical. The point is that no part in a play set in academia in modern times should be defined by skin colour.) He expressed his gratitude to radio for giving him the opportunity to play a wider range of parts than would be available to him on the stage - an opportunity which has also been seized by Ben Onwukwe and Adjoa Andoh with distinction.

Cush Jumbo has also raised the question of discrimination against non-white actors on UK TV. In her case, though, I would suggest that the problem is the lack of good parts as such. The fact is that more good TV drama series are being made in the US now than in the UK. UK broadcasters seem unwilling to break out of the safe template of the police procedural. Good though some of these series are, few of the parts on offer are rewarding - Cush Jumbo's part behind a desk in Vera is a case in point, though one in which her very light brown complexion quickly became irrelevant, at least to this viewer.

The Good Wife gave not only Cush Jumbo and Archie Panjabi good parts, but also "white" British actors Alan Cumming, Marc Warren and Matthew Goode. US directors appreciate the technical ability and professionalism of British-trained actors. A list of US TV series which feature Brits - or Australians, Canadians or New Zealanders - would make this post far too long, but I would pick out another ground-breaking series which no BBC executive would dare to green-light these days: The Americans, featuring Taff Matthew Rhys.

Christopher Eccleston has consistently drawn attention to a more worrying aspect of UK casting: discrimination against working-class actors. His most recent attack came in the i newspaper of 17th July, but there is a more accessible and comprehensive article in the Guardian from two years ago. Eccleston's generation is the beneficiary of a breakthrough which began in the 1960s with the likes of Albert Finney, Tom Courtenay and Michael Caine, but which seems to be the last of the line. We are reverting to the situation of the 1950s and earlier when only well-off boys and gels could afford the necessary training and had the contacts, so came to dominate English stage and screen. One wonders how audiences put up with excruciating attempts at working-class accents for so long, something at least the current crop of privately-educated young actors have worked at. One hopes that we are currently going through no more than a phase, and that a proper balance will be restored, but the signs are not good.

Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Abuse of candidates

I have recently received and returned a questionnaire about my experience as a candidate in the last election. A significant part of the study concentrates on what level of abuse candidates had experienced during the campaign. I was pleased to report that I was not aware of any, though perhaps I was not seen as high-profile in a very polarised campaign. A chance remark from the Conservative (female) candidate after the count suggested that this was not the case with the front-runners and Labour's Christina Rees has certainly attracted some nasty comments on social media even before the election.

Another way of avoiding anonymous abuse is not to use Twitter, which seems to encourage such garbage by its very nature. Sheffield University and Buzzfeed have recently completed an exhaustive analysis of tweets received by politicians over the month leading up to the 2017 general election. (Thanks to Guido Fawkes for publicising this.) The reassuring thing is that even in the worst case (Conservative men), less than 6% of Twitter traffic was abusive, and in the case of female Greens and Liberal Democrats, less than 1%. This is still too much, though, especially as some of the language used is obnoxious, and the government is right to hold an inquiry.

Another finding is that race is clearly a motivator:

It is well worth reading the whole article and its other well-chosen graphs.

Monday, 24 July 2017

Brexit, Corbyn and food

I have deliberately laid off commenting on the Conservatives' and Corbynists' determination to leave the EU because: (a) Brexit is being discussed endlessly elsewhere; and (b) because I feel I have adequately laid out my position in previous posts.

However, a couple of very good posts on developments have come to my attention. First, Jonathan Fryer dispels any illusions that people may have had who voted Labour at the mad June election that Corbyn would reverse May's retreat from Europe.

[Corbyn] knows he cannot build the sort of high-tax, dirigiste socialist Utopia that he and his Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, dream of. They do not support the European project; they denigrate it as a capitalist club. One should never forget how much Corbyn revered Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez.

Secondly, Jay Rayner, award-winning journalist, food writer and chair of Radio 4's Kitchen Cabinet, lays out the  before-and-after benefits of our joining and remaining in the EEC/EC/EU. (He also reveals an aspect of the hypocrisy of Michael Gove.)  One passage stood out for me:

It is a mystery to me why farmers voted in such number to leave Europe. I assume they believed the false promise that the money based on acreage would just keep rolling in after Brexit. I also assume they hoped it would free them from environmental protection legislation. Certainly, both parts of the regime are flawed.

Indeed, interviews with farmers on Radio Wales' Country Focus, of which yesterday's edition from the Royal Welsh was typical, consistently cite the removal of "red tape" as a reason for voting Leave.

He also agrees that the Common Agricultural Policy is flawed, and that this is recognised throughout the EU. I believe that we Liberal Democrats have not emphasised enough that a consistent component of our policy is reform of the CAP. The UK's leaving can only reduce the opposition within the EU to the big two who most benefit from the current CAP.

More and more people in the top half of income distribution in the UK are now realising that allowing Article 50 negotiations to proceed would be a mistake. However, not until the predictions of rising prices and factory closures become real and hit ordinary people in their pockets, or that the news outlets consistently report the dangers to our health of desperate trade deals with nations with lower environmental standards, will there be any practical effect.

Sunday, 23 July 2017

The crazy world of Michelle Brown

I find the brouhaha about Michelle Brown's use of the term "coconut" puzzling, but not as puzzling as her choosing this particular insult in the first place. From her pictures she appears to be a White Anglo-Saxon and "coconut" is a metaphor chosen by African-Americans to describe other African-Americans who they felt had betrayed the black cause. "Oreo" is a similar term, both relating to something which is dark brown on the outside but white on the inside. Both seem to have replaced "Uncle Tom" as a term of abuse. But what business is it of Ms Brown?

Umunna's crime appears to be a class betrayal rather than one of ethnicity. His alleged socialite life-style, removed from the interests of the people his party purports to represent, has long featured in the radical media.

Perhaps, more worryingly, what Ms Brown objects to is mixed marriages. Perhaps she would like to see the introduction of apartheid. Perhaps if people like her came to power there would be a Group Areas Act and people like Chuka Umunna would be restricted to "coloureds only" districts.

More likely she is just silly and should either be ignored or made fun of. The po-faced response to her inappropriate attack can only cause more trouble.

Saturday, 22 July 2017

Don Henderson

Don Henderson died twenty years ago today. He starred in a quirky 1980s TV detective series, Bulman, deserving of a re-run. I recall an article of the time suggesting that there was a lot of Henderson in the title character. His co-star was a young Siobhan Redmond, happily still with us and still in business.

Reactions to electrification fudge

Railfuture is understandably disappointed:

Wales Online lists more responses here:

I found Alun Cairns' claims that the halt to electrification was actually a great leap forward quite specious. I fail to see what the bi-mode trains have in common with the Shinkansen apart from the country of origin and the vague physical likeness. If this was such an earth-shattering breakthrough, why was it not given full publicity together with an oral statement to the Commons or at least an answer to a planted question? It is almost certain that the decision was made some time ago but delayed until after the election in the hope of saving Conservative seats in south Wales and the Tory campaign in Bridgend. As it is, the attempt to dislodge Madeleine Moon was a dismal failure and they lost Gower. (Stephen Crabb managed to hang on in Preseli and I see he has been rewarded with the airy promise of an improved rail service to Carmarthen and Pembrokeshire.)

Adrian Masters clears the PR fog from what is undoubtedly a cynically broken promise.

Yesterday, it was confirmed that the Severn Bridge tolls will be removed next year. This will be a mixed blessing, and will add weight to the suspicion that the decision to curtail rail improvement is a concession to the road lobby.

Friday, 21 July 2017

When Israel Attacked USS Liberty

There was a fiftieth anniversary on the eighth of last month which I missed, having been occupied with an election at the time. On the 8th June 1967, an Israeli jet and torpedo boats attacked a US warship in the eastern Mediterranean. US naval survivors attested that the pilot could have been in no doubt of the nationality of their ship, as related in Anthony Pearson's 1979 book on the subject, Conspiracy of Silence. Pearson came to no firm conclusion as to the reason for the attack. A common theory was that the Liberty was believed to have picked up Israeli signal communications which indicated military action contrary to international law and in contradiction to Israeli government official statements.

publication in May this year promises to reopen the controversy, using documents released by the Israeli state archives since the Pearson book. The new thesis is that the US president himself was complicit in the attack, which stretches credulity to the limits. It seems to me that, beyond confirming that the Israeli pilot and his immediate operational commander knew that the target was a US ship, the new book adds nothing certain. We shall probably never know the reason.

Thursday, 20 July 2017

Rail electrification: Mrs May to reverse another coalition policy

Wales Online is reporting that the government is to stop funding for the Great Western rail electrification west of Cardiff. It seems that Wales is being made to pay for the engineering misjudgements which caused the cost of electrification in England to overrun. Note that neither has there been an announcement in the House of Commons, nor has there been any indication to the Swansea City council leaders who have been in discussion with government ministers over the Conservatives' city deal. The city deal itself must be under threat from withdrawal of business interest which would have been attracted by the electrification project.

Wales' economy minister Ken Skates has been on the radio protesting that running diesel-only from Cardiff to Swansea maintains a contribution to pollution. He could also have pointed out that electric trains are more reliable than diesel-powered sets. There must be some doubt about the extra complication of bimodal power units. Electrification would have enabled the ageing commuter sets to be replaced as well as improving the long-distance service.

In the wider context, the shortage of modern diesel units already noted at least three years ago is going to be aggravated. Great Western is not the only electrification to be curtailed it seems. Train operators will have run down orders for new diesel units in the expectation that the electrification programme launched by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, and confirmed (admittedly at a slower pace) by the Conservatives when they returned with an absolute majority in 2015 would proceed.

The signals that this decision sends out are that Brexit is going to reduce industrial and commercial activity outside the London travel-to-work area, and that Wales is to be written off. A Liberal Democrat initiative which reversed years of Labour neglect in Westminster is to be set aside; Welsh Labour protests - what will Corbyn's Labour nationally say?

Private versus public service pay: let us have some evidence

Philip Hammond has said some silly things about public service workers. (By the way, I am surprised he referred to women train-drivers. I would have thought that driving a bus was a tougher job, and women bus-drivers are a familiar sight these days. But then, it is probably many years since the chancellor boarded a bus.) The Daily Telegraph has also asserted that public sector pay continues to outstrip private sector pay, citing a recent IFS report. Since the only recent IFS report on the subject clearly refers to Graduate Recruits on its title page, it seems dishonest to draw service-wide conclusions from it.

Others, notably Boris Johnson who in theory ought to be on the same side as the prime minister and chancellor, assert that public sector pay has fallen behind and that the gap should be addressed.

Crude arguments about relative pay levels need to be picked apart. Do the protagonists include BBC executives, insulated from austerity and even public scrutiny, among their public service workers? Does the private sector include the poorly-paid and sexually-discriminated-against employees of companies to which local and central government work is outsourced? What about zero-hours contracts?

We need to return to wage awards in the public sector based on fair comparisons, matching like-for-like in public and private sectors. My guess is that such research would find that senior civil servants would be poorly rewarded in comparison with chief executives of major companies, that people at the bottom end of civil and public service pay-scales do worse than equivalents outside (though with better pension guarantees) but that a wodge of middle-ranking executives do rather better. But my guess is no better than Hammond's, or Johnson's, or Corbyn's until a truly independent expert body is commissioned to the detailed work and update it at least biennially.

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Brexit motives

The Observer was just the latest organ to report the malign effects of Brexit. The trouble is that none of its readers need to be converted by its editorial and reporting. They are clearly convinced Remainers already. I would be more encouraged if the Mail or the Sun cast doubt on the decision to trigger Article 50 (it is too much to hope that the Express would). Besides, too many reports miss the point. I do not know of any Leave voters who actually believed that £350m lie on the side of the German bus built in Poland (as Lord Roberts memorably put it). Nor did too many of them doubt that there would be some adverse effect on our most successful businesses, including finance. To them, it was a small price to pay for the ability to have full control over our laws and our territorial waters, and for the ability to treat all migrants on an equal footing. As Tom Watson points out in the current issue of Private Eye, there was a strong class element, too. He quoted a contribution from John Bird (the Big Issue man) to the Lords debate on the Queen's Speech:

I was a bit unhappy on the day after we had our referendum. I was unhappy because when I walked into my little Cambridgeshire village and met an incredibly educated, sophisticated and well-placed member of the community, I found that he was absolutely outraged that “these people”—who were described as “scum”, “rubbish”, “below life”—had taken him and his wife and family and other people out of something which for him was the most precious thing on earth other than the United Kingdom. I then went down the pub that evening and met people who had voted to leave. Many of them were cock-a-hoop, aggressive and rather vicious. 

In other words, "Brexit can't hurt because life can't get much worse for us, but it is going to hurt you smug b******s who are making money out of Europe while we're not."

Times change. Those people who dismissed warnings from the Remain camp about loss of international confidence in sterling are faced with the fourth or fifth month running when inflation is above the government's target of 2%. Prices are rising even in the very competitive UK supermarkets. The organisers of the various Leave groups may not be feeling the pinch, but surely those ordinary voters they convinced to vote for them last June are.  These people must be wondering whether giving up pooled sovereignty in the EU is a principle worth defending in the face of continuously falling living standards.

Tuesday, 18 July 2017

The forelock vote

For a society which has supposedly achieved equality of opportunity, there have surprisingly many instances where UK political parties have chosen "posh" leaders. The Conservatives have obvious historical examples - Churchill, related to the Dukes of Marlborough, and Lord Home - but even Labour has turned to privately-educated men, notably Tony Blair (Fettes), Gaitskell (Winchester) and Attlee (Haileybury), among the Callaghans and Wilsons. Even Jeremy Corbyn went to a prep. school.

Thatcher and Heath came from well-to-do families at least, so John Major was something of an aberration. It was no surprise that the smooth David Cameron, with connections to minor nobility, should win a contest for the Conservative leadership against David Davis, brought up by a single mother on a council estate. Davis again seems doomed to failure in the election which will follow Mrs May's inevitable fall from the top position, because Jacob Rees-Mogg, member for the 19th century, a rich man who married in to the aristocracy, has clearly signalled his intentions.

Monday, 17 July 2017

Sad end to an iconic boat

This is the Royal Iris as I remember her as I was growing up in Wallasey. Although deprecated in conversation as "the fish and chip boat" because of the nature of the excursions which were run regularly on her, we were quietly proud of her then distinctively modern lines.

Merseytravel, the agency which took over eventual responsibility for the Mersey ferries, sold her in 1991 and she has since been rusting away - in Woolwich, for some reason. The Liverpool Echo has more.

There are more depressing images here.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

True art is international

The most complete version on the Web of one of my favourite cricketing stories is in the pages of the Times of India, relayed by R Guha. It helps to know that Arthur Mailey was not only a writer but also a fine cartoonist and admirer of the great masters.

Australia were touring England, and Bradman was scoring centuries and double centuries (and, once, even a triple). In desperation the England selectors chose a young wrist-spinner named Ian Peebles who hadn't played much county cricket. The day before Peebles's first Test match, the two teams were entertained at the home of the Duke of Norfolk. During lunch, the former Australian googly bowler Arthur Mailey, who was covering the tour as a journalist, was seen huddled in a corner with Peebles. After the meal was over, Mailey asked the host's staff for a cricket ball. The request granted, he went out into the garden with the novice. With an ancient oak tree serving as a wicket he showed Peebles how to more effectively disguise his wrong-un. After the lecture-demonstration was over, Mailey was accosted by the manager of the Australian team. "Don't you know that what you taught him will be used against us in the Test," he remonstrated. "Spin bowling is an art," answered Mailey, "and art is international."

Saturday, 15 July 2017

Wimbledon International

I just about remember the time when the Australians took over domination of the men's tournaments at Wimbledon from the Americans. I believe that before the transatlantic invasion, the All-England championships had been contested by the English and French, with the occasional German interloper. The Americans continued to prevail in the women's game and made a come-back in the men's when attritional baseline tennis won back over serve-and-volley. There was a brief incursion from Sweden, but it was probably the entry of east European competitors which broke the whole thing wide open and now there is a very healthy global competition. The 2017 men's final is to be contested by a Swiss and a Croat, an American and a Venezuelan Basque are in today's women's final while the doubles involve two Russians, a Scot, a Channel Islander, a Swiss, a Finn, a Pole, an Austrian, a Brazilian, a Croat, a Romanian and a lady from Taipei.

Friday, 14 July 2017

The lies are all out there -

- but truth stands a chance

Ian Burrell reports in the i newspaper that Full Fact, the UK's independent fact-checking charity, is to receive funding to help its service. The Omidyar Foundation, set up by eBay's founder, and Open Society Foundations, the brainchild of George Soros, have together awarded half-a-million dollars for the development of automated fact-checking tools

When the row over fake news generated by LeaveEU and its ilk was at its height, I recommended that people check all statements with Full Fact, rather than InFacts.  I am not saying that InFacts told lies, but as a clearly pro-Remain site it could not be seen as impartial, which Full Fact is.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Child maintenance service failing

A final report by the old Work And Pensions Committee highlighting the bleak position of certain single parents seems to have been forgotten about in the circus surrounding the general election and the politicking which followed. The people concerned were those who were receiving maintenance under the Child Support Agency, which is being wound up, but are not being treated well by the replacement Child Maintenance Scheme.

Heidi Allen MP, Member of the Committee, said:
"We know the balance between state and family is one of the hardest to get right. But there is an opportunity to get control of this decades old issue, by improving the new Child Maintenance Service.
"I would not like to be the CMS adviser who has to tell a parent who has been chasing the child support their family is entitled to, maybe from a violent ex-partner, that they will have to start all over again with a new agency. Or that despite chasing for years, they need to discard any progress with enforcement and investigation and start from scratch.  In many cases, it makes absolutely no sense. We need to improve on the current situation, not start from the beginning again.
"It is right of course that families sort these issues themselves wherever possible, and the Government only provide a safety net when that doesn't work. But a high proportion of ongoing cases from the CSA have not been resolved, they have simply disappeared. There must now be a worry that families simply cannot face starting over and are slipping through the safety net. Families who break up and are able to sort their financial commitments amicably do not need the state's help. But my goodness, when this isn't possible, of all the times when you need the state to back you up, this must surely be it.
"The victims of this fraud by shameless self-employed parents who play the system, and old-fashioned deadbeat non-payers here, are children. The CMS must visibly up its game, to get fair support for parents in the most difficult circumstances, and to send a clear signal that avoiding responsibility for your children is unacceptable.
"The evasion of child support under the guise of ever changing 'self-employment' is also an evasion of tax. It is a double hit to the tax payer in the form of lower tax receipts and also benefit payments to parents with care who can't then make ends meet. It is therefore essential that the Government reviews this as part of its comprehensive review of self-employment."

The government should pay attention to criticism from a fellow-Conservative.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

Financing terrorism

Will Theresa May continue to be pressed about her government's suppression of an official report on this subject? France 24 points out the hypocrisy of Mrs May's continuing the Conservative (and US) policy of keeping well in with the kingdom of Saud, after an independent think tank had published its own conclusions:

While the British public awaits the release of the public inquiry findings, the latest Henry Jackson Society report details the massive web of Saudi funding of British mosques and Islamic institutions, as well as the UK government’s poor record in countering the menace.
Saudi Arabia however is not the only country to be singled out in the 14-page report. Qatar, Kuwait and Iran are also accused of supporting trusts and other institutions that have promoted extremism and hate speech particularly against Jewish people and homosexuals.
But the Wahhabi kingdom’s extremist network dominates the report, with author Tom Wilson noting that “while countries from across the Gulf and Iran have been guilty of advancing extremism, Saudi Arabia is undoubtedly at the top of the list”.

Tuesday, 11 July 2017

Sane political correctness

There may be people who consider that Anne Marie Morris was unfortunate to have been recorded using an offensive term, but considering the origin of the expression in question it is something she should have consciously cut out of her vocabulary a long time ago. It was already on its way out in polite society in the 1960s, so that when a consultant called in to sort out some difficulty in the early days of DVL described his rôle as that of "wood in the n*****-pile" the younger members of his audience drew in their breath sharply. Perhaps he should have said that he was "oint in the flyment".

Monday, 10 July 2017


MEPs Claude Moraes and Cecilia Wikström submitted an opinion to the European Parliament's committees on civil liberties (LIBE) and petitions (PETI).

On Thursday, statelessness will take centre stage in the European Parliament’s LIBE and PETI committees, as its members turn their attention to one of Europe’s most hidden and marginalised populations.

A joint hearing will address the rights of women, men and children living in our communities who have no nationality. No citizenship. No place to belong.

To be stateless is not to be recognised as a national of any state, anywhere. To be stateless is to be prevented from accessing the most fundamental rights: the right to education, to health, to social welfare, to property, to marry, and – all too often – to liberty. It is to exist in limbo.

Despite being little known and little understood, statelessness affects more than 10 million people around the globe and at least 600,000 in Europe.

Statelessness disproportionally impacts on ethnic minorities like the Roma, due to discrimination, and people on the move, who may have already been stateless when they fled countries such as Syria and Iraq, or who have become so on their journeys to safety.

Most European countries frequently encounter stateless people or people of ‘unknown’ nationality in their asylum systems. Moreover, children are being born stateless in Europe to parents who are stateless or unable to pass on their nationality, because some countries still only have partial or no safeguards in their nationality laws to prevent childhood statelessness.

Other challenges like access to birth registration for refugee, migrant and other marginalised populations contribute to the problem.

We believe that it is time that we as European lawmakers faced up to this situation and put in place concrete solutions to ensure that nobody in Europe is left stateless in the future. Moreover, the solutions to these challenges lie within our reach.

It is surprising that there are EU members, who are expected to conform to the ECHR, who are not signatories to the UN Conventions on Statelessness. The UK is, which is why we do not revoke the nationality of citizens who do not have anywhere else to go, however much we may dislike them. One wonders though whether our current government's treatment of children born to immigrants is strictly in accordance with Article 1 of the 1961 Convention.

1. A Contracting State shall grant its nationality to a person born in its territory who would otherwise be stateless. Such nationality shall be granted: (a) at birth, by operation of law, or [...]

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Breakfast cereal going home

The news that Post Holdings of the US is to acquire Weetabix (and thus also Alpen and Ready Brek) recalled breakfast tables of childhood. Post Toasties and Force (once well-known for its "Sunny Jim" pack front) tried to break into the market created by Kellogg and Quaker, but without success. One sensed that US companies had invented the processed breakfast cereal and a wikipedia article bears that out. Presumably the pre-twentieth century shot of carbohydrate to start the day would have been provided by porage, which had the disadvantage of having to be prepared by boiling.

It was surprising that no indigenous company attempted to break the US stranglehold, which was no doubt helped by setting up subsidiaries which manufactured in England. It was left to Australians to do that in the form of Weetabix, based on the antipodean Weet-Bix. (The divergent paths of the UK company and its Australian parent have led to a "passing off" dispute in New Zealand.) With the Post acquisition it seems that only Jordans  is the only UK-owned manufacturer in the business.

Saturday, 8 July 2017

Free Traws-Cambria travel refers.

This would be welcome if the subsidy for most local Sunday services had not been withdrawn by both national and local government. So there is no way for me to board a connection to take advantage of the new dispensation.

And what about competitors along part of the same route? Apparently, there will be a government compensation scheme for smaller operators who can prove they have lost money as a result. However, this remedy does not help cash flow - SMEs often live hand-to-mouth - and adds to administrative costs.

What is the Welsh health minister doing about this rip-off?

- and the US experience is that patients are being gouged even when there is "competition":

For how this affects English patients in practice, listen to one pharmacist's experience on the latest "Inside Health".  I have no reason to believe that it is any different in Wales.

Friday, 7 July 2017

Tories want BBC to become state broadcaster

Liam Fox and Andrea Leadsom have noticed, following the lead of Peter Bone, that the BBC has started to present a balanced view of Brexit now that Article 50 has been invoked. They clearly want to go back to the days when Nigel Farage was on our screens three times a day, when Euromyths were presented as fact and refutations thereof were described as "allegations". They must be happy with the general party political slant of the Beeb (I note that, following Guto Harri, yet another BBC executive has made the easy transition to a government support job - will Gibb eventually follow the same path to a Murdoch company?) , or they would be calling for its privatisation. It's just that they do not want awkward facts to be presented.

I do agree with them over one of their assertions: the BBC does not give enough coverage to the nations's Commonwealth membership. In particular, one relies on social media or France 24 for news of the game-changing Liberal administration in Canada.

From claret to cake and giggles

For some time, I have been meaning to moan about how key figures in the cricket broadcasting of my youth have been written out of the TMS record. In particular, Roy Webber, Arthur Wrigley and Jack Price who virtually invented the art of scoring for TV and radio (though later practitioners may have reinvented it), are forgotten men. I was an admirer of Webber's successor, Bill Frindall, who died too soon, but wonder if Webber and Wrigley would be better known today if they had been encouraged to speak on air as often as Frindall.

Roy Webber and Brian Johnston produced the first "Armchair Cricket" in 1955/56, mainly for the benefit of TV viewers. (I recall the radio team as Alston and Arlott, supplemented by regional commentators such as Robert Hudson and Alan Gibson, backed up by Wrigley.) Later volumes in 1966 and 1968, edited by Johnston alone, provided more background to the radio coverage, which had gone ball-by-ball. Webber also founded, with radio producer Michael Tuke-Hastings, the International Cricket Broadcasters' Club.

What sparked today's posting was the article in next week's Radio Times celebrating fifty years of Test Match Special which celebrates the camp side of BBC's cricket coverage. Brian Johnston, who was apparently "demoted" from TV to radio for not being technical enough, has a lot to answer for in that the obsession with cake and trivia arrived with him. However, Johnston was by all accounts a decent club cricketer and he never let the lighter side of the commentary box interfere with description of the play. (Apart from the infamous "legover" incident which, in spite of Jonathan Agnew's protestations to the contrary, I am convinced was planned to undermine Johnston.)

The RT dismissal of Arlott as "well-fuelled and of a literary bent" was particularly annoying. Certainly, Arlott had become a connoisseur of claret (and had been a producer of poetry broadcasts for the BBC Overseas Service) which he was known to indulge in during the working day, but he never let a drink impair the standard of his commentaries. In the last years of his career, he could be late for his turn at the microphone but this was as likely to have been by being waylayed by friends or admirers on his way back to the box as by staying too long at his refreshment.

While Arlott never quite made it to the international stage as Agnew was to do, he was rather better-qualified than Johnston in that he had played for Hampshire Club & Ground and occasionally fielded twelfth man for the county. He had kept in touch with the dressing-rooms which was a great help in his work behind the scenes to get Basil d'Oliveira accepted firstly into English cricket and thereafter into the MCC touring team.

As to his literary turn, it was always at the service of the listener. I needed to be reminded of the bowler (it was Asif Masood) whose run-up he compared to Groucho Marx pursuing a waitress but the image was conjured up swiftly and surely, as with other deft strokes for other personalities. Was it Arlott who described Hampshire's middle-order batsman Henry Horton as having "a stance like a gate-leg table"?  If it was not, it was someone imitating Arlott. "The single by consent" - where both batsman and fielder know that there is a certain one, but not quite a two, so one strolls the run and the other ambles to the ball - was his, too.

Some idea of the professionalism of those days, the art that conceals art, is conveyed by part of Arlott's contribution to the later Armchair Cricket:

Life in the box is somewhat unnatural. All talk is professional - required to be audible and understandable to the listener. Arrangements about a cup of tea, sugar or not, loan of matches, whether or not to take a 'good-night drink', correction of errors, collecting autographs for juvenile correspondents, whether the 'comments man' may leave the box, what has happened to X - who was due on air three minutes ago - or the report of Johnston's latest pun-atrocity, must be transacted in sign-language, hand-shielded whispers or writing.

Nowadays, it all hangs out. Personally, I enjoy the revelations of the logistics of the commentary box, but not when it gets childish. There is an element of the private school common-room about some of the goings-on which is irritating. This brings me on to another forgotten man: Don Mosey. Brought into test match commentary when Cliff Morgan was head of sport at the BBC, he should have taken over as cricket correspondent when Johnston retired in 1972. He knew it, and did not make any friends by letting it be known that he thought there was a BBC bias against working-class, especially northern working-class, Conservatives. He was a fine commentator, though, and knew his sport.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Child abuse

On the same day as Panorama presented the results of its investigation into abuse of cadets, the final report of the Jersey Care Inquiry was published. It does not make pleasant reading, especially the conclusion that the conditions which led to abuse are still there.
At its best, the “Jersey Way” is said to refer to the maintenance of proud and ancient traditions and the preservation of the island’s way of life. At its worst, the “Jersey Way” is said to involve the protection of powerful interests and resistance to change, even when change is patently needed. [...]We consider that an inappropriate regard for the “Jersey Way” has inhibited the prompt development of policy and legislation concerning children. Treating children in the care system as low priorities fails those children and shames the society concerned. [From the Executive Summary]

The concern for South Wales is the suggestion, when the Jersey abuse first hit the headlines around ten years ago, that troubled children from local authorities here had been farmed out to Jersey. A cursory glance at the contents page of a very detailed report does not confirm this, but clearly closer inspection is needed.

A European common currency, with an Italian design

Two hundred years ago, the Royal Mint revived that Tudor innovation, the gold sovereign. Like the US dollar and Swiss franc of our day, it became a de facto common currency alongside the Maria Theresa silver thaler. Indeed, the sovereign was for a brief time legal tender in Portugal. The reverse was graced by "a St George and the dragon of classic beauty by the Italian engraver Benedetto Pistrucci". Clearly the Mint had no hang-ups about employing the best of continental Europe.

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

It's "Catch the Bus Week" refers

But there are still no timetables or indicator at my local bus-stop, nor any one of dozens throughout the county borough. One wonders what marks out the favoured few.

And if the council and bus companies really wanted to encourage families to swap their car for the bus, they would surely have kept going the summer Sunday service linking Neath and Skewen with the Swansea Bay beaches.

Monday, 3 July 2017

Simone Veil

I have just received this appreciation, from an EU perspective, of the great fighter for civil and women's rights, Simone Veil. Her career is a reminder that it was not only the men who had seen the horrors of European war and dictatorships who campaigned for a European Union which would see an end to such.

During the Second World War, Simone Veil was arrested in the street in Nice, and her family was deported in 1944 to concentration camps because of their Jewish background. Simone Veil was liberated from Bobrek and returned to France in 1945, but neither of her parents nor a brother returned.

If  you have Adobe Flash enabled on your computer, you can view the Agora in Brussels named after her here.

Fund management needs shake-up

Towards the end of last week, a report by the Financial Conduct Authority made headlines only in the business section of newspapers. It found that "price competition is weak, investors are not always clear what the objectives of funds are and fund performance is not always reported against an 'appropriate benchmark'" (The quote is from the i newspaper.)

According to Gina Miller, who runs a totally transparent fund management company, the final report has been watered down.  On Radio 4's "Money Box" last Saturday she accused the authors of being got at by the industry after the interim report went out for consultation.

One can sense that this has taken place from the largely self-satisfied responses of the big asset managers quoted in City A.M. last week.

From early on, the fund management business was rather more blasé about Brexit than industry and commerce in general. It seems that while individual investors may see their wealth decline, the asset managers will continue to thrive because of their arcane charging structures. Indeed, the halt to the integration of the City of London into a more regulated but more competitive EU financial régime may also help them.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

Estonia steps in where UK is incapable

Jonathan Fryer writes on his blog: "This weekend the United Kingdom was due to take over the six-month rotating presidency of the European Union, but as the government in London is focussed on Brexit it declined the honour. Estonia has stepped up to the plate instead, and its progressive, tech-savvy Liberal government will doubtless make a good fist of it."

Estonia continues to grow faster than the EU average - see yesterday's post.