Tuesday, 21 August 2018

A grim anniversary

Fifty years ago we in the West heard the depressing news that the Prague Spring had been crushed by the forces of the USSR. From the University of Luxembourg’s CVCE.eu:

The Communist Party had held power in Czechoslovakia since the 1948 Prague coup. In January 1968, the Stalinist Antonin Novotný was overruled and replaced by Alexander Dubček, a liberal Communist who sought to reconcile Socialism and freedom. The liberalisation of the regime began in the spring of 1968. Censorship was abolished, and Czech citizens were permitted to travel abroad. The First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU), Leonid Brezhnev, expressed his dissatisfaction, but Prague refused to comply. In fact, as the pressure increased, so did the liberalisation. On 21 August 1968, troops from the Warsaw Pact countries, with the exception of Romania, took advantage of extended training operations to invade Czechoslovakia and arrest the ‘deviant’ leaders. Although Dubček retained his post for a while after his release, he was soon to be replaced by the pro-Soviet Gustáv Husák, who oversaw a return to normality. 

The USSR had demonstrated once more that it would grant only limited sovereignty to its Socialist brothers. The Western powers and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) reacted to the invasion of Czechoslovakia only with declarations of regret.

In those days, the US and UK were all too ready to accept the doctrine of "spheres of influence", but even today - apart from a few pinpricks of sanctions - we seem unwilling to annoy Russia when president Putin sanctions expansion of Russia into former Soviet territory.

Monday, 20 August 2018

Progress on patient records in Bridgend

A Liberal Democrat 1992 manifesto commitment is being implemented incrementally in ABMU this century.

The relevant paragraph from the manifesto is:

Real choice in health care. We will introduce an effeict Patient's Charter, including rights to hospital treatment within a specified time, a choice of GP, guaranteed access to health records, and a comprehensive no-fault compensation scheme. We will require health authorities to publish a Charter of Services, defining basic entitlements, and provide redress where these are not satisfied. We will establish a new National Inspectorate for Health to guarantee a quality service.

Since then, we have had advances in IT which have put a computer in the pocket of any possessor of a smartphone. So software which has already been used in 30 hospitals across England, including Great Ormond Street in London, has been introduced to ten departments in the Princess of Wales hospital in Bridgend. after a trial in dermatology at Singleton and urology in Morriston. There are more details here.

What is available to those patients now goes beyond the dreams of the drafters of the manifesto, but sadly none of the other aspirations is closer to realisation, either side of the border.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Lobbying part five of five.

This is the fifth set of  names from the Cusick/Milmo article of 2011 referred to on Monday. These firms are still listed by the ORCL. Links are to Powerbase entries, where these exist.

Cicero Communications is now Cicero Consulting. Director Iain Anderson had worked for several Conservatives, including Kenneth Clarke.
Clients in 2011 included HSBC, Fidelity, RBS, GE, Aegon, Invesco, Prudential, PWC, Goldman Sachs, AXA, Scottish Widows, Lloyds Banking Group and Barclays

Global Government Relations Seemingly, the most EU-friendly firm in this survey, it is the lobbying arm of multi-national law firm DLA Piper. Tim Clement-Jones, Liberal Democrat peer, founded the firm and Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, who had worked for EU commissioners, was a partner until she left for the US law firm Dechert in October 2011.  The head of media was Eben Black, a former political correspondent for the Press Association and thereafter various newspapers in the Murdoch empire. He moved on to Newgate in 2013.
No public list of clients in 2011

Politics Direct;is now Brevia Consulting. The managing director was David Beamer, former advisor to the Conservative party, who had worked with 8 Secretaries of State. He was assisted by
Clients included British Energy, EDF, Nokia, T-Mobile, Lilly, Alliance and Leicester and Allied Domecq.

Portland Managing Director Tim Allen worked for Tony Blair in opposition and in Downing Street. George Eustice MP had worked there as well as Henry de Zoete, adviser to Michael Gove, Education Secretary at the time.
Clients included Apple, Association of British Bookmakers, British Bankers Association, Cable and Wireless, Gazprom, Google, McDonald's, NSPCC, Tesco, Government of Russia, Virgin Media and Vodafone.


What has emerged from this exercise? Firstly, the amorality of most of these firms. Lobbyists are happy to work for charities and companies with a high public reputation as well as tax-dodgers, would-be monopolists and oppressive governments. Most are equipped to work both sides of the political street, government and opposition. The detailed Powerbase entries show that nothing has changed in seven years.

Secondly, the revolving door, drawn attention to by both Powerbase and Private Eye, spins merrily in spite of the supposed oversight of ACoBA. It seems to this cynical observer that the more senior the MP, civil servant, Special Advisor or company director, the fewer obstacles are placed in his or her way in or out of government circles and related areas of vested interest.

Thirdly, either firms exaggerated the strength of their client list (what, lobbying and PR organisations stretching the truth??) or the big corporations hedge their bets by employing several lobbyists at the same time.

So the next time that government resists a progressive proposal or takes a controversial decision favouring a particular industry or company, it is worth looking for possible lobbying links.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Lobbying part four of five

This is the fourth set of  names from the Cusick/Milmo article of 2011 referred to on Monday. These firms are still listed by the ORCL. Links are to Powerbase entries, where these exist.

Hill and Knowlton was another company which grew big on the back of the US tobacco industry. It is now part of WPP. Paul Sinclair, a former adviser to Labour ministers Douglas Alexander and Gordon Brown according to Cusick and Milmo (though this does not show on his Bloomberg or Linkedin profiles), was and is head of public affairs there. Oliver Dowden, Conservative MP for Hertsmere and a former aide to David Cameron worked there in 2011.
Clients included Aviva, Intercontinental Hotels, Johnson & Johnson, Serious Fraud Office, Statoil and Visa

Interel Consulting UK Part of the wider multinational Interel Group, it was founded by Andrew Dunlop (now Lord Dunlop) who had been at various times an advisor to Mrs Thatcher, to the Ministry of Defence and at Conservative Central Office.
2011 clients included Agusta Westland, Qinetiq, Rio Tinto, Virgin Atlantic and Northrop Grumman Corporation.

Quiller Consultants had been co-founded in 1998 by John Eisenhammer and Jonathan Hill. The latter went on to become David Cameron's choice of an EU commissioner and is now Baron Hill of Oareford. Others on the payroll in 2011 were Stephen Parkinson, another former Cameron aide, Malcolm Morton a former parliamentary assistant (though not a PPS, as Cusick/Milmo incorrectly stated)  and now Public Affairs Manager at Pension Protection Fund and John Slinger, a former aide and researcher for Cynon Valley MP Ann Clwyd. Slinger moved to Hanover Communications in 2014.
Clients included Experian, HSBC, UAE, PWC (the former Price Waterhouse Cooper), Capita Group and the City of London Corporation.

Sovereign Strategy founded by Alan Donnelly, a former leader of the Labour group in the European Parliament and a friend of David Miliband, made and continues to make much of its Labour links.
Clients included Bloomberg, FIA, the government of Iceland and Huawei.

Tetra Strategy was founded by James O'Keefe, "a former Labour Party staffer and Bell Pottinger director, and Lee Petar, one of the founding directors of BICOM (Britain Israel Communications Centre)". In 2011, they had recently recruited Julie Kirkbride, former MP and wife of Andrew MacKay (see Burson Marsteller in Tuesday's episode).
Clients named in 2011 were Amec, Cellcrypt, Media Matters for America, Mikhail Khodorkovsky, Toyota and Ultralase.

TLG Communications formerly The Ledbury Group and now part of FTI Consulting was and is directed by Malcolm Gooderham, former adviser and press secretary to Michael Portillo. Jonathan Oliver, formerly political editor of The Sunday Times, had joined in 2010 but was to move on in 2011 to the Prudential as group director of media relations.
Clients included Asda, BT, Centrica, the Criminal Bar Association, FlyBe, Honda and the Prudential.

Weber Shandwick the UK subsidiary of Weber Shandwick Worldwide, one of the biggest global PR companies (owned by Interpublic), continues to have strong ties to the Labour Party through its CEO Colin Byrne, a former press officer for the party. However, it had numbered Priti Patel before her election as a Conservative MP and also employed Alex Deane, former chief of staff to David Cameron, and Tara Hamilton-Miller, a former Conservative press officer. Tamora Langley, who had been a Liberal Democrat candidate in the 2010 general election, was head of public affairs until June 2015, when she left to set up her own company. Of Miss Hamilton-Miller, there is no trace after a report of her promotion within the company in 2009.
In addition to the clients listed by Powerbase, Cusick/Milmo cite Asda, Associated Newspapers, Barclays, Bausch+Lomb, Mastercard, Mercedes-Benz and npower.

Westbourne Communications was very Conservative-orientated in 2011, with director James Bethell having worked on David Cameron's party leadership campaign and employing Campbell Storey, former chief of staff to Chris Grayling,  Maurice Cousins, former researcher on Iain Duncan Smith's Centre for Social Cohesion, and Dan Large, a former aide to Edward Timpson MP. The firm was sold to Cicero Communications (of which more tomorrow) earlier this year. All are still with Westbourne, though Storey has set up a separate coaching enterprise.
No client list was published in 2011.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Lobbying, part three of five

This is the third set of  names from the Cusick/Milmo article of 2011 referred to on Monday. These firms are still listed by the ORCL. Links are to Powerbase entries, where these exist.

Finsbury Roland Rudd, who was a friend of Peter Mandelson, and Simon Moyse, former adviser to Gordon Brown at the Treasury, were the prime movers in 2011 and are still with the company. Roland is the son of failed stockbroker Tony Rudd and therefore brother of Amber Rudd MP, disgraced former Home Secretary.
Clients then included BSkyB, Vodafone and Boots

Fleishman-Hillard's senior people included Henry Featherstone, former advisor to Conservative MPs including Francis Maude and Sophie Pim, former aide to David Cameron. Featherstone is now director of public affairs at pharmaceutical multi-national Sanofi.
2011 clients included American Pharmaceutical Group, British Insurance Brokers Association, JP Morgan, Marks and Spencer, Pfizer and Scottish Power.

Global Counsel Lord Mandelson's baby, formed with his aide Benjamin Wegg Prosser, a former director of strategic communications for Tony Blair. There was no public list of clients in 2011.

Hanover Communications Charles Lewington, former press secretary to John Major, founded the company. Laura Chisholm, now Laura Swire, a former adviser in Conservative Central Office, is still with the company. James Gurling, brother-in-law of the the late Charles Kennedy, who worked there in 2011, is now with MHP Communications but took time off to run the Liberal Democrat campaign for the 2017 general election.
Clients included Association of British Insurers, BSkyB, Goldman Sachs, Hewlett Packard, Jaguar Land Rover, Nomura and Santander.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

Lobbying part two of five

This is the second set of  names from the Cusick/Milmo article of 2011 referred to yesterday. These firms were still listed by the ORCL in 2017. Links are to Powerbase entries, where these exist.

ACPO Worldwide  was born out of the US tobacco industry. Its UK arm had strong Labour connections in 2011. Employees included Darren Murphy, former adviser to Alan Milburn, and Razi Rahman, a former Blair aide. Murphy and Rahman went on to found Centreground (see below) which was bought out in 2014 by Bell Pottinger (see below).
2011 clients included British Association of Pharmaceutical Wholesalers, eBay, GE, Microsoft, Netjets, EuropePfizer and RBS

Bell Pottinger is now in administration after exposure of its unethical activities in South Africa.
2011 clients included Axa, Nomura, Blackstone, Kellogg's and Pizza Express

Brunswick was founded by Alan Parker, financial PR guru. Cusick/Milmo report him as being godfather to one of Gordon Brown's sons, that David Cameron attended his 50th birthday party and that Blair attended his wedding. Mike Girling, who had been press aide to Nick Clegg, worked for Brunswick before moving on to work for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in Pakistan.
2011 clients included BA, BT and Blue Circle

Burson Marsteller, once the largest PR company in the world, is part of the WPP group and as a result of a merger earlier this year is now Burson Cohn & Wolfe. The chief executive in the UK in 2011 was Matt Carter, former general secretary of the Labour party. Former Conservative MP Andrew MacKay was also on the strength. Carter went on to found Message House in 2013.
2011 clients included Bacardi Martini, Danone, Heineken, Lloyds Banking Group and Pilkington.

Centreground Political Communications picked up Jonathan Powell, Chief of Staff in 10 Downing Street in the Blair years and controversial Labour spin doctor Adrian McMenamin. Bell Pottinger took the company over in 2014. No clients were listed by Cusick/Milmo in 2011.

Monday, 13 August 2018

Anu Garg gets political -

 - as Trump, Bannon and their followers over here would have it. I see it as the excellent A.Word.a.Day website expressing concern about the abuse of the English language by those (temporarily, one hopes) in power.

George Orwell predicted it. It’s just that his numbers were a little off. Instead of 1984, it happened some 30 years later (perhaps Orwell didn’t have access to a computer fast enough to precisely account for the retrograde motion of Jupiter).

Anyway, compare:

“What you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.”
(US President, July 24, 2018)

“The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears. It was their final, most essential command.”
(Orwell in 1984)

In this new reality, real news is fake, faux (also spelled as Fox) news is real.

As an homage to Orwell, this week we’ll feature five words he coined in the novel 1984 that are now a part of the English language.


(NOO-speek, NYOO-) 

noun: Deliberately ambiguous or euphemistic language used for propaganda.

Coined by George Orwell in his novel 1984. Newspeak was the official language of Oceania. Earliest documented use: 1949.

Oldspeak is the opposite of newspeak. For example, in 1984, the oldspeak “labor camp” is called a newspeak “joycamp”. But you don’t have to go to fiction to find newspeak.

What is “torture” in oldspeak becomes “interrogation”, or even better, “enhanced interrogation” in newspeak. While “waterboarding” itself is newspeak -- no, it’s not a water sport -- they go one step further and couch it as “enhanced interrogation”. As if in regular interrogation one is suffocated with regular water while waterboarding, but in enhanced they use nothing less than Evian.

“In current newspeak, limiting compensation for unfair dismissal is described as a ‘brave reform’, whereas limiting the gains from stock options that an executive may receive through such firings is seen as demagoguery.”
Alain Supiot; A Labour Code for the 21st Century; Le Monde Diplomatique, English ed. (Paris, France); May 2018. 

See more usage examples of newspeak in Vocabulary.com’s dictionary.

Lobbying, part one of five

In 2011, James Cusick and Cahal Milmo produced for the Independent newspaper a special report on political lobbying. The stub of that report is here, but unfortunately not the chart of lobbying firms, their key employees and their significant clients. Since that article, the Office of the Registrar of Consultant Lobbyists (ORCL) has been set up. It seemed a useful exercise to compare the current register with the Cusick/Milmo chart so far as is possible with public sources.

The first thing to say is that the chart listed only 26 companies which "[boasted] about their access to the inner sancutms of power". The ORCL lists 159 lobbyists at the time of writing, but not all of the chart's companies have registered. Secondly, only directors, not employees, appear on the ORCL register. Thus, spouses of MPs and former advisers to current ministers who might be thought of as influential do not appear. Thankfully, there is another resource: Powerbase, which "is a free guide to networks of power, lobbying, public relations and the communications activities of governments and other interests. It is a project of Public Interest Investigations and Spinwatch".

My original intention was to follow-up the printed chart, but filling out details of all 26 companies would produce a huge blog post, not to mention taking more than a day's labour. So I shall kick off with some companies which do not appear on both lists.

Starting close to home, we have Haywood Hain which was probably not big enough to bother Cusick and Milmo but surely, with the political connections of Lord Hain, must include lobbying with their other activities and therefore should have registered with the ORCL. One recalls the company's efforts on behalf of the proposed Severn barrage. Perhaps the company's defence would be that they spend more time these days networking in Africa, no doubt preparing for a future outside the EU.

Low Associates (now just LOW and LOWeurope)  was on the Cusick/Milmo chart but soon won a retraction from the Indy. Indeed, they are not registered. but co-founder Brendan Bruce was a director of communications for the Conservative party in the Thatcher years. His fellow founder, Sally Low, is married to the former coalition Minister of Health, Andrew Lansley, who has joined the company after leaving the Commons. So it is hard to see how they can avoid being involved in efforts to influence government. In addition to the politicos at the top, two further associates have worked in government communications and a further three have worked for arms of the EU. 2011 clients included the British Chambers of Commerce.

The PR company Edelman was once registered (it left the ORCL list sometime in 2016), but it is easy to see why Cusick and Milmo thought it worth inclusion in their chart of lobbyists and that it is listed on Powerbase. Edelman had links to three national political parties - Liberal Democrats through Jamie Lundie (the then partner of David Laws and a former adviser to LibDem leaders), Labour through Chris Rumfitt (one of Tony Blair's press officers) and Conservatives through Anthony Marlowe (a former researcher for Justine Greening). Lundie and Rumfitt have moved on but Marlowe is still there and Edelman has also acquired the services of ex-Blair aide Anji Hunter. Clients included Aviva, Diageo, EON, Manchester City FC, News Corp and News International, PepsiCo, Sainsbury, Samsung and Starbucks

Blue Rubicon had a distinct New Labour tinge. Its MD was Chris Norton, former adviser to Alan Johnson. Spencer Livermore, former director of strategy to Gordon Brown and Patrick Loughran, once director of research for Labour and adviser to Gordon Brown were also on board. It is now part of the multinational Teneo, which delisted from ORCL in 2016. Since January 2016, Norton has been Director of Communications (Europe, Middle East and Africa) at Facebook. Spencer Livermore went on to be  campaign director for Labour MPs Douglas Alexander and Michael Dugher for the 2015 UK general election before joining "international insight and strategy consultancy" Britain Thinks in 2016. Clients included Heathrow, British Gas, BP, Coca Cola, Facebook, Shell and Unilever.

Butler Kelly delisted from ORCL in 2014. It had been founded in 1998 by Chris Butler, former Conservative Party MP, political secretary at No. 10 and ministerial special adviser in the Office of Arts and Libraries and the Welsh Office; and Phil Kelly, former Deputy Leader of Islington MBC, Chief Whip on the council, and former adviser to the Labour Shadow Cabinet and former Editor of Tribune. In 2011, it boasted two former Conservative MPs - David Nicholson and Nigel Waterson - and one former Labour member, Parmit Dhanda as consultants. Clients included Calor Gas, Saga and Thames Water.

Sunday, 12 August 2018

The tide may have turned against Brexit

The Observer today published analysis by Focaldata of YouGov soundings which shows that most of the urban constituencies which voted Leave in 2016 now have a majority in favour of Remain. (There is no sign of any change in rural constituencies, but this may just be down to insufficient data.) Aberavon and Neath are two of those constituencies. The reactions of Stephen Kinnock (a known supporter of EU membership, who nevertheless has voted the Corbyn Eurosceptic line so far) and Christina Rees (a Corbyn loyalist) in the next few days should be interesting.

Part of the swing may be down to a realisation that the various Leave campaigns lied during the referendum campaign and that things are getting worse, not better, since 2016. This is in spite of the main news provider in the country not giving a full picture of the UK's performance relative to the rest of the EU in the last two years.

The main reason for the change is, in my opinion, summed up in the Guardian's special report yesterday from Swansea. It has become obvious to even the most casual observer of current affairs that the government just does not know what it is doing in persisting with Brexit.

The EU promotes public transport

Among other things,

The EU supports city and cross-border transport by carrying out studies and transport policy analysis; promoting the exchange of best practice between local authorities; and helping local authorities to invest in cycle infrastructure and more walkable public spaces through the European structural investment funds.

One wonders how many councils in Wales or even indeed the Welsh government know about this, considering the cuts that both have made in subsidy to local public transport.

Saturday, 11 August 2018

Boris Johnson - statesman or music-hall turn?

Guido Fawkes protests that there is no need for an investigation into Boris Johnson's infamous Telegraph column because comedians on Have I Got News For You and other columnists have made similar comparisons. He misses the point that BoJo's friends continue to press for him to be leader of his party and, if there is no general election, therefore prime minister. Mocking other people's cultural customs is not what one expects from a government minister let alone the head of UK's government. I agree with Guido to the extent that other Conservative back-benchers have made worse racist remarks and not had the whip removed or their membership suspended. But they remained on the back-benches, and so should BoJo.

Or is Guido arguing for comedians to enter government, as has happened in Italy? Should we look forward to Rowan Atkinson (Mr Bean) as Foreign Secretary and Jim Davidson in charge of the Home Office?

The basic premise of Boris Johnson's column I agree with. There should be no ban on all-enveloping clothing or veils if that is what a woman chooses to wear, except on the occasions when there is a conflict with our own time-honoured practices, such as giving evidence in court. We have accepted nuns in full habit on our streets for many years, with concomitant jokes about them from the likes of the late Dave Allen, who was neither charged with an offence nor promoted to government. If only Mr Johnson had not mixed a liberal sentiment with offensive comparisons!

Friday, 10 August 2018

Funny women

After n years on the comedy circuit, including regular appearances on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Natalie Haynes was depressingly asked the same opening question whenever she undertook a media interview: "Are women funny?". (There is more here, including Ms Haynes explaining how the Classics can be made funny.)

Michelle A'Court addressed the question extensively in this Guardian piece in 2014. She has the undeniable qualifications of being a woman and a comedian but I have the advantage of  being older and living through what was probably a significant social change, so here is my two penn'orth.

In the dark days before women's liberation, when comedy was hardly cerebral and women were always ladies to be respected - except for nagging wives and mothers-in-law - and not laughed at. (An outstanding exception from the States is that of Hillary Brooke whose performances as a stooge for Abbott and Costello I came across while writing up my piece on noms de guerre., but I cannot think of a British example.) So the question may have had some point then.

There have undoubtedly been funny women on the stage and later on the screen and radio since each of those media became popular. I recall Jeanne de Casalis (Mrs Feather), Gladys Morgan, Hylda Baker, Gert and Daisy, Joyce Grenfell, Mabel Constanduros and Suzette Tarri* from my youth. Earlier, there were Marie Lloyd, Vesta Tilley and others (who performed songs written by men). However, they were all outside the norm or of a certain age.

The break was probably made on the other side of the Atlantic earlier, but I would put Victoria Wood and Pam Ayres at the head of the revolution in the UK. Here were nubile women, writing their own material, who were not grotesques but who were still laugh-out-loud funny. To be sure, in Victoria Wood's character sketches there is a clear line of descent from Joyce Grenfell and Suzette Tarri (YouTube sample here). It cannot be a coincidence that when she appeared on the Michael Parkinson show, her walk-on music was Red Sails in the Sunset, which was Suzette Tarri's signature tune. Did Ms Wood choose it or did that adroit musical director Harry Stoneham? Since Tarri died when Victoria Wood was not yet in primary school, I suspect the latter.

Since the 1970s, there has been a spate of female stand-up comedians, too many to list. However, there should be mention of the very special Linda Smith who, like Victoria Wood, was taken from us all too soon.

* The wikipedia entry is surely wrong in citing ITMA. Rather, Tarri was a regular performer on variety programmes such as Monday Night at 8 and Music-Hall - and she had a regular show of her own (before my time). The cockney char in ITMA, Mona Lott, was played by Joan Harben.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Who was Clara Beadle?

After yesterday's struggles with a new modem/router, I am back in business with a romantic story and a few mysteries. It all began with watching on Talking Pictures TV The Night has Eyes, a 1942 thriller based on a novel by Alan Kennington (and the research for him proved interesting, too - some dates should appear on IMDb soon). One of the leads was played by (Anne) Tucker McGuire, who I remembered as an authentic voice from the States amid the Canadians and British actors doing their best in radio productions of American plays and novels of the 1940s and '50s. (Bessie Love was another such and her story is also interesting.)  British Actors' Equity, like the Musicians' Union, was very hot in those post-war days in protecting the interests of their members. Immigrants taking British actors jobs were not welcome.

Tucker McGuire was lucky in coming to Britain before the war when interchange across the Atlantic was clearly as free as it is now. She arrived in 1936 as part of an all-American cast of a show which had been doing great business on Broadway since opening in January of the previous year, Three  Men on a Horse. Mystery number one is how she landed a key rôle since I can trace no record of big theatre experience. Clearly someone putting together the London cast (the original continued to run on Broadway) had spotted her talent and took a chance. The romance came towards the end of the run, as told by Michael Bott:

The story goes that, for whatever reason, she had become very disillusioned and was wanting to quit the show and the profession and return to the States. Indeed, she had written a letter of resignation to the management requesting termination of her contract. Part of the reason for her wanting to leave, it seems, was that she wasn't getting the laughs and response she expected from the English audience and had assumed it was her fault and she was no good. The afternoon she was intending to hand over her letter, it was a poorly attended matinee performance - however, although the audience seemed pretty dead as usual, one individual seemed to be enjoying her performance particularly and the laughter of one man could be heard from the back of the stalls responding, it seemed, to everything she did. Despite this very slightly reassuring event, Tucker was resolved and after the show, she made her way to the manager's office to hand in her letter of resignation. There, in the office with the manager, was none other than Noel Coward. It turned out it had been Noel Coward's laughter that had been heard and now, here he was in the office, singing her praises to the theatre manager. Needles to say, the letter remained in her hand, Tucker remained in the show for the rest of the run - her confidence restored. Now the thing is, had Tucker returned to America at that time, she would not have met and married the British actor Tom Macaulay. Tom Macaulay's full name was Chambré Thomas MacAulay Booth - and if you've been paying attention, you'll recognise the latter surname from above. Yes, our good friend Janie Booth (also an actress/writer) is the daughter of Tucker McGuire and Tom Macaulay.

Mystery number two concerns Miss McGuire's travelling companion, as revealed by the Board of Trade shipping lists held by the National Archives and available on-line exclusively through Ancestry UK. Clara Beadle was also bound for Wyndhams theatre where Three Men on a Horse was to be put on. But there is no trace of her in the programme as listed in J P Wearing's analysis of 1930s West End productions. The other female lead was played by Claire Carleton, who had several US stage and a couple of screen appearances behind her. There is no record of Miss Carleton arriving by ship in Britain and the first regular transatlantic flights were a few years in the future. So it is tempting to conclude that Miss Carleton was travelling under the name of Beadle, especially as the ages match. Curiously, there is no Ancestry record of a Clara Beadle being born in the USA around 1913, but there is one in Yorkshire for that year - and I could find nothing further about her in the Ancestry database. Could there have been a Transatlantic adoption? I suppose we will never know.

Another little mystery was solved in researching this piece. It seems the unusual forename Tucker was handed down from an ancestor on her mother's side. St George Tucker was one of the movers and shakers of the American Revolution and later contributed to the jurisprudence of the young US.

Wednesday, 8 August 2018

Changing suppliers

Some time today, BT will cease to be my broadband and phone provider, and CIX will take over. However, I need to cast some spells over my modem/router which may take some time to get right, seeing as how I haven't had to do this for over a decade. So there may be some gaps in posting to this blog.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Saudia Arabia sanctions Canada

- over concerns expressed publicly about the treatment of civil rights activists in the desert kingdom. One trusts that the Canadians will stick to their principles.

Monday, 6 August 2018

Noms de guerre

It is good to see Jonathan Calder posting about The Magnet again. Since much of it was shot on location (it must have been one of the first British post-war feature films to do so) in Wallasey where I spent most of my teenage years, I have some affection for it. Besides, I used to fancy Barbara Murray rotten. James Robertson Justice appears under a pseudonym (Seamus Mor Na Feasag) and I believe I may have been one of the first to draw the inference that he did so because of a clash with his candidacy in the general election of that time.

In truth, there are many reasons why people in show business appear under different names. A common one is to avoid legal action if one is under exclusive contract under ones own name to another organisation. I seem to recall Carol Vorderman using this device when she moonlighted on BBC when still appearing on ITV. It was especially common among jazzmen in the US in the heyday of the great recording companies - not to mention the artistes who covered pop hits for bargain basement labels here.

Another reason is to avoid typecasting. Clare Woodgate needed to break away from her persona as a schoolgirl in the sitcom 2point4 Children so reinvented herself as Georgina Cates. An earlier example is that of Hillary Brooke who achieved success on screen as an elegant Englishwoman but to do so needed to sever connections with her modelling and brief film career as Beatrice Peterson (or her married name Schute) from New York.

The political angle occurred to me because at the time that I floated it, Welsh Labour were particular antsy about anything which might give additional coverage to their opponents. I recall their trying to suppress a TV interview with a local councillor about a matter totally separate from national politics, purely because said councillor was standing for Plaid in an upcoming Welsh general election. But, as Jonathan Calder points out, there was probably no legal bar.

Perhaps JRJ did the gig as a favour to the producer or director and for reasons of modesty or to avoid trouble with the unions, chose to appear under a Gaelic pseudonym.

Sunday, 5 August 2018

A sensible point of view on EU membership

Isn't it amazing how the BBC and other crypto-Brexiteers in the media have managed to get a People's Vote thought of as a "second" referendum? We had that second referendum in 2016 with an indecisive result, statistically speaking. The first, 1975, referendum had a clear two-thirds vote in favour of staying in the European community, and that after the political implications were aired as they were not to be in 2016.

Michael Morpurgo put the record straight in his Radio 4 Point of View this weekend. He did not shrink from giving the objections to membership their due, but as might be expected from the author of War Horse, he came down in favour of a further vote on membership of a club which has given us peace in Europe for more than a generation, not to mention full employment and the maintenance of the NHS in England and in Wales.

Friday, 3 August 2018

It is possible to deplore the Shoah and sympathise with the Palestinians

Robert Fisk has been condemned as an anti-Semite by the more conservative media here and in the US. My regular reading of his columns in the Independent, when it was a decent print newspaper, led me to the conclusion that his prejudice was against overweening authority. He may well have become more shrill in his condemnation of the Israel government in recent years (I stopped reading the Indy when it went online only to the detriment of the features and columnists who had made it worthwhile), but back in 2006, this article summed up his even-handed approach. He is describing the second volume of diaries of Victor Klemperer, a cousin of the great conductor Otto, a German Jew who escaped Auschwitz by what seems now to be a series of miracles.

[Klemperer] showed great compassion for the Palestinian Arabs of the 1930s who feared that they would lose their homeland to a Jewish state.

"I cannot help myself," Klemperer writes on 2 November 1933, nine months after Hitler became Chancellor of Germany. "I sympathise with the Arabs who are in revolt (in Palestine), whose land is being 'bought'. A Red Indian fate, says Eva [Klemperer's wife]

Even more devastating is Klemperer's critique of Zionism - which he does not ameliorate even after Hitler's Holocaust of the Jews of Europe begins. "To me," he writes in June of 1934, "the Zionists, who want to go back to the Jewish state of AD70 ... are just as offensive as the Nazis. With their nosing after blood, their ancient 'cultural roots', their partly canting, partly obtuse winding back of the world they are altogether a match for the National Socialists..."

Yet Klemperer's day-by-day account of the Holocaust, the cruelty of the local Dresden Gestapo, the suicide of Jews as they are ordered to join the transports east, his early knowledge of Auschwitz - Klemperer got word of this most infamous of extermination camps as early as March 1942, although he did not realise the scale of the mass murders there until the closing months of the war - fill one with rage that anyone could still deny the reality of the Jewish genocide.

So comparison of hard-line Zionists with the Nazis - and by a holocaust survivor - goes back a long way. To be fair, those words were written before the systematic genocide of Jews and others had begun.

Fisk goes on to condemn the then President Ahmadinejad of Iran (and by implication all those other holocaust-deniers in Middle Eastern leadership positions).

For Ahmadinejad it was who called the Jewish Holocaust a "myth", who ostentatiously called for a conference - in Tehran, of course - to find out the truth about the genocide of six million Jews, which any sane historian acknowledges to be one of the terrible realities of the 20th century, along, of course, with the Holocaust of one and a half million Armenians in 1915. 

 The best reply to Ahmadinejad's childish nonsense came from ex-president Khatami of Iran, the only honourable Middle East leader of our time, whose refusal to countenance violence by his own supporters inevitably and sadly led to the demise of his "civil society" at the hands of more ruthless clerical opponents. "The death of even one Jew is a crime," Khatami said, thus destroying in one sentence the lie that his successor was trying to propagate. 

 Indeed, his words symbolised something more important: that the importance and the evil of the Holocaust do not depend on the Jewish identity of the victims. The awesome, wickedness of the Holocaust lies in the fact that the victims were human beings - just like you and me.

This is the point which Jeremy Corbyn was trying to make when he said that the Labour party condemned all racism. One might take him at his word, if there were not ample evidence of some of his more fervent supporters, particularly those with a south Asian background, repeating the old lies about Jewish control of finance and the media, and even trotting out the blood libel. No meaningful action has been taken against these people.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Yesterday was Earth Overshoot Day 2018

Earth Overshoot Day marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year. We maintain this deficit by liquidating stocks of ecological resources and accumulating waste, primarily carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Earth Overshoot Day is hosted and calculated by Global Footprint Network, an international think tank that coordinates research, develops methodological standards and provides decision-makers with a menu of tools to help the human economy operate within Earth’s ecological limits.

 Among the organisations campaigning to push Earth Overshoot Day back is the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats in Europe.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Actors are now able to disclose life-limiting illnesses

Alan Alda's declaration that he is in the early stages of Parkinson's disease is confirmation of how the viewing public and TV producers have matured. Alda is not the first prominent actor to carrying on working through a disabling condition. Michael J Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 1991 and has continued to work until very recently, even incorporating his handicap in the role of Lewis Canning in The Good Wife. Attracting rather less media attention, Teri Garr's revelation of multiple sclerosis has not stopped her working.

Time was general knowledge of a major disability would have been box office poison. I remember Esmond Knight as a character actor in TV dramas in the 1960s and 1970s. I was unaware that he had been effectively blinded in active service in the Royal Navy. Primarily a stage actor, his fellow RSC members would have known, but he made sure that audiences were none the wiser.

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

We do not need socialism

I have just got round to reading Vince Cable's speech of last month to the IPPR. It shows that capitalism as such has not failed; what has failed is the nerve of government to regulate the operation of markets and to resist the incursion of the profit motive into social functions.

Monday, 30 July 2018

The year the Earth caught fire

The premise of the 1961 film The Day the Earth Caught Fire was that simultaneous testing of atom bombs altered the axis of rotation of the planet, causing runaway global warming. Even to a non-scientist, this was implausible considering the mass of the earth and the relatively puny size of even the largest man-made explosion. (Actual scientists were more worried about the cooling effects on the thin skin of atmosphere of frequent atomic explosions, culminating in the nuclear winter theory of the 1970s and '80s. It was not for many years that it was realised that the effects of global warming would more than counterbalance that.) The later scenes of the British sci-fi classic, showing a parched Hyde Park, eerily pre-echoed newsreel footage of the effect of the recent record-breaking heatwave.

On the west coast of North America, wildfires of an intensity not seen before continue to rage. There are even wildfires within the Arctic Circle in Sweden.The monsoon and typhoons in the Far East have been more devastating than before. It is clear that there is a process of global warming, something that even hard-line climate change deniers are beginning to admit. What they continue to reject, as David TC Davies did on Sunday Supplement yesterday, is that human activity has anything to do with it. They point to previous eras in Earth's history when there were warm periods.

The fact is that the last time the whole planet was this hot was millions of years ago, before homo sapiens came on the scene. Even the much-cited mediaeval warm period was a localised phenomenon, affecting the North Atlantic region while overall the world was cooler than it is today. What is worrying, and tending to corroborate the anthropogenic model of climate change, is that the current rate of increase in the atmosphere of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide is the highest for 66 million years.

Whatever the mechanism, the fact of global warming is now hardly disputed and there is little that we can do to mitigate it in the short term. We need to take measures now to cope with it. We need to return to the high ceilings of yesteryear in classrooms and hospital wards. New builds need to incorporate passive cooling, as in traditional middle eastern construction. The especially vulnerable, the very old and the very young, need to be taken care of. The laissez-faire attitude of Tories like David TC Davies is not good enough.

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Welsh farmers have second thoughts

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Welsh farmers voted in droves for Leave in the 2016 referendum. The final Brexit scoreboard (above) from the Royal Welsh Show is evidence that, now they know more about the implications of leaving the EU, the countryside community have had second thoughts.

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Standards in public life

An item in the current Private Eye magazine to the effect that the Official Receiver had appointed financial services firm PricewaterhouseCoopers to act as special manager of the liquidation of the failed government contractor Carillion (of which the pensions consultant and auditor of subsidiaries was PricewaterhouseCoopers) rang a bell.

In 2012, the Eye managed to get a sight of a report prepared for Edward Heath into the collapse of Rolls Razor in 1964. The leading Board of Trade (an ancestor Department of BIS) inspector was Lord Benson, then joint senior partner at Coopers & Lybrand. Cork Gully, which was to become a subsidiary of Coopers, carried out detailed investigations. The report was not published and is embargoed until 2046 presumably because a number of those criticised in it were assumed to be alive and active until that date. (John Bloom, the force behind Rolls Razor, certainly still is both, as his rather laudatory entry in wikipedia shows.) Others criticised, according to the Eye, included financial advisers Price Waterhouse. Coopers & Lybrand under the rigorous Benson was clearly among the good guys. He retired in 1975 and died in 1995. In 1998 Price Waterhouse took over Coopers & Lybrand.

Incidentally, although Benson was a stout defender of institutions, he believed in evolutionary change. He also had a strong social conscience. The Independent's obituary says:

In 1976 he was appointed Chairman of the Royal Commission on Legal Services. It was an immense task, which Benson led with his formidable intellect, incisiveness, and energetic command.

The inquiry took almost three years. The outcome was a definitive study, meticulously researched and backed by statistics, of the services given by the legal profession; it swept aside all cobwebs and displayed a deep understanding of all aspects of the framework and practices of the law. He probed relentlessly, and expressed his conclusions with forceful moderation and pellucid clarity.


But in another respect the Report was highly radical. Organisation had never been the strength of the legal profession. Henry Benson was a superb administrator, and he produced a blueprint for the future. It included the recommendation for a Council of Legal Services, which he regarded as essential to keep practices under review and advise the Lord Chancellor. He saw this as "a necessary condition of considered action by both government and the profession". The Report suggested a mechanism for bringing law centres and citizens' advice bureaux into the mainstream of legal services and their funding. He urged one single, strong governing body for the Bar, rather than the fragmentation of responsibilities divided between the Bar Council and the Inns of Court. There were cogent proposals in every area: from equal opportunities to recondite conveyancing issues.

It would be idle to pretend that Benson was enthusiastic about the reception of the Royal Commission Report. The Government took years to respond, and did not grasp positively his recommendations. [saddest of all for Benson was] that the gap between the principle of equal access to the courts and the reality became ever greater over the next 15 years. At the heart of his Report was a belief that "part of the population suffers permanent and multiple deprivation" and that the first priority should be to ensure for them adequate legal services. He failed to detect from government a principled response to this fundamental issue. Not surprisingly, the draconian cuts in legal aid eligibility of 1993 were anathema to him.

And the situation has become worse since.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Government sets cyber-security standard

I am grateful to ESET (my virus-checker of choice) for passing on the news that the UK government has, in the light of rising cyber-attacks and GDPR, laid out a set of minimum guidelines for its Departments. ESET endorses the guidelines as providing a very good minimum for any organisation to follow.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Does Macron see himself as Napoleon reborn?

It cannot be a coincidence that the visits abroad by the president of France have featured Australia, India and now Nigeria, all better-off members of the British Commonwealth. Is the Foreign and Commonwealth Office at all suspicious of what looks like an attempt to prise those nations away from the UK, regaining influence for France lost to Britain at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th centuries? Macron also believes in an EU defence force, along with other trappings of a nation state. One suspects that, with Britain out of the way and imminent political upheaval in Germany, he sees it as France's historical destiny to lead a United States of Europe.

There is of course a tradition of French undermining British interests, even when that puts her in dubious moral territory. Sanctions against the white supremacist rule of Iain Smith in Rhodesia were weakened by breaches by companies in which the French state had an interest and more recently the begetters of the oppressive religious rule in Iran were given house-room. (Not that I think the Shah's tyranny was a good thing, but the Islamic Revolution did not replace it with anything much better.)

Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Casuistry condemns the Da'esh "Beatles"

The evidence against Alexanda Kotey and El Shafee Elsheikh could well be overwhelming. If they were still British citizens, the UK could demand their repatriation, and request the evidence which is in the hands of US and Kurdish authorities, so that they could stand trial here. We would certainly not support their rendition to a jurisdiction where they could face the death penalty. But they are not British, they are stateless as a result of Mrs May's action when Home Secretary, which at the time was seen as a breach of the UK's international obligations.

All the ministers involved in the decision to cede all powers over the pair to the Americans say that this is an exceptional and unique decision. One trusts that this, and the removal of citizenship which led to the situation, are seen as aberrations, and do not, along with the rendition of British residents under Jack Straw, comprise the thin end of a nasty wedge.

If we are not prepared to convince the US (presumably) federal courts that capital punishment should not be an option because of our principles, we should at least echo the judgment of the mother of one of Da'esh's victims, James Foley, that to execute the perpetrators would only create martyrs. We know only too well from Irish history how powerful a recruiting tool for men of violence that can be.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Dr Douglas Gurr aka Cassandra

As one should, I looked up the credentials of the UK country manager for Amazon who at the weekend issued a dire warning about the perils of Brexit. He is not a negligible person. Doug Gurr is a British citizen, born of New Zealand parents, so cognisant of the Commonwealth implications of a divorce from the EU. He has a doctorate in computing and is a former Scottish international triathlete. He spent a short time as a principal at the Department for Transport - what a pity he did not stay there to sort out their troubles! - before moving swiftly upwards in the world of IT-related business. Most intriguingly, he is a non-executive director on the board (I did not realise it had one!) of the Department for Work and Pensions. So he must have some input into the government's social policy, even if he can do nothing about the DWP's calamitous universal credit computer system. His warning of civil unrest should be taken seriously.

Another person who will be advising at the top level against a "clean break" is the prime minister's husband. The Capital Group which employs Philip May as a relationship manager, has holdings in Amazon.

Monday, 23 July 2018

Cuddy Group

My thoughts are with the employees of the contractor which was put into administration at the weekend. The skilled workers will soon find a new home, since there is a shortage in Wales, even in these times of austerity. However, the future of the staff is uncertain as I write.

Mike Cuddy, the founder of the firm who started out as a demolition contractor and spread out into other branches of construction, blames the fall on the company's dependency on him as an individual. When he was laid up as a result of a rare illness, the company lost direction. There is a quandary that faces all entrepreneurs who grow from small beginnings: do you sell out to a larger established corporation when you reach a size where you cannot put a finger on all the parts of the business, or do you keep faith with your original aims and your workforce, and soldier on?

There is almost certainly more to come out about the rise and fall of the Cuddy Group. In the mean time, I wish Mr Cuddy well.

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Can we believe leading Tories?

I refer to my post of last Friday, and Peter Black's of the same day, on the exceptional breach of trust by Conservatives in breaking a parliamentary pair, on a crucial vote, with practically no notice. The Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, was absolutely* sure that the breach was an error.

Mrs Leadsom's impartiality and credibility may be judged by this Private Eye article from four years ago. She had claimed that there was no offshore element to the buy-to-let property company she owned with her husband, yet the Eye demonstrated that it was funded from Jersey. The article went on to detail how her parliamentary career had been well endowed by a company closely linked with a Guernsey-based hedge fund group, and one with a clear interest in a hard break between the UK and the rest of the EU. People with any interest in the matter will not need reminding that the vote in question concerned customs union with the rest of the EU.

* Sprinkling every single utterance with "absolutely", as is Mrs Leadsom's wont, is a warning sign in itself. Hansard does not reflect this specific logorrhea, presumably because Hansard reporters clean up the literal text (often with the participation of the member concerned) before publication

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Dumbing down of the public services

Once upon a time, an executive in the civil service, if he or she did not have a degree in a foreign language would at least have a pass at GCE 'O' level in French and probably one other language. He or she may not have been able to speak or write French, German or Spanish as a native, but they would certainly recognise a clumsy literal translation when they saw one. My generation must surely be as appalled as I was at the news that the Department for Exiting the European Union (DExEU) issued its own translation of the executive summary of its Brexit White Paper into 22 languages, not by employing a professional translation service, but, it appears from cursory analysis, by using Google Translate. This exercise clearly stems from a paranoid attitude to EU institutions, even the highly-regarded translation department, possibly the largest of its kind in the world. It also shows ignorance of the linguistic expertise in most European capitals, where there are people perfectly capable of comprehending the original English text.

DExEU in its rush to staff up the Department clearly found it difficult to recruit and retain competent people  with the traditional qualities of civil service objectivity. One hopes that standards have not slipped as far in the rest of the civil service.

Friday, 20 July 2018

Pairing: that breach of protocol

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrats' whip in the Commons, yesterday gave a master-class in indicating that another honourable member is lying but avoiding the use of unparliamentary language:

Mr Speaker, you very kindly granted me an urgent question yesterday in relation to the breach of the pair involving my hon. Friend the Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson) on Tuesday night. You might recall that I indicated during that urgent question that I had received an apology from the Government Chief Whip, which of course I accepted, but that I did not quite understand how things had come to pass in this way. I indicated also that I would pursue the matter with the Government Chief Whip. I have to tell you and the House that, subsequent to the urgent question, I met the Government Chief Whip and that he offered me a fuller explanation, which I have considered very carefully overnight. Regrettably, I have to say that I still do not understand how this highly regrettable state of affairs came to pass

Whether or not MPs adhere to the traditional standards of parliament may not be a subject brought up on the doorsteps (except maybe in the towns and villages of Dunbartonshire), but it is important for our democracy. With that consideration in mind, it is worrying that the government has put off further consideration of proxy voting for conditions such as maternity leave, and that when the subject does come back to the House in September, there is no guarantee that it will be on a substantive motion.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

The vassal state

This follows on from Peter Black's post of  13th July. The conditions in the UK after a "clean break" with the EU could be worse than feared. Mrs May's refusal under questioning from Sarah Wollaston MP yesterday to publish government research is worrying. At the liaison committee meeting yesterday (held conveniently while Boris Johnson was making his statement in the Commons chamber), the prime minister undertook to inform the general public of the implications of a hard Brexit only in the event of it occurring.

Progressive governments among the EU27 are being more helpful to their business community. According to BBC Business Live, several have set up web-sites giving advice about the implications of a relationship purely on WTO terms with the rest of Europe. The European Commission has encouraged others in the 27 to prepare, as a hard Brexit becomes more and more likely. The Netherlands has already started.

Cast adrift from the EU, the UK will clearly be forced into trade deals on inferior terms. From being part of a multi-national organisation whose direction we can take a part in shaping, we will be fought over by the biggest global economies - the US, China and possibly India - in which we have no say, rather as Tito's Yugoslavia survived by playing off the West against the Soviet Union.

There is a new factor in these days of globalisation, the power of multinational corporations. There was evidence of what we will be missing in yesterday's announcement of the EU's financial sanctions on Google for misusing the corporation's virtual monopoly power over smartphone users. One recalls previous decisions which have forced mobile telephony providers to abandon roaming charges, and Microsoft to give up some anti-competitive practices.

At present, it looks as if we would come under the sway of the United States. The obvious danger is to our food production and environmental standards, and a long-term threat to the NHS. However, the recent arguments over the Iran nuclear deal have pointed up another malign effect of weakening both ourselves and the EU, namely strengthening the US hold on the international financial settlements system. So far, the UK has sided with the EU27 in trying to maintain the agreement with Iran and resist the US bullying. It could be a different story if we are forced to choose America over our European neighbours, and Iran could be only a beginning.

I agree with Boris Johnson that the Chequers agreement is a shoddy compromise that will reduce the UK's status to a virtual dependency of the EU. Moreover, it is unworkable, as the official EU response will confirm, if rumours are true. However, the answer is not to swap one dependency for another, but to resume our place among the decision-makers of Europe.

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Changing boundaries can change an area's politics

Last week, the House of Commons Library published a FAQ page on the current parliamentary boundaries review. It looks as if the Order instituting the changes will be made this autumn after a process more drawn-out than usual. It was muttered in Westminster that the reduction in the number of constituencies might affect some senior Conservative figures. If so, it appears that these fears have either been assuaged - or a compensatory peerage promised.

How changes to boundaries in an area can affect the political colour of the MPs returned in first-past-the-post elections is illustrated by the "gerrymander wheel" produced by STV Action. Their answer, producing more political stability, is naturally STV in multi-member constituencies, which I agree with.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Electoral spending: two wrongs do not make a right

We owe a debt of gratitude to the Speaker for allowing an Urgent Question on today's statement from the Electoral Commission. Whatever his faults may be (and I do find Mr Bercow's orotund pronouncements and patronising of certain members rather wearing), he has been assiduous in allowing ordinary members to call the government to account.

There was too short a time in the Commons Q&A session to examine all the implications of the EC's verdict that the official Remain campaign had overspent to the extent of committing a criminal offence. For me, it removes any remaining support for David Cameron's thoughtless (or Machiavellian) commitment to cede what should have been a government decision to the masses. I could have added "uneducated" (thanks to the dereliction of the BBC) and "deceived" (leading figures in several Leave campaigns have admitted to lies in their propaganda, on top of the efforts of the red-top newspapers) in front of "masses". Now we also know that money was spent illegally in order to achieve a narrow majority in favour of leaving the EU.

None of the leading Conservatives on the Vote Leave board or the Vote Leave campaign committee, some of them cabinet ministers, were prepared to face the music this morning. Instead, it was left to Chloë Smith (the Conservatives' fall guy of choice) to defend the indefensible. There was fulsome praise for the Electoral Commission, satisfaction that the UK was a robust democracy in empowering the EC and confirmation that the EC had applied the rules rigorously - but the government would just proceed as if nothing had happened.

Labour speakers largely avoided the Brexit elephant in the room, thanks to the divisions within their own ranks which they did not wish to expose. Instead, they objected to the feeble penalties and called for a beefing-up of the law - both desirable, but surely beside the point. There was also the lazy call for a public inquiry, which would be a needless and expensive distraction.

In the true spirit of yah-boo politics, the response of the few Conservatives prepared to stand up for the government's position was that Remain overspent too. Guido Fawkes and Priti Patel lead this particular campaign. However, it seems to me that, even if these charges stick, far from cancelling out the Leave offences, they only add to the disrepute of the whole referendum exercise.

As I emphasised before, Leave voters had genuine concerns which should be listened to and dealt with. (Incidentally, the EU itself has recently addressed one loophole in the employment of migrant workers.) But the government should now come clean and admit that the narrow majority in the 2016 referendum was not a reliable basis for their decision to invoke Article 50.