Monday, 21 May 2018

A very Russell T Davies scandal

Swansea's own Russell T Davies has done gaily for the Thorpe scandal what Cardiff's Andrew Davies did heterosexually for Jane Austen. Russell T was interviewed for the Sunday Supplement*, when
he confessed to playing up the Welsh connections - which are nevertheless fascinating. He also said that he had given a preview of the whole three-part series to Norman Scott who had pronounced himself satisfied with the result. Only later did the Daily Mail publish a piece in which Scott was said to have complained about the way he was portrayed.

Personally, the only characterisation I did find convincing was Ben Whishaw's Norman Scott. Hugh Grant was just Hugh Grant with a deeper voice than usual and surely Leo Abse was higher-pitched and sounded slightly posher than  played him? As I recall Lord Arran he was more Benjamin Whitrow than . With so many actors and a writer having to rely on court transcripts, a novelisation and newsreel footage for their characterisation, it was good to read at least one recollection of one "who was there", Lord Thomas of Gresford.

I felt for the son of Thorpe and Caroline Allpass who, though he has managed to keep out of the public eye, must suffer every time there is a reminder of his mother's tragic death and the scandal which will ever be associated with the name of his father.

* The programme was also notable for an interview with Peter Tatchell on the illiberal "Section 28"  ("Clause 2B" in Scotland) introduced by Mrs Thatcher which ramped up discrimination and violence against homosexuals. In the course of this Vaughan Roderick matter-of-factly came out. There was also a telling contribution from Rodney Berman in the papers review.   

You don't know what you've got 'till it's gone

The European Parliament think tank has been issuing, in advance of next year's EP elections, a series of articles about the benefits to the ordinary voter of EU membership. A recent one caught my eye, bearing as it does on small farmers in Wales, a significant sector of the economy. A pdf explains Direct Payments to Farmers.

More than three quarters of farm holdings in the EU are small - below 10 ha - with the very large majority of those below 5 ha. In order to address the specific situation of these farms, member states can apply the small farmers scheme (SFS), a simplified direct payment scheme granting a one-off payment to farmers who choose to participate. The maximum level of the payment is decided at the national level, but in any case may not exceed €1,250. The small farmers scheme includes simplified administrative procedures, and participating farmers are exempt from greening and cross-compliance sanctions and controls. The scheme is applied in 15 EU countries: Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain and Slovenia.

Note that the UK has chosen not to participate. It is quite happy to take the basic payments for greening, payments which are said to favour such people as the Duke of Westminster and Paul Dacre, Brexiteer editor of the Daily Mail, disproportionately. £1,000 may not be  a lot, but cutting administrative procedures was one of the reasons cited by Welsh farmers who voted Leave in 2016.

Saturday, 19 May 2018

Names of the "royal wedding peers" have emerged

The Guardian has published the names of the peers whom Theresa May has appointed in the midst of the brouhaha about a certain love match in Windsor. The Liberal Democrats have already protested this apparent reverse spin and have wisely not taken up the single peerage which was on offer. These additional appointments push the Lords roster towards the 800 mark at a time when the Conservatives are still intent on reducing the elected membership in the Commons by fifty.

One name leaps out as that of a Brexit fanatic: Sir Peter Lilley. Of the other ex-MPs, Sir Edward Garnier was a declared Remainer, Sir Eric Pickles a Eurosceptic, Sir John Randall not known but as a supporter of David Cameron probably a Remainer, Sir Alan Haselhurst a Remainer and Sir Andrew Tyrie a Remainer. So Remainers just out-weigh Leavers; perhaps Mrs May was attempting to slip the appointments past the Brexiteers, who will no doubt have been absorbed by all things English royal family over the last few days. They would be consoled by a DUP appointment, that of William McCrea who has been criticised in the past for being soft on unionist paramilitaries.

The three Labour appointees repay service to the party but include one person accused of tolerating anti-Semitism under Jeremy Corbyn.

The appointment of Sir Andrew should be welcomed. His was a rare voice of reason over financial matters on the Conservative benches and in my opinion retired too soon from the Commons. Perhaps he was persuaded to go, with the promise of a barony as a sweetener, by an administration whose budgets he frequently criticised from his position as chairman of the Treasury Select Committee.

Diana Barran, as recently retired CEO of SafeLives, which seeks to end domestic abuse, is another worthy appointment as is that of Catherine Meyer, the founder of Action Against Abduction. One notes that Sir John Randall is Vice-Chair of the Human Trafficking Foundation, so liberal causes are well represented.

The fact remains that the House of Lords is now far too large because the system of appointments has been misused by successive governments. It could all have been so different if the Lords Reform Bill had been allowed to proceed in 2012. It received overwhelming support at Second Reading, including a majority of Conservative MPs, and all that was needed was agreement to a programme motion to prevent the Bill being talked out by the reactionaries (on either side of the House!). However, the then leader of the Opposition Ed Miliband opposed this and would not discuss any alternative to Nick Clegg's proposed timetable. It is typical of Labour hypocrisy that they are now spreading the story that it was the Conservatives who blocked Lords reform.

Friday, 18 May 2018

Government maintains its iron control over MPs

Once again, the plight of the Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill sponsored by Afzal Khan MP, which cannot be enacted because the government will not move the necessary money resolution, was highlighted at business questions. The shadow leader of the House made the point that Bills much lower down the pecking order had received their money resolutions while the Afzal Bill, only the ninth to be brought forward, was still stalled. The leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, insisted that the government looked at Bills on a case-by-case basis. They want to stall it until the final Boundary Commission report is published. However, the Boundary Commission had been instructed to work on the basis of a reduced House of 600 MPs, while the Afzal Bill would fix the number at 650.

The point was made in a debate on the matter last week, and reinforced by two Conservative MPs,  including the normally ultra Christopher Chope, that if the government did not like the Bill, it should have turned out to oppose it in democratic debate rather than resort to this underhand use of an arcane parliamentary mechanism.

This sort of thing is not raised on the doorsteps, but it points to the perpetual drive by government to take power to itself and therefore the need for parliament - even in the unlikely form of the House of Lords on occasions - to insist on its democratic rights.

Thursday, 17 May 2018

We should boycott Israel's Eurovision Song Show, says prominent Lib Dem

Paul Walter wrote in Liberal Democrat Voice of an enjoyable experience in Lisbon at the Eurovision Song Contest final. But he concluded:

This was a “bucket list” trip for me. A one-off. Any temptation to become an annual Eurovision camp follower was cut short with the prospect of a 2019 contest in Israel.
From a musical point of view, Israel deserved to win last Saturday. The scoring system is, nowadays, fairly balanced between national juries and the vote of viewers throughout the 42 participating countries. So, they won fair and square.
On Sunday I was resolved to resist any 2019 Eurovision trip to Israel. While I might one day tour Palestine, Israel and Jordan as a triplet itinerary, visiting specifically Israel for Eurovision would feel like condoning injustice.
Then came Monday’s events – described by the High commissioner of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid bin Ra’ad, as “outrageous human rights violations”. In a further tweet, @UNHumanRights condemned “the appalling, deadly violence in #Gaza (on 14th May) during which 58 Palestinians were killed and almost 1,360 demonstrators were injured with live ammunition by Israeli security forces.” Yet another @UNHumanRights tweet said “The rules on the use of force under int’l law have been repeated many times but appear to be ignored again and again. It seems anyone is liable to be shot dead or injured: women, children, press, first responders, bystanders, & at almost any point up to 700m from the fence.”
I was struck by the words of American Rabbi, Rabbi Latz who said:
I am a rabbi. I love Israel. I condemn without reservation the bloodshed in #Gaza. Not so hard. You can challenge the Israeli government’s policies without being anti-Semitic.
Audrey Bruner of Jewish Voice for Peace said:
As a Jew, I have a responsibility to speak out publicly when violence is committed in my name.
This is a horrifying day to be a Jew. We dishonor our ancestors who yearned to be free for generations when our freedom comes at the expense of another people. If we are to be free, the Palestinian people must be free as well. Those who deny their freedom deny ours as well.
Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb commented:
I am shaken to the core that Israeli military forces are continuing to shoot unarmed men, women & children engaged in nonviolent protest. We cannot be silent. The killing/maiming of Palestinians seeking their human rights must stop.
It’s a long way away, but I think it would be unconscionable for the European Broadcasting Union (EBU) to hold the Eurovision Song Contest in Israel, after the events of Monday.
If the EBU somehow do hold the contest in Israel (which would entail considerable security and arena capacity issues, apart from anything else) then the UK should boycott it. If we participate, it will be condoning the “outrageous human rights violations” on Monday.
OK, there is blame on both sides and the events should be properly investigated, but to go ahead with planning a cheery family event in Israel next May, and somehow pretend things are normal, would be ludicrous and unethical.

Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Dorothy Wadham née Petre

Today is the 400th anniversary of the death of the first woman to found an Oxbridge college. There is a slight personal connection in that my mother's father, a master at Monmouth School, graduated from Wadham as did the senior English master at Oldershaw Grammar when I was there.

Margot Kidder

The Canadian-born (what would US TV and film do without a ready supply of talent from across the border?) actress died last Sunday. It is sad to think that, if her bipolar disorder had been diagnosed earlier, she would have had a more rewarding career, apart from the rôle for which she has always been associated. She was the perfect Lois Lane, tough, independent-minded but feminine. The parts she had to accept after Superman in order to pay the rent were unworthy of her, including Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, of which she is quoted as saying:

A noble attempt at saying something about the nuclear proliferation on the planet through Superman. Unfortunately the script was just dreadful. I mean there's no two ways about it, that script was terrible. And there's that old saying in Hollywood - you can make a bad movie out of a good script, but you can't make a good movie out of a bad script. And I don't think it had a chance from the get-go.

At least she did manage to keep working in spite of a breakdown and a bad accident, and I cherish the memory of catching her in one of the many Mary Higgins Clark TV adaptations in which she played the secret other love of the heroine's late father. Typically, she was independent (an artist), feisty and with a wry sense of humour.

That was clearly what she was like away from the screen. According to her IMDB bio (which is worth reading in full), she made the great sacrifice of becoming a US citizen in order to vote against George W Bush because of his promotion of the Iraq invasion. It seems inevitable that she would support the presidential campaigns of Jesse Jackson and Bernie Sanders.

Tuesday, 15 May 2018

Natural cycles

2018 so far has been a good year for yellow wild-flowers. A glut of dandelions and a good show of lesser celandines have been followed by buttercups and kingcups. When this has happened before, blackbirds have also thrived. The same appears to be happening this spring: blackbirds are everywhere. It is unlikely that there is any direct connection between the two flourishings, but perhaps the populations are operating on a parallel cycle.

Monday, 14 May 2018

Excuses, excuses

BBC reports Carlos Carvalhal as saying that:

the results under his predecessor Paul Clement were the cause for Swansea's relegation.
"I think the few points we did in the first 20 games - just 13 - made it difficult to recover and achieve a better position," Carvalhal added.
This is, to use a technical sporting term, bollocks. Swansea City were, at the time of his appointment one of half-a-dozen teams in danger of relegation and were not reckoned to be favourites for the drop. Since then, their rivals have pulled away with a combination of determination on the field and tactical planning by their managers. To take a couple of comparative results, Swansea lost to Chelsea at home, whereas Huddersfield held them to a draw at Stamford Bridge; Huddersfield held Manchester City to a draw at the Etihad, after Swans were tanked 5-0 there. Southampton beat Bournemouth 2-1; Swansea lost 1-0 when they should have at least have gleaned a draw against a team which had nothing to play for at the time. I could quote several other examples.

The truth is that Carvalhal scores highly on enthusiasm and media-friendliness, but low on tactical nous and team selection. The loss to Brighton (where Huddersfield drew 1-1) is a prime example. Carvalhal  turned a narrow deficit into a rout by poor half-time substitutions.

The owners, as detailed in that BBC report, have accepted part of the blame for Swans' relegation. It is surprising that Carvalhal cherishes any hope that his contract may be renewed. The owners have nothing to lose by taking their time in selecting the right man to take Swansea City forward. It would be great to see the Swans promoted again playing the attractive passing football which they plied under Martinez and Rodgers, but they must at least appoint someone with man-management skills and a tactical brain.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Congratulations, Southampton

Saints snapped up the (to my mind) unjustifiably discarded Stoke manager Mark Hughes, and turned their season round, just as he had turned the Wales international side round in his first managerial appointment. He restored belief, and method, to a team which had seemed resigned to the Premier League trapdoor. As the two teams' comparative results in April stacked up, there was an inevitability about the result of the crucial clash at the Liberty. Hughes may well drive Southampton on to a top ten finish next season.

What of Swansea? Lifetime fan, writer and cultural historian Peter Stead, on Radio Wales, was justifiably in despair at what has happened to the team since the great days of Barca-on-the-Bay. However, he goes too far in dismissing all the players as poor. There are several who would grace any Premier League side (and probably will in 2018/19). There are several other good players who could be very good under the right management but one must admit have been "marking it" since signing for the Swans. It is clear, though, that there have been too many replacements worse than the men sold.

Fabianski has been outstanding, on and off the pitch. Mawson was a great capture and is certainly a better central defender now than the transferred Ashley Williams has become at Goodison Park. Without those two, Swans could well have been down weeks before Stoke. The Ayew brothers and Abraham have shown that they can score goals given the right sort of service. Welsh junior internationals Connor Roberts and Daniel James offered a glimpse of the future. (How many of these will we hang on to in the Championship?)

What could have been was briefly on show in the Cup match and replay against Notts County, an up--and-coming side from the lower divisions. It is remarkable that the goals scored in just that one fixture were a third of Swansea's total haul in the whole Premier League season up until today's matches. The key factor was that County ceded control of midfield to Swansea, enabling City to play the sort of passing football reminiscent of Martinez' and Rodgers' times - tantalisingly, for one day only. If Swans had the players to contest the midfield day in and day out at Premier League level, players of the quality of Joe Allen and Gylfi Sigurdsson who were sold by City, things might have been different.

The club must use the Premier League "parachute payment" well, ploughing it into team development, not for the short-term purchase of the offerings of the agents on whom Swans became too dependent - or worse still, passing it on to the owners. The next manager, too, must be committed to providing a firm basis for the future.

Friday, 11 May 2018

Grammar Schools - consequentials?

Layla Moran, for many the Liberal Democrats' leader in waiting, has made the correct response to Mrs May's latest move to boost grammar schools in England:

We now know what we suspected: Justine Greening was moved on to make way for a lap-dog for Theresa May’s pet projects. Grammar schools are the wrong answer to the wrong question. This money should be spent on local schools so that every young person across the country can get the education they need to prepare for the future. The Government do not have the support for these proposals in their own party, never mind the country. They simply must listen to teachers and parents and stop wasting money on grammar school expansions.

Knowing government sleight-of-hand, this is unlikely to be new money. One wonders which budget has been raided to provide it. So it is unlikely to trigger any consequential grant to Wales, which has set its face against the tripartite system anyway.

There is a social consequential, though. These new moves are likely to increase the number of young people who see themselves as part of an underclass. I predict a rise in crime which could affect Wales as well as England.

Congratulations to Huddersfield Town

on fighting to the end, successfully, to keep their place in the Premier League. The owner should be praised for keeping faith with David Wagner, the coach who brought the team up from the Championship.

One wonders if Swansea City would have shipped so many goals against Liverpool, Brighton and Manchester City, thus ruining their goal difference, if Paul Clement had remained in charge.

Perhaps the time has come for John Hartson to be granted the fulfilment of his long-held ambition to manage his home town club. It may have seemed a risky move when Swans were in mid-table in the Premier League, but surely it is not so chancy for a Championship side.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

No relief on Valleys rails

Today is Europe Day, VE Day and Sir Kyffin Williams' centenary. Since I seem to have used up my weekly quota of EU posts yesterday, and cannot usefully comment on the other two, I shall address something more fundamental.

The Western Mail has reported that the favoured rolling-stock for the Valleys Metro scheme has no provision for toilets. Moreover, the current operators are intending to lock toilets rather than improve their facilities for those with disabilities. The matter was brought up by Plaid's Adam Price in the Assembly:

Adam Price: Cabinet Secretary, this month's edition of Modern Railways magazine, which I know is required reading material for all Assembly Members, reported that future Valleys lines trains will no longer offer toilets on board for passengers. I'd like you to confirm whether or not this is the case. But, before you do that, I'd like to point out that there are two aspects to this question, really.

In the short-term, it's suggested that, in order to avoid failing accessibility requirements and disability legislation, instead of proactively upgrading the existing Pacer stock to comply with the persons of reduced mobility specifications, the Welsh Government has opted to lock the toilets instead. Now, you've denied that, but I'd like you to set out in detail how you plan to make the Pacer trains compliant with the legislation.

The second element, looking to the future, is that it's widely believed that light rail trains, which do not normally include toilets, are being considered for some of the Valleys lines as part of the development of the south Wales metro. Can you confirm that it's the bidding companies that will decide whether or not toilets will be provided on board these new trains? As toilets take up significant space, which impacts on revenues, it doesn't take an expert, perhaps, to guess what their recommendations may be.

Ken Skates: Can assure the Member that doors will not be locked on trains to get around regulations that require operators to provide facilities for people of limited mobility. The bidders in the procurement exercise have been challenged with demonstrating how they will ensure that rolling stock complies with the regulations that are coming into force shortly, and it will require them to do that without the locking of any doors whatsoever. Equally, as part of the procurement exercise, we undertook a number of consultations with passengers and the wider public to ascertain exactly what it was that people prioritised when they were considering whether or not to use railways. Public transport and the quality of rolling stock were amongst the most important and significant factors in determining whether to use the train or their own private car. And so, as a consequence, this has become one of the primary areas of concern during the procurement process. We've required the bidders to demonstrate how they will ensure that there are toilet facilities on board trains.

My correspondent in his covering email reckoned in almost so many words that either the Minister did not know what was going on, or he believed in unicorns.

Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Buttons missing from the money laundering legislation

Many people, including notably the International Consortium of Investigate Journalists, who exposed the "Panama papers", have welcomed the government's U-turn on an amendment to the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Bill, requiring overseas territories to publish registers of who owns shell companies registered there. However, it was not a complete 180 degree shift, as Private Eye #1469 points out:

The cross-party move, promoted by Labour's Margaret Hodge and Tory Andrew Mitchell, conspicuously excludes Britain's tax havens closer to home - the crown dependencies of Guernsey, Jersey and the Isle of Man. 

The Eye suggests that Andrew Mitchell has a conflict of interest in that he is retained by EY*, which promotes VAT avoidance schemes using the IoM.

* The financial services company which grew out of the merger of accountancy firms Ernst & Whinney and Arthur Young & Co.

Monday, 7 May 2018

Brexit myth: Switzerland's border

The negative Euromyths (straight bananas etc.) seem to have been replaced in the public prints by more positive Brexit myths. One which has recently been promoted is that Switzerland is a model for Northern Ireland.  Denis MacShane explains in the New European:

The latest myth to be peddled is that Switzerland has little or no regulatory controls on goods that travel between the Alpine nation and its neighbours.
Brexit propagandists try to deny that [...] re-partitioning of Ireland will be a problem. One way in which they have tried to achieve this is by implying that Switzerland’s borders with the EU are virtually non-existent, as Daniel Hannan, the Conservative MEP, suggested on Newsnight recently.
He even had the cheek to write, in an article for the Sun: “I cross the EU’s border with Switzerland every month. Not that I’d notice if I didn’t know it was there. Most of the crossings between the EU and its neighbour are unmanned. Some are invisible.”

Of course there are many small paths and narrow rural roads that cross into Switzerland – like those that bisect other frontiers in Europe – which do not have physical check points. And, as part of the EU’s Schengen area (unlike the UK), there is no need for passport checks. But Swiss customs laws remain in force, all along the Swiss frontier. The border is still there, in a very meaningful sense. The absence, in some remote spots, of physical check points does not constitute a “frictionless” frontier. And the border posts on main roads are far from invisible.
When I worked in Geneva, before becoming an MP, I lived 100 metres from the French-Swiss border post on a minor road between the French Jura region and the Geneva canton. Border posts on both sides were staffed all day and all night. Of course, most cars were waved through, especially those with local number plates. But some were stopped and checked in case they broke Swiss law and brought in more meat, poultry or alcohol than permitted.

MacShane may be an ex-alcoholic expenses trougher but as a former Europe minister he knows his stuff. However, if you do not believe him, believe the official government advice on exporting from the UK (we are still in the EU) to Switzerland:

All imported goods and services must be cleared with customs.

Kate Hoey on the European community and poorer countries

The member for London Vauxhall often speaks from ignorant prejudice on matters European, but at least on the occasion of last Thursday's debate on Customs and the Border, she had some evidence on her side. Admittedly, the evidence was from almost fifty years ago, but it bears examination. She began by quoting Joan Lestor from 1971:

“The political significance of British entry into Europe will have far-reaching effects upon the third world, the developing world.
Because of the protectionist policies of E.E.C. we shall not close the narrow channels between the rich and poor nations but rather widen them. Much has been said about the ability of E.E.C. to increase assistance to the developing world and to guarantee that the Community will continue to be outward looking in the future.
I cannot understand—and nobody has explained this to me from either side of the House—how an organisation like E.E.C., which everybody agrees is based on a protective tariff wall to which this country must agree as part of the price of entry and which will mean erecting a fresh tariff barrier against helping other parts of the world, can be said to be outward-looking. I do not believe the interests of the E.E.C. are identical with the interests of the smaller, developing and weak nations of the world.”—[Official Report, 21 October 1971; Vol. 823, c. 954.]
I will take Members back a little further to 1962—I genuinely do not think the right hon. and learned Gentleman was here then—and the words of Clement Attlee:
“I think that integration with Europe is a step backward. By all means let us get the greatest possible agreement between the various continents, but I am afraid that if we join the Common Market we shall be joining not an outward-looking organisation, but an inward-looking organisation.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 8 November 1962; Vol. 244, c. 428.]
All these years later, some things have changed, but the European Union is still an inward-looking organisation. Do we really want our future arrangements to be tied to that?

I would contend that, so far from remaining inward-looking, the EU is now more conscious than ever of its responsibilities on the world stage. Although at first sight, the UK's contribution to overseas development aid is slightly more generous (£13.4bn in 2016 as opposed to EU institutions' £12bn), the EU also has a scheme (the General Scheme of Preferences or GSP) which grants tariff-free or reduced tariff access to the EU market to countries of lower-middle-income and below. In 2016-17, 23 countries benefited from reduced tariffs and a further 49 from duty-free access.

Moreover, Ms Hoey should be careful who she shares a Brexit bed with. She will find that there is a significant number of fellow-Leavers who also want to do away with the UK's commitment to a share of  our GDP to international development.

This is giving the British people back control?

Peter Black last week drew attention to the shameful vote of the House of Commons to keep secret Home Office internal documents which would have informed the debate about depriving pre-Callaghan legal immigrants of their rights.

On the same day, Valerie Vaz, the opposition's speaker on parliamentary business, repeated her attack on Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom's manoeuvres to suppress discussion of Statutory Instruments* (secondary legislation) and delay implementation of primary legislation:

many people are upset about what the Leader of the House said last week about the Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) (Amendment) Regulations 2018. At business questions, she accused the Opposition of being “tardy” in making a request for the debate on the statutory instrument
“having prayed against the SI one month after it was laid.”
In reality, however, it was prayed against well within time. She also wrongly claimed that it had been
“too late to schedule a debate within the praying period without changing last week’s business”.—[Official Report, 26 April 2018; Vol. 639, c. 1030.]
But she and I both know that we have done that many times, and sometimes I have been monosyllabic in agreeing with the change of business.
At Justice questions last week the Lord Chancellor said that the Government are waiting for information from the Labour party. Will the Leader of the House please correct the record and say that the Opposition had prayed against the regulations, and that there was nothing else that we needed to do? They were prayed against on 22 March, and the praying period ended on 20 April. The Opposition were waiting for action from the Government. She will know that time stops on a statutory instrument when the House is not sitting for more than four days, so perhaps there was some confusion about that. Will the Leader of the House please correct the record and say that that had nothing to do with the Opposition?
My right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) has prayed against the Immigration (Guidance on Detention of Vulnerable Persons) Regulations 2018, No. 410, and the Detention Centre (Amendment) Rules 2018, No. 411. When will that debate be scheduled? The statutory instruments were laid two days before the Easter recess.
It seems that the Government are playing KerPlunk with our money resolutions, pulling out Bills at will—[Interruption.] Hon. Members remember it! The Prisons (Interference with Wireless Telegraphy) Bill has got its money resolution, but there is nothing about the Property Boundaries (Resolution of Disputes) Bill, which was ahead of that Bill. When will we have a money resolution on the boundaries Bill?
I thank the Leader of the House for her letter on the statutory instrument tracker. She has made good progress on that, but the Hansard Society got in touch with me and said that it took them about seven years to get a unique statutory instrument tracker. It is very good and people have used it, so I wonder if there could be co-ordination between the two so we can do what you want to do, Mr Speaker, which is to make the House open, accessible and transparent to everyone.

Loyal readers will recall that the refusal by Hague and Cameron to move a money resolution prevented Andrew George's amended Affordable Homes Bill being enacted, which would have repaired much of the damage wrought by the "bedroom tax".

* There is an explanation of SIs here:

Sajid Javid: points of attack

Much has been made of Kerber's cartoon which has been described as "racist" (Javid is depicted at his new desk at the Home Office saying: "I just want to settle in, get organized, then deport my parents!"). It is rather a savage attack on the racism of Mrs May's Conservatives and the permanent staff of the Home Office.

More to the point, the ostensible reason for his appointment - to maintain the balance in the Cabinet between Europhiles and Europhobes - is rather tenuous. Although he joined David Cameron in supporting the Remain side in the referendum for pragmatic business reasons as well as presumably loyalty to the man who appointed him to government, his basic Euroscepticism has come to the fore since June 2016. It seems therefore that the government line against any cooperation with the EU27 will harden.

But BBC Radio's "World this Weekend" yesterday drew attention to possibly the most worrying aspect of the appointment: Javid is a devotee of Ayn Rand, the Russian-born American "philosopher" who espoused "rational egoism". He seems to have been turned on to her by watching the film of  Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead starring Gary Cooper, who must have found the part of the self-obsessed architect much to his liking. Cooper had clear fascist sympathies and was one of the leading supporters of the HUAC drive to rid Hollywood of liberals and socialists.

WtW could not trace any disavowal of Rand's philosophy on the part of the new Home Secretary. The programme also implied that he was not the only Conservative MP to be influenced by the philosophy which also drives the Tea Party movement in the US.

Saturday, 28 April 2018

Appropriate ingredients

I would not normally comment on Royal events (and I am sorry to see that the The Independent has relaxed its stance), but this news item centres on beer. Windsor Knot, an ale brewed especially for the current round of royal nuptials, uses only English Invicta hops. Surely, it would be appropriate to use an American variety, as so many British ales do already? The combination of British barley and American hops would be good for celebrating an Anglo-American union. I see Cascade and Crystal on craft beer labels everywhere.

But perhaps something more out of the ordinary is required. How about the El Dorado which Prince Harry has struck? Or, for a lager-style, Liberty which I see is descended from German stock?

Friday, 27 April 2018

Would we have done as well without Brexit?

It seems that the party's determined support for the EU has come to its rescue, erasing memories of a broken promise by former LD ministers. Time was, Liberals would have taken a generation to recover from a reverse on the scale of 2015. Now we look like making gains in local authority elections in large parts of England on a scale we have not seen since before the coalition.

Anyway, good luck to all my friends and colleagues who are aiming to gain or retain council seats in England in the campaigns which are now on the final lap, hitting the tape next Thursday, May 3rd.

Thursday, 26 April 2018

House of Lords: what Conservatives said then

Some selected views of the unelected house during the Lords Reform discussions of 2011:

Mr Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con): I must confess that I think the House of Lords has done a pretty good job over the past 100 years, and I am glad that the Deputy Prime Minister [Nick Clegg] acknowledges that it does, indeed, do a good job.

Conor Burns (Bournemouth West) (Con): May I begin by saying to the Deputy Prime Minister, who concluded his remarks by saying that no one is in favour of the status quo, that I am in favour of the status quo, as I know many Conservative Members are?
Oliver Heald (North East Hertfordshire) (Con): A respectable case can be made that the House of Lords works well. In recent years, we have had the issues of 90 days’ detention, attacks on jury trials and the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006, which would have given Ministers the chance to overturn laws just by signing an order. On those occasions, the Lords came to the rescue of the country and did the right thing. It is an excellent revising Chamber and it does not try to rival what we do here. 
Andrew Griffiths (Con): The House of Lords is there to improve the legislation that we send to it. It is a revising Chamber. It is there to scrutinise the work that we do.
Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con): The whole point is that in the upper House there are not only experts but people who can make changes to Bills that would be whipped out of existence if they were introduced in the lower House.
Mr Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): I contend that what we have in the House of Lords is not so very bad. It reflects our history and traditions and I would have thought that, as Conservatives, that is what we are about. We are about preserving what is best in our history and I very much hope that as this debate proceeds to its final conclusion, there will be a blocking mechanism from the old left and the old right to throw this proposal into the dustbin of history, where I believe it belongs.
Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): We fumble with the rich and delicate texture of our constitution at our peril, and we should beware the law of unintended consequences.
Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con):  The House of Lords is an imperfect institution, as even its own Members concede. Its powers, composition and legitimacy have all come in for severe criticism over the years from different parts of the spectrum, but I am at a loss as to why anyone should want a Lords that was more party political, less expert and more expensive than it currently is. There is widespread public distrust in elected politicians, but this measure serves only to aggravate that distrust when we should be doing everything that we can to restore it.

- and now, after their Lordships have revised the EU Withdrawal Bill:

"BERNARD JENKIN Anti-Brexit Lords are pitting Parliament against the people" (The Sun, 21st April 2018)

(Conor Burns is a ministerial bag-carrier and Andrew Griffiths is now small business minister. Both presumably have to be diplomatic. Oliver Heald voted against the government in favour of giving parliament a final say on the terms of any deal with the EU27, so may be in sympathy with their lordships.)

Edward Leigh: Unelected peers voting against the people to keep us as half-in-half-out colony of the EU. Nein danke!

(David Ruffley had to resign the House in disgrace. I cannot yet find a reaction from Jesse Norman to the process in the Lords.)

Peers are "playing with fire" by trying to thwart Brexit and could end up "burning down" the House of Lords, Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned. (To be fair to Mr Rees-Mogg, in 2011 he felt that the HoL was already too powerful and his opposition to the Lords Reform Bill was because the Bill would make the Peers more powerful.)

More contributions are welcome - FHL

Wednesday, 25 April 2018

Hardly the Bolshevik Broadcasting Corporation

The revelations about the security services vetting BBC employees are chilling. (Thanks to Mr Dillow and Ms Rigg for putting me on to them.) They must cast a long shadow. Although anti-communist* (and fellow-traveller) vetting was abandoned almost thirty years ago, many of the young men (usually) recruited in the 1970s. '80s and even '90s, will have moved on to senior and middle management. As Chris Dillow writes:

The men who were selected as “sound” in the 70s and 80s hired the senior people who work there today. And they are likely to have had a bias towards people like themselves - “sound” people. Path dependence thus generates a bias against subversives even if overt vetting has ended.

Is it any surprise that the BBC gives inordinate coverage to reactionary organisations like UKIP or, before them, the Referendum Party?

* The security services were not so worried about those with fascist tendencies, it seems. That is presumably how Guy Burgess became a BBC producer, working the same trick as with MI6, cloaking his communist sympathies behind membership of a pro-fascist club.

Tuesday, 24 April 2018

Millicent (Garrett) Fawcett statue unveiled

As I write this, a statue of one of the stalwarts of the women's suffrage movement is being unveiled in Parliament Square, Westminster. Clearly, the statuary there reflects politics and civil power, but it would be good to have in another public place in London a statue of the oldest Garrett sister, Elizabeth Garrett Anderson who, so far as I can see, is commemorated in the capital only by a blue plaque and the name of a school.

Monday, 23 April 2018

A short break

I have a few posts on the stocks, but they need to be worked on and further researched. So posting will be light this week.

Sunday, 22 April 2018


You do not need to stray far from the pages of the Guardian, or switch from BBC-News which has just caught up with that journal's crusade, to learn of many members of the Windrush generation and  their children who have already been sent back to the West Indies or have been under threat. These people have contributed an adult's life time of work, paying UK taxes, in some cases past the normal retiring age. Even after retirement, they must have contributed to cohesion of family and the wider community.

Perhaps Mrs May should look instead at those whose financial manipulations have not been helpful to this country or have overseen unlawful actions or both. In the latter category I would place Jes Staley, born in Boston, Massachusetts, whose investment expertise may have done much for Barclays, but whose pursuit of a whistle-blower was unethical as well as illegal.

His predecessor, Bob Diamond (born Concord, Massachusetts), implicated in the Libor rate-fixing scandal, can still come and go as he pleases. Indeed, he is now boss of an Africa-orientated investment vehicle listed in London.

This is before one gets to Russian plutocrats.

Saturday, 21 April 2018


(Baroness) Sally Hamwee posted on Liberal Democrat Voice outlining her vision of a Liberal Democrat policy for immigration.

Friday, 20 April 2018

The system is weighted against tenants, good and bad alike

Oxfordshire County Councillor Kirsten Johnson posted on Liberal Democrat Voice about the recent Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee report . (You can read the complete Commons proceedings including Clive Betts' presentation of the report here.) What I found most disturbing was the evidence that:
Citizens Advice told us that 44% of tenants said that a fear of eviction would stop them from negotiating with their landlord over disrepair. Shelter and Citizens Advice told us that they often reminded tenants about the risks of making complaints. We heard that 14% of tenants felt that they had been penalised for complaining, and more than 200,000 reported having been abused, threatened or harassed by a landlord.

It was good to hear support for the Labour chairman's report from the other side of the chamber. Bob Blackman agreed:
absolutely with every point made in the ​report. In respect of retaliatory evictions, does he agree that one issue that must be resolved is assured shorthold tenancies of six months, which are the norm for the private sector? If we extended those to three-year tenancies, that would strike a better balance between tenants and landlords.

There were some horrendous stories. Helen Hayes (Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood) recounted:
A family with very small children living in poor-quality rented accommodation in my constituency were recently evicted after they complained that the ceiling in the bathroom had collapsed over the bath shortly after they had finished bathing their children. I have no doubt that the next tenant is now living in that property, and that it is the taxpayer who is lining that landlord’s pockets by paying the rent.

Kirsten Johnson welcomes the report’s recommendations:

Tenants need greater legal protections from retaliatory eviction, rent increases and harassment. For example, the Deregulation Act could be strengthened to give greater protections to tenants after they make a complaint about conditions in their homes.

The establishment of a new fund to support local authorities to undertake informal enforcement activities.

The introduction of new ways of informing tenants and landlords of their rights and responsibilities.

A requirement for local authorities to publish their enforcement strategies online.

A review of legislation relating to the private rented sector aimed at bringing more clarity for tenants, landlords and local authorities.

She concludes:
It is as we protect the most vulnerable in our society that we strengthen the fabric which sustains our communities. We have good policy in this area, and I hope we can push Government to adopt these recommendations.

(The Deregulation Act referred to incorporates provisions against retaliatory eviction inspired by a private member's Bill - the Tenancies (Reform) Bill - proposed by Liberal Democrat Sarah Teather which was talked out by a bevy of Conservatives with interests in rented property. There is more here.)

All the reforms to the law will be of no effect unless there is equality of arms before the law. As this study for Shelter by the Universities of Kent and Bristol points out:

The decline of legal aid has had two particular effects. First, in indiviual cases, legal aid has largely disappeared. This has particularly been the case in disrepair matters. Claims for damages based on disrepair matters are only within scope for legal aid if thee is a serious risk of harm to health. […] Secondly, the decline of legal aid for housing has led to “advice deserts”. In some areas of the country, there is a dearth of solicitors with housing contracts for legal aid. This is an unsustainable position. Telephone advice, which is the first port of call for many, is a poor substitute for face-to-face provision by an expert in housing law. This is most particularly because […] the law is complex and uncertain.

Finally, I should state for the record that I may not be the best of tenants but I have a very good landlord.

Thursday, 19 April 2018

Fighting for total Welsh Independence: a crowded field

Jac o' the North has been whipping up support for Ein Gwlad which he launched last year. I know a few people who want to see total independence - from England, the EU, NATO - for Wales, but this seemed to be the first organisation through which this desire could be channelled. Then I received a link to a page (about Capital Group's possible undue influence on the government through Mr May) by a Johnny Vedmore who incidentally claims to lead the United Welsh Independence Party. This has no web-site, but an outfit named YesCymru, claiming to be "the only organisation that is actively campaigning for Welsh independence", does. Who knows what I might find if I keep searching? A "Life of Brian" segment comes to mind.

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Competition in central clearing

Clear.Bank® launched last year, founded by Nick Ogden, the man behind WorldPay. Their mission statement says:

ClearBank® delivers essential clearing and settlement capabilities for any organisation that provides financial services, opening up competition in UK banking for the first time in more than two centuries.
We’ve built a state of the art technology platform specifically designed for clearing services, connected to all UK payment schemes.

It should bring welcome competition to the charmed circle. The Ecology Building Society is one mutual organisation which is taking advantage, subject to member approval.

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Shock, horror: I am keeping my Facebook account!

Jane Dodds' war on loneliness, particularly as it affects old people, reminded me of the benefits of social facilities on the Web, which have rather been lost in the (justifiable) public excoriation of Cambridge Analytica for their data-scraping. Loneliness - a lack of interaction with family and friends - can be a killer at any age, but particularly for the elderly.

I joined Facebook initially in order to access a large library of historic images of Neath and district, which was not then publicly available. I soon found that it was a very useful party political tool, not only putting me in touch with fellow Liberal Democrats throughout Britain and sharing their problems and solutions, but also in contributing to a Lib Dem message to the wider public. The unexpected bonus was the discovery that relations in Australia, whom I had not seen for years, were also on Facebook as were their families brought up there whom I had never met. Add the more immediate family in England and continental Europe and you can see why I do not want to give up Facebook.

Having been subjected to email adverts for many years as a result of signing up to various computer-related sites, I went into the relationship with FB with open eyes. I knew that my messages would be interspersed with targeted adverts (e.g. for funeral plans - perhaps I should have lied about my age when signing up) and it was a price I was willing to pay. In the event, the targeted traffic has not been that heavy - though the aim has not always that precise. For instance, just because I like KD Lang and Joni Mitchell, that does not mean that I would be attracted by all other Canadian singer/songwriters (who is this Bryan Adams?).

At this time when government, both central and local, seems intent on reducing non-drivers' activity outside the home by cutting subsidy to bus services, Facebook serves a very useful purpose. Users need to be advised about how much personal information they can withhold, however. Facebook, government and organisations supporting old people could be more helpful here.

Monday, 16 April 2018

Jane Dodds emphasised that Lib Dems are not a one-issue party

Although our opposition to Brexit was an important part of leader Jane Dodds' keynote speech to last weekend's Welsh Liberal Democrat conference, it was not the heart of it.

She outlined the blows that would fall if the hard-liners' in the government, supported by the Labour Party had their way, and what she was doing about it:

whether we like it or not, Wales voted to leave the EU. But – and it’s a big but – it was not on the basis that we would leave under any circumstances.

  •  In circumstances which would seriously damage our economy.
  •  In circumstances where health and care services would struggle to find workers.
  •  In circumstances where our farmers would not be able to export their products. 
  •  In circumstances where we would roll back on devolution.
  •  Circumstances in which 75000 EU Nationals living in Wales feel unwelcome and marginalised

So we have to continue the fight for a democratic say on the final deal. Democracy didn’t end on the 23rd of June – people have the right to decide that the Brexit we’re hurtling towards is the wrong decision for our country. We need to get out on the doorsteps and make that case, conference. Talk to people about Brexit, and don’t be afraid to have difficult discussions. We know we are the remain party, and the only party in Wales campaigning for the people to have the final say on the deal. But our message is only just beginning to cut through. Just three out of four voters do not know the Liberal Democrat position on Brexit. So I am pleased to announce that the first Welsh Liberal Democrat Exit From Brexit/Brwydro Brexit rally, will be in Wrecsam on Saturday July 7th. [My emphasis]

Please join us as we show Wales that the Welsh Liberal Democrats are leading the campaign to

  • keep us in the customs union
  • keep us in the single market
  • stopping a hard border in Ireland
  • making sure our EU citizens feel welcomed and positive about living in Wales.

Let us show the people of Wales that we are the internationalist, forward thinking party we need. Looking to the future, not to a hazy nostalgic nationalism that promises the world and delivers nothing.

But Jane's closing returned to the main themes of her speech (see the whole thing on Liberal Democrat Voice), putting our social concerns at the top of the agenda:

I want to lead a party of social justice,  a party that is radical and reforming that is diverse and creative. I want to lead a party that does something with the opportunities available to us – not just sit on the sidelines and shout in. We’ve done it before, we’re doing it now, and we can do it again. Let’s go forward with the confidence, the aspiration, and the hope Wales needs. 

Sunday, 15 April 2018

Enoch Powell's speech to West Midlands Conservatives, April 1968

Yesterday evening, Radio 4 broadcast a reconstruction of what has become known as the "rivers of blood" speech. As on previous occasions, BBC's publicity machine seems to have been hyping the programme. The result was an exaggerated response even before the programme was aired, which may have been what the PR people were after.

I should state at the outset that I feel that the BBC were right to commemorate the speech in the way they did, just as the PM programme recalled Martin Luther King's final speech and as (again in the Archive Hour) the release of Clarke and Kubrick's 2001: a space odyssey was marked. All were key events 50 years ago. The Archive Hour is a serious programme series and almost always provides detailed and contextual analysis. Amol Rajan did not disappoint yesterday and there were telling contributions from people, some contemporary, who were affected directly or indirectly by the speech. It was necessary to examine the speech because it is part of our history and this was done soberly and with insight.

The speech had to be reconstructed for the radio programme because the only recording made at the time was by Midlands ITV who retained only part of the opening and the peroration, which contained perhaps the most emotive lines. Hence BBC Radio hired an actor to read the missing sections using Powell's original script. If I have a complaint about the programme, it is that, though the actor nailed the Black Country accent, he lacked Powell's incisive delivery and even slurred occasionally.

It was interesting that many who objected on-line in advance of the broadcast were either not born or were very young when Powell spoke. I cite especially Peter Black and Jonathan Fryer. It was as if they feared a hypnotic effect from beyond the grave, rather like a relic in a Japanese horror film. (Perhaps those staring eyes in photographs of Powell have something to do with it.) Those of us who were there at the time remember how excessively emotive and offensive Powell's language was and trusted that this in itself would have revolted a twenty-first century audience. Indeed, I had forgotten that he used the words "negro" (definitely passé on both sides of the Atlantic) and "piccaninnies". This last term was at best patronising in the 1950s, and was already objectionable in the 1960s. I thought I had heard the last of it until Boris Johnson used it in a Telegraph article in 2002.

There are similarities in where both men were in their careers. Like Boris Johnson, Powell was an ambitious man who felt he was intellectually superior to his party leaders. Both had failed to make progress and felt the need to make inflammatory statements in order to keep themselves in the public eye, Powell humourlessly, Johnson buffoonishly.

The power of the speech in 1968 derived from Powell's status as a shadow minister, something which is meaningless fifty years on, yet another reason not to fear a public dissection of it now. Indeed, it was a major step in Powell's decline. After it, Heath sacked him from the shadow cabinet. Later, Powell campaigned against our membership of the European common market, going so far as to resign from the Conservatives and to recommend a vote for Labour in the 1974 general election. Having burned his bridges with his former colleagues, he had one final spell in the limelight as an Ulster Unionist MP but it was clearly all over for him by then.

In the Archive Hour programme, Matthew Parris (former aide to Margaret Thatcher) having met Powell, opined that he was not as clever as he thought he was. That does not chime with his record - youngest professor in the Commonwealth when first appointed and youngest brigadier in the British Army in the final years of World War 2 - but suggests that his intellectual capacity was declining by the late 1960s. He had prided himself on being a logical man. He had come out against capital punishment because he had looked at the comparative statistics and concluded that it was ineffective and had led to fatal miscarriages. He was not a typical racist, having come to love India and learned Urdu, mixing with Indian army officers, when he saw service on the sub-continent. He was always careful to distinguish himself from white supremacists, like the Nazis, who maintain that other races are inferior. Yet this classical scholar, poet, economic liberal and logical thinker had an irrational prejudice against the mixing of peoples which overrode his intellectual convictions.

In the 1968 speech, he called for restriction of immigration and highlighted the then Conservative policy of subsidised repatriation. I would concede his point that large-scale immigration over a short period of time, especially to address temporary labour shortages, has led to unrest down the line - think Tamils in the Sri Lankan tea plantations or Indian labourers in Fiji, not to mention African slavery in North America. However, he seemed oblivious of the hypocrisy that, as Minister of Health, he had presided over the recruitment of nurses from all parts of the Commonwealth, including the West Indies and Africa, in order to keep NHS hospitals running. He repeated the claim that is still with us today in relation to mobility of labour within the EU, that immigrants were blocking paediatric beds and education places, ignoring the fact that those same paediatric departments and schools would not be viable without staff from abroad.

Just as Sir Tim Bell was not afraid to admit that he had studied the techniques of Goebbels, Hitler and Speer and the Nuremberg Rallies in devising the Conservative Party showcases which led to  Margaret Thatcher's successes, so we can admire and apply the technique of the Powell speech while rejecting its message. Biblical and classical references are always impressive. Powell used both in his peroration. Before the line from Virgil which gave the speech its handle, he quoted the phrase “a cloud no bigger than a man’s hand” derived from Kings 18 & 19 thus clearly equating himself with the prophet Elijah. To bring this essay to a neat close, I shall avail myself of an ancient maxim of which Powell himself was fond: those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

Cruise missile attacks on Syria

My post of yesterday implied that I approved of the joint French/UK/US action. That was not my intention. I was completely behind Vince Cable's call for parliamentary endorsement of any military adventure, especially as the incident in Douma has not yet been verified to be a chemical attack, and, if it was. who was responsible. An OPCW team is now in Syria and should shortly be able to answer the first of those questions.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

B******* to Brexit, Cardiff

If I were fit enough to manage a day in Cardiff, I would be compelled to divide my time between a march against Brexit this morning (meet by the Nye Bevan statue at 10:30) and attendance at the Welsh Liberal Democrat spring conference. At least there should be increased coverage of the latter by the BBC, who will thus have an excuse not to film the former.

Why not in 2013?

We woke up this morning (at least those of us who did not stay up all night listening to the World Service) to the news that bombing/cruise missile strikes had been made by France, the UK and the US on sites in Syria. Even before the latest reports of chemical weapons being used against Syrian civilians, many people were saying that parliament was wrong in 2013 not to authorise military action then. Those voices are clearly going to be louder now.

The answer is twofold in my opinion. Firstly, the West has been able to identify the sites where Syria has been manufacturing its chemical weapons and storing their precursor chemicals. (We may even have the despatch address for the latter, thanks to UK firms helpfully supplying Syria with the requisites.) In 2013, that was not the case. Indeed, in the key Commons debate, the then prime minister David Cameron in proposing approval for the principle of military intervention admitted that "The case for ultimately supporting action [...] is not based on a specific piece or pieces of intelligence."

Secondly, any strike then would clearly have been directed at Assad's military bases. Anything less than knocking out all or most of the airfields housing the means of delivery would have been no more than a gesture. If meaningful, it could have left the Assad regime vulnerable to a takeover by Daesh/ISIS who, it should be remembered, were then very strong and controlled much of Syria. Short of openly declaring an aim of regime change and putting our own troops in - which the British public would not have been happy with - there was a strong likelihood that the dictatorship of the Assad family would have been replaced by something far worse. Just ask the Christians and the Yazidis.

Friday, 13 April 2018

Gold medals and political points

How times have changed. In 1968, two African-American athletes took the opportunity of medal wins at the Mexico Olympics to protest, from the podium, racial discrimination at home - and almost became non-persons. It did not help that the heads of both the International Olympics and the US Olympics Committee at the time were both reactionaries, if not white supremacists.

Yesterday on the Australian Gold Coast, Tom Daley, having just won gold in partnership with Dan Goodfellow, highlighted the homophobic laws of 37 Commonwealth countries - and hardly a breath of criticism has been reported.

Thursday, 12 April 2018

New threat to Post Offices

The revelation that WH Smith's pre-tax profits from its High Street shops fell by more than 4% is worrying (except to those economic liberals in the Treasury who want to get rid of the post office organisation). In the early years of the coalition, Vince Cable and Edward Davey - then Business ministers - insisted that the programme of post office closures, begun under Thatcher/Major and accelerated under Blair/Brown, must cease. It seems that a compromise was reached under which crown post offices would remain open but would be rehoused in commercial premises, WH Smith being the preferred landlord. At the time, WH Smith's income was already under pressure. It could well be that the PO kept many a Smith's branch viable.

The virtual omnipresence of Smith on the High Street must have appealed to the Treasury. However, it would not take much more financial pressure on the chain to make it vulnerable to a buyer who could cut the nationwide shops and concentrate on the more rewarding station and airport outlets. Then what would happen to the post offices, under a government which is ideologically opposed to any state control?

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Unionists and the railways

Having one of my infrequent clear-outs of back issues of periodicals, I came across an article in Private Eye which is relevant now that nationalisation of the railways is back on the agenda. Under the heading "UUP against it", the Eye's regular railway correspondent wrote, in the aftermath of the 2017 Foster/May deal, of an earlier concession wrung out of a Conservative prime minister by Unionists.

John Major's government had a small majority when it privatised British Rail in the 1990s. Some Tory MPs feared an electoral backlash if private franchisees foisted big fare rises or other headaches on commuters. (As it happens, since then the Tories have failed to win a majority in five out of six general elections.) But Ulster Unionist Party MPs agreed to vote for rail privatisation on condition that Northern Ireland Railways (NIR) would not be privatised.

Reportedly, the Unionists feared
a privatised NIR could fall into the hands of a foreign government, specifically the Republic of Ireland's. That looks prescient now that most mainland rail franchises are owned or part-owned by foreign governments. Now the mainland's 'national rail' system gets almost twice as much 'government support' pro rata (12p per passenger mile in 2015-16 on average) as NIR (6.3p per passenger mile in 2016-17).

Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Greece and monetary union: a parallel

On April 10th 1868, Greece joined the Latin Monetary Union which had been formed by France, Italy, Switzerland and Belgium in 1866. As Ben Chu explained in an Independent article of three years ago:
These "Latins" agreed to make their currencies freely interchangeable at a fixed exchange rate to facilitate trade and foster monetary stability.

Things went pear-shaped as they were to do in respect of European Monetary Union more recently:

"In no sense was she a desirable member of the league," wrote the historian Henry Parker Wills in 1901. "Economically unsound, convulsed by political struggles, and financially rotten, her condition was pitiable." [...] Greece's King George I thought that joining the currency bloc would help modernise the domestic economy and lower its cost of borrowing on the international credit markets. Yet once Greece was admitted into the LMU, things didn't change. Athens over-borrowed and was lax in collecting tax.

However, having been kicked out of the LMU, Greece made amends, as she was also to do, austerely, more recently:

Greece was re-admitted to the LMU in 1910 after managing an impressive turnaround in economic management.

 Of course, this was all to be swept away four years later in the war which was supposed to end all wars.