Wednesday, 31 January 2018

BBC and Brexit

The Little Englanders continue to criticise the BBC for allowing a breath of criticism of the state of Article 50 negotiations, when they should be expressing gratitude to the corporation for creating the climate of opinion which led to the Leave vote in 2016. Norman Tebbitt for instance asked in the Lords yesterday:

[Does the Minister] not think as an individual, a private person, that there is something wrong when, out of 4,275 guests talking about the EU on BBC Radio 4’s “Today” programme between 2005 and 2015, only 132, or 3.2%, were supporters of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU? Frankly, the BBC has become the supporter of a foreign organisation called the European Union. Could not the Minister quietly whisper in somebody’s ear, “Get your act in order, because you owe a duty of impartiality”?

His Lordship should consider that during the years he cited, the policy of both government and opposition (including a change of party in power) was to remain in the European Union. So he is saying that there should have been more critics of the Conservative administration (and of the official opposition) being roughed up by John Humphrys between 2010 and 2015, while implying that he would deny the right to query the direction of the post-2016 governments. By the way, these queries come from more people other than hard-line Remainers.

As to the European Union being foreign, until March 2019 (and hopefully beyond) we are full members, participating in its administration both at ministerial level and through the European Parliament. One does not hear his Lordship complaining about our armed forces being at the beck and call of NATO, an arguably more foreign organisation, dominated as it is by the USA. Indeed, though our MoD has a say in NATO's direction, there are no other means of the ordinary UK citizen influencing NATO decisions. (I hasten to add that I believe in our membership of NATO and share the criticism of fellow member nations who do not make contributions at the level we do in the UK.)

Tuesday, 30 January 2018

May will withstand repeated pressure

Grant Shapps is at it again, asserting that the prime minister will either have to resign or face a vote of no confidence. My sense is that the qualities which enabled her to be the last person standing in the Conservative leadership election and to resist previous seemingly credible threats to her leadership will see her through her current difficulties. She is aided by the absence of an alternative who does not alienate large sections of her party.

Even the election of last year, undemocratic though it was, driven by panic (the possibility of a dozen sitting Conservative MPs being charged with electoral offences) though it was, has helped in that there is no stomach for yet another in the country, an election which would surely see Labour and Liberal Democrats making more gains than they did last year.

So Mrs May will survive, at the expense of the country's future.

Friday, 26 January 2018

More on the Carillion failure

Further to my post of yesterday, the current issue of Private Eye reports that Carillion stopped paying into its pension fund last August - a signal, the Eye suggests, that the company was in a far worse position than it admitted at time of its second profit warning in September.

As to sub-contractors, not all will be covered by the government's bland assurance last Wednesday that " when it was decided to place Carillion in insolvency, the Government had two priorities: to protect and maintain the delivery of vital services in schools, hospitals and prisons and on the railways, and to support not only the 19,500 people directly employed by Carillion, but the contractors and small businesses involved." In fact, it seems likely that sub-contractors owed money up to 15 January 2018 for services supplied will simply rank as unsecured creditors and have to submit a claim in the liquidation. Given that a substantial part of the book assets of the company is "goodwill" (thanks again to Private Eye for that information) one cannot see unsecured creditors recovering much from the receivers.

Thursday, 25 January 2018

Failing companies and pension funds

Among the casualties of the Carillion crash, along with sub-contractors and their suppliers, are pension funds. David Thorpe, writing in Liberal Democrat Voice, makes a suggestion which would go some way to protecting the latter:

At present, if a company goes bust, the first entity to be paid is the administrator, then the taxman, then the secured creditors, often banks, then the unsecured creditors, which includes the pension fund, and finally, the shareholders.
In this corporate structure, the power is in practice with the secured creditors (the taxman only becomes involved when they don't get paid, the banks can be engaged regularly with the company), so policy makers should act to ensure that all existing pension funds of UK-listed companies are treated as secured creditors, with at least the same seniority as the banks; this would give the trustees of the pension funds far more influence over how the capital generated by the company is distributed before there is a major problem, and put the hard working pensioners much nearer the front of the queue if the company in question turns into another Carillion. 

Incidentally, as recounted by Margareta Pagano in the London Evening Standard and in the i yesterday, a prominent Liberal Democrat supporter, Paul Marshall, was one of those who spotted that Carillion was in terminal decline. His hedge fund, Marshall Wace, made money for its clients by "shorting" Carillion stock last year. I would like to think that, if a Liberal Democrat had been Chancellor last year, no more government contracts would have gone to Carillion from mid-2017 on.

Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Untouched by human hand

One does not readily associate Michael Frayn with dystopian SF, but in A Very Private Life he extrapolated trends he recognised in 1968 (is the book really about to celebrate its golden jubilee??). In his imaginary middle-class future, everything - including children - can be supplied at the touch of a button. There is no need for any social interaction, although, as I recall the novel, the father of the heroine is a UN official who has to deal with the excluded people of the world, Frayn's equivalent of Orwell's proles or Wells' morlocks.

I was reminded of this recently in a discussion on CIX about participants' favourite Frayn novels. It was reinforced by news from the US west coast of Amazon's dehumanised convenience store and Terry Teachout's log of his progress to a technology-mediated life.

Cash, if one is to believe the media, is dying. Already public transport in London and other metropolitan areas will not take notes and coins. The same goes for a growing number of retail outlets in Scandinavia. The recent EU ban on fees for using cards for payment is going to further the trend. Link's proposal to change its charging structure may cause a reduction in the number of ATMs, the only means of obtaining cash for people living outside larger towns and cities, because of the closure of bank branches.

Government in the UK is intent on reducing human interaction. Advice is no longer provided face-to-face but by (often premium-rate) phone lines. Claimants for Universal Credit are expected to set up an on-line account on the blithe assumption that everybody has a home computer or a smartphone and lives in an area with good digital connections. Post Offices are induced to close by cutting sub-postmasters' incomes from government transactions.

Do not misunderstand me. I do welcome the ease of shopping in Tesco or Morrison, using their automated checkouts, though there is always the reassurance of a human standing by to clear any glitches. However, I also enjoy the more social experience of my local mini-mart for those emergency purchases or to use the in-shop post office. For those of my generation and older who do not have the same social networks, the regular trip to the shop or post office can be a factor in combating loneliness, which NHS UK admits can be a killer.

The people who make the decisions to save money by closing post offices, tax offices and job centres or taking staff away from railway stations (thus increasing the reluctance of vulnerable people to take the train) would be distressed if they were not able to see a live show (is there not Netflix?) or interact socially with their peers. One trusts that before it is too late the Establishment will realise that is not good to have a disaffected population inspired by a new Ned Ludd, and that both business and government should have a human, and local, face.

Tuesday, 23 January 2018

Heinz soups: a Proustian recollection

It seems that Heinz is having a clear-out of its canned soup range. Every supermarket which stocks the brand, and even my local mini-mart, Arbourne's, have multi-buy offers. Although I prefer these days to (in the words of Cassandra) construct my own soups, I could not resist the other day laying in a stock of cans as larder stand-bys. I also have a special reason for wanting to sample the vegetable soup again because, in a sort of reverse-madeleine moment, the very sight of that distinctive label brings back the memory of a taste from sixty years ago. Is it still the same as when I sat at the kitchen table in Wallasey playing cards (probably rummy or beat jack) with my mother to take my mind off the pain in an infected ear ("acute otitis media, hmm, Little?" as the French master queried when I eventually returned to school) which the hot soup was also designed to ease?

Monday, 22 January 2018

Once out, we are out for good

There are growing siren voices - like David Lidington's - whispering that we do not need a government about-face, or a third referendum, to stop the Article 50 talks. We can exit the EU and, if we do not like the cold hard world outside, apply to rejoin under Article 49.

However, that will mean signing up to entry conditions which were added to the EU treaties after we joined. In particular, it will probably entail adopting the euro instead of the pound sterling. Many who have supported Remain up until now may find that a step too far. It would certainly mean reaffirming our support for the European Convention on Human Rights. Since Mrs May wants to not only repeal the Human Rights Act (which enshrines the ECHR) but also renege on the convention itself, an illiberal stance which too many other Conservative MPs also take, one cannot see a Conservative government applying to rejoin, no matter how dire the economic situation.

Moreover, the EU may itself change in the meantime. The European Defence Force, which the UK has stalled while we have been members, may well come to fruition. Changes to the Common Agricultural Policy and the motor industry which suit France and Germany may be made. Even I may be forced to think twice if all that comes to pass; if only a part of it does, then it will be difficult for any government to gain the support of the electorate in a reapplication.

Can we trust the other 27 to let us back in again anyway? France and Germany are making nice noises at the moment, but it should be remembered that France was the main source of resistance to our joining in the first place, and one can envisage a change of government in Germany which would be less willing to recommend UK re-accession. Unanimity of member states is required and while the recommendation of the major members will carry a lot of weight, one can well imagine others standing against. What conditions might Spain demand?

Besides, we would have lost many of the benefits of membership once the multi-national organisations which invested in Britain in order to gain access to the common market realise that the point of no return has been passed, and have pulled out permanently.

The UK cannot now withdraw its Article 50 notification unilaterally, but we probably still have enough credit with the other 27 to support a resolution to stop the withdrawal negotiations. That window is gradually closing and will almost certainly shut permanently late this year.

Friday, 19 January 2018

Malthus rides again

The private thoughts of rising Conservative MP Ben Bradley, revealed by Buzzfeed recently, echo the sentiments of well-to-do reactionaries through the ages. Unless we can stop the poor procreating, goes the theory, we will be swamped and there will not be enough food to go round.

Thomas Robert Malthus (the scion of a comfortably-off middle-class family), gave some respectability to the theory in his 1798 essay, Essay on the Principle of Population as It Affects the Future Improvement of SocietyTo be fair to Malthus, he did not advocate forced sterilisation, but his rationalisation of what is no more than a gut instinct backed by superficially attractive mathematics nevertheless had a malign influence on too many political and economic thinkers in following years. The background to the essay is detailed here.

That article also shows how time refuted the Malthusian hypothesis. Technology has consistently enabled food production to keep pace with population.

There is another factor which is at least as important. As people's living standards improve, so family sizes decrease. Better public health provision means that there is less need to produce lots of children to increase the chances of survival of a few. Increased incomes enable families to save, reducing the need to produce children to look after parents in old age. Sociologists have noted that immigrants from areas of high birth rates adapt to the norm of their adopted country.

The counter-argument is that world population continues to rise, in spite of statistics showing that global inequality of income is shrinking. I would respond that the latest figures show that the rate of increase has slowed, and we have probably left behind the highest growth rates. It is conceivable that we will see no more than replacement rate in the lifetimes of some of us.

Against this background, it is depressing that ideas like Bradley's persist. He has now renounced his earlier blog post, and Mrs May has dissociated herself from it, but it clearly did not come from nowhere. One wonders whether Malthusian thought is behind the current government's steady reduction in support for the poorest in UK society.

Thursday, 18 January 2018

The "Spanish" flu

It killed more people than the conflict of the Great War (which, according to one theory, spawned the fatal strain). A recent documentary for the World Service by Professor John Oxford chronicled its spread, the mistakes that were made but also the heroes and heroines who made the right decisions in that age before viruses were recognised. Research goes on, because lessons need to be learned about the future treatment of influenza or any epidemic resulting from a new virus. Research is not helped by the censorship of the time which affected most leading nations - except Spain, who was saddled with the misleading epithet as a result of enabling reports of the epidemic in the peninsula.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Conservative MP seeks to remedy the final indignity for Chagos Islanders

While bevies of prime Californian cheer-leader are imported to entertain the military on Diego Garcia, and there are modern leisure facilities on the island to fill the rest of US and UK servicemen's idle time, the grandchildren of the dispossessed islanders are treated by the UK government like any illegal immigrant.

The Conservative MP for Crawley sought to put that right with a Ten-Minute Rule Bill yesterday. He explained:

I am sure that I need not recap the tragic events that have led to this moment, but I believe it necessary in order to put the Bill in context and to grasp the gravity of Chagossian history. It was almost half a century ago that then Prime Minister Harold Wilson gave an Order in Council to remove the inhabitants of the British Indian Ocean Territory so that a UK-US military base could be established on the strategic main island of Diego Garcia. In the years that followed, a community that had lived peacefully found itself exiled and ignored with scant regard for its rights or wellbeing. We cannot change history, but we can support those removed from their homeland and their descendants who are not covered by the existing law and protections that, as Britons, they should enjoy.

The legislation currently assumes that just one generation of Chagossians will be born in exile and, although many members of the community born in exile have received British citizenship, their children have not. As such, when these families have come to the UK, as is their right, their children have been treated as immigrants like any others by the Home Office. Therefore, they are subject to the usual financial costs and administrative implications. At this time, we can ease the burden. We can provide assistance to those whose story is not recognised in the country that removed them from the place—a British territory—that they call home. Of course, had the population not been evicted half a century ago, all born on the islands would already have British citizenship status.

It is disgraceful that a back-bencher has to initiate legislation to right this wrong, and by the least promising method - no Ten-Minute Rule Bill has made it into law since 2002. At the very least, the government should make time available for its progress, but one hopes that Mrs May is shamed into taking the measure on board as government legislation.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

The forgotten side of Churchill

There is yet another film, after so many films and TV movies, portraying Winston Churchill as the great war leader. At the same time, a recent book celebrates Churchill the young warrior and the calumny that he shot the miners in Tonypandy is being revived on social media. But all this obscures an important aspect of Churchill's character, the liberal social reformer. As the synopsis of a 1996 book puts it:

Winston Churchill ranks as one of the founders of the welfare state. With Herbert Asquith and David Lloyd George, he was the principal driving force behind the Liberal Party's welfare reforms of 1908–1911. At the Board of Trade, he pioneered measures to reduce poverty and unemployment through state intervention in the labour market. In 1909, he toured Britain campaigning for the ‘People's Budget’ and its radical proposals for the taxation of wealth. At the Home Office, his penal reforms as well as his measures to improve working conditions in shops and coal-mines were reflections of a continuing drive for social reform that was cut short by his transfer, in 1911, to the Admiralty. In the course of a lifetime in party politics, Churchill often touched on social questions, and there were other phases of his career in which he bore some responsibility for the development of social policy.

Those reforms sprang from an unlikely alliance between Lloyd George, a man who had worked his way up through the law and politics from a poor North Wales village and Churchill, from a patrician family - aided by William Beveridge, a prickly, self-assured, scion of the Raj who argued for social reforms backed by dogged research into existing schemes on the continent. Churchill and Ll G eventually fell out, and one wonders whether history would have been different if their alliance had continued.

Churchill never lost his feeling for social justice as his giving a free hand to RA Butler to draw up the 1944 Education Act showed.- and of course the Beveridge Report was published under the wartime coalition government which he headed.

Sunday, 14 January 2018

We need fair taxes

There has been much discussion about "austerity" lately, or to describe it properly, unwarranted cuts in support for the people who most need it. It is too easy to blame the shortage of public funds on the move to leave the European Union, though the fact that we are not benefiting from a rise in global trading activity as much as fellow-Europeans must be a factor. No, the real reason is deliberate government policy to reduce the tax contributions from those most able to make them.

William Wallace is not a name well-known to the general public (except for those who saw a historically dubious biopic starring Mel Gibson), but he is a distinguished and respected academic in the field of international affairs. He wrote on Liberal Democrat Voice over the Christmas period:

The IMF’s annual report on the UK economy recommends that taxes should be raised, in order to reduce the deficit further without cutting public investment and services.


Britain has one of the lowest tax rates of any developed democracy, after the USA and Canada. It is also one of the most unequal, after the USA. Other democratic states tax wealth and income more progressively, and provide higher-quality public services from that revenue. Germany, on Eurostat figures, raised 40% of GDP in tax in 2016, against the UK’s 35%, without ruining its economy or losing its business elite. 

Lib Dems achieved their largest parliamentary gains in 1997 with a manifesto which included putting a penny on the standard rate of income tax for the sake of education, so we should not be afraid of doing so again. Indeed, current policy is to rescue the NHS via a hypothecated tax. I would like to go further and say that we must also provide for our underfunded social services.

Saturday, 13 January 2018

Possible GKN takeover

I see that Vince Cable objects to a Scottish-based private equity company taking over UK industrial conglomerate GKN. Melrose's profile suggests that they are a cut above the average asset-stripper, but Vince knows more about finance and knows more people in business than the average citizen (and probably most Conservative MPs) so one must accede to his expertise.

I do know that GKN itself grew by amalgamation and takeovers. The G stands for "Guest", the family which was responsible for the historical prosperity of Merthyr. Nettlefolds (screws) and Keen (fasteners) were Birmingham-based and it seems that it was Arthur Keen who drove the amalgamation of the companies in the interest of vertical integration.

There is more here.

Friday, 12 January 2018

Lib Dems should be shouting more about bread-and-butter issues

The party has attracted thousands of new members, overtaking the Conservative party in size and in a more representative age profile, through being the only UK-wide party to advocate remaining in the EU. However, being seen as a one-issue party has its dangers, especially when that issue is not the uppermost concern of ordinary working people.

We should be re-emphasising our basic belief in freedom from the constraints of poverty, which is threatening more of the people who figure in Mrs May's much-trumpeted employment figures. An aggravating factor is the way Universal Credit has been applied, as explained by Stephen Lloyd MP in a recent newsletter:

I secured a debate this week on the impact Universal Credit is having on the private rental sector. This is an issue I tried to address when I was last your MP. The then Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, was insistent UC tenants should receive their housing benefit direct and, in theory, they’d then pass the housing benefit onto the landlords themselves. I saw all those years ago this would lead to major problems - particularly in the private sector where, frankly, many landlords already don’t like letting to tenants on benefit and that this stipulation could kill the market stone dead. With 1.2m tenants in the private sector on benefit across the UK many of which are on automatic payments to landlords, as part of the previous benefits regime, and all of whom over the next few years will be moved to UC. So you can understand where I’ve been coming from!

On my return to parliament I saw immediately that I’d been proved right and landlords were refusing to take UC tenants as all too often either the money wasn’t being paid over or there were long delays. So I ramped up my opposition again straight away, joined by many others including a number of the landlord trade associations all of whom I met soon after the election. They told me clearly what was happening on the front-line and it wasn’t pretty. I raised these concerns in the Chamber, by letter and generally lobbied as hard as I could for the government to finally see sense. Then, credit where it is due, they finally began to acknowledge what we’d been telling them - in my case for years - and did a U-turn announcing in the recent budget that it would now be possible for landlords to receive money direct on behalf of their UC tenants if they were on automatic payments under the old benefit system. There are still too many caveats though so I aim to keep pushing to get to where I believe the policy really should be; an automatic default payment to private landlords for anyone on UC. In the debate this week I was, unusually, also supported by three conservative MPs so I am hopeful we will win this one. Not least as it’s common sense.

Housing and social inequality generally are also concerns for Layla Moran, tipped as a future leader of the party. I do not expect to be quoting her much here since her party brief, education, is a matter devolved in Wales, but this profile shows what drives her.

Thursday, 11 January 2018

Guido champions ignorance

"Propaganda" used to be a neutral word. If it had not taken on its twentieth century negative connotations, one could not have objected to Guido Fawkes' description of Europe Direct as a "propaganda service". What is wrong with an extra outlet providing information about how the EU works, and what facilities are available to businesses, while we remain members of the Union? There has been a distressing lack of information - and a wealth of disinformation - from official sources (including the BBC) in the UK.

Incidentally, Cardiff City's Labour council seems to be equally Europhobic, as it has taken down the link from the council's web site to Europe Direct's office in the capital.

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Rail nationalisation

John Redwood suggests that the Attlee government's nationalisation of the railway system in Britain was a bad idea. He is too young to have been able to have experienced rail travel before 1948, as I did. I hasten to add that I was very young at the time, but the long delays and the state of carriages left a lasting impression. The money invested in the system by successive governments afterwards made up for decades of starvation of funds by the private owners. If it had not been for that investment, British railways would have sunk to the level of US rail.

With more courage and belief in public enterprise, government could have gone further and achieved a system to rival those on the continent, which, when you take all costs into account, are not a larger drain on public funds than the UK pseudo-market set up by John Major.

Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Fun for Remainers

For those who enjoy Simon Keller-Ziegler's cartoons in the New European, and would like a collection in one place, or who are not familiar with Simon's work but enjoy poking fun at the inconsistencies of Brexit, may I recommend his latest publication? Details of
 The Little Book of Brexit Logic are at

Monday, 8 January 2018

Not so much a reshuffle, more a twitch

I should know better. I have been watching BBC News on and off through the day, waiting for the dramatic changes which would “make sure the government reflects the modern and diverse country we live in”. It was too much to hope for the replacement of a Foreign Secretary who has no respect abroad, but there was perhaps a chance that a financially-tainted Home Secretary would be moved out. In the event, the major announcement was that a man from the Midlands has been replaced as party chairman by a genuine Eastender. So much for reflecting the country we live in!

David Lidington, the most intellectual of leading Conservatives and someone who does not seem to linked to any of the factions behind pretenders to the party leadership, becomes effectively deputy PM.  Many symbolic appointments in the form of Conservative party vice-chairs have been handed out. Otherwise, it seems that Mrs May dare not sack any of the big beasts and could not persuade any of them to move on.

[Later] I should have watched for longer. The much-leaked move, dismissed as "misguided speculation" by the government earlier today, the firing of the only cabinet minister it was safe to do, occurred three hours ago. It seems that Justine Greening paid the price not only for being competent, but also for not having a faction in the party rooting for her or the support of a national newspaper.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

City prisons

The Ministry of Justice has failed staff and prisoners alike in its failure to remedy the faults reported in a 2014 inspection of Swansea prison. BBC has a summary of the findings of the latest official inspection here. Terms like "not fit for purpose", "inexcusable" and "gone backwards" leap out at one from the report.

It seems to me that civil servants in the MoJ have taken the view that, since there will soon be a new "super-prison" for South Wales which will enable closure of gaols in Cardiff and Swansea, there was no need to maintain standards, let alone improve them, in Swansea.

There is a good case for keeping local prisons open, especially for first offenders. Rehabilitation is more likely, aided by the ease of visiting. One understands the need for extra prison places to reduce overcrowding generally (but why have governments post-Blair done nothing to reduce the number of imprisonable offences created by New Labour?), but it should not be at the expense of localism. If Swansea prison is incapable of refurbishment to modern standards, even with a reduced prisoner population, then it should be knocked down - but it should be replaced.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Empty homes

A distinguished peer with a long career in local government has pointed out that the situation highlighted by Vince Cable is more complicated than it seems at first sight. The use of Empty Dwelling Management Orders was made more difficult by Eric Pickles in 2012, extending the period in which a property must lie empty before an EDMO can be considered from six to twenty-four months. In any case, EDMOs were always seen as a back-up power to be used as a last resort. Central government intended that local authorities should initiate dialogue with property owners in order to bring unoccupied dwellings back into use. (There is more in this parliamentary briefing.)

I take the point, but it seems to me that Liberal Democrats are right to press for strengthening EDMO powers again. In particular, six months may have been too short a qualifying period, but two years is surely too long. Besides, the survey cited in the party's bulletin shows that the power of persuasion does not seem to be working too well. In Wales as a whole over 1100  homes have been empty for ten years or more. Some LAs have not contributed to the survey, so the figure may well be much larger. I am all for persuasion rather than the big stick, but it would do no harm for councils to show that they are willing to wield the latter if negotiation fails.

Friday, 5 January 2018

Even NASA missions must not disrupt feline routine

Fourteen years ago, the Spirit rover started sending back pictures from Mars. Mission scientist Wendy Calvin had her priorities, though: "My cats are staying with my husband, so they get to stay on Earth time," she quipped.

Thursday, 4 January 2018


The first reports of protests in Iran suggested a coordinated campaign. Too many demos in different centres had occurred at the same time for the uprising to be totally spontaneous. It is possible that one or more outside agencies have helped, but not to the extent that the Supreme Leader has asserted. There are genuine concerns widely felt in Iran. The usual suspects in any destabilisation in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Israel, are unlikely to have much pull in the Shi'a dominated Islamic Republic. UK and US intelligence services must have agents in Iran and I would hope that they have been at least helpful to the pro-democracy movement, but  there does seem to have been a genuine loss of patience on the part of the middle classes with the present domination of civil administration by religious bigots.

There is a chance that a new settlement will emerge which would restore Iran to the democracy which US and UK, spurred on by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (later BP), conspired to end in 1953. Careful management of sanctions should assist and one hopes that president Trump is restrained from acting precipitately. The last thing Iran needs is a return to a monarchic dictatorship.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Winston Churchill: rebuttal of fake quotation

There has recently been a variation on Facebook of the myth that Churchill sent troops to shoot the miners in Tonypandy. It needs repeating that there is hard evidence that, though local magistrates among others wanted the riot put down by force, Churchill as Home Secretary deliberately held back troops, relying instead on a detachment of Met. Police and some cavalry.

Indeed, though Churchill's attitude to foreigners as, in Kipling's words,  "lesser breeds without the law" was reprehensible, he would not have contemplated British troops shooting fellow Britons.

What seems to have happened is that the authentic atrocities involved in the Llanelli riots the year after Tonypandy have been attached to folk myths surrounding the latter.

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Great Western: public consultations

GWR will be holding a series of public consultations about the future shape of the franchise this month. The South Wales details are as follows:

CardiffClayton Hotel, St Mary Street, Cardiff, CF10 1GDThursday 18 January 20182pm to 4pm

Monday, 1 January 2018

New Year Message: KBO

[Winston] Churchill’s potent spirit of perseverance and determination is best summed up in one of his own maxims: “We must just KBO.” The initials stood for “Keep Buggering On.” Churchill understood the dangers of defeatism and poor morale as a soldier and leader, so he set the example needed to inspire others around him… and he kept “buggering on.”

 - from

"No love for Johnnie"

Talking Pictures TV has come up with an intriguing revival at 21:00 tonight. The film starring Peter Finch is based on a short novel by one of the most intriguing characters in post-war Labour politics, Wilfred Fienburgh. With his good looks, solid TU background coupled with a good war record and media experience, he was still being spoken of as a future Labour leader at the time of his death in February 1968, though possibly some of the sheen had worn off by then. Coincidentally, Fienburgh was the MP for Islington North, a seat now held by one Jeremy Corbyn.

As I remember the book, its themes still resonate today: the pull between old-fashioned socialism and modernisation within the Labour party, the corruption within it and sexual scandal. It will be interesting to see how the film stands up.