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.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

Scandinavian talks should bring May face to face with reality

Image may contain: sky, tree, outdoor and naturePrime minister Theresa May is to start talks in Sweden and Denmark starting tomorrow. I hope that she is taken to this main freight processing point on the Norway/ Sweden border. Norway is in the single market but not the customs union. It is enormous and has capacity to process 2500 trucks per day.  The implications for Dover, where currently 10,000 trucks per hour pass through are horrendous, should the UK government continue on its current path of a "clean break" with the EU. What would happen on the island of Ireland does not bear thinking about. [Thanks to Jamie Patterson for the information/]

Saturday, 7 April 2018

Coastal path deaths

When I heard the report on BBC Radio Wales of the unexplained deaths of a couple on the coast path on Wednesday, it brought back chilling memories of the Dixon murders, which took so long to solve.

[Later] Police have stated that there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding last week's deaths.

Friday, 6 April 2018

Adapting Welsh railway heritage

It is looking hopeful for the enthusiasts of the Rhondda Tunnel Society. The viability of reopening the former railway line as a cycle-path has yet to be definitively established, but a major step has been taken in the renewal of an air vent, as reported by BBC Wales yesterday.

Further west, we await the results of a Welsh government-sponsored study into the benefits of rebuilding the Carmarthen-Aberystwyth line

Thursday, 5 April 2018

Industrial nature

This summer should see the availability of the first product of Industrial Nature, a Scottish company in the business of creating sustainable building materials from by-products of UK-grown crops. Their rather minimalist web-site gives few details, so I quote from Clean Slate, the magazine of the Centre for Alternative Technology:

"While working in community development, managing director Scott Simpson came across people living in Dickensian housing conditions. Many homes he visited would be damp, cold and mouldy, with occupants often at risk of fuel poverty. This experience moved Scott to enrol on an MSc course at CAT, where he was introduced to low impact building methods that could alleviate the problems faced by neighbourhoods with poor housing. Learning about hemp-lime composites (or 'hempcrete'), Scott found that this material in particular solved all of these health and environmental problems better than most, leading him to focus his thesis on hempcrete blocks. [...]

"After graduating in 2014, Scott teamed up with technical director Euan Lochhead to put the theory into practice by embarking on a deep-green retrofit and loft conversion of his 1930s cavity wall-constructed flat with natural materials. The flat was completely gutted and rebuilt, including the addition of a solar thermal hot water system.

"Data-logging and monitoring of the flat after the retrofit has proven that the natural materials are passively maintaining comfortable internal temperatures and humidity (almost perfectly, day and night, all year round) in addition to slashing the heating bills to a quarter of the cost of an equivalent three bedroom home.

"However, Scott and Euan found that most of the natural materials they used had to be imported because there was a lack of comparable products made in the UK, so they decided to found Industrial Nature to provide a local alternative.

"Furthering the results of Scott's MSc thesis, the company has been developing its first product, IndiBloc. With this versatile product, Industrial Nature hopes to bring hempcrete into the mainstream of the UK construction industry by overcoming the long curing times and labour-intensive installation procedures associated with wet-cast hempcrete. [...]

"Amazingly, the benefits of IndiBloc are achieved utilising a low-value, left-over crop material: the woody core of UK-sourced hemp plants, a by-product from the textile industry. This results in a better than zero-carbon product that uses no petrochemicals, produces no toxins and is manufactured close to its market."

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Conservatives' 2017 manifesto lied about English Midlands electrification

Jonathan Calder reports that the decision to abandon electrification of the Midland main line was taken before Mrs May went to the country last year. Although the corresponding abandonment of Cardiff to Swansea electrification does seem to have been taken after the general election, this section is significant for the GWR mainline, giving the lie to Grayling's assertion that electro-diesels were a great step forward:

 the [National Audit Office] reports says:
At the time of the decision to cancel in March 2017, officials had advised the Secretary of State that the bi-mode rolling stock with the required speed and acceleration did not exist. They said that the maximum speed of bi-mode trains being built at the time was 100 miles per hour in diesel mode and that the acceleration was not sufficient to meet the timetable of the route. There was also a very high degree of uncertainty over the price of new bi-mode trains.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

2018 Garden Birdwatch results are out

The RSPB has published the results of January's count. The summary for Wales is in a pdf here. It shows the sparrow as top of the heap again, which certainly matches my experience here in Skewen. It is good to see that fun bird the long-tailed tit back in the top ten.

Sunday, 1 April 2018

Revelations of electoral malpractice will not change referendum decision

- because the referendum did not make the decision. Constitutionally speaking, referendums in the UK are advisory. The actual decision to leave the EU was made by David Cameron's government, and proceeded with by Mrs May. If the majority on June 23rd 2016 had been in favour of Remain, Mr Cameron would have had just as much right to decide that the UK should leave the EU, provided that Parliament backed him. The UK is a representative democracy, not an ochlocracy.

In any case, a margin of less than seven percentage points did not, in my opinion, give a clear "instruction" to initiate exit proceedings. Contrast that with the two-thirds to one-third majority in favour of the status quo in the first Europe referendum in 1975. If that had been exactly reversed in 2016, then the government would have been justified in thinking that a change in policy might be required. (A two-thirds majority for a constitutional change is typical of clubs, societies and political parties.) First of all, though, given that they had gone into the referendum asking for a "Remain" vote, they should have asked for a dissolution of parliament so that a fresh Commons and a fresh government could look at the result.

On the other hand, if the margin had been narrow in the other direction that should not have meant business as usual for the government. Take out factors like racism (a minor factor, one trusts) and the probably illicit dog-whistle campaign by some Leave campaigns, and there would still have been a huge section of the electorate which was ignorant of the way the EU worked (thank you, BBC) or was not satisfied with its operations. The government would have needed to take action on all the issues raised in the referendum campaign. This will still be required if the Brexit process breaks down.