Friday, 29 June 2018

Does Leadsom not believe in representative democracy?

There was a put-down from the Leader of the House on the 14th June and repeated yesterday which left a sour taste. The Shadow Leader had included some criticism of the lack of coordination in Mrs May's cabinet when it came to the subject of Brexit which drew the following retort:

how very unfortunate the Opposition are on the subject of fulfilling the will of the people in the referendum of June 2016. The hon. Lady will appreciate that Walsall voted overwhelmingly to leave, so she may consider whether she is fulfilling the democratic will of the people of Walsall.

Valerie Vaz's commitment to a close working relationship with the EU must have been well known to her Walsall constituents since she was first elected. If they had felt that Brexit was so important that they needed a different MP, they had the opportunity to replace her at general elections in 2015 and in 2017.

It is worth repeating that eminent conservative Edmund Burke's dictum that "A representative owes not just his industry but his judgement" (Speech to the Electors of Bristol). Ms Leadsom must be aware of it; a reminder is clearly necessary. Her implied invitation to fall in with the voice of the crowd smacks of fascism. If we cease to have representative democracy, we will surely fall under dictatorship or anarchy.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

Small modular nuclear power generation deal

There was virtually universal support in the House of Commons chamber today for the government's project (official media release here). It is only a pity that it took an Urgent Question to bring a minister to the despatch box to explain and answer questions. Once again, news of a significant development had been released to the world by media release before MPs had had a chance to consider it. The fact that the nuclear deal is being launched in Trawsfynnydd is little compensation.

There were one or two questions outstanding. Only one member, Barry Sheerman, asked about safety and waste products, only to receive the bland response from minister Gyimah that "safety was paramount". The subject of decommissioning was not even raised.

Those quibbles apart, this project is the sort of thing I have advocated for some time. Nuclear power generation is now a mature technology and at least one design (CANDU) can virtually be bought off the shelf. Although the small nuclear reactor, which is the subject of the current project, is new, it will be based on known light-water technology. It is good to see that Rolls-Royce, rather than a Chinese or Japanese company, is leading the project.

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

Demonstrations and statistics

Estimates of numbers of demonstrators in London are notoriously difficult to validate. However, the BBC estimates that last Saturday's March for a People's Vote attracted around 100,000 marchers. That must be a conservative estimate, seeing that an enterprising 48%-er used an app named crowdsize on (presumably) the helicopter images of the demo and produced a figure of over 200,000.

 I used an app called crowdsize to estimate how many people there were. Clicking an area from Trafalgar Square to Parliament Square, with a high density of people, it gave me a figure of 239, 000 (I’ve rounded it). As the back of the crowd probably thinned out, I would say for sure 200,000. Awesome!

We do not have an official Metropolitan Police estimate yet, but a source close to the Met. has given the organisers a figure of 500,000. Given that the police some time ago gave up unthinking support for a Conservative establishment, one should treat this information with caution. However, it is clear that the big 1990 demonstration against the poll tax, which was a major factor in Mrs Thatcher and Michael Heseltine reversing policy on local government finance, was somewhat smaller than the People's March.

The record is still held by 2003's Stop The War:
That article is from 2011, but between then and now there had clearly been no demo on the same scale.

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

You may not read this, Mrs Teachout

 - but I trust that the double-lung transplant mentioned in one of my favourite blogs goes well and that you are restored to full health.

Monday, 25 June 2018

A Trudeau enters the world stage

In an election held on 25th June 1968, the Canadian Liberal Party, led by the relatively unknown Pierre Trudeau, gained an effective majority. The father of the present Liberal prime minister was then still a bachelor, and, according to the wikipedia summary of the event was charismatic, intellectual, handsome, fully bilingual and, at public appearances, confronted by screaming girls. The charisma appears to have passed from father to son Justin.

Armed Forces Day 2018 in Neath

For those who have fought, those who are fighting now, and for those who will have to fight for us in the future.

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Nurses without borders

Much has rightly been made of the threat to the NHS in the UK caused by the departure of continental nurses and the reluctance of trained nurses to come to this country, because of the climate of hostility to migrants. But there is another danger, in the short term at least. British-trained nurses who have recognised certification have the right to work throughout the EU with no questions asked.

Under EU law, the training requirements for nursing staff in general care were harmonised across all EU countries. To prove you are qualified to work as a nurse in your new country of choice, you only need to apply to the relevant authorities in that EU country. Within a few months, these should be recognised automatically, and you can start looking for work.
two medical professionals talking in the hallway
© auremar / Fotolia
To further ease your move, the authorities in the EU country where you choose to move cannot ask you for certified translations of your professional qualifications, nor may they require certified translations of standard documents, such as identity cards, or passports. Obtaining a European Professional Card enables you to communicate with the authorities within a secure network. The card is electronic proof that your professional qualifications have been recognised. Finally, the EU also introduced Europass, a tool that helps you to present your skills and qualifications clearly and easily, to help you move for work throughout Europe.

One can picture a scenario in which a nurse qualifies in Wales, obtains employment on the continent attracted by the better working conditions and (probably) pay, then finds that her new country of residence is willing to grant citizenship or at least permission to stay while she or he works for that country's health service. So there would be a net loss to our NHS.


Friday, 22 June 2018

Brexit seer's prophesies coming to pass

Doyen of Brexit economists, Patrick Minford, wrote in The Sun in 2016 "Over time, if we left the EU, it seems likely that we would mostly eliminate manufacturing, [my emphasis - FHL] leaving mainly industries such as design, marketing and hi-tech. But this shouldn’t scare us.

"Around half of young adults now go to university, ending up in professions such as finance or law, while the making of things such as car parts or carpentry has hugely shrunk — but there will always be jobs for people without sophisticated skills."

Professor Minford is not only the most qualified of the people behind the Brexit movement, it seems he is the only one prepared to tell it straight. Today, after months of discreet lobbying of Mrs May's government, Airbus finally lost patience and went public with its reluctance to invest further in the UK if the company were unable to move components between its factories here and on the continent as easily as it has done hitherto.

This does not mean that Airbus workers in Broughton would all be sacked in March 2019 in the event of a bad trade agreement between Mrs May and the EU 27. Clearly, a sophisticated wing manufacturing operation cannot be moved overnight. But it does mean that Airbus will set up wing-building for its next generation of aircraft on the continent, presumably in Poland where there is skilled labour and costs are lower than in the EU heartland. Therefore, no new jobs will be created and the old ones will be phased out as the current production lines end.

Thursday, 21 June 2018

Belgrade - Budapest rail upgrade

This analysis of the planned revitalisation of the railway between two of the old  Soviet bloc states appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald of all places. I guess that the Australians are particularly sensitive to the spread of influence on the part of China, which is funding the upgrade through loans to the Hungarian government.

The article suggests that the project is attractive to the Orban administration, and has therefore been rushed through, because of the opportunities for graft. The appeal to the Chinese is that it would improve a link through Greece and FYROM (soon to be North Macedonia) from the port of Piraeus, which it has bought, to northern Europe. Greece will presumably welcome increased economic activity. Railway enthusiasts will be happy at another rail infrastructure improvement. One imagines that the Russians will be less happy, as an axis of trade will be turned more north-south than east-west, weakening her links with her former satellite nations.

Wednesday, 20 June 2018

The ills of the NHS/GIG: an outsider's view

A correspondent in Uruguay writes:

Juan Maleplate (my GP) had an expensive divorce in 2008 so applied for and 
got a job GP-ing in Liverpool. The salary was 6 times greater in Liverpool 
than here in Colonia Valdense. 

His contract was for one year renewable at 6 monthly intervals and after 
18 months of Liverpool he had amassed sufficient dosh to pay off his 
former missus so he packed in the job and returned to sunny Colonia.

Later I asked him about his Liverpudlian GP-ing experiences. He said that 
he felt that he was unable to do his job properly because of the excessive 
workload and the high stress levels imposed on GPs by the UK authorities. 
Because he loved doctoring, he returned to Colonia where he could enjoy 
doing his job once more.

The ministers of health on both sides of the Dyke must break this vicious cycle of doctors reluctant to become GPs because of the workload which results from too few doctors wanting to become GPs.

Tuesday, 19 June 2018

The need for an upskirting law

It seems that government time will be made available to pass legislation criminalising this offensive and intrusive act. However, knowing the gap between the words and deeds of Mrs May, I feel that declaring victory is a little premature.

When Gina Martin started the campaign which led to Wera Hobhouse's Bill, it occurred to me that this behaviour (not with digital cameras, obviously, but with film cameras or even mirrors) would once have been treated as a common law offence. I wondered whether the police and the DPP were more reluctant to use the common law in these days when so much criminal behaviour is specified in statute. Thanks to The Secret Barrister web site, I learn that the situation is rather more complex:

Upskirting often takes place in populated public places. Outraging public decency, a common law offence which requires two or more people (other than the defendant) to be capable of seeing the act, is therefore available to prosecute most upskirting. But it is neither an adequate nor appropriate solution.
First, the offence does not provide full protection to women. If the prosecution cannot prove that two persons other than the defendant could have seen him take the “upskirt” photo, the offence cannot be used. So, for example, that if upskirting takes place when a woman is on a street or in another public place alone, no prosecution is possible. That is not acceptable.
Second, the offence does not reflect the wrongdoing. Upskirting is a sexual offence with a victim. The public are rightly outraged by upskirting but this outrage is secondary to the harm it causes. A charge of outraging public decency fails to acknowledge the harm to the victim, and fails also to recognise upskirters for what they are – sexual offenders.
The more appropriate offence of voyeurism is, in contrast, not generally available to prosecute upskirters. The reason: to prosecute for voyeurism the upskirting victim needs to have been observed doing a “private act”, which is not normally the case. This is why the Scottish Parliament modelled the Scottish offence of voyeurism on the English one but added extra provisions to that offence in 2010 to ensure it would cover upskirting.

Monday, 18 June 2018

NHS uplift: GIG consequentials

Mrs May has committed her government to an extra 3.4% per year for the NHS in England. How much of this can be achieved by leaving the EU is very much open to doubt (see and but the commitment is there and Wales should get an extra £1.2bn yearly as a result.

I am aware of HL Mencken's stricture about simple solutions, but it seems to me that the best application of this money would be to improve nurses' pay scales. At present, Welsh nurses are the worst-paid in mainland Britain. Bringing them up to English levels would help retain experienced nurses, who so often find that work outside the NHS is not only less stressful but can also be better paid. There would be positive feedback from such a move. Bringing staff up to strength would reduce stress caused by overwork and overtime. Reducing the need for expensive contract nurses would ease the pressure on hospital budgets. And GPs would see one of their headaches reduced.

Sunday, 17 June 2018

Another triumph for "British" arms

I seem to recall, in the early days of a Middle Eastern conflict, pointing out the disproportionate use by the RAF of a missile costing as much as a terraced house in Port Talbot against a "technical" worth a few hundred dollars. On that occasion, the Ministry of Defence provided TV news programmes with a YouTube-style video as evidence of the strike.

Thankfully, there does not seem to have been equivalent eye-candy accompanying a more recent MoD media release:

A flight of Royal Air Force Typhoon FGR4s were tasked on Wednesday 9 May to deal with two terrorists who had been spotted by a coalition surveillance aircraft as they moved on foot in the western desert of Iraq, some 25 miles south-east of Ar Rutbah. The Typhoons successfully located the terrorists and used a single Paveway IV guided bomb to strike them.

Private Eye puts the cost of a Raytheon Paveway IV at £70,000 each. An "expensive way to kill terrorists" as the Eye puts it.

Saturday, 16 June 2018

Liberal Democrat gains

Lucy Salek, the Liberal Democrat candidate in the recent Lewisham East by-election, writes:

We achieved an amazing result in Lewisham East – a 19% increase in our vote share!
The last time we achieved such a big swing from Labour was in the 2004 election in Hartlepool – the year after Iraq and when Blair was at his most unpopular. And the last time we did this well against Labour in opposition – when their supporters tend to back them more than they do in government – was in 1983. This makes this our best result against Labour in 35 years! I’ve even been told that a 19% swing would give us a further fifteen seats from Labour in a general election.

A few weeks ago, Paddy Ashdown told us: "By-elections might not be able to change the Government, but shock results can change politics and change Britain." The result in Lewisham East proved once again that the Liberal Democrats are a key political force in British politics. But more importantly, it shows that pro-EU supporters have decided that they cannot trust Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour party to protect them from the mess the Tories are making over Brexit - or deliver a final say for the British people on the Brexit deal.

The point about Lucy's highlighting a potential gain of fifteen seats from Labour is that Liberals and Liberal Democrats have traditionally made most gains of seats against Conservatives. In that respect, it should also be noted that Lucy pushed the Conservative candidate for Lewisham East down from a respectable second place to a dismal third.

Elsewhere in Southwark, Liberal Democrats won all three seats in the by election in London Bridge and West Bermondsey ward, representing a gain over 2014. Details here.

Friday, 15 June 2018

Universal Credit helps nobody but loan sharks

A National Audit Office report does not hold back in its criticism of the Conservative government's implementation of Universal Credit (UC). It details the hardship of claimants who may have to wait six weeks for their payments to come through, that payments are sometimes incomplete and that there is practically no support. There are doubts about

the DWP’s expected savings. Universal Credit currently costs £699 per claim, which is four times as much as the DWP intends for it to cost when the systems are fully developed, the report said.

Local and national bodies, as well as claimants, showed the NAO evidence of people suffering hardship during the rollout of the full UC service. The report said: “These have resulted from a combination of issues with the design of Universal Credit and its implementation. The department has found it difficult to identify and track those who it deems vulnerable. It has not measured how many Universal Credit claimants are having difficulties because it does not have systematic means of gathering intelligence from delivery partners.”

The report added: “The department does not accept that Universal Credit has caused hardship among claimants, because it makes advances available, and it said that if claimants take up these opportunities hardship should not occur. However in its survey of full service claimants, published in June 2018, the department found that four in ten claimants that were surveyed were experiencing financial difficulties.”
[from Inside Housing's report]
As an Eye on Wales investigation into loan sharks warned, vulnerable people, especially parents of young children, feel they have nowhere else to turn. Food banks help, but they do not pay the rent or utilities bills. There is already evidence from England where UC has been rolled out that loan sharks are taking advantage. Because victims tend to be reluctant to come forward for fear of physical reprisals, that evidence may understate the extent of people's indebtedness to unlicensed money-lenders.

I hope that the Liberal Democrat leadership will confess its errors while in coalition in accepting UC without question, and vigorously campaign against this flawed and heartless system.


It looks as if the government is not going to stand in the way of the private member's Bill to make this a specific offence. While accepting that the BBC is following journalistic standards in highlighting a personal story which brings home the effects of this degrading action, it was remiss in not pointing out that it was a Liberal Democrat, Wera Hobhouse, who introduced the Bill and has campaigned for it.

Thursday, 14 June 2018

Wylfa Newydd update

According to the current Private Eye, the Hitachi design for the nuclear power plant replacement on Anglesey is not quite as new as we had been led to believe. The boiling-water reactor appears to be based on the models installed at Fukushima. These were not exactly fail-safe and, while Anglesey may not be prone to major earthquakes, the site is only 15 metres above sea-level. One trusts that the new design incorporates lessons from Fukushima.

The Eye also alleges that the "show-runner" for Wylfa Newydd was responsible for the most calamitous PFI in Ministry of Defence history.

Wednesday, 13 June 2018

Swansea for Europe

Further to Monday's post, Swansea For Europe have at least two coaches organised for the People's March for Europe on Parliament Square on 23rd June. Details on their Facebook page.

Tuesday, 12 June 2018

Trump's claims about Canadian tariffs may be true - but what about his own house?

President Donald J Trump has asserted that Canada's "supply management" programme effectively imposes 270% tariffs on US agricultural imports. At first sight, this is an improbable figure, but this article tends to confirm it, and that even some Canadian academics feel that the programme actually harms the Canadian economy.

Trump is trying to create the impression that the States are purer than pure in this area. In fact, while US tariffs have not been egregious, the States subsidise many multinational companies. There are indirect subsidies. Would Boeing have achieved its leading position in aircraft production if the corporation did not receive the lion's share of US Department of Defense plane contracts? This article goes further in listing eight companies with global reach which receive direct subsidies from government, from the federal level right down to local. Boeing accumulates $13,174,075,797 of these direct handouts. Other beneficiaries are General Motors ($3,494,237,703), Dow Chemical ($1,408,228,374), Goldman Sachs ($661,979,222), Google ($632,044,922), the Disney Corporation ($381,525,727), Wal-Mart - until recently the sole owner of Asda and potential 40% shareholder in an Asda/Sainsbury merger ($149,942,595) and Abercrombie and Fitch ($23,070,479). Many smaller companies which compete internationally are likely to be beneficiaries of lesser, but significant, amounts. The figures are from 2014, but they are unlikely to have diminished under Donald "Make America great again" Trump.

There are also agricultural subsidies, amounting to over $4bn per year. These have continued since the 1985 Food Security Act, in various forms, under both Democrat and Republican Congresses and Presidencies. They have the effect of creating a surplus which is dumped on the world market. This is often in the form of food aid, which has the perverse effect of destroying the livelihoods of local producers of, for instance, sugar and rice, and thus hobbling the economies of countries which the USA claims to aid. The EU is also guilty of this, but not to the extent that USA is.

Monday, 11 June 2018

March for a People's Vote

On Saturday week, there will be a march to Parliament Square to demand a vote on the final Brexit deal. See:

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Prescription charges

It is fifty years since prescription charges were introduced to the British NHS - by a Labour government. They remained at the same level throughout the UK until they were frozen at £6 in Wales by the Labour/Liberal Democrat partnership government. There followed a series of exemptions and reductions until they were eventually abolished altogether in 2007. One trusts that they will never be reintroduced. Not only will it cost money to recreate the administration of the system, but, unless there are wide-ranging exemptions for chronic conditions, poorer families would be faced with the invidious choice between perhaps eating for a day or two or suffering debilitating symptoms.

Saturday, 9 June 2018

Demand democracy

I have received the following email from Anthony Tuffin of STV Action:

Would you believe it?  The Government has had the nerve to declare 2 – 8 July as National Democracy Week, even though it proposed in its manifesto of last year to reduce British Democracy by replacing PR and the Supplementary Vote wherever it could with FPTP.  The only reason it hasn’t done that is that it doesn’t have a parliamentary majority.

Our colleagues at Make Votes Matter (MVM) aren’t going to let the Government celebrate such an undemocratic system unchallenged and need our help to make our voices heard!

MVM is calling a national action day on Saturday 30 JuneDemand Democracy Day

If you’d like to know more or help, please contact MVM or your nearest electoral reform group.

Friday, 8 June 2018

Toshiba bites the bullet

At the same time three years ago that Toshiba's pioneering laptops fell victim to financial mismanagement, Sharp (from propelling pencils to electronic typewriters) was in similar ordure. Sharp, now owned by Taiwan's Foxconn, managed to turn itself round. Toshiba continued to flounder in spite of a hand-out from the Japanese government and has now finally ceded the laptop business to Sharp.

Thursday, 7 June 2018

Conservatives block the cascade

Lib Dem candidate Steve Beasant relays Tim Farron's observation that a root cause of the Northern rail franchise's current problems is Mrs May's government's decision to reverse the coalition's support for electrification of UK railways. Tim's specific complaint is about the effect on rail services in the far north-west of England, but what he says applies to the whole of the rail network. Electrification not only enables more reliable and greener services, but also releases relatively modern diesel trains which then can replace superannuated stock in the sort of cascade described here.

Wednesday, 6 June 2018

Wylfa Newydd

So the May government has given a sop to the Welsh people in advance of its expected refusal to support the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon power project. Taxpayers' money will actually be put in to a second nuclear power plant on Anglesey.

I have no objection in principle to a new nuclear power station on Ynys Môn. Indeed, I complained when the Blair-Brown New Labour administration refused to sanction a replacement for Wylfa A, thus causing the loss of an aluminium smelter which had provided valuable employment. What concerns me is that the proposed reactor is, like Hinkley Point, of yet another unproven design. There are only four other stations of this boiling-water type and they are still under construction. Like the commitment to pay for intercity trains until 2045, this looks like the result of successful lobbying by Hitachi and the Japanese government.

Tuesday, 5 June 2018

Choice of migrants

One of the planks of the Brexit campaign was that leaving the EU would restore the UK's power to say who we did and did not want in this country.

But many of those bankers who helped destroy small business in the noughties (and continue to do so, urged on by the Treasury, according to Channel 4 News) are not EU citizens and can already be extradited.

At last there has been a realisation of the shortage of useful people which Mrs May's xenophobia has caused. Sajid Javid has announced a review of visa restrictions on skilled people.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Climate action plan

There is much discussion of the imminent government pronouncement on Tidal Lagoon Power's plans for Swansea Bay. One can understand the government's reluctance to accept TLP's initial bid - the proposed strike price was higher even than the already exorbitant Hinkley nuclear strike price. There are also environmental objections from Cornwall and queries about the accuracy of TLP's estimates. TLP's response is that they are ready to negotiate a lower price and clear other remaining doubts, but the government has refused to enter a dialogue with the company.

Lagoon or no lagoon, climate change is inexorable. Last month was the hottest May since official records began in the UK, the latest in a string of records. Climate Local is an English Local Government Association initiative, which 96 local authorities have signed up to. There is no equivalent in Wales, but in view of recent flooding events in both south and north Wales it is surely something the WLGA should look at seriously.

Neath Port Talbot is as susceptible as any Welsh council area to the effects of climate change. Manchester, Leicester, Bristol, Brighton and Hove, Braintree in Essex and the city of York all have Climate Action Plans (or the equivalent). We should have one, too.

Sunday, 3 June 2018

Two hundred years ago, the British gained control of India

The British East India Company emerged victorious from the last of the Maratha Wars. This practically sealed British dominance over India which was to last until the 1950s.

Friday, 1 June 2018

The pendulum swings

I am grateful to Anu Garg and his website for this single word which sums up a phenomenon observed by many of us involved in politics.



noun: The tendency of things, beliefs, etc., to change into their opposites.

From Greek enantio- (opposite) + dromos (running). Earliest documented use: 1917.

You can keep going up a mountain, but once you hit the peak you can only go down. A pendulum moves in one direction, but once it has reached its rightmost it travels left. So it goes with beliefs, ideologies, and politics, apparently. Once we have elected a black man as a president, we have to pick someone with a long sordid record of discrimination.

The concept of enantiodromia is attributed to the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (c. 535-475 BCE). Later it was discussed by the psychiatrist Carl Jung (1875-1961) as “the principle which governs all cycles of natural life”.

“The union that Philip Murray had founded in 1936 as a way of combatting the wretched excess of management had come full circle in the cycle of enantiodromia, and had fallen victim to its own wretched excess.”
Tom O’Boyle; Excess, the Golden Rule; Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; Sep 4, 1994