Tuesday, 31 July 2018

We do not need socialism

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

Monday, 30 July 2018

The year the Earth caught fire


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

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

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

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


Sunday, 29 July 2018

Welsh farmers have second thoughts

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

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Standards in public life

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

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

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

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

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

[...]

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

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

And the situation has become worse since.

Friday, 27 July 2018

Government sets cyber-security standard

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

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Does Macron see himself as Napoleon reborn?

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

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


Wednesday, 25 July 2018

Casuistry condemns the Da'esh "Beatles"

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

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

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


Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Dr Douglas Gurr aka Cassandra

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

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

Monday, 23 July 2018

Cuddy Group

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

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

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

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Can we believe leading Tories?

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

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

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

Saturday, 21 July 2018

Dumbing down of the public services

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

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


Friday, 20 July 2018

Pairing: that breach of protocol

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

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

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

Thursday, 19 July 2018

The vassal state

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

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

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

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

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

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



Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Changing boundaries can change an area's politics

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

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

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Electoral spending: two wrongs do not make a right

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 16 July 2018

BBC sees politics as entertainment

Caron Lindsay's post in Liberal Democrat Voice alerts us to the insidious threat to democracy behind the BBC's bland statement about the reorganisation of its TV and internet coverage of politics. If you go to that LDV post, please read Tony Greaves' contribution and the rest of the comments.

It seems to me that the BBC is retaining the political programmes I do not watch (Daily Politics or its equivalents, anything involving Andrew Neil)  but, apart from the relay from the Commons, cutting most of what I do find informative. Once upon a time, before even multi-channel TV became possible, BBC 2 used to broadcast live from not only political party conferences but also the deliberations of the annual Trades Union Congress.  This seems to have ceased in 1990. There was some political posturing at the latter, to be sure, but also a real insight into the difficulties at the shop floor. I recall warnings of slipping marine safety standards before such disasters as the Herald of Free Enterprise brought them home to the general public.

Now the viewer is to be denied genuine unmoderated debate from party conferences as well. Real discussion (as opposed to the barely-suppressed free-for-all of Labour or Conservatives' Speer-and-Goebbels inspired rallies) at Liberal Democrat, Green or, one must admit, Plaid Cymru conferences shows up the rest. Local activists as well as politicians at Westminster and town & county hall level are allowed time to speak, bringing politics home to the man or woman in the street. I suggest that the average voter is more interested in how decisions reached in Cardiff or Westminster affect him or her rather than what seems to obsess most political commentators: the pecking-order within political parties. 

Another loss could be the informative and thought-provoking Speaker's House lectures. If the curtailment of original programme-making is taken literally, this other service to democracy would also end.



Other biocides are available

"Chlorine-washed chickens" has become a handy term to sum up European objections to a no-strings trade deal with the USA. Pedantic Trumpites have objected that only a minority of poultry processors in the States use chlorine or chlorine compounds (I have seen an estimate of 20%), so here for more completeness are the most cited bacteria-killers I have found in use in the food industry:




The European Food Standards Agency evaluated four common bactericides and concluded that they were probably safe, subject to further studies on the build-up of resistance in the various bacteria. However, as the European Consumer Organisation points out,

There are two different approaches to meat safety. The first prevails in the European Union and is known as the ‘farm to fork’ approach. It ensures hygiene and safety all along the production chain via preventive steps. These include on-farm biosecurity to prevent animal infection in the first place (e.g. use of dedicated clothes and footwear by farm workers), proper transportation conditions, hygienic slaughtering and processing practices, etc.) 

The second prevails in the United States and essentially monitors safety of the end product. It favours‘end-of-pipe’ treatments such as spraying or dipping meat carcasses with chemical cleaning solutions in abattoirs to reduce bacterial contamination.

So by accepting poultry imports on US terms we are also accepting lower farming standards, either putting our farmers at a disadvantage or necessitating scrapping EU standards which have built up over a generation. For me at least there is also the lingering suspicion that taste might be affected and, if the decontamination process is not done properly, the creation of carcinogenic compounds.





Thursday, 12 July 2018

The big butterfly count


Changes in the abundance of butterflies throughout the UK have been monitored since 1976 in one form or another. Anyone can take part in the 2018 running of this citizen science project. All you need to do is head outdoors between Friday 20th July and Sunday 12th August, find a sunny spot and then spend 15 minutes recording the butterflies you see.   For more information, go to: www.bigbutterflycount.org or one of the other participating organisations, which include the National Trust, RSPB and WWT.

Wednesday, 11 July 2018

Flags out for England - and Wales?

Mrs May has made it clear that she would direct government offices to put out England flags in support of both the men's football team and the England women cricketers. I trust that she will also ensure a public display of support for the Welsh women footballers if they win the vital qualifying match in Newport (Gwent) on 31st August.

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

The "Welsh" super prison

It seems that the warnings raised by this BBC investigation into the dangers to prison officers (POs) have not been heeded.  POs gathered outside the gates of Berwyn yesterday in order to protest. BBC News reported that there were:

claims of a "series of assaults" on staff at the UK's biggest prison. Alleged incidents have included staff being pushed down stairs and spat on. The Prison Officers' Association (POA) also claimed the inmates have not faced any punishment, and a confidence vote went against senior managers at the category C prison last week.

Up to 50 prison staff gathered at the gate of Berwyn to be addressed by POA national chairman Mark Fairhurst. "Over the course of the last four weeks there's been quite a few assaults on staff and the staff have highlighted to me their concerns about the lack of consequences for those actions," he said. "We want safe working conditions and I'm pleased to say the committee are engaging with the management, we're trying to resolve those issues. "Last weekend we had a member of staff butted and lost some teeth, we've had 'pottings' where prisoners throw excrement and urine over staff and I've heard that over the weekend a member of staff was kicked down the stairs." Mr Fairhurst said attacks on staff were not unusual in prisons but in Berwyn they were trying to promote a rehabilitation culture which prisoners needed to buy into. He added: If they are going around assaulting staff, they need to be transferred out of Berwyn immediately and put into the mainstream because they're not engaging with the ethos we're trying to create at Berwyn. "Unfortunately that's not happening and it's having a massive effect on staff morale and staff safety." 

 A Prison Service spokesman said: "Violence against our hard-working staff will never be tolerated and when incidents occur we push for the strongest possible punishment. "In the last week alone two prisoners were sentenced to additional time behind bars for breaking prison rules."

A solution in the medium term must be an increase in the officer/prisoner ratio, which ought to be higher than the average in a facility dedicated to rehabilitation. Longer term, I believe that a Welsh government could handle criminal justice better than the English, who seem intent on following the USA's lead rather than more enlightened European examples.

A major reason for Westminster not losing hold of prison policy in Wales is clearly that the principality is increasingly a dumping-ground for convicts from England. In turn, this could be a factor in the tensions between POs and prisoners.

It does not bode well for the proposed super-prison in Neath Port Talbot.

Monday, 9 July 2018

John Mayer: symphonic-jazz-Indian fusions

Thanks to Pliable for reminding us of a name that was big in the 1960s, a very productive period for musical experimentation. Not only was John Mayer a pioneer in Indo-jazz fusion, but he also had a substantial traditional symphonic hinterland, of which I was not aware. How typical of Sir Adrian and of Sir Charles Groves and the Royal Liverpool that they would champion Mayer's work! Pliable concludes his fascinating survey: "Let us hope that this retelling of John Mayer's remarkable story belatedly brings him some of the recognition this ground-breaking musician so richly deserves."

Perhaps studding the 2019 Proms season with works by Mayer would help, following the composer who went the other way, the Indian-inspired Englishman John Foulds?  Or at least a Composer of the Week feature?




Sunday, 8 July 2018

Broken words on Brexit

I predicted in a pre-general election interview in 2017 that the result of the Brexit negotiations would be a compromise along Norwegian lines, and so it has come to pass - except that the May scheme gives the UK even less control than Norway has. Even this assumes that the 27 will accept Mrs May's blueprint as the basis of the final agreement between the isolated UK and the diminished EU.  The deal satisfies nobody except the DUP and a limited number of businesses. It binds the cabinet together*, but rather loosely judging by the noises which are already being made.

What Leavers wanted in June 2016 was for the UK to stop sending money to Brussels immediately, and on day 2 to pass a short Bill repealing all the EU-orientated legislation. This is in almost so many words what David Cameron promised but instead he abrogated his responsibility. He headed for the hills (or rather his writing shed) leaving his party and the country to sort out the mess. We did not even have the immediate general election the situation otherwise called for.

What Remainers wanted was for the government to say that one could not take such a drastic step on the basis of a majority which a statistician would not regard as significant. Government should have told the electorate that they had got the message about immigration, and taken action (which EU rules permit) accordingly. Then there should have been thorough education about what the EU gives us, and how democratic it is.

I hate to think how much money has been spent on additional civil servants since the referendum, money which seems largely to have been wasted.

* correction: it did bind the cabinet together, but just after I first posted this message, I learned that David Davis, the government's nominal chief negotiator, has resigned. Was he upset at being by-passed by Mrs May and Stephen Parkinson?


Saturday, 7 July 2018

Claude Lanzmann

It was the late, much-missed, Colin Rosenstiel who alerted me to the fact that Shoah (calamity or destruction in Hebrew) had become the term preferred in the Jewish community to Holocaust for the Nazis' "final solution". Shoah was therefore the name given by Claude Lanzmann, who died last Thursday, to his forensic and exhaustive examination on film of the Jewish genocide. As well as testimony from Jewish survivors, Lanzmann also obtained, largely by subterfuge, the recollections of former Nazis. That this could still touch a raw nerve, a generation after the war, was demonstrated when Lanzmann was beaten up by a group of young Germans on an occasion when his fictitious persona as a mere researcher had been seen through.

Claude Lanzmann's work is a perpetual rebuttal of the claims of holocaust deniers.

[Update] For an obituary highlighting Lanzmann's childhood in the Resistance and his place in French intellectual society, see this article on France 24's English language service.


Friday, 6 July 2018

Subject for debate

As a Liberal Democrat party member, I have had this nice letter from Alistair Carmichael, MP, inviting me to help choose the subject for debate in the House of Commons next Tuesday. The Liberal Democrats have one of their rare allocated sessions when the parliamentary party picks the subject. Unfortunately, the choice has to be from a restricted list, rather like those BBC-run "your favourite TV presenter" polls when there is a menu of only a dozen or so names which does not include Kevin McCloud.

we want to hear what you think MPs should be debating on Tuesday. The three options are: 
• A final vote on the Brexit deal
• Sustainability of the NHS into the future
• Donald Trump's visit to the UK


It seems to me that two of these subjects have been done to death recently, and the third, sustainability of the NHS, is an England-only subject. Trump may generate some good one-liners from Vince which will make it to the popular media, but otherwise I cannot see any of those subjects being productive.

What about listening to renegade voices from the back-benches opposite? At Business questions yesterday, Cheryl Gillan MP pointed out that the rules for referendums are out-dated leading to the continuing disputes and legal actions as a result of the 2016 Brexit referendum; and the otherwise illiberal Peter Bone continues to harry the government over their cavalier treatment of Private Members Bills. If the puppet Leader of the House is unwilling to grant time to discuss these democratic deficits, then I believe one of the opposition parties should do so.

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Beauty is not enough

On Swansea Bay TV, I caught the end of A Star is Born, the 1937 version with Fredric March and Janet Gaynor. The "print" was poor, clearly coming from the early days of transfer from film to broadcast media, but the quality of writing (by the husband and wife team of Dorothy Parker and Alan Campbell) and production shone through. It is a tribute to the quality of the 1954 remake with Judy Garland that it loses nothing in comparison with the original - a rare feat. (Subsequent versions fall a long way short.) Indeed, I prefer James Mason's performance to that of March which I found rather cool and stagy. Moss Hart and George Cukor did well not to mess too much with the original.

Anyway, as I often do, I scanned down the cast list on IMDb and came across a name which rang a faint bell: Carole Landis. It soon transpired that it was for a melancholy reason: she was one of Hollywood's casualties. She committed suicide aged only twenty-nine, seventy years ago. One wonders how someone with good looks and a singing voice could fail to make progress. Perhaps her ample figure told against her and there was room for only one Lana Turner in Tinseltown.

Bevan: fake history

There is probably nothing one can do now to stop the myth rolled out by BBC Wales and the Labour Party now that Aneurin Bevan was the sole begetter of the National Health Service and that it was based on the Tredegar Working Men's Aid Society. Bevan certainly deserves his place in history as the man who put the UK's NHS into operation. Indeed, without him, it is unlikely that it would have emerged as a comprehensive service, if at all. It takes nothing away from him to point out that the roots of the NHS go back a long way, and that it was Beveridge's inclusion of a template for the NHS in his famous 1942 report, followed by the latter's adept use of the media, which forced Whitehall to accept it.

As I wrote last February,

 In fact, the Tredegar scheme is one of a long line of insurance-based healthcare systems that go back to Bismarck's Germany and continue in France, Germany, some other western countries and Japan to this day. The unique and praiseworthy aspect of the Tredegar scheme was that it arose from within the community rather than being imposed by the government. The English NHS model was unique at the time - though it has since been followed elsewhere - in being funded from general taxation. Its principal architect, William Beveridge, had studied the German system before the Great War, when he was an advisor to Lloyd George and Churchill as they created the first British welfare state. Following a 1926 Royal Commission recommendation and other inter-war discussion documents, Beveridge decided that the insurance link should be broken.

As a consequence, our NHS is known abroad as the Beveridge model.

But do not take my word for it. On BBC Radio 4, Michael Buerk gave due credit to Beveridge. There was an objective Radio 4 Archive Hour programme about the birth of the NHS which is well worth a listen if you have not heard it already. The quotations from contemporary civil service minutes and pronouncements by leading medicos were revealing. I also quoted Phil Hammond in this piece from last October.

Health secretary Jeremy Hunt was up to his usual cherry-picking tricks at the Tory conferences, claiming that the brains behind the NHS was not Nye Bevan, but Conservative health minister Sir Henry Willink and his 1944 white paper.

In fact, the idea for a state health service is usually credited to the social researcher and poverty campaigner Beatrice Webb in 1909. Lloyd George introduced state-organised health insurance in 1911, but for workers only. Lord Dawson, president of the Royal College of Physicians, reported in 1920 that "the best means of maintaining health and curing disease should be made available to all citizens", and it was William Beveridge who first proposed "cradle to grave care" in his 1942 report.

Willink's contribution was important - garnering cross-party support for a consensus that "everybody irrespective of means, age, sex or occupation shall have equal opportunity to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available". But it was Bevan who fought the vested interests and made it happen in 1948. The Conservatives voted against the creation of the NHS 22 times, including in the third reading.

So let us praise Bevan on this 70th anniversary, but also Webb, Dawson, Willink  and especially Beveridge.

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Train WCs disappearing

I had thought that the loss of toilets on trains was a particularly Welsh scandal, but it seems from a letter to the current issue of Railfuture magazine that there is a consistent attack on facilities by operating companies. According to Lloyd Butler of Suffolk:

Greater Anglia's refurbished inter-city stock has lost half its toilets [and] Chiltern Railways' refurbished Mark 3 coaches also appear to stripped of conveniences

The Department for Transport, so keen to micromanage train contracts when it comes to staffing, seem to have no concern when it comes to the comfort of the paying passenger. What concerns me is that people of diminished social responsibility are going, in desperation, to use the vestibules of trains as yobs once used red telephone boxes, as unofficial toilets. It only needs one or two to start a trend.

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

England breaks footballing jinx

I have no reservations about supporting England in the FIFA world cup finals, as the UK's sole representative. (I still have reservations about the way Wales was eliminated in the qualification round, but that is another matter.) Earlier tonight, in winning through to the quarter-finals, England put to rest the hoodoo of the penalty shoot-out.

It should, of course, not have gone that far if the referees both on the field and in the VAR room had done their job. Serious foul play has gone unpunished, presumably for political rather than footballing reasons. It is to be hoped that standards are tighter for the next round.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Good luck to president-elect Obrador

The hopes raised by the election in Mexico of a candidate pledged to remove corruption and improve economic performances reminded me of an earlier dynamic new broom. Sixteen years ago, Vicente Fox, who broke the 71 hold on the presidency by the PRI (institutional revolutionary party - the Mexicans have a nice sense of contradictions) soon found his election promises difficult to fulfil.

Any Mexican administration trying to clean up is handicapped by the huge profitability of the illegal drugs trade, of course. And that profitability depends largely on the appetite from her North American neighbour. Until the US sort out their drug trouble, the Mexican government will struggle to clean up its administration.


Sunday, 1 July 2018

A memory of Pauline Boty

Whenever I turn on Talking Pictures TV I think of Harry Crabtree. He was a co-sixth former and an avid watcher of Westerns on TV. In the 1950s, following the broadcasting expansion triggered by the licensing of a commercial channel, TV was greedy for material, either re-runs of commercial movies or made-for-TV series. The latter were havens for character actors who did not hit the big time via the big screen. Harry was an avid spotter of actors, often uncredited, turning up in unexpected minor roles and would discuss his findings in school the next day.

On this side of the Atlantic, enterprising outfits like Merton Park Studios would turn out crime series to fill slots on ITV. Prolific writers like John Creasey (the "Gideon" series) and Edgar Wallace were mined for material. Now these series have been acquired by Talking Pictures TV and are having a further airing. I now have the pleasure of actor-spotting and testing my memory for names.

"Strangler's Web" turned up a few days ago. It was not the greatest contribution to the Edgar Wallace series. Production and direction were at least as good as the series standard, but it could not be said to be precisely plotted. However, it did feature a starring performance by Pauline Boty, playing a character as sexually assertive as she was in real life. She was better known as a pioneering artist but also as a radio presenter. I did not realise how few editions of The Public Ear there had been, so big an impression had it made on me in 1963 and 1964. Judging by her performance in the TV film, she could have made it as a screen actress, too. [Apologies for the lack of links; there appears to be some congestion on the Web.]

Her life was cruelly cut short by an aggressive disease fifty-two years ago today at the age of 28.