Sunday, 30 September 2018

NATO, the EU and peace in Europe: missed point error

In the i last week, Chloe Westley, campaign manager at the TaxPayers' Alliance, took issue with Guy Verhofstadt's declaration that "It is through the European Union that we can live in peace and democracy". She wrote that this is:

gravely insulting to the hundreds of thousands of soldiers from across the world who fought to liberate Europe in the Second World War [and] it was the US-led transatlantic alliance - Nato - that secured the peace during the lifetime of the EU.

NATO was primarily a bulwark against Russian-dominated Communist expansion in Europe. It was needed, and is still needed, as a military deterrent. (I trust the TaxPayers would put aside their objection to paying tax in this particular instance and agree with me that we need to provide the funds to maintain NATO'S credibility.) However, the anti-Communist stance has gone too far in the past. The powers-that-were in NATO supported the Greek colonels in their far from peaceful, and certainly undemocratic, coup against a democratically-elected government. Greece was not in the European Community at the time. Nor did NATO prevent the military invasion of Cyprus (an independent nation under a power-sharing constitution) by Turkey (a NATO member).

The implication of Verhofstadt's message is that, if, in the early twentieth century, we had in Europe enjoyed tight economic and cultural bonds including a shared ethos of democracy and human rights, instead of the loose system of alliances which prevailed, the destructive Second War in Europe need not have occurred. The fascist and national socialist regimes of Italy, Hungary and Germany would not have arisen. (Maybe, without the support of Germany, Japan might not have embarked on her own military expansion, so no Pearl Harbor.)

The thousands of soldiers who slogged through Europe liberating our friends from tyranny and genocide, and who witnessed the destruction that war had brought, returned to the UK determined that "there must be a better way". They voted for great social reforms at home (no doubt contested by the ancestors of the TPA) and for greater cooperation between nations abroad. The most prominent advocates of our joining the Treaty of Rome were Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Heath, Major Denis Healey, and Captain Roy Jenkins who had all served in World War II, together with Harold Macmillan who distinguished himself in the Great War. The majority of those thousands would have swelled the two-thirds vote in favour of staying in the European Community when the first referendum was called in 1975.

Farage, Fox, Boris Johnson, Jacob Rees-Mogg and their ilk are the heirs to the appeasers of the 1930s who wanted to dissociate the UK from events on the mainland. Their allies are ultra-nationalist minority parties like the Allianz für Deutschland and the Front National, who also want to break up the European Union and whose roots are probably (certainly in the case of the FN) fascistic. The Daily Mail had it wrong. The real traitors, those who betrayed the hopes and expectations of my parents' generation, are those who would use a narrow majority in a flawed second referendum in order to bring disruption and chaos to Britain and the wider world.

"Loved in low places and loathed in high places"

Thanks to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, I have learned of the work of the late Inez Jane Mary McCormack (article here; registration required) in Northern Ireland. She would have been 75 last Friday. What stood out for me was the contribution she made to the Belfast Agreement.

McCormack's work as a champion of a fairer society for workers, especially women, and for the human rights of all, including minorities, led to her becoming a founder member of the equal opportunities commission and the Fair Employment Agency, which were established in 1976 to outlaw for the first time discrimination in employment on grounds of religious belief or political opinion. She was also a signatory to the Seán MacBride principles for fair employment, which were based on a South African model to harness the power of American investment in Northern Ireland against any discriminatory recruitment and promotion practices.

Through her trade union activities McCormack also developed working relationships with groups on both sides of the sectarian divide and fostered reconciliation encounters across the border with the active co-operation of Mary Robinson, the president of the Irish Republic, who became a close friend. During the tortuous negotiations leading up to the Belfast agreement in 1998, she used her considerable influence to help shape its provisions on human rights and equality and then worked to ensure the agreement was welcomed and implemented within the wider trade union movement. Over the succeeding years of comparative peace, she remained unhappy that communities most affected by the conflict continued to be the most socially deprived in Northern Ireland.

That good work could be nullified if the Conservatives and the DUP have their way. Jeremy Corbyn too, with his TU roots, should be ashamed that his current policy of accepting Brexit stands to betray McCormack.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Austerity kills two birds with one stone

I am surprised that more was not made of the news that life expectancy in the UK has plateaued when it was announced by the BBC earlier this week.

Plaid is in no doubt that the reason that more people in Wales are dying than expected is that government cuts affect already deprived areas disproportionately, and for once I am inclined to agree with them. So this disreputable Tory administration moves towards cutting the fiscal deficit two ways: directly, by not fully funding the NHS, by saving money on social security, inhibiting retired people from leading healthy lives, and then on pensions which do not need to be paid.

Friday, 28 September 2018

Notes from a self-taught pedant

Two opinion columns in the i newspaper on Wednesday stood out for me. One annoyed me (more of Chloe Westley when I have calmed down), the other had me cheering from the side-lines.

Simon Kelner declared that "making Scrabble easier is pointless". He recalled that he

was brought up in a tough school, Scrabble-wise. My mother was a ferociously competitive player who had no truck with new-fangled words like disco or fridge, or borderline oaths like bum or fart. If you laid down a word which she didn't know, she'd challenge you to define it, and if this didn't correspond to the dictionary definitition, she'd dock you 50 points. She would hate to be alive in a world where emoji (14 points) or yowza (20 points) or zomboid (19 points) was acceptable.

My parents were gentler, and my absorption of language came before Scrabble became popular in Britain, but both were scrupulous in their use of English. I would be pulled up for sloppy use of expressions like "I've no idea" before I went on to speculate about something. The newspapers and magazines which came into the house had high standards, in those golden days of British journalism. There was also a class teacher in Burrage Grove primary in Woolwich, who used to start every day with a spelling quiz. So I am grateful to Mr Punton as well.

Thus I learned that "bacteria" was a single noun, the plural of "bacterium" before I was forced to study Latin in the sixth form, and that "criterion" and "phenomenon" were the correct singulars of those words without having to take on Greek as well. (See previous posts for the loss of "medium" meaning an organ of communication and for "datum".)

Kelner decries the Americanisation of the official Scrabble dictionary, However, the enemy has already breached a gate. Collins, which took over from the still-British Chambers Harrap in sponsoring the official championships, is part of the former Harper and Row, an American publisher, taken over by Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation. So Collins dictionary is as British as The Sun or The Times.

Personally, I welcome newcomers from the rest of the English-speaking world where they fill a niche or are more colourful than the English English equivalent. Chambers, which is still hanging on by its fingernails in the crossword world (though even here Collins is making inroads) is great at including Scots (like "stooshie"), Australian and New Zealand words. It has even kept its Indian borrowings up-to-date, e.g. "chuddies". However, dragging odd usages in by the hair where there are perfectly good equivalents, simply to make Scrabble easier, is not acceptable.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Three times county champions - now look where we are

There was a moderately encouraging start to the season and a great win to complete it, but Glamorgan disastrously sagged in the middle of 2018. The county's difficulties were an extreme example of what is afflicting England at the national level: a lack of resolute batsmen at the top of the order. It is surely right to recruit Welsh talent, but there has been a problem of development. Partly I suspect that this has been caused by the policy decision some years ago to concentrate on the one-day game because that was where the income was seen to be. The recruitment of experience from abroad needs to be looked at too, especially as the batsmen chosen were given little time to adjust to English conditions before being called away on international duty - or in Stephen Cook's case, by the end of the season in an already dispirited side. I welcome the independent inquiry which was announced earlier this week and Hugh Morris's acceptance that nobody's position will be secure as a result.

Little blame can be attached to the bowlers and I hope the county can hold on to an effective seam attack and a commendably varied spin armoury.

Below is Graham Wagg about to bowl in yesterday's final innings of 2018 at Sophia Gardens.

Carl Haviland (1954-2012)

Not only celebrities give their names to railway locomotives. Carl Haviland, to whom the 50-year-old engine below is dedicated, was an HNRC technical fitter who passed away in 2012. When I snapped it in Cardiff yesterday, I thought the Direct Rail Services/Greater Anglia combination might be of interest, but three pages of search engine results show that it is already well-known. The only thing that the postings did not answer was why the former "Mount Pinatubo" was renamed. Finally putting in to the question "Who was Carl Haviland died 2012?" turned up the answer.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

European travel crunch

Christine Jardine MP sounds a warning about Brexit cutting off flights to continental Europe from the UK. Three Blokes in the Pub have already spelled out the reasons why and have revealed that the relevant institutions have already redefined air routes to by-pass the UK.

I would pick Ms Jardine up on one point, though. Victorian Britain was more liberal in respect of people's movement than the ages that followed, as an article in the Independent asserted:

The tolerance of Victorian and Edwardian Britain reveals itself in a series of ways. In the first place, amazing as it may seem today, Britain had no immigration laws for most of the 19th century[...]Britons also welcomed refugees for much of the 19th century. British high society responded positively to the arrival of wealthy and educated Italian exiles escaping the straitjacket imposed on nationalism and liberalism by the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Their symbolic position as victims of Continental oppression guaranteed their positive status.

Similarly, German exiles also received a positive response when they arrived in England, as evidenced by the example of the middle class and liberal Gottfried Kinkel, although the left wing Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels did not get quite the same treatment. On the other hand, the Hungarian revolutionary leader Lajos Kossuth found himself fêted as an opponent of Habsburg tyranny in public meetings and in the press, becoming one of the greatest heroes in Victorian England until the Italian nationalist Garibaldi replaced him.

Just as importantly, while Victorian society may appear predominantly Anglo-Saxon, immigrants had an obvious impact in a variety of ways. In the first place, newcomers helped the industrialisation process, whether in the form of Irish navvies and factory workers, helping to build the infrastructure and produce the industrial goods which made Britain the first industrial nation, or prominent German entrepreneurs, whose skills helped establish the basis of many of Britain's leading firms such as Schroders, Kleinworts, Rothschilds, ICI and Tennents. At the same time, immigrants helped to create the British inner city, epitomised by the East End of London, which changed from Irish to German to Jewish between 1840 and 1914. Catering would not have developed in the way it did in Britain without migration.

During the late Victorian period continental settlers established some of the most famous restaurants in London including the Café Royal and the Ritz. At the same time Germans, Frenchmen and the Swiss staffed restaurants of all sizes throughout the country by the outbreak of the First World War, as this French concept of bourgeois dining (the restaurant) spread throughout Britain. Meanwhile, German musicians helped to transform music in Britain during the 19th century, as indicated by names such as Sir Charles Hallé, who founded the Manchester orchestra which bears his name after fleeing the 1848 revolutions, and Frederick Delius, born in Bradford in 1863 to middle class German parents. Germans also helped to staff many of the major British orchestras which would emerge during the course of the 19th century. At the same time German brass bands marched up and down the country during the late Victorian and Edwardian years, joining Italian organ grinders.

- and industry in France and Germany benefited from foreign workers. What changed was the flood of refugees fleeing anti-Semitism in Eastern Europe, which decreasing travel costs aided. The UK government reacted with the Aliens Act of 1905 (four years after the death of Victoria). The Great War of 1914-18 then virtually ended passport-free travel throughout Europe until the Schengen Agreement.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Welsh government does the right thing by the NHS/GIG

I cannot remember the last time government at any level honoured in full the recommendations of an independent review board. That is what has just happened in Wales (but not in England, it seems) in respect of doctors and dentists. That must remove one disincentive to new practitioners filling gaps left by retiring GPs.

Monday, 24 September 2018

Brexit even worse than the Three Blokes feared

Graham Hughes writes:

When we started #3Blokes we thought we could provide a service that nobody else seems to be doing: educating people on what #Brexit really means. I never dreamed we'd end up meeting some of the most important people from some of the world's most powerful organisations, and being educated ourselves. In no uncertain terms. I thought we knew a lot about Brexit. And, to be fair, we do understand more than most. But we've just been scratching the surface.

MAKE NO MISTAKE: Brexit will be worse than anyone who voted for it could possibly imagine. The people we spoke to this week in Geneva and Brussels left us shaken. At one point Jason actually burst into tears.

These people have the data. They have the lawyers. They have the experts. They've done the modelling, worked through every scenario; all possible outcomes. It's bad. It's really really bad. Like, terminal cancer bad. My fellow Brits, please, LISTEN. I know the Brexit vote made you feel good, and you actually got to make a difference for the first time in your life, but this ISN'T A GAME. If we don't stop this there won't be a rematch. It's over. All of it. If you no longer feel that Brexit is a good idea (clue: it isn't), it's time to stand up and be counted. The future of our incredible nation depends on it.

I know I will not persuade those people who believe that the repatriation of the roughly 10% of primary legislation which is mandated by Brussels is worth the economic hardship - hardship which will last for a decade even by the reckoning of some government ministers, and will be suffered by all Britons who are not in the business of financial services. But those who were relatively undecided in 2016 until they were swayed by Boris Johnson's misleading slogan, should check out the latest Three Blokes in a Pub podcast and reexamine their thinking. It is no shame to admit that one made a wrong decision based on lies, as hundreds of MPs did over the Iraq invasion. Even the Daily Mail is shifting its stance on the EU.

I admit that I was doubtful when Edward Heath took us into the European community. Since then, I have been agreeably surprised by the effect that decision has had on employment levels and general prosperity (blame austerity on conservative thinking, not the EU) and of course there has been the bonus of peace in the EU area promised by Heath, Denis Healey, Roy Jenkins and others who saw first-hand the effects of fascist dictatorships. Moreover, the EU has the mass to stand up to giant multinational companies which practically no single European government has the power to do. There are overarching food safety and environmental standards, great joint scientific and technical projects, and cooperation against crime and terrorism.

I would like to see a UK government with the backbone to say: "we now know that we were wrong to invoke Article 50 and we want to withdraw it". The EU27, who would suffer to some extent* on Brexit (some nations more than others), would surely be receptive to such a move.

But at the very least the government should give the people of the UK a chance to pass a verdict on whatever Brexit deal Mrs May can come up with as against remaining in the EU or even crashing out without a deal.

* The EU would lose up to 16% of its external trade. But the effect on the UK would be far worse. Not only do we stand to lose up to 44% of our exports, we would no longer be part of the trade agreements which the EU has with over 35 other nations. 

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Pontardawe floods

Twenty years ago, many towns and villages of south Wales were hit by torrential rain. Ebbw Vale was flooded, as were Carmarthen, Crickhowell and Brecon. Pontardawe was probably worst hit, because on top of everything the Swansea Canal broke through a retaining wall and flooded the town. The saddest sight was what were once good domestic items being dumped in a skip because they had become unusable, the scene in the terraced row behind Herbert Street. Worse though was the taking out of use of the local clinic. There was an investigation by consulting engineers, and the report and supporting documents are on Neath Port Talbot's web-site.

Saturday, 22 September 2018

Of mice and beetles

When I posted last week in response to VW's publicity splurge on winding up Beetle production, I had not only not seen James May's BBC-2 series on Cars of the People, I had not realised that it was about to be repeated on BBC-4. As a result of watching episode 1 last Sunday, I have learned that the Beetle was actually the "strength through joy" car when it was launched by Hitler and Porsche, and that the designation "people's car" only came about after the war. Consequently, I have made a couple of minor amendments to that previous post.

There was one inaccuracy in May's programme, though. The original Fiat 500 Topolino ("Little Mouse") was not the Cinquecento of 1957 to 1975, but the 1936 model of Mussolini's time. The innovative small car seems to have been part of a deliberate policy to abandon the international market and revert to domestic production as a result of the Fascists' rise, something which May might have made more of. 500s were another familiar sight on the streets of Benghazi along with the VW military utility vehicles and a Renault contender for a 1940s people's car, the 750. As this was born under the Nazi occupation of France and as Renault was nationalised after the war, I trust that the 4CV/750 will be featured in later episodes of May's series.

Friday, 21 September 2018

No one shall be enslaved by conformity .. or bullying, or harassment

In the words of a younger liberal who was put off joining the party initially by the very publicised mishandling of complaints of sexual harassment, "now we have a reporting system fit for purpose". Marjorie Bark goes on to say "we all need to ensure that our fellow members and supporters have little cause to use it".

It seems from disturbing reports in the last few years that young campaigners in other parties are in need of similar protection. We need to see Labour, Conservatives and the Nationalists demonstrating that this is the case.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

A roof over ones head

Ask practically any Conservative what they believe is the first duty of government and they will reply: "To protect the realm". The response from most Labour politicians and Lib Dems would be "to take care of the people" or "of the community". However, even the driest Tory would not admit to being easy about Britons starving to death en masse for the sake of Queen and Country. To be fair, this does not happen even under the current administration, though it relies on community enterprise in the form of food banks to achieve this.

I believe that in addition to assuring the rights of people to have enough food to live on and to receive free health care, government should also assert that people have a right to a roof over their heads. I welcome Tahir Maher's post on Liberal Democrat Voice, drawing attention to the resolution by the Lib Dem conference just ended that includes a call for the Government to ensure everyone has a right to an affordable, safe and secure home.

Central government does not build houses (apart perhaps for those for armed services personnel, though even here the Conservatives have been merrily selling off stock). Claims that "we have built n thousand more houses than Labour" ring particularly hollow coming from this present administration. Councils do, and they should have their power to raise funds for the purpose restored. Housing associations do, but not enough, and the threat of "right to buy" should be lifted from them. Private developers do, but the big players are sitting on land banks waiting for an upturn in the economy - which, if the Bank of England is correct, will not come after Brexit.

Housing is a devolved matter, but central government has a key role in creating an economic environment which persuades builders that it is in their interests to develop land that they own and which permits local councils to meet the needs of their people. Westminster should also be able to step in if Cardiff or Edinburgh are not meeting their responsibilities.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Swansea University smart building research recognised

There is welcome news from central government that they will fund research at Swansea University to develop building materials which generate power. The £36m grant will go to Swansea's SPECIFIC Innovation and Knowledge Centre, an academic and industrial consortium led by Swansea University, with strategic partners Akzo Nobel, NSG Pilkington, Tata Steel and Cardiff University. Chancellor of the Exchequer Hammond's press release states:

The technology, using heat and light to make electricity, could replace conventional walls, roofs and windows. The power could be used in homes, workplaces, schools and hospitals, with the energy stored and released by "smart energy systems". Mr Hammond said the aim was to cut energy bills and carbon emissions.

This comes on top of the £3m awarded earlier in the year to Swansea's SaMI with the aim of bringing the metals industry, especially steel,  into the 21st century. This funding will enable SaMI to help the UK industry to transform into a low carbon, resource efficient sector utilising societal waste, such as plastics, which are currently non-recyclable. The money comes from the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales, much of whose funds come from the Welsh Government and therefore out of the annual allocation for Wales from Westminster. It is good that the power-generating buildings research grant will come direct from the Exchequer and therefore does not impact the Welsh Government budget. However, there is another cloud on the horizon in that the EU also contributes to higher education projects in Wales and the current programme terminates in 2020.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Revolting current government propaganda on electric vehicles

Last week, Mrs May made a much-publicised speech in opening the Zero Emissions Summit in Brimingham. She pledged to cement the UK's position as a "world leader" in low emission technologies and work w2ith other countries to accelerate the global roll out of green transport systems.

However, as Lib Dems transport speaker (and former AM) Baroness Randerson has pointed out, other countries have already promised to phase out petrol and diesel vehicles much sooner than us. She called for restoration of the link between emissions and Vehicle Excise Duty. I would go further. Jenny is probably too young to recall the days before the Thatcher/Major administrations when electric vehicles, such as the familiar milk float or, in London, Harrods' delivery vans, paid no excise duty at all. Restoration of that concession would do wonders for electric vehicle development in the UK.

The government will also need to guarantee a network of charging points, and those points will need to cater for the differing needs of the competing electric vehicle producers. Then there is the problem of guaranteeing that the power stays on post-Brexit, when the cost of importing fuel, including nuclear fuel, will inevitably rise. There will be days when all our electricity needs will be met by renewables, but we are a long way from that glorious time when that is the case for all 24 hours of all the days of the year.

Talk of renewables brings me to another of my gripes about the Conservatives' publicity machine. It proclaims that the UK is at the forefront of wind power developments, when in fact our largest wind-farms are populated by machines from Sweden and Denmark (using imported steel) and run by foreign-owned companies.

(I make no apologies for the puns in the heading.)

Monday, 17 September 2018

A TV watcher's impressions of conference

The speech by Jo Swinson to Liberal Democrat conference in Brighton yesterday was the one from a leading Lib Dem that I had been hoping to hear. It not only apologised for the things over which our ministers rolled over to the Conservatives too easily, it also highlighted the plight of the people who have suffered greater hardship since we left government, people who our MPs are working hard for against the odds. We can get too hung up on principles and political structures at the expense of their application in the real world. Jo brought those difficulties home, though she was strong on principles too.

See for the video. The text is at

There was also an excellent debate on immigration. There were voices raised against the policy motion on the grounds that it was too pragmatic to the point of illiberality, but the fact that so many first- and second-generation immigrants came to the podium to support it, suggests that it is on the right track. Suzanne Fletcher, whose tireless work on behalf of refugees cannot be doubted, gave it a cautious welcome, but said that it was only a start. That is good enough for me.

Sunday, 16 September 2018

Project Pariah State

The messages I get from the latest Three Blokes in the Pub, from Geneva, the home of the World Trade Organisation, are: a) that pre-referendum Brexiteers did not know what they were talking about in terms of international trade post-Brexit; b) that, having spoken on and off to the WTO in the two years since the referendum and learned more about WTO processes, politicians are now lying to the British public if they continue with their promises of 2016; and c) if we do follow through on the policies of the leading "clean-breakers", we will be breaking so many international rules that we will become a pariah state. The USA can afford to put two fingers up to the rest of the world because she can be self-sufficient if the chips are down; what chance does a small island have which has to import about a third of its food, let alone raw materials for its factories?

Project Pollyanna

Thanks to a Facebook friend, Daniel Hannan MEP's rosy predictions of a UK adrift from Europe, made before the 2016 referendum vote, have come to my attention. Some of them should already have come to pass; others seem increasingly unlikely. Some examples:

The last thing most EU leaders wanted, once the shock had worn off, was a protracted argument with the United Kingdom which, on the day it left, became their single biggest market. Terms were agreed easily enough. Britain withdrew from the EU’s political structures and institutions, but kept its tariff-free arrangements in place. The rights of EU nationals living in the UK were confirmed, and various reciprocal deals on healthcare and the like remained.

During the first 12 months after the vote, Britain confirmed with the various countries that have trade deals with the EU that the same deals would continue. It also used that time to agree much more liberal terms with those states which had run up against EU protectionism, including India, China and Australia. These new treaties came into effect shortly after independence. Britain, like the EFTA countries, now combines global free trade with full participation in EU markets.

Older industries, too, have revived as energy prices have fallen back to global levels: steel, cement, paper, plastics and ceramics producers have become competitive again.

(It should be noted that Patrick Minford, Mrs Thatcher's favourite economist and an ardent Brexiteer, has calculated that practically all Britain's major industry would disappear after Brexit and that he welcomed the prospect.)

EU to update the Drinking Water Directive

A recent media release from the European Parliamentary Research service announced that the Drinking Water Directive had been recast as a result of a proposal from the Commission in February and voted through last Monday. The proposal responded to the European Citizens’ Initiative, Right2Water, and built on a fitness check which concluded that the 20-year old directive was fit for purpose, but needed updating. The main elements of the proposal consist of updating the water quality standards, introducing a risk-based approach to the monitoring of water, improving and streamlining the information provided to consumers, harmonising the standards for products in contact with drinking water, and imposing obligations to improve access to water.

One trusts  that Westminster will pass this directive into UK law in the normal way and not let the shadow of Brexit prevent it.

Friday, 14 September 2018

The VW Beetle has died twice before

Volkswagen should be honest: the car model which they plan to kill off bears as much relation to Ferdinand Porsche's "people's car" of 1938 as the current Fiat 500 bears to the original Topolino. The Beetle which we are now saying "leb' wohl" to is actually a relaunch of a relaunch.

Production of the original Beetle ceased in Germany in 1978, though it continued in several other plants round the world.

Even Hitler and Porsche's dream car had to be shelved shortly after its well-publicised entry as Nazi Germany geared up for war. Instead, the factory switched to churning out the German equivalent of the jeep. (As a child in Benghazi in the 1950s, I saw dozens of these "field cars", as we called them, clearly having been abandoned by Rommel's retreating forces and commandeered by locals and Allied servicemen and sold on.)   It would be interesting to know how many genuine workers were able to get their hands on a Beetle before the end of the war. The factory was brought back into production in 1945. Allied bombing had crippled the plant in Saxony and it was the engineering corps (Royal Engineers and REME) of the occupying British forces who brought it back to life as an aid to German recovery. In one of the great misjudgements of economic history, both the British Rootes Group and the multinational Ford, among others, turned down the virtual free gift of the factory and its product as part of war reparations.

[Updated slightly in the wake of James May's BBC4 series on people's cars]

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Sir Samuel Thomas Evans

Today is the centenary of the great jurist's death. There is more here, here and here.


There was a short commemoration service at the church of St John the Baptist in Skewen this morning. Because it had not dawned upon most of us involved until close to the date, it was too late to arrange official participation from the Welsh Liberal Democrats, the successor party to Sir Sam's Liberals. However, I managed to catch at the graveside the representatives of the Skewen Historical Society who had attended

 along with Jeremy Stuehmeyer, who is not only a collateral descendant of the Evans family but also a professional drawer-up of family trees.

Jeremy spared the time before his long drive back to Harrogate to relate some of the interesting experiences he had in his genealogical work as well as decrying the inaccuracies introduced to popular TV programmes in the cause of spicing up the presentation. In return, the local historians were able to fill in the historical background of the Skewen of Sir Samuel's days.

Spurred on to do some more research myself, I came across the report in The Cambrian of 14th February 1890 of plain Samuel Evans's successful candidacy for parliament at his first attempt:

and I like this description of his parliamentary career from an obituary notice in a later publication:

Among the targets of his wordy warfare was no less a figure than the Grand Old Man himself, WE Gladstone.

Wednesday, 12 September 2018

UKIP and Conservatives defend would-be Hungarian dictator Orban

Yesterday, the European Parliament debated the rule of law in Hungary. MEPs were concerned that Viktor Orban’s government had violated press freedoms, undermined judicial independence and waged a state-backed antisemitic campaign against Jewish businessman George Soros. It is also subject to allegations of corruption relating to the alleged misspending of EU funds by Mr Orban’s friends and family, while the prime minister himself has described refugees as “Muslim invaders” and been accused of being deeply Islamophobic.

The Guardian and The Independent report that British Conservatives and UKIP (of course) will vote to reject the report against Hungary, but it seems that the rest of the EPP bloc is undecided.

Mr Orban appears to be making this an issue of immigration (and the EU's policy by turns confused and dictatorial has not helped) but it is to be hoped that the EP will not be distracted from Hungary's breaches of the ECHR and other planks of EU membership.

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Trump administration threatens ICC

The International Criminal Court's prosecutor Fatou Bensouda last year requested a full investigation into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, which would include any committed by US military and intelligence officials. The ICC is also considering the Palestinian Authority's demand for an investigation into the Israel Defence Force's actions in Gaza.

The US has traditionally considered itself above any international agreements. But president Trump/s national security adviser has gone further in respect of the ICC by threatening steps against it. The BBC reports that Mr Bolton said in a recent speech that the ICC

  • Was a threat to "American sovereignty and US national security"
  • Lacked checks and balances, claimed "jurisdiction over crimes that have disputed and ambiguous definitions" and failed to "deter and punish atrocity crimes"
  • Was "superfluous" as the US administration did "not recognise any higher authority than the US Constitution"

Mr Bolton said: "We will not co-operate with the ICC. We will provide no assistance to the ICC. We will not join the ICC. We will let the ICC die on its own. After all, for all intents and purposes, the ICC is already dead to us."

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders backed Mr Bolton, saying President Donald Trump would use "any means necessary to protect our citizens [and] those of our allies from unjust prosecution from the ICC".

What steps could the US take?

ICC judges and prosecutors would be barred from entering the US and their funds in the US would be sanctioned.

"We will prosecute them in the US criminal system. We will do the same for any company or state that assists an ICC investigation of Americans," Mr Bolton said.

More "binding, bilateral agreements" would be signed to stop countries submitting US citizens to the court's jurisdiction.

It seems to me that the ICC's record is of convicting only the most exceptional and well-evidenced war crimes and human rights abuses and that the US has little to fear unless any of her citizens really has committed gross offences against natives of other countries. Mr Bolton has gone over the top. The time may come when the US herself may need the good offices of the ICC.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Swedish result was bad but could have been worse

Mark Valladares writes on Liberal Democrat Voice:
In yesterday’s Swedish election, the far-right Sweden Democrats didn’t do as well as was feared. They still did far too well, but at least our two sister parties, Centerpartiet and Liberalerna, both increased their share of the vote. They have both made it clear that no coalition that might include the Sweden Democrats would be acceptable to them, which is promising, and they will doubtless play a critical role in whatever coalition government that emerges.
That should act as a reminder that our liberal sister parties have not a little influence over Brexit. There are seven liberal prime ministers (Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Luxembourg and the Netherlands), and their willingness to countenance a withdrawal of Article 50 should not be taken for granted.
Will the pattern continue into next year's European Parliament elections? If so, because of proportionality, Sweden will add only slightly to the reactionary bloc in Brussels (and Strasbourg).

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Cable slips

The immediate reaction to the trails of Lib Dem party leader Vince Cable's direction-of-travel speech of last Friday morning was that these were just to provoke interest, and that the likelihood of non-members choosing the next leader was mischievous speculation. Alas, the latter turned out indeed to be part of Vince's vision of a future Liberal Democrat party. It should be emphasised, though, that this is still just a proposal and would require conference approval. (Unlike Conservative "conferences", which are merely rubber-stamping rallies, Liberal Democrat conference really does set and approve party policy.)

One can imagine a flood of entryists installing Tommy Robinson or Geoffrey Boycott or some other reactionary figure who has just happened to be in the current headlines. The dangers of allowing registered followers of the party to elect the leader are not merely theoretical. The US system of choosing party candidates is based on it, producing such populist presidents as Bill Clinton and Donald Trump, with damaging effect on the economy. In this country, we have seen the anti-establishment Jeremy Corbyn sweep to power in the Labour party and potentially split it in the process. So you can count me as anti-Vince on this one.

But I welcome Vince's restatement of some core principles:

First, I want to bring values back into our politics providing a rallying point for those who are committed to defend liberal democracy; challenge extremes of inequality and barriers to opportunity; uphold our civil liberties; maintain an open, outward looking country and protect our environment.
My colleagues and I have sought over the last year to demonstrate how we can put those values into action in respect of the economy and tax policy, the housing crisis, schooling, the new data technologies, the governance of companies, and much else.
even though the speech itself is heavily weighted towards process. The idea of recruiting followers is certainly worth trying, though one trusts they would be more regularly kept up-to-date - with minimal propaganda! - than members are at present.

You can read the full thing here.

The economic reasons for abandoning Brexit

If you were doubtful about the claims for a post-Brexit nirvana, but on the other hand did not trust politicians or ivory-tower economists, then the "Three Blokes in a Pub" podcast is for you. Five episodes are available so far on YouTube. These are three people with practical experience of working across borders and not all would have their financial interests damaged by Brexit! If you do not have time to sit down and watch five hours of the beer-fuelled chat (and I must admit that there are long repetitions in the middle episodes), at least see the first half-hour of episode 1 and the whole of episode 5, where the three blokes (the just-in-time driver is replaced by an engineer) visit Southampton. Discussing what they learned at the docks, they are joined, unsolicited, by a former health service worker who brings her knowledge to the table.

Friday, 7 September 2018

Morfydd Owen

There is a pen portrait of the talented Welsh composer whose life was tragically cut short a hundred years ago before her 27th birthday, in the setting of her roots and the rest of her family, here.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

HMP Berwyn twinned with Birmingham

The new prisons minister, Rory Stewart, has been adroit in rebutting the obvious suggestion that the troubles in prisons in England and Wales are confined to out-sourced establishments. In the House of Commons last Tuesday, he said as part of his statement on HMP Birmingham:

I anticipate that this could rapidly become a debate over the merits or otherwise of privatisation, and I am expecting that the shadow Secretary of State will almost certainly go in that direction. For what it is worth, we ​on this side of the House do not believe that this is primarily an ideological battle. The situation in Birmingham has been serious for some time. It was a Labour Secretary of State for Justice who initially decided to proceed with the privatisation of Birmingham in 2010, although it was a Conservative Secretary of State who finally let the contract. The company concerned, G4S, has clearly significantly failed in Birmingham, but at the same time, as hon. Members such as the hon. Member for Bridgend (Mrs Moon) can confirm, it is running an impressive prison in Parc and at Altcourse in Liverpool, which is performing well particularly in education and work, while Parc is doing well on family services. The BBC has just produced a very positive report on its performance at Oakwood as well.

So this is not primarily about the difference between the public and the private sector. Sadly, there have been significant challenges also within the public sector, at Nottingham prison, at Liverpool and at Exeter most recently. Indeed the chief inspector of prisons himself underlined that this is not primarily about public against private, but is about basic issues primarily around drugs, violence and management. We will be focusing on those three things above all through this step-in, and, as I have said, at no cost to the taxpayer.

The situation in Birmingham is dire:
shocking in terms of the levels of violence, in terms of the response to those levels of violence, in terms of the drugs, and in terms of basic decency

emphasised by this contribution from local MP Liam Byrne:
A month ago my constituent was beaten within an inch of his life at HMP Birmingham not once but twice, and not in a dark corner but in the full glare of a video that was then posted on social media. The chaos over which G4S presided at HMP Birmingham was dark, dangerous and violent.

It was strange that no Member remarked on the similarity of the difficulties Birmingham with those of HMP Berwyn, the second-largest gaol in Europe, and another G4S establishment. These were aired on BBC Radio Wales last Sunday morning.

At bottom, whether prisons are private or not, the cause of their troubles is lack of resources. There are not enough prison officers, clearly not enough talent at governor level and the physical facilities for rehabilitation have been run down - or in the case of Berwyn, according to the POA, not provided in the first place. If prisoners are not usefully occupied, it is not surprising that they turn to drugs or violence. If warders are under strength, it is not surprising that they turn a blind eye to narcotics being introduced (or, even worse, collaborate in their introduction) if they keep their charges quiet.

The calls from Philip Hollobone and Sir Desmond Swayne for hard labour for prisoners caught ingesting illegal substances caused a wry smile. They had apparently not considered how that hard labour was to be supervised. If there were sufficient manpower to do so, there would surely be enough to prevent the resort to drugs in the first place.

One wishes Rory Stewart well in his endeavours. On previous form, it is clear that he is sincere in pledging an improvement in prisons after a year, but I fear that unless he can extract more money from the Treasury and not just for gimmicks like sniffer dogs, he may have to tender that resignation.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

’ave a go ya mug

Peter Fitzsimons of the Sydney Morning Herald stands up for colourful Aussie expressions. He wants to stop the ingress of Americanisms like "step up to the plate". Personally, though this grated when I first heard it, I have come to believe that there is nothing in traditional English which conveys the same meaning. "Step up to the mark" comes closest, though its origins in prize-fighting make it less savoury than the baseball expression. "Come to the crease" would be the cricket equivalent but does not imply the same sense of taking responsibility with a hint of danger; "face the chin music" goes to the other extreme.

Elsewhere in the article there are some brilliant phrases which surely are not surpassed in any form of English. Perhaps as our climate warms, more of our bulging prison population will be “getting a zebra sun-tan”. There are many politicians who are “like a greased snake on an oiled floor”, and maybe too many of us “have faces like a dropped pie”.

There are some words and phrases of Aussie origin which Fitzsimons does not list. "Rort" in the sense of a scam or fraud, especially involving the misappropriation of public funds has made it into the headline-writer's lexicon, Down Under at least. "Chunder" and "technicolour yawn" were introduced to Britain by Barry Humphries' creation, the Fosters-guzzling Barry McKenzie.

It would be wrong to legislate against the use of Americanisms, especially when they mean something which is not readily expressed in the English of the British Isles. However, we should surely embrace developments from all English-speaking nations, not just from the Americas. Read the article and judge for yourself.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Changing face of town centres

From a recent Which? magazine cover:

which neatly exemplifies what has happened to our traditional town centres in the last thirty years. In the face of this trend, which owes a lot to the World Wide Web, the means by which you are reading this, as well as a reduction in disposable income of the shopping public, it seems perverse to create a new shopping complex in the centre of Neath "which will involve up to eight medium to larger retail units". Now I am no longer in the loop and perhaps Neath Port Talbot council or its agents have already pencilled in tenants for the development, but in view of the retrenchment at House of Fraser and Homebase one has to be sceptical. Perhaps Marks & Spencer will be the "anchor tenant" - but then what happens to the existing M&S store on Green Street? M&S itself has been slimming down, so may not wish to commit to a new store in Neath.

Sunday, 2 September 2018


Radio Times has hinted that screenwriter Chris Lang is working on a fourth season of the ITV police drama. I have mixed feelings about this. The series started off well and, unlike so many sequels, subsequent seasons became more interesting. The back stories, especially those of the two leading police investigators, got richer. At the same time, the enormity of the crimes investigated has increased. My worry is that Mr Lang might try to top them with something more extreme.

One thing that will clearly prove impossible to top is the revelatory final interrogation in the series just ended. It was low-key, with no incidental music (thank goodness) to prompt ones emotion, but it hit one like a blow to the stomach and kept one riveted. It needed actors of the quality of Alex Jennings and Nicola Walker to pull it off - and, of course, superb directing and editing.

There were incidental pleasures, such as the swipe at the power without responsibility of "citizen" bloggers retailing fake news. Nor was Mr Lang afraid to show that the best of detectives make mistakes - in the recent case, one that contributed, albeit not directly, to a fatality. His dialogue was realistic as one might expect from one who is also an actor.

If it were me producing the show, I would lighten the tone for the next season. Perhaps this is nerdish, but the process of investigation can be as involving as the nature of the crime. Does one really need a plethora of dead bodies? A historic robbery or a long-standing disappearance could provide the mainspring for the plot. |Besides, there were clear signs that the nature of her investigations was getting too much for DCI Cassie Stuart and we were left with the impression that she might take early retirement. Could the show afford to lose Nicola Walker? And then there is the opportunity to give a fifth season more impact by contrast ...

Saturday, 1 September 2018

On-line hate speech: would we be protected after Brexit?

Twitter Hashtag #EUandME

Threats, abuse and intimidation posted on social media can go viral within seconds and wreak havoc on the victim’s life. Victims of online hate speech cannot remove the posts as easily as they spread. They depend on online platforms to help them. Over half of the citizens in the European Union (EU) follow debates on social media. According to a 2016 Eurobarometer survey, 75 % of people who follow or participate in online debates had witnessed or experienced abuse, threat or hate speech. Almost half of them said that this discouraged them from engaging in online discussions.

Hate speech, both offline and online is a criminal offence under EU law. Responding to the growing problem, the European Commission set up dialogues with online platforms and is funding projects to counter online hate speech. In May 2016, the Commission and four major platforms (Facebook, Microsoft, Twitter and YouTube) announced a Code of Conduct on countering illegal hate speech online. Since then, more companies have joined, and they are increasingly meeting the goals of the Code of Conduct, including removing illegal hate speech within 24 hours. As a follow-up, in March 2018, the Commission recommended a set of operational measures to increase these efforts, before deciding whether to propose legislative measures. Vice-President for the Digital Single Market Andrus Ansip said: ‘Online platforms are becoming people’s main gateway to information, so they have a responsibility to provide a secure environment for their users.’

There is more at the European Parliamentary Research Service Blog.