Friday, 30 November 2018

More pain for retail

The consortium which planned to take over the owner of shopping centres including The Mall at Cribb's Causeway and the St David's Centre in Cardiff has decided that there are too many doubts surrounding its investment to proceed. Added to the factors of the growth in on-line shopping and the persistent UK government's curb on disposable income is the doubt over future growth in the north and north-east. Brexit must have an impact on Intu's malls in Gateshead and Newcastle, while the government's postponement of HS2's extension from Birmingham to Manchester throws doubt on the profitability of the Arndale and Trafford centres also.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Canute's courtiers

There are still people who believe that the British prime minister has the power to order the rest of the EU to improve on the Barnier-May withdrawal agreement. Prominent among them is DUP leader Arlene Foster, who still hopes for a magic border in Ireland. One is reminded of the legendary courtiers of King Canute (Cnut the Great) who believed he could stop the tide coming in.

Wednesday, 28 November 2018

Lobby for fair votes

The Make Votes Matter campaign, supported by various other organisations pressing for fair votes at Westminster such as STV Action, is organising a "People's Lobby for Proportional Representation" on 11th December. It is unfortunate that the government has since decided that this date is the one on which the "meaningful vote" should be taken and that this will dominate the airwaves and other media, but no doubt TV transmissions from St Stephen's Green will include a background of Make Votes Matter banners.

Tuesday, 27 November 2018

Blond from Blond

Posting about the Continental cinema in Egremont (or Liscard - the place was on the border of the two districts as I recall) in Wallasey yesterday spurred me to check on the Web some other adolescent memories. I had been told that the traditional Continental was owned by the same man as had built our local lovely little Phoenix cinema. This had replaced the Cosmo, destroyed by a stray WWII German bomb (Wallasey suffered some collateral damage from German attacks on the docks in Liverpool and Birkenhead).

It turned out that my memories were only part of the story. The Cosmo had been renamed, and was the Coliseum when the bomb hit it. It had not been totally destroyed, and the Phoenix rebuild had made use of the side walls which had remained standing. The chain of cinemas was more than just the two in Wallasey, being based in Hope Street, Liverpool and the property of Leslie Blond. It has been difficult to find much about this man, who is said to have brought art-house cinema to Merseyside. At one time, Leslie Blond and Associates may have owned around ten cinemas, including the Everyman which has had a more famous afterlife as a theatre. It was Blond who coined the name (it was previously the Hope Hall cinema) after the Everyman in Hampstead. It appears that he exited the cinema business at the right time, because the family charity has a multi-million pound turnover. I would love to know more about this intriguing character.

His grandson Phillip is as fascinating, as this Liverpool Echo article shows. He is clearly in a tradition of "one-nation Tories" going back to Iain Macleod, who coined the term, and before Macleod to Disraeli, Churchill and Macmillan. One wonders whether, with the increasing power of reaction within the Conservative party he might be happier talking to the Lib Dems. He is firmly against a break with the European Union, for instance, as this piece on the web-site of his ResPublica think tank demonstrates. Published four months after the 2016 referendum, it is in parts prophetic:

Despite appearances all is not yet lost, I suspect that Brexit will be hugely damaging economically for both the UK and the EU. At the moment Britain has not yet left and the fall in the pound (while welcome on many levels) is but an early indicator. I think foreign direct investment will fall and jobs (especially in the areas that voted to leave) will go. By the same token Brexit will prove very damaging to the long term financial stability of the EU and it may tip the disastrous Euro experiment into full meltdown.

In the event, the euro has been affected, but not by as much as the pound has suffered. So far, the EU's finances have remained stable. However, I would agree with a point that he also makes in the article that the EU (including the UK) needs to take collective and more discriminating action over immigration than individual nations have shown so far.

Monday, 26 November 2018

Always after the revolution

My vague recollection of a line from Bernardo Bertolucci's second film is a rueful "for me, it is always after the revolution". It may not be an accurate memory of the sentiment of the young protagonist, but it certainly reflected my feeling at the time. If I had been better prepared in terms of the sexual revolution, I would have appreciated better the breakthroughs of both Bertolucci and Nicolas Roeg who have died within days of each other. It is also true of the Liberal political revolution which I was late catching up with. Bertolucci, however, referenced a different politics.

I do however feel a certain smugness in having seen Prima della rivoluzione soon after its release, while other commentators on the Web are now recalling The Last Emperor or reruns of Last Tango in Paris. It was probably in the Academy cinema in Oxford Street, or possibly the NFT on the South Bank (of which there is a flavour on this video), at a time when I was exploring as much of the cinema and music which was on offer in the capital as was available on a junior civil servant's salary. The mixture of transgressive sex and politics was striking, though one would have needed a more intimate knowledge of Italian communism to appreciate the symbolism at the time. It was a leap forward from the schoolboy sighting of Mylène Demongeot's naked breast in Les sorcières de Salem in the old Continental cinema in Wallasey.

A further explicit leap was Nicolas Roeg's Performance. I know where I first saw that one. It was in the Walpole in Ealing when I was on an IT course at the former ICL training centre and looking for something to do in the evenings. Smugness is tinged with regret in that early release was much cut, though even then, aided by some extraordinary cutting, it was shocking enough. The IMDb entry gives due credit to Donald Cammell whose ideas not only drove Performance, but seem to have inspired much of Roeg's later work. (Roeg's claiming much of the credit for the film is understandable, seeing as how his work on Doctor Zhivago, uncredited, helped Freddie Young to an Oscar).  After that, I think I caught up with all Roeg's early films and later enjoyed the BBC Arena documentary It's About Time. I trust that Auntie will dust this off and also include a more sizeable contribution from Theresa Russell, his muse for so long and latterly his wife (they seem to have separated eventually, but did they ever divorce?).

Coincidences, runs the old journalistic saying, go in threes. Is there another great film director about to breathe his last?

Sunday, 25 November 2018

The mask slips (2)

It seems that Theresa May really does not believe in human rights. For years, while at the Home Office, she inveighed against the Human Rights Act and even the European Convention (ECHR). In view of her shifts over membership of the EU, I was beginning to put that down to her being a prisoner of a reactionary Home Office. However, even as prime minister, she has shown a desire to wriggle out of the UK's commitment to human rights, as Ed Davey has recently spotted.

Saturday, 24 November 2018

The EU withdrawal timetable

Brexit Clock Concept

Thanks to the European Parliamentary Research Service Blog we have an outline of the contents of the withdrawal agreement, the timetable and the main sticking points:

Priority issueMain solution
Citizens’ rightsEU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU retain the right to stay and continue their current activities.
Financial settlementThe EU and UK will meet the financial commitments which were agreed while the UK was a member of the EU.
Governance of the agreementDisputes regarding the interpretation of the withdrawal agreement will initially be dealt with by a Joint Committee (comprising representatives of the EU and UK) responsible for the implementation of the withdrawal agreement.
If no resolution is found, the issue can be referred to an arbitration panel (in cases not involving EU law). The decision of the panel is binding on the UK and EU. The Court of Justice of the European Union is the ultimate authority for issues related to EU law.
Protocol on Northern Ireland and IrelandIncludes a ‘backstop’ solution which would establish a common EU-UK customs territory, thus ensuring there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland and more broadly ensuring mutual respect for the provisions of the Good Friday agreement.
Transition periodAs it stands, the transition period will end on 31 December 2020. The transition can be extended only once, for a limited period of time, and such a decision must be taken before 1 July 2020 by the Joint Committee.

Friday, 23 November 2018

Toxic atmosphere in the House of Commons yesterday

That is not my description, but that of a seasoned parliamentary journalist commenting on BBC News yesterday about the questioning of the prime minister on the political deal which she had brought back from Brussels. But "toxic" was certainly the impression that any objective observer of yesterday's proceedings would have gained. (Anyone would guess from recent posts that I spend all my waking hours glued to BBC Parliament. Not so, but this week's business has been particularly involving.)

The tension was ratcheted up early, during Business Questions. Speaker Bercow, for all his alleged personal faults, has consistently stood up for the rights of parliament against the executive. He intervened after a question from Conservative Michael Tomlinson about an apparent breach of a Procedure Committee recommendation on publication of motions, in respect of the debate on the Brexit deal. He clearly wants no backsliding on the part of the government on their commitment to a meaningful vote.

Andrea Leadsom [Leader of the House]
My hon. Friend raises a matter that is of great significance at the present time to the House. What I can say to him is that the Government’s goal is to secure certainty and clarity for the public after two years of negotiations. I have seen the Procedure Committee report and the Government are considering its recommendations carefully, although it will be for Parliament to debate and determine the procedure that will apply for the vote.

Mr Speaker
That is absolutely true. It is also true, of course, that the Government have made clear their commitment to an amendable motion. The Leader of the House has said that a number of times in the Chamber and the point has been made by the Prime Minister as well. I know there has been no movement from that position at all. An amendable motion will be put to the House. I think it is important to be clear about that.

Later there was this exchange:

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab)
So far the Leader of the House has been somewhat vague and opaque in her remarks about the Procedure Committee report. The key recommendation was that the amendments should be debated and voted on before the main motion. Can she assure the House now that she and the new Brexit Secretary will table a business motion setting out a process enabling amendments to be debated and voted on first? 

Andrea Leadsom
As I have said in response to a number of questions on the Procedure Committee’s report, I have seen it and I have looked at it very carefully. The Government are considering its recommendations. It will be for Parliament to decide—to debate and determine the procedure that will apply to the vote, including the number of amendments that can be voted on. But as the Procedure Committee report sets out, amendments threaten an orderly ratification, and that risks creating huge uncertainty for business, consumers and citizens.

Mr Speaker
The Government have already promised an amendable motion and the Leader of the House has herself done so on the Floor of the House. I hope that the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman) is at least reassured by that. There will be further discussion of these important matters, as the Leader of the House has said, but I hope the hon. Lady is reassured by that fact, of which there is evidence in the Official Report.

Things got more heated when Points of Order were raised.

Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP)
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You said in business questions on two occasions that the Government will table an amendable motion, which is also the understanding of the whole House. However, the Government have also said that, regardless of what happens to that amendable motion, they will only put the option of the Government’s take-it-or-leave-it deal. Do you know anything more about this process? Will this amendable motion be taken to the House with a range of options, or is it your understanding that all that will be put to the House is the Government’s deal on a take-it-or-leave-it basis? 

Mr Speaker
I think that this is an issue still in progress. [Interruption.] The Procedure Committee has produced a report in which it has helpfully set out, if memory serves me correctly—[Interruption.] Perhaps if the House is interested in listening to what I have to say in response to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart)—[Interruption.] When Ministers have finished their private conversation, perhaps I can respond to the point of order from the hon. Gentleman. I will start again. The matter is still in progress. The Procedure Committee has helpfully produced a report on this matter in which—[Interruption.] Perhaps I can start again. [Interruption.] Perhaps I can start again when the Leader of the House has finished her conversation with her hon. Friend on the Front Bench, the hon. ​Member for Calder Valley (Craig Whittaker). I would be extremely grateful for that courtesy. [Interruption.] I can happily wait. I think it would be a courtesy if Members would listen as I respond to a point that the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has legitimately raised. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. [Interruption.] May I just ask the Leader of the House if she will do me the courtesy of listening while I respond to the point of order from the hon. Gentleman, as I did her the courtesy of listening to her responses to the business question? [My emphasis]
The hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire has raised an important issue, on which the right hon. Lady had some remarks to make a few moments ago. I was simply saying to him that the matter is still in progress. The Procedure Committee has produced a report in which it sets out—

John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
She’s doing it again!

Mr Barry Sheerman (Huddersfield) (Lab/Co-op)
It is a discourtesy to the House.

Mr Speaker
Well, I can live with that. The Procedure Committee has produced a report in which it sets out three options for the handling of this matter. If memory serves me correctly, the Committee has indicated its view that the motion should be amendable and that amendments, in accordance with the normal procedure, shall be voted upon first. The Government will have an opportunity, if they wish, to respond to that report, and a business of the House motion from the Government is to be expected. I rather imagine that will happen before the debate, and certainly before the meaningful vote. But that there is to be an amendable motion is not something coming from me; it is a commitment that has already been made both by the Prime Minister and by the Leader of the House on the Floor of this House. That much is simple and incontrovertible. I hope that is helpful to the hon. Member for Perth and North Perthshire. I am sure he will keep an eye on the matter.

John Spellar
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Is it not only disrespectful to yourself but, quite frankly, disrespectful to the House that, during a point of order relating to procedure, for which the Leader of the House is responsible not just for the Government but to the whole House, she should indulge consistently in a conversation? [Interruption.] She has now scuttled out. She indulged consistently in a conversation while you were giving a judgment on important issues relating to an enormously important matter of procedure.

Mr Speaker
My shoulders are broad and I am happy to work on that basis, but there is an issue of courtesy to the House. I do not think any deliberate discourtesy was intended but, whatever people’s intentions, the facts of the matter are on the record. The fact is that there is a commitment to an amendable motion. The House may have an opportunity to consider the Procedure Committee’s report, or if it does not, the Government will in any case have to table some sort of motion for the consideration of these matters. This issue will not go away, and I feel sure that the strength of feeling across the House one way or the other will be heard. The Chair is attuned to the strength of feeling, and the Chair is ​certainly very respectful of the position taken by the Procedure Committee, which has long been regarded as a very important voice—even authority—on these matters.

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab)
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. We do not mention or identify officials in this place, and rightly so, but may I ask if it is not also utterly unacceptable that officials standing and leaving the official Box just now were smirking and shaking their heads at my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley (John Spellar) as he was making his point of order? They have gone now, but is it not unacceptable for officials who are here to do a job to make comments in such a visual fashion against a senior Member of this House?

There were a few similar exchanges before Lib Dem shadow Tom Brake went over the top:

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. You have rightly set out that there is a normal procedure that has to be followed in this House. Can you advise us on what might be open to Members of Parliament should the Government decide not to follow that normal procedure? For instance, are there precedents, in circumstances similar to these, for Members of Parliament perhaps to occupy Parliament?

Mr Speaker
I would not recommend any such thing. What I would say to the right hon. Gentleman, consistent with what I have just said about the importance of lowering the temperature and taking time to reflect, is this. I understand and respect the seriousness and sincerity of the right hon. Gentleman, who has himself served with distinction as a Deputy Leader of the House. My point would be to let us wait to see what happens. In the words of the late Lord Whitelaw, “It is, on the whole, better to cross bridges only when you come to them.” I am sensitive, however, to what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and I think some of these concerns may play out in discussions to follow in the coming days.

After an urgent statement on the Bombardier redundancies in Northern Ireland (during which there was a complaint that an advance copy of the government's statement had been provided to other party leaders rather late in the day) and a debate on the Armed Forces Covenant, Labour MP Wayne David raised another point of order. By this time, the Deputy Speaker was in the chair:

We have been informed that the Prime Minister is to make a statement to this House at 3 o’clock. However, I understand that the Prime Minister ​has already spoken to the press outside No. 10 Downing Street. I consider that to be a gross discourtesy to this House.

Secondly, I understand that an agreement has been reached between the Prime Minister and the European Union on a draft declaration. I would have thought that that draft declaration would be available to this House, but as of 10 minutes ago it is not available in the Table Office. Will you ensure, Mr Deputy Speaker, that that draft declaration is made available well before the Prime Minister gets to her feet at 3 o’clock?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Sir Lindsay Hoyle)
It is good practice to share such information and there is still time. If Her Majesty’s Opposition have got to listen to a statement they should be well informed in order to be able to put the right questions. I also say that this House should be told first, not the TV studios; Members of Parliament are here to be told first, not everyone else. We know that that is best practice and it should be the practice: whoever they are, they should come to this House first, and then by all means go to the TV studios. The hon. Gentleman has put that on the record, and I hope that anything that needs to be printed and produced will be ready for the 3 o’clock statement. We do have time, and I am sure that message has gone out loud and clear, and I am sure the Whips will be dealing with it very quickly.

So the stage was set for a rumbustious session during which, in spite of (usually qualified) support from loyalists, one had the impression of two-and-a-half hours of prime ministerial attrition from all sides. Mrs May will probably cling on to the premiership until after the scheduled date of Brexit, if only because the Tory rebels are clearly finding it difficult to agree on a credible successor, but the signs are that she will lose the vote on the withdrawal agreement. The impression of government arrogance will not have helped.

A step towards protection of elephants

The cross-party Ivory Bill, to which Liberal Democrats made a contribution, is a step nearer becoming law. Baroness Cathy Bakewell writes in Liberal Democrat Voice:

On Tuesday 13th November the Government’s Ivory Bill had its third reading in the Lords and passed through to receive Royal Assent. This was a landmark piece of legislation to go some way towards protecting elephants, especially the African elephant, who are poached for their ivory. Currently approximately 20,000 elephants a year are still being slaughtered for their ivory. This unsustainable rate equates to one every 25 minutes. We have now reached the stage where more elephants are being killed by poachers, than live elephant calves are being born every year.

The aim of the Bill was to take most of the value out of trading in ivory and so make ivory objects worthless. All import and export of ivory, whether raw or in objects, is banned with four exceptions:

  • Pre-1918 items of outstanding artistic value and pre-1918 portrait miniatures with a surface area of less than 320 square centimetres; 
  • Pre-1975 musical instruments where the ivory is less than 20% of the total volume of the instrument; 
  • Pre-1947 items with low ivory content with less than 10% ivory of the total volume; and 
  • Acquisitions between qualifying museums

All items which qualify as exceptions must now be registered and have a licensed certificate which accompanies that item throughout its future ownership. There are heavy fines and the possibility of imprisonment for anyone found to be illegally trading in ivory.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

The mask slips

At Prime Minister's Question Time yesterday, Mrs May snapped back at Green MP Caroline Lucas's suggestion that people had a right to change their mind over Brexit that it was absolutely ridiculous. A raw nerve had obviously been touched. This is the full interchange:

The Prime Minister has just repeated that voting down her deal risks there being no Brexit at all. Does she recognise that, far from being a risk, recent polls show that, actually, a vast majority of people would like no Brexit at all in order to save jobs, protect the environment and ensure our standing in the world? Will she acknowledge that the will of the people can change and that the will of the people has changed? Does she therefore think that the way forward is a people’s vote, or does she think democracy ended on 23 June 2016?

The Prime Minister

The hon. Lady’s claim in relation to democracy is absolutely ridiculous. This Parliament gave people the right to choose whether to remain in the European Union or to leave the European Union. People exercised that vote, and we saw numbers of people voting that we had not seen before. It was a great exercise in democracy in this country, and I believe it gave this Parliament an instruction. We should ensure that we leave the European Union, as the people voted.

Wednesday, 21 November 2018


I caught (on BBC Parliament) part of the Treasury Committee's proceedings referred to in Vince Cable's demand yesterday. What he does not mention there are the pessimistic reports and forecasts voiced by Governor Mark Carney and his colleagues over business investment, both from internal and external sources. While the value of our investment legacy remains the highest in the EU, investmen in France and Germany, to name just two significant competitor nations, is rising much faster than in the UK.

Tuesday, 20 November 2018

British Industry and politics

Guido Fawkes accuses the CBI of making bad political calls. Well, sometimes commercial interests run counter to the country's political or ethical aims. Here is his list with a few comments:

  • In the 1930s it supported appeasement

  • No doubt the FBI (as it was until 1965) would have done well trading with continental Europe run by the Axis powers

  • In the 1940s it supported nationalisation. 

  • A good call considering the state of British staple industry at the time

  • In the 1950s it supported state planning. 

  • Evidence?

  • In the 1960s it supported tripartite industrial relations. 

  • It may not have caught on in this country, more's the pity, but one cannot say it has been a failure in Germany

  • In the 1970s it supported price controls. 

  • Prices and Incomes policy may have been misguided, but the PM who presided over it was also responsible for abolishing Retail Price Maintenance

  • In the 1980s it opposed getting tough with the USSR. 

  • The Russian market looked so promising, even the Conservative government was encouraging British firms to invest. A bad call, but the CBI was not alone.

  • In the 1990s it supported the ERM. 

  • - which might have worked if the UK had allowed devaluation of sterling within it. Even so, the ERM was an unsatisfactory compromise

  • In the 2000s it supported joining the Euro. 

  • "euro", please. Membership would have reduced currency fluctuations and made financial planning easier for companies

  • In the 2010s it supported Remain… 

  • Considering the difficulty in recruiting labour which is already hitting commerce and industry, the CBI was right to do so. I suspect even the CBI was unaware of some of the additional trouble (insurance, travel and queues of lorries) which will hit the country on March 29th if there is not a change of direction

… and now it has declared its support for May’s draft withdrawal agreement.
Making the best of a bad job, but many voices at the recent conference were raised against the shortcomings of the deal.

Monday, 19 November 2018

Johnson Press administration

Johnson Press owns the i newspaper, bought from Evgeny Lebedev two years ago. It appeared to be profitable then, and Johnson were promised contributions from The Independent's journalists as part of the deal, a pledge that Lebedev has honoured only in part according to the new proprietors. I still read the Saturday i, mainly for the Inquisitor cryptic crossword puzzle, so I was concerned when the news came through firstly that Johnson had put itself up for sale, and then that, no buyers having come forward, had gone into administration. The latest is that the major creditors have bought the company out of administration, with a promise that funds will be put in to keep it as a going concern.

However, the threat to the i is trivial compared to that to the bulk of Johnson titles, which are mostly local - indeed, probably the only papers serving many localities throughout Britain. There are also some venerable publications in the stable, like the Yorkshire Post and the even older Belfast Telegraph which claims to be the oldest newspaper in the world still being produced.

The situation is sufficiently serious for Opposition Shadow Minister Tom Watson to ask an Urgent Question in the Commons today. To be fair to the government, minister Jeremy Wright appeared genuinely concerned. He encouraged interaction with Dame Frances Cairncross who is currently heading an inquiry into the sustainability of journalism. There may even be a serious attempt to tackle the resort to "pre-pack" administrations which curtail the rights of creditors and of minority shareholders. Doubt also surrounds the pensions of those Johnson journalists who have already retired.

Saturday, 17 November 2018

Brexiters' cricketing idols

Mrs May has iterated her admiration for Geoffrey Boycott, that obdurate, unclubbable and self-centred batsman. For all his faults, Boycott did at least respect umpires' decisions.

The five cabinet members who clearly believe that the EU's rule book does not apply to Britain may be looking to other cricketers, like WG Grace who declared "They came to see me bat not you bowl", putting the bails back on his stumps after being bowled first ball; or Viv Richards who bullied an umpire into changing a decision.

Friday, 16 November 2018

Auden was sloppy

A poet with striking ideas and modern metaphors, but sloppy not only in his personal appearance but also in his use of English. I had not realised that the misuse of "media" as a singular noun had gone back so far:

“What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish. This is bad for everyone; the majority lose all genuine taste of their own, and the minority become cultural snobs.”
W.H. Auden, “The Poet and the City”

[Relayed here.]

Thursday, 15 November 2018

We did not stand alone in the Great War

Peter Jackson's remarkable recreation which put new life into the Imperial War Museum's archive footage of the Great War, together with voice-overs of the reminiscences gathered by the BBC from those who returned from France and Belgium received well-deserved commendation from the critics.

But there was another commemoration, on TalkingPicturesTV which was trailed on that channel but not elsewhere. Intermixed with footage of investigators was an attempt by two Canadian brothers to recreate the experience of their forebears. [Declaration of interest: my mother's father joined a Canadian regiment at the time of the Great War, though it is not clear whether he saw active service.] This was a reminder that Britain did not stand alone - a myth which suits politicians of a particular bent - but needed fresh blood in 1917 for the final push to victory and resistance to Germany's final spring offensive in 1918. William Wallace recalls:

Remembering the First World War is a very immediate emotion for me.  I was the youngest child of a late family.  My father had been born in 1899.  He joined up in mid-1917, and went out in a reinforcement draft to the Highland Division on the Western front in late March 1918

but goes on:

we have neglected to mark the contributions of our allies and our imperial forces.  We held a small ceremony by the statue of Marshal Foch in London, to mark the point at which British forces came under his overall command – with a Guards band and two French soldiers in attendance  We have not recognized that elements of the Belgian army held part of the Ypres salient throughout the war, using England as their support and supply base.  We have done very little to inform our younger generation of the importance of the Indian Army, over a million men who fought on almost every front and won 25 Victoria Crosses.  Nothing has been said of the West Indies Regiment in the Palestine campaign . Many of today’s south Asian and Caribbean citizens of Britain are descended from those who fought for the empire in 1914-18 or 1939-45: Baroness Scotland and Baroness Warsi among them, as well as Lord Bilimoria. What a lost opportunity to contribute to national integration, and to a better understanding of how closely our history is linked to our continental neighbours.
The French commemoration has been far more generous to its partners and allies, as well as its former enemies.  An open-air exhibition along the Champs Elysees, in 2014-15, carried pictures of allied troops in all their diversity: Scots, English, Indian, Moroccan as well as French.  British troops have marched in the July 14th parade.  A special ceremony marked the American entry to the war, impressing President Trump so much that he wanted to initiate regular military parades in Washington.  The British have focussed on our own war and our own forces, leaving Americans, French, Belgians, Indians, even Australians and Canadians in the background.
The Remembrance ceremony at the Cenotaph is, in effect, the annual symbolic representation of British history and identity.  In 1919, the first parade past the Cenotaph included troops from 12 empire and allied forces as well as from Britain.  Since then it has shrunk to an entirely British ceremony, unchanged for half a century.  I welcome the participation of the German president in this year’s event, as a sign of openness to change.  Should we not follow the French example from their July 14th ceremonies in future years, and invite forces of other countries with whom we have shared common dangers and threats to take part?  
Contingents from India and Pakistan, to mark how much Britain depended on their predecessors in past conflicts?  Polish troops and airmen, to tell our young people the crucial contributions they made in the Second World War, in intelligence, in the Battle of Britain, at Arnhem and Monte Cassino?  Belgian forces, to tell our right-wing politicians that many Belgians fought on, from British bases, in both world wars?  I recall in government a Conservative minister remarking that the Belgians never fight, to be corrected by an official who told him that Belgian and British planes were flying joint missions over Libya at the time.  And of course the French, our vital ally in World War One whose resistance to occupation we supported in World War Two.
We should particularly remember the Poles as they celebrate the centenary of their declaration of independence. It was to be so cruelly expunged by the conspiracy by Hitler and Stalin to carve up the nation between them, but eventually to be revived by the events of 1989. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Junction 41 and pollution

I thought it was going to be a fairly short and quiet meeting of the local Lib Dems last night, but "any other business" turned out to be other than that. We had got discussion of the various proposed ward boundary changes (we wait to hear from the boundaries commission) and the arrangements for the selection of regional candidates out of the way. Then councillor Helen Clarke hit us with the news that the county borough council's budget proposals would go further than not increasing the money spent on education (which in itself amount to a real terms reduction because of the effects of inflation) but actually cut the budget by 2%. It also transpired that there had been some creative accounting at the civic centre to the detriment of local councillors, not helped by the fact that the Labour cabinet has made it even more difficult for "back-bench" members to access the overall accounts. (They had stopped issuing the printed budget book to other than a favoured few in my last year as a councillor. This was clearly an economy measure and my querying of certain items outside the subject areas of the committees I was on was just coincidental. Now it seems that even the on-line links to the accounts are more obscure than they used to be.) There will probably be more about these matters in another place ere long.

The discussion on junction 41 was something else. It seems that a cat-fight has broken out between Plaid Cymru and Labour councillors, and between councillors and AMs, as to who has been more prominent in the fight to keep the junction open throughout the year. The belief that the Labour council originally came up with the idea of partial closure in order to encourage more drivers to take the lightly-used new southern distributor road has been quietly forgotten about.

The assertion that the Welsh government took up the idea enthusiastically because it might have enabled the then transport minister to travel back from Cardiff to her west Wales constituency more quickly is probably malicious. The current justification is that reducing stop-start motoring here would reduce pollution. However, motorists among us suggest that closure would merely push the pollution to another pinch-point, nearer housing. A more effective, if radical solution, would be to split the M4, creating another carriageway (upgrading Harbour Way?) and practically doubling the carrying capacity of the existing road through Port Talbot.

As to roadside pollution generally, there is a promising solution from a German firm with an English name, Green City Solutions. "CityTree" is a wall of mosses selected to absorb the most worrying gases. There is a description of an installation in Delhi here. The Green City Solutions Web pages are only in German, but there is a useful map which shows that there are already installations in Glasgow, Newcastle-on-Tyne and in the City of London. I feel that the Welsh government should look seriously at scaling up this technology and applying it to the revetment walls where the motorway cuts through Port Talbot - and other urban areas. (Thanks to Cen Phillips for the tip.)

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

BBC Bias

I am surprised that this paper (in pdf) has not received  more coverage since its publication in 2016. Even though lead authors were Cardiff University academics, BBC Wales did not publicise it much at the time.

It tends to confirm my feeling that the corporation is biased towards the big battalions, not prepared to treat news sources on their merits. It took more stuff from Labour than the Conservatives in 2007, a ratio that was reversed in 2012. It took far less from Liberal Democrats than either in both years, though rather more in 2007 when the Lib Dems were on an upswing. There is also sadly support for my contention that the BBC did not keep the average viewer and listener informed about EU matters, which led to the ignorance which Banks, Farage and co. played on in the 2016 referendum campaign.

Thanks to Simon Wren-Lewis for the link, who writes in his blog today:

those ruling us in the UK do not really know what they are doing [but they] are not fools without any purpose. Brexit is a triumph of the heart over the head. They know what they want, and just do not care too much about the damage it will do. But the ‘misunderstanding’ by Brexiters over what they signed up to in December 2017 that persisted for weeks shows how dangerous not paying much attention to facts (in this case the words of an agreement) can be. Theresa May wasted at least a year completely misunderstanding the EU, and firing those in government that did. Perhaps her biggest act of ignoring the obvious was embarking on the Article 50 process without any prior discussion of what was possible and what was not, which as many people noted at the time was a sure way of ensuring the EU got pretty well what it wanted. If you do not believe all this, read Chris Grey here.

Monday, 12 November 2018

Gaisberg's sonic final curtain

A centenary which I missed last week was that of the death of Fred Gaisberg, the man who recorded Adelina Patti among other celebrities of the early years of the twentieth century. Gaisberg's death may have been hastened by his final coup, recording the sounds of an actual artillery bombardment in the final weeks of the Great War. During the recording, he inhaled gas which it seems the Germans were still using as a weapon. Gaisberg's weakened lungs may have rendered him more susceptible to the "Spanish" flu which took off so many men who had survived the war.

The commercially-issued disc may have been souped-up a bit for the public, but the sounds were clearly accepted as authentic by those who had been there. It may well be the source for the recreation of sound effects added to contemporary silent film footage when it was shown to audiences after the coming of sound in cinemas.

Once again, I am grateful to Terry Teachout.

Friday, 9 November 2018

Apocalyptic warnings are counter-productive

Guido pokes fun at warnings of imminent disaster here. Indeed, we have not seen a Day After Tomorrow-style sudden swing into a global inferno (or like that in The Day the Earth Caught Fire referred to earlier in these pages). Kate Hendry, the palaeoclimotologist who appeared in the slot on this week's Film Programme dealing with "jobs the film-makers get wrong", pointed out that previous climate changes took place over hundreds of years. However, I have a nasty feeling that at some time in the last decade we did flick over into runaway global warming and that even if we did reverse production of greenhouse gases tomorrow there will be no measurable effect within our lifetimes. This, of course, will only fuel climate change deniers claims of conspiracy.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Post Office on trial

I have been following through Private Eye the alleged frauds by sub-postmasters on the Post Office. I had not commented before, because I was told that a local man who was affected had actually pleaded guilty to "false accounting". However, an interview on Radio Wales yesterday revealed that at least one Anglesey sub-postmaster had been persuaded by his legal advisers to make a guilty plea, even though he was convinced he was innocent, in the hope of receiving a light or suspended sentence. (He was cruelly let down, having to spend part of his sentence in Liverpool's notorious Walton gaol.) Perhaps this was true of the others who were convicted.

So I am now fully supportive of the Justice for Sub-Postmasters Alliance's campaign and will be following Nick Wallis's reports with interest.

Wednesday, 7 November 2018

Delayed armistice cost needless deaths

We will shortly be celebrating the centenary of the end of fighting in the Great War. Before then, we should remember those who died needlessly in the days leading up to the armistice. The symbolism of the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month appealed so strongly to the powers-that-were that they delayed the formal signing, even though it was known on the 9th November 1918 that the Germans had agreed to surrender. Indeed, fighting could have ceased on the 7th if the French high command had not been so intransigent when they were first approached by German negotiators.

The possibility of an armistice had begun the evening of November 7 when French soldiers of the 171st Régiment d’Infanterie near Haudroy were startled by an unfamiliar bugle call. Fearing they were about to be overrun, they cautiously advanced toward the increasingly loud blaring when out of the mantle of fog three automobiles emerged, their sides gilded with the imperial German eagle. The astonished Frenchmen had encountered a German armistice delegation headed by a rotund forty-three-year-old politician and peace advocate named Matthias Erzberger. The delegation was escorted to the Compigne Forest near Paris where, in a railroad dining car converted into a conference room, they were met by a small, erect figure–Marshal Foch–who fixed them with a withering gaze. Foch opened the proceeding with a question that left the Germans agape. ‘Ask these Gentlemen what they want,’ he said to his interpreter. When the Germans had recovered, Erzberger answered that they understood they had been sent to discuss armistice terms. Foch stunned them again: ‘Tell these gentlemen that I have no proposals to make.’

That is from, the online presence of a large publisher of history magazines. Being US-based, they naturally concentrate on the sacrifice of largely African-American lives in a pointless sortie on the very morning of the armistice, but we should remember all those on both sides who did not have to perish in those five days.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

The public health: who is responsible?

So the new English Health Secretary is throwing responsibility for pressures on the NHS back on the individual citizen? To a large extent he is right, of course. If we as a nation smoked less, drank less and were more careful about our diets there would be fewer life-style diseases requiring treatment. However, smoking has decreased dramatically and there is less binge-drinking than there used to be, so there are fewer gains to be made there. As to diet, poor choices are often forced upon consumers as time which could be spent by households in preparing good-quality meals has to be sacrificed in working extra hours in order to make ends meet. Hence takeaways and ready meals which tend to contain too much salt, sugar and preservatives, but which need little preparation time.

Government should recognise its responsibility in improving life-style. For a start, it could fully restore the cuts in Universal Credit made after the Lib Dems ceased to be in coalition (Hammond's 2018/19 budget goes only part-way to doing so) and could set a real living wage as the statutory minimum. This would enable ordinary people to make genuine choices as to what they ate.

In addition, it could tackle environmental pollution. It should take seriously the damage to the atmosphere in our towns and cities largely caused by increased private car ownership. It should go back to electrifying railways instead of falling back on polluting diesel for new trains. Atmospheric pollution particularly damages children.

It could improve living conditions by lifting the restrictions on councils and other bodies in providing social housing and bringing it up to standard. It could ensure that tenants of private landlords are allowed to make use of the law in respect of unfit housing, and not be handicapped by lack of access to legal representation.

Then it could encourage people to get out more by restoring subsidies to bus companies. (Welsh government, responsible for transport, please take note.) This would particularly help the otherwise house-bound elderly to get more exercise in the open air and sunlight.

At the end of the day, there will still be a need for professionals to give advice and to act as a first line in the fight against deteriorating health. There is an exodus of nurses induced by the government's decision to leave the EU. Efforts to fill the gaps from within the UK or the Commonwealth, who used to keep NHS nursing from collapse, have so far failed. Health may be a devolved matter, but citizenship and the granting of residence are not, and Conservatives in Westminster need to provide for those of us who do not benefit from generous private health schemes.

Monday, 5 November 2018

Reasons for leaving

Countering such beliefs as are  listed below will have no effect on those who hold them, because they come from deep in the gut rather than the head. However, putting my counter-arguments on record makes me feel better.

A Facebook friend records:

All of the below are genuine comment I have heard or read in the last three weeks. [Comments in blue are mine - FHL]

1) they (the EU) are going to abolish the English [sic] monarchy.
Forty years since the UK joined the European Community, our royal family is still going strong. Nor have the other five monarchies within the EU been affected.

2) it (the EU) was set up by Hitler.
Historically incorrect. Hitler wanted to impose a tyrannical German empire which would last a thousand years.The European Community (now the EU) was formed after the defeat of the Nazis by free nations by consent in which each should have a say in how it progressed. 

3) it’s a front for Germany to keep Vichy France going.
See above. France has had several governments of different political stripes varying from the socialist to the conservative since the 1950s. There is no way the Germans could have changed the way the French voted.

4) leaving it will stop all the Muslims coming in.
Our large Muslim population is as a result of traditional Commonwealth links, and its growth has probably slowed since our accession to the EU. The majority are now integrated and their departure would cause the UK economy and government structures to collapse.

Part of LeaveEU's Project Fear was that we would be swamped by millions of Turkish Muslims. This was in spite of the fact that Turkey's application to join the EU had been shelved by the Commission in view of Turkey's increasing authoritarianism. Most Turks would have headed for the country's traditional ally, Germany, anyway. 

5) We’re not allowed to trade outside the EU.
Yes, we can. What about all the Scotch we sell to the US for a start? We are also, through the EU, party to trade agreements with over sixty other countries, more than we had as a separate country in 1973 when we joined. Then we had free trade deals with six other nations as a result of EFTA We cannot fall back on these, because EFTA is now in the European single market.

6) We never voted for the President.
The president is nominated by the Council (on which our ministers sit) and voted on by the parliament, for which we voted every four years, the last time in 2015. 

7) They steal all our fish.
Not all our fish, but perhaps Edward Heath and later Margaret Thatcher gave away too much in agreeing to share access to home waters. Having said that, there was little complaint back in 1973, owners of fishing licences in England were only too happy to sell them to other EU members, sea fishing represents only 0.48% of the UK's GDP and conservation of fish stocks has improved since membership.

8 ) We just ‘fall back onto World Trade rules’.
It is certainly not going to be as simple as that, but the legal position is unclear. The UK is a member of the WTO in our own right, being one of the founder members of its predecessor organisation, the GATT, and confirmed in 1995. There is opinion that we may carry on with the same rights and responsibilities which we acquired while members of the EU. However, some other WTO members have made it clear that they are not going to make it easy for us to assert those rights.

What is certain is that:
The WTO requires member countries to apply tariffs (taxes) on goods and services to other WTO countries equally. It also means you can’t set different rules for foreign and domestic products in your country. 

So free trade is out of the window until we negotiate deals with other countries. This will take many years, because we will have to build up our trade negotiating expertise, which we had no need of when we joined the EC.

9) We can get rid of all them ‘human rights’.
Advice from parliamentary lawyers is that we could have abolished human rights legislation and even pulled out of the European Convention on Human Rights without having to give up our membership of the EU. (This is not true of new members since a change in accession arrangements made since we joined; they have to specifically sign up to the ECHR.) Indeed, repeal of the Human Rights Act has been part of at least one Conservative manifesto. The fact that the Tories did not follow through shows that there is not a majority, even among MPs, to revert to the Common Law. And why should we?

10) “We done alright before”.
Even with Commonwealth preference (and that was being dismantled as our previous Imperial possessions flexed their muscles after the last world war) trade was not as buoyant as it is today and the unemployment figures were seldom out of the headlines. 

11) We’ve got the Commonwealth.
We caused much resentment among fellow Commonwealth members when we joined the EEC and tore up trade agreements with them. Very few will rush to sign up with us again, especially since most have made better arrangements locally. There have been some sympathetic noises from conservative politicians in Australia and New Zealand, but they are in the minority. 

There is also the question as to whether the Commonwealth will survive the reign of the present Queen. The heir apparent has shown no interest in fulfilling his duties as head of the Commonwealth and indeed seems to have the same attitude towards non-white citizens as his father.

12) We can restart the Empire.
By force? With our run-down armed forces? And against world opinion? The USA has a lock on our use of the nuclear weapons we buy from them, so we can hardly threaten the nuclear powers of India and Pakistan.

13) We can go on better holidays further away; The Canaries are great for starters.
The Canary Islands are a Spanish possession. Therefore our easy access is through the EU. 

14) I don’t care about DEALS, I just want OUT.
There is no answer to that.

15) They need us more than we need them.
Possibly true of Ireland, where in terms of trade and power distribution the Republic is practically dependent on the UK (but the converse is also true for the people of Northern Ireland). The Netherlands would also be affected by Brexit, though not to the same extent. But overall, while almost half of our exports are to the rest of the EU, less than a fifth of the EU 27's exports come to the UK. We need them more than they need us.

16) We’re OUT! We left and they can’t drag us back in.
We are not out yet. The Article 50 letter can be revoked. There was resistance, especially from France, to our joining in the first place. There will be no great desire among the 27 to want us back except on the same terms as the other members. There will be no special privileges just because we are British.

17) Churchill never wanted it.
Churchill was very much in favour of closer alliances between European nations. He was a supporter of the European Coal and Steel Community which was a forerunner of the EEC/EC/EU. He pressed for common standards of human rights through the ECHR and ensured that we signed up to it (it was largely drafted in the UK). Opinions differ as to how committed he was to the desirability of UK membership of the European Community (there is evidence both ways), but there is no doubt that he wanted an end to strife within Europe, having been involved in two destructive wars which started on the continent. 

18) I go to Thailand on me holidees. The pound rate is shit now but’s worf it to get OUT!
The pound sterling is worth around 12% less than it was just before the 2016 referendum, and we are not even out yet. It will clearly fall further if UK exits. 

There are currently free trade talks between the EU and Thailand. We will not benefit from these if we are outside the EU.

19) we can control are boarders now [sic].
We are entitled to more control over movement of people from the continent than the government lets on. Government is not prepared to fund the agency which could police the restrictions on free movement of the unemployed or to crack down on employers who pay less than the national wage.

And, of course, our legal restrictions on entry from the rest of the world, including the Commonwealth, have remained in force. Ironically, they may have to be loosened in future if we are to make up for the exodus of health professionals from the rest of Europe. 

20) My uncle was on the Normandy beaches. He didn’t fight for THAT lot!
I wonder if that particular citizen consulted his uncle. I know that my own father, who served in North Africa and Italy in the last world war, was an enthusiast for remaining in the European Community when the first referendum was held in 1975. 

The drive to join the Community was spearheaded by Edward Heath and supported by Denis Healey. both of whom saw active service in the fight-back against the Axis powers.

It was not until the mid-1950s, as part of a military family in Germany, that I saw a fraction of the damage wrought by the war. There had been a remarkable programme of rebuilding, fuelled by the "Economic miracle" attributed to Konrad Adenauer's CDU government, but there were still signs of war damage. I particularly remember seeing one tower of Cologne cathedral truncated and shrouded in scaffolding as the custodians ran a lottery to fund its restoration.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Liberal Democrat financial restraints

Guido Fawkes reports on the redundancies at Great George Street. There have clearly been some decisions at Lib Dem HQ which have hit the bottom line hard, but I believe Guido is wrong when he opines: "Spending all your energy trying to fight Brexit isn’t looking to be a very financially sound strategy today". The huge turnouts at anti-Brexit marches show that the party's stance as the only one against leaving the EU is popular. Indeed, many Facebook messages show that Labour members and supporters are prepared to vote LD if their own leadership continues to accept Brexit as a done deal. Membership received a boost as a result of our pro-EU stance. So far from being an unsound strategy, it seems that the anti-Brexit campaign has saved the party from complete collapse.

I would trace the party's travails back to the over-optimism of 2010 when those at the top acted as though the Lib Dems were on an unstoppable upward path and made spending commitments accordingly, seemingly oblivious of the fact that overnight we lost our "Short" money. By entering into coalition, we ceased to be an opposition party and thus were no longer eligible for support from the public purse for our parliamentary activities. At the same time, we were not influential enough to attract donations from big business as the Conservatives did. (The Democratic Unionist Party has cannily avoided the Short-fall by not going into formal coalition, though it clearly dictates a lot of government policy.) Long-standing volunteers were shed in 2010 whose experience would have been invaluable after the electoral collapse of 2015.

It is a far cry from the days when the party was the most financially responsible of British political parties (we had to be!). Labour has only just got its house in order after enduring a huge debt burden which puts Lib Dems' current trouble in perspective. The Conservatives teetered on the edge of bankruptcy when commercial interests deserted them after the 1997 Labour landslide. (Indeed, I regretted at the time Blair-Brown's decision not to put the legal boot in.)

There is no reason to be despondent. In Mike German we have a federal treasurer whose managerial skills were invaluable to the Welsh party when he was leader in Cardiff. He is also someone who is committed to the party. There are doubts about the Conservatives' financial team who have questionable commercial interests which may come back to bite them if they fail badly at the next general election. That at least is not going to happen to the Liberal Democrats.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Ineos eyes Bridgend for production of Landie-alike

The talks are at an early stage, but the fact that one or other party has released the information that Ineos is in discussion with Ford about using spare capacity at the Bridgend engine plant, when the Jaguar contract comes to an end, seems promising. There is clearly a niche for a replacement for the traditional Land Rover, which JLR in Solihull has ceased to manufacture. The design will have to be updated, of course, as Toyota has mopped up the overseas market with its Land Cruiser, said to be more reliable than the Land Rover.

A big obstacle to a successful deal is the reputation which Sir Jim Ratcliffe, founder of Ineos, has as a union-buster. In fact, yesterday's media release may have been designed to put pressure on the unions at Bridgend to accept stringent conditions in return for continued employment.

Friday, 2 November 2018

Macquarie: government was warned twice

In drawing up my post of 1st October ("Green wash-out"), I tried to find a previous posting of mine in which I accused Cameron and Osborne of going out of their way to spite the Liberal Democrats over the sale of the Green Investment Bank. It should not have been sold at all, of course, but it could have been the subject of competitive bidding by a roster of selected institutions which would preserve its raison d'etre. Instead, the GIB was let go in what appears to have been a sweetheart deal to a bank with an appalling record, as if to rub Lib Dem noses in the extent to which Cameron had deceived the nation over his ecological intentions. In the event, Vince Cable got there first and I either binned my contribution or posted in the more transient Facebook.

Vince had written last year:

The Green Investment Bank's environmental mission is in danger of disappearing under the ownership of a private Australian bank whose track record does not inspire confidence.

Sadly, this is another of the positive legacies of the Liberal Democrats in government that the Conservatives are now burying.

But I also found that Chris Huhne had foreseen in 2006 the way that Macquarie was to gouge Thames Water,  racking up at least half-a-dozen environmental outrages in the process:

Commenting on the takeover of Thames Water, Liberal Democrat Shadow 
Environment Secretary, Chris Huhne MP said:

“Ofwat needs to look at this purchase very closely, and prepare to be 
far more prescriptive in its conditions for investment and customer 
service. The last thing Thames Water customers need is another gouging 
of the consumer to meet a corporate borrowing binge. 

“This is a potentially worrying takeover because Macquarie has the 
reputation for borrowing large amounts of cash to buy its acquisitions, 
which it then attaches to the company. This can mean that investment is 
cut to the bone while the outfit is sweated for cash to meet its 
interest and debt repayments."

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Green wash-out

Last week's Private Eye drew attention to evidence of the perversion of the Green Investment Bank's mission since it was bought out of public ownership (and not by competitive bidding, it seems) by the profoundly non-green Macquarie Bank of Australia.

It has been known for some time that wood-burning power stations are at least as polluting as coal-fired stations. The only justification for them is that they can be part of a renewable cycle, as fast-growing trees can be planted to replace locally-sourced thinnings, recovering carbon in the process. In practice, Drax and many other stations use wood-pellets, imported from North America and Scandinavia, thus adding to the carbon footprint.

The Macquarie-owned GIB has invested in two of Estover Energy's bio-mass power stations.
In spite of talk about burning "clean low-grade wood, the parts of the tree that have little or no other use", even Estover's picture on the cover of its web-site shows stacks of timber at one of its plants.