Monday, 31 December 2018

Hy Hazell

I had originally planned to mention Hy Hazell in my post about Every Home Should Have One (in which she convincingly plays an American matron) but I felt that the post was already long and besides, nobody would have heard of her. Now that Jonathan Calder has disproved the latter point, I have the excuse to relay a story told by Ms Hazell to (if I recall correctly) Ian Wallace, a regular panellist on My Music.

Hy Hazell, possessor of a great pair of legs, was a regular principal boy in pantomime. Touring pantomimes usually have a great deal of doubling-up of parts and therefore hurried changes of costume. Scene changes (presumably relying partly on local recruitment of hands) were not always smooth. In one particular production, Ms Hazell recalled, there was a grand final scena celebrating the greatness of the British navy. The cast lined up in front of a depiction of HMS Victory. Unfortunately, a panel was missing, so that they turned to salute the top half of Admiral Nelson ... and a bottom half comprising the back legs of the pantomime horse.

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Persecuted Christians

If Jeremy Hunt were so concerned about the plight of Christians around the world, he would not have voted for military action in Syria which could only have assisted Da'esh, who were bent on persecuting or eliminating the ancient Syriac Christian communities. Assad was the guarantor of their safety which was something not taken into consideration by those in London and Washington who fanned the flames of civil war in Syria.

It should not take anger

... to persuade public-spirited citizens to stand for elected office, but so often failings in government and local government have proved the final spur to launch political careers. It was this feeling that was one of the drivers of Paddy Ashdown when he gave up his comfortable life as a diplomat, living on the shores of Lake Geneva, to return to an initially precarious situation in Yeovil. As this excerpt from his acceptance speech shows, it also motivates Jason Edwards, the new Liberal Democrat candidate for Aberconwy:

I never wanted to be a politician. The fact is, I shouldn’t have to be in this position now. Everything should just work. But it doesn’t…

The fact of the matter is, I’m sick of being pushed about. I’m sick of the liars, the cheats, the hate, the divisiveness, the intolerance, I’m sick of it all. I’m sick of career politicians who are only in it for the money and the glory. I’m sick of the fact that nobody stands up to these bullies and says “no more”. I’m sick of the fact that, as always, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. My wife and I, as I suspect quite a few of you are, are only three pay packets away from living on the streets. I’ll put money of the fact that I’ll never be three pay packets away from being a millionaire.

As your candidate, know one thing about me – I was born for the fight. I refuse to let anybody push me around, and nor will I allow anybody else to be pushed about either. Our communities are fractured; our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours fearful of each other. The political narrative of this country only serves to divide us even more – you’re either on the left or the right, there can be no other option.

By default, the vast majority of us are politically moderate but are made to feel more and more politically homeless as May and Corbyn play political football with our very futures. They only serve their own personal agendas, not the very communities they were entrusted to help, to fix, to support, to cure, to bring equality to. It’s difficult being a moderate, a liberal. We see the poverty and the injustice in our communities but we also recognise that we cannot also penalise those that drag themselves up and make something of their lives. We all have to shoulder the responsibility of righting the wrongs we see every day but I know it’s difficult, and for most of us, we just don’t know where to start; let’s be honest, it’s an overwhelming proposition. [...]

If I’m going to be completely honest with you, even though I have received support from many members within the Aberconwy, and indeed the Welsh party, my primary motive for wanting to step up and give this amazing opportunity a go is sat there – my son. When I’m an old man in my rocking chair, I want to be able to say I gave it my all. I want to say that I fought for the right for my lad to live out his birthright as a citizen of Europe. I want to say that I had, however small, a part to play in reversing the environmental disaster we’re lurching towards. I want to say that I never sent anybody’s child to fight a war for oil. And what I want most of all is not to let him down. Or your kids and grandkids.
I remember that feeling under the equally divisive administration of Margaret Thatcher thirty years ago. I wish Jason Edwards and his potential constituents every success.

Saturday, 29 December 2018

June Whitfield

With a last vindictive kick 2018 has taken the much-loved - by several generations of listeners and viewers - June Whitfield. Following the recent death of Denis Norden, she was the last remaining member of the ground-breaking post-war radio series Take it from Here. She was not the original female member of the cast. This was the Australian Joy Nichols who sang as well as acted. Muir, Norden and the producer held auditions for a replacement singing actress when Ms Nichols departed with her husband and young daughter for the United States.

In the end, because Alma Cogan proved to be an outstanding singer but only adequate as an actress (though she regularly provided the unintelligible voice from upstairs of Ma Glum) and Ms Whitfield was a clearly superb, versatile, voice actress, the TIFH team decided to employ both. It is a mark of their qualities that the notoriously mean BBC of that time could be persuaded.

Friday, 28 December 2018

Domestic abuse victims "denied justice"

The failures of policing, prisons and probation as run from Westminster which have continued through 2018 surely increase the pressure for these to be devolved to an administration which can do better. However, there is one area in which Wales is clearly no better than in Britain as a whole and that is in the prosecution of offences of domestic violence. A BBC report shows that virtually no use is made in Wales of a 2015 law mirroring advances by the UK coalition government in order to reduce its prevalence. "Coercive or controlling behaviour was made illegal in 2015 - but figures show only 4% of complaints made to police in Wales resulted in a conviction," asserts the report.

The atavistic attitudes which one notes in Labour-dominated Welsh local politics clearly prevail among its police officers and prosecutors also.

Thursday, 27 December 2018


The Christmas pudding re-steamed successfully for brunch today and the goose risotto went down well yesterday. There is plenty of goose fat for future use. Today one starts on goose curry. I think I will be able to use every part of the bird as I have in the past, but I must admit I was seduced by the Lidl last-minute offer into buying a fowl which only just fitted in the oven. Well, it was free-range and goose was the traditional meat for Christmas here before the coming of farmed turkey.

If there is anything compostable left over, at least one can now dispose of it with a clear conscience. Not so with wrapping-paper, which is more than ever this year plastic-based. Neath Port Talbot is among the many Welsh authorities insisting that all wrapping paper be put in the general refuse because of the difficulty of separating out the plastic and composite material before it contaminates the general paper stock. Unfortunately, it would seem to be impractical for Welsh government to act independently in banning the material as it did over plastic carrier bags.

Wednesday, 26 December 2018

Scotland loses more high-tech jobs

Four years after IBM closed its long-established Greenock plant, 300 jobs are to go in Livingston. The closure of the Kaiam facility seems genuinely not to be caused by Brexit but by falling revenues at the parent company in California. It is though yet another example of a foreign investor taking public money from a devolved government in the UK and then reneging on the understanding to give continued employment in a high-tech industry.

Tuesday, 25 December 2018

A centenary at Christmas

Most famous for his involvement in the design of the electronics of the oldest working digital computer, the Harwell Dekatron, Edmund Cooke-Yarborough had previously made several life-saving inventions during the second world war.

Monday, 24 December 2018

Have a good Christmas

and, as Dave Allen used to say, may your God go with you.

Twenty years on

Paddy Ashdown made a speech on his 10th Anniversary as Leader of the Liberal Democrats.

After thanking many friends and supporters, he said:

"What we Liberal Democrats must now do, to ensure that the next ten years,
are as successful as the last.

"With the Cook/Maclennan Agreement a new political reality began to take
shape not long before last year's General Election. The old sterile
tribalism that has existed for centuries in British politics began to die.

"In the fourteen months since Labour's victory, the Liberal Democrats, with
a renewed and powerful mandate from the British people, have been working
with the Government to secure real and lasting change to the
constitutional settlement of our country.

"Co-operation with the Government on this agenda has meant that there are
currently a number of pieces of legislation, either already law, or
passing through Parliament, for which we and our predecessor Parties have
fought, often alone, for most of the years of this century - PR for
European Parliamentary elections; the Scotland Bill; the Government of
Wales Bill; Government for London; the Human Rights Bill; the Referendums
in Scotland and Wales Act; House of Lords reform; and the Regional
Development Agencies Bill.

"And, this Autumn, the greatest prize of all, the chance for PR in
Westminster, when a commission, under the chairmanship of Roy Jenkins,
will recommend a broadly proportional fair voting system for British
General Elections.

"Constructive opposition has produced huge dividends for our Party. And, I
believe, serves the country well, too.

"Now, there are some in the Government's huge coterie of hangers-on who
occasionally forget that working with the Government where we agree has
not diminished our responsibility, to forcefully oppose them where they
are wrong.

"I have not!

"It is the Liberal Democrats, not the Tories who have provided the only
real opposition to the Government:

"Over the 'Bust Boom' funding of our schools and hospitals which has led to
growing class sizes and record waiting lists.

"Cuts in benefits to single parents.

"The introduction of tuition fees for higher education.

"The holes in Labour's self declared ethical foreign policy.

"And it is Liberal Democrats who consistently put forward the positive and
progressive case for Europe."

Later, he said:

"the political landscape at the moment is in a state of flux - all of
the old rules and the old certainties have gone. The old paradigm of left
and right is increasingly becoming irrelevant.

"In Britain today, there are not three political parties, but five.

"There are two Conservative parties. One, an extreme rump of right wingers
who represent little more than a petty, crabbed English nationalism,
reinforced by a strong dose of old-fashioned xenophobia. The other is the
more moderate, more silent, diminished band of One Nation Tories.

"And there is outright civil war between them.

"Edmund Burke, that old proud Tory, once wrote: 'Bodies tied together by so
unnatural a bond of union as mutual hatred are only connected to their

"I can think of no better description of the modern Tory Party.

"But there are two Labour Parties also.

"There is New Labour, which is in Government.

"And Old Labour, increasingly resentful, still wed to the old socialist
orthodoxies, as far out of Government as the Conservatives they so

Apart from the reversal of power in the Labour Party, that analysis remains true, though I would throw into the mix a third Tory party, one of speculators who will grow richer from an increasing wealth gap and from increased economic volatility if we are cut loose from the stabilising influence of the EU.

Sunday, 23 December 2018

A natural leader who encouraged cooperation

We knew he was stricken with one of the worst cancers, but even so the death of Paddy Ashdown came as a shock. It must be especially hard for Jane and the rest of the Ashdown family at this season when families traditionally come together.

The Liberal Democrat membership had its little grumbles about Paddy. As leader, he would occasionally make policy "on the hoof" and expect it to be endorsed afterwards - which it generally was. He was seen as being too close to Tony Blair. Though he denied it at the time, he and Blair had serious discussions about a realignment in the centre ground of British politics. But that was the only deception I can recall in an arena where deception is sadly taken for granted. Other colleagues and political opponents have praised his honesty and directness. I would like to think that he would have kept faith with the NUS if he had been leader in 2010.

He may have been impatient with the way politics were, but he genuinely tried to take people with him. He streamlined party organisation. He opened himself up to the membership through computer bulletin boards in the days before the Internet became ubiquitous. (Indeed, he was almost certainly the first MP to bring a personal computer on to the Westminster estate.)

The BBC headlines have been about his political impact, but if he had never entered parliament his was a remarkable and fulfilled life. One trusts that the written obituaries will flesh out his career with the Special Boat Squadron and his later diplomatic service. He will probably be remembered most for his work in the Balkans which must have speeded up the peace process by years.

He confessed to not liking the Commons and believed that the Commons did not like him. I am not so sure about the latter, but in any case the Commons needed him when already lawyers and professional politicians were getting a grip on the main parties. One can now add merchant bankers and speculators to the crew. Besides the personal loss, there is the feeling of a gap having opened up which shows no sign of being filled.

Saturday, 22 December 2018

Principal council by-election stats for 2018

Courtesy of the Association of Liberal Democrat Councillors:

[Please note: there are different ways of calculating by-election stats. At ALDC we always include ‘deferred elections’ in by-election stats, so this will make our figures slightly different from people who don’t.]

Behind that headline figure we’ve actually: 
  • Gained 26 seats
  • Successfully defended 18 seats
  • Sadly lost eight seats

Friday, 21 December 2018

Good luck to Mark Wallace -

- and all the other new Glamorgan appointees. He has the credentials of being a county man through and through, but with experience of the wider world of cricket through his work for the professional players' organisation. Those twin attributes did not work for Robert Croft, but at least Wallace, born in Abergavenny and brought up in Crickhowell, is above the Cardiff-Swansea contention.

Thursday, 20 December 2018

Rough sleeping: a life-style choice?

Mrs May told a MP yesterday that one should draw a distinction between rough sleeping and homelessness. Maybe sleeping rough could afford to be a life-style choice in the relatively affluent 1960s and 1970s, but things have changed outside Mrs May's cosy existence since then. Welsh homelessness has increased, and Wales has done rather better than England in this respect.

Wednesday, 19 December 2018

Women in prison

One of the first campaigns the local party blogspot started, for the best of motives, was for a women's prison in South Wales. It later back-pedalled on that after advice from women's groups.

Now it appears that, in spite of the findings that custodial sentences in this respect are counter-productive. women from Wales are being sent to prison in England for non-violent offences. This cannot be right.

There are, however, alternatives to prison for women. Women’s centres "are ‘one-stop-shops’ for women involved in or at risk of involvement in the criminal justice system. They work with women as individuals to help them lead happy, safe and successful lives" (from the Howard League's report on their fate - it seems that the concept has suffered from the government's ideological drive to privatise everything).

This is another aspect of criminal justice that Wales could surely do better than England. The Conservatives should swallow their pride and admit this, devolving policing, prisons and probation to the Welsh government.

Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Mrs May is at it again

In the House yesterday, the prime minister stated:

I can confirm today that we intend to return to the meaningful vote debate in the week commencing 7 January and hold the vote the following week.
- thus deferring until after the holidays the vote which she and the leader of the House promised to give MPs on the 11th December before cancelling it on the 10th. What is to say that she will not further delay it? For purely political reasons, she is increasing uncertainty in the business community. The strategy is clearly to take the decision down to the last possible date, leaving no time for constructive amendments to the government's withdrawal plans. She clearly believes that faced with a choice between the withdrawal agreement she signed in Brussels and a "no deal Brexit" and the chaos that this will produce, then the May-Barnier fix will reluctantly be agreed to. The trouble is that it is in Corbyn's interest to sow chaos and even in extremis he will not instruct his troops to support a Tory motion. On her own side, "no deal" has been euphemised as "on WTO terms", and too many members believe that this process will be painless. (An article by a former chief economist at the WTO is more realistic. For a less formal - but more frightening - vision, seek the video of Three Blokes in the Pub go to Geneva.)

When we have the vote, Members will need to reflect carefully on what is in the best interests of our country. I know that there are a range of very strongly held personal views on this issue across the House, and I respect all of them. But expressing our personal views is not what we are here to do. We asked the British people to take this decision; 472 current Members of this House voted for the referendum in June 2015, with just 32 voting against. The British people responded by instructing us to leave the European Union.
As Full Facts pointed out as early as November 2016, and the Supreme Court later confirmed, the decision to withdraw rested with politicians, not the public. Given that the referendum verdict was a narrow one, based on a misleading prospectus and boosted by interference from Russian and reactionary American interests, it is surprising that Mrs May and her cohorts continue to invest the referendum with so much authority.

She went on:
Another vote would do irreparable damage to the integrity of our politics, because it would say to millions who trusted in democracy that our democracy does not deliver. Another vote would likely leave us no further forward than the last, and another vote would further divide our country at the very moment we should be working to unite it.
This is an implicit admission that the 2016 referendum incited divisions in the British public. These divisions will continue whether there is a further referendum or not. There is genuine anger among those who passionately want to stay in the EU and who, if we leave, will continue to press the case to return, just as Brexiteers continued to agitate after the 1975 referendum which was supposed to put the matter to bed forever.

Given that a referendum vote, apart from the sharp practices referred to above, is usually influenced by factors other than the matter as stated on the ballot - in particular an anti-government element - it is not surprising that Mrs May does not want another one. It should be remembered that the government line in 2016 was to Remain, while today's Conservatives will be compelled to recommend Leaving on Mrs May's terms. The public will see the decline in economic activity since the referendum as the result of both impending Brexit and the Tories' continuing squeeze on the social security system, and will vote accordingly.

"But don't you want to bring back control to Westminster?"

If it is a choice between Michael Gove and Liam Fox or Vytenis Andriukaitis and Cecilia Malmström looking after my food safety and future trade deals, then there is no contest.

But the loss of control is much exaggerated. In particular, the Westminster government is able to stop any "benefits tourism" on the part of other EU citizens if it wishes to. Migration from outside the EU, over which member states still have full control, has caused more trouble from the Jamaican gangsters carelessly imported by the Met. police to the financial manipulators who abetted the 2007/8 credit crunch and the Russian oligarchs who are with us today.

"You keep banging on about the 1975 referendum and its two-thirds majority, but the EU is different now"

Yes, its workings are more transparent, there is more democratic control with increased powers for the directly elected parliament and free and preferential trade has vastly increased since the 1970s. Its membership is more diverse, and we have gained friends - if only we would recognise the fact - among the more recent accessions. The electorate was better informed by a healthier press in 1975 and of course there were no social media in which fake news could flourish.

Monday, 17 December 2018

Fatal failings of police and privatised probation

Rather lost in the brouhaha over Brexit were the recent revelations* which led to a meeting between Wrexham MP Ian Lucas and the police and prisons minister last week. A year ago, a violent convict murdered a highly-regarded local former wine-bar owner, Nicholas Churton. Jordan Davidson had been released on licence, but had committed further offences once free and should have been returned to jail for breaching his release conditions. There had not only been a failure in handling Davidson on the part of the privatised probation services company, but there seems also to have been a breakdown in communication between the police and the company after the first arrest on release.

Questions must also be asked about the effectiveness of the police and crime commissioner (PCC) system. PCCs are not expected to micro-manage police forces, but "to be the voice of the people and hold the police to account. They are responsible for the totality of policing. PCCs aim to cut crime and deliver an effective and efficient police service within their force area" (from the PCCs official website). In the case of North Wales, the PCC is a former senior police officer which must create conflicts of interest.

Redundancies for purely financial reasons in the probation services companies and the government attacks in police funding (the 2019/20 financial settlement arrests the decline, but because it merely keeps pace with inflation, does not make up for previous cuts) have not helped.

Policing is not a devolved matter, so there is a clear danger of a similar fatal incident in England unless the failings of what must now be seen as a disastrous experiment are acknowledged by the Conservative government and addressed. Readers across the border are warned.

* Thanks to Good Morning, Wales, which is my regular early morning listening rather than Today, for broadcasting an interview with Ian Lucas early last week - though the interviewer spoiled things at the end by quizzing Mr Lucas about Mrs May's future.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Box of Delights

Courtesy of Jonathan Calder, James Oliver reminds us of the brave shot which BBC TV made of the John Masefield children's epic. I would endorse what he writes about the acting and the music. Nothing can replace the original radio dramatisations (it must have been broadcast live several times before the recording we have today was laid down) in the mind's eye of those who heard them. The narration of Harman Grisewood and the Boyd Neel recording of Hely-Hutchinson's* Carol Symphony which provided the background music are inimitable. However, TV did add at least one episode from the book which was not in the radio version and Patrick Troughton's performance was priceless. As to the clunky animations, I would hope that they remained separate from the live action recording and may perhaps be replaced in a re-run by more up-to-date and magical versions.

* Victor Hely-Hutchinson is unjustly neglected in my opinion. His reputation probably suffers from not having enough time to build up a large body of work. He died at 45, victim of his own sense of public duty.

Saturday, 15 December 2018

Alfred Burke in "Public Eye"

The run of the last four series of the saga of the cut-price inquiry agent Frank Marker, which briefly acquired cult status in its heyday, came to an end on TalkingPicturesTV last Wednesday night. The Talking Pictures proprietors in previewing the showings reported that the archive of the original three seasons is in no condition to be transmitted. Happily, the joint creator and major scriptwriter of Public Eye, Roger Marshall, is still alive. One wonders whether he is prepared to authorise a remake, using the original scripts, but taking advantage of advances in digital photography to produce a technically higher quality product. One of the defects of the TV drama viewing experience in the 1960s and earlier was the mismatch between interior and exterior shots, something which is no longer a problem. Birmingham (where Marker set up shop) has changed out of all recognition since 1965, but, if an "unimproved" town with similar buildings cannot be found for location shooting, CGI could step into the breach.

The time looks right for this revival. Multi-channel TV is eating up content, mostly from the US, and that mostly repeats. I am sure that commissioning editors would welcome something a bit different, but from writers with a track record. The Rockford Files, which may well have been inspired by Public Eye (though Rockford charged rather more per day than Marker), is always welcomed when the series is rerun.

If I were in charge of the project, I would insist on colour-blind casting. The image presented by the reruns was distinctly pale and thus atypical even when they were originally first made. The producers then could justifiably claim that there were not enough non-white actors of the right calibre but that is certainly not the case now. (An outstanding exception was "Who wants to be told bad news?" which not only featured Indian actors in key roles but also accepted that they could be crooks, too).

 It will be difficult to find an adequate replacement for Alfred Burke, but not impossible. There must surely be an actor out there of indeterminate age with a hang-dog expression. In private life though, judging by his appearances as himself on chat shows, Burke was far from dour.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Statutory human rights under threat again

The attorney-general had a couple of opportunities at law officers' questions yesterday to affirm his government's adherence to the Human Rights Act and its commitment to maintaining UK membership of the European Convention on Human Rights. One must accept that the Conservative manifesto committed the party to repeal of the Human Rights Act (though it is noticeable that even with the cushion of support from the DUP the May government has not introduced the necessary repeal Bill) but the HRA merely domesticates the ECHR. Repeal would return us to the situation where aggrieved persons would have to spend money to go to Strasbourg for judgment but it would not take away their ECHR rights. Reneging on the ECHR is a different matter.

As a lawyer, Sir Geoffrey Cox would have chosen his words carefully. He rightly marked the contribution which the nations of the UK have made towards the formulation of human rights and the drafting of the European Convention. However, he implied a future in which citizens of England and Wales would have to rely on the common law and precedent. He is clearly in the same camp as his xenophobic prime minister,

Thursday, 13 December 2018

MPs have funked cannabis decision yet again

In a fairly full House of Commons (it was a day of many Brexit-related events), Norman Lamb's Ten-Minute Rule Bill  which aimed to legalise and regulate cannabis use was defeated in a vote in which fewer than 150 members participated. One suspects that a majority sympathised with the aims of the Bill, but dared not put their heads above the parapet.

The main argument against the proposition seemed to be that cannabis is a "gateway" drug. Much the same thing can be said about tobacco. The active ingredients of cannabis are surely less physically addictive than nicotine. Inhaling any combustion products of leaves cannot be good for the lungs, but why is smoking tobacco legal but not cannabis? If you ban one on health grounds, you should logically ban the other.

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

We must have more time

The pound sterling has fallen around 3% in value in the last week. Mrs May's public determination that she will hang on has arrested a further plunge in the markets, but there is no sign of a recovery. The time has come for MPs to put aside tribal loyalties and unite to put in power a cross-party government which will restore international faith in the economy and the institutions of the United Kingdom. This government would comprise pragmatic politicians, not ideologues - or those motivated solely by self-interest. The first action must be to amend the Withdrawal Act so that the impractical leaving deadline of 29th March can be put forward by at least a year and agreement to the extension sought with the EU27, who will surely agree.

This will give time for the DUP and those on the Conservative benches who believe that there is an IT alternative to a hard border in Ireland to demonstrate its practicality. I am prepared to believe that the appropriate hardware exists, but what about the software? I do not know of any place in the world where a physical border has been totally replaced by technology. And the Irish border is more complicated than any in the rest of Europe.

If this technological solution is shown to be the mirage that I believe it to be, then the only statesmanlike decision must be to withdraw the Article 50 letter.

Putting the anti-Brexit case better than I

I quote from the comment by "staberinde" on Chris Dillow's blog:

UK voters send MEPs to the European Parliament, and may choose who represents them. The elected UK government sends ministers to the Council of Ministers, where they may exercise a national veto on anything they don't like. For anything requiring QMV, we are one of four member states with more votes than anyone else.
The EU rules we are subject to are those freely agreed to in negotiation for things we valued - and the mechanisms which hold us to those agreements are the same as those which apply to our counterparties.
The European Commission has a mandate set out in the Treaty of Rome, to which we were free signatories, to offer suggestions which pursue an ever-closer Union. These are subject to votes by the Council of Ministers.
There is no terrible democratic deficit in the EU. There is a far greater democratic deficit in the UK, with its archaic and unfair voting system, unelected second chamber and lack of an English parliament.
The golden age of power and prosperity conjured by Brexiters is that of Empire. Unless you plan on invading vast swathes of the world, you will not secure the unfair control and access to resources which made Britain so rich and influential more than a century ago. Let it go.
To imagine that any of the bigger economies will give the UK a better deal than the EU is delusional. Our market is marginal to them, while theirs are critical or game-changing to ours. That's a terribly weak negotiating position. And if we can't even get the deal we want out of the EU, what makes us think we'd fare better against Trump and China?
I'd have far more time for the 'take control of our borders' aspect if the UK government had actually attempted to do so. If controlling immigration numbers was so important, why did successive governments refuse to make significant hires to the Passport Service, IND and Borders Agency?

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Shorting the pound

During today's emergency debate on the Meaningful Vote, the full scale of a government deception was laid out. In spite of the fact that the media had sussed out as early as last Friday that the prime minister intended to prevent a vote on her deal, a succession of ministers and other spokespeople were sent out to broadcasting studios to maintain that today's vote would go ahead as scheduled. This exercise, which persisted through to Monday morning, must have postponed the plunge in the value of sterling which occurred when the prime minister got up to speak yesterday afternoon. The scenario of persons close to government making money from shorting the pound is all too credible. I trust that the authorities are already looking into suspicious movements on the money markets.

Monday, 10 December 2018

An angry democrat writes

The fact that I have been building up day-by-day a schedule of how we got here, a post that will now have to be scrapped or at best postponed, is annoying but not the most serious of my concerns. Mrs May scuttling out of a meaningful vote on her deal with the EU27, simply to save her face and that of the Conservative time-servers who have clung to her in the cabinet, is an affront to democracy. Hundreds of MPs last week sat through hours of passionate and informed argument about our future relationship with the EU - and that was on top of two sessions on the nature of legal advice to the PM over her deal. Over one hundred speeches - many of high quality, showing hours of preparation - were delivered, not to mention several telling interventions.

All that is to be virtually thrown away. That time wasted could have been spent usefully on examining the difficulties facing the country: homelessness, police and local authorities being starved of funds, the troubles of the retail sector, the plight of the working poor and the legal aid desert come to mind. As the chairman of the Backbench Business Committee said last Thursday:

by next Thursday it will have been eight weeks since we had any Backbench Business in the House, and I am pretty sure that when the Committee was established, the Standing Orders were written with the intention that the 27 days of parliamentary time would be over a one-year Session, not over two years. I remain disappointed that we are not getting any additional time, or notification of additional time

We have been told that the aim of Mrs May and her Brexiteers is to regain parliamentary sovereignty. Her true aim is clearly to strengthen the grip of the administration over parliament.

Sunday, 9 December 2018

Prince of Wales makes nostalgic steam trip - but for how much longer?

The heir to the throne made a visit to the principality last Friday by means of the royal train, hauled by steam locomotive Clan Line. One wonders how much longer HRH will be able to indulge this piece of nostalgia. As Chris Austin ("What is the future for black gold?") writes in December's railwatch:

Coal supplies are a downstream product from the electricity supply industry and railways use the large lumps mined, whereas power stations typically require small coal and dust as their furnaces are fed by conveyor belt.

With Government plans to phase out power stations by 2024, future supplies for heritage railways are uncertain [...] The remaining British coal mines would not be able to sustain production just for the heritage sector. Railways such as the West Somerset are proud to burn coal from the Ffos y Fran opencast site near Merthy Tydfil, which is ideal, as the Great Western fireboxes were designed to burn Welsh coal. But this supply depends on the coal continuing to be needed for Aberthaw power station.

The recent Welsh government decision to block planning permission for new coal mines apart from "exceptional circumstances" is another obstacle to the supply of low-sulphur coal which steam locomotives require and which Wales is best placed to provide.

Saturday, 8 December 2018

Post Office trial: Treasury may win even if the Post Office loses

Nick Wallis posts in his latest report that:

A possible unexpected side effect of the Post Office's hardball position on the contract is the warning signals it sends out to existing Subpostmasters. If, contractually, you and your business and your entire family's livelihood are at the whim of a computer system you have no control over, you're f***ed.

Having seen the performances of the procession of employees called to the witness box on behalf of the Post Office there is no way I would let them near my business in a million years. Yet they are authorised to take life-changing decisions with no implications for them, even if they get those decisions catastrophically wrong.

I said in a previous piece: if you are a Subpostmaster and you read the factual information that now exists on the record about the NFSP [National Federation of SubPostmasters] and you still believe they are looking out for your interests, you are [a] fool (they unfortunately refused to advance a counter argument to that, but I am all ears if there is one).

The more this message gets out, the more will wavering potential sub-postmasters be deterred and existing sub-postmasters be encouraged to retire early. The result will be more Post Office closures which has been the Treasury's unwavering aim since the days of John Major through New Labour to the present administration, deflected only briefly by Vince Cable and Ed Davey in the coalition period.

Friday, 7 December 2018

Bikes on trains: an EU advance

Thanks to the December edition of Railfuture magazine, I now know that in November the European Parliament approved enhancements to the existing EU rail regulation on rights and obligations. Sadly, the Commission did not choose to interfere with private companies' ability to restrict through-ticketing. However, the revisions do strengthen the rights of disabled passengers and also impose a minimum of eight bicycle spaces per train on new and refurbished sets. I am pleased to say that the UK's Labour contingent of MEPs voted for the amendments but dismayed that all the Conservatives present, whose government in Westminster preaches the benefits of cycling, voted against. A lone UKIP MEP also voted against.

The full proposal is here. One wonders whether it will be applied to the UK or vanish with Brexit like the anti-money laundering regulations due to come into force next year.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

Neighbourhood plans - a move to raise their status

John Howell, the Conservative member for Henley introduced a Ten Minute Rule Bill yesterday which aims to strengthen the powers of community councils and the status of neighbourhood plans. There is virtually no chance of the Bill reaching the Statute Book, but one hopes that the government will note its contents and take the first opportunity to make their own amendments to planning law accordingly.

Tuesday, 4 December 2018


The original meanings of "crisis" were the point in the process of  a disease where a change takes place which is decisive of recovery or death; and, later, a turning-point in the progress of anything   (from the Greek words having the same meanings). Only in modern times has it come to be applied to any emergency. But the debate in the House of Commons which commences today must surely lead to a crisis in the pathological sense of the word in the form of the vote on Tuesday 11th December. If it goes the government's way, the UK is finally committed to leaving the European Union; if not, then our membership goes on to life-support.

Monday, 3 December 2018

ERG Conservatives and DUP reject police advice on rifles

It is hard to square this media release:

How Conservatives are taking action on offensive weapons

with the news last week that

A planned ban on military grade assault rifles has been dropped amid pressure from some Conservative and DUP MPs. The ban on .50- or higher-calibre weapons was initially included in the Offensive Weapons Bill, driven by concerns over a growing black market trade in such weapons.

Senior police officials had warned that their officers have no known protection against these weapons. Louise Haigh, Labour's Shadow Policing and Crime Minister, and the SNP inveighed against the amendment in the House. There was a Lib Dem media release against the change and our MPs joined Labour and the SNP in the No Lobby.

The Spectator and the Gulf News have pointed out that the identity of the people forcing this change is practically also that of those pressing for a break with the EU.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Tory attitude to they furriners

The language used to discuss mainland Europeans in the media has been worrying. For me, they are part of an extended family. After all, we share the same genes. We united in the mid-twentieth century to destroy fascist dictatorships. We compete in sport - football (both codes) and horse-racing come to mind. Over centuries, we have exchanged folk-tales and literary tropes. Yet people making the short trip across (or under) the water are routinely described as "immigrants" or "tourists".

This was exemplified by Conservative Security Minister Ben Wallace in a recent interview. He  claimed that "under the government’s hoped-for bespoke security deal with the EU, Britain’s security would increase because of freedom to impose tighter border controls to exclude terror suspects" as if continental Europeans presented a peculiar terrorist threat. (The quotation is from a newspaper interview, but Wallace said very much the same thing on Radio 4 during the week.) We all know that by far the greatest terrorist danger is home-grown, regrettably from descendants of settlers from the Commonwealth. Other terrorist attacks on British soil have come from Russia, a non-EU nation but one with which the City of London has worryingly close links, which will no doubt strengthen in a post-Brexit Britain.

This is not the time to demonise other EU nations, but to strengthen cooperation over terrorism and cross-border crime generally. This cooperation is not as good as it should be - witness the failures to exchange information between France and Belgium, and even within Belgium - and it can only become worse if the UK withdraws from active participation.

More wisdom from a Liberal doyen

Baron Wallace introduces a recent Liberal Democrat Voice article with one of those irregular verbs;

I am a man of the people. You are part of the metropolitan liberal elite. They are enemies of the people, citizens of nowhere.
That’s the populist self-characterization that more and more right-wing politicians are now making. It’s an easy appeal to the ‘ordinary’ person against the sophisticated, over-educated and privileged. It works very well even when wielded by old Etonian Oxbridge graduates like Boris Johnson, or former city traders like Nigel Farage.

He goes on:

There was a wonderful example of the genre in the Daily Telegraph of November 23rd, a letter under the headline “This ‘No Brexit deal’ by the political elite treats the majority who voted Leave with disdain” – signed by 15 Conservative peers, eight of them hereditary, three of them with peerages dating from the 17th century or earlier. If these are men of the people, I’m the king of Scotland.

The moral is something which my party is not emphasising enough, that we should be setting out:

a long-term programme of public investment: in schools, in further education and training, in local regeneration, and in social housing. And we should be explicitly committed to reducing inequality, through progressive taxation and changes in corporate governance. And, as we fight to get ourselves heard above the cacophony of voices on Brexit, we should argue that it’s impossible to narrow the divisions that Brexit has exposed without spending more money to hold our national community together.
Popular confusion about whether referendums or parliamentary elections are a surer guide for good government reflects the failure of political education over several generations. The decline of local democracy has sharpened public perceptions that politics is a distant occupation played out in Westminster, rather than an activity in which citizens should share. We must make the case for education in citizenship, in all schools, and for devolution of power to local authorities to relate democratic decisions to voters’ concerns.

There is more here.

I like this Brexit analogy

From Rick's Flip-Chart Fairy Tales:

All this talk of it not being fair or the EU acting like the Nazis and punishing us for leaving reminds me is the kind of petulance you hear from the bloke who walks out of his job and then fails to get the better one to which he had assumed he was entitled.
I have known a few such people over the years. Very occasionally they are right but most of the time they get a huge shock. What they fail to realise is that a proportion of their salary is a function of their place in the corporate system. If they have worked in the same company for a while, their progression is based, in part, on their knowledge of that company and their ability to work within it. Likewise, the way they are treated by others is based on their employment status. The fact that they get appointments, sit in the fist class lounge and everybody wants to talk to them at conferences isn’t because they are ‘just bloody good’ it’s because of who they work for. This often comes as a shock to those who go freelance. As a senior executive in PoshBigCo plc, everyone wants to know you. As MD of MeAndAFewMates Ltd, it’s a lot more difficult.

Saturday, 1 December 2018

"Every Home Should Have One"

One of my favourite films is in the roster of TalkingPicturesTV. There are so many delights in this Ned Sherrin production: the comedy on all levels from the physical through double-meanings to social satire, the nods to classic movies of the past, the animations of Richard Williams (and I trust tomorrow night's BBC-4 survey of British animators gives him his due) and early big screen appearances of stars like Penelope Keith and Frances de la Tour. There is an uncredited Alan Bennett and I thought I caught a brief glimpse in last night's showing of  Judy Geeson in a non-speaking part which not even IMDb has picked up. IMDb does acknowledge the contributions to the script of Barry Took and Marty Feldman (who were an established team writing for radio at the time) as well as Denis Norden, who died not so long ago. Muir and Norden were much in demand as script-doctors as Clement & La Frenais were to be nearer our own time. The unembarrassed (Barry Took seems to have been the only goy on the writing team) sending-up of Jewish stereotypes was a joy and I am sure I missed some subtle ones.

Sadly, the version of the film shown by TalkingPicturesTV is less than sparkling. This is probably down to the quality of the original in Eastmancolor, a Kodak process which was one of the better cheaper alternatives to Technicolor, but which is less resistant to the effects of ageing. I am sure that Studio Canal did their best with the transfer to digital media.  Also showing its age was the target of the film's satire, using sex to sell product on TV. It is something we take for granted nowadays, but at least most of the gags stand up well.