Tuesday, 31 December 2019

The BBC should do right by Neil Innes

It was gratifying to hear Michael Palin on Radio 4's PM programme yesterday confirming that the warm personality of Neil Innes that came over the airwaves was a genuine reflection of the real man. If anything, he was too nice. Someone more aggressive might have succeeded in forcing the BBC to release a DVD set of The Innes Book of Records, Provided that the corporation has not actually destroyed the originals (there are precedents), it is surely right for the BBC to do justice to Innes after his untimely death which it did not do in his lifetime.

[Later] For reasons why, start with Jonathan Calder's post.

Friday, 27 December 2019

Peter Schreier

It is sad that the great German tenor has died, but in a way appropriate that it was on one of the key Christian festivals. He had been associated with the sacred music of Bach, Bruckner and Mozart from early on in his career. One of my musical memories is of listening to the Prom performance of Bach's Matthew Passion in the first year of my marriage. Schreier's first entry as The Evangelist, pure and clear, caused us simultaneously to look up and catch each other's eye.

One trusts that Radio 3 will be spurred to celebrate his life and career with appropriate repeats.

Tuesday, 24 December 2019

The first night

Perhaps because the lead-up to Christmas has been truncated and overshadowed by the general election, we can spread our celebrations over the traditional twelve days, which started at dusk today.

Anyway, I wish all my friends, relations and readers a joyful Christmas.

Monday, 23 December 2019

Bank of England: Private Eye gets it wrong

The city correspondent of Private Eye magazine anticipated that the Bank of England governorship would go to a woman for the first time. However, at the last minute Minouche Shafik has been passed over in favour of the early front-runner, Andrew Bailey. It is rumoured that Ms Shafik lost out because of her opposition to Brexit, which would make for an uneasy relationship with the Johnson government. Mr Bailey, as chief executive of the FCA, was on the other hand swift to blame EU rules for avoiding an intervention in the Woodford affair, according to the Eye.

It will be interesting to see who is selected to replace Mr Bailey at the FCA. It ought to be someone who has not spent their working life in the big banks.

Sunday, 22 December 2019

Gurkha Welfare Trust inauguration

On the 22nd December 1969 at 14:00 hrs. fourteen men, eight of them military officers, met in donated offices in Moorgate in the City of London. This was the first Trustee meeting of The Gurkha Welfare Trust.

Among them was Colonel C.S.F. Carroll, OBE, MC, later to retire as Brigadier Carroll. In 2008, Peter Carroll helped oversee the Gurkha Justice Campaign, fighting for the rights of retired Gurkhas to a decent pension.

Friday, 20 December 2019

Global warming: warnings from Victorian times

Thanks to JSTOR, I now know that the great Joseph Fourier, mathematician and physicist, had the intuition back in the early nineteenth century that the earth's mantle of various gases was responsible for keeping the planet warmer than his calculations showed that it should be. He also surmised that "over a long period of time, the amount of heat held in by the atmosphere could change — altered by both the Earth’s natural evolution and human activity."

Fourier did not pin down the exact mechanism or which gas was most responsible for what we now name the greenhouse effect. This identification was first made by an American amateur scientist, Eunice Newton Foote. "She took several glass cylinders, put a thermometer in the bottom, and then filled them with gas combinations ranging from very thin air to thicker air, humid air, and air with 'carbonic acid,' or what we now call CO2. Foote placed the cylinders in the sun to heat up, then in the shade to cool down. When she observed how the temperatures changed, she found that the cylinder with CO2 and water vapor became hotter than regular air, and retained its heat longer in the shade. In other words, wet air and CO2 were heat-trapping gases. When she wrote up her experiment for an 1856 issue of The American Journal of Science, Foote made an eerily prophetic observation: What happened inside the CO2 jar could also happen to our planet. 'An atmosphere of that gas,' she noted, 'would give to our earth a high temperature.'"

Three years later, John Tyndall, after whom the Tyndall Centre for Climate Research is named, followed.

Wednesday, 18 December 2019

Will our new liberal, one-nation Tory prime minister help Emma and Jake?

"the British government [has failed] to honour the spirit of a commitment in the Belfast Agreement that people from Northern Ireland could identify as British, Irish or both."

Thus the case of Emma d'Souza, who has always considered herself to be Irish, facing a British decision to reject an application for residence by her American husband, Jake. Her case has been taken up by the Irish government and Northern Ireland Alliance former MP Naomi Long.


So the BBC is about to turn off a very useful function for those of us who do not wish to lash out on smartphones or connect our TVs to the Internet. From the very inception of teletext (a generic term which was briefly copyright by ITV for its own service - Ceefax was the name chosen by BBC for the scheme which it had pioneered) it was useful to pull up reactions to events as they were shown on the box. For instance, one could gauge market reaction (e.g. the value of sterling or of stocks on the London exchange) to news or look at football results and tables.

The first teletext made use of the spare lines in analogue transmissions which did not appear on the screen. The displayed characters were those devised by Sam Fedida of the then Post Office research organisation for its Prestel system.

With an appropriate card (such as those made by Hauppauge) in ones computer one could capture the teletext digital stream. Indeed, I devised a suite of programs (in COBOL, not the easiest vehicle for list processing!) for my PC which would automatically read the pages containing the football results and generate tables. It worked for just over a year before it was overtaken by the switch from analogue to digital TV transmission.

Digital saw an improvement in the quality of the characters displayed and I have continued to refer to teletext virtually every day. If BBC cannot maintain this last redoubt on UK television, perhaps a provider which is at least as well endowed and under no pressure from stockholders can take it over? I look to you, al Jazeera.

Tuesday, 17 December 2019

Bicentenary of fair voting systems

Anthony Tuffin of STV Action reminds us that on 17th December 1819, occurred the historical first election under a proportional voting system. (Or perhaps it was the next day - see the wikipedia article.) It was devised by Thomas Wright Hill who deserves to be better known than as the father of Rowland Hill, postal pioneer. A mathematician and educator, Thomas Hill was part of that Midlands upwelling of scientific and philosophical inquiry which had earlier led to the society described in Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men. I hadn't realised that when Joseph Priestley, co-discoverer of oxygen and a Lunar man, was burnt out of his house by a mob incensed by his sympathy for the French revolutionaries - and possibly his unitarianism - Thomas Hill had tried but failed to rescue Priestley's apparatus.

That first STV election was held to elect the committee of a learned society in Birmingham which Thomas and Rowland Hill had founded. He later tried STV in one of the schools he ran.

Monday, 16 December 2019

Two more pubs to go

Sadly, there appear to be no takers for the Smiths Arms in Neath Abbey which had to close in such tragic circumstances.

And now there is a planning application to change the use of the Canterbury Arms by Victoria Gardens in the centre of Neath from a public house into three shops and six flats.

EFTA should be the forward path now

When Stephen Kinnock proposed joining the European Economic Area, I was one of those who objected. The fight to remain in the EU had not yet been lost and at least one EEA head of government had expressed objections to our joining. Now, subject only to rubber-stamping by Johnson's new party in the Commons, we will be out of the EU by February. The difficulty of convincing other governments of our good faith remains, but if we succeed we will return the UK to a position that we were in before we joined the European Community. Then we were members of the first free trade area in Europe, namely EFTA, which a UK Conservative government had helped set up in 1960. It seems that re-joining EFTA could provide a first step to becoming part of the wider EEA.

Friday, 13 December 2019

Another Berwyn prison tragedy

A young man who had not been addicted before he entered prison was introduced to "spice". In spite of being aware enough of the dangers to post a video warning of them, he has been found dead almost certainly as a result of taking the drug.

Surely Wales can do better with the prisons within our boundaries? We must not allow the blanket coverage of the general election to stifle this story.

Thursday, 12 December 2019

Westminster's midnight

It has already been remarked that the day after today's poll is the inauspicious Friday the thirteenth. It also happens to be St Lucy's Day, which used to be the shortest day of the year before the reform of the calendar. Thus John Donne could refer to the day's midnight and the year's in one of his most complex poems.

This year, St Lucy's Day also marks a political crisis. When all the votes are in (and it looks as if the very last counts may have a bearing on the overall result) will the UK be set on a course which takes us out of the EU, influencing the future direction of Europe and continuing to benefit from the opportunities the Union offers, or will we become yet another once-great state to become kicked around by the great powers of East and West? Will we start to rebuild our economy and our social structures or be taken in by grand schemes funded by unsustainable borrowing? It is a choice between putting the Brexit jinn back in its bottle for a decade while we concentrate on reconstruction at home or arguing for another year or more about the shape of the trade agreement with Europe, all the while turning in on ourselves. Will we return to an honest democratic path or continue to be seduced by liars and cheats?

The thirteenth of December may no longer be the winter solstice, but this year it will certainly be a turning-point.

Wednesday, 11 December 2019

Green business newsletter likes our manifesto

This op-ed from Business Green reminds us of another Liberal Democrat initiative in coalition that was vindictively killed off by the Conservatives when they contrived an overall majority in 2015: the Green Investment Bank.

For me, the Lib Dems offer the most compelling manifesto for the green economy. Most experts would agree the 2045 net zero target date is both ambitious and achievable, but crucially there is also a detailed £100bn plan for meeting the goal that centres on urgent action over the next decade. There is a willingness to borrow to invest to go alongside Leader Jo Swinson's genuine apology for the Party's involvement in the past decade's self-defeating austerity policies. That funding would enable massive home retro-fitting programmes, the reinstatement of the Green Investment Bank that was so short-sightedly privatised by the Tories, a huge surge in renewables and EV infrastructure development, and increased clean tech R&D. Add in tree-planting, important climate governance reforms in Whitehall and corporate boardrooms, and the promise of an environmental duty of care law and you end up with a programme that could drastically accelerate decarbonisation efforts without spooking markets or alienating the public.

Tuesday, 10 December 2019

Farage hypocrisy

So Farage professes himself shocked at Channel 4's exposure of racism in Brexit. He declares that he formed Brexit to get away from the racist party that UKIP had become. (He conveniently forgets that UKIP was less racist before he took it over.) Yet there is evidence that the mature Farage differs little from the the Nazi-idolising Dulwich schoolboy. A contributor to Facebook recalls an incident from earlier this century:

When Obama won his first Presidential election in 2008 the US Embassy in Brussels held a post election party, which I was invited to, at the Renaissance Hotel to celebrate this historic event. I caught a cab to Place Luxembourg (near the EU Parliament) and started to find my way to the hotel.

While walking I bumped into a smartly dressed man who was walking in the opposite direction to me. I decided to ask him the quickest route to the hotel and he started by saying: “Can you believe that Barrack Obama won? Unbelievable! Well, at least his Mother is white!”

That smartly dressed man was Nigel Farage.

The sin in Brexit Inc. is not to be racist, but to be exposed as such.

Monday, 9 December 2019

There is another funding crunch coming

This Sydney Morning Herald story warns of  another financial crisis on the way. It will not be caused by a plunge in trust in transatlantic financial institutions like the 2007/8 crunch, but as I understand the rather arcane explanation the effects will be the same: a shortage of ready money for big borrowers. This is not a time for prospective chancellors to plan expansion of the UK economy based on borrowing, as John McDonnell and Sajid Javid propose.

Sunday, 8 December 2019

Mieczysław Weinberg, citizen of nowhere

Today is the centenary of a prolific, but until recently generally unrecognised, Polish Jewish composer. JD has more here.

Saturday, 7 December 2019

Cathy Fox on Jeffrey Epstein

I respect Cathy Fox's persistent campaign to uncover the truth about sex offenders. Howevr, I feel that some of the sources she quotes make rather far-fetched allegations. At first sight, her piece on the Duke of York and Jeffrey Epstein falls into this category, yet when one looks at the charges logically they make sense.

For instance, Fox's assertion that:
Epstein and Maxwell were running a “brownstone” operation to sexually blackmail important powerful people, politicians and scientists so that they can be controlled. The best blackmail material is child sexual abuse material.
makes sense when you look into Epstein's history. His first brush with the law was as the promoter of a Ponzi scheme. His co-conspirator was sent down for eighteen years; Epstein mysteriously got off. Could he have already started a blackmail business when he was recruited for the fraud?

Then there is the reported suicide. Epstein had wriggled out of the worst punishment for his previous convictions. He clearly did not lack self-confidence; why should he commit suicide now? The federal authorities had carefully remanded Epstein to one of the most secure jails in New York state, and he had been held in a special unit at the time of his death. Admittedly, US federal jails are understaffed and there was venality on the part of his guards. Still, one does not have to invoke Mossad or the CIA to realise that there were powerful people who are grateful that he is dead.

Friday, 6 December 2019

Johnson and Patel's unrealistic prison proposals

Home Secretary Priti Patel has pledged to double some prison sentences if the Conservatives are returned to power. The Conservative manifesto promises to add 10,000 more prison places. However, apart from a vague statement of backing for  "all those who put their lives on the line" including prison officers, there is no commitment to restore the real terms cut in salaries of prison staff, let alone recruit more personnel. There is no sign that Johnson realises that more convicts require more warders, especially if he means what he says about rehabilitation. Or perhaps what he really wants to do is restore the oubliette, which would no doubt satisfy the more rabid Daily Mail reader?

Guide to rail operators in the UK

Barry Doe's 2019 update is now available as a pdf, with links to the latest map of train operating companies' domains.

Thursday, 5 December 2019

Stand for what you believe in

Monday's i newspaper reported of Blaenau Gwent

a Labour stronghold formed mainly from Aneurin Bevan's old Ebbw Vale seat in 1983, and represented by Michael Foot until 1992. Labour's Nick Smith held in 2017 with a majority of nearly 12,000 over Plaid Cymru. But in distant sixth place that year were the Liberal Democrats, who secured just 0.9 per cent of the vote.

Chelsea-Marie Annett has been given the task to improve on two years ago and perhaps keep hold of the £500 deposit. Speaking to i, she is full of cold, a sign canvassing in the bitter South Wales winter is taking its toll. But Ms Annett is no paper candidate. Blaenau is her hometown and for her this election is about giving Remain supporters a voice.

"For me it's from personal experience," the 20-year-old student said. "Blaenau Gwent is a very poor area, and I didn't have the best chances growing up and I believe it's a place crying out for change.

"I know it's unlikely I'll win, but I think a vote for me is a vote for people who are dissatisfied with Labour. I'm optimistic. I've also got very numb hands canvassing in the winter, but it's worth it."

Wednesday, 4 December 2019

250th anniversary of an abolitionist

Elizabeth Heyrick, née Coltman, Methodist turned Quaker, and campaigner against slavery and capital punishment, was born on 4th December 1769 in Leicester.

Tuesday, 3 December 2019

NATO's 70th

Prime Minister Johnson has pleaded for unity on the eve of this week's NATO meeting in London. This is against the background of two forces moving to break NATO up. President Trump, no doubt echoing US strategic thinking that China is the greatest threat to the world order, not Russia, wants to cut his country's support for the transatlantic alliance. President Macron wants to see an end to NATO and its replacement with an EU defence force - the dispute over Syria may be real but it is symbolic of a deeper difference of opinion over the most effective defence of Europe.

I agree with the Liberal Democrat position that NATO should continue and be strengthened. It is not an alternative to the EU. We need both.

Adrian Kingston-Jones, our candidate for Neath in the general election, and I agree that more needs to be spent on conventional defence. In a recent speech, Chuka Umunna sees our contribution to NATO automatically rising with GDP if we clearly resolve to remain within the EU. I personally part company with them over the nuclear weaponry commitment, which I see as benefiting the US global reach but demonstrably of little effect in Europe. That budget could usefully be switched to boosting the personnel and equipment of our own armed forces. I accept that I am in a minority in the LD party in thinking this way, but the fact remains that money must be found in order to avoid defaulting on our existing commitment to NATO at the least, let alone adding the extra 1% called for by defence experts. This is going to be a struggle unless the Brexit jinn is put back in its bottle.

Monday, 2 December 2019

EU needs to get a grip on financial rort

Tom Keatinge, the Director of the Royal United Service Institute's Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies criticises the EU's processes for tackling economic crime. It is true that the EU moves slowly, but that is not the same as inaction. However, he has a point when he suggests that a critical  element besides supervision and enforcement is

intelligence. Importantly, as almost all of the EU’s money laundering scandals underline, this must include the sharing of intelligence between countries to combat the transnational nature of large-scale financial crime activity.

He believes that the UK is beginning to get things right with reforms led by the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision (OPBAS). However, financial crime like pollution does not stop at borders and it is important that the UK and the EU27 share intelligence in this area.

Sunday, 1 December 2019

Johnson's falling standards will hit UK manufacturers

Refusing to follow EU rules on energy efficiency standards will put UK manufacturers on the back foot, Andrew Warren warns. (Amongst other roles, Andrew is Chair of the EU Task Group on Sustainable Construction and Energy Efficiency).

He explains:

For the first three years following the Brexit referendum, every single indication from Theresa May's government was that both of these successful policies would be continued seamlessly even when the UK was no longer formally part of the EU. So UK product policy on energy usage would remain aligned with that in operation right across Europe - likely to remain UK manufacturers' largest single market.

This continuity would have ensured that the energy savings already achieved would remain for future years. And as new products continue to be added to the substantial list of those covered, the expectation had been that UK manufacturers operating in each sector would continue to make products that, at minimum, always complied with European standards.

It is now becoming clear that this is no longer the policy of any Johnson-led Government. [...]

At the end of October 2019, a big EU consultation forum was held in Brussels, under this same Eco Design Directive. This time dealing with water pumps. There are considerable UK manufacturing interests likely to be affected. Up until the last minute, it was feared that UK government officials would not be attending. Nobody officially would be able to put the case for British businesses. Options exist which could detrimentally affect such interests. After much strenuous lobbying from (unsurprisingly) the British Pump Manufacturers Association, a few days beforehand 10 Downing Street staff grudgingly approved the attendance of two civil servants from the Business Department. By that stage the zealots had conceded that any chance of achieving the declared departure date from the European Union before 2020 had evaporated. So at the eleventh hour these two civil servants were indeed given special permission to board the Brussels Eurostar, to help put across the arguments of British businesses to their opposite numbers from other governments. Leaving an empty chair may be portrayed by some as an overt gesture of true Brexit purity. Those operating in the real world might describe actually doing so as another pointless gesture that is truly a dereliction of duty by government. And a giant step back from ever achieving net zero carbon.

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Moans of an agent

Just when you think you have the first big weekend canvass sorted, the candidate has a sudden plumbing emergency, the sort of disaster that is likely to happen to happen in winter in Wales. The Westminster parliament in its wisdom decided to dissolve in November for an election which would not have been necessary if it had not previously decided needlessly to go to the country in 2017. The first December election since 1910 brings other difficulties. It is not easy to persuade helpers to come out in temperatures approaching those of the inside of a refrigerator, to canvass or even to deliver. There is always the threat of heavy precipitation (more likely to be rain and sleet than snow in these days of global warming) and Steven Phillips, the chief executive of Neath Port Talbot CBC and returning officer for Neath, has confirmed that he and his staff are keeping an eye on the long-range weather forecasts. Gritters are standing by but I trust that the fire brigade with its pumps is ready also.

Then there is, irrespective of the season, the perpetual worry of ones free electoral communications' appearance. Will the apparently very professional politically-orientated printing company get the leaflets to the Royal Mail in time for postal voters to see your message? Will the Royal Mail do its bit? Will the postal ballots go out early? As always, only the last question is answered and as usual in the affirmative. As usual, the other questions result in worry, worry, worry.

Friday, 29 November 2019

First sign of a Green/Lib Dem pact working?

Wallingford (Oxfordshire) result: GRN: 40.9% (+30.0) CON: 31.0% (+6.9) IND: 19.8% (+19.8) LAB: 8.3% (-4.2) Green GAIN from Independent. No other Ind (-39.4) and LDem (-13.1) as prev.

Wednesday, 27 November 2019

Not enough fire power to deter Russia

A contributor to the Royal United Services Institute identifies what he sees as a weakness in Western defences.  This appears to echo a warning given by Rory Stewart when he was still a back-bencher four years ago.

Tuesday, 26 November 2019

Celebrating LEO

LEO ("Lyons' Electronic Office"), the world's first business computer, went live in  1951. And it was British-designed and -built. The LEO Computers Society tells me:

A film made by Mike Lanchin for the BBC World Service is due for broadcast next Wednesday (27th November) - follow this link for details of the various times it's set to go out:

The film will be shown live only on BBC World, which is not transmitted to the UK, but it should be available on-line. The radio programme will be on BBC World Service in the UK.

Monday, 25 November 2019

The economy, stupid!

Boris Johnson has been going round the country promising, if his party is elected, a mix of grandiose spending plans and generous tax giveaways which would result in a debt burden which would make even Gordon Brown blush. Corbyn's Labour manifesto has already been revealed as unrealistic based on their stated tax proposals, so equally likely to lead to a 2008-style crash when the money markets tighten again, as they inevitably will. The drafters of the Conservative manifesto released yesterday have avoided the most extravagant promises and claim that it is economically sound, but Guido Fawkes is not convinced.

The Carville dictum, "the economy, stupid", which drove Bill Clinton's  successful presidential campaign, clearly inspires the Tory and Socialist electoral strategists. Clinton profited from a US in recession in the 1990s by offering economic recovery. Indeed, his liberal policies, particularly those on trade, fostered a "very robust economy during his tenure" (wikipedia). However, it is the very dedication to free trade and movement of labour, cornerstones of the Clinton philosophy, which both Corbyn and Johnson would turn their backs on in their desire to leave the EU.

The worm in the Clinton apple was following the path of deregulation begun by his Republican predecessors. As applied to property mortgages, this liberalisation led to the collapse in confidence in financial institutions which in turn triggered loss of faith in banks linked to them - conveniently after Clinton left office, but in time to catch out the Blair-Brown government which had assumed that cheap money and trust in UK institutions would go on for ever.

It is all change from New Labour in the Victoria St HQ but the new people have not learned that all periods of easy money come to an end. The Liberal Democrat manifesto is more realistic.

Sunday, 24 November 2019

Personal attacks on party leaders

I am not a great believer in "great man" theory. (Clearly this should always have been "great person" theory, since there had already been outstanding female figures by the time it was formulated.) It follows that one man or woman does not embody the character of a political party or even dictate all its policy.  The Liberal Democrats paid the price for the confusion between leader and led, when Nick Clegg became the face of the Liberal Democrats. The party as a whole took the blame for decisions made by Nick when in coalition, even when our back-bench MPs resisted them.

Liberal Democrats - and to a lesser extent, Labour - form policy democratically. It is not handed down from the top by a great man, though the leadership of the party has always put the finishing touches to election manifestos. Nick brought ideas to the table, in particular the pupil premium which is, under another name, still Welsh government policy if not in Westminster. Most of our programme for government, of which we were surprised to see much adopted by Cameron and company, had been thrashed out by party experts and approved by conference. The best bits, like the triple lock on pensions and raising of the tax threshold on the less well-off, are claimed by the Conservatives, of course.

So it is incorrect to confuse the party with the man. Doing so can also lead to dangers. Attacks can go beyond political beliefs and philosophy to personal characteristics, such as gender, race, religion or relationships.

But one must make an exception in the case of the present prime minister. Boris Johnson has surrounded himself with a clique of like-minded (and with like morality) individuals. Before parliament rose, he purged the parliamentary party of any who disagreed with him, mostly traditional and one-nation Conservatives. He has largely ensured, assisted by Farage's Brexit organisation, that candidates standing under the Conservative brand in the current general election are dedicated followers. His morals, his propensity for lying and his disloyalty to friends and partners, colour his political actions.

Therefore, it is perfectly justifiable in my opinion to make an exception and go for the man, as my party's election strategists have decided to do. Since he has remade the Conservative party in his own image, the man and the brand are one and the same.

The case of Corbyn is different. When he protests that he is not anti-Semitic or racist generally, one must believe him. His upbringing may well have tended to prejudice him, but he is clearly a rational man and would see that such beliefs belong to the dark ages. He has an instinctive sympathy for underdogs which has led him to support uncritically some insurgent groups whose methods he would condemn if employed by ruling powers and whose own attitudes to race may not be above reproach. He has also lent support to some dictators, like Venezuela's Maduro, simply because they espouse socialism.

However, Labour is not Corbyn. The party has shown that is not at one with him over Brexit and some other policy matters. (He did not pursue the same ruthless parliamentary expulsion policy as Johnson, though.) On the darker side, there is a clearly a cadre of Labour activists which sees electoral advantage in allowing anti-Semites to flourish in the party. So, while Corbyn may be free of criticism as a person, he cannot resist the charge that as a party leader he has only paid lip service to eliminating anti-Semitism from Labour.

Jo Swinson's personality divides people. In my personal and family circle, I find that women take to her more than the men. They clearly appreciate her assertivness, her abilility to get things done. That can be seen as bossy by some insecure men. Others may find her Scottishness a turn-off. But I think this unpopularity has been exaggerated by the London-based media, who - apart from our commitment to a future in the EU - can find little to criticise in our manifesto, so turn to attacking the leader instead.

It is Jo's determination that I trust will prevent the party swithering in the face of adverse opinion as reported by the media and will maintain our policy of seeing the UK's future in the EU and of social progress in a sound economy.

Saturday, 23 November 2019

A plea to stem hostile foreign interference in our media

Near the start of Dr Hill's evidence to the impeachment hearing (see yesterday's posting), she made this plea:

"The unfortunate truth is that Russia was the foreign power that systematically attacked our democratic institutions in 2016. This is the public conclusion of our intelligence agencies confirmed in bipartisan congressional reports. It is beyond dispute, even if some of the underlying details must remain classified.

"The impacts of the successful 2016 Russian campaign remains evident today. Our nation is being turned apart. Truth is questioned. Our highly professional and expert career Foreign Service is being undermined. US support for Ukraine, which continues to face armed Russian aggression has been politicized. The Russian government’s goal is to weaken our country, to diminish America’s global role and to neutralize a perceived US threat to Russian interests. President Putin and the Russian Security Services aim to counter US foreign policy objectives in Europe, including in Ukraine, where Moscow wishes to reassert political economic dominance.

"I say this not as an alarmist, but as a realist. I do not think long-term conflict with Russia is either desirable or inevitable. I continue to believe that we need to seek ways of stabilizing our relationship with Moscow even as we come to their efforts to harm us. Right now, Russia’s Security Services and their proxies have geared up to repeat their interference in the 2020 election. We’re running out of time to stop them. In the course of this investigation, I would ask that you please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interest."

Friday, 22 November 2019

For "West" read "wet"

I am not as addicted to watching minute-by-minute coverage of US Congress proceedings as our media hierarchy appear to be. However, I happened to catch a familiar accent as I was channel-hopping yesterday, and was rewarded by the cogent evidence of ex-pat Dr Fiona Hill to the House of Representatives impeachment hearing. (Transcript of the whole fifth day is at

The immediate effect of her evidence was to suggest that President Trump put personal concerns about his election before the protection of Ukraine from Russia. However, what she said had wider implications, casting doubt on the resolve of successive presidents of the US to come to make good pledges of military support for her allies. (The cynic might add that their is little oil in Eastern Europe.)  Dr Hill said:

" we’ve had this experience before and I just want you to indulge me for a moment. In 2008, Russia also attacked the country of Georgia. I was the National Intelligence Officer at that particular juncture and we had warned, in multiple documents, to the highest levels of government that we believed that there was a real risk of a conflict between Georgia and Russia. And in fact, we also believed, at that point, that Russia might attack Ukraine. This was in 2008 when both Georgia and Ukraine sought a membership action plan in NATO, and Russia threatened them openly that if they proceeded with their requests for NATO membership, that there would be consequences.

"In the wake of the attack on Georgia, President Putin made it clear to the President of Georgia, Mikheil Saakashvili, at the time, and this was related to me at the highest levels of the Georgian government that Putin had said directly to Saakashvili, 'Your Western allies, your Western partners, promised a great deal. They didn’t deliver. I threatened, I delivered.'

"We had made all kinds of promises to Georgia and Ukraine in that time-frame and we didn’t come through. So Putin is always looking out to see if there is any hint that we will not follow through on promises that we have made because he will always follow through on a threat. As indeed, he ultimately did. He threatened Ukraine in 2008, and it wasn’t until 2014, when Ukraine tried to conclude an association agreement with the European Union, that he struck, but he had been threatening this for the whole period since 2008."

I might add that overwhelming superiority in nuclear weapons did not enable the West to save the Donbas and Crimea, stop the shooting down of flight MH17 or prevent Georgia becoming a virtual client state of Russia.

Thursday, 21 November 2019

I disagree with Nick

That hardy annual, the tuition fees slur, has raised its head again. An outfit named Novara Media, which describes itself as independent, but one of whose prime movers has published a book entitled "“Fully Automated Luxury Communism”", has restated the belief that "George Osborne even told Nick Clegg to not vote for the tripling of tuition fees in 2010. The Lib Dem leader did so, however, saying it was the best policy."

To go from that to "The claim that the Liberal Democrats moderated the worst excesses of the Tories in government simply isn't true." misrepresents the history. Clegg was always in favour of the student loans system and resented having to include the pledge to abolish it in the 2010 manifesto as a result of a conference decision. So it was not surprising that he should take the opportunity not only to give up on the manifesto policy in the face of opposition from both Conservatives and Labour (ten to one against us and the nationalists, who also wanted to abolish the fees) but also to fall in line with Conservative ministers' decision to raise the cap to £9,000. It should be noted that this did not go as far as the Browne Review recommendation that the cap be removed altogether, which Labour would clearly have applied if they had been returned to office.

But Clegg and the payroll vote should not be regarded as synonymous with the Liberal Democrat party. The parliamentary party recommended abstention, and in the event a substantial number of MPs, including all four Welsh Lib Dems, even voted against raising the fee level.

While I am swatting fake news, it’s misleading at best and an outright lie at worst to say that Jo took a donation from a fracking company. The truth is that a Lib Dem member who is the director of a company which has 80% renewable energy generation and has a legacy fracking licence gave her and the party personal donations. Said company has never extracted any fracked gas.

Wednesday, 20 November 2019

More rolling-stock delays in Wales

The plan to supplement old diesel units on the Valley Lines has hit a snag. Some less old electric sets would be supplied, converted to electro-diesel working by bolting on German MAN diesel engines. This is not a simple operation. It does not take an expert to recognise that the adaptive engineering must provide for dissipating the heat while the diesel engines are running, and control hardware and software to enable switching between the two power modes while the train is in use must be provided. I would guess that problems in one or both of these areas have not been solved, because the first of the new units delivered to the network had to be returned and further work is having to be carried out on the remainder. The trains ordered by Transport for Wales (TfW) for service in summer last year are still not ready.

TfW will no doubt take the flak, but they are in the hands of the train leasing company Porterbrook and its contractor Wabtec Brush.


Tuesday, 19 November 2019

Shakespeare on the Beach centenary

Jamison Pfeifer writes for Jstor:

In 1919, Sylvia Beach sent a telegram to her mother in America: “Opening bookshop in Paris. Please send money.” At the time, Beach, a 32-year-old ex-pat and former Red Cross worker with an interest in contemporary French literature, wrote that she “had long wanted a bookshop.” Later that year, on November 19, the doors opened at Shakespeare and Company, a small lending library located at 8 rue Dupuytren, a tiny street on the Left Bank. “From that moment on, for over twenty years, they never gave me time to meditate,” Beach later wrote in her memoir.

Beach is remembered for first publishing James Joyce's Ulysses when no other house would touch it, but there is much more in Pfeifer's fascinating biography of the bookshop.

Monday, 18 November 2019

Will a zombie parliament be replaced by one with more life?

Attorney-General Cox was right, though he was panned in the media for saying so. His reasoning was wrong: a parliament in a representative democracy has no duty to follow slavishly where a referendum, especially a corrupted referendum with a narrow majority, leads. But it does have the duty to take a firm decision in the best interests of the nation when faced with imminent economic suicide and/or losing the trust of our friends and neighbours. This last parliament had several opportunities to revoke the Article 50 letter, the clearest course and one leading to the brightest future politically, socially and economically. It could have resolved to pass the buck again to the British people, this time better-informed than in 2016, in a referendum. It could have adopted Mrs May's agreement with M. Barnier, negotiating on behalf of the EU27. This would have cut off the UK from the wider benefits of membership, but would have enabled membership of the customs union while an orderly free trade settlement was reached. Finally, it could have adopted the poorer withdrawal agreement negotiated by the current prime minister, which took out workers' rights and restricted the customs union concession to Northern Ireland, but would at least provide some financial certainty.

For a variety of reasons, none of them praiseworthy, it did none of those things. If it had not collectively decided to take the honourable course of self-immolation* the UK would have drifted to what the fanatic isolationists describe as "a clean break" but which virtually every other thinking person regards as an economic disaster: leaving the Union without an agreement.

From the end of November** on voters will be able to replace these zombies with beings with more genuine life and less concern for personal and party gain.

* The sacrifice is mitigated by the prospect of returning after a successful election, or the cushion of resettlement money if they are unsuccessful.

** Postal ballots will be hitting the doormats any time from 29th November. If you are in the  Neath Port Talbot area and  need a postal vote but are not already registered, please email (elections@npt.gov.uk) or telephone (01639 763330) Electoral Services to request a postal vote application form.

Sunday, 17 November 2019

A compassionate but realistic immigration policy

For a long time, it has been clear that we do not need more immigration law. Indeed, many of us believe that we have too much law in this area already. What is needed is better enforcement of what we have. So I was glad to see this Lib Dem statement of a rational immigration policy.The BBC headlined the point about:

  • Resettling 10,000 vulnerable refugees each year, and a further 10,000 unaccompanied refugee children from elsewhere in Europe over the next ten years.
but for me the key new point is:

  • Investing in officers, training and technology

without which we cannot operate a fair immigration policy. Up until now, the understaffed and unintelligent agencies of the government have attempted to meet its insane targets by virtual blanket rejection of all asylum cases, resulting in costly reversals in court and hardship for those unable to access our justice system, and by expelling people who have set down roots in the community because they are easy to find. The people who cause the most anger in the electorate are too hard to trace by the current set-up.

Friday, 15 November 2019

The battle of St Helens

BBC reminds us that today is the 50th anniversary of the anti-apartheid demonstration at the match between Swansea RFC and the Springbok tourists. What started as a peaceful demonstration was marred by police brutality. A work colleague at that time confirmed that the police over-reacted. A fairly neutral spectator, he reported to us after the match that he had seen police picking up demonstrators bodily and throwing them into the part of the crowd which was most antagonistic to the demo, in the expectation of a beating.

Eight candidates in Neath

So what happened? you may well ask, bearing in mind my earlier standing aside for a single Remain candidate, and your being confronted with a whole pack of would-be MPs in the notice posted on the local council web-site. First of all, I admit to jumping the gun in publicising my withdrawal. I was led to believe that an announcement about the Unite To Remain (UTR) constituencies would be made that evening and that Neath would be one of them. As I had a meeting to attend, I felt I had better get my public statement out of the way before it was upstaged by a media release.

Little did we local Liberal Democrats know that there were some last-minute hitches in the UTR negotiations in Westminster and that Neath was one of the sticking-points. There are mutterings from Plaid and the Greens locally each blaming the other for the breakdown which led to Neath being taken off the list. There will have to be a fuller investigation into each party's handling of the talks (I feel that our HQ could have been more flexible in general) but that must wait until after the election. We shall just have to get on with a contest which has reverted to traditional party lines.

The Conservative camp is much worse off. They had a good local candidate in 2017 in the form of solicitor Orla Lowe. In normal times, she would be the obvious choice this time round, but perhaps she does not fit with the hard anti-Europe, pro-Trump line of the present Tory leader. Not only have they had to fall back on a Gloucestershire-based member, their pro-Brexit ground is challenged by one of Nigel Farage's Brexit subscribers.

What might have been achieved if the UTR deal had come off is shown by Plaid Cymru's excellent result in Rhos yesterday where, it may be recalled, we made a unilateral decision to stand aside. Labour's crash from first to third place mirrors by-election results in England.

I have not got away scot-free. My arm has been twisted to act as agent for our excellent candidate Adrian Kingston-Jones, who has already been more active than I ever was. With so many Labour (and Remainer Conservative) votes up for grabs, he is clearly on track to regain the position we had in 2010, if not the top spot.

Thursday, 14 November 2019

Who is Roger Leatham?

Roger Leatham trained as a solicitor. In 1994, he moved to the BBC to become a legal and business affairs manager, including a year's experience with BBC America. He took on that rôle in 2000 just as a young Samira Ahmed rounded off a four-year stint as BBC's Los Angeles correspondent with coverage of the OJ Simpson trial. She then joined ITN's Channel 4 News, first as a reporter then as a presenter, becoming a familiar face on the 7 o'clock bulletin. She continued on Channel 4 until 2011, during which time she worked on the Channel 4 documentary series Islam Unveiled, exploring the status of Muslim women around the world. Mr Leatham continued his career in broadcasters' business affairs, including seven months during 2007 as Head of Entertainment and Comedy Business Affairs at Channel 4. Since 2016, he has occupied similar rôles with BBC Studios, the corporation's spin-off "which, as a commercial arm of the BBC, is not covered by the [Corporation's pay] transparency rules" (quoting from a House of Commons DCMS committee report, "BBC Annual Report and Accounts 2017–18: Equal pay at the BBC").

In 2011, Samira Ahmed went freelance. Already a follower of the Stoke-born journalist, I became a fan after her radio documentary on Arnold Bennett and her appearances on The News Quiz. So I am biased. However, I suggest that an objective observer would agree she has a good case in the employment tribunal, which has just concluded its hearings, judgment reserved until the end of the year. (Newswatch is produced directly by the BBC in response to the Hutton Inquiry, Points of View now commissioned by BBC One from BBC Studios.) 

I was already shocked by Private Eye's report from the tribunal that Roger Leatham had attested that "he didn't know who the claimant was" before I started on the web searches that led to the paras above. Afterwards, it became clear that, considering the points at which their careers had coincided, Leatham was either lying or had never consumed any of the product of his employers over the years.

Coincidentally, today is Equal Pay Day. Less of a coincidence is the fact that there is no link to a BBC UK web-site in the first twelve pages of a Google search on that phrase - but two cheers to BBC (US & Canada).

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

International Monetary Fund gives the lie to sanguine Sajid

The temporary chancellor of the exchequer, Sajid Javid, continues to claim that the UK economy is fundamentally strong and will outgrow those of France, Germany and Italy. However, this article by the International Monetary Fund puts those claims in perspective. The first graphic in the article is particularly telling.

Their analysis from early this year says "Growth has moderated since the 2016 referendum, moving the UK from the top to near the bottom of the Group of Seven growth tables. Private consumption has been constrained by slow growth in real incomes. Business investment — which was affected by expectations of higher trade costs and uncertainty over the terms of the withdrawal from the EU — has been lower than expected given robust global growth and favorable financing conditions."

Since then, one Brexit deadline (March) has been extended only for another (January 2020) to loom, but the IMF's other prediction continues to ring true:

"An exit from the EU without an agreement is the most significant risk to the outlook. Moderate growth of just above 1½ percent is projected for the coming years, conditional on reaching a broad free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU and a smooth Brexit process. There are risks on both sides. On the upside, an agreement with fewer impediments to trade could boost confidence and lead to higher growth. On the downside, reverting to WTO trade rules, even in an orderly manner, would lead to long-run output losses for the UK of around 5 to 8 percent of GDP compared to a no-Brexit scenario. This is because of higher tariff and non-tariff trade barriers, lower migration, and reduced foreign direct investment. A worst-case scenario would be a disorderly exit without a transition period. Such an outcome would lead to a sharp fall in confidence and reversal of capital flows, which would affect asset prices and the value of sterling. Careful preparation and close cooperation between the EU and UK authorities would help mitigate risks to financial stability associated with a potential disorderly Brexit. "

One further thought: the news media - and BBC is not the only culprit - continue to present the UK's economic performance figures in isolation. At best, there are historical comparisons but only with UK's past performance. The British public needs a more realistic picture, setting our economic performance against that of our competitors, the EU as a whole and indeed the global economy.

Ynys Môn selection

So wiser counsel has prevailed among the Llangefni Conservatives and the protests by Lib Dems among others have been heeded. The former Brecon MP Chris Davies, shown the door by his former constituents there because of his fraudulent expenses statements, will not stand in Ynys Môn after all. From the Remainer point of view, unless the Conservatives replace him at this late stage, the Brexit vote will not be as split as before.

Incidentally, can we not revert to the traditional Wenglish way of distinguishing between common names, by adding a suffix of occupation or characteristic? Liberal Democrats have an excellent MEP named Chris Davies, while Swansea and Gower have over the years fielded two different Chris Davieses as candidates. Before being elected in Brecon, the Tory Davies could have styled himself Chris Davies Auctioneer. He would be known hereafter as Chris Davies the Fiddle.

Tuesday, 12 November 2019

Frank Dobson

He will be remembered for his robust style and his honesty, but also, as the first New Labour Health minister, for introducing some key institutions, in particular NHS Direct and:

The Secretary of State for Health (Mr. Frank Dobson) 
I have received representations about availability on the national health service of certain drugs in certain parts of the country. The current situation is quite unsatisfactory, which is why we are establishing the National Institute for Clinical Excellence—NICE—chaired by Professor Sir Michael Rawlins, to assess new drugs and new treatments and to issue authoritative guidance. NICE will ensure faster access to modern treatment right across the health service—which is why it has the support of doctors, nurses, midwives and other NHS staff.

[House of Commons Debates and Oral answers 02 February 1999 vol 324 cc723-4]

Monday, 11 November 2019

They and their legacy must not be forgotten

What have Denis Healey, Alan Whicker, Spike Milligan, Harry Secombe, the fathers of both Peter Hain and myself, and Gary Lineker's grandfather have in common?  They all served in the push from the south which ended fascism in Italy, overcame the consequent vicious Nazi seizure of power and thence made arguably as big a contribution to ending the war in Europe as the D-day landings. Nancy Astor ignorantly referred to the eighth and fifth armies as the "D-day dodgers", but the Italian campaign was bloody. Monte Cassino alone saw 54,000 allied casualties and was a by-word for the horrors of war for years after. (My father may well have been on the periphery of Monte Cassino as part of a REME Light Aid Detachment. He certainly mentioned the engagement to us children after the war, and, unlike those who were intimately affected by the horrors of it, was willing to speak about it. One of my greatest regrets is not questioning him about his wartime experiences.) There was a sardonic response to Astor's perceived insult in the form of a song (to the tune of Lilli Marlene) which Denis Healey was able to recall sixty-odd years later on Desert Island Discs. The hurt clearly went deep.

Tonight, BBC-1 will be showing a tribute by Lineker to his grandfather and to his fellows who served in Italy.

Government beholden to Chinese conglomerate over Scunthorpe

Jingye, a Chinese steel-to-property conglomerate, is reported to be about to buy the insolvent British Steel from the government for around £70m. It is interesting that the Conservative-supporting Daily Telegraph appears to have broken the story. Saving thousands of jobs in the run-up to Christmas gives a rare boost to the Johnson government's flagging fortunes. Apart from the reported millions in taxpayer-provided grants and loans which the new owners may qualify for, the deal appears to have few benefits for the Chinese. Whether the UK is inside or outside the EU, steel from this country will continue to attract high tariffs in the US. Outside the EU, it will be subject to tariffs from Brussels also. Perhaps the Chinese are taking a punt on a pro-Remain vote in the general election? Or is the Chinese government behind the deal, encouraging Britain to become more indebted to the People's Republic, as so many African countries are?

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Javid makes the same mistake as Osborne

By massively exaggerating the cost of Labour's economic programme, the Conservatives' treasury spokesman has instantly produced propaganda which no objective voter is going to believe, especially as fact-checkers have already exposed the shaky foundations of the claim. It is reminiscent of the apocalyptic scenario of George Osborne of the day after the 2016 EU referendum. The ludicrously overblown predictions damaged the Remain case. Now Javid makes the same mistake - or was it a mistake? Perhaps Johnson's cabal wants to lose the general election.

Two interesting planning applications

Wetherspoons plans to convert the Big Cam in Neath. The upper floors would become one- or two-bedroom apartments while the ground floor would either remain licensed, as a gastro-pub, or become office space. The idea seems to be to increase profitability. A fall in Wetherspoon's profits in the last financial year has seen a programme of pub sales elsewhere

Following the "active homes" development in Neath by Newport-based Pobl group, zero-carbon homes for a site in Rhydyfro are proposed by Sero Homes of Cardiff. The intended Parc Hadau appears to be the first venture by Sero, who certainly make all the right noises but are reticent on their web-site about the background and qualifications of the principals. 

Saturday, 9 November 2019

Afan Valley project was too good to be true

Neath Port Talbot councillors were taken in by the promoters of the Afan Valley Adventure Resort, which has been revealed to be part of what was described as a huge Ponzi scheme which collapsed earlier this year.

Thursday, 7 November 2019

More Labour lies

In Liverpool, in a rousing speech, full of spending promises as if Ed Balls' neo-endogenous growth theory had never died, Labour potential chancellor of the exchequer blamed Liberal Democrats in coalition for introducing the iniquitous Work Capability Assessment. In fact, this was a child of New Labour.

Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Unite to Remain

With only one break, I have been a candidate in a local constituency in every general election, Westminster or Welsh, since that ground-breaker in 1997. In that time I have seen the party's fortunes rise and fall, my own vote following that same path. Now that the post-coalition dip is behind us, and a new young leader has reinvigorated the Liberal Democrats, it is an exciting time to stand again for Neath.

But in 2019 there is a greater consideration than ambition for me or my party. Before any party can achieve a reforming social programme, Brexit must be ended. Brexit, with its burden of a decade of negotiating trade deals, piles of red tape for exporters, and the flight of both businesses and people, would reduce the nation's income, resulting in a fall in the government's income also.

People are fed up with politicians', and therefore the news media's, obsession with Brexit. Revoking the Article 50 letter would enable the House of Commons (and the European Parliament!) to get back to normal business. It would also restore hope to the (especially) young people who will again have the ability to travel throughout the Union for education, work or simply self-improvement. Conversely, the NHS can return to recruiting doctors and nurses from among our European cousins, a resource which we have relied on for many years. (Declaration of interest: my local party has mainland nationals in membership. They have contributed to Wales over the years. They have seen that their initial welcome has soured with the rise of xenophobia stirred up by the Brexit campaign, to the extent that they are preparing to leave us. The Tory government's hostile environment has not helped. It will take some time to restore their faith and that of their fellow-nationals in England and Wales, but we can take a first step on 12th December.)

Accordingly, when I was asked to stand down so that a single Remain candidate can be presented to the people of Neath, it did not take much persuasion. That candidate is Plaid Cymru's Daniel Williams. What eased my decision was that both Daniel and his party leader are clearly sincere Europhiles. I hope that he can replace a Labour member for Neath who has done not much more than follow the "soft Brexit" Corbyn line.

Of course, there will be hard-core liberals and social democrats who will never vote for a nationalist candidate, just as ardent nationalists would not support any of the other Westminster parties. The policy of outright independence, however illusory, will always come between us. There have been open hostilities between Plaid and Lib Dems elsewhere in Wales. I myself have criticised Plaid's former leader siding with the former First Minister in support of a managed withdrawal from the EU. In Neath and Port Talbot, the relationship is more of a wary cohabitation. However, for this particular election and for the greater good, I would recommend a vote for Daniel Wiliams in the Neath constituency.

Normal relations will resume before the Welsh general election ...

These barracks closures are wrong

So the Conservatives, one of whose selling points is defence of the realm, are going ahead with the illogical and damaging closures of Brecon and Cawdor barracks. This will leave an estimated 1% of the Ministry of Defence estate in Wales, which has regularly supplied servicemen and women above the average for the home countries. No assessment of the saving has been published, but I will bet that it is a tiny fraction of the money which is flowing out of the UK treasury for Trident and its replacement. Nor has there been an official assessment of the economic impact on Brecon.

The driver for the sale of Brecon Barracks is more likely to be its development potential. It is likely that more of the proceeds of building on this site will flow to middlemen than to the UK Treasury.

Monday, 4 November 2019

Youth reform

Following Saturday's notification of an archaeological dig, something from the region's slightly more recent history. Ron McConville has been a fund of history for his friends and colleagues about what was clearly an excellent practical - and economic - facility for reforming boys who had gone astray.

Now Ron has put it all down in writing on the Neath Antiquarian Society web site. Click on the Neath Antiquarian button on my right-hand side, then click on the appropriate button on the Neath Antiquarian home page.

Saturday, 2 November 2019

Digging into Neath's unique heritage

Peter Richards has announced:

The Friends of Neath Abbey Iron Company are organising a Community Archaeological Dig on Monday 4 November and Tuesday 5 November 2019. 
All welcome– Free of Charge 
For details and directions, e-mail: wernddu@gmail.com and Facebook: www.facebook.com/FriendsofNeathAbbeyIronCompany/

Friday, 1 November 2019

You can register to vote online

One of our MEPs has this simple message especially aimed at the young people who are most affected by our relationship with Europe:

Is everyone that you know registered to Vote? the cut off date is NOVEMBER 26th!
It takes 5 mins. You need your national insurance number.
This election is about their future, it is about YOUR future, please share the information and these links to everyone you think might need them.
Help us make sure that those who care about Europe are Registered to Vote
That is all you need to know, but if you are curious about the background, go to https://www.npt.gov.uk/5280

What happened to Michael Kittermaster?

In researching the  radio career of Carleton Hobbs recently I was reminded of the name of Michael Kittermaster. There was a period in the 1970s when it seemed you could not turn on the radio in the afternoon without hearing one of his plays. I particularly recall his Golden Windows, clearly inspired by a personal relationship with a troubled woman, which touched me at the time but would probably seem over-sentimental now. He is credited with a large number of adaptations and documentaries, often with a sub-Saharan African theme, as well as original work. Earlier, it seems he was a director of broadcasting in a British central African organisation but resigned in protest at its illiberal and colonialist attitude. Apart from all that, I can find nothing on the Web. What happened to him? Where did he come from? Is it worth another look at his work for the BBC? I should love to know the answers.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Brexit and the voting system

Anthony Tuffin of STV Action writes:

Never has PR been more needed than now.

So, there is to be a general election on 12 December, but what can a First Past The Post (FPTP) election settle about Brexit?  FPTP is like a lottery.  With four or five main parties in England and more in other parts of the UK, one party could win an overall majority of MPs with only about 30% of the votes in the country.

Would it be right for the Lib Dems to keep us in the EU if they formed a government with such little support?  Would it be right for the Conservatives to take us out of the EU on whatever terms they liked if they formed a government with such little support?  In either case, how would the other 70% or so react?

Any form of party PR would eliminate the possibility of either of those events.  PR by STV would go farther.  For example, if X% of a party’s voters voted for Remain candidates and Y% voted for Leave candidates, about X% of that party’s MPs would be Remainers and about Y% would be Leavers.

Equally, an FPTP election could result in another hung or balanced parliament; i.e. what we have now, which wouldn’t achieve anything.

Most of you probably knew this already, but please spread the word.  Brexit has made more people than ever aware that there is something wrong with UK politics, but few realise what a difference changing the voting system would make.

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

General election 2019

Given the reluctance of the present House of Commons to commit itself to any positive course of action* over our membership of the European Union, an election to refresh its membership was the only course of action. One trusts that the UK electorate will put in its place people who trust and apply their objective judgment to issues - not just our place in Europe, but also the balance between private and public ownership, and the duties of the state towards the welfare of its citizens - rather than party lackeys or those who place private gain above the public good.

I declare an interest as the approved Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate for Neath. I shall be ready to make a positive case for EU membership. However, this is far from a one issue party and I hope also to put across our social programme, passed by the Bournemouth conference, which aims both to retrieve the ground lost to the Conservatives after 2011 and to go further. 

The weather in December is often benign, but I would urge anybody with any doubts about their ability to get to a polling station this winter, and who has not already obtained one, to request a postal vote from elections@npt.gov.uk or by telephone from the electoral services office on 01639 763330.

* Apart, that is, from the so-called Malthouse compromise, which would have been impossible to achieve since the EU 27 had already ruled as unworkable the technological fix at its heart.

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Access to justice

I came across the following motion which our party submitted to Liberal Democrat federal conference four or five years ago, and which was rejected. (I have deleted some stuff about the iniquitous court charges, which even the Conservatives realised were over the top and repealed in 2015.) 

Conference notes:

  1. The United Kingdom created legal aid in 1949, as part of the great post-war liberal reforms and today all of Europe, United States, Canada and most of the Commonwealth have legal aid systems of some kind.
  2. Since 1997 UK governments have progressively restricted the number of civil causes for which legal aid is available and consistently cut the criminal legal aid budget
  3. The number of solicitors' firms which are permitted to perform legal aid work has been cut
  4. Legal aid is now severely means-tested
  5. Legal aid is not available to persons who need to be legally represented at interviews conducted by government departments which have powers of prosecution
  6. Acquitted defendants are no longer entitled to Defence Costs Orders, which meant that the state reimbursed their costs if they had paid privately for their defence
  7. Magistrates courts have been reduced in number and concentrated in large towns and cities

Conference believes:

  1. All persons are entitled to justice regardless of status, wealth or income
  2. The restrictions on legal aid act as a strong disincentive to those of limited means pursuing justified claims in the civil courts or defending themselves against criminal charges

Conference calls for:

  1. The Ministry of Justice to reduce court costs by introducing business-like measures to cut waiting times and wasted use of human capital
  2. The Ministries of Justice and Treasury jointly to review the working of the legal aid system to see whether value for money has truly been achieved overall by concentration and centralisation
  3. Legal aid to be restored for landlord-and-tenant cases
  4. Legal aid to be made available to clients of DWP interviewed in connection with social security fraud

It is gratifying to see that the spirit of the motion became party policy in 2019, though I would have liked to see the specific aim of making the courts more efficient included. 

It was disappointing and more than a little surprising that Labour has committed itself to going only part-way to Liberal Democrat policy in respect of legal aid. (Why stop at unwinding no further back than 2012? Why not accept that New Labour, which the Corbynistos reject, got it wrong too?) Typically, Labour wants also to set up new institutions when what is needed is to make existing ones work better.

Monday, 28 October 2019

After WWII

Programmes dedicated to Hitler and the Nazis, not to mention the technical details of their war machinery are all over the TV schedules. The commentary on the latter is dispassionate, but one wonders who they are aimed at. Others glorifying Allied successes (but not often mentioning resistance movements, the Poles or Commonwealth servicemen and -women) abound. To top it all, TV presents innumerable war films, some classic, some not so classic.
There have admittedly been some excellent documentaries, both on BBC and commercial channels, detailing how the Nazis came to power and held on to it, necessary "warnings from history" to quote the subtitle of one such series. (A look again at the earlier rise of Mussolini would be instructive.) However, we have seen little about what happened after VE Day.

What I miss is a depiction of picking up the pieces after May 1945. The obvious theme, and most rewarding visually, is the reversal of the effect of bombing. I remember, ten years after the end of the war, the still extensive bomb sites in the Ruhr region and the damage to Cologne cathedral yet to be repaired. Dresden, which was virtually annihilated by the firestorm describe in Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, was still being reconstructed well into this century - see the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche.

The immediate need, though, was for the defeated nations to pay their way again.The part played by the Royal Engineers in the revival of Volkswagen has been retold by James May in a recent series, but other industries benefited from help from Britain and even more so from the Marshall Plan. Although most Marshall money went to the winning European nations, Germany made good use of her share.

It is convenient for the hawks who appear to dominate government here and in the USA for the areas of not only continental Europe but also Britain wasted by war to appear regularly on TV. I hasten to add that I do not believe there has been deliberate intervention.

Even more awkward would be to contrast the political reconstruction of Europe after the war with the chaos left in Iraq (twice) after the US-led coalition scuttled out after the military defeat of Saddam and what is happening in Syria now. There were mistakes. In Sicily, the USA reinstalled local officials linked to organised crime after they took control there. (One achievement - perhaps the only achievement - to Mussolini's credit is that he neutered the Mafia.) But on the whole the effect of the Allies was positive. There was a robust federal structure in Germany, elected at national and Land level by proportional representation. Many other institutions which remain to this day were fostered by the Allied reconstruction, helped by Marshall money. This story, and the tales of the people who emerged from the Nazi oppression to fulfil it, need to be told again.