Sunday 31 March 2019

Liberal Democrat European Group update

LDEG has issued a media release following recent elections. In part, it reads:
David Chalmers, the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary spokesperson for Torridge and West Devon, has been elected chair of the Liberal Democrat European Group, which influences the party's European policy and campaigns.
Chalmers said: 'Theresa May's disgraceful attack on MPs and Parliament, which was reminiscent of a dictator in the mould of Hugo Chavez, was an attempt to stir up hatred seldom if ever seen before by a British Prime Minister. She and her Brexit have become a threat to the reputation of our institutions, the safety of MPs and our traditional liberal approach to public debate. I vow to continue the fight to keep the UK in the European Union and ensure the Group promotes and protects liberal and European values.'
The full announcement, with photo, is here.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Planes and trains

Radio Wales reported this morning that they have found that Emiliano Sala's pilot on his fatal flight was not certified to fly at night. The evidence piles up that, astonishingly in the case of a multi-million pound transfer, corners were cut to provide the cheapest possible transport.

On a happier note, a priest, whose mother used to run a pub in Lancashire, and who used to pull the occasional pump up there, has volunteered to perform a traditional blessing of the ale on tonight's Real Ale Train on the Llangollen Railway. He may even use the original church Latin. Although I am normally dismissive of high church dogma and ceremonial, this appeals to my love of the traditional.

Other special Welsh railway lines are of course available.

Friday 29 March 2019

Who is Valerie Vernon?

There is almost always something interesting in the B-movies which Talking Pictures TV has acquired. The Delavine Affair, which showed earlier this week, was a rather leaden affair, in spite of a script contribution by Basil Boothroyd who contributed to Punch and went on to edit the magazine. The cast, even the usually excellent Honor Blackman, seemed to be going through the motions. It was not easy to determine whether this was because of a director whose main expertise was as a production manager or because of a poor screenplay. The author of the Noirish blog is in no doubt: the fault lies in the source material.

However, my interest was piqued by the second female lead, an actress with a slight American twang. She was billed as Valerie Vernon. Ms Vernon has a c.v. of largely bit parts in US TV before turning up in Britain to appear in a Hammer/Lippert Pictures joint production, The Glass Tomb. (She is featured  in the top left poster on this auction site.)

Lippert's deal with Hammer included a condition that their productions would include a known US actor in order to sell the film in the States. In the case of The Glass Tomb, the lead was John Ireland. I surmise that Ireland brought Vernon over to add a bit of glamour to the production and that his co-star, one Honor Blackman, got her the Delavine job as a bit of extra work while she was over here. But there are other possibilities, and I would be grateful for an update from anyone in the know. One of those would be Ms Blackman, who is happily still with us.

Another is the 95-year-old Scotty Bowers, (pictured with his right arm round the waist of Ms Vernon in the picture illustrating this article about him). (It is a pity that the documentary about this colourful character has not been released over here. The allegations about the Windsors may have deterred exhibitors in the UK, but perhaps Channel 4 would consider obtaining it for a late-night weekend showing.)

I write "who is Valerie Vernon" because I believe the dates of birth and death currently showing on IMDb are wrong and due to a confusion with stage actress Valerie Verdon. Moreover, I have been unable to find correct dates through a genealogy web-site. It is therefore possible that "Valerie Verdon" is a stage name. Further information would be very welcome.

Thursday 28 March 2019

Let the dust settle on the first indicative day

There has been some premature pessimism (and on the Leaver side, undue celebration) as a result of yesterday's votes in the House of Commons. However, as Sir Oliver Letwin, the prime mover of the process, said in the post-mortem:

It is, of course, a very great disappointment that the House has not chosen to find a majority for any proposition. However, those of us who put this proposal forward as a way of proceeding predicted that we would not this evening reach a majority, and indeed, for that very reason, put forward a business of the House motion designed to allow the House to reconsider these matters on Monday[.] If on Monday the House can reach a majority view, it would be in the interests of our constituents and the country, ​but I personally continue to harbour the hope that my right hon. and hon. colleagues will see fit to vote in favour of a Government motion between now and close of play on Friday, which would obviate the necessity for a further set of votes on Monday.

He was backed up from the other side of the chamber:

Margaret Beckett (Derby South) (Lab): I do not know what anybody else expected, but I did not necessarily expect any motion to carry a majority today, certainly not the one I proposed, which, if I recall, has had almost an identical result to the one it had the last time it was moved in this House. My understanding of the procedure instigated by the right hon. Member for West Dorset (Sir Oliver Letwin) was that we would first let 1,000 flowers bloom and see where we went, that that would expose some things that had perhaps little support, and that then we would seek to proceed to see whether ranking things in an order of importance made a difference.

Two votes did deliver a knock-out blow, those against leaving the EU without a deal. If MPs consider the situation logically (a tricky demand, one must admit) that must mean that they are bound to commit themselves to a course of action - whether by accepting the May-Barnier deal, or by calling a third referendum - which will prevent the UK drifting out of the Union by default. We await the second stage of Sir Oliver's scheme on Monday, if there has not been a sudden surge of support for May-Barnier - or even Revoke A50! - by the weekend.

Wednesday 27 March 2019

Revoke Article 50 debate

The government is fulfilling its duty to hold a debate in response to the petition which passed the threshold shorly after it was promulgated. Wits on Facebook have already pointed to the significance of the date of the event: All Fools' Day. More to the point, the debate will be on a Monday, usually a short day as MPs from outside the London travel-to-work region return from weekend constituency duty. Many may feel it expedient to delay their journey to avoid being seen to take part.

The government of course will field the most junior of junior ministers (if they have any left) and will no doubt fall back on their final redoubt, that there was a "clear" majority in "the" referendum on the subject and that because a former prime minister promised to honour that verdict, to deviate from the path of withdrawal now would lead to a loss of faith in democracy (implying bloody insurrection). He or she will add that all the MPs who matter were elected on a manifesto of withdrawal - another fruit of the cunning 2017 general election, called at a time when Labour (and, incidentally, Plaid Cymru) had a policy of accepting the verdict of the referendum. It is depressing that the only defence left to Mrs May is a narrow majority in a vote which has increasingly been revealed to be swung by a slew of corrupted campaigns. She has had to abandon the sanguine pre-referendum tone as it has become clear that we will be no better off, and probably decline economically in the short and medium term, under any form of Brexit while we will be no worse off by remaining, and will possibly be better off.

Labour will cover up their lack of an agreed distinct policy on Article 50 by concentrating on the governmental musical chairs together with Mrs May's failure to devise a withdrawal deal which would satisfy both the EU27 and her own party. They will no doubt throw in austerity, tax give-aways and the incompetence of certain ministers.  All too easy targets, unfortunately offering nothing positive, even where relevant. The SNP will offer only a reiteration of their demand for independence.

Project Hope, not Project Fear

Liberal Democrats, the Independent Group and Caroline Lucas for the Greens have the opportunity to rise above the party name-calling to make a positive case for remaining.  They can emphasise the opportunities the EU offers to young people in terms of travel and education - those young people who were denied a voice in the 2016 referendum. They can stress the positive aspects of freedom of movement: not only the benefits to the NHS and social services in all the home nations, but also the ability of our people to work across borders. (Four-fifths of UK citizens resident in the rest of the EU are there to work.) Music and the arts have been enriched by free movement.  We have also welcomed entrepreneurs from less business-minded nations who increase employment here as well as the tax take. The EU can raise standards - environmental, social, governmental and financial - which individual nations find difficult to maintain in the face of pressure from superstates and mega-corporations. We benefit from trade agreements with 61 other nations and from the expertise of the people who negotiated them built up over a generation. 

There must be more and I trust Lib Dem MPs, who have greater knowledge of the workings of the EU than I, will proclaim it. 

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Play begins earlier - thanks to climate change?

On my way to collect and then fill my prescription for inhalers*, I remarked how like cricket weather it was. And indeed, Glamorgan will open their season on Friday week. The first ball is to be bowled at 11 a.m.. The date would have been improbable and the start time unthinkable when I first started watching cricket. As I remember it, the first senior matches would have been at the end of April. Certainly, the start time was no earlier than 11:30 with lunch at 13:30. There would still have been dew on the grass at 11, at least early in the season, giving an advantage to the side winning the toss.

(* The Minister of Health in Westminster assures us that there will be no shortage of medicines in any form of Brexit, and I do not know whether Becotide and Ventolin are imported, but I thought it prudent to advance my repeat date by a few weeks just in case.

By the way, it appears from Health Questions in the House this morning that asthma sufferers in England still have to pay for their prescriptions. Apart from the threat to life this poses to people of restricted means, it must be a drag on the economy through working days lost. It is high time that the English Ministry of Health at least made prescriptions for life-long conditions free of charge, even if they cannot match the enlightened policy of universal free prescriptions in Scotland and Wales.)

Monday 25 March 2019

In the spirit of cross-party cooperation ...

.. I offer the following to Mts May's successor, who, by all accounts, cannot be far away:

Draft speech for Theresa May’s successor

Thank you for your support and the trust you have invested in me in these difficult times.

I should like first of all to pay tribute to my predecessor. Even her worst enemies would acknowledge Theresa’s single-mindedness, determination and loyalty to our party. It is not her fault that we failed to reach a mutually satisfying withdrawal agreement with the European Union. If Theresa could not achieve Brexit while keeping our party together, nobody could. Rather, the inherent contradictions in the Brexit process defeated us all.

We must admit that there was only a narrow margin of victory in the 2016 referendum. If it had been part of a scientific experiment, the result would have been set aside as not statistically significant. Even within the ranks of the winning side in that referendum, there were differing views on what sort of withdrawal was required.

Calling a general election in 2017 was a justifiable attempt to strengthen our majority in parliament and a consistent approach to our negotiations with Brussels. As it turned out, the election only confirmed what the referendum had already shown: the divisions within our country.

If an impasse is reached on a committee, a council or even in our deliberations in the Mother of Parliaments, it is down to the chair, the man or woman in charge, to make a casting vote. The convention is that he or she opts for the status quo ante. This great party of ours is the largest in parliament and all the indications are that it would remain so if there were an election tomorrow. It is up to us to take charge of the situation, to make a judgement to break the deadlock. In our present situation, the status quo is to remain in the European Union. Accordingly, as soon as I have kissed hands with Her Majesty, I shall write to the President of the Council indicating our wish to withdraw the application to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

We must apologise for the promises made by our leadership at the time of the referendum, along with their ludicrous prognostications of doom.

The referendum is a concept which has not been part of our tradition of parliamentary government and has never been regarded as binding in England. We Conservatives must renounce the use of the referendum as a foreign import, the tool of Napoleon and Hitler, and return to traditional firm government. But we must not ignore the clear messages which the electorate has sent us.

We have been lax in stopping benefit tourism from Europe, and in policing the breaches of the living wage legislation. Unscrupulous businesses have taken advantage of ignorant immigrants from the rest of the EU and of illegal immigrants from elsewhere to push down wages. We will put a stop to all that. At the same time, we will rid this country of the spivs and speculators who, abetted by the New Labour government, nearly brought this country to its knees in 2008.

We will redouble our efforts to improve the Common Agriculture Policy so that working farmers have priority over those who merely own rural land. We will also remove the red tape which has been so burdensome. Farmers in Europe do not have to struggle with the paperwork and unnecessary regulation which have resulted from the “gold-plating” of EU directives, and we will strip all that away, While mindful of the need to preserve fish stocks, we will seek to restore the rights of our fishermen under the Common Fisheries Policy and rein back the free-for-all in the North Sea.

In 1940 we re-engaged with Europe to defeat Nazism and Fascism, with their repugnant credo of anti-Semitism. In 2019 we must do so again. We have rightly put pressure on Her Majesty’s official opposition to rid itself of the anti-Semites in its midst, but we cannot ignore the growing anti-Semitism in the ruling parties on the Eastern fringes of the European Union. We must add our weight to measures to bring those nations back into the civilised world. We cannot let this canker grow unchecked as we did in the 1930s.

So with Brexit behind us and releasing the resources in money and civil service manpower which the process has sucked up over the last three years, we can concentrate on the path Mrs May laid out for us in her inaugural Downing Street speech, taking the pressure off the “just managing”, stamping out violent crime and drug misuse, and combating terrorism.

I commend this statement to the party.

Saturday 23 March 2019

The Lib-Lab pact

Today is the anniversary of the confirmation of an agreement of 1977 between the Labour government and the Liberal party. Prime minister James Callaghan and Liberal leader David Steel had been talking for some time against a background of international loss of confidence in the UK economy. The pact succeeded in stabilising the economy, just as the Con-Lib Dem coalition was to do in 2010.

The Joint Statement by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal party
We agreed today the basis on which the Liberal Party would work with the government in the pursuit of economic recovery. We will set up a joint consultative committee under the chairmanship of the Leader of the House, which will meet regularly. The committee will examine government policy and other issues prior to their coming before the House, and Liberal policy proposals. The existence of this committee will not commit the government to accepting the views of the Liberal party, or the Liberal party to supporting the government on any issue. We agree to initiate regular meetings between the Chancellor and the Liberal party economic spokesman, such meetings to begin at once. In addition the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal party will meet as necessary. We agree that legislation for Direct Elections to the European Assembly for 1978 will be presented to Parliament in this session. The Liberal Party re-affirm their strong conviction that a proportional system should be used as the method of election. The government is publishing next week a White Paper on Direct Elections to the European Assembly which sets out the choices among different electoral systems but which makes no recommendation. There will now be consultation between us on the method to be adopted and the government’s final recommendation will take full account of the Liberal party's commitment. The recommendation will be subject to a free vote of both Houses. We agree that progress must be made on legislation for devolution and to this end consultations will begin on the detailed memorandum submitted by the Liberal party today. In any future debate on proportional representation for the devolved assemblies there will be a free vote. Chapter Five Page | 137 We agree that the government will provide the extra time necessary to secure the passage of the Housing (Homeless Persons) Bill, and that the Local Authorities (Works) Bill will now be confined to provisions to protect the existing activities of direct labour organizations in the light of local government reorganization. We agree that this arrangement between us should last until the end of the present parliamentary session, when both parties would consider whether the experiment has been of sufficient benefit to the country to be continued. We also agree that this understanding should be made public. (NA, PREM16/1399: Joint Statement by the Prime Minister and the leader of the Liberal party ‘The Lib-Lab Agreement’, 23 March 1977)

Friday 22 March 2019

A helpful guide to Nazi régimes

It has become clear that many of the critics of the European Union and its supporters are sadly ignorant of modern history. Such insults as "Nazi" directed on social media or in the street at prominent Remainers are mis-directed. I have drawn up a guide pointing out how different modern Germany is from the Third Reich:

The cliff edge is getting closer

Parliament lost its nerve last Thursday. Accordingly, there is no commitment to a People's Vote (which would force the government to amend the withdrawal Act and ask for a longer extension than the two months the EU is willing to grant) and no legal check on Mrs May. There is still the faint hope that a demonstration of the huge numbers in favour of staying in the EU might just persuade the cabinet, if not the blinkered Mrs May, to think again.

Accordingly, I support the Stop Brexit March:


I signed the Revoke Article 50 petition (others are available but that is the one which is gaining most support - 1.15 million at the time of writing).

If the worst happens next Friday, and we crash out of the EU, then the country will need competent leadership which is not beholden to vested interests to pick up the pieces. If you agree, then Vince Cable and the Liberal Democrats are here for you. You can either commit as a member, or register as a supporter, here.

Thursday 21 March 2019

Weimar: a lesson from history

This coming August sees the centenary of the post-Great War constitution for Germany approved in Weimar. No doubt there will be detailed examination in the print and broadcast media of the liberal expectations raised by Weimar and the way they were dashed, but Mrs May's lecture to the nation last night highlighted one of the flaws in the constitution which Hitler took advantage of.

Article 73 introduced the concept of referendums to ratify laws passed by the Reichstag; in some cases they were compulsory, in others at the whim of the President, and even to initiate new law. Hitler took advantage and extended the use of this provision. As a scholarly article of 1935 (JSTOR access required) summed up the situation:

this revolutionary change in Herr Hitler's political theory has an intensely practical explanation. In his evolution as dictator of the German people, the time had arrived when he needed a fresh mandate of authority - one, moreover, from an unassailable source. The death of President von Hindenburg had removed the link which originally legalized his succession to power in the Reich, and the "Roehm revolt" of June 30, 1934, moreover, made it perfectly clear how unstable a mere party mandate for the exercise of that power might ultimately prove to be. Hitler accordingly ordered the referendum with a view to removing any possible constitutional stain from his official position of leadership and at the same time to free himself from subordination to the shifting clanship of a political party. His action makes it possible to regard him as the first of the contemporary dictators to attempt seriously to establish his power on some basis other than an authoritarian political party, a military following, royal prestige, or a sham parliamentary mandate. The German Reichsfuehrer has gone beyond these familiar bases of modern dictatorship and has attempted to substitute for them the Napoleonic constitutional basis of the plebiscite.

From the point of view of a foreign observer, the most interesting aspect of this experience with the popular referendum in the Third Reich continues to be the extraordinary success attending the cabinet's efforts to control the political behavior of the citizens. To mobilise almost forty-five million voters and so regiment their opinions on international and constitutional issues as to secure a favorable verdict little short of unanimity is a political achievement with few, if any, parallels. Should any doubts remain as to the practical political value of the Nazi propaganda ministry, or as to its effectiveness, these referenda must certainly dispel them. Nor could any better evidence than is furnished by these same referenda be adduced to confirm the truth of the observation that illiberal suffrage laws and success in "getting out the vote" do not guarantee genuinely democratic government; that, on the contrary, such government depends primarily upon certain intangibles such as a free press and impartial officials and above all upon an informed and critical electorate. [Links added by me]

Mrs May's assertion that she represented the will of the people against our parliament had uncomfortable echoes of the justification used by Hitler and Goebbels in the 1930s. Fortunately, there is no compulsion built in to our multi-sourced constitution, though one worries that the 2016 referendum and the call for a People's Vote to contradict its verdict have set a precedent. We do have a free press - though weighted towards conservatism - but a rather less informed and objective electorate than one would wish for.

Wednesday 20 March 2019

The governments may be exasperated, but there is still sympathy for us in mainland Europe

So often the attitude of leading Leave spokesmen (rarely a woman) seems to be that of an attention-seeking child in a tantrum.

Nobody likes me, everybody hates me
I think I'll go eat worms!

The trouble is that Brexit would finish with the rest of us eating worms while the likes of Farage and Fox are wined and dined by the shadowy funders and supporters of the various Leave campaigns.

So it is nice to be reminded that below the level of government the ready interchange across the Union would be missed.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

Bercow's ruling not based on arcane historicism

The Brexit minister (backed up by at least one BBC reporter) today presented the Speaker's pronouncement on repeatedly bringing back the same motion to the Commons as a idiosyncratic dredging up of a 17th century anomaly. The contrary is the case. The fact that the principle was established in 1604 shows how fundamental it is. Examine the constitution and/or standing orders of any council from a mighty unitary authority to a humble community council and you will find a ban on an attempt to reverse a decision previously voted on. The period may vary from a few months to the lifetime of that council before the next election, but the principle of taking decisions seriously and letting a realistic period of reflection go by before revisiting them is ubiquitous. Of course, if there is a dramatic change of circumstances, there is the possibility of suspending standing orders but this is a course not to be taken lightly.

For a student of parliamentary history like the member for Rhondda, the Speaker's ruling did not come out of the blue:

This ruling has been repeated many, many times. On 30 June 1864, Sir John Pakington wanted to give more money to nursery schools—hoorah! On 17 May 1870, Mr Torrens wanted to relieve poverty by enabling the poor to emigrate to the colonies. On 9 May 1882, Henry Labouchère wanted to allow MPs to declare, rather than swear, an oath so as to take their seats. On 27 January 1891, Mr Leng wanted to limit railway workers’ very long hours. On 21 May 1912—this one would probably have the support of every Member—George Lansbury wanted to allow women to vote.

On every single occasion, the Speaker—Speaker Brand, Speaker Peel, Speaker Denison and Speaker Lowther—said, “No, you can’t, because we’ve already decided that in this Session of Parliament”. That is why I believe the Government should not have the right to bring back exactly the same, or substantially the same, measure again and again as they are doing. It is not as if the Government do not have enough power. They decide ​every element of the timetable in the House. They decide what we can table and when. They decide when we sit. They can prorogue Parliament if they want. They have plenty of powers. The only limit is that they cannot bring back the same issue time and again in the same Session because it has already been decided.

What do the Government not understand about losing a vote by more than 200 and losing it a second time by 149? For me, the biggest irony of all is that the Government repeatedly say, “The people can’t have a second vote”, but the House of Commons? “Oh, we’ll keep them voting until they come up with the right answer”. We should stand by tradition—Conservatives should be a bit more conservative about the traditions of the House—and stop this ludicrous, gyratory motion.

Monday 18 March 2019

Nigel Owens on LGBT rights, equality and missing a quiet life

In an interview dubbed exclusive by the i newspaper, the respected rugby referee reflected, on the eve of his scheduled retirement, on his realisation that he was gay, on his life in rugby and the part he played in pushing back the homophobia in it. He is not lost to the sport, as he is soon to meet the Welsh Rugby Union with a view to coaching the next generation of officials.

At the age of 47, he is looking forward to less travel and therefore to owning a dog again, four years after Mali, a much-loved German Shepherd, was laid to rest. He has bought a smallholding of 30 acres where he will keep “a couple of beef cattle”. He says he is “seeing someone at the moment”, and has his father and godchildren and cousins to keep him company, but he does not have a long-term partner, and he even muses how he might have given all his success up for a perceived “normal” life of a partner and kids and someone to wake up next to each day. “People have said to me that I am brave, and I have gone home at night, and I am lying there alone and I am thinking to myself ‘am I a brave man or have I been a foolish man?’ If I could change all that to have a normal, quiet life, believe me I would.”

Referring to a couple of exchanges on-field with Jefferson Poirot, in which he complimented the French front-row on continuing to wear rainbow laces long after the LGBT campaign was formally over, the interview concluded:

Owens agrees the exchange with Poirot could never have happened, say, 15 years ago. And, by the way, he advocates the mic’ing up of referees in football, to attack the endemic culture of swearing and dissent. “People ask me what will happen when a gay footballer comes out, and I say the majority of people in football will support that player. There will be some people who will do their best to get him out of the club, and people in the opposition crowd may shout abuse because he is gay. But I don’t think society will allow it.”

And is Owens glad he has helped that change occur? “I know I have been part of it,” he says. “When I had a letter from a mum thanking me for sharing my story, and that her son tried to take his own life, but he read my story and plucked up the courage to tell them, and now he is living a wonderful life – it makes you a little bit proud. It’s helping other people and it’s probably helping me when I go through those difficult times.”

One assumes that he will continue to be a contributor to Welsh language broadcasting but I hope he will not be lost to an Anglophone audience.

Sunday 17 March 2019

The EU intends to help green investors

At next month's meeting of the European Parliament, MEPs are expected to endorse the agreement to discuss means to increase transparency in the process of investment in sustainable development. As the EP's Think Tank reported:

On 24 May 2018, the Commission published three proposals for regulations reflecting the EU's efforts to connect finance with its own sustainable development agenda. The proposals include measures to: create an EU sustainable finance taxonomy; make disclosures relating to sustainable investments and sustainability risks clearer; and establish low-carbon benchmarks. In particular, the proposal for a regulation on disclosures aims to integrate environmental, social and governance considerations into the decision-making process of investors and asset managers. It also aims to increase the transparency duties of financial intermediaries towards end-investors, with regard to sustainability risks and sustainable investment targets. This should reduce investors' search costs for sustainable investments and enable easier comparison between sustainable financial products in the EU

Friday 15 March 2019

Lord Steel corrects the record

David Steel, Baron Steel of Aikwood, the first presiding officer of the reborn Scottish Parliament, former leader of the Liberal Party, has been suspended from membership by the Scottish Liberal Democrats at the request of Jo Swinson, deputy leader of the federal party. It is the responsibility of the state party to consider what further measures to take.

The cause is the evidence that the Lord Steel gave about Sir Cyril Smith to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Lord Steel said he asked the late politician in 1979 about claims that he abused boys at a Rochdale hostel, and found they dated back to Smith's time as a Labour councillor in the 1960s. He told the inquiry he came away from the conversation with Smith "assuming" he had committed the offences, because he did not deny them. This contrasted with statements Lord Steel had previously made, implying that he had not given credence to reports of Smith's misdemeanours.

As I always take the opportunity to point out when the name of Cyril Smith comes up, he was not alone in his time on Rochdale council in taking advantage of vulnerable children at the Knowl View establishment. A Conservative councillor and at least one other Labour councillor (Smith was a member of the Labour party at the time) were also involved. They escaped being named and shamed in their lifetimes because they did not rise to the political height which Cyril Smith reached after he became Liberal MP for the borough. Nor does the only indecency which Smith is known to be guilty of, getting a kick from smacking boys' naked bottoms, come close to the outrages which later convictions of paedophiles have revealed. However, all that does not excuse David Steel, believing what he then assumed to be the case, not only failing to take action against Smith but in going further by recommending a knighthood for the man.

In spite of this one black mark, Lord Steel deserves to be remembered not only for his introduction of the humane Abortion Act 1967 but also by restoring faith in the UK economy by sustaining the government of James Callaghan in 1977 and 1978, keeping the militant socialists of the time at bay. Later, he pushed through the merger of the Liberal and Social Democrat parties restoring order after the fall-out from the 1987 general election.

Thursday 14 March 2019

Did an international treaty bring Facebook down?

Facebook users throughout Europe and possibly further afield were locked out of the social medium for the best part of yesterday. We still have heard no explanation from the company. This has led to some wild speculation, even blaming new executive Nick Clegg.

A more credible explanation is that FB released a major update in a "live test" (what used to be dubbed "trying it on the dog" in my days in IT, and definitely not recommended practice). The fingered culprit is a filter to comply with an updated Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement  (ACTA 2.0). As I understand it, the European Parliament prevented the EU endorsing the original ACTA and has not yet considered the update.

I should be grateful for more informed comment or correction.

Will Sir Christopher object?

The Armed Forces (Derogation from European Convention on Human Rights) comes up for second reading tomorrow. Sir Christopher Chope has been in the habit of blocking private members' bills on the grounds that they do not receive sufficient scrutiny at second reading stage, scheduled as they are for Fridays when most MPs have started an early weekend. To be sure, some loosely-worded legislation - like the  Postal Voting Bill, which has been scheduled and deferred already since its introduction last year - has been punted into the long grass, but Sir Christopher and his little group have it seems singled out much worthy legislation, especially in the field of civil and  women's rights.

It will be interesting to see if he shouts "object!" tomorrow. Leo Doherty's Bill would appear to fall within the category of "well-meaning but flabby legislation" which Sir Christopher and his cohorts decry. It would, without any proviso, "require Her Majesty’s Government to derogate from the European Convention on Human Rights in its application to the conduct of members of the armed forces participating in combat operations overseas". If passed into law, it would send out the message to the world that our servicemen and women could commit acts of barbarism as bad as those of the terror groups such as al-Qa'ida with impunity.

Now I accept the arguments that at least one disreputable law firm, with the flawed testimony of supposed victims, has abused the system, and that cases have been pursued decades late when alleged perpetrators are well into old age. But there are more nuanced remedies without going to the extreme of placing all our military above the law.

Wednesday 13 March 2019

The decline of stock trading?

"Rick" foresees a future where entrepreneurs no longer bother with the stock market for raising money. There is a growing trend for companies to raise money privately before selling equity, as Facebook, Google and Twitter did . If I understand him correctly, he believes that in the future they may cut out the latter stage altogether, with worrying implications for the transparency of company activities.

He quotes a former investment manager as saying that investors "essentially dump companies onto public markets when they have extracted most of the value from them." Rick goes on: "Given that we have an ageing global population that is reliant on stock market performance to pay its pensions, if stock markets are increasingly made up of stuff the rich don’t want any more, will they provide the returns necessary to support an increasing proportion of the world’s people?"

It means that pension funds, so long dependent on investment in publicly-traded stock, will have to change their strategy. It has implications for government, too.

Tuesday 12 March 2019

The Women Leading the Rail Industry in Wales

To celebrate International Women’s Day last Friday, Transport for Wales and Network Rail teamed up with Cardiff University to raise the profile of three of the industry’s leading women.

Alexia Course,  Alison Thompson and Bethan Jelfs were all interviewed by journalism graduate student Isobel Owen, the Transport for Wales website reports. 

Alexia Course, who has worked in the rail industry since leaving University and was appointed as Rail Operations Director for Transport for Wales last summer, said;
“It’s great to be celebrating International Women’s Day and to be interviewed by a Cardiff University female student who will shortly start her professional career. The theme this year is ‘Balance for Better’ and I’m proud that Transport for Wales’ gender ratio on its senior management team and Board is leading the way with strong male and female representation.”
“In partnership with our colleagues in Network Rail, we would like to highlight the equal opportunities available for men and women across the rail industry”.
Alison Thompson, a civil engineer, who has worked in the rail industry for almost 30 years and is currently Chief Operating Officer for Network Rail in Wales and Borders, added;
“Together with Transport for Wales, we are focused on delivering the best service for our passengers. To do this, we will be delivering a significant amount of work on the railway across Wales and Borders, which will provide a wealth of opportunities for people who want to embark on exciting and challenging careers, regardless of their gender.”
“I am pleased to be celebrating International Women’s Day and to be showing women interested in joining the rail industry that it is a great opportunity for everyone!”
Bethan Jelfs, Customer Service Director for Transport for Wales rail services said:
"International women's day is incredibly important for showcasing the incredibly talented and successful women within the rail industry.
"We are committed to bringing new talented people through with our apprentice schemes and we look to promote STEM subjects to boys and girls wherever possible.
"It's so important to show that gender should not be and is not a barrier from succeeding and reaching your potential."

The Party of Wiles swings with the wind

Before the 2016 referendum, Plaid Cymru was in no doubt that Brexit would be a disaster. The party saw the referendum was an English plot to drag Wales out of Europe. Then Wales voted more strongly to withdraw than did any of the other home nations. Afterwards, the then leader of PC in an opinion piece in the Guardian wrote:

the dust may have started to settle after the EU referendum, but the tectonic plates will be shifting for some time. Wales voted to leave. The result was narrow, meaning that all political forces must respect the 48% who voted to remain. But it was not narrow enough to be overturned or called into question. [...] We accept the result.

Now PC candidates, sensing that the mood of the country has changed, are Tweeting all over the place that Plaid Cymru is the only national party which has consistently opposed Brexit and even accusing Liberal Democrats of opposing a People's Vote.

One trusts that when the next general election comes, the voters will be aware that Plaid are as consistent and honest as Brexiteers.

Monday 11 March 2019

Referendum, swayed by state-of-the-art propaganda and nationalist sentiment, accepted as fair by government

Thanks to UKTV for examining in detail the Nazis' propaganda machine. In the second programme in the series, the authors explain how the Saarland plebiscite was a key step on the way to Hitler's domination of mainland Europe.

The requirement for a plebiscite was part of the post-Great-War settlement (the Treaty of Versailles). After fifteen years the inhabitants, until then under the trusteeship of the League of Nations, were to indicate the sovereignty under which they desired to be placed.

An Encyclopadia Britannica article takes up the story;
In the years 1933-35 the plebiscite dominate the life of the Saarland. The Liberty front - German exiles, Saar socialists, Communists, unionists, Catholics, Jews and Francophiles - defended the Saar against annexation by imperialistic Germany, which was favoured by the German front and the National Socialists. 

The UKTV programme explained the propaganda war. Joseph Goebbels distributed  "people's receivers" in the Saarland. These enabled Goebbels' sophisticated propaganda carried by the monopoly Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (Imperial Broadcasting Corporation) to be heard throughout the region and to become the media-dominating messages. The Britannica article goes on:

Hitlerite methods influenced the vote which was held  on January 13, 1935, and it does not seem impossible that the vote itself was manipulated. Nearly 98% of all qualified voters appeared at the polls, an unprecedented showing, although the weather was bad and about 135,000 voters cast their ballots in a location other than that in which they were living. During the 18 hours in which the ballots were stored, Natinal Socialists had access to them. This fact was concealed by the official reports, which also overlooked discrepancies in the returns. Ninety and three-tenths per cent declared for union with Germany [...] on March 1, 1935, the Saar territory was handed over to the Third Reich.

Saturday 9 March 2019

Plaza refurbishment to go ahead

While still regretting that nothing was done to save Neath's cinemas of a similar vintage, it is good to see that Port Talbot's Plaza cinema is to be brought back into use as an arts and culture centre after repairs later this year.

Friday 8 March 2019

Women in European politics

International Womens Day logo

The European Parliament has a Committee on Women’s Rights and Gender Equality (FEMM). Rosamund Shreeves writes on the EP's research service blog that, with elections to the parliament fast approaching, FEMM dedicated an event today to the theme of women in politics. While celebrating the distance European democracies have come since 1919, she also charts how far we still have to go and lists some of the obstacles. These will be familiar to anybody who has been involved in British politics. At the end of the article, backed up by videos, she calls for the media to play their part. An extract:

State of play

Women in national parliaments compared with the European Parliament
Women in national parliaments compared with the European Parliament
Not least due to activism by women and their allies, the political landscape now looks far more balanced than it did exactly a century ago when women in several EU countries (Luxembourgthe Netherlands), first won the vote in national elections, got elected to the national parliament (Luxembourg, Austria), or held a ministerial position (Ireland).  At the time of writing, three EU Member States (Germany, Romania and the UK) have women prime ministers, who are likely to be joined shortly by a fourth in Estonia. EU-wide data on equality between women and men in decision-making shows that governments in Spain, Sweden and France are at gender parity. However, at the other end of the spectrum, governments in Hungary and Malta have only 7.1% and 12% of women respectively. Men outnumber women in every EU Member State’s national parliament, sometimes by a wide margin and the same goes for regional assemblies. When it comes to the European Parliament, the share of female MEPs currently stands at 36.1%, having risen steadily after each election from a low 16.6 % in the first directly elected legislature in 1979. This is above the world average for national parliaments and the EU average for national parliaments, which stands at 30.2%.  However, it is still some way from the parity democracy, which Simone Veil and nineteen other women leaders called for in 1992 at the “European Summit of Women in Power”, which first put the issue on the EU agenda. Its five key arguments for equal representation—equality, democracy, satisfying the needs and interests of women, good use of human resources, and improving the policymaking process—still resonate today.

An obstacle-strewn path to political office
Analysis of the outcome of the 2014 European elections found that women were popular with the electorate. According to the 2017 Special Eurobarometer survey on women in politics, 86 % of respondents think that a female political representative can represent their interests. So why are women still under-represented?
The European Women’s Lobby boils the considerable research down to 5 key factors:  
  • Confidence: women – for a variety of highly rational reasons – have more doubts putting themselves up for election; 
  • Candidate selection: once women agree to run, it’s often difficult for them to get an electable spot on the election list; 
  • Culture: politics is a men’s world. Sexism is rampant and external threats – women – are often not welcome; 
  • Cash: when women run for election, their campaigns often receive less funding than their male counterparts); 
  • Childcare: across the EU, women spend double the amount of time on childcare compared to men.

Women in EP and national parliaments
Women in EP and national parliaments
survey of women’s experiences of selection and election in the UK gives a striking illustration of the cumulative impact these obstacles can have on the journey to political office and beyond, including some of the  additional or specific barriers different groups of women can face on account of their age, class, ethnic background, religion, disability, or sexual orientation:
  • Deciding whether to stand for office: Respondents of both sexes had a long-standing interest in politics, but women were less likely to see themselves as future MPs because they thought that they did not ‘fit’ the traditional image or felt actively discouraged from going forward for selection by party officials or culture (being talked over, feeling invisible). As party activists, some women found that the timing and location of meetings did not take account of parenting responsibilities or mobility issues, creating further obstacles to being active in the party and therefore to building the necessary credibility, experience and networks to consider standing for office.
  • Getting selected as a candidate: In practice, the existing selection process was far from neutral or meritocratic. The time and financial costs involved were a major barrier for many women, especially those from lower socio-economic groups and particularly when employers were not flexible or supportive. Reconciling standing as a candidate and building political capital on top of family commitments and fulltime work was more of an impediment for women than for their male counterparts. Unequal access to resources was compounded by the attitudes and practices of party ‘selectorates’, whose patronage systems and informal selection criteria (e.g. prioritising particular career trajectories or histories of party activism) indirectly advantaged men during the selection process. Across the political spectrum, women respondents also reported more overt forms of bias in political parties, from a preconceived view of the ‘ideal’ candidate as male (and also white, middle class and able bodied), to assumptions about women’s and men’s abilities and roles (women but not men being asked about their marital status or children), and active resistance to selecting a female candidate. This could take the form of resentment and hostility within the local party towards equality measures, or outright opposition, harassment and threats of violence to women candidates from party members, the public and the media.
  • Getting elected: The issue of parties not selecting women candidates in ‘target’ or ‘winnable’ seats was a barrier to their electoral success. (Here, the equivalent in PR systems would be placing on a party list). Issues around resources, particularly money, time and flexibility, were even more important at this stage. Not being selected in a ‘target’ or ‘winnable’ seat could also lead to women candidates missing out on additional electoral support and resources from their parties. Respondents felt that in some more socially conservative areas the electorate were reluctant to vote for candidates from minority groups.
  • Taking office: Once elected, aspects of political life continued to present challenges. Parliament’s long and unsociable working hours, late-night voting, the requirement to be present for votes, commuting between two places and expectations that MPs should be available to constituents around the clock were all issues for female respondents, as was the level of abuse and harassment they face.
Concerns about managing the lifestyle of an MP and the sheer extent of violence directed against women in politics and public life, particularly on social media, may be deterring women from engaging in politics because they find the environment too toxic.
Interview with the EP vice-president, Mairead McGuinness

Interview with researcher Maarja Lühiste : Empowering Women in Politics

Thursday 7 March 2019

May is negotiating with the Commons, not the EU

It has long been obvious that "no deal" is a bigger threat to the UK economy than to the EU's. Mrs May is not taking "no deal" off the table because she feels it is her strongest weapon in her fight to get the Commons to ratify the May-Barnier withdrawal contract. (A reminder: half of UK's trade is with the EU; less than a fifth of the EU's trade is with the UK.)  For an analysis of what possibilities remain, see this.

Similarly, EU27 citizens living in the UK may not be bargaining chips in the Brussels poker game, as the government has pledged they would not be, but they clearly are when it comes to forcing her deal through Parliament, as Mrs May confirmed yesterday at prime minister's question time:

Ian Blackford (Ross, Skye and Lochaber) (SNP) Tove Macdonald is 87 years old. She was brought up under Nazi occupation in Denmark. She has lived in Scotland for 59 years. Why, Prime Minister, is she being forced to register in a country she has called home for almost the last 60 years?

The Prime Minister We want to ensure that EU citizens who are living here have their rights protected. We want to be able to ensure that they have the necessary support that they need and, indeed, the recognition of their status here in the United Kingdom. If the right hon. Gentleman is interested in defending and protecting the rights of EU citizens here in this country, then I hope he will vote for the deal, which does exactly that.

My emphasis.

Wednesday 6 March 2019

Metro trains on the way

The Swiss train manufacturer Stadler is about to start work on 71 new sets for Transport for Wales. There will be a mixture of different power types. It seems that the target is the Metro area centred on Cardiff, but is it too much to hope that one or two of the diesel units will be assigned to the Swansea-Cardiff commute, to replace the ageing Swan Line trains?

More details here.

Tuesday 5 March 2019

Good news for Craig Gwladus

It seems that the area is on the mend after its travails with various fungal infections. Neath Port Talbot has a  "project to revive and restore this woodland park for wildlife and our enjoyment".

As part of that, this coming Friday, March 8th there will be a short talk by Mark Barber from the Amphibian and Reptile Conservation charity (ARC). The talk will begin at 10:30 a.m., but registration at 10:20 is requested. The council's press release does not state the venue explicitly but it appears that participants should meet at the Aberdulais entry to the park. The talk will be combined with a walk round the park.  It looks as if two-and-a-half hours have been allocated to the event, but participants are welcome to stay for as long or little as they wish. They should wear sturdy footwear for walking on the varied terrains within the park. There are no refreshment or other facilities in the park.

For more details about the workshop please contact Mark Barber on 07810 770569.

For general information about the park - visit the Friends of Craig Gwladus Facebook page. For more information about the project as a whole, please email

Wales surely did not vote for collapse in social care

Social Care Wales is concerned that there will be a huge shortfall in care workers over the next decade. One of the obstacles to the organisation's target of 20,000 more care workers (in addition to those cited in the news item) is the Conservatives' "hostile environment" which is driving away immigrants to Wales who would otherwise be willing to take on these essential tasks.

Another is the economic pressure which prevents local authorities and non-government operators recruiting sufficient trainees to allow for the high turnover in this sector, a turnover which is made worse by short staffing causing high workloads.

Monday 4 March 2019

The fight for the Chagossians goes on

From Commons questions to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last week:

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab) Yesterday, the International Court of Justice found that the UK’s control of the Chagos islands is illegal and wrong. This damning verdict deals a huge blow to the UK’s global reputation. Will the Government therefore heed the call of the ICJ to hand back the islands to Mauritius, or will they continue to pander to the United States military?

Sir Alan Duncan The hon. Lady is labouring under a serious misapprehension: yesterday’s hearing provided an advisory opinion, not a judgment. We will of course consider the detail of the opinion carefully, but this is a bilateral dispute, and for the General Assembly to seek an advisory opinion by the ICJ was therefore a misuse of powers that sets a dangerous precedent for other bilateral disputes. The defence facilities in the British Indian Ocean Territory help to keep people in Britain ​and around the world safe, and we will continue to seek a bilateral solution to what is a bilateral dispute with Mauritius.

It seems to me that Sir Alan is splitting hairs.

I have blogged about Chagos before, in 2010, 2015 and last year (whatever happened to that Bill, I wonder?). South Africa's Mail and Guardian gives the history. Particularly telling is the gratuitous brutality of the forced evacuation of the islands.

Over 250 years ago, people began settling on the Chagos Islands — mostly slaves from Africa and indentured labour from India. During the colonial period, it was considered to be part of Mauritius, and administered from there. Given their tiny size and lack of natural resources, the islands did not receive much attention.

Things changed dramatically as the Cold War began to heat up. The United States recognised that the Chagos Islands’ isolated geography was the perfect location for an Indian Ocean military base. The United Kingdom, a key ally, was happy to cooperate, eventually signing a sweetheart deal that gave the Americans a 50-year lease on Diego Garcia, for the sum of just $1 per year, along with a discount on nuclear technology.

There was one snag, however: this was also Africa’s independence era, and in 1968 Mauritius was about to be granted its own independence. Could a new government in Mauritius be relied upon to grant access to the base?

Taking no risks, the United Kingdom unilaterally annexed the Chagos Islands, and forcibly removed all 2 000-plus Chagos Islanders — referred to by officials at the time as “Tarzans” and “Man Fridays” — the better to preserve security around the base.

The removals took place over several years and were brutal.

According to anthropologist David Vine: “British agents, with the help of Navy Seabees, quickly rounded up the islanders’ pet dogs, gassing and burning them in sealed cargo sheds. They ordered … the remaining Chagossians onto overcrowded cargo ships. During the deportations, which took place in stages until May 1973, most Chagossians slept in the ship’s hold atop guano — bird crap. Prized horses stayed on deck. By the end of the five-day trip, vomit, urine and excrement were everywhere. At least one woman miscarried. Arriving in Mauritius and the Seychelles, Chagossians were literally left on the docks. They were homeless, jobless, and had little money, and they received no resettlement assistance. In 1975, the Washington Post broke the story in the Western press and found them living in ‘abject poverty’. Most remain deeply impoverished to this day.”

[Updated 2019-03-05]

Sunday 3 March 2019

Getting rid of those hated EU rules

'It clearly cannot be stated enough that the UK has had a say in the rules ensuring that all EU nations play the same way. This happens two ways, in the council of ministers and in the European Parliament. So the EU is not as undemocratic as Brexiteers maintain. But perhaps for forty years our elected representatives have been kicking and screaming against all the oppressive diktats imposed by a tyrannical majority in Brussels?

Well no, actually. A business owner named Jim Grace has taken the trouble to tot up the directives which the UK fought against to the last, and the result is 72, out of 4,514. (The total number of UK laws passed in the same time was 34,105, which refutes another popular Brexiteer myth.) Here is an extract from his take on the rules we (under both Labour and the Conservatives) do not like. (I have added some highlighting in an appropriate blue.) The complete list is at

So… what inequities were forced upon us, what degradation, what humiliations for a proud island nation? Let’s have a little look shall we? I have put a link to each law we voted “no” to… and my own TLDR, if you don’t fancy wading through the legalese….
(1/72) 29/03/1996 … EU: Food labels should say if Aspartame is present. UK: Nonsense. Bloody red tape! (Linked to cancer, headaches and seizures, even Pepsi USA stopped using it by 2015)
(2/72) 29/04/1996 … EU: Ban on livestock growth-boosters with hormonal, thyrostatic or beta-agonist effects (carcinogenic residue in meat). UK: Aw come on – a little bit of cancer never hurt no-one.
(3/72) 03/06/1996 … EU: Safety advisers dealing with transport of dangerous goods on public roads etc must be properly trained and regulated. UK: Bleedin elf’n’safety gorn mad. Wassamatta wiv a bit a toxic spillage across a playground?
(71/72) 05/03/2015 … EU: Some rules about type approval of e-Call systems (they automatically call 999 in a car crash) UK: More Euro-bollocks. Wouldn’t have saved Diana, hawhawhaw.
(72/72) 23/06/2015 … EU: The CJEU needs more judges to deal with a big backlog of cases. UK: But we LIKE cases to wait ages. It means only the wealthy – who can afford to wait – can get justice.
Cries of “VAT!”. a) My thread was “rules we opposed” not “rules we supported” b) If a 15% floor is so intolerable, how comes our VAT is 20% and the lowest in the whole EU is 17%? c) We could have listed sanitary towels at 0% VAT – like Ireland did – but HMG couldn’t be arsed.