Friday, 31 May 2019

The current climate is against us

Asthma sufferers were hit by a surge in pollen the other week. Now there is the threat posed by thunderstorms. Here is official medical advice from Asthma UK:

Weather reports suggest there could be thunder this weekend as temperatures rise. 
Thunderstorms can be bad news if you have asthma and hay fever. This is because thunder can break up pollen into tiny pieces that go deeper into your lungs, putting you at increased risk of an asthma attack. 
Fortunately, there are simple steps you can take to reduce this risk:
Keep your blue reliever inhaler with you when you’re out and about over the weekend  
Take your hay fever medicines and preventer inhaler (usually brown) as prescribed
If you have asthma and are already noticing more symptoms because of hay fever, such as coughing, a tight chest or breathlessness, please make an urgent GP appointment. 
For more hay fever and asthma support, see our nurses’ tips.
Dr Andy,
In-house GP, Asthma UK
PS. A lot of people have been searching for information on Maintenance and Reliever Therapies recently (also known as MART). If you’re on this treatment regime, you canfind out more about Maintenance and Reliever Therapies on our website.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

CAT welcomes dogs

A neat headline in the current Clean Slate magazine signals a change in policy by the Centre for Alternative Technology. Previously, canines other than assistance dogs were banned from CAT because of concerns for ground-nesting wildlife. Now, strategic fencing and other measures have enabled responsible dog owners to visit the site for a trial period, which it is hoped to make permanent. There is more here.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

The devil and André Sainte-Laguë

In a posting at the end of last month, I warned how an ignorant (or malevolent) decision made by Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw twenty years ago could give disproportionately too many European Parliament seats to the Brexit party. By implication, the Liberal Democrats would not gain the number of MEPs they were entitled to according to the percentage of votes cast. So it has turned out. Less expectedly, Conservatives also missed out and Labour would have had to do remarkably better in South-West England to have even got a sniff.

I am by no means an electoral systems wonk, so what follows is the result of hurried mugging-up. The d'Hondt method of allocating seats from party lists is in use in the UK and several other countries round the world. It is known to favour larger parties. The main alternative, devised by André Sainte-Laguë, was actually first thought up by the almost legendary US statesman Daniel Webster. The basic procedure is set out by the helpful German company Polyas which specialises in on-line voting systems.

Armed only with O-level maths and a Which? pocket calculator, I tried it out first on a simple four-seat selection and one close to home: the Welsh EP election. (All figures on which my calculations are based are from wikipedia which tends to be more accurate than the BBC when it comes to election reporting.) Not expecting much change, I was surprised to find that Webster/Sainte-Laguë actually awarded the fourth seat to Lib Dems rather than Brexit. (The other three seats were unchanged: Brexit, Plaid Cymru and Labour.)

So, on to Scotland, where the actual outcome was 3 SNP MEPs, 1 Brexit, 1 Liberal Democrat and 1 Conservative. Applying Webster/Sainte-Laguë on the proverbial back-of-the-envelope gives 2 SNP, 1 Brexit, 1 Lib Dem, 1 Con. and 1 Labour.

The moral is that short-term expedients which give you undue advantage when you are on top can exaggerate your fall when you slide down the greasy pole. Labour must be praying that neither Brexit nor Plaid Cymru win a majority of constituency seats when 2021 and the next Welsh general election come round.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Science in the service of the law

Now that the Resolven by-election and the European Parliament elections are over, I have been catching up on some of the stories which should have received more prominence when they broke. Among them is the report by their Lordships over the state of the provision of scientific evidence before the courts.

The report draws attention to the failure of the private providers of technical services to keep up with developments in the science, but more importantly to poor management on the part of government. Their conclusion begins:

A free society is dependent on the rule of law which in turn relies on equality of access to justice. The evidence we received points to failings in the use of forensic science in the criminal justice system and these can be attributed to an absence of high-level leadership, a lack of funding and an insufficient level of research and development. Throughout this inquiry we heard about the decline in forensic science in England and Wales, especially since the abolition of the Forensic Science Service.

Monday, 27 May 2019

European Parliament elections: first thoughts

Welsh Liberal Democrats came tantalisingly close to the first European Parliament seat for the party (or for the predecessor Liberal Party). Chloe Hutchinson tells us that this was our best performance since direct elections to the EP started in 1979. If Change UK had not interfered, their votes would have been enough to take Welsh Lib Dem Sam Bennett over the bar. One also wonders how much Plaid Cymru's late intervention, urging Lib Dem supporters to vote Nationalist, had on the contest. If it had caused a 2% swing between the parties, that would have been enough to ensure that Brexit achieved a second seat, exactly the opposite result from the purported aim of Plaid's mail-shot.

Change UK also gave Brexit an extra seat in North-East England, preventing Fiona Hall from returning to Brussels. Other regions in England may have been affected, but that result stood out clearly. The bad news that the controversial Claire Fox had topped the poll for Brexit in the North-West was mitigated by the more welcome return of the excellent Lib Dem Chris Davies. Overall, the party in Scotland and England has easily topped our previous haul. And there are suggestions from Northern Ireland, which is counting today, that Naomi Long of our sister party the Northern Ireland Alliance will be one of the successful candidates.

Our fifteen Liberal Democrats and one Alliance MEP will join a reinvigorated ALDE bloc in the EP. Greens have also increased their representation across Europe. Together - and they seem like natural bedfellows - they will constitute 24% of the new parliament, filling the void left by the decline in democratic socialist and moderate conservative blocs. Extremist parties have increased their representation, but it is noteworthy that few want to break up the EU. Even Marine le Pen's Rallye National, born of the neo-Nazi Front National, has reversed its policy on membership.

Vince Cable and his successor as leader of the Lib Dems, whoever that may be, now need to use the party's new-found prominence to stress that we are not a one-issue party, that we have policies to help the "just getting by" people to whom Theresa May promised so much and so miserably let down.  An increasingly self-serving Conservative party and a disastrously-split Labour will not do so.

And we have by no means heard the last of Sam Bennett.

Sunday, 26 May 2019

Canada's firearms legislation

Canada's Liberal government is facing the age-old tug between individual freedom and the need for public protection as it steers Bill C-71 through the upper house of parliament. Liberal critics say that the proposed legislation is the bare minimum necessary to fulfil the Liberals' manifesto pledge. They point to the more drastic action taken by New Zealand in the aftermath of the mosque shootings. On the other hand, Conservatives complain about the extra burden placed on law-abiding gun owners while nothing is done about illegal firearms.

On the horizon are the next federal elections. Justin Trudeau is already tainted by the SNC-Lavalin affair and October 21st could see his majority disappear in the face of a Conservative resurgence and desertion by more radical Liberal voters. A Conservative government in Ottawa, or a minority Liberal administration which has had its wings clipped, have implications for trade negotiations with the UK if we are out of the EU by then.

Thanks to today's BBC World Service news broadcast for the alert.

Saturday, 25 May 2019

Fifteen books in fifteen minutes

One of those memes which has been circulating on the Web surfaced in Terry Teachout's column recently. His selection (bearing in mind his North American roots) of those titles which came to him in a quarter-of-an-hour was:

Flannery O’Connor’s Wise Blood
James Gould Cozzens’ Guard of Honor
Boswell’s Life of Johnson
Anthony Trollope’s The Way We Live Now
John P. Marquand’s Point of No Return
Barbara Pym’s A Glass of Blessings
Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour (yes, it’s a trilogy, but I first read it in the one-volume omnibus version)
Dawn Powell’s The Locusts Have No King
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby
Raymond Chandler’s The Long Goodbye
Clement Greenberg’s Collected Essays and Criticism (a four-volume set, but I think of it as a single work)
George Orwell’s Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters (ditto)
David Cairns’ Berlioz (a two-volume biography, but I think of it as a single work)
Fairfield Porter’s Art in Its Own Terms
Edwin Denby’s Looking at the Dance

It seems to me that the lists I have seen so far are a bit too worthy. One is influenced by all sorts of literature before one is even introduced to the concept. Ones childhood reading has a greater influence that most people care to admit. Wind in the Willows and the Alice books certainly still affect me, along with Dickens, Hardy, Orwell, JP Marquand (again), Dorothy L Sayers and Nigel Balchin.

Friday, 24 May 2019

Westminster meltdown - the precedents

Peter Black has a typically thoughtful piece about the troubled times in which we live. Like many of us, he draws parallels with the breakdown of the Weimar Republic. It seems to me that what has saved us (so far!) from a neo-fascist dictatorship is that our constitution does not allow the head of government to take unchallenged and wide-ranging emergency powers, as Weimar did. Nor is our head of state as feeble as Hindenburg was.

To me, the present situation echoes previous occasions in our political history when established political parties were thrown into confusion: the Peelite breakaway over the repeal of the Corn Laws, which broke the Tory/Whig duopoly, leading to the emergence of the Liberal and the modern Conservative parties; and the break-up of that same Liberal party over Irish Home Rule, giving a kick-start to Labour. It seems to me that in both situations the outcome was not inevitable, and that a different path could easily have been taken.

Our future is similarly unpredictable. Throw into the mix a mercurial US president who seems intent on antagonising traditional friends while at the same time stifling world trade and one worries. One worries.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Vote, vote

Electors in Abergarwed, Clyne, Melin Court and Resolven: if you have not already voted by post, please use your vote today to install the hard-working and caring Sheila Kingston-Jones on Neath Port Talbot council.

This is also the polling day for the UK in the European Parliament elections. The people on the Lib Dem list really are good. They will not let Wales down in Brussels, nor will they just take the EP money and run as has been the case with some other people I could mention. They deserve your vote.

Wednesday, 22 May 2019

May's impasse

Guido lists the ten bullet points of Mrs May's final withdrawal offer. It seems to me that she goes as far as is possible, compatible with the EU's constitution, to fulfilling the rosy promises held out by the Leave proponents in 2016. The fact that it still contains words like "seek" and "objective" underlines the point that Leavers could never guarantee their projected rosy economic future outside the EU.

That is all before considering the benefits of the Union which we will miss: the security which guaranteed cooperation between juridictions and police give us, the freedom of UK citizens to work anywhere within Europe and the opportunities for young people to travel widely and educate themselves. There is no mention of the clout which the EU has when it comes to dealing with multi-national corporations.

The cost to British industry of leaving EU facilities is illustrated by the withdrawal of permits under the Emissions Trading Scheme which started the British Steel emergency. There will be others, not all of which can be recovered by post-withdrawal negotiation.

It skirts the probability that, whatever happens to the border, the network that has been built up between the north and south of Ireland in transport and power will be split to the detriment of both parts. The fudge over the border itself will lead to either unification or further conflict in the North.

After years of talks with the EU27, informal discussions with possible trading partners and weeks of attempting to find common ground with the official opposition, the prime minister has still not found a withdrawal deal which is satisfactory. When it is rejected by the House, as it will be, she must swallow her pride and revoke the Article 50 letter. Industry, commerce and the people of Ireland will have certainty restored and the silent majority in Britain will heave a sigh of relief.

Tuesday, 21 May 2019

More on Zero Carbon Housing

In her last-but-one Country Focus programme before Gilbert John took over, Rachel Garside had an item about the One Planet movement in Wales. It seems that the relaxation of planning rules to encourage low-impact building in the countryside has disturbed some people in the south-west, and that there are concerns that the rider to the relaxation, that regular monitoring reports be submitted, is not always honoured. The One Planet Council's response was:

The One Planet Council is a voluntary organisation which supports and promotes the One Planet Development (OPD) policy. For clarification, we have no role in assessing or monitoring applications: this falls to the local government planning department, committees and their delegates.

Like Pembrokeshire Councillor Huw George, we consider the monitoring of developments to be extremely important, and note that failure to submit annual monitoring reports is a breach of planning condition. The monitoring reports provide robust evidence of the success of OPD in improving land productivity, job creation, combating climate change and improving biodiversity, all of which are local and national priorities; councils should therefore celebrate and support these achievements.

We note that the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act itself contains a provision for all of Wales to reduce its environmental footprint to a “one planet” level within a generation. If this is to be achieved, pioneers must be supported.

At its heart, the One Planet Development policy is a scheme for rural diversification, which is open to existing farmers just as much as to new entrant smallholders. In fact, existing farms have a head start, in that they already have a demonstrated land-based business, and so their planning application might focus on the other important criteria: zero carbon buildings, and a low ecological footprint.

There is a continuing and inaccurate stereotype that OPD houses are “hobbit houses” built by “incomers”. Many One Planet Development homes (though not all) look very normal in appearance, and many (though not all) are built by local Welsh-speaking Welsh people in or returning to their local area. We wish to stress that OPD housing is about ‘zero carbon over its lifetime’ performance, not appearance, which is a matter of taste and conversation between practitioners, planners, and Building Control.

With climate change and ecological disruption currently high on the political agenda, and clearly a matter of urgency, we hope to see more One Planet Development applications. Councillor George’s call for a “moratorium” is unnecessary: to address his concerns, what we need is clearer guidance about monitoring, supported by the Welsh Government.

Monday, 20 May 2019

Troubling times at the Liberty

In his statement on joining Brighton and Hove Albion, Graham Potter stated: "I was sold by the long-term vision and passion shown by Tony Bloom, Paul Barber and Dan Ashworth." The implication is that the current owners of Swansea City do not have the same ambition. We shall see when the transfer window opens whether they see the Swans as more than a short-term investment.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

What have the liberals in Brussels ever done?

If, as one hopes, Sam Bennett and Donna Lalek are elected to the European Parliament, they will join one of the larger blocs in Brussels. ALDE has some notable achievements to its name and continues to fight for liberal values and consumer interests.

Mark Valladares, a member of the Liberal Democrat Federal International Relations Committee, has listed ALDE's achievements and aspirations here and here.

Swansea man switiches vote to Liberal Democrats over Brexit

Swansea-born Michael Heseltine, former deputy leader of the Conservative Party, and the man who sowed the seeds of Liverpool's long-term revival, has announced that he is voting Lib Dem in this month's European Parliament elections. He cites the "poison" of Brexit, and blames the Tories for becoming "infected with the virus of extremism".

 I know that Sam Bennett, the Welsh party's lead candidate, has been campaigning hard in the city and it could well be that he converts Swansea as a whole to the Remain camp from its stance in the 2016 referendum. Indeed, given our perennial shortage of funds when Euro elections come round, the  Welsh Lib Dem European Parliament campaign has been most impressive. I do not remember such an effort in 2009, when we should have ridden on the back of the national upsurge in Lib Dem support, or in 2014 - more's the pity.

Plaid Cymru, ever alert to changes in the public mood and able to react swiftly to them, has suddenly swung under Adam Price from being, like Welsh Labour, a party of managing Brexit, to being all-out Remainers. They have launched a charm offensive against known Remainers (how did they collect all our names and addresses? I foresee a demand for an Electoral Commission investigation, not least over the cost of the mail-shot.) with the aim of securing a second MEP seat. There are two flaws with their new stance: Welsh Nationalism is anathema to many voters, including most Conservative supporters; and it is going to estrange their hard core, who see the future of Wales as a free nation, independent of both England and the EU. So they may well lose more votes than they gain.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Self-build housing

Adjournment debates allow the House of Commons to shake off party raiment to discuss matters of importance to ordinary people from the very local to the more general. The only trouble is that the debates are not only time-limited but usually poorly-attended. Last Monday, the Conservative member Victoria Prentis gave a boost to the revived interest in self-build and custom-built housing.

One of the things I learned from this debate is that local authorities in England are required "to keep a register of individuals and community groups who have expressed an interest in acquiring land to bring forward self-build and custom-build projects and to take account of and make provision for the interests of those on such registers in developing their housing initiatives and their local plans". This is from the description of the Self-Build and Custom Housebuilding Act when it was introduced as a Private Member's Bill in 2014. It received cross-party support (Liberal Democrat John Pugh was one of the sponsors along with Labour and Nationalists)

As a visitor to Crawley in the 1960s, I was impressed by the amount of self-building which was going on, and all without the benefit of legislation encouraging it. Mind you, the purchase tax regime was more benign then. Latterly, Kevin McCloud has revived interest in the concept.

Later this year, Self-Build Wales comes on stream. Not only will it make it easy to identify available plots throughout Wales, but also make loans available through the Development Bank of Wales.

Friday, 17 May 2019

Revoke Article 50 petition still collecting signatures

It passed the threshold for a debate very quickly, and before that apology for a debate in Westminster Hall was grudgingly conceded, it became oversubscribed fifty times over. Signatures to the petition are still trickling in at several per hour. The tally will shortly reach 6.083 million. Since it does not close until 20th August, who knows what the final total will be? The results of the European Parliament elections may well inspire another spurt. I had hoped that another 75 residents of Bristol West would have signed by now, to bring up to three the number of constituencies where the supporters of the petition exceeded forty per cent of the electorate, but the numbers are pretty impressive all the same. Especially impressive are the 27,112 signatories (at the time of writing) in Europhobe Jeremy Corbyn's Islington North seat, representing 36.2% of the electorate there.

Channel 4's FactCheck team admitted that it was possible to fake signatures, but not on the industrial scale necessary to add millions to the register. The two-stage verification process would have militated against that. Besides, though the Cabinet Office is discreet about what verification processes are built-in to the system, clearly a flood of input from a single IP address would have been one alarm signal.

I hope that people continue to sign, so that parliament on its first sitting day after the 20th August will be presented with a colossal expression of the views of the silent majority, who want the opportunities and the protection of the EU to continue. Of course, it may not be necessary and the new prime minister, Boris Johnson, will perform one of his famous U-turns and take back the Article 50 letter. One lives in hope.

Thursday, 16 May 2019

Candidates for election to EU Commission presidency set out their stalls

Fair play to the BBC: they did actually transmit live Eurovision's coverage of the debate in which the six candidates for election to one of the EU's key posts responded to questions on the major issues facing the Union. They could have done more by trailing it on the News Channel, but let us be thankful for their showing it at all when it was not certain that Brexit would be discussed. In the event, the two leading items were on migration and jobs, as they have been for much of the last five years in the Parliament which is shortly to end.

All but one of the candidates used English, which seems likely to remain the EU's lingua franca even if  we leave, rather than their native language. Few UK political leaders could contribute lucidly to a debate in French or German, let alone Dutch or Danish.

Wednesday, 15 May 2019


ME is one of those conditions which has become more diagnosable through recognition of its common symptoms, but for which no trigger mechanism has yet been discovered and whose very name may represent an initial misreading of the cause. (ME stands for Myalgic Encephalomyelitis.) Schizophrenia ("split brain") is similar, except that there are now various drug treatments which can alleviate its effects. Rob Parsons does not blog often, but when he does it is worth paying attention. Here is his exhaustive take on ME.

Tuesday, 14 May 2019


The videos, on TV and on the Web, of good food being dumped by supermarkets are a revolting sight. They are all the more revolting to those of my generation and older who remember rationing and a culture of "waste not, want not".  Yet we are told that the average consumer is a worse culprit than the stores. Apparently, Brits dump 65 kg of a food a year, while the average for a Rwandan is 1 kg. The US is even worse, being responsible for 95 kg of uneaten food per annum.

"Display until" and "use by" dates I have always treated as a guide and not a prescription. My nose and eyes are the final arbiters of a food item's edibility.

Now DEFRA in conjunction with Love Food, Hate Waste and others is intent on driving down food waste in this country. Yesterday's announcement is linked with a V&A exhibition opening this weekend.


The prevalence of plastic waste was highlighted by the revelation that human-created detritus was found at the bottom of the Marianas Trench, in a record-breaking exploration by submersible. 

This comes on top of Which? reporting that there is as yet no completely satisfactory way of recycling Nespresso-style coffee capsules.

Monday, 13 May 2019

The gentle art of political interviewing

As part of its tribute to Brian Walden, who sadly passed away this week, Radio 4's PM programme relayed the thoughts of the public and invited comments from today's professionals. The former were mostly appreciative of Walden's style, courteous, giving his politician guests time to reply, yet probing and persistent. It all depended on thorough homework, of course. The professionals all said that it could not work now, that politicians were all coached and you needed to be confrontational, interrupting frequently. Well, Margaret Thatcher was thoroughly coached - packaged, one might say - by Sir Tim Bell among others, yet Walden managed to extract confidences from her that no other political interviewer had.

But after Weekend World finished and well into the period when this coaching was said to be taking place, there was another man who had mastered the art of the apparently gentle interview which nevertheless dug beneath the veneer of politicians. Moreover, he carried no political baggage. I refer to Patrick Hannan who died too soon nearly ten years ago.  It is the nation's loss the (presumably because of BBC politics) he was not given more exposure on networked TV and radio.

We would all be better informed if there were more of their ilk on air today.

Sunday, 12 May 2019

South African elections: the allocation of seats

Seats are allocated by means of our old friend d'Hondt

GOOD is led by a former mayor of the Western Cape, Patricia de Lille, and is a de-merger from the liberal Democratic Alliance. The South African explains: "De Lille previously led the Independent Democrats before merging with the DA and being officially dissolved as a separate political party in 2014, which helped secure the DA’s control of the Western Cape".

When is a referendum a final referendum?

Mrs Leadsom was at it again last Thursday. The leader of the House of Commons responded in her usual fashion to the admittedly usual question from her shadow on the Scottish Nationalist benches.

I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his, as ever, rather witty, if a little misguided, contribution. The fundamental problem is that his party does not believe in abiding by the result of referendums, whereas the Conservative party does. We had a referendum in 2016, and we are determined to deliver on the result by leaving the EU; Scotland had a referendum in 2014 and, regardless of whether it has another one, the SNP will abide by it only if it gets the result it wants.

Mrs L. never explains why the Conservatives do not abide by the result (a two-thirds vote in favour of "Remain") of the 1975 referendum but believe that the narrow verdict of 2016 should be cast in stone. She also does not concede that one of the main reasons that the Scots voted "No" in 2014 was that they were threatened with expulsion from the EU if they voted for Independence. At least she did not say "absolutely" or "clear" this time; perhaps her resolve is weakening.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

New powers for Companies House?

I picked up on this story only in today's i newspaper, but apparently it was trailed in the Times as early as last week. What is surprising is that there was no statement in the House of Commons about the proposed, long-overdue, reforms.

Companies House already has the power to strike off companies who do not follow the statutory rules, like meeting the dates for filing of accounts. I assume they could also refuse to accept the registration of companies with dubious names of directors, but that in both cases they lack the personnel to carry out the checks which would enable them to do so. Those dodgy names do turn up (not quite "M. Mouse", but getting on that way) as Computer Weekly, Times newspapers and Private Eye's investigations have shown.

Those investigations have been made easier by Companies House making the record searchable in June 2015. It is an easy-to-use and seemingly comprehensive service (try for an example ). I assume that the government has been forced into action by not only the print journals' findings but also those of citizen investigators.

Several Conservative MPs would be embarrassed (as would a few on the opposition benches, no doubt) if the proposals were enacted, but I hope that the government holds its nerve, ignores spurious objections and also provides the staffing necessary. The UK's reputation for probity depends on them.

Have I got gutless news for you

There are three ways of explaining the BBC's pulling of the already-recorded Have I Got News For You from the schedules yesterday.

The least likely is Auntie's own excuse, that the appearance of Heidi Allen, former Conservative MP and now titular head of The Independent Group, egregiously broke partiality guide-lines. As Ms Allen has pointed out, Nigel Farage appeared (incidentally for the thirty-fourth time) on Question Time, which went out live on BBC-1 on the same day as HIGNFY was recorded for the same channel. If this were valid, Auntie would be admitting that viewers placed maximum faith in a satirical knockabout show and zero trust in her flagship political forum. Unfortunately, the evidence from social media and the blogosphere is that QT is still taken seriously. (I gave up watching it a long time ago. I spent a lot of money on my TV set when I was gainfully employed and I cannot afford to replace a shattered screen.)

One possibility is that it was an act of spite by the Conservative hierarchy who see Ms Allen's crossing the floor as treachery and who are able to influence the BBC behind the scenes at the top level. The fact that Ms Allen was not substituted before the recording but only after her participation became more widely known gives credence to this view.

Alternatively, the BBC top brass estimated that Ms Allen's party, which could possibly offer a threat to the Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament poll, would gain more publicity by their drastic action than if they had let her appear in her own right as scheduled.

Friday, 10 May 2019

Election season?

In addition to the European elections, for which postal ballots have gone out, and a recall petition in Brecon and Radnorshire, there is a pair of elections in important Commonwealth countries. The largest democracy in the world is in the midst of its seven-phase election. Last Wednesday, South Africa went to the polls.

With less than a tenth of the vote to be counted, the ANC is practically certain of an overall majority. Their vote is down, because of reports of corruption and recent poor economic performance, but clearly the mass of voters still gives the ANC credit for seeing South Africa out of the apartheid era. The liberal Democratic Alliance's advance has been checked, but DA still accounts for a fifth of the vote. The major winners are the EFF on just over 10%.

It looks increasingly likely that, between them, ANC and the more radical EFF will muster the two-thirds majority necessary to amend the constitution and obtain the power to expropriate land.

Thursday, 9 May 2019

European Parliament elections: make a positive vote

Last week, the Liberal Democrats launched the 2019 European Parliament (EP) campaign with a simple message: Vote for the Lib Dems to Stop Brexit. Simple messages, repeated often, are effective. There should be no criticism of the Lib Dem high command for that approach. They will have been reassured by the results of last Thursday's local elections in England and Northern Ireland, in which the most prominent and unequivocal pro-EU parties, the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Alliance* all made gains, while the basically pro-Brexit (though with different shades of fervour) parties, Labour and the Conservatives, were trounced. Although local issues must have played a larger part than London commentators acknowledged, Brexit overshadowed the elections. Mentally bruised Labour and Tory activists reported on TV how, time after time, Brexit was raised spontaneously on the doorstep. There is no doubt that the more Liberal Democrat MEPs are returned this month, then the more that government and opposition will take notice that a change of direction is needed.

But there is more to the vote than that, and even those who expect the UK to leave the Union this year might wish to reflect on this. For five months, possibly more, judging by Mrs May's record in these matters, the UK will be represented in one of the three co-dependent key bodies of the European Union (for a reminder of the power of the directly-elected parliament, this is the official summary) . It is important that we send to Brussels people who will earn their corn, and not treat their membership as a sinecure, a means of personal enrichment while they either absent themselves from the parliament or cause trouble there.

Liberal Democrats have punched above their weight in the EP in the past. Before the 2014 reaction against our time in coalition, when UKIP aided by massive BBC exposure took so many seats, Lib Dem MEPs played their full part and more in EP affairs. I had hoped that the excellent Vote Watch EU site would provide evidence, but their archive is not as detailed as that of the Westminster equivalents. However, ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and  Democrats for Europe) comes to the rescue and the following is an extract from pen-portraits of MEPs who served up to 2014.

Graham Watson (now Sir Graham)

From 1994 to 1999, Graham was a member of the Committee for Economic & Monetary Affairs and Industrial Policy and the Budgets Committee. From July 1999 to 2002 he served as Chairman of the Committee on Citizens’ Freedoms and Rights, Justice and Home Affairs. From 2009 until 2014 he was a member of the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee and Chairman of Parliament’s delegation for relations with India.

Sarah Ludford (now Baroness Ludford)

A senior member of the European Parliament civil liberties, justice & home affairs committee, she took a leading role in formulation of EU cooperation measures on crime, terrorism and data exchange but also on data protection and civil liberties safeguards, and plays a strong part in developing laws on biometric visas, border security, immigration and asylum. Sarah was also Vice-Chair of the European Parliament Human Rights Sub-Committee and Member of the Foreign Affairs Committee. She had been the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Guantanamo Bay and was a founder and vice-chair of the parliament’s investigation into European governments’ collusion in CIA ‘torture flights’ and secret prisons. She was a member of the delegation to the United States, took a strong interest in the Balkans, Turkey, Cyprus and the Middle East, and is a member of the Liberal Democrat Friends of Israel.

Fiona Hall

Fiona was a full member of the Industry, Research and Energy Committee and a substitute member of the Development Committee, working in particular on natural disasters, climate change and economic partnership agreements. Fiona took part as an MEP observer in a number of EU election observation missions and was Chief Observer of the EU Election Observation Mission toTogo in 2007 and Mozambique in 2009.

Sharon Bowles (now Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted)
A chartered Patent and European Patent Attorney with her own professional practice (Bowles Horton partnership), she has extensive experience drafting and prosecuting patents for leading edge companies over a wide range of technical fields. Sharon was a full member of the influential Economic and Monetary Affairs committee of which she was elected Chairwoman in 2009 – as the first Liberal and Briton in this job. She was reelected to this role in January 2012. She also sat as a substitute member of the Legal Affairs committee from January 2007. In February 2006 she was central in the formation of the Committee of Inquiry into the crisis of the Equitable Life Assurance Society. She was a member of the Financial and Economic Crisis committee. As shadow rapporteur for ALDE, Sharon was a key player in the Payment Services Directive (PSD) negotiations. As rapporteur she led for the Parliament on fiscal fraud and was shadow rapporteur on Solvency II. However, her technical and professional experience meant she was involved in a range of matters spread over many other committees. So much for Farage's brazen charge that no MEP could hold down a real job. 

Chris Davies worked cross-party with the late Paul Flynn MP to decriminalise drugs. In the EP, he was team leader (‘coordinator’) on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee for the 85-strong European Liberal Democrat (ALDE) Group of MEPs. He also sat on the Budgetary Control Committee and was a member of the Delegation to the EU-Cyprus Joint Parliamentary Committee. Chris was rapporteur for the ‘CCS Directive’ in 2008, and played a key role in introducing the principal funding mechanism used to support development of CCS demonstration projects. However, he was also closely involved in the shaping of legislation dealing with emissions from vehicles, chemicals, waste, and the pollution of air and water. Within the Parliament he also campaigned for policies to promote sustainable fisheries and to protect biodiversity. He co-founded the cross-party Fish for the Future campaign group in the European Parliament and acted as its secretary and organiser to push for a far-reaching reform of the Common Fisheries Policy.

Catherine Bearder survived the slaughter of 2014.
She is a member of the Parliament’s Committee on Regional Development and the Committee on Transport. She is also a member of the Parliament’s delegation to the Joint Parliamentary Assembly between the EU and the ACP (Africa,Caribbeanand Pacific Regions). Having travelled in Africa studying conservation issues, Catherine puts emphasis on safeguarding biodiversity and tackling climate change. She is President of the Green Liberal Democrats and is working to ensure that environmental protection is core to European Policy, not just an ‘add-on’. She has also campaigned on social justice and rural issues, and has a particular interest in tackling human trafficking.

Sam Bennett leads this year's Welsh Liberal Democrat list. He is well-prepared to take his place in the Parliament. In 2012 Sam graduated from Aberystwyth University with a Masters in European Politics. After a dynamic few years working in Kirsty Williams' Brecon office, he moved to Swansea to work for Swansea University international development office, working to recruit international students, and support the exchange programmes specifically with Erasmus. This later became a permanent role working for Swansea University Medical School in Marketing as Digital Lead for the School.

So I would like to see our party, in addition to the anti-Brexit message, not only promote the brilliance and dynamism of our lead candidate in Wales, but also tell the electorate what Liberal Democrats can do for us in Europe, pointing to our record there. 

*Sinn Fein are more recent converts

Wednesday, 8 May 2019

GP situation in Wales "stabilising"

The rider to today's report that there is a fall in GP numbers in England hides the fact that Wales is stabilising at a low point. There has been a fall in practices over the last decade. The pressures caused by many GPs at or nearing retirement age with no immediate replacement, and by the attractions of the cities and comfortable conurbations to the detriment of rural and post-industrial areas are still there. The one bright spot on the horizon is that the number of doctors in training is going up again, but of course it will be four or five years before they qualify.

Tuesday, 7 May 2019

A forgotten British composer

Liberal England's mention yesterday of The Heart Within reminded me that one of the stars, Earl Cameron, is still with us and declares that he is still available for work at the age of 101. Checking on his c.v., I found that he had trained with the granddaughter of black American actor Ira Aldridge.

Now this is a story in itself. Aldridge had lived in Hamlet Road, Upper Norwood near the Crystal Palace and brought up a family there. (Coincidentally, composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was to be a resident of Croydon, so south London/north Surrey must have been more tolerant of brown-skinned people in late Victorian days than now.) One of his daughters was a singer and composer, Amanda, who published under the nom-de-guerre Montague Ring. It appears that gender was a greater bar to acceptance as a composer than race! She wernt on to coach other singers and actors. Since Amanda died as recently as 1956, and she had trained Paul Robeson among other well-known performers, it is probable that it was she, and not a granddaughter, who had worked with Cameron.

Montague Ring was good enough to have one of her pieces played on the early BBC. I am fairly sure I heard one of her songs on Radio 3 in a recent programme about her and her opera-singer sister, and that it was enjoyable, if conventional. While R3 is reviving the reputation of American women composers, the network might also give Amanda Aldridge her due.

Monday, 6 May 2019

Welsh government twenty years on

The National Assembly for Wales today kicks off a programme of events to mark twenty years of devolution. Exactly twenty years since the people of Wales went to the polls to vote in the first ever Assembly election, the Senedd will open its doors allowing the public to explore the Assembly's history, powers and ambitions through a range of public activities and events aimed at all ages. A new exhibition charting the history of devolution in Wales will be unveiled.

Sunday, 5 May 2019

Do not believe Plaid Cymru on Brexit

Plaid Cymru went into the 2017 general election "accepting the verdict of the people of Wales" on leaving the EU. As a Lib Dem activist recalled on Facebook recently, "I remember debating with Plaid during the GE campaign and they were arguing that it was important to ‘deliver’ Brexit. Really makes me cross as they (like Labour) were just hedging their bets."

Yet I have seen several social media posts recently claiming in effect that "Plaid Cymru is the only pro-EU party in Wales" or "Plaid Cymru has consistently opposed Brexit".

I like neither Punch-and-Judy politics nor negative campaigning, but when outright lies are peddled, they need to be exposed.

Memoirs of a "Cornish Liberal"

Perhaps it was her liberal background that enabled Barbara Hosking to serve equally well Harold Wilson and Edward Heath. I wonder if she ever visited Transport House or Conservative Central Office, on opposite corners of Smith Square? If so, I could have passed her in the street in the early 1960s (as I once encountered Earl Attlee) without realising how important she was.

Anyway, I was glad to make her acquaintance today through her appearance on Radio 3's Private Passions. I must admit that, if I had been in the interviewer's chair, I would have asked her to add to the evidence against the post-mortem and clearly spurious allegations about Edward Heath - but perhaps there is something in her memoirs about that.

Friday, 3 May 2019

Good morning, England

 - and it is a very good morning in England. Liberal Democrats have regained virtually (I am writing this before all the results are in) all the losses in local government suffered in 2015. Promising for fellow party members in Wales is that many of the gains, including the dramatic capture of Bath from the Conservatives, are in bordering counties. We should also congratulate the Green Party, which is the only other organised political party which gained yesterday. Many of us could foresee the latter trend (which will almost certainly continue into the European Parliament elections) but not the BBC whose graphics prepared for their overnight coverage on the News channel did not allow for that. Nor did BBC include a Green representative on their panel until well over half-way into their coverage.

It was predictable that the Conservatives, the ruling party in Westminster during a period of economic stagnation, would lose badly. What most commentators expected, along with a Liberal Democrat bounce, was that Labour would benefit. In the event, Labour continued to lose councillors and even councils.

The pundits have put the Conservative and Labour losses down to a reaction to Brexit. I believe it is more nuanced than that. The Conservatives are clearly divided over Brexit, and Labour have swithered in their EU policies. Voters do not like divided or uncertain parties. The Greens and (true to our slogan before the current "Britain deserves better") Liberal Democrats have been united. There may be some doubts about some of our policies, but at least our leading figures are not seen to be fighting each other like ferrets in a sack.

Another common factor is the resistance to building on greenfield sites. Sitting councils are seen to be too willing to grant planning permission for development in green belts. The Conservatives' (and, to be fair, New Labour's) policy of trusting the commercial market to fulfil the nation's housing needs has been a clear failure. Profit-driven builders are not going to convert brownfield sites out of the goodness of their hearts, but instead will develop on land which is cheapest to buy and to work. (Nor will they prioritise the most-needed accommodation, that for single people and one-parent families.) There needs to be some direction from government, both central and local, in this area.

The pressure on government and the opposition to think green is increasing. Liberal Democrats, with an active green wing, are well-equipped to take advantage. Unless Labour and the Conservatives clean up their acts, on so many fronts, they will continue to fail at the ballot.

Thursday, 2 May 2019

Bovine TB: unnecessary animal deaths

Around £36.5 million has been paid out in compensation for slaughtered cattle who have reacted to a standard tuberculin skin test. £14.5m of that was paid in 2018-19. Since the test is liable to produce false positives - and militates against inoculation of animals - it seems to me that if the same amount of money had been put into research for a better diagnostic over the years, then this would not be such an issue now.

Farmers have predictably responded with a call to eliminate badgers. However, the technical advice from Northern Ireland, which has a good record on bovine TB is that: "There is a perception that if a badger cull is carried out locally or throughout NI, that all TB problems will disappear. This is unlikely to be the case as TB is a multi-factorial disease with several different methods of spread."

Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Cwm Taf Morgannwg Health Board maternity unit is being put into special measures.

Concerns, expressed by Rhondda Cynon Taff Liberal Democrats among others about the quality of their regional maternity services, resulting in a Royal Colleges' review, have finally been acted upon by Welsh Health Ministers. I must admit that I was unaware of the difficulties at Cwm Taf Morgannwg until the story broke on BBC Wales and Wales Online yesterday.

The deficiencies listed in the BBC report are partly down to poor management, which is a local matter, but largely because of staff shortage at many levels, which affects all health boards in Wales. The use of agency staff for nursing can be reduced by bring nurse wages up to levels competitive with the rest of the UK, something which can be redressed by the Labour Welsh Government. What Wales can do nothing about is the hostile environment created by the Conservatives in Westminster which is driving away much-needed trained personnel from continental Europe and the Commonwealth.