Sunday, 30 June 2019

Let us have more green mayors!

Both Bridgend and Neath Port Talbot county boroughs own (or lease) Ford Mondeos as mayoral transports. One can understand this support for a company which had a branch factory in the area, but with Ford's departure from Bridgend, local councils no longer owe them anything. Surely the time has come for our local authorities to make a significant gesture towards a low-carbon future by switching to a hydrogen-powered limousine, an all-electric one or at least a hybrid, as Swindon has done. 

Neath Port Talbot has dipped its toe in the water by adding a couple of electric Renault Zoes to its car pool, so the recharging facility is already there. 

Friday, 28 June 2019

You, too, can be an MP

Karen Roberts, our candidates supremo in Wales, has just advertised that the party will be assessing our next tranche of parliamentary candidates towards the end of July. It is a rigorous process, as one would expect from a party not driven merely by media headlines and one simple-minded policy.

It is probably too late for new members this time round, unless they are prepared for some serious mugging-up on policy! However, there are also candidate development days to be scheduled. So, if you want to do more than support the Lib Dems with your subscription, please let us know. I am not alone in wanting the party to broaden its base of representation, especially in Wales.

There is every chance that after the next general election, Liberal Democrats will have a say in government again. Help us avoid the screw-up of 2012.

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Co-operatives and mutuals

There was a promising debate in the Commons this afternoon on the contribution which co-operatives and mutuals have made to society. It is a shame that the current crop of Liberal Democrat MPs seem to be unaware of the co-operative strand in Liberal party history, deserting the chamber, leaving the field to Labour/Cooperative MPs and a few Scottish Nationalists and Conservatives.

It is to be regretted that the Co-operative Party has now constitutionally welded itself to Labour. It has given up the freedom to lend its support to other progressive parties where their policies would benefit the Co-operative Movement. Indeed, there were times in the 'noughties when the Co-op was pioneering green policies which were more in line with the agenda of the Green party and the Liberal Democrats than the course pursued by Blair and Brown.

At a time when the debate about nationalisation versus private ownership was much more heated than it is now, it was the old Liberal policy of co-ownership which made the party attractive. For some reason which I cannot fathom, it never really caught on in spite of the high profile of one of its great success stories, the John Lewis Partnership which includes Waitrose. However, it is a standard model in Germany in companies great and small. It works for Germany, the power-house of the European Union

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

IT should support people, not exclude them

When activists proposed that IT should be used to make the court system more efficient, and thus spare money which could be put back into civil legal aid, they did not envisage that the ordinary seeker of justice would be excluded if they were not computer literate. But that is just what the government proposed until their Lordships stepped in. Congratulations to Lib Dem peers for forcing the breakthrough.

Tuesday, 25 June 2019

By-elections: why does Westminster not enter the 21st century?

So the Conservatives in Brecon and Radnorshire have re-adopted Chris Davies as their candidate. Given his indication that he would stand again, party backing or no party backing, they clearly felt that there was a danger of the Tory vote being split.

But when will the by-election be? The parliamentary web-site says:

Moving the writ for a by-election

A writ must be moved in the House of Commons to trigger each by-election that takes place. It is customary for a member of the party which previously held the seat to move the writ. Normally, this takes place not long after the seat becomes vacant, so that the seat’s constituents are not left without representation in the House for longer than necessary. Occasionally, however, there may be a significant delay between the vacancy and the by-election, or the vacancy and the issuing of the writ.
It is also possible for the Speaker to issue a writ during a recess period. When this occurs, the Speaker informs the House when it next sits.

Must a writ be moved?

There is nothing in statute law or in Standing Orders obliging the House to move a writ for a by-election. It could choose to leave the seat without representation until the next General Election (General Elections must be held every five years). One of the by-elections listed, North-West Leicestershire, was left vacant until the 2010 General Election some five months later.

On another page of the web-site:

The Chief Whip of the political party whose MP held the vacant seat starts the process of a by-election.
This starts by 'moving the Writ', a motion requesting:
"that the Speaker do issue his Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown to make out a new Writ for the electing of a Member to serve in this present Parliament for the constituency of .... in the room of..."
The Speaker puts the question to MPs to decide whether to agree to the motion.
If MPs agree it becomes an Order for the Speaker. The Speaker then issues a Warrant to the Clerk of the Crown who then sends the writ to the Returning Officer.

It seems to me that there are two anomalies here. First, that the electors of the constituency have no say in the matter and secondly, that while parliamentary legislation and convention is mostly blind to the existence of party or faction, the important function of filling a vacant seat is in the gift of party managers.

Local government legislation gives local residents more rights over principal councils - and note that there is an automatic by-election if a councillor is disbarred by court order:

89 Filling of casual vacancies in case of councillors. (1)Subject to the provisions of this section, on a casual vacancy occurring in the office of councillor for any principal area, an election to fill the vacancy shall be held—
(a) in a case in which the High Court or the council have declared the office to be vacant, within thirty-five days (computed in accordance with section 243(4) below) from the date of the declaration;
(b) in any other case, within thirty-five days (so computed) after notice in writing of the vacancy has been given to the proper officer of the authority by two local government electors for the area.

Rob Orchard, the former BBC political correspondent recalled on Sunday Supplement how he was press-ganged by the corporation into covering the 1985 by-election which Dennis Skinner had shamed the Conservatives into calling and now counted it as one of the highlights of his career. In the debate which prodded the Thatcher government into taking action, some interesting history was revealed. For instance, a 1973 Speaker's Conference on electoral law recommended the present time limit of thirty days within which a writ for a by-election should be moved. This has been incorporated into law, but only in respect of a parliament in recess. It seems to me that there is nothing to prevent a government resisting an embarrassing by-election while the House is sitting, though it is unlikely we will see again the waits of nearly a year which occurred in the 1960s. (On the other hand, the House moved with alacrity to adopt another recommendation of that Conference, the raising of expense limits, with the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1974.)

It should be noted that the Government of Wales legislation states that a by-election must be held within 30 days of a vacancy in a constituency coming to the attention of the Presiding Officer.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Resettlement grant refers.

It seems that disgraced former MP Chris Davies is entitled to stand in the forthcoming Brecon and Radnorshire by-election. As a losing MP he will be able to receive a resettlement grant of at least £39,700. There will no doubt be objections, as there were when the de-selected Mike Hancock stood again for Portsmouth South in 2015.

However, these grants, brought in by Edward Heath's Conservatives in 1971, are a good thing and one should not let a couple of hard cases break good law. The Great British public expects its MPs these days to be full-timers. The drawback to this is that the man or woman who embarks on political life will have to give up their place on a ladder of professional advancement or the best years of building up a pension in an unskilled or semi-skilled job. I would add that IT experts and medical practitioners find it virtually impossible to update their skills in fields where the technology is moving fast if they are conscientious MPs.  A period at Westminster counts for something, but the stars like Nick Clegg who can slide effortlessly into a top customer relations job after falling victim to an electoral swing are few and far between. There is the vanishing breed of learned gentlemen (and they were typically men) who could sort their MP correspondence and take in a debate in the morning before a profitable afternoon in the Law Courts. They still exist, but I suspect that changes to the sitting hours of the Commons restrict their opportunities for fat fees.

So, if you want to do away with resettlement grants, you would have to allow MPs to become part-timers, which discriminates against non-professional people and favours those with private incomes.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Travelling Jacks discriminated against

The Football League fixture list for 2019/20 was published on Thursday, and was immediately pored over by Evening Post staff. Totting up the miles involved in travelling to mid-week matches, they found that Swans fans had to spend more time on the road from Monday to Friday than the followers of any of the other 23 teams in the Championship. So what? is the immediate reaction; Swansea is out on a limb geographically. However, a closer look at the fixture distribution reveals some strange anomalies.

I reckon Preston North End, Middlesbrough and Charlton Athletic to be at the other corners of the Championship quadrilateral. Charlton fans have to travel only 808 miles as against Swansea's 1,316. (I am taking the Post's figures on trust.) That seems logical when you consider all the other grounds in or near the capital - but Brentford is also in London and nearer the centre of the country, yet Bees' fans have to face 1,074 miles of travel. Similarly, Boro fans face journeys totalling 782 miles, yet the figure for a more central Yorkshire team, Huddersfield Town, is 870. The biggest discrepancy relating to my chosen four is Preston North End (658) as against Wigan Athletic, further south in Lancashire (1,002).

The list has clearly been drawn up by a human being with issues. A computer would have done a better job.

Friday, 21 June 2019

Election reports

It was obvious as soon as I became aware of Jeremy Hurley's campaign and his backing by Steve Hunt that I stood little chance in Pelenna. Congratulations to Jeremy who is clearly going to be a strong local champion. The result:

Jeremy Hurley (Independent) 251
Hywel Miles (Plaid Cymru) 120
Peter Hughes (Independent) 105
Andrew Jones (Welsh Labour) 43
Frank Little (Liberal Democrat) 6

No spoiled ballot papers, 57.4% turnout and only 143 of the votes were
postal, which I make 27.2%.

Independent hold

2017 result
Martin Ellis (Independent) 133
Hywel Alwyn Miles (Plaid Cymru) 132
Peter Edward Hughes (Independent) 114
Andrew Richard Jones (Labour) 90

It is heartening that there was a turnout of over 50% and that a majority voted on the day, when the trend in by-elections has been for less than a third of the electorate to vote, and most of those using postal voting. But both Resolven and Pelenna sound a warning for all the established political parties - even Plaid Cymru who were nearly pushed into third place in Pelenna.

There is better news for Liberal Democrats in England, where we have the benefit of a surge in anti-Brexit feeling. There were two gains from Conservatives, one from Labour and some good moves up into second place. There are more details here (no sign-in necessary for the public ALDC pages).

Finally, the good - but not unexpected - news came through today that the recall petition in Brecon and Radnorshire has easily reached the 10% number necessary to trigger a by-election. As I understand it, the timetable is automatic and polling day will be in late July, shortly after the Conservative party has reached a decision as to who should be our next prime minister. Our leader in Wales, Jane Dodds, has already made herself well-known in the constituency. Our only enemy is complacency, but I am sure that Cadan ap Tomos, or whoever leads our by-election campign, will combat that.

Thursday, 20 June 2019

Clean Air Day

We not have so many traffic pollution hot-spots in South Wales West as further east, but we do suffer from the general rise in flying pollen which occurs in June. So this advice from Asthma UK is timely:

Pelenna by-election

Another Thursday, another by-election. This time it is my name on the ballot. The local party would have liked a member with more local roots to come forward, but none did so. I must admit to being secretly pleased that I had the opportunity to stand because I have always liked that part of the world. Moreover, I have personal concern for two particular local matters: an intermittent bus service and threats to footpaths in good walking country. I believe I can bring a more sympathetic approach to these issues than car-bound councillors.

It seems to me that for the nearly fifteen years I have known Pelenna it has been disregarded by the powers that be. Labour-controlled Neath Port Talbot's education committee closed a lovely progressive primary school, presumably for the sake of "efficiency". A GP surgery in Efail Fach was closed on the grounds that the modern Welsh NHS needed high-speed broadband to operate. Well, ultra-fast broadband has now become available in the Pelenna valley and I have yet to receive a reply to my email asking what plans there were for GP services in the light of that development. The post office/general store has closed. It seems that the 59 bus route is the first to be cut if there are driver shortages. And O2, and therefore Tesco Mobile, telephone coverage is negligible. (EE is OK, though; if I move to the area I will have to change provider, but that is a small price to pay.)

As luck would have it, just as my nomination was accepted I was struck down with a chest infection which severely limited my mobility. However, fellow party members Keith, Robert and Sheila (our excellent lead candidate when the Welsh general election comes round) stepped into the breach and we have managed to get a leaflet out to most houses in the ward. Apologies to anybody we missed.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Leadership hustings

I am glad that I missed last night's nonsense on BBC TV which I gather was a cross between Love Island as organised by Gordon Ramsay and an argument about Brexit in the public bar.

It was a pleasure to catch up with the civilised discussion between Ed Davey and Jo Swinson. There was a refreshing absence of point-scoring and a plethora of positive policies. Both were scathing about the Great God GDP, which was music to my ears. If there was a difference between them it was that Jo tended towards the culture and Ed to the mechanics of government.

It is going to be a difficult choice.

Monday, 17 June 2019

Leadership contenders should be quizzed about legal aid

Tonight there will be an on-line hustings. I am not talking about the current "beauty contest on the Titanic", heavily featured on BBC TV, to select the next leader of the Conservative party* and, therefore, short of a successful Commons vote of "no confidence", our next prime minister.

No, I refer to the leadership of the Liberal Democrats, which party is, if current opinion research is to be believed, going to be at least pivotal after the next general election. I have not registered for the on-line stuff but intend to download the report later. One hopes that someone asks the question about the savage cuts to civil legal aid which were made under the coalition and what the candidates propose to do to reverse them. Perhaps if I can get over this current debilitating chest infection in time I can get up to Llandrindod Wells, where there is to be a live hustings, to put the question in person.

TA Law in Swansea is just the latest social welfare law firm to give up in the face of mounting costs and the savage cuts to fee income resulting from "the government removing vast swaths of social welfare law from the scope of legal aid in 2013" (Law Society Gazette). Helen Williams, the firm's managing director said

the firm endeavoured to fight the cuts and stay in business. It tried to diversify into private work. 'The problem we have is our clients, by their very nature, tend to be tenants or on housing benefits, or disabled, so they do not have access to private funds.' Pre-LASPO, the firm had around 100 staff. When LASPO came in, the firm had to restructure, relocate and make redundancies, going down to about 30 staff. Williams said the warning signs about the firm's future came quickly. 'Our staff are really committed and work very hard, but they have bills to pay. When expenditure continues to increase, yet fee income continues to go down, that's not really going to end well.'

The firm had a Civil Legal Advice contract for housing and debt. Initially work was paid on an hourly rate, which then changed to a maximum case cost fee, followed by the recent introduction of an upper and lower fixed-fee system, which has had a negative impact, Williams said.

Those providing face-to-face housing and debt work can claim an 'escape' fee. However, Williams said the agency refuses to introduce an escape fee for welfare benefits cases. 'You might do £3,000 worth of work but can only claim £208,' she said.

TA Law lost three members of its litigation team in close succession - one before Christmas and two in February. The firm tried to replace two 'but we cannot compete with the salaries of big corporate firms', Williams said. The firm has given notice to the Legal Aid Agency. It currently has 800 live cases and has asked to stop taking new clients in May.

As far as Williams understands, in relation to welfare benefits, TA Law is one of two firms covering Wales and the south west. She said she despaired at the loss of yet another social welfare law service to the wider community 'which I fear will cause far larger numbers of defenceless victims. I suspect though, as usual, no one is listening or cares'.

In February the Ministry of Justice published its review of LASPO's impact, and an action plan focused on trying to resolve legal problems earlier.

Williams said: 'We have always been a big supporter of preventative advice. You can save someone's home for £120, which is better than a costly court case which can run into the thousands. The government realises now, years down the line, perhaps we should have some preventative advice - it's so frustrating as we've been saying that since 2011.

'It's not just about the financial cost savings. As social welfare lawyers we have seen the human cost. Families in crisis, about to be made homeless - nine times out of 10 they have got other debts they're trying to manage. If you're able to go in early and avoid possession proceedings, and try to manage their debt, get some disability benefit paid (quite often, for instance, they go back to work), it avoids a downward spiral.'

Legal aid for welfare benefits has plummeted over a decade. There were 135,751 legal help matter starts and 51 civil representation granted certificates in 2008-09. These figures fell to 443 legal help matter starts and nine civil representation granted certificates in 2017-18.

Students are helping to fill the gap, just as they have over possible miscarriages of justice and cold cases. But how many people can access the University of South Wales service, which in any case has a six-month waiting list?

Now Private Eye magazine reveals the appalling anomaly that a PR firm received a fifth of a million quid for media-related work in respect of the Birmingham pub bombings inquest, "substantially more than  the combined costs of the two main legal teams representing the families of the 21 victims". The government needs to get its priorities right.

* One can imagine at least the leading contender dismissing reports of victims of the WCA dying for lack of legal support as "fake news" and living complainants as "wallowing in their victim status".

Sunday, 16 June 2019

Trains: Japan and nostalgia

Why is it that depictions of train journeys in Japan move me so much? I first felt the pang in Spirited Away, the award-winning Studio Ghibli feature, towards the end where the young heroine shares an otherwise empty train with a sad monster on a journey across a desolate landscape. It was not just the memory of similar lonely journeys returning late at night, which would have been nostalgic enough. I think it is more the sudden recognition of a common bond with an otherwise alien culture. 

I felt it again when I caught up with al-Jazeera's documentary, Off the Rails: a Journey Through Japan. This was a nostalgic return by a former teacher of English to Japanese students who had originally been attracted to the country by the publicity surrounding the first Shinkansen, but who came to love the many local train lines as well. Disastrous earth-movements apart, the threats to branch lines are familiar to British rail-lovers, as well as the affection which moves Japanese to preserve their rail heritage. But even in Britain, there is not a rail-line which has been saved by a station-master cat.

Saturday, 15 June 2019

Liberals and Democrats in Europe need a receptionist

Image may contain: textOne of the outcomes of the surge in support for Liberal parties in the recent European Parliament elections is clearly the need for more support staff. Whether or not the UK contingent survives beyond 31st October, this receptionist post looks like an enjoyable billet for the next five years for the right person. 


However fantastic Franco Zeffirelli's productions may have been, he should also be remembered for shortening the life of Samuel Barber after his treatment of "Antony and Cleopatra".

From the New York Times description of the première:

"Barber never quite got over it, and for the rest of his life he virtually lost his will to compose.

"The major villain of the piece has always been Franco Zeffirelli, who not only designed and directed the production but also prepared the libretto, adapting it from Shakespeare’s play. Barber may not have written a perfect opera, but there did at times seem to be another opera hidden beneath all the blinding glitter of a heaving extravaganza obviously meant to be the last word in operatic spectacle."

Friday, 14 June 2019

Lib Dems in parliament become more diverse

The Streatham MP Chuka Umunna, who only four years ago was considering contesting the Labour party leadership, has applied for Liberal Democrat membership and been accepted. Apart from his personal talents, his appearance on the Lib Dem benches is welcome because it will show that the party is genuinely inclusive. There are many people of Afro-Caribbean origin working for the party and in elected positions in local government, but none has so far made the breakthrough at parliamentary level. For too long only the Irish unionist and the Nationalists have looked less diverse than the Lib Dems. Considering that one of its antecedents, the Liberal party, introduced the first MP of undisputed Indian origin, this is an unfortunate record. It should be noted, however, that the party leadership when it had the opportunity to nominate peers, made sure that Lib Dem barons and baronesses came from a wide ethnic and cultural background.

I was glad to see from the FT article that Mr Umunna has been critical of City practices, which is all to the good for the parliamentary party. The FT writers believe that his previous attack on the Lib Dems for participating in the Conservative-led austerity programme will be embarrassing for his new party, but he will find that there are many ordinary Liberal Democrat members and supporters who sympathise with him over that.

BBC archive goes to Aberystwyth

After a period of doubt, it has been agreed that Aberystwyth university will house the archive of BBC in Wales. A grant of £4.7m from the National Lottery has helped considerably. Six years ago,  Aberystwyth took charge of the film and video archive dating from 1958 of ITV in Wales. The virtual completion of a historical record of Welsh media coverage is great news. Newspapers of course were an early acquisition, now partly searchable on-line. And yes, blogs such as this have also been harvested by the university.

Now we need to be sure that it will all be looked after.

Thursday, 13 June 2019

EU Regional Support

The EP Research Service has issued another of its helpful explanations about EU facilities, this time about regional support.

The principal aim of the EU’s regional policy, also known as cohesion policy, is to address the territorial, social and economic imbalances that exist between the different regions of the EU. Regional policy covers all regions and cities of the European Union, helping to support job creation, business competitiveness, economic growth, sustainable development, and to improve citizens’ quality of life. To achieve these goals and address the diverse development needs in all EU regions, €351.8 billion – almost one third of the total EU budget – has been set aside for cohesion policy for the 2014-2020 period. This financial support is distributed through two main funds: the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) and the Cohesion Fund (CF). Together with the European Social Fund (ESF), the European Agricultural Fund for Rural Development (EAFRD) and the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund (EMFF), they make up the European structural and investment (ESI) funds, which provide support that can make a real difference to the lives of people in the EU’s regions.

With the current programming period (2014-2020) drawing to a close, work is now under way on planning the cohesion policy priorities for the next programming period (2021-2027). During its 2014-2019 term the European Parliament has been called upon numerous times to adopt new legislative acts, amend older rules and to provide opinions on many topics relating to the EU’s regional policy. Within the European Parliament, the Committee on Regional Policy is responsible for the Union’s regional development and cohesion policy, as set out in the Treaties.

In anticipation of its expected withdrawal from the EU, the UK, until now a net contributor to the EU budget, will no longer contribute to the post-2020 EU budget, which means that the EU will have fewer resources to allocate to its policies in the future, including cohesion policy. The European Parliament has, however, strongly advocated maintaining the level of funding for cohesion policy at its current level or even increasing it.

Wales is one of those regions which will miss out, being up until now a net recipient of EU funds. Do you believe Tory promises to make up the difference if Brexit goes ahead?

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Good Energy objects to VAT change

A photo of Greta Thunberg in a yellow rain coat

As a 100% non-carbon electricity supplier they have a vested interest, but they also make a good case, which was echoed at question time in the Commons today.

A solar tax hike is the worst way to respond to the climate emergency

The government has proposed a rise in VAT on installing low carbon energy generation and storage to a rate four times higher than that on polluting coal.
Read more
We don’t think that’s the way to respond to a climate emergency. If you want to help halt the VAT increase proposal, add your name to our petition.
Sign the petition

Monday, 10 June 2019

Toxic air: problems and solutions

Channel 4 Dispatches has regularly broadcast investigations into our polluted air. In February, it had the easy target of New Street rail station in Birmingham. Tonight's programme was more worrying, as it concentrated on a primary school in suburban North London. A group of pupils was given back-packs which measured such dangerous pollutants as nitrogen dioxide and nanoparticles. The investigators found that nitrogen dioxide levels occasionally exceeded international safety standards. A more surprising finding was that in addition to particles produced from internal combustion engines, there were also tiny fragments of artificial rubber from tyres and what appeared to be brake dust. Even if we go all-electric, these two will continue to be a hazard.

Reduction of vehicle emissions affecting the school was achieved by the obvious expedient of forcing children to walk to school rather than be dropped off from a car by a family member. One wonders how long this self-denial continued after the experiment, in spite of the demonstrated health benefits. As a primary school governor for a short time, I know how difficult it is to persuade parents - and quite often grandparents who like to feel useful - to give up the children's car-rides. And that was in a school where most of the teachers were onside.

The experiment included greening the school by draping ivy on walls where the leaves could trap pollutants and also making a garden for the children. It was not clear how much these efforts contributed to the marked reduction in air pollution by the school. A proper experiment would have needed two or three very similar schools but with different measures to be carried out, and over a longer time-scale than a half-hour TV documentary could afford. (The bill for the modifications to the school in tonight's programme totalled £30,000, though this did include a sophisticated air purification unit for the worst affected classroom.)

We in Wales have our roadside pollution black-spots, too, and the experts say that far more than the seven most obvious areas targetted by the Welsh government experience damaging levels of pollution.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

"Everybody does it"

The feeling that it is OK to pass speeding points on to a family member because "everybody does it" did not save the Liberal Democrat Chris Huhne or the black Labour MP Fiona Onasanya from criminal conviction - nor should it have.

So why are we supposed to turn a blind eye to the habitual cocaine use of at least three of the leading contenders for the Conservative leadership? They partook in the full knowledge that it was a criminal offence - indeed, much Conservative propaganda is based on the party's tough stance on non-prescription drugs. They clearly felt that the law only applied to those outside the charmed circle. White middle-class Conservatives could be trusted to handle drugs responsibly, plebs could not.

The hypocrisy of Michael Gove is particularly glaring. According to the Daily Mail, he

hosted a cocaine-fuelled party in his London flat just hours after writing an article condemning the evils of the Class A drug

Moreover, after election to parliament he voted not for a more liberal drugs policy, but in favour of Labour's raising the classification of cannabis from Class C to Class B.

It looks as if Gove owned up now only to pre-empt his exposure in a forthcoming biography and that others followed suit because they knew the spotlight would inevitably switch to them. There is an argument for not pursuing prosecution of historic offences if the people concerned have genuinely ceased and desisted from their criminal behaviour. The  judgment of their fellow Conservatives on their character is another matter and I trust that this historically great party will not shame itself by conferring high office on any one of these charlatans.

MEP communication

As I had hoped, Liberal MEPs are already putting on social media reports from the European Parliament. Catherine Bearder, our only ever-present, was first with a picture of herself welcoming some of the new intake. I had expected the returning Chris Davies to be next up, but instead it was newbies Antony Hook (South East) and Caroline Voaden (South West) who posted their first impressions.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

"The Mudlark"

I  am grateful to Terry Teachout for reminding me of one of the first films I saw at the old Phoenix cinema in Wallasey. The film saw the last-but-one big-screen appearance of Irene Dunne (Queen Victoria), who meant nothing to me at the time, but who my parents must have recalled as one of the great glamorous actresses of pre-war Hollywood. Andrew Ray was much more recognisable as the son of comedian Ted Ray, then at the top of his career. Sadly, Ray suffered as so many child stars have done (though not quite as badly as Bobby Driscoll or Brandon de Wilde) from a decline after the impact of their first screen appearance.

Friday, 7 June 2019

Lib Dems continue to rise in real polls

A table of the by-election results

Thanks to the BBC web site for the full details above, while BBC TV News headlined the narrow defeat of Brexit by Labour without mentioning the other parties. It is clear that the intervention of Brexit prevented the Conservatives regaining the seat vacated by the disgraced Labour MP Fiona Onasanya. No doubt Mr Farage will complain that it was the Conservatives who split his man's vote. The war of words between Brexit supporters and mainstream Conservatives will heat up over the weekend - and that is just within the Conservative Party. The usual result of such a squeeze between socialists and conservatives is a fall in the Lib Dem vote, especially in a seat where we have never risen above third place. In the event, a 9% rise in our poll was remarkable and presages success in more favourable territory.

Thursday, 6 June 2019

Bridgend Ford

So the blow has fallen. The decision was half-expected, but not the speed. The last shift at the Ford engine factory in Bridgend will clock off in September next year. Suppliers to Ford in the region will be hit and there will be a further ripple effect because skilled Ford workers have set up home in Swansea and Neath Port Talbot as well as in Bridgend county borough itself.

Ford management has to bear much of the blame for the situation in that it did not respond as fast as its competitors to changes in the industry. However, the threat of Brexit making cross-border supply lines economically non-viable must have sealed Bridgend's fate.

Eight years ago, TRW Cam Gears closed in Resolven and a few years earlier Borg-Warner had terminated its Margam operation. The opportunities for engineering workers are narrowing and moving eastward. CAF Rail has started work on new trains in Newport, Gwent. Aston Martin has committed to the Vale of Glamorgan for the production of its electric vehicle, but the Welsh government has still not been able to tie Ineos down to the use of the Bridgend plant for its Land Rover replacement.

The tourist industry is valuable to Wales, and it should be encouraged. Universities and other research facilities here continue to produce innovative ideas. However, these cannot pay all the bills. A healthy economy is a mixed economy and it seems that south-west Wales is being drained of an important part of that mix.

Hopeful signs in Denmark

Barely a fortnight after the Liberal bloc in the European Parliament was strengthened, elections in Denmark hit ultra-conservatives hard, strengthened the social democrats to the extent that they are now the largest party and even enabled the largest (economic) liberal party to more than hold its own. It is reassuring that the tide of xenophobia in Denmark seems to have been stemmed. Now the process of negotiating a coalition government, so familiar to devotees of Borgen, begins.

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

Glamorgan: this could be the big recovery at last

Great news for long-suffering Glamorgan members came this afternoon. The county beat the weather in Northampton to record the second win of the season in the county championship. Glamorgan are still unbeaten in the second division.

It augurs well for next week's fixture at St Helen's starting on Tuesday.  All we need now is a stretch of fine weather.

Factors for and against concreting over the Gwent Levels

I agree with what Peter Black and Jac o' the North - in a rare spirit of unanimity - have had to say about Mark Drakeford's decision yesterday.

This "venomous thing not to be trusted"* would just add that, ecology apart, the threat of Brexit must have been a factor in assessing the economic benefits of the relief road. An Irish Times report last year stated that:

almost 80 per cent of Irish-registered HGVs heading for the Continent pass through Welsh ports, the vast majority via Holyhead. Yet as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the European Union – or more precisely, Theresa May’s interpretation of the implications of the Leave vote – all of this is under threat.

Yes, Holyhead is a major loser, but ports here in the south-west also dip out, with a consequent effect on goods traffic on the M4.

Apart from Brexit, decisions by government could have been designed to throw more traffic on to the M4. There was the axing of the electrification of the main line west of Cardiff, incidentally losing the opportunity to reduce pollution by diesel engines. (Note that this reversal of a coalition decision took place when Conservatives ruled alone, and just after a general election which its announcement might have influenced.) The elimination of one of the most convenient interchanges in England and Wales, the bus stands at Cardiff Central station, still to be replaced, is another factor.

 Jac queries the need for a commission to take things forward. Certainly, AMs must already know the key features of a healthy economic future for Wales. Jac's points are:

  • Let us hope that this unexpected decision heralds a new era of development and investment spread across the country, thereby obviating the need for an M4 ‘relief road’.
  • Presumably the announcement will be accompanied by promises to invest in public transport. Again, I urge that thinking goes beyond the Cardiff region, because there is a country out there.
  • Nothing would prove this administration’s commitment to both Wales beyond Cardiff and public transport better than a west coast railway line from Carmarthen to Bangor.
  • Finally, this decision might deter commuters from Bristol and elsewhere moving into Wales for cheaper housing – have you thought about that? Well, have you!
It would be interesting to see the traffic figures for the Severn bridges.  I would bet that commuter traffic predominates, with traffic to Heathrow not that far behind.

We do need better north-south links within Wales. I am normally the last person to argue for more expenditure on roads, but the amounts spent on the A470 are pitiful compared to the sums being discussed for motorway improvements in the south. Rail journey times speak for themselves. There need to be more direct and better links with the English North-West (Transport for Wales has made a start) and Midlands. Government at both ends of the motorway must lose its obsession with the London-Cardiff axis.

  * Jac's characterisation of Liberal Democrats. Some might take a more objective view of Kirsty Williams' politically suicidal decision to take the opportunity to improve Welsh education at all levels

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

A teaser from VoteWatch Europe

The headline on their latest missive is "Full list of new MEPs (names, affiliation and background)". However, what follows is a link to their secretariat from whom one has to request the list. Full datasets will come "later".

VoteWatch draws attention to the fact that, as predicted, over half the MEPs are new. They say: "This means that a lot of the 'institutional memory' of the European Parliament will be lost, i.e. many of the MEPs who are rapporteurs, who have acquired expertise or have played leading roles will be replaced with new figures.". However, this is partly made up for by the return of some UK Liberal Democrats who remember what the parliament was like before 2014. Chris Davies and Bill Newton-Dunn are the most prominent of the returners.

Monday, 3 June 2019


It is good to see al-Jazeera back on non-HD terrestrial television. For coverage of world events, its rolling news broadcast beats the more parochial BBC News Channel. (Top of the shop of course is BBC World Service radio, but this demands full attention. I can see the TV out of the corner of my eye while otherwise working on the PC.)

If it had not been for al-Jazeera, I would have missed the Israeli authorities' spoiling in Jerusalem what should have been a joyous occasion for Muslims. Israel Hayom reports that there was "an early morning decision to allow Jewish worshippers into the site, which usually remains closed during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan to minimize friction between Jewish and Muslim worshippers." (The Temple Mount is a focal point for the three great religions emanating from the Middle East.)

The riots which broke out were aggravated by the presence of illegal settlers. The Jerusalem Post reports the predictable reactions of Muslim authorities and anti-Israel groups. It is hard not to see the hand of a discredited Israeli prime minister behind the provocative action as the nation enters another election campaign. Palestinian violence will strengthen the appeal of Likud and more ultra-nationalist parties who can be expected to support Netanyahu - if he escapes jail.

Sunday, 2 June 2019

Modi's Mandelson?

It seems we shall be seeing more of Amit Shah, now that he has entered the Indian cabinet. If he is as tough a negotiator as he is a political strategist, a post-Brexit UK government will find it difficult to strike a better deal with India than the EU has.

Saturday, 1 June 2019

Only two contenders for the Lib Dem throne

There was a whiff of "stitch-up" surrounding chief whip Alistair Carmichael's confirmation on Lib Dem Voice that there would be just two candidates for the succession to Vince Cable as leader of the party. (At least we ordinary Lib Dems will get some measure of choice, something that was denied to hard-working Conservatives when Theresa May was imposed on them.) Both Jo Swinson and Ed Davey come from the core of the parliamentary party. Both have ministerial experience, Ed's rather more exalted than Jo's. Both voted for the rise in tuition fees, against the advice of the party at the time which recommended abstention on the proposal. (However, I do not know whether either signed the controversial NUS pledge before the election, so I have no grounds for accusing them of bad faith.)  I would have liked to see a more radical candidate on the ballot in order to make a real choice of it, though.

Those caveats apart, I have few qualms about either leading the party, and I feel more personally involved than when candidates were chosen by their fellow-MPs to contest the succession to Charles Kennedy. The previous political experience of both Clegg and Huhne had been mainly in Brussels so they were largely unknown to the rest of the party. There ought to be a political equivalent to the Kevin Bacon number or the Erdős number (which measures the "collaborative distance" in authoring academic papers between that person and the peripatetic Hungarian mathematician Paul Erdős). I can claim a degree of proximity of 2 in relation to Ed Davey, having chatted to Emily Gasson, then recently married to Ed, at a fringe meeting at federal conference many years ago. I did not actually meet Jo, but I was on the edge of a conversation  she was a part of at the 2006 Dunfermline and West Fife by-election campaign HQ. Her contribution was enough to impress me.

So my choice will depend more than usual on personality. The new leader will not only have to inspire the party but also convince the nation. I lean towards Jo, but it is only fair to let the campaigning play for a week or so before deciding where to put my cross.

Later: I forgot the important message. If you are not already a member, but share our values and want a vote in the leadership ballot, you have until Friday to join. See