Friday, 30 August 2019

Prorogation will remove life support from Bills

There is a list on the UK Parliament web site of Bills which have been introduced in the current sitting of Parliament which began in 2017. Not all are active. Some have gone the distance and become Acts and some have been withdrawn by their sponsors. However, that leaves a hundred or so which are under consideration either in the Commons or the Lords. Maybe many of those will never be given enough parliamentary time to proceed, but there are others which should not be lost. Prorogation will end all their careers except for those for which a special carry-over order is made.

My attention has been drawn to two Bills in particular, one whose loss will not be mourned by Europhiles and the other which will be.

The Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill would end free movement between us and the rest of the EU, which would otherwise continue because of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018, which keeps most EU law and EU-derived domestic law in place after exit day, including the Immigration (European Economic Area) Regulations 2016 and other law relating to free movement. (Section 8 of the Withdrawal Act does confer a power to make statutory instruments to prevent, remedy or mitigate any failure of retained EU law to operate effectively or any other deficiency in retained EU law, but a barrister advising activists in this area feels that it is unlikely that section 8 would empower ministers to end free movement by secondary legislation – although of course the point has not been tested in court as they have not tried.) So no doubt the PM and his Home Secretary will want to carry that one over.

On the other hand, this nasty government - even nastier than Mrs May's - will not go out of its way to ease the passage of Tim Farron's Refugees (Family Reunion Bill), which has had a First Reading in the Commons after Baroness Hamwee took it through all the stages in the Lords. It therefore needs only Commons approval, to change for the better the lives of some who have been through terrible trauma.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

A letter from Michael Heseltine

Frank ,
On hearing today's news whilst on holiday in Montenegro, I am appalled by the government's announcement. The government's decision to suspend parliament in order to force through a No Deal Brexit is a constitutional outrage.
A government which is frightened of parliament is frightened of democracy. I hope that every member of parliament in feeling this humiliation will use every legal and constitutional weapon to obstruct a government proposing to force on the British people a historic change for which they have long since lost any mandate.  
To abandon parliamentary scrutiny is a constitutional affront. My party, the one I have worked for all my life, told the British people about the new role that Britain could play in the world. Britain has helped to change Europe from Fascist and Communist dictatorships to Parliamentary democracies. And now I am told by the leader and the cabinet of that same party that we were all wrong – that we now must become some subordinate vassal state to the United States.
This is outside anything I could ever have believed that the Conservative party would propose, and I hope that large numbers of Conservatives, as well as friends from other political traditions, will join together to resist it.
The European Movement is working closely with politicians from across the political spectrum to create the movement of unity that is desperately needed right now. For our efforts to succeed, we need everyone to join together to promote Britain's future at the heart of Europe.
Thank you for your continued support.
Kind Regards,
Rt Hon Lord Michael Heseltine
Former Deputy Prime Minister and President of the European Movement UK

Wednesday, 28 August 2019

The wrong lessons from history

Lord (Tim) Bell, who died recently, learned some of his techniques of presentation from that amoral master, Albert Speer. A whole generation of dictators or would-be dictators from Bolsonaro and Duterte through to Farage, Johnson and Trump have followed Hitler and Goebbels' technique of The Big Lie  while accusing their opponents of using it.

Now it seems that the Johnson is taking the next tentative step along the path mapped out by Hitler - and Napoleon before him. For months now, we have been softened up by media repetition that a narrow majority in a referendum based on false premises is more democratic than the deliberations of elected representatives in parliament, a system which has served us for hundreds of years, with continuous improvement over that time.

Let it be understood that proroguing a parliament in itself is not an outrage. If an administration needs to refresh its legislative programme, it is necessary to take a break and prepare a new Speech from the Throne. However, to do so now, and for an unprecendented length of time*, smacks of chicanery, to borrow a word from the government spin machine's own briefings**. Although primary legislation cannot be enacted, the government is going to be free to act executively for over a month. Over four weeks of bribes of the public funded by shifting money out of other worthier budgets (no new money can be raised during a prorogation).  Then we should expect a general election on a platform of "the people versus parliament" which may place referendums  on a regular footing.

What of course should have happened when a new prime minister with a radical new cabinet came to power was an immediate general election, backed by an extension of the EU withdrawal date, to validate the massive change of direction of this administration. One hopes that parliament when it returns on 3rd September has the guts to throw out this would-be dictator and agree on a government which will suspend Brexit and arrange a third referendum.

*Since the 1980s prorogation has rarely lasted longer than two weeks (and, between sessions during a Parliament, has typically lasted less than a week). [From the House of Commons briefing of June this year]

**"Chicanery" stuck out like a sore thumb in a recent interview of a MP opposed to Brexit by BBC Wales presenter recently.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Ministers knew about HS2 cost overruns earlier than they admitted

The BBC reports that the government and HS2 knew years ago that the new high speed railway was over budget and was probably behind schedule.

In total, the railway was supposed to cost £55.7bn. Earlier this month, the government said it planned to review the costs and benefits of the rail project, with a "go or no-go" decision by the end of the year. But until recently, ministers and bosses at HS2 have insisted everything was on track. Only last month, the transport minister, Nusrat Ghani MP, who is now a government whip, told Parliament "confidently" that the programme would be delivered on budget and on time. "There is only one budget for HS2 and it is £55.7bn," she said. But the documents obtained by BBC News show that at least three years ago both the government and HS2 knew that wasn't the case. In May 2016, then chancellor George Osborne received a letter from Patrick McLoughlin, the transport secretary at the time, in which he admitted that the first stretch of the railway was already a billion pounds over budget.

If the Conservatives are true to form, judging by their treatment of GWR electrificaion, they will secretly cancel the part of the scheme which does not bring commuters into London, but leave it to the admnistration following the next general election to announce the fact.

LOUIS Botha first Prime Minister (1910) of the Union of South Africa

Louis Botha was a South African politician who was the first Prime Minister of the Union of South Africa—"the forerunner of the modern South African state". A Boer war hero during the Second Boer War, he would eventually fight to have South Africa become a British Dominion. Wikipedia
Born27 September 1862, Greytown
Died27 August 1919, Pretoria

Saturday, 24 August 2019

Hospital food: yet another top-down, celebrity solution

Prue Leith, mother of Legatum fellow and Boris Johnson's political secretary Danny Kruger, has been brought in  to spice up hospital food (but only in England, one trusts). As Channel 4 News reported last night, she is just the latest in a line of star chefs going back to 2013 if not earlier. Each appointment seems to have been aimed at producing positive headlines rather than effective improvement. This can only come bottom-up, from training the people on the wards, doctors and nurses. As food writer and BBC presenter Sheila Dillon and a group of young doctors have been saying for years, proper nutrition should be regarded as part of treatment and recuperation.

Friday, 23 August 2019

Pollution dilemma

Image may contain: textMost plastics pollute when they are disposed of, because most are virtually indestructible. Those plastic products which do break down leave micro-particles which cannot be absorbed by natural processes. Clothing based on polyester sheds microfibres into the sewers when washed.  Cotton eventually breaks down in the environment when you have finished with it. However, the production of cotton thread is far from benign. The cotton plant is very thirsty and susceptible to insect infestation. Soviet Russia's attempt to create an import-replacement cotton industry indirectly resulted in the drying of the Aral Sea and pesticide pollution of the surrounding area. The manufacturing of cotton thread is energy-hungry, too.

Paper production on a large scale also needs energy. Besides it can also be a major polluter, as this advice note to industry in Northern Ireland makes clear.

On balance, it is still better to use paper and cotton rather than plastic because if not reused they can be recycled either by man or by nature. However, they are not environmentally cost-free.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Ex-minister "thick as mince" faces challenge from expert

Back in 2017, Dominic Cummings, who had directed the Vote Leave campaign, branded David Davis “thick as mince, lazy as a toad and vain as Narcissus”*. Now I do not believe that anyone who was an executive with Tate and Lyle, as Davis was before entering the Commons, is likely to be stupid, nor do I believe that the man who is now directing one of the laziest and deliberately most ignorant ever prime ministers can be trusted with a public character assessment. However, Davis did not noticeably disassociate himself from Michael Gove's sentiment that "the people in this country have had enough of experts".

Having seen what a botch job the non-experts, guided only by their guts or financial interests, have made of Brexit in the ensuing three years, the  people will surely feel that it is time for the experts to return. There will be a test in Davis's own constituency of Haltemprice and Howden, where Liberal Democrats have chosen Linda Johnson as his opponent at the approaching general election. She writes:
I have a background in science, having trained as a Biomedical Scientist in the NHS, moving into the pharmaceutical industry whilst in my twenties and rising to the rank of Commercial Director (also with responsibility for Government Affairs and Supply Chain) and General Manager for Ireland. I have been involved with Government and NHS working parties looking at the supply and distribution of medicines as well as testing, packaging, medicines information, bar-coding and procurement. I studied locally for most of my academic qualifications (HNC, degree and masters) whilst working full time and am now a Governor at East Riding College. I want to ensure everyone has access to educational opportunities so they can achieve their full potential.

That knowledge of the medicine supply system will be invaluable in the House, whether or not we crash out of the European Union.

 * In that same message-stream, Cummings admitted there was a chance that leaving the EU would turn out to be an “error” and described government members who thought the UK should leave the European atomic energy community Euratom as “morons”.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

A reminder of 2010

Yesterday's events in Rome remind us how important it was for a stable government to be established in the UK in 2010. Whatever the faults of the coalition later, the blueprint laid out by David Laws did succeed in reducing the deficit left behind by Gordon Brown. Sadly, the current Johnson administration seems intent on throwing away the UK's restored economic reputation.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

BBC's Peter Taylor is a terrorist sympathiser!

The veteran correspondent writes in the latest Radio Times:

"Thinking of how traumatic events can radicalise young people, it occurred to me that had I been a Catholic/nationalist teenager in Londonderry/Derry that day, I. too, might have considered joining the IRA"

Clearly Taylor must now be sacked by the BBC, his "My Journey Through the Troubles" canned and the tag "IRA man" appear alongside his name whenever it appears in the media from now on.

Monday, 19 August 2019

The conspiracy theory

I love a good conspiracy theory, and Brexit offers scope for so many. My favourite centres on party advantage, that Corbyn anticipates advantage for Labour when the UK crashes out of the EU, but that the people behind the Cummings-Johnson axis have thought further ahead.

Why has Corbyn swithered over Brexit? Apparently, it is to keep his party together, because his voters in Wales and northern England are seen to be Leavers, while those in the more prosperous areas of the country, especially his new, younger, members are ardent Remainers. Plumping for one side would antagonise the other. His own instinct is against the EU, but he could at least embrace the idea of a further referendum and submit to its verdict, which would pass off the responsibility for a decision.

But it is as if he deliberately wants to run the clock down so that the UK would enter a period of disorder and he could safely blame the Tories or the Liberal Democrats. The old Stalinist in him believes in the maxim attributed to Lenin, "Worse is better": communism would not follow capitalism naturally in prosperous societies as Marx believed, but that the proletariat would turn to socialism as a last resort only as the economy crashed around them. He would win a post-Brexit election in a landslide.

However, so far Cummings planning has been detailed and well thought-out. The real endgame, and why Johnson has also appeared to do nothing to prevent the slide to a "no-deal" Brexit is that UK under a Corbynite socialist government would be so dire that a right-wing coup was inevitable.

How far-fetched is this theory? We shall find out all too soon.

Sunday, 18 August 2019

Brexit: the battle lines become clearer

Jeremy Corbyn was recently at the Centre for Alternative Technology making all the right noises about a green industrial and energy future. It was good to see Jane Dodds responding positively to his party's policy.

But of course local correspondents took the opportunity to quiz the Labour leader about Brexit and its effect on Wales, given Mark Drakeford's public support for a fresh referendum and the first minister's obvious leaning towards remaining in the EU. Sadly, Corbyn's core position, that we should have no more than "a very close trading relationship with Europe" has not changed, in spite of all the spin that the slick Labour machine and his friends at the Guardian and the Independent have put on it. So Jo Swinson was quite right to object to his claim to be the right man to head a government of national unity (GNU). (By the way, where did GNU come from all of a sudden? It seems to be a media invention. It has certainly been seized on by virtually all the press.)

It would be wrong to entrust government, however interim, to a man who is in favour of Brexit in spite of the evidence that the public mood has changed and continues to change. And let us be clear.  There is only one deal on the table, the May-Barnier withdrawal agreement which guarantees that the border across Ireland remains open. The EU27 will not reopen negotiations for Corbyn, Johnson or anyone. Unless Corbyn changes his mind on May-Barnier - which would still require some fancy footwork in Parliament and a further delay to the withdrawal date - a No Deal Brexit is what we are bound for, unless of course the Article 50 letter is withdrawn.

Jo Swinson has pointed out what the Corbyn sycophants should have made plain to him, that he is a divisive figure and would not command a majority in the Commons. Importantly, no Conservative MP has come forward to commit to any government led by Corbyn. Jo has suggested - not demanded, as Labour implies - that the person commanding traditionally the most respect in the House, the Father, Kenneth Clarke, or alternatively the Mother, Harriet Harman, would be the one most likely to command a majority in these troubled times. Clarke, although a long-time committed Remainer, has declared that he would accept May-Barnier if it would end the deadlock in the Commons, thus displaying a flexibility which Corbyn has not. Jo Swinson has also reinforced her non-tribal approach by declaring her readiness to have talks with Corbyn about the situation.

Incidentally, the attacks on Jo Swinson have not only misrepresented her position and that of the Lib Dems, they have also verged on the misogynistic. That mistrust of women, which has prevented them ever electing a woman leader, clearly still lies deep within the Labour Party. All the other parties represented in Westminster have had female leaders. Plaid Cymru now has as parliamentary leader Liz Saville Roberts who has impressed in her short time in the Commons. I would seriously suggest that if for whatever reason members of the two main parties cannot command a majority as a leader of GNU, she would be an admirable alternative. Leading a small parliamentary group, she can clearly have no long-term ambitions to be leader of the UK and therefore no power of patronage which can cause resentment. She is also independent of the conservative/socialist battle. Although she is against a No Deal Brexit - and thus in line with the only clear expression of the House of Commons to date - she has gone along with her party's pro- and anti-EU U-turns, so can be seen as neutral in that respect.

The current prime minister (whom I have taken to calling "the Johnson" echoing the slang of his birth-place) and his eminence grise Dominic Cummings will of course do all they can to thwart a reversal of the Brexit decision. They will certainly attack GNU, one of whose aims must be to arrange a further referendum and seek an extension of the withdrawal date to accommodate it (always assuming the 27 have not lost patience with the UK by now). There are too many weapons in their hands for those of us who support EU membership to feel comfortable.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Repair Café in Neath

I was clearly not the only one who could see the crying need for Neath's own repair café ("Make do and Mend", last month). Thanks to Coastal Housing, one will shortly be starting in Waunceirch (watch this space) and Seven Sisters RFC are sponsoring one there starting in October.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Revised gender arithmetic

The decision by Sarah Wollaston to join the Liberal Democrats came as no surprise to those who have followed her career since being elected for Totnes, one of two MPs having been selected as candidates following an open primary. The only surprise is that she lingered so long in the half-way house of The Independent Group. It seems that she was taking her time to make sure that she was accepted by her local Liberal Democrat party and possibly to explain her position to those close to her who had supported her as a Conservative. In April, before she even left an increasingly reactionary Conservative party, she made clear to the House that she moved from soft Leave to Remain as a result of chairing:
the Health and Social Care Committee, I heard the evidence of harm week in, week out, and I came to the view that I was wrong. I was not afraid to say that. In fact, many colleagues said to me, “Don’t tell people that you’ve changed your mind. Just put a cross in a different box. It will be very bad for your political career if you change your mind.” It is astonishing that we have come to that—that parliamentarians are not honest and are not prepared to change their mind when they have looked at the evidence. We focus on the idea that this is all about a WTO Brexit and trade, but from chairing the Health and Social Care Committee it became obvious to me that there is clear evidence of harm to social care, science and research from unpicking a close relationship that has brought enormous benefits for more than four decades. I looked at the harm that Brexit would cause to science and research. There is no version of Brexit that will benefit science and research, improve the situation for our health and social care workforce, or do anything positive for NHS funding.

Anyway, I make it that the Liberal Democrats now have fourteen MPs plus Stephen Lloyd who for complicated reasons currently sits as an Independent. Of those, six are women, a percentage of 40%.


"A mother who lost her baby while giving birth has described the moment she found out he had died.

"Arthur Wyn Jones died at Glangwili Hospital in Carmarthen in March 2017 as his mother Kara Jones, a diabetic, gave birth.

"She said she had been pleading for an early delivery because she knew something was wrong, but was told it was 'normal'.

"'I didn't meet Arthur. I never met him, I never held him,' Ms Jones, from Ceredigion, said.

"A report by Hywel Dda health board said 'numerous missed opportunities to acknowledge the complexity of the pregnancy' were likely to have contributed to his death."

Glangwili was not an isolated case. In 2012, Kirsty Williams drew attention to the fact that the stillbirth rate had not improved in the 20 years to that date, in spite of the advances in foetal medicine.There had in fact been an upward spike in Wales. There is more in a Western Mail report.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Chuka shows more of his LD nature

He has been a long-standing supporter of electoral reform, it seems. There is a video of a relevant interview by the Lib Dem who hopes to take over Kate Hoey's Vauxhall seat.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

Of coalitions and alliances

There is much speculation about a Remain Alliance to defeat the Johnson administration and thwart Brexit. Here in Wales, actual talks are taking place between Greens, Lib Dems and the Nationalists. The issue is not as clear-cut as journalists make out, and there will be much soul-searching on the part of all parties.

Alliances and coalitions are not anathema to Liberal Democrats in spite of a recent bad experience in Westminster. (To restate simply my view on that: we were right to establish a stable government in 2010 in order to restore international faith in the UK economy; we were wrong to stay in the coalition after 2011 when the price was the Welfare Bill and increased austerity generally. Even so, we achieved much that the Conservatives are now claiming credit for.) Liberal Democrats and the Liberal Party before us long espoused a proportional voting system, the norm on the continent of Europe. PR militates against single-party majority rule* but experience on the mainland and our neighbouring island is that coalition governments work well. Lib Dems also have experience in the UK, being for a time junior partners in government both in Scotland and Wales, in a Westminster pact with Labour (again to stabilise the economy) in 1978 and even today in councils up and down the country.

So it is no surprise that Caron Lindsay on Liberal Democrat Voice welcomes moves towards a Remain Alliance. We should be clear, though, that this is an alliance solely for the purpose of preventing Brexit, rather like the wartime cabinets of Lloyd George and Churchill having the single aim of preventing military defeat. Differences on other issues remain. We should also understand it if the Greens are reluctant, since in England they would have to stand aside in favour of Liberal Democrats in more seats than vice versa** if the aim of unseating Brexit supporters is to be achieved. So the grand vision of a prosperous, outward-looking UK could founder on the detailed negotiations as to who should give way in particular seats. We can at least demonstrate to the Greens a strong Green presence in the Liberal Democrat party, rather more influential than the hard-line red-green socialists in the Labour Party and something that the Conservatives cannot offer. One trusts that the Greens for their part have finally put behind them their previous opposition to the concept of the European Union.

There is less certainty about the position of Plaid Cymru. Plaid have a stronger negotiating position than the Greens, though their abstention from the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election was not as decisive as their propaganda (something at which the party is very good) made out. The results of the last three elections in that constituency show that their candidate's vote was less than the winning majority. Moreover, many federalist Liberal Democrats would find it impossible to vote for a separatist candidate.

One accepts that Adam Price, the new leader of Plaid, is a strong Remain supporter and that his party campaigned for Remain in 2016. However, there seems to have been no change in the official policy since the 2017 general election when they accepted the result of the referendum in Wales as binding and campaigned merely "to get the best possible Brexit deal for Welsh industry and agriculture". Currently spokespeople speak about fighting a "no deal" Brexit. In practice, that does mean no Brexit at all, since there is only one deal on the table - the EU27 refusing to contemplate a renegotiation of the May-Barnier withdrawal agreement - and it will not pass the Commons while the DUP has a casting vote. However, that arithmetic could change after a general election. Plaid's next party conference begins on 4th October. Will they pass a more robust policy on Europe? Will they have time to do so before a general election? Whatever, I expect some interesting discussions at local level as well as between Jane Dodds and Adam Price before all candidates are finally put in place.

This Wednesday's meeting of the Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats should be quite lively.

* The corollary that first-past-the-post always produces strong and stable government is demonstrably untrue, though.
** The big exception is Bristol West, where the MP's majority over the Green candidate in 2017 was around 4,400. However, that Labour MP is the strongly pro-EU Thangam Debbonaire. 

Monday, 12 August 2019

Geldof's Geld

The International Consortium of International Journalists reported last month that Bob Geldof, the man credited with drawing attention to famines in East Africa, intends to screw African nations out of much-needed tax revenues. According to ICIJ's Will Fitzgibbon:

Bob Geldof’s firm wanted to buy a chicken farm in Uganda, one of the poorest countries on earth. But first, an errand.

After soaring to fame in the 1980s for organizing Live Aid and other anti-famine efforts, the former Boomtown Rats rocker had shifted to the high-powered world of international finance. He founded a U.K.-based private equity firm that aimed to generate a 20% return by buying stakes in African businesses, according to a memorandum from an investor.

The fund’s investments would all be on the African continent. Yet its London-based legal advisers asked that one of its headquarters be set up more than 2,000 miles away on Mauritius, according to a new trove of leaked documents.

The tiny Indian Ocean island has become a destination for the rich and powerful to avoid taxes with discretion and a financial powerhouse in its own right.

One of the discussion points in the firm’s decision: “tax reasons,” according to the email sent from London lawyers to Mauritius.

Geldof’s investment firm won Mauritius government approval to take advantage of obscure international agreements that allow companies to pay rock-bottom tax rates on the island tax haven and less to the desperately poor African nations where the companies do business.

“One little wad of cash can be the difference between a poor country building big infrastructure or not,” a Ugandan tax official told ICIJ.

A spokesman for Geldof’s firm, 8 Miles LLP, said its investors include international development finance institutions that “request that we consolidate their funds in a safe African financial jurisdiction for onward investment into the various target African countries. Because of its reputation, Mauritius is used by many private equity investors for this purpose.”

The spokesman said the firm’s African investments follow high standards “to create jobs, improve communities…and by generating increasing tax revenues which support the governments where we operate.” The spokesman said, “Only when we sell a company will the sale proceeds be paid back into the fund in Mauritius.”

Geldof declined to comment.

There is a lot more about the financial attractions of the island nation, a Commonwealth member, including a copy of some supporting evidence, here.

One worries that the new Minister of State at the Department for International Development, Dr Andrew Murrison, will continue his predecessor's policy of diverting development aid money into "business development" which is unlikely to help people on the ground.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

Nicholas of Cusa 555

There is a wikipedia entry for the surprisingly prescient theologian who died on this day in 1464. Given what he deduced through intellect alone, one wonders what he might achieve given today's technology.

Friday, 9 August 2019

One-stop-shop for energy worries

Did you know that, thanks to the EU, there is a single point of contact from where you can get all the information you need about your energy rights, current legislation and how to deal effectively with any gas or electricity supplier dispute? This ( appears to be it, though it has not been much publicised.

There is more help and advice for UK citizens and family while we remain in the EU, laid out at

Thursday, 8 August 2019

Robotics and the EU

I generally find briefings from the European Parliamentary Research Service Blog helpful, but the quotation from Stephen Hawking which prefaces it is more inspiring than this single page pdf.

‘I am an optimist and I believe that we can create AI for the good of the world. That it can work in harmony with us. We simply need to be aware of the dangers, identify them, employ the best possible practice and management, and prepare for the consequences well in advance’
Stephen Hawking, speech at the Web Summit on 6 November 2017.

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Dominic Cummings is wrong: MPs can stop ‘no deal’

That was the headline on a rebuttal by InFacts, an organisation set up to counter the lies put out by the master-minds of the Brexit campaigns and their more radical supporters. The logic is appealing, but it does rely on a back-stop of Her Majesty being pro-active in a way which has not been seen since George V blocked the UK's offering asylum to his Romanov cousins.

More importantly, if the Commons wishes to avoid involving Buckingham Palace in a constitutional crisis, it must "pass legislation forcing Johnson to ask for extra time to hold a referendum – and only turn to a no-confidence vote if that fails. If the legislation route works, Cummings’ whole scheme falls apart". However, the Commons has yet shown no sign of intestinal fortitude when it comes to avoiding Brexit as the farcical votes in March, before the last "absolute" deadline, showed.

There is a seductive school of thought that it is not the end of the UK economy if we are forced to leave on 31st October, because it is possible under EU rules to apply to re-join. This idea is probably encouraged by Brexiteers who are well aware that the terms for a new nation joining the EU will be a political anathema. There would be no opt-outs and we might well have to accept the euro and Schengen. Even if a UK government did make the application, it is virtually certain that France at least would block our readmission. (Acceptance of a new member requires unanimity.)

So Leave really does mean Leave. I am fairly confident that the Queen will not allow Johnson and his gang to do anything outright undemocratic but the Palace dare not go further and back one side against the other. It is up to our elected representatives to act decisively for what is best for the nations of the UK. I am not confident.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Just a bit of fun

As my regular reader will know, I treat opinion polls with scepticism. I am with the late Paddy Ashdown: the only poll that counts is actual ballots in actual ballot boxes. However, it seems that the staff of political parties do take them seriously and of course the press find opinion surveys a cheap alternative to real news. So Welsh Labour must be worried by Cardiff University's survey published at the end of last month. This shows Plaid Cymru with a clear lead in both constituency and regional list voting.

The bastardised version of Scotland's electoral system insisted upon by Labour at the time of devolution gives an undue advantage to the strongest party. This is because the element of top-up from the regional lists is not enough to compensate for the bias of first-past-the-post constituency polls. (In Scotland, of course, the balance was more carefully calculated.)  One can see why Labour was so happy with the electoral settlement. The party had been dominant in Wales for as long as their apparatchiks could remember or could foresee. There was no way the Tories, the traditional enemy in Westminster, could mount a serious challenge.

Now they are faced with the possibility of a challenge from a quarter unexpected in 1997. Could Welsh Labour find itself on the wrong end of a skewed electoral system as we Liberal Democrats and, dare I say it, Conservatives have for nearly a score of years? Perhaps it will jolt them into moving on the electoral proposals of the Richard Commission, namely electing all AMs on the same basis under a fair voting system.

Monday, 5 August 2019

Isabel "Chavela" Vargas Lizano

This commemoration of a remarkable woman should have appeared on her centenary on 17th April, but at least we can remember her on the date of her death. Chavela Vargas has been described variously as a pistol-packing, taboo-breaking, tequila drinking, cigar smoking, rabble rouser. I shall certainly pay closer attention when Frida next comes on to our screens.

Sunday, 4 August 2019

South Riding

It took me a long time to catch up with Winifred Holtby's novel (though I had heard the occasional radio or TV adaptation) but the authoritative recommendations of Baroness Williams and Sarah Waters could not be resisted forever. The 530 plus pages have been a struggle at times. For me, there are also passages which are over-written and I believe that if Holtby had lived beyond the age of 37 her mature style would have been more restrained. All in all though, it was a rewarding experience.

The characters are beautifully drawn, even the minor players who merit just a chapter or less. There are no out-and-out villains (though Holtby is hard on one particular hypocrite) or heroes without flaws. Yorkshire at a particular time is well captured, and leaving aside the local peculiarities stands for England after the Great War, with its economic and class divides. And we have Shirley Williams' word for it that the novel is still the best mirror on local government in Britain.  Leaving aside the distinction between aldermen and ordinary councillors (something which was abolished only in 1972), this dialogue between an aspiring local journalist and the respected  Alderman Beddows (based in part on the author's own mother) seems familiar even today:

"What's going to happen about the new garden village?"

"I'm not on Town Planning. Ask Alderman Snaith."

"Which site do you favour, Mrs. Beddows?"

"My people want Leame Ferry Waste on the whole; but they aren't unreasonable. They'll put up with whatever's best for the Riding. It doesn't affect us much."

"And do you think Mr Snaith knows what's best for the Riding?"

She paused. She had sat down at the square table with its green baize cover, and was sorting pens in a little tray.

"I'll tell you what Snaith knows," she said, "and you can put this in your paper. He knows that we - all of us, aldermen, councillors, chairmen of committees, we come and go; but the permanent officials stay on. The experts - Mr Smithers, Mr Wytten, Mr Prizethorp and all the rest of them - they are the people who really matter, and in the end they mostly get their own way."

"Isn't that what you call bureaucracy, Mrs Beddows?"

"I don't know what you call it. It seems to me common sense. Those men spend their lives on the job of local government, and have little to gain from any particular vote."

Saturday, 3 August 2019

The Final Test

Talking Pictures TV briefly brought into its schedule Terence Rattigan's film based on his own teleplay, his first written directly for the screen. The Final Test stands on its own as more than just a period piece, with a central performance by the underrated Jack Warner and with other stars, both of the screen and cricket field. Sadly, the film seems to have been taken out of the Talking Pictures repertory just as the Test series against the old enemy from Down Under is proceeding, but it will surely be back before too long.

There is, though, a case for a revised version. Two things have happened since the original. Firstly, the distinction between amateur and professional players has disappeared to be replaced by a new distinction between home-grown cricketers and talent imported from the Commonwealth. Not only that, but there are players born here whose immediate ancestry is Caribbean. I would see the latter-day Sam Palmer as a man of Jamaican heritage who qualified for England either by birth or by residence.

Secondly, homosexuality is no longer a criminal offence. The gay Rattigan lived long enough to see the decriminalisation of homosexuality but the Sexual Offences Act was fourteen years away when he wrote The Final Test. It seems to me that the choice of poetry, then the most effete of arts, as the source of conflict between father and son was significant. (Critics have drawn attention to a gay sub-text in many of Rattigan's plays.) A modern version, without being too crude, could be more explicit. Jamaican machismo would be a factor.

The only major criticism of the original Final Test that I can recall was that Jack Warner was rather too old for the part. True, fitness was not pursued so fanatically in the 1950s as now, but Warner was just too portly to be totally convincing. At least that is something that can be redressed in a 21st century version.

Friday, 2 August 2019

Normal Welsh Liberal service is resumed

That devastating break in liberal representation from Wales which occurred in the 2017 general election is at an end. From 1885 until the last general election, when Plaid Cymru won Ceredigion, Wales had always returned a Liberal or Liberal Democrat MP.  BBC describes Jane Dodds' retaking Brecon and Radnorshire as a "narrow" victory. A thousand votes is not narrow in Liberal Democrat terms, it seems to me, but surely the headline figure ought to be the twelve per cent swing from the Conservatives. The full figures (together with those from a couple of council by-elections) are on Liberal Democrat Voice.

There are two other aspects of the B&R win which should be highlighted. Firstly, Jane's success will bring the already healthy female representation on the Liberal Democrat benches up to 42%. With so many women candidates already declared in winnable seats (including Sheffield Hallam, which will produce a by-election in the autumn if a general election does not intervene) the future of a more gender-balanced parliamentary party seems assured.

Secondly, Jane is distinctly on the social liberal wing of the party. She will temper any drift to more conservative politics if, as seems likely, former Conservative MPs defect to the Liberal Democrats. She will carry her fight against the malign effects of Universal Credit, which she observed in her day job, on to the floor of the House and, one hopes, into a Select Committee.

That social conscience must have been a factor in winning back the Labour-inclined voters we lost in 2015 as a reaction to our going into coalition in Westminster. The Corbyn factor sealed Tom Davies' fate. The Labour candidate finished a remote fourth, surely the worst performance in this constituency since the modern Labour party was founded. Welsh Labour may have been consoling themselves that pathetic performances in recent local by-elections would be compensated for by a return to the fold in parliamentary elections. Mark Drakeford and his advisors must now be seriously concerned.

More ominous is the arithmetic on the atavistic side of politics. The sum of Conservative and Brexit votes in B&R was greater than the Liberal Democrats'. The European policies of both Brexit (which describes itself as a party, but is not constituted as such) and the Conservative Party are now practically indistinguishable. The Brexit leader is sure to point out to the current prime minister that an anti-EU alliance at the next  election, combining their two votes, will do better than Conservatism on its own. Conservative leaders have so far resisted such blandishments, which would involve Conservative candidates standing down in some seats, but Boris Johnson is a stranger to scruples and may well yield.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

200 years of Herman Melville

Melville was born on the first of August 1819, . He is most famous for writing the classic of whaling with religious overtones, Moby-Dick. He is also responsible for the extraordinary short story, Bartleby the Scrivener, which seems to prefigure so much twentieth century fiction, and the posthumously-published Billy Budd.