Thursday, 31 October 2019

Brexit and the voting system

Anthony Tuffin of STV Action writes:

Never has PR been more needed than now.

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 30 October 2019

General election 2019

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Access to justice


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

Conference notes:

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

Conference believes:

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

Conference calls for:

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

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

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

Monday, 28 October 2019

After WWII

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, 27 October 2019

Experience of government

With all this talk of elections, it is worth researching which of the opposition parties has most experience of government. It turns out that there is practically none in the Labour shadow cabinet, though Barry Gardiner was once a bag-carrier at Trade and Industry under Gordon Brown. Here are the salient comparisons with the Lib Dems:

Position
Liberal Democrat
Name (Previous highest post)
Labour
Name (Previous highest post)
Prime Minister
Jo Swinson [Under Secretary of State for Employment Relations and Consumer Affairs]
Jeremy Corbyn [Member, Haringey Council]
Chancellor of the Exchequer

Ed Davey [Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change]
John McDonnell [chief executive of the Association of London Government]

Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Sam Gyimah [Minister for Universities, Science, Research and Innovation]
Rebecca Long-Bailey
Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs
International Trade
Chuka Umunna
Emily Thornberry
Barry Gardiner [Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Trade and Industry]
Home Department
Women and Equalities
Christine Jardine
Diane Abbott
Dawn Butler
Justice
Phillip Lee [Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice]
Richard Burgon
Exiting the European Union
Duchy of Lancaster
Tom Brake [Deputy Leader of the House of Commons]
Keir Starmer [Director of Public Prosecutions]
Defence
Jamie Stone [Member, Highland Council]
Nia Griffith
Cabinet Office
Sir Vince Cable [Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills]
Jo Platt

Saturday, 26 October 2019

The apple does not fall far from the tree

Jacob Rees Mogg, as Leader of the House, slipped another untruth about the European Union into one of his replies to business questions last Thursday. If EU directives were ever the sole responsibility of bureaucrats, those days are long past as the European Parliament (EP) has gained powers of codecision with the council of ministers. The council in turn consists of ministers elected democratically by the 28 member nations. The EP now also has the ability to raise issues which the commission must investigate for possible legislation. But of course "faceless bureaucrats" is a catchy headline phrase, as befits the son of a journalist who worked for Rupert Murdoch for nearly twenty years and pronounced: "Looking back, he has been an excellent proprietor for the Times, but also for Fleet Street." A typical News International stunt was described in an earlier post here.

The Leader went even further the previous week when he referred to the "imperial yoke" of the EU. Where is the occupying army keeping us in subjection? (US forces do not count, unless you believe like the late Gore Vidal in an american empire.) Where is the emperor?

The man in the EU with the most obvious imperial pretensions and even pedigree is Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson (formerly Kamel). Even Emmanuel Macron, often accused of seeing himself as a 21st century Bonaparte, has not put himself above parliament, Nazi-style.

Friday, 25 October 2019

Off to Brecon

Welsh Liberal Democrat autumn conference starts tomorrow morning (after the rugby, of course) and will continue until late on Sunday. With a general election looming, and tactical voting in the air, this year's AGM promises to be livelier than usual. This blog may be light until Monday.

Thursday, 24 October 2019

Devolution of justice to Wales

"Justice should be determined and delivered in Wales so that it aligns with distinct and developing social policy and a growing body of Welsh law. The way that responsibilities are split between Westminster and Cardiff has created pointless complexity, confusion and incoherence in justice and policing in Wales."

These are the views of Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd who will today present the findings of the Commission on Justice in Wales, which was set up by the Welsh Government in 2017 to conduct a full-scale review.

Readers of this blog will not be surprised that it welcomes the recommendations, which also chime with long-standing Liberal Democrat policy. It would be surprising if the First Minister, on the liberal wing of Welsh Labour, does not also endorse them. The big difficulty is convincing the current "Little Englander" government in Westminster. However, the prospect of overall savings in the budget for administration of justice, as duplication is cut out, should appeal to chancellor Javid.

Wednesday, 23 October 2019

The case against withdrawal from the EU

Stephen Barclay, the Minister for Exiting the EU, speaking in the Commons on Monday, queried the length of time it would take to mount a confirmatory referendum. Leaving aside the fact that it would be a third referendum, not a second as the government and BBC have collaborated in naming it, a general election would be simpler to arrange (having first ensured that we do not crash out of the EU in the mean time), but simpler still would be to retract the Article 50 letter.

It is worth recalling what Ann Coffey MP said in the Westminster Hall debate on the Revoke A50 Petition:

I voted to stay in Europe in 1975, partly for economic reasons. The economy — as probably no one present will recall — was in a very bad state, but my overriding reason was that as a young person I saw belonging to Europe as a break from the past, with the possibility of a better future. As a child, I was brought up in the shadow of the war because of the traumatic experiences of my parents and grandparents. Peace in Europe was an overwhelming prize for our generation. I wanted us to be a nation that took our place alongside other countries and contributed to the responsibility that the international community has to resolve some very challenging issues, such as climate change and migration.

Clearly, it was always going to be difficult to get support for the deal that the Prime Minister has brought back. Indeed, it is difficult to think of any deal that could win overwhelming support, because we all want very different outcomes. It is not very satisfactory for any option to be the majority view of the House by a handful of votes, which is why I believe that having another vote by the public on whatever option the House supports, together with the option to remain, is the only way forward. I do not think that another public ​vote will settle the issue of what our relationship with Europe should be; communities and generations will continue to be divided.

I believe that the younger generation will, in time, have a more settled view of what its relationship with Europe should be. It is only when that happens that this issue will be resolved. The only long-term solution to the issue of identity is time. However, in a public vote, people would be voting this time on proper, detailed options for the way forward, with the full knowledge of what a deal with the EU would look like, and with the option of voting to remain in the EU if that appeared a better option. Perhaps that could put back into the debate a space for rational consideration, which would be welcomed by many members of the public.


It is regrettable that few if any MPs in the debates which have been held in the main chamber have made these points.

To my mind, the manoeuvrings of Arron Banks, Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson et al. are a betrayal of the legacy of Sir Winston Churchill, Edward Heath, Denis Healey and innumerable fighters against fascism and Nazism who wanted to see after World War 2 a free, fair, prosperous Europe which would never again be at war with itself. The last surviving prominent advocate of the 1975 campaign for remaining, David Steel, must be shaking his head in despair.





Tuesday, 22 October 2019

Phew, Canada!

The signs were not good for Justin Trudeau going in to yesterday's Canadian general election. However, the Liberals have emerged as still the largest party, though losing their overall majority. The good news is that if Trudeau has to enter a "supply and confidence" agreement, or even a coalition, in order to retain his premiership, it will be with other non-conservative parties such as the New Democrats. It is certain that Canada will remain in the "green" corner, in opposition to the climate change deniers south of the border.

Monday, 21 October 2019

Media manipulation by Brexiteers

(NB: I reserve the term "brexiteer" for those dishonest folk who have bamboozled the good people of England and Wales for their own ends. The model is a word like "profiteer", or even those licensed pirates the "buccaneers". I mean no disrespect to genuine Leave voters.)

Over the weekend, there were widespread reports in the media, including social media, led by the Sun newspaper, that Jacob Rees-Mogg, his innocent young son, and Andrea Leadsom MP were physically threatened and subjected to taunts of "Nazi" and similar by participants in the People's Vote March last Saturday. The incidents were said to have occurred when the high-profile advocates of EU withdrawal without an agreement left the Palace of Westminster after the debate on the revised Brexit deal (video here). (Incidentally, the Leader of the House did not stay to hear all the points of order which were raised after he announced that the order of business would be changed to the detriment of the debate on the Queen's Speech. It was almost as if he had a pressing engagement to fulfil.)

A witness, who was actually on the million-plus march, posted the following account on Facebook this morning, giving the lie to the brexiteers' spin.

The story is fake news. I was there when he [Jacob Rees-Mogg] walked out of the backdoor of Parliament. We were a small jubilant crowd of Remainers being heckled by a rowdy bunch of Leavers ranting about the 17.4 etc. The two sides were engaged in lively but civil banter. There was no violence. I spoke to one of the police curious about his space-age backpack. He joked about it containing sandwiches then explained it was to transmit video to HQ of anyone making trouble. He said they’d used it only once earlier and complimented the crowd for being good tempered. 

A slow but steady stream of MPs were emerging from Parliament in black tinted window cars to be sped away. Emily Thornberry and other familiar Remain MPs were happy to face the crowd and emerged on foot to be cheered. They needed no guard in spite of heckling from Brexiters. Kate Hoey [an outspoken Leaver] walked out alone ignoring us jeering Remainers. No harm done. Bill Cash [a long-standing Europhobe MP] walked out alone to face jeers. No harm done. 

Rees-Mogg and Ledsom had lined up a police guard to be ready and waiting for them as they came out on foot. Of course the Brexit crowd cheered them and the Remainers jeered. I witnessed no violence. There was no risk of violence - others had walked out to no harm. But there was no reason for them to be on foot. They too could have left discreetly behind tinted glass instead of dramatically marked out by a yellow coated guard. It was a staged event designed to generate news footage that could be reported as negative towards the Remain campaign. Rees-Mogg had a smirk on his face, because he knew exactly what he would be reading in the papers the next day. What really distressed me is that even The Guardian reported this fake news story, clearly not taking the trouble to check their source. No wonder getting Leavers to hear the truth is so hard.

[My emphases and additional notes - FHL]

Sunday, 20 October 2019

Impact of Brexit on UK agriculture

I should have passed on this notice sooner. However, since MPs have not yet come to a firm decision on Brexit, the work of two of our Liberal Democrat MEPs is still timely.

UK agriculture will face huge Brexit set back, report finds

   September 27, 2019
Farmers, producers and consumers will suffer from Brexit according to an in-depth report launched today by the Office of Antony Hook, Lib Dem MEP for South East England and Phil Bennion, Lib Dem MEP for the West Midlands.
This report, based on independent sources, has shown that current political chaos will have a real impact on UK farmers. Key findings include:
  • 42% of UK farmers would have recorded losses without direct payments from the EU.
  • A no-deal exit will cut the UK off from the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) and Rapid Alert System for food and feed which ensures that food health risks can be quickly notified and managed. Without any transitional agreements in place, the UK would become a third country outside of the EFSA.
  • Leaving the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) will mean farmers will lose vital funding. Ministers have refused to comment on how much farmers will receive under the new scheme.
  • In 2016, the UK exported £304m of beef, £285m of beer, £349m of cheese, £342m of lamb and £196m of wine to the EU. British beer, cheese and wine were exported to every EU member state.
 Antony Hook said: “With 71% of land in the UK dedicated to agriculture, the adverse impacts of Brexit will be felt from farmers right through to consumers.
“The European Union has provided the agricultural industry with security and capital to become the thriving sector it is today, leaving will only hamper our efforts for further growth as an international leader in production and exportation. From 2014-2020 alone, the EU’s Rural Development Programmes have given the UK a €8.5 billion boost.
“Most affected will be our ordinary farmers, who will see their very livelihoods destroyed by radical Brexiteers, despite the stack of evidence proving that we are better off in the EU.
“We must continue the fight to stop Brexit, to ensure that the UK’s agricultural sector is supported, not scourged, going forward.”
MEP for the West Midlands and co-author of the report, Phil Bennion, said: “As a farmer myself, I am acutely aware of the dangers posed to the agricultural sector by the UK leaving the European Union. As a member of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, I understand the negative impact that will be felt by those not from an agricultural background as well.
“Within the EU we are offered protection through the CAP, amongst other initiatives. As this detailed report outlines, we stand to lose more than we gain should Brexit occur”. 

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Eeyore - a pointless trivioid

Anu Garg featured one of my favourite characters from children's literature in last week's sequence of Words of the Day. In the loving radio adaptation of the Winnie-the-Pooh stories for the Children's Hour of my youth, Eeyore was played by the former stage actor and stalwart of the BBC Repertory Company, Carleton Hobbs. (Pooh was Norman Shelley, who had also stood in on occasions for Winston Churchill in war-time radio broadcasts - but that is another story.)

I recall that in a celebration of his career (possibly this one?), "Hobbo" revealed that he based his characterisation of Eeyore on the distinctive intonation of Sir Ben Greet, who he would have worked for in his youth. So, always assuming that the BBC has saved at least some of the Pooh recordings, there is a record of what one of the great actor-managers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras sounded like.


Friday, 18 October 2019

Rhos council election

Liberal Democrats on the up, led in Westminster by a charismatic young Scot, and Labour-dominated councils seen as out of touch with local residents. It was made for a Welsh Liberal Democrat candidate in Rhos and in 1999 I almost succeeded in the first Neath Port Talbot unitary election. In dreadful weather I managed to canvass about two-thirds of the ward and who knows? if I had got round Gellinudd as well, I might have garnered the 90-odd extra votes needed to win my first council seat.

History is partially repeating itself in 2019, but there are two key differences. Firstly, I no longer live in Alltwen (it may not have been in the ward, but it was at least next-door) and secondly, Plaid Cymru, who have taken over as challengers to Labour in Rhos, are potential allies in the fight to remain in the EU. So, tempting as it was to campaign in what should be more rewarding territory for us than in two previous by-elections, I deemed it, shall we say, diplomatic, not to stand this time. Local members felt the same way.

There may be more to say when the nominations are published next week.




Thursday, 17 October 2019

More from the EP front line

Reports from British Lib Dem MEPs on how they are making a difference continue to flow. In her latest, Judith Bunting describes the

round of Commissioner-Designate hearings, which provided us MEPs with a great opportunity to scrutinise what are essentially incoming European Ministers. I was able to attend more last week, including, Margrethe Vestager’s, whose proposed portfolio is “Europe fit for the digital age competition” and Frans Timmermans’, whose proposed portfolio is “European Green Deal Climate Action”. The hearings are a great help to highlight any issues, such as financial irregularities or potential conflicts of interest, incredibly democratic!

She adds:

As the only mainstream anti-Brexit party, it’s fallen to the Lib Dems to protect the relationship that the UK has with our European allies. Amongst the back-turning, the shouting, and the insults, never before has it been so important to treat our closest allies with the respect they deserve.

Wednesday, 16 October 2019

Lipstick on the pig

A conservative civil service and a Conservative government react to demands for change in one of two ways (sometimes both): introduce a new tax with an appropriate name, or set up a new ministry or quango surrounding it with a fog of PR presentation. Neither measure is designed to upset the status quo.

The proposed Office for Environmental Protection fits neatly into that scenario. Fossil fuel suppliers need not fear their future market. The truth is that ecological recovery will not come from a grand gesture at the top but from a series of local decisions. Received wisdom about "efficiency" and "rationalisation" needs to be queried. Every local school closure increases car use. (Wales has a more enlightened policy than England in this respect.) Every closure of a local hospital or clinic in favour of a central facility miles away may reduce the journey times of some specialists but increases the travel of nursing and other staff, not to mention patients and visitors. Cancellation of rail electrification schemes maintains our dependence on diesel and our exposure to particulates. One can list several other government departments and local authorities who have made similar regressive moves.

What we need is not more spin, but a general change of attitude throughout government, top to bottom.

Tuesday, 15 October 2019

EU representatives show their democratic power

The Liberal Democrat European Group reports:

Sylvie Goulard, a former MEP and close ally of President Macron, was dramatically and overwhelmingly rejected by MEPs as the Commissioner-Designate for the Internal Market. Central to this decision were the allegations that she used a European Parliamentary Assistant for political work at the national level and criticisms about her topping up her MEP wages with a salary from a US-based think tank. After President Macron expressed his shock and disappointment at the vote, France is now expected to put forward a new candidate.

This decision has such significant consequences because it casts serious doubt as to whether incoming Commission President Ursula von der Leyen can take office on 1 November (the original plan), as the incoming Commissioners cannot take office unless they have all been approved by the Parliament. Moreover, the Renew Group (to which our Liberal Democrat MEPs belong to) was the only Parliamentary Group to support Goulard and this split between Renew and the other groups could spell trouble for this legislative term.

Bravo, EIB

Bankers and bean-counters generally have a reputation of  undue conservatism. So it was a pleasant surprise to learn that the European Investment Bank, in which the UK has a stake, proposes to end investment in fossil-fuel projects. The EIB has invested billions of euros in oil, gas and coal extraction over the years, and been criticised for it, but it appears that the current proposal is based not only on ethical considerations. The bank has to think long-term, as Deirdre Cooper of Investec pointed out on BBC TVs Business Briefing this morning. There is no point in sinking funds into a project over thirty years if it is likely to fail down the line.

Sadly, the politics of Germany and Poland, which depend on imports of natural gas as well as the extraction of coal, especially the filthy lignite, mean that those nations will oppose the move and appear to have persuaded the European Commission to take the same line. One trusts that the UK representative on the board, ignoring the personal financial interests of his political masters, will be more progressive - and hard-nosed.


Monday, 14 October 2019

Two elections

It appears that Poland has re-elected the PiS (Law and Justice) party with a higher majority on an increased turnout. The nation has enjoyed an increase in prosperity under PiS, though the party's anti-immigrant stance and authoritarian approach to justice may have helped. As against that, commentators have pointed out that the Polish upper house of parliament has a liberal majority.

The "Arab spring" in Tunisia continues to bear fruit. An unfettered presidential election has seen the favourite, media mogul Nabil Karoui, defeated by an older, greyer - in several senses - Kais Saied, who has benefited from the votes of the younger generation. Good luck to him in his aim of reducing corruption in Tunisia!

Sunday, 13 October 2019

Kamaishi

I got up early to watch Namibia play Canada in the rugby union world cup. The match itself was not significant in the competition. Neither side had qualified for the knock-out stage. It would have been good to see an even contest involving teams too often on the wrong side of a drubbing by one of the rugby world's elite, but that was not the main reason for my interest. This was that on the last day of the pool competitions a town recovered from disaster had been awarded a world cup tie, with the benefits of tourism and publicity that followed.

The fairy-tale begins eight years ago. The town was a home to Nippon Steel, who sponsored a rugby team. This had folded, but the enthusiasm for rugby union was such that, with the help of two or three players from further south, the team was reborn as the Kamaichi Seawaves. Then there was the disaster of March 2011. A magnitude 9 earthquake struck off the coast, triggering a tsunami which killed a thousand residents of Kamaishi as well as wreaking physical destruction. It would have been easy for the Australian, the New Zealander and the Tongan-born All-black to have written off that part of their rugby careers and departed, but they stayed to help rebuild the town and the team. The reward for them and the town came in the shape of two world cup matches. There is more in a Japan Times article in English here.

Ironically, yet another natural disaster, the unseasonably-late and monstrous typhoon Hagibis, put paid to the town's second match. However, the first had its significance in providing one of the shocks of the competition - a match I unfortunately missed.

Friday, 11 October 2019

Hogan awarded Glamorgan testimonial in 2020

I am usually a bit sniffy about overseas, even Commonwealth, players being granted testimonials but there is no doubting Michael Hogan's attachment and dedication to the county over the last eight years. More on GCCC's web page.

Thursday, 10 October 2019

Green electricity

Readers of this blog are wise enough to know that there is no difference at the point of use between electricity supplied by the Big Six and by smaller companies, including green providers. This has not stopped some of the less scrupulous self-styled green companies fibbing, according to a recent Which? report. The magazine

called seven firms whose websites we felt were unclear about how their renewable tariffs work, posing as a potential customer. Four said we would get renewable electricity directly to our home. One of these said it ‘buys it in advance from suppliers and then redistributes it through the lines to your property’ - at best an example of staff ignorance.

Nor are all green companies the same. Some fulfil the requirement by buying REGOs (Renewable Energy Guarantee of Origins certificates) which match renewable electricity already put into the system to what their customers use. Only seven buy renewable electricity direct from generators, and only four (Ecotricity, Engie and Good Energy) both own renewable generation and are 100% renewable providers. Long-time readers of this blog will know that I am with the third of these. A bonus for me is that there is a single simple tariff. Good Energy will also benefit if the Swansea Bay tidal lagoon project goes ahead as originally conceived.

Another fact that stood out from that Which? report was that, notwithstanding the occasional news item to the effect that "all our electricity requirements today were met from renewable resources", well over 60% of our power over the year still comes from unambiguously non-renewables (gas, nuclear, coal, oil and other fuels). There are full regular government statistics (BEIS) of which this appears to be the latest report (pdf).

Wednesday, 9 October 2019

GE 1959: familiar names, familiar voices

BBC-Parliament has today rerun Auntie's coverage of the 1959 general election, held on the eighth of October. It has to be said that the presentation was far from slick, even though the BBC had fairly recent experience of presenting election results. It looks as if, in trying to cover so many venues live, they underestimated the difficulties of coordination. However, for those fascinated by current affairs, there were rewards.

It was good to see David Butler, the "Sultan of Swing", already a veteran of three general elections and happily still with us. Another survivor is Shirley Williams, whose name appeared in an early result from Southampton as a losing Labour candidate. Also in the first hour came Gerald Kaufman's loss - in his second foray - in Gillingham in Kent (which presenter Richard Dimbleby seemed to confuse with Gillingham in Dorset).

Most of the outside broadcast commentators were anonymous voices, but it was fun spotting Alan Whicker in Hammersmith and (I believe) Raymond Baxter in Cheltenham. A pre-"Knockout" Stuart Hall in Manchester was name-checked, as was Alun Williams reporting from a pub in Wrexham. His report was balanced politically, but not sexually. After all the clearly pre-selected blokes had had their say, London cut off an equally articulate woman who wanted to put the feminine angle. She made the major contribution in the first hour or so, when the only other female faces on show were those of the comptometer operators.

The election was notable for two things: the increase in the Conservative vote, on an increased turnout, at a point in the electoral cycle (it was their third successive victory) when an incumbent government usually sees its support falling away; and the resurgence of the Liberal party which had been virtually wiped out in previous post-war elections. The vote share more than doubled. This was not reflected in terms of seats at this election - though a certain J Thorpe recorded a gain from a Conservative in North Devon - the party having to wait for a string of by-election successes in succeeding years of Conservative  government to see the first fruits.

Tuesday, 8 October 2019

EU soft power

Last month, the European Parliament published a briefing (pdf) on the soft power of the Parliament. I was going to leave it to a weekend to comment more fully, but an intervention by Tory MP Vicki Ford yesterday unconsciously pointed up one of the advantages of our EU membership.

Vicky Ford (Chelmsford) (Con)
In the most recent general election, more Chelmsford constituents emailed me about the environment and animal welfare than about all other issues put together. I am enormously proud of the way in which the Government are leading the world on protecting the environment and on endangered species. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Lib Dem’s suggestion that this deal, which is to resolve the issues on the Irish border, could somehow be used to undermine our standards on the environment, animal welfare or workers’ rights is pure scaremongering and totally irresponsible?


That lead by UK parliamentarians on animal welfare has been carried on in the European Parliament, too. Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder has led the way, supported by fellow-liberals from other nations and Ms Ford's own party colleagues in Brussels. The EU as a whole is all the better for this. Is Ms Ford not grateful for the fact that throughout most of Europe, there is an animal protection protocol? More than that,  proponents of animal rights have been able to use the power of the EU to improve animal welfare in third world countries. Leaving the EU may not weaken our own environmental protection laws, but it will reduce our power to improve protection elsewhere. Moreover, it will increase the pressure to weaken our farming standards, especially if we are bullied into an adverse trade agreement with the US.

As to workers' rights, Ms Ford may not remember the prolonged resistance by the Labour government to EU measures to reduce excessive overtime and to counter ageism in the workplace. Before Blair-Brown, her own governments had shown no great enthusiasm to legislate in this area, either.



Monday, 7 October 2019

Rights of Way in Neath Port Talbot

The council invites comments to a plan which can be read at https://neath-porttalbot-consult.objective.co.uk/portal/env/rowip_2019

Plaid edges closer to LDs on Remain, but oh! so slowly

Adam Price, leader of Plaid Cymru, and many of his candidates, would like to have seen his party adopt a clear policy of revoking the Article 50 letter. They would thus have brought their manifesto for the next general election* into line with that of the Liberal Democrats. Instead, the Swansea conference just ended opted for a watered-down version which implicitly leaves open the possibility of an agreed EU exit - on Plaid terms, of course. Since the EU negotiating team has shown itself unwilling to accept any new deal which departs from the May-Barnier withdrawal agreement, this is in effect a Remain policy, but it gives their candidates in supposedly Leave areas some wiggle-room.

It is noticeable that the BBC, in their coverage of the conference, has not made the debates themselves available, instead concentrating on the stump speeches and reactions from (presumably selected) ordinary members. The suspicion must be that the party wanted to avoid any adverse references to the Liberal Democrats or Greens while discussions about electoral cooperation in Wales were taking place in Westminster. There must have been attacks from the Plaid conference floor, just as there are grave suspicions from core Welsh Liberal Democrats about the implications of a stitch-up born in Westminster. One trusts that the Welsh Liberal Democrat AGM is not similary censored. It is surely better to have any differences aired, even if a temporary d├ętente may eventually be arrived at.

* For the present parliament, the parties are at one in calling for a confirmatory referendum, or "People's Vote".

Friday, 4 October 2019

Rory Stewart makes a principle move - then wastes it

My immediate response when I read the news on the BBC ticker that Rory Stewart MP had resigned his Conservative party membership and would not seek re-election to the House of Commons at the next general election was that yet another adult had given up on the yobs who had taken over a once-great party. The loss to parliament would be a gain for whoever wanted to take advantage of a unique set of talents and experience, including service in Afghanistan where he engaged with ordinary Afghans and as a reforming minister of the Crown. A range of prestigious international positions would be open to him, perhaps even a UN high commission, following the example of Paddy Ashdown who had a similar rare mix of careers.

Instead, Stewart has set his sights much lower, announcing that he will stand in the London mayoral election of 2020 as an independent conservative candidate. He would overtly split the Conservative vote, especially as the official candidate has had to defend himself against charges of racial prejudice and has not committed himself on an EU policy. One worries, though, that even though the election will be by the supplementary vote method, Stewart would attract soft Conservative votes which would otherwise go to the Liberal Democrat candidate, Siobhan Benita, whose support for EU membership is clear. The obvious beneficiary would be the incumbent Sadkq Khan who has not been a spectacular success and is handicapped by his party's nebulous policy on Europe. London was the area of strongest support for Remain.

Thursday, 3 October 2019

Tracking wildlife

Anyone with any interest in British wildfowl will remember Sacha Dench's epic flight with the swans.The intrepid sportswoman shared by paramotor Bewish's swans' flyway from their Arctic breeding-grounds to the UK as part of a WWT research project.

That was not the craziest or most dangerous wildlife tracking scheme, however. A recent Discover magazine article surveys some of the most egregious methods naturalists use for tracking animals, from the formidable elephant seal and great white shark to delicate mice and humming-birds. My favourite story concerns the latter. Care has to be taken to ensure that any tags to monitor an animal species must not inhibit the subject's normal behaviour. The general rule of thumb is that an animal should never carry an instrument that weighs more than 5 percent of its body weight. Theodore Zenzal, a research ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Lafayette, Louisiana, and his colleagues tried out several types of tags on ruby-throated hummingbirds held temporarily in an aviary. They settled on a tag that weighed just 220 milligrams — less than half the weight of a Tic Tac.

Zenzal attaches the transmitters to hummingbirds’ backs using a tiny drop of superglue and a larger dab of eyelash glue, which is nontoxic and will eventually come off without hurting the birds. To decide what type of eyelash glue to use, one of Zenzal’s colleagues stuck fake eyelashes to her arm with various glues and drove down the highway with the window down. The glue that held the longest was Revlon Fantasy Lengths, although Zenzal noted that mentioning this did not imply an endorsement by the federal government.

Unfortunately, said Zenzal, the glue can only be purchased in a kit that also includes fake eyelashes. He used to buy dozens of such kits at the drug store — until the cashier started recognizing him.

“After that I ordered them online,” he said.


The whole article is most enjoyable, though those of a nervous disposition might care to skip a couple of the paragraphs.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Better public transport?

The other week, I received this jubilant media release from the Campaign for Better Transport.

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Finally...a National Bus Strategy

Hello Frank

After years of campaigning we are celebrating with the announcement that the Government will deliver a National Bus Strategy from March 2020, meaning buses will no longer be the Cinderella of transport modes.

A huge thank you to everyone who helped make this happen, whether you took one of the actions on our website, wrote to your MP to ask them to support a National Bus Strategy, or made a financial donation, we couldn’t have done it without you!

Millions of us rely on buses to get to school, work and training, shops and services, and to ease loneliness. The steady decline of our most used form of public transport has led to communities being cut off and an increase in car dependency. A National Bus Strategy, backed up by a long-term funding settlement, will give local authorities and bus operators the ability to plan for years to come and ensure the sustainability of critical services for communities while stemming the cuts in services and working to increase patronage.

We will now be working to help ensure that a National Bus Strategy contains the right fiscal and policy interventions to help local authorities and bus operators increase ridership, integrate buses with other modes and set a path to zero emissions.

Find out what else we think should be in a National Bus Strategy in our latest blog.
Read our blog
Then there was a more sober assessment from the Liberal Democrats:

Wera Hobhouse, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson for Transport, said:
 
“Just as people are starting to become aware of the damage we’re doing to our planet, the Conservatives have committed to spending £25 billion on roads. Given the government claim to be serious about tackling our clean air crisis and the climate emergency, this announcement is a slap in the face for the planet.

"Instead we should focus our energy on improving alternative modes of transport – spending the money on better and safer cycling networks, footpaths, and green public transport. 

“The Tories have also pledged just £220 million for buses – that’s less than 1% of the money promised. A drop in the ocean for what is really needed to transform bus services. Clearly for the Tories that the car is king. 

Tuesday, 1 October 2019

No Surrender

The House spent some time last Thursday morning trying to ascertain whether the government would stick to the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal) (No. 2) Act 2019. (This is the measure described variously as the "Surrender" Act or "a form of capitulation" by the prime minister and his myrmidons.) The Act
was passed by the House and given Royal Assent by Her Majesty the Queen on Monday 9 September, brought in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Leeds Central (Hilary Benn) and the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt). That Act clearly says that the Prime Minister must seek an extension to article 50 to 31 January if the Prime Minister is unable to meet one of the two conditions of either having a withdrawal deal passed by this House, or having an affirmative vote by this House to back no deal. - From the introductory speech by Ian Murray (Labour).

The fact that Alistair Burt, not only a former Conservative minister but one with a worldwide reputation, supported the Act cut no ice with our prime minister who respects no-one and nothing. Murray went on:
under questioning from myself, very late in the sitting last night, when I asked whether he would fully comply with the provisions of the Act, should he not get a deal through this House, or an affirmative vote for no deal, by 19 October, the Prime Minister answered with one word: he answered, “No.”

It is difficult to see how the PM can get out of this. Perhaps he has a Baldrickian cunning plan to ensure that he is not actually prime minister when 19th October comes round and that thus the terms of the Act cannot be complied with.

If by "surrendering" and "treason" the PM means giving us some more breathing-space in which to resolve our internal political difficulties while our businesses continue to trade, pulling in far more than the £150m per week than we would continue to contribute to EU programmes, then count me a traitor.