Saturday, 29 February 2020

Popular clothing retailers accused of shameless greenwash

Fresh from hearing our new chancellor announcing all sorts of measures aimed at meeting the UK's commitment to reducing our contribution to global warming and then spoiling it all by trumpeting a massive expansion in the roads programme, I turned to my backlog of press cuttings and came across this example of greenwash, of big suppliers of clothing with a green message, but whose sources were anything but green.

Friday, 28 February 2020

March 2020 edition of map of rail operators

The map is here.

For details of the background and sponsors, and for other transport services provided by Barry Doe, see

One trusts that he has found a response to the appeal included in his covering note to the link to the map, or this 46th edition may be the last:

Owing to the owner’s retirement, this is also the last version to be designed by Image Circle, which has produced all 46 editions. I am now seeking another designer who can use the relevant art work and software. I am immensely grateful to Image Circle for all its work over the last 15 years.

Thursday, 27 February 2020

Putin has his tentacles here, too

US intelligence agencies are convinced that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election and its primaries. There are reports that Putin is attempting to sow discord in this year's race also.

It would be surprising if Putin had not also directed his propaganda fire at our general elections and the 2016 referendum. We will know more when the report on Russian meddling/compiled during the last session by Parliament's Intelligence and Security Committee sees the light of day. That will be published when the new Intelligence and Security Committee is reappointed. The appointment of select committees should have happened by now, but has been held up for various reasons explained by the Institute for Government here. The government's majority and the election of a Speaker less proactive than his predecessor must have helped prime minister Johnson. The composition of the committees has finally been agreed and should be confirmed by the House next Monday. The publication of the report should now be a formality.

But there are already links between the government party and Putin on the public record. The Byline Times - which seems to be staffed by proper journalists who cannot get their investigations published by the mainstream media - reports on the loss of a central London landmark to a Putin-connected Ukrainian oligarch. Dmytro Firtash thrived under the corrupt former Ukrainian leader and Russian client, Viktor Yanukovych. The expulsion of Firtash's trading company by a later Ukrainian government does not seem to have inhibited him, nor does being named in a FBI warrant for bribery and racketeering. Byline reports:

Firtash had previously donated extensively to the Conservative Party via his proxy, Shetler-Jones.[Robert Shetler-Jones, the chief executive of Firtash’s global network of companies’ holding group – Group DF] Whittingdale had taken many trips to Ukraine at the BUS’ expense. In October 2013, Whittingdale was also on the organising committee of the ‘Days of Ukraine’ festival in London, which was sponsored by Group DF and the businessman’s charitable foundation.

Firtash was awarded the honour of being the first businessman to ever open the London Stock Exchange after the festival’s grand opening in the House of Commons. The venture had the patronage of President Yanukovych and the support of the then Mayor of London and current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson.

Whittingdale and Spring are no longer on the board of the British Ukrainian Society, which appears to continue to be heavily influenced by Russian-Ukrainian banks.

One other thing worries me. Whittingdale is a long-time opponent of an independent BBC as well as an ardent Brexiteer and economic liberal. He is now a minister in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport which watches over the media including the press as well as the broadcasters. Is it right for someone who happily allied himself with dodgy Ukrainian interests and through them to Putin to be in such a responsible position?

Wednesday, 26 February 2020

The Establishment prevented investigation into paedophilia

A report of the long-running investigation into child sexual abuse (IICSA) finds that there is no evidence of a paedophile ring operating in Westminster in the last quarter of the last century. However, there was a resistance to investigation of accusations of illegal sexual behaviour on the part of MPs. Both fellow MPs and senior police officers were part of this implicit conspiracy.

Media interest centres on Cyril Smith and the failure of David Steel and other senior party people to resist his rise within the party.

However, the report is equally damning of those who could have reported the Conservative MP for Chester Peter Morrison for his dubious actions towards young men and teenagers. Sir Peter held a range of government positions and clearly wielded some power. It appears there was even a pact between local Labour and Conservative activists not to use Sir Peter's predilections in political campaigning. This meeting in a back street in Chester mirrored what must have been an understanding at Westminster level - expose our paedophiles and we will expose yours.

What I was not aware of, and leaders of the Liberal Party at the time should have been, was that Smith appears to have progressed from mere fondling of boys in his Rochdale days, to availing himself of the services of "rent boys" after he reached Westminster. Not all the police evidence quoted in the report is corroborated, but there is enough there to suggest that at least one senior officer knew that Smith bought illegal sexual services but quashed any investigation by junior officers. (There is in the report a table of MPs about whom allegations were made but not followed up. There are most of the usual suspects, including Labour's Tom Driberg, but surprisingly not Robert Boothby.)

Others who got away with it were those on Rochdale council who were at least privy to Smith's misuse of his position. These included a Conservative councillor as well as those in the ruling Labour group to which Smith belonged at the time. All are now dead, so cannot be held to account.

Journalists are trained to personalise their reports, so naturally an individual is singled out for blame. But it is clear from even a rapid reading of the evidence that there was a climate of cover-up in Westminster, not only from fellow MPs and party managers but also the police and probably the security services. One wonders how many otherwise respected parliamentarians were protected.

Lord Steel's admitted dereliction apart, today's Liberal Democrats come out of this report reasonably well.

5.2. At the time of the hearing in this investigation, some political parties had no specific safeguarding and child protection policies at all, and relied instead on member codes of conduct and disciplinary procedures (the Conservative and Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Co-operative Party, Plaid Cymru and the United Kingdom Independence Party). Insofar as the Co-operative Party, the Democratic Unionist Party and Plaid Cymru are concerned, in their evidence to the Inquiry they stated that they were each reviewing the requirement for a safeguarding and child protection policy.

By contrast, other parties (the Green Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrat Party, the Scottish National Party and the Ulster Unionist Party) had detailed policies and procedures, some of which had undergone detailed review recently, and which had elements of best practice endorsed by Professor Thoburn.

Tuesday, 25 February 2020

Too few new homes: where does the blame lie?

Not with councils, and not with the planning system, as an article on Liberal Democrat Voice shows. Planning is a devolved matter, but Ruth Dombey's evidence is as applicable to Wales as it is to England. Admittedly, the Conservative government in Westminster is keen to divert attention from the failings of the private sector, but centralising Labour in Cardiff has questions to answer, too. Ms Dombey sums up:

The Local Government Association is calling on the Government to use its forthcoming planning white paper to give councils powers to take action on unbuilt land which has planning permission.
This includes making it easier to compulsory purchase land where homes remain unbuilt, and to be able to charge developers full council tax for every unbuilt development from the point that the original planning permission expires.
With the right powers and funding, the LGA is convinced that councils can play a lead role in helping the Government tackle our national housing shortage.
As part of its submission to the Treasury ahead of next month’s Budget, the LGA is also calling for the Government to reform Right to Buy, by allowing councils to keep all of the receipts of homes sold under RTB to replace them and to have the flexibility to set discounts locally. We as Liberal Democrats also want to see Councils given additional powers to force developers to build out the sites with planning permission.
The planning system is not a barrier to house building. The number of homes granted planning permission has far outpaced the number of homes being built.

One other factor which needs to be addressed is the land bank built up by the big supermarkets, especially Tesco, either anticipating growth in their business or preventing rivals gaining access to that land. Successive economic downturns and the aggressive competition of the German discounters have changed the scene, and it now seems as if Tesco and Sainsbury are into the house-building business.

Monday, 24 February 2020

New cars: more damaging to the planet, but less toxic at ground level

In a recent article, Which? says:

What is a low emission car? Before the 2015 VW emissions scandal, also known as dieselgate, a low emission car simply produced a small amount of CO2 (carbon dioxide). But now we are more aware of pollutants like NOx (oxides of nitrogen), PM (particulate matter) and CO (carbon monoxide) and how poor air quality contributes to tens of thousands of premature deaths here in the UK.

The good news is that in our rigorous lab tests, we've found that, on average, the cars that meet the latest emission regulations (Euro 6d-temp and Euro 6d, [explained in more detail in the article]), are producing a fraction of NOx and CO than the cars they replaced. But to make things more complicated, our tests show that CO2 emissions from these very same cars are actually going up, not down. In a nutshell, we may have saved our lungs at the expense of our planet's health. It also makes buying a low emission car a lot more complicated.

It's not all doom and gloom though. Not only do we expect cars to become more fuel efficient over the next few years as technology is refined, there are some cars available today that strike a balance of low CO2 and low air pollutants such as NOx and CO.

(See the magazine's free car emissions tool, revealing CO, NOX and CO2 for hundreds of cars, so you can make an informed decision on your next purchase.)

The trade body's own figures tend to confirm Which?'s findings, though their media release puts the SMMT's own spin on them.

Going all-electric eliminates the greenhouse gas trouble, but not a factor common to all road vehicles: particles produced on braking and from tyres. There are conflicting reports on how toxic these are, but they are probably less so than the products of combustion.

Friday, 21 February 2020

Points make divisiveness

From the European Movement this week:

Our society, culture and economy are enriched by people from across the world and from all backgrounds and skill sets who have made their home here. Given that the starting salary for an NHS nurse is just over £24,000 per year, these new rules will deprive our country of sorely needed talent.
Pulling up the drawbridge like this only serves to isolate us. Make no mistake: the government's new immigration plans are cruel and uninformed.

You don’t have to take my word for it - Guilia Savini, co-founder of European Movement activist group Best for Doncaster spoke about what the policies mean for EU citizens like her, saying:
“When the new points-based immigration system was announced, initially it felt surreal. I have been living in this country for 8 years now. I have a Master’s degree in Politics, and I work full time for a national charity. I pay my taxes, and I support and volunteer in my community. Yet this is not enough. I don’t have a PhD, I don’t earn £25,600, so for this government I am not a “good immigrant” or “one of the brightest minds”. If this system was introduced in 2012, the year I moved to the UK, probably I wouldn’t be here.
This new system is totally unnecessary and only serves to create a very unpleasant hostile environment which sees immigrants as political pawns. We are more than that! We are your carers, your neighbours, your friends, your partners, your favourite restaurant staff, your nurses.”
Tell Priti Patel and Boris Johnson to stop scapegoating migrants by signing the petition below:
Together, we can stand up against the government’s unjust immigration policies.

Wednesday, 19 February 2020

Liberal Democrats have protested the Tory government's attempt to revive the points-based immigration system which has failed once before. The details were released yesterday:

  • Offer of job by approved sponsor – 20
  • Job at appropriate skill level – 20
  • Speaks English at required level – 10
Not required:
  • Salary of £20,480 (min) – £23,039 – 0
  • Salary of £23,040 – £25,599 – 10
  • Salary of £25,600 or above – 20
  • Job in shortage occupation – 20
  • PhD in subject relevant to job – 10
  • PhD in STEM subject relevant to job – 20
A minimum of 70 points is required for admission.

Ms Patel is unconcerned that there are living languages in these islands other than English. While there are no monoglot Welshmen or -women left now (though most readers will be surprised how recently the last Welshman who knew no English died), Welsh is still a first language in several parts of the nation and, of course, in Patagonia. It may be argued that there will be few Patagonians qualified under the optional criteria to immigrate should they even wish to, but it will still be seen as an insult to Welsh-speaking people.

With reference to a protest by someone who has clearly been in the line of racist fire, prime minister Johnson and Home Secretary Patel respond that the PM is not racist,in spite of numerous records to the contrary. Their attitude to Muslims suggests a certain religious intolerance, too. Peter Black provides details.

Peter also draws attention to the impact on industry, commerce, agriculture and public services of the Tories' hostility to immigrants.

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Commonwealth ignorance

It will be a few weeks before yesterday evening's edition of Pointless becomes available on the BBC web-site, but no doubt the ignorance on display will figure in tomorrow's Private Eye's Dumb Britain feature. Asked to name countries which participated in the 2018 Commonwealth Games, three contestants (one of each pair left in the round) volunteered "Kazakhstan", "Greece" and even "France".

What struck me was that the older members of each pair came up with excellent knowledgeable answers like "Vanuatu" and "St Kitts and Nevis". I would guess that the dividing line was around the age of 45. Britons younger than that would have been brought up when our membership of the European community had become well established and been educated after Mrs Thatcher had been an influence on the direction of the syllabus.

Monday, 17 February 2020

A way out for Prince Harry's staff?

As an aside to her piece at the weekend on the subject of the mini-purge of Special Advisors in Downing Street, Janet Street-Porter wrote:

Another savage staffing cull emerged yesterday, in the Royal Household. Harry and Meghan are closing their office in Buckingham Palace and moving or getting rid of 15 members of staff. Loyal workers who had the difficult task of dealing with the media and running their diaries and their social media accounts, including a newly appointed private secretary and a head of communications. Apparently, the royal couple told staff in January, when they made the unexpected announcement they were stepping down from royal duties. Many of their staff are negotiating redundancy packages - along, no doubt, with non-disclosure agreements.

One trusts that staff were offered the opportunity to follow the Sussexes to Canada, allowing them to avoid the uncertainty of employment in post-Brexit England.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

Will bread and circuses dictate Johnson's immigration policy?

Lib Dems' response to reports about government immigration policy refers.

Glenn Moore, writing in the i newspaper yesterday, drew attention to the impending end of the Premier Leagues' ability to recruit up-and-coming talent from the EU. He cites the cases of Virgil van Dijk and Riyad Mahrez, who would meet the requirements for a UK work permit now because of their international reputation, but would not have done when they were first recruited by Glasgow Celtic and Leicester City respectively, were it not for their births on the continent.

 There are also many players in the Football League who, if treated on a level with other EU residents, are liable to be repatriated as a result of Brexit. Managers of rugby league and competitive cricket teams in the UK will also be worried, because, under "Kolpak" terms, citizens of countries which have signed European Union Association Agreements have the same right to freedom of work and movement within the EU as EU citizens.

One wonders whether prime minister Johnson and his éminence grise Cummings are aware that the areas of the country which strongly supported "Leave" in the 2016 referendum as well as voting Conservative last December are also home to many football clubs struggling outside the Premier League. If deprived of the  journeymen continental footballers who they can field at lower wages than they would have to pay Brits, those clubs may well fold. Similarly, virtually every county cricket side relies on a Kolpak player or two and a few clubs in the Yorkshire and Lancashire leagues may well have a professional who qualifies on Kolpak terms.

I would not put it past the current administration to rig their new system to assign higher points to sportsmen and -women on the cynical old Roman principle of generating "public approval, not by excellence in public service or public policy, but by diversion, distraction or by satisfying the most immediate or base requirements of a populace".

Saturday, 15 February 2020

So, what about the budget?

It is virtually certain that the main planks of the 2020 budget have already been laid. Therefore the change of chancellor should make little difference - even the headstrong Boris Johnson would not have risked losing Javid just three weeks ahead of the budget statement if there were to be a major impact.

We should expect - demand, even - the abolition of the "tampon tax" (5% Value Added Tax on all sanitary protection products). One of the few benefits of leaving the EU is regaining total control over rates of VAT and on the items on which it can be levied. So far, the government has been reluctant to confirm that the tax is to go, but the patience of the millions of people affected will not last for ever.

There ought to be introduced a financial transaction tax, a very small percentage on trades that go through the City of London which would not be noticed by small and medium investors but would add up to a useful boost to the exchequer. Now that we are out of the EU, we do not have to coordinate such a levy with whatever is coming down the line from Brussels. However, the big traders will pay a lot, even though it would be a very small proportion of their turnover, so have presumably already convinced the Treasury that it is a non-starter.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Vindictive bombing

TV in the UK has rightly relayed the German commemoration of the destruction of Dresden by American and British bombers in the dying days of World War 2, 75 years ago. It was an unnecessary act of savagery. However, it should have been placed in context.  From 1941 onwards, the Luftwaffe had been directed to bomb British cities of cultural significance in what were termed the "Baedeker" raids. So the Allied urge for revenge was understandable, if not excusable.

In the relays from Dresden, it was left to the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, to point out that it was Germany who had started the war.

Thursday, 13 February 2020

Staffing the latest anti-terror regime

Congratulations to the Labour spokesman for drawing attention to the implications of the Terrorist Offenders (Restriction Of Early Release) Bill in the House yesterday. Neither the minister nor any of the Conservative MPs who intervened on him saw fit to address the need for extra resources as a result of the Bill's passing.

Nick Thomas-Symonds
I took part in a long debate on sentencing in the last Parliament with the then Minister of State for Security and Economic Crime, now the Secretary of State for Defence, and a number of sentences were increased. In her intervention on the Justice Secretary, the former Prime Minister pointed out —very fairly, I thought—that there has been an issue with the success of de-radicalisation programmes in recent years. Length of a sentence is one matter, but, whatever the length, the programme must be targeted and effective—I will come on to that point in a moment.

We are here to discuss emergency legislation, but there is also an emergency in resources. The Leader of the House indicated yesterday that the Treasury has approved additional resources for the extra time that prisoners will spend in custody as a consequence of the Bill, as well as for the Parole Board. Clearly, however, there must also be a specific and dramatic increase in resources to tackle extremism in our prisons.

But this is not just about resources—my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) made a point about process and expertise, and she is absolutely right—and a strategic approach from the top will be required.

The Justice Secretary made it clear that there is no need for derogation from the European convention on human rights, and he set out the Government’s legal position on article 7. Labour Members firmly believe that we can tackle terrorism and proudly remain signatories to the European convention on human rights. In our view, to leave that convention and join Belarus as the only European non-signatory would send a terrible signal to the rest of the world. We should never sacrifice the values that we are defending in the fight against terrorism and hatred.

Those who perpetrate hatred and violence are responsible for their actions, but it is for the Government to do everything they can to keep our streets safe and minimise the risk of something like this ever happening again. The House is therefore entitled to ask why we have ended up requiring this Bill to be passed via emergency legislation. Automatic early release is hardly new. It has been part of 

our system for many years, and could already have been dealt with by a Government who took a more strategic approach.

There have been a number of warning signals over the past decade. In his opening remarks, the Justice Secretary mentioned Ian Acheson, a former prison governor who led a review of Islamist extremism in our prisons, probation and youth justice system, which was published in August 2016. Mr Acheson said:

“What we found was so shockingly bad that I had to agree to the language in the original report being toned down…There were serious deficiencies in almost every aspect of the management of terrorist offenders through the system…It was a shambles.”

Mr Acheson proposed 69 recommendations that, according to the Justice Secretary when speaking to the media over the weekend, have been consolidated into a total of 11, eight of which are being implemented. However, in a newspaper article last Thursday Mr Acheson said:

“As part of my review of prison extremism, I made a great number of recommendations that specifically related to a tactical response to a terrorist incident in prison where staff were targeted. I have no way of knowing if or how many were implemented as none made it into the response published by the Ministry of Justice.”

It should be pointed out that the Acheson review concerned itself only with the system, not resources.
However, its recommendations to combat radicalisation in prison and a deradicalisation programme do need money to be spent on training and on recruiting the additional imams he sees as being needed.

There is no point in locking up young men for longer if that only increases their exposure to bad influences, making them more dangerous, rather than reformed, when they are evntually released.

Wednesday, 12 February 2020


I always had mixed feelings about HS2, reflecting the division of opinion among other members of Railfuture. Now that Brexit threatens to reduce economic activity in South-East England, there is even less justification for destroying good farmland and ancient woods. Admittedly, Lib Dems nationally are in favour, but only as part of a broader expansion of the railways.

Wales misses out, as Gwynoro Jones remarks on Facebook:

#Wales has got 11% of the UK #railway track, 20% of level crossings but since 2010 only 2% of the investment from Westminster. Totally ridiculous and inequitable. Things just can’t go on like this much longer. Time to rise up.
The £106bn project will have an "overall negative impact on Wales' economy," a transport expert says.

Even in England, the politicians have the programme wrong. Rather than start the project at the London end, which is only going to increase the London commuter catchment, they should be concentrating on the Lancashire-Yorkshire-Birmingham triangle, where most of the real work is done and which has been crying out for infrastructure investment.

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Stand-off in Ireland

The general election in the Republic of Ireland has resulted in 110 of the 160 seat parliament being shared practically equally between three main parties, of which Sinn Féin must now be counted one. Since neither of the other two parties contemplate negotiating with an organisation still linked to the terrorist IRA, and seem to be wary of a coalition with each other, it looks from the outside as if there will have to be fresh elections.

The stand-off will remove a strong voice in the EU for a mutually-beneficial free trade agreement with the UK. Prime minister Varadkar may have lost the trust of the Republic's voters for largely internal reasons, but there is no doubt that he had a high profile on the European scene. Ireland's influence will inevitably wane as her politicians' concerns turn inwards.

The strength of  Sinn Féin south of the border may also inhibit the sentiment, which had been growing, in Northern Ireland for reunification. Both these factors strengthen the hands of those Brexiteers who want to see a complete break with the EU and a subordinate relationship with the United States.

Opponents of proportional voting in Westminster elections might like to consider that if the Irish election had been held on a first-past-the-post basis, Sinn Féin would have been the strongest party in the Dáil Éireann by a significant margin.

Monday, 10 February 2020

Staying on

It is all very well to dream of an automatic improvement in the employability of Welsh youngsters by keeping them in education or training until age 18, as a think-tank proposes, but where are the extra teachers? Where are the trainers?

Friday, 7 February 2020


Fishing (0.1%) and agriculture (0.51%)  contribute minuscule amounts to the UK national economy, yet they have an emotional pull out of all proportion to their economic significance. The proposition that both would thrive outside the bureaucratic EU must have swayed more voters than were actually engaged in those activities to vote Leave in 2016.

Prime minister Johnson has declared himself prepared to make fishing rights a sticking point in free trade talks with the EU. Yet there is a strong sense among farmers, especially livestock farmers, that the Tory government is about to sell them out. Dominic Raab is in trade talks in Australia, keen to reduce its dependence on Asia for a major export, beef. Forty per cent of Australian cattle are hormone-treated to accelerate their fattening, a practice banned within the EU.

Worse is hinted at by an article in the current Private Eye:

At the recent UK-Africa investment summit in London, PM Boris Johnson declared that "Uganda beef will have an honoured place on the tables of Britain" after Brexit. [...] farm organisations have been deriding the environmental and food safety credentials of Ugandan beef, pointing out that no Ugandan slaughterhouse is yet licensed to export to the EU.

Tariff barriers depress the price to farmers from LED countries such as Uganda.
In turn, this prevents them earning enough to upgrade production methods and improve traceability and environmental standards to levels acceptable to consumers and regulators in higher income countries like the UK.

The Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), especially the way it benefits German and French farmers, is probably the least defensible of EU mechanisms and was always high on the list of improvements to be sought by a Liberal Democrat administration in our manifestos. (CAP currently also benefits large landowners disproportionately, which could account for the lack of pressure for reform from Tories on the Council of Ministers.) However, there is an obvious solution for the UK which would encourage free trade while maintaining standards and supporting a farming industry at home. I quote from a former Conservative correspondent, a land agent in the days before accession to the CAP:

Pre CAP the UK had a most excellent system called Guaranteed Prices.

The UK food market was freely available (with the proviso of quality 
controls) to the entire world and UK farmers agreed minimum prices with 
MAFF [the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food] annually on most items 
(but on a 2 yearly basis for beef.) 

If the world price exceeded the guaranteed price, the farmers sold their 
produce and HMG paid farmers nothing but if world price fell to less than 
the guaranteed price, the farmer would sell his produce, send his receipts 
to MAFF and get a cheque for the deficit.

The system was simple, cheap to run and resulted in cheap food for 

One wonders why Johnson does not adopt it.

Thursday, 6 February 2020

Lib Dems should support a decriminalisation

I cannot go along with the knee-jerk opposition by Daisy Cooper to removing an offence from the list of those for which ordinary people can be sent to prison. Receiving television pictures without a licence is hardly a crime for which offenders need to be taken off the streets. (See a previous post.)

I take Ms Cooper's point about the consequences of not repaying a civil debt but surely these are not as degrading as being sent to one of our drug-ridden, over-crowded gaols.

We should rather be fighting for a fairer means of funding a national broadcaster.The flat-rate licence fee is regressive, bearing down more on us poorer members of society while hardly being noticed by the richest.

Commonwealth crisis: Westminster was warned about Scotland

There were numerous warnings about Patricia Scotland's propensity to milk the public purse when she was appointed Commonwealth secretary-general in 2015. She had been proposed by Dominica, the country of her birth. However, she had spent most of her life since the age of two in the UK and it is clear that the new majority Conservative government raised no objection; indeed, Cameron and company may actually have promoted the candidacy of Gordon Brown's favourite lawyer. If Cameron and then Foreign Secretary Phillip Hammond paid no attention to the occasional negative reports from Private Eye magazine, they should have heeded the frequent warnings from a former UK ambassador, Craig Murray.

The BBC news website reports:

The questions about Lady Scotland's future leadership of the Commonwealth come after she was criticised by internal auditors last November for awarding a lucrative consultancy contract to a company run by a friend.

The BBC revealed last week that the Commonwealth's Audit Committee accused her of "circumventing" usual competitive tendering rules by awarding a £250,000 commission to a firm owned by fellow Labour peer, Lord Patel of Bradford.

Lady Scotland's lawyers insisted the decision to award the contract was fully justified. But New Zealand has since confirmed it put its £1.5m annual contribution to the Commonwealth Secretariat on hold as a result of the "significant weaknesses" in managing procurement identified in the KPMG auditors' report.

Commonwealth high commissioners in London are due to meet on Thursday [today] to discuss the challenges currently facing the Commonwealth Secretariat, including the KPMG report.

Diplomatic sources suggested some developing countries could shift their support to an alternative candidate if they fear they could lose Commonwealth revenue streams under the current leadership of the Secretariat.

It is to be hoped that the Commonwealth ambassadors will agree on a person who can restore the standing of the secretary-general's office. Now that we are officially outside the EU, we need the support of the Commonwealth more than ever. This message needs to be drummed into the ears of the Prime Minister, who should be active in helping to find a successor of substance to take the Commonwealth forward.

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Putin puts himself above the law

Most London media, when reporting the constitutional changes in Russia, concentrated on the personalities of Putin, and, to a lesser extent, Medvedev. There was also some interest in the new PM, Mikhail Mishustin.

More dangerous for the future, though, would appear to be changes to legal institutions. As the chairman of the liberal Yabloko party pointed out last month:

The greatest concern is the rejection of the priority of international law and the actual liquidation of the Constitutional Court, which mean the final legalisation of repressive legislation, strengthening of an authoritarian state and isolation of Russia.

There is more of his speech here.

Monday, 3 February 2020

South London stabbings: Johnson follows Sir Humphrey

Do nothing until there is a crisis, then manage the crisis. That is the supposed tradition of the British civil service. What prime minister Johnson and Robert Buckland are proposing is a cheap gesture. Without the radical improvement in the chronic understaffing of gaols in England and Wales, which has led to a vicious spiral of worsening conditions, there will be little effect on home-grown terrorism. What efforts there are at de-radicalisation in prisons will be diluted as the convict population swells yet again.

The liberal solution - increase the number of prison officers and reduce the number of "crimes" for which people can be imprisoned - may be costly in the short term but will save money in the long term, as the Netherlands have shown. Of course, this would incense the likes of the Express, Mail and Sun who would rather stoke the fires of violence for the sake of money-making headlines. We should at least be thankful that Johnson has not followed the Nazi programme in this respect by demonising Islam and encouraging violent reprisals against innocent Muslim.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

The Cardiff Giant

Not in Cardiff, South Wales, but in Cardiff, New York State, an alleged petrified ten-foot-high figure was dug up, supposedly proving that giants once walked the earth. Both it, and a copy made by PT Barnum, were legally confirmed as fakes on 2nd February, 1920.

Saturday, 1 February 2020

What now?

While most other dailies were triumphalist and others despondent over the formal break with the EU, the i addressed the practical implications of the schism. What are the next steps to make it work for all the people of the UK, not just the financial speculators who funded the successful Leave campaigns and drove the Europhiles from the Conservative party?

Remainers on social media seem to be drawing too much comfort from messages from leading friends in the EU, like Guy Verhofstadt, Donald Tusk, Emanuel Macron and Jan Timmermans. We have not heard from opponents and it should be noted that Tusk and Macron do not reflect the general feeling in Poland and France respectively. It requires only one nation to veto our re-entry and we have upset too many nations in the EU.

Do not misunderstand. If a real opportunity to rejoin the EU offered itself, I would be in like a shot. But any government which did so must take the majority of the British people with it, and it is clear from the December general election result - not to mention the evidence on social media - that their attitude is hardening. Therefore it seems sensible not to invest too much time in attempting to turn the clock back but rather to ensure that things do not get worse. In particular, our resistance to a failure to reach a free trade agreement with the EU must be clear and unremitting.