Sunday, 1 August 2021

There *were* George Dixons in the Met.

- and probably still are, but in all the current pudder of  corruption starting at the top and of systemic racism we do not hear of them.

It's not clear what suddenly brought this recollection to mind, but there was an off-beat story from the 1960s which exemplified neighbourhood policing. One of the duties of the junior clerical officer in the MoT's divisional road engineer's office in London was to visit Scotland Yard and obtain various statistics relating to road use. Our liaison man there was a genial man by the name of (if I recall correctly) Fred Vanderhoek. When I was on data collection duty, he told me of a police station where a call went out for a certain PC: there's a parrot at the front counter for you. What had happened was that an old lady in his area had confided in him that she felt lonely and he had put out feelers for someone to provide a caged bird to provide her with a bit of company. The parrot was the result.


Saturday, 31 July 2021

Decline in bus services

 Earlier this month, Rebecca Riddell of SP Energy Networks and human rights campaigners Philip Alston and Bassam Khawaja published a report on the outcome of the Thatcher privatisation of bus services in England and Wales. Mark Valladares commented on Liberal Democrat Voice

as someone who lives in a village which lost its last scheduled bus service a decade or so ago, you might not be surprised that I took rather more interest than might otherwise be the case.

But, of course, it’s not just small, rural villages that are now cut off from the bus network. As the authors note, some 3.34 million people could not reach any food stores within fifteen minutes by public transport. That adds costs for the rural poor, adds traffic to the roads and leads to those who can’t drive for whatever reason to be forced towards larger communities in order to function more easily.

Interestingly, the “right to public transport” is emphasised. Now, I might once have thought that, amidst the rights that people should have, public transport might not be high on the list but consider this;

  • The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the United Kingdom ratified in 1976, obligates the government to promote realization of the rights to work, healthcare, education, social security, food, and an adequate standard of living.
  • The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, which the United Kingdom ratified in 2009, requires State Parties to take appropriate measures to ensure that persons with disabilities have access to transportation on an equal basis with others.
  • The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which the United Kingdom ratified in 1986, requires State Parties to take appropriate measures to ensure the right of women in rural areas to enjoy adequate living conditions, including in relation to transport.

I must, in fairness, exclude London, Scotland and Wales from relative criticism. Each of these jurisdictions has much more power over bus services than elsewhere in the United Kingdom, and it is notable that bus services have expanded and fares remained relatively accessible. But when bus fares have risen by an average 403% since 1997, you can see how bus services elsewhere have gone into a seeming death spiral – higher fares lead to rider figures falling, which leads to growing unviability of routes, which leads to unreliable erratic services, which leads to lower rider figures…

The report makes five recommendations;

  • embrace public control of bus services
  • guarantee access to public transport
  • support local authorities
  • ensure affordability
  • combat climate change with a strong bus system

I fear Mark is too sanguine about the situation in Wales. Both the Welsh government and some local authorities (including Neath Port Talbot) had cut back on support for bus services even before the pandemic cut a swathe through even the profitable ones. So it would need more than a return to public ownership to achieve the report's aims.

Friday, 30 July 2021

Attack the causes of migration

 Before making his reprehensible grab for power (though he does seem now to be rowing back on it to some extend), Tunisian president Kaïs Saïed made some very sensible points in an interview with euronews about migration out of Africa. He warned that:

Europe can only stem the flow of migrants reaching its shores by helping to improve conditions in the countries that they are leaving. Saïed told Euronews that an approach to migration that only deals with security - preventing people from reaching Europe - would ultimately fail to solve what is a global crisis.

He went on:

If those illegal immigrants had fulfilled their ambition to live well and to make their dreams come true, and had the same opportunities European citizens have in their countries, the immigration issue would not be raised. It is better to find out about the real reasons for immigration rather than analysing the phenomena. 
Many illegal immigrants who reach Europe from Tunisia and North Africa are exploited by criminal organisations: they are forced to do illegal work, which violates their rights as refugees. [...]
What about the resources that Tunisia needs from the EU to fight human trafficking networks that are active in Tunisia? 
To fight these networks in Tunisia, but also in Europe, you need to look at those who welcome them. Who receives them when they turn up to work in the fields or in factories, or even on the black market? Who exploits them and who benefits from it? It's here in Europe. These migrants are forced to work illegally, so it is absolutely necessary to combat human trafficking networks within Europe as well. There will be no security and no peace here unless we eliminate the causes that led to this illegal migration. Some illegal immigrants were forced to do so because they had lost all kind of hope, they had no dream.

Denial of opportunity for and exploitation of citizens, especially the young, in poorer nations may be major drivers of emigration, but so also is the denial of human rights. In the stream of migrants from Central America to the US, Guatemalans are prominent. Eritreans form a disproportionate number of African migrants. Both sets are fleeing repressive regimes. It is to be hoped that Tunisia does not become another such.

Thursday, 29 July 2021

Made it!

 There were times, before I discovered Becotide, when I doubted whether I would make it to the turn of the century never mind my eightieth, but today I can look forward to an extra 25p per week on my state pension. What bounty!



Wednesday, 28 July 2021

Never more needed

Today is the 70th anniversary of the Refugee Convention, the international treaty that protects the rights of refugees and has enabled millions of people to seek protection from war and persecution around the world.

Some top refugee facts: did you know…

Who can claim asylum?
The 1951 Refugee Convention guarantees everybody the right to apply for asylum. It has saved millions of lives. No country has ever withdrawn from it.

Can countries return refugees?
The Convention sets out the principle of non-refoulement – meaning countries must not return refugees to a country where they fear persecution.

Where do refugees have to claim asylum?
There is nothing in international law to say that refugees must claim asylum in the first country they reach. A European regulation allows a country such as the UK to return an adult asylum seeker to the first European country they reached. This means that countries on the edge of Europe have responsibility for a lot more asylum seekers than others.

Tuesday, 27 July 2021

ISDS dangers

 In May of this year I queried the government's silence over the possibility of an ISDS procedure being included in the Anglo-Australian trade deal. I also raised the matter with our local MP, and I am glad to say that he has received this assurance from a government minister:


The dangers of ISDS have been exposed by an action taken by a British oil exploitation company against the Italian government. Under a rather obscure international agreement dating from the 1990s, the Energy Charter Treaty (ECT), fossil fuel extractors can claim compensation for the withdrawal of a licence, even though the nation concerned has withdrawn from the ECT.

In the wake of various oil shocks from the 1950s and 1970s, Western powers clearly felt vulnerable and therefore the extraordinary powers given to oil companies were justified.. However, since then the viability of renewable energy has been established and many different sources of petroleum have been discovered, making it difficult for OPEC, let alone an individual nation to hold the world to ransom. The balance has therefore shifted, and the ECT is now more of a threat than a boon. Until the original signatories repudiate it, it is fertile ground for exploitation by such companies as Rockhopper which seek a quick return on their investments and to the devil with the environment or the wishes of local people.


Monday, 26 July 2021

In 2016, Fiona Maddocks published her personal list of 100 pieces of music to see her through life.

Let's see if I can reach one hundred:

JS Bach (how to pick just a few!); St Matthew Passion, Partita for Violin 3, BWV 565 (and I don't care if it turns out to have been written by someone else; has anyone checked on WF Bach, by the way?)

Beethoven: Symphony 7

Berlioz: the Trojans (complete)

Brahms: Symphonies 1 & 3, most of the late piano works

Britten: Sinfonia da Requiem, War Requiem, Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra, Cantata Academica

Antonin Dvorak: Symphonies 7, 8, 9

Gerald Finzi: Dies Natalis

Victor Hely-Hutchinson: Carol Symphony (if possible the Boyd Neel recording)

S Prokoviev: Romeo and Juliet (complete ballet), Violin Concerto 1, Piano Concertos 1 and 3; Symphonies 3, 4 and 6

Shostakovich: Piano Concerto 2 (Maxim's birthday present); Symphony 11;

Smyth: The March of the Women

Stravinsky: Petrushka (first version); Symphony in Three Movements

Vaughan Williams Symphonies 1 (original version), 4 and 6; The Pilgrim's Progress;

Soundtracks;
Sir Arthur Bliss: Things to Come
Bernard Herrmann: Citizen Kane, North by Northwest
Ennio Morricone: The Mission, Once Upon a Time in the West
Pandit Ravi Shankar: Pather Panchali
Nino Rota: La Dolce Vita

Non-straight music:
Lennon/McCartney: I'll get you
Bob Dylan: Go 'way from my window; Black Diamond Bay
Julie Felix: The Friends I Love the Most
Joni Mitchell: Amelia; The Circle Game

Charles Trenet: La Mer



Thursday, 22 July 2021

Fires: 1981 and 1991

 439 New Cross Road, January 1981

Steve McQueen and James Rogan's mini-series Uprising chronicles dramatic events in South London sparked by a fire which killed 13 young people, and whose origins remain unexplained and disputed.
Full marks to the BBC for showing it on three successive nights in peak time on its main channel. It cannot have been easy to do so, given the Corporation's uneasy relationship with the Johnson administration which gives the impression of being on the side of racists. One wonders if only the award-winning status of the two film-makers enabled it to be made, let alone broadcast. Its painstaking examination of the disaster in New Cross was long overdue, and surely some valuable witnesses must have been lost to the ravages of time. On the other hand, given the rise in resistance to assimilation and civil rights given respectability by the current government and the people behind GB News, it is timely.

As I understand the thesis of the series, McQueen and Rogan see a clear chain of events linking the fire to the Brixton Riots, and possibly "race" riots in other parts of the country (I have not yet seen the concluding part of the series). I can attest to the under-current of racism in the population of 1960s South London and even in the civil service - though not in the newly-joined generation of which I was part, I hasten to add. Among the older generations, then as now, the more highly-educated the person, the less likely they were to be prejudiced. The degree of distrust of the police on the part of Afro-Caribbeans revealed by Uprising was not obvious at the time. It was this mutual lack of faith in the other community which led to two different explanations for the cause of the fire being held by the police and by the local community and the wider black activist movement.

Something else I had not realised was the youth of all the victims. The party was to celebrate the birthday of a teenager. So the image of a riotous assembly by West Indian muggers conjured up by the tabloids could not have been further from the truth. Even the BBC showed prejudice in reporting the deaths of West Indians, whereas all those who died were British, born and brought up here.  The only note of friction seems to have been an argument - not a physical fight - between two lads over a girl. 

In the aftermath, resentment of media treatment increased when the story was swept off the front pages by speculation about Prince Charles' interest in Diana Spencer and the return of the Iran hostages. To that was added disbelief and disappointment when the Queen sent a message of sympathy to the president of Ireland over the Valentine's Day Stardust fire, but nothing to the New Cross community. Prime Minister Thatcher did send condolences, but not to the individual bereaved families, only to a representative of the black community.

So the police line that the fire was started deliberately as a result of a dispute within the community has no basis in evidence. Lack of physical evidence casts doubt on the conclusion by the survivors that an incendiary device had been thrown in to the house. This supposition was based on the deliberate destruction by fire not long before the New Cross Road conflagration of two popular meeting-places in the area, and on the National Front targeting the area for their provocative marches. 

The contribution by a man who was then a young fire investigation officer was valuable. He regretted that the science of arson investigation was then not as sophisticated as it is now. Today, he is not convinced that the conclusion they reached as to the source of the fire was definitely correct. A small tube of an inflammable substance had been found outside the house, but since it had no signs of fire damage, it clearly not have been used to start the fire. Its origin remains unexplained.

In all the painstaking reconstruction by the makers of the series, I believe one line of inquiry was missed. There is a possibility that the physical remains of a petrol bomb or the like were on the site but were removed before it was declared safe for the investigation team to enter. The only person or persons able to do that were firemen. It is not possible that the fire service was untouched by racism, though maybe not to the extent of the Met. I am not accusing the fire crew of the day of covering up evidence, but it is a line of enquiry which does not seem to have been followed if only for elimination purposes.


Knowsley Heights, Huyton, 5th April 1991

Discovered by Inside Housing magazine and reported by both the Liverpool Echo and Private Eye, a fire at an experimental cladding installation in Liverpool was played down by the government. 

the new cladding system on the tower had been recently installed with £915,000 of government grant to test the efficacy of cladding systems for high rises around the country. But in April 1991, shortly after it was installed, a fire started outside the building and ripped up through the cavity between the cladding panels and insulation affecting all 11 floors. This prompted the Building Research Establishment (BRE) to produce a briefing for secretary of state Michael Heseltine about the fire. However, a handwritten note contained in the archives of government documents relating to the fire says: “We have received via [Housing Management Estates Action – the government team administering the funding] a request from M St Press Office to play down the issue of the fire. “Our briefing to the secretary of state is purely factual and as far as I am aware, Knowsley [Council] will not be making an issue of the fire.” 

 The note is signed only with a first name and does not identify the organisation that produced it. M St Press Office is believed to be a reference to Marsham Street, where the press office of the Department of the Environment (which provided funding to the project) is located.

Policy papers and politically sensitive materials are traditionally locked away by the civil service at the time of general elections. Presumably an "electronic lock" is put on the equivalent digital material these days. They are released when a government of the same stripe is installed. Thus the Blair/Brown administrations would not have been made privy to all the policy discussions of Thatcher and Major. But it would have been available to David Cameron in 2010, before the fad for external insulation of high-rise buildings took off. He and Nick Clegg also had the opportunity to review the Thatcher policy of removing the requirement for fire service approval of new buildings. Grenfell could have been prevented.

Labour and the coalition did go some way towards opening up government, making it more transparent to the people who put them in power. The Johnson administration's clear intent to reverse this is dangerous.


Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Democracy

 A THOUGHT FOR TODAY:

The theory of democratic government is not that the will of the people is always right, but rather that normal human beings of average intelligence will, if given a chance, learn the right and best course by bitter experience. -W.E.B. Du Bois, educator, civil rights activist, and writer (23 Feb 1868-1963)

Thanks to Anu Garg for the rebuttal of Mencken's too-cynical view:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

― H.L. Mencken, On Politics: A Carnival of Buncombe

Also: 

Democracy is a pathetic belief in the collective wisdom of individual ignorance.

Democracy is also a form of worship. It is the worship of jackals by jackasses.

Democracy is the art and science of running the circus from the monkey cage.

Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.

Or Ambrose Bierce's "Democracy is four wolves and a lamb voting on what to have for lunch."

Du Bois shows that for democracy to work, education, including what is broadly known as "civics", is essential. The trouble is that if a sociopath gets a toe-hold in government, he or she can destroy the public education system so that an ignorant populace can be swayed by media controlled by government or the money-men supporting the same.

Tuesday, 20 July 2021

Shortage of lorry drivers? Pay the rate for the job!

Logistics companies complain that a lack of drivers jeopardises deliveries to retailers and to industry. Some go so far as to predict companies going to the wall. Their solution? Create a special class of visa so that at least some of the truck drivers who returned to the continent after Brexit can be tempted back. This affair highlights another service we were getting on the cheap while we were in the EU. 

In December 2019, the UK voted decisively for a government which would take the UK out of the EU. It has been made clear on many occasions that those voting for Brexit were well aware that things would become more expensive as a result. They felt that it was a price worth paying for England & Wales' splendid isolation. They will not be at all happy with continentals sneaking back in via a loophole created by "their" government to fix a problem temporarily when the long-term solution is to recruit and retain more drivers from the UK. Already the trade union Unite is on the warpath.


Monday, 19 July 2021

First black book musical

 Forgotten African-American musical achievements are being rediscovered. Summer of Soul, "Harlem's answer to Woodstock", has just been released as a feature film. Now, thanks to the work of Lisa Williamson of Yale, we now know that before Show Boat, even before Shuffle Along, there was a book musical which presented African-Americans as members of civil society, not as caricatures. The Red Moon even featured a story line involving native Americans as well as a mixed-race character.  Sadly, it would almost certainly not be capable of revival in its 1908 form since, according to Lisa Williamson, it does contain stereotypes of naming and language which would not be acceptable today. 

Perhaps more remarkable than the firsts represented by The Red Moon and The Shoo-Fly Regiment which preceded it was the fact that the writers, Bob Cole and the Johnson brothers, were able to negotiate contracts on advantageous terms with producers and music publishers. One wonders what heights the partnership would have reached if Cole had not died in 1911 and the US had not entered the Great War.

Thanks to the Musical Assumptions blog which contains a link to an illustrated talk on the writers by Lisa Williamson.



Saturday, 17 July 2021

We are federalists too, Mr Gove

 Two excerpts from Cabinet Office Questions last week suggest that Michael Gove, who was assiduous in liaising with Liberal Democrat members in the early days of the coalition, has not kept up-to-date with policy developments in the party.



At our federal conference last year, we confirmed our commitment to a Federal UK

And it is possible to manage an epidemic (rather better than in Westminster, one must point out) and take the first steps to a constitutional change at the same time. After all, Mr Gove has not had to put his divorce on hold because he is taking key government decisions.





Friday, 16 July 2021

The Conservative view of impartiality

 Huffington Post was founded by a woman on the conservative side of politics and even after its sale retained a liberal conservative ethos. It is now generally regarded as a liberal medium It comes to something when the recruitment by the BBC of a former HuffPost editor as a news editor is regarded as threatening the BBC's tradition of impartiality. I would have thought that it would actually strengthen it, in that liberals tend to encourage the expression of a wide range of views. But of course we are dealing with Bob Blackman who sees anti-Semites and Marxists under every bush, and a leader of the House who would have been quite at home among 18th century Tories. This is what occurred at Business Questions last Thursday:

Bob Blackman 
(Harrow East) (Con)

Millions of people across the United Kingdom depend on the BBC for impartial news being pumped into their living rooms. Indeed, people across the world depend on the BBC and trust it to be truly impartial. I have regularly received complaints about the lack of impartiality, about BBC News and about the bias that seems to be held in particular ways, but there is clear concern about the potential appointment of the ex-Huffington Post editor Jess Brammer as news editor for the BBC. Could the Leader of the House arrange for a debate in Government time on the requirement for BBC News to be impartial, and to reflect the news rather than the opinions of those who preside over it?

My hon. Friend is right to raise that issue. I think the message to the BBC is that Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion. It is crucial that the BBC is not only impartial but seen to be impartial. The BBC must ask itself, if it is going to make an appointment from the Huffington Post, whether it would make an appointment from the Guido Fawkes website, a similar news outlet, except a rather more accurate one, on the right rather than on the left. I think the BBC would be astonished by my suggestion. Would it make an appointment from Conservative Home or from The Daily Telegraph? It seems unlikely, and therefore it is problematic when the BBC looks at left-wing outlets and thinks that that is impartiality.

I also think that it is more serious than that, because the BBC has a number of dedicated, really good quality journalists, who are genuinely important—the Laura Kuenssbergs, the Martha Kearneys and the James Landales of this world. One has no idea of their political opinions at all, and rightly so. That is the model of the BBC. That is the best of the BBC, and people like that are undermined if Caesar’s wife is seen to be suspect.


If the chamber of the House of Commons had not been so sparsely attended, because of Covid restrictions, there would surely have been an outburst of ironic laughter at the citing of two of those names. There may not have been much recruitment at the top level from Conservative-leaning media, but there have been some seamless moves of senior people to PR jobs under the Conservative ambit. Guto Harri and Robbie Gibb come to mind.

I would like to think that "liberal" is not held to be a term of abuse by the majority of Conservative members, but one does worry.

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

A ramble round racism

 Coming fresh from viewing today's PMQs, this is going to be even less coherent than usual, for which apologies. Prime Minister Johnson, given the opportunity several times to apologise for comments made by himself and his Home Secretary before the Euro 2020 finals, declined to do so. Instead, he merely offered the prospect of banning people found guilty of racist abuse from attending football matches and of merely holding talks with the executives of social media companies. Johnson will no doubt justify his stance on the grounds of "action, not words", but he should recognise that those words caused much damage, as Aston Villa and England centre-back Tyrone Mings was quick to point out.

I hear what Priti Patel says about "taking the knee". However, it is more than a gesture; it is a signal, that football rejects racism. It has clearly been necessary as the torrent of abuse spewed at Rashford, Sancho and Saka on the Web sadly demonstrates. I have two worries: that it will continue unchanged through next season, becoming no more than a ritual; and that it is not inclusive. 

Crystal Palace's Wilfried Zaha, who has more than most suffered abuse because of his skin colour, has already declined to participate. He said before the end of the last Premier League season: "me personally I feel kneeling has just become a part of the pre-match routine and at the moment it doesn’t matter whether we kneel or stand, some of us still continue to receive abuse. I know there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes at the Premier League and other authorities to make change, and I fully respect that, and everyone involved. I also fully respect my team-mates and players at other clubs who continue to take the knee. As a society, I feel we should be encouraging better education in schools, and social media companies should be taking stronger action against people who abuse others online - not just footballers." I would urge football authorities to be inventive, inviting ideas from players, managers and directors, to come up with fresh means of demonstrating at each match that the football family abhors racism.

The appointment of Patrick Vieira as manager of Palace has been taken as a positive sign. However, there have been "black" managers in the English leagues before. Ruud Gullit managed both Chelsea and Newcastle United. Both were short stints, though he did not appear to do much wrong. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has managed lower league sides Burton Albion, Northampton Town and Queens Park Rangers and is now back with Burton. He has not managed to break through at the top level. All three came up as players through continental systems. There is only one home-grown black manager (if one discounts Ryan Giggs), Chris Powell. He too did not find a permanent berth, even though he achieved a promotion with Charlton Athletic. Powell is clearly respected as a coach, currently serving in that capacity for England and for the Tottenham Hotspur Academy, but he is not going to be a visible symbol of the advance of racial integration at the top level. Perhaps that presence will come from one of the articulate graduates of the women's game, Alex Scott, Eniola Aluko or Rachel Yankey.

It is not just players of Afro-Caribbean heritage who suffer abuse and discrimination. I doubt that Neil Taylor or Yan Dhanda, who have been mentioned on this blog before, think of themselves as "black". There have been to the best of my knowledge only four players with Chinese parents in English football since World War 2, and the abuse which to my knowledge followed one of them may have been a factor dissuading others from signing professional forms. The "knee" directly recalls the fatal treatment of George Floyd. We need a more inclusive symbol.

There were apparently plans to mount a reception for the England squad at No. 10 Downing Street after the Euro final. These were cancelled, at the behest of the FA according to Arj Singh and Chloe Chaplain of the i newspaper. This was a mistake, in my opinion. The opportunity should have been taken to face down the abuse and recognise a remarkable England team which over-achieved in reaching the cup final and surviving for ninety minutes against a world-class Italian side. It will appear as if the "blazers" of Soho Square have disowned those who failed only narrowly and Johnson will get away with his nudges and winks of racism to his hard-core supporters.


Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Aid cuts - for the benefit of the chums?

 Prime minister Johnson and - the man who probably wanted it more - chancellor Sunak achieved what looked like a comfortable majority in the international aid vote earlier today. It was, though, probably the closest the government will come to a defeat in this parliamentary session. Moreover, lasting damage to the reputation of the present Tory leadership will have been wrought. Not only floating voters, but also traditional Conservatives will have been appalled by the breaking of a manifesto promise, as the Liberal Democrat leadership has pointed out.

Rishi Sunak was unwise to cite the shortfall in government revenues caused by the Covid-19 emergency (which has dragged on for nearly two years) as a reason for cutting the aid budget. The billions of pounds wasted on failed schemes to achieve a quick fix, money which went largely to friends of the Tory party without the check of competitive tendering, will be fresh in the minds of many. One can be sure that memories will be refreshed by the Opposition at the appropriate time. How many aid programmes will have been enabled to continue if that money had not been wasted?

 

I fear for Morrisons

 I have written before about the supermarket I first discovered on a contract in Leeds for a then much larger retail organisation. Morrisons had not yet broken out of its north England fastness but it was clearly a go-ahead organisation. In particular, its presentation of fresh food was distinctive and attractive.

Ken Morrison was a Conservative, but clearly of the traditional kind. If he were still alive, he would no doubt be appalled at the battle which has taken place between giant American venture capital groups for control of the company he built up. Whichever one wins, history suggests that the result can only be a degradation of the stores. Promises made by such people can seldom be relied on and at least one of the rival bidders has an ominous background. The pressure group DeSmog warns:

Supermarket chain Morrisons is set to be snapped up by a group of US investors that includes a subsidiary of fossil fuel giant Koch Industries, known for funding numerous climate science denial groups across the country. The £6.3 billion takeover bid of the UK’s fourth largest supermarket group, which campaigners fear could represent a “worrying shift”, is being led by US private equity firm Fortress Investment Group, owner of Majestic Wine. The Canada Pension Plan Investment Board, one of the world’s biggest pension funds that manages pensions for all Canadian employees, is also providing funding. Profits from Koch Industries, the largest private company in the US, have been used to support a sprawling network of libertarian, anti-regulation think tanks and lobby groups that have worked to cast doubt on mainstream climate science and oppose climate legislation.

Morrisons takes pride in having more direct control of its supply chain than other supermarkets, with the implications for food quality and safety that implies. Post-Brexit, that also makes the company less dependent on imported food. That could all be at risk if asset-strippers move in.

Sunday, 11 July 2021

EV batteries have an environmental impact, but are getting greener

Modern electric vehicles (EVs) require lithium-ion batteries, unlike the traditional milk-float, once a familiar sight on our streets, which relied on bulky lead-acid batteries and which proceeded at walking pace. Good Energy's blog reports that L-ion batteries:

are manufactured using rare earth metals and minerals like cobalt, which is mined inoverexploited countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. Battery manufacturers are currently developing batteries that require fewer resources, but there’s no denying that they do carry an ethical cost – just like other goods such as clothes and electronics. 

[As with other products] you can research electric car manufacturers using resources such as Ethical Consumer, to find out whether they have policies to reduce environmental impact and protect workers’ rights and welfare. You could also research getting a second-hand EV.  

Almost all of an EV can be recycled – including the battery 

EV batteries degrade over time – however, most will keep at least 70% of their capacity even after 200,000km. This means that drivers shouldn’t unduly worry about the battery degrading over the time they have their car, unless they have an exceptionally high mileage. 

Most manufacturers recommend replacing a battery once it drops to 70% of its capacity. As that means they still have plenty of life left, recycling options include manufacturers converting them into home batteries for storing electricity generated by solar panels.  

Because EV usage is only just accelerating, manufacturers expect that in 10-15
years time
 there will be millions of degraded batteries to deal with. Currently, less
than 
5% of EV batteries are recycled. But it’s expected that recycling facilities will
expand over the next decade, with EV manufacturers taking responsibility for
reusing or recycling batteries from their own models. 
For example, Nissan is
already using them to power automated vehicles in their factories.
 


Friday, 9 July 2021

EU takes firm anti-dumping action

 In October of last year, the European Commission levied anti-dumping tariffs on steel imports from China and a couple of other Far East countries. The Commission estimated that the measure would safeguard over 200,000 European jobs. 

International Trade Secretary Liz Truss has proposed extending the life of anti-dumping measures inherited from the EU on Brexit - but only, as Private Eye reports, by overruling some of the recommendations of the TRA, a body which she herself set up.



Thursday, 8 July 2021

Fabulous 400

 The re-creator of fables in verse, Jean de la Fontaine, was born four hundred years ago today. I see from his potted biography that he was part of a literary quartet which met regularly. The other members were Boileau (another poet), Racine and Moliere. It may have made A-level studies of the last two more interesting if I had known that at the time.


Wednesday, 7 July 2021

"Control of our borders" is a literally sick joke

 http://aberavonneathlibdems.blogspot.com/2021/07/the-prime-minister-has-turned-away-from.html refers. And the leader in the current Private Eye opens:

Whether you think it a good or bad idea, the UK is now living with high levels of Covid. This is down to a combination of a carefully planned and executed vaccine programme, which has given many adults the confidence of double protection, and a carelessly planned and executed border control programme, which needlessly imported the Delta variant in very large numbers.

One should add that the only part of the Tory border regime that has worked (the hostile environment) has had the effect of reducing the number of professionals in the NHS who would otherwise have been available to help deal with the increased cases of SARS/CoV2.


Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Children should not be punished for their mothers' misdeeds

 Dr Shona Mason makes a heartfelt plea for a change in the law and in public attitudes to children separated from their mothers by the latter's spell in prison. This may be for a trivial offence but the harm done to a family can be long-lasting. The family home may have been lost. Contacts between children and mothers are severely limited. 

Our treatment of such children conflicts with the nation's duties under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child which the UK has signed up to. 

Monday, 5 July 2021

Another EU nation is turning to the dark side

 In this case it is Slovenia which is picking up the baton of prejudice from Poland and Hungary. Euronews reports:

In 2008, Slovenia was considered a model student in Europe and the presidency was celebrated as a milestone in the ex-Yugoslav country's road to independence. The conservative Jansa was already in power. But since then he has moved away from liberal values and his critics accuse him of copying the authoritarianism of his populist ally Viktor Orban.
[...]
At a summit last week, Jansa avoided criticising his counterpart Viktor Orban amid fury of the country's new legislation judged to be homophobic and contrary to EU values. The Slovenian leader called on countries to avoid "new unnecessary divisions". 

 "We have to strengthen the EU, within which our values and national identities are protected and can continue to thrive,” Jansa wrote on the presidency website, echoing the speech of Hungary's prime minister. Last week the 62-year-old Slovenian leader also met Giorgia Meloni, head of the Italian far-right party the Brothers of Italy, as well as Poland's Mateusz Morawiecki. [...] Jansa has previously taken to Twitter to attack EU officials, including European Parliament members who had expressed their concern over the situation of democracy and rule of law in Slovenia. [...]  Ignoring calls to order from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and others, he has multiplied attacks against journalists and deprived the national news agency STA of public funds. In March he cut short a videoconference with MEPs, complaining of "censorship". "[...]  Slovenia's government so far has failed to appoint two prosecutors to the EU’s new anti-corruption body, leading its head to criticise Slovenia for its “manifest lack of sincere cooperation”.

The fact that Slovenia has just taken over the presidency of the Union makes it more difficult for the liberal majority in the EU to pull the country back to the strait and narrow path.

 

Sunday, 4 July 2021

Can farmyard dust prevent childhood asthma?

The Asthma UK blog reports on the work of Professor Sejal Saglani. She says:

There’s some really nice research that has shown that children who are brought up on farms or in a farming environment are very protected from wheezing and asthma. This is especially true for the traditional farming environment where families are doing the work themselves without machinery and so on.

(It clearly has to start early. One of my worst asthma episodes marred a family holiday spent on a poultry farm in Brittany.)

Professor Saglani's research involves a laboratory setting mimicking as far as possible the farmyard environment. It is an exacting task, considering the number of parameters which must be involved, but clearly with great prospects. There is more here.

Saturday, 3 July 2021

Clean air: more action needed

 Clean Air Day 2021 passed off last month with minimal publicity. Many organisations have called for more dynamic action on the part of the UK government, In addition to the concerns of the British Safety Council and the Royal College of Gynaecologists and Obstetricians, Asthma UK issued the following call to arms:

the government outlined how they’re going to take action following the coroner’s report into how to prevent more deaths like that of 9-year-old schoolchild, Ella Kissi-Debrah. Air pollution was found to be one of the causes of her death. 

 

There were some promises to make more health information available to the public and health care professionals, ensuring that more of us are warned about the dangers of air pollution. We also heard encouraging suggestions that the air pollution alerts system would be improved.

 

But unfortunately, the government’s plans only scratch the surface of what needs to be done to protect children like Ella, and others with a lung condition from polluted air.

 

Will you write to you MP to tell them this isn’t good enough?

Email your MP

Millions of people with asthma and other lung conditions will know that air pollution worsens their symptoms, and that it can trigger life-threatening asthma attacks and COPD flare-ups. 

 

We need ambitious new laws that tackle the cause of the problem, with targets that meet the coroner’s recommendation to adopt World Health Organization guidelines for our legal pollution limits.

 

Without bold action, tens of thousands of people will continue to die early from air pollution each year.

 

Please write to your MP now to tell them the government needs to commit to strong clean air targets.

Take

Friday, 2 July 2021

King Soccer

I am as keen on following football as the next man. While I am not a super-fan (no scarves decorate the walls and I am not a regular traveller to away matches) I do possess two Swansea City mugs and was for a few years, when I could still afford it, a season ticket holder for the Swans. So it is as a friend of association football that I react with sad resignation to headlines such as this: Euro soccer tournament under fire for helping spread Covid-19. Soccer has had an elevated status on a level with friends of government ministers when it comes to relief from public health restrictions, it seems. One recalls that the first wave of the UK epidemic was potentiated by allowing the March 2020 match between Liverpool and Atletico Madrid to go ahead (along with the Cheltenham Festival), when Spain was already known to be a hot-spot for the virus.

While many people who have established roots in communities in England and Wales have difficulty proving to the Home Office that they have a right to stay, the visa exemption for sportsmen has clearly been interpreted liberally. Many football league clubs would not be in the position they are without their cohorts of jobbing footballers from outside the UK.

The inference is that the money made by big corporations from the sport via various media has influenced the present government to override sensible precautions. 



Thursday, 1 July 2021

Others fold, Nissan stays in the game

Brexiteers are hailing the expansion plans at Nissan's Sunderland plant in Durham and proposed automotive battery factory at Blyth in Northumberland as vindication for leaving the EU. True, thousands of jobs will be created or safeguarded in the north-east of England. However, Brexit has meant the departure or running down of other volume car manufacturers Ford, General Motors, Honda and Mini. Jaguar Land Rover, Toyota and specialist manufacturers like Aston Martin and Morgan remain, though one wonders how Toyota (which has a plant on Deeside) will fare in competition with Nissan in a diminished market. Nissan has clearly taken the view that, even with the European market for mass-produced cars now surrounded by tariff and non-tariff hurdles, it can still make money in Britain now that other major players have departed. Will the job gains in Northumberland and Durham make up for the job losses and silent firings* in Dagenham, Bridgend, Swindon and on Merseyside? 

Nissan's resolve was no doubt strengthened by state aid. Perhaps we will find out how much in due course, and how much will be directed to the "gigafactory".  Questions remain as to what promises were made to Toyota who withdrew their threat to leave if Brexit went ahead and whether the government is going to have to make extra efforts to have them stay, in the light of the Sunderland announcement.

Meanwhile, City hopes for a speedy conclusion to talks between the Treasury and opposite numbers in the EU have been blighted. Some kind of compromise will eventually be reached because both parties will lose if it is not, and maybe there will be little impact on the Brexiteers' vision for a global future for Britain. However, it would be interesting to hear the views on the situation of Professor Patrick Minford, who at the time of the EU referendum foresaw the atrophy of our manufacturing capacity being at least made up for by the expansion of financial services.

* "Silent firing" refers to the elimination of jobs which would otherwise naturally arise as a workplace progresses through the years, e.g. apprentices and trainees coming in at the bottom as people at the top retire.

Wednesday, 30 June 2021

Lusitano

 A recent Early Music Show highlighted the work of Vicente Lusitano. Although his surname indicates that, in 16th century Rome at least, he was regarded as Portuguese, the most striking fact about him was that he was of mixed European and African heritage. It looks as if he first entered the church and then took the first opportunity to emigrate to cosmopolitan Rome to escape racism in Portugal, which could take a violent turn. It seems odd to us today that there was little racism in Elizabethan England (judging by contemporary writing) while in Portugal, which today has a better record of assimilating her former colonial citizens, the opposite was the case.

His music is distinctive, too, with pre-echoes of Gesualdo. He was the first "black" composer to be published.



Tuesday, 29 June 2021

TRADE UNION ACT 1871

 TRADE UNION ACT 1871 CHAPTER XXXI. 

An Act to amend the Law relating to Trade Unions. [29th June 1871.] 

Preliminary. 

Short title. 

1. This Act may be cited as “The Trade Union Act, 1871.” Criminal Provisions. Trade union not criminal. 

2. The purposes of any trade union shall not, by reason merely that they are in restraint of trade, be deemed to be unlawful so as to render any member of such trade union liable to criminal prosecution for conspiracy or otherwise. Trade union not unlawful for civil purposes. 

3. The purposes of any trade union shall not, by reason merely that they are in restraint of trade, be unlawful so as to render void or voidable any agreement or trust.

Monday, 28 June 2021

New English Health Secretary needs to stop repatriation of care workers

 The Northern Echo and the i newspapers draw attention to a clear injustice, which, sadly, is not unique in the National Health and other social services either side of the border.

A HERO of the coronavirus pandemic who has spent months working in an intensive care unit and helping with the vaccine programme is facing being sent back to her home country.

Kim Stewart, a Canadian national, has worked at James Cook University Hospital since last December working in the ICU wards providing patient care.

She joined the workforce at James Cook in the middle of the UK's second Covid wave.

She spent New Year’s Eve attending to a 34 year-old patient given less than 24 hours to live.

She also spent time with families, preparing them to be able to say goodbye to family members.

Ms Stewart has also been involved with the logistics of the UK's largest vaccination programme, to help fight back against Covid.

Yet she has been informed she does not qualify for the one-year visa extension for front line health workers.

This is due to here role as a support worker, which is not on the 'vital' workers visa list.


It is to be hoped that Sajid Javid's status (he is a former Chancellor and also former Home Secretary) will enable him to prevail upon the current Home Secretary, Priti Patel, to abandon her narrow line on who and who is not vital to our caring services.

In the longer term, we must hope for a government which, if it is not able to rejoin the EU or even the EEA, allowing free movement of labour, will at least repeal the legislation which discriminates against Commonwealth citizens.


Sunday, 27 June 2021

The body clock and asthma

 Asthma.uk reports on some interesting research which might have wider application.

Dr Hannah Durrington is a consultant in respiratory medicine and a senior clinical lecturer at the University of Manchester. She has a particular interest in how our body clock (officially known as our circadian rhythm) can affect asthma symptoms.

We all have a body clock, which is influenced mainly by light and dark, and also by when we eat. Everyone’s body clocks ‘ticks’ slightly differently. For example, we all know if we’re more of a lark who’s happy to get up early and go to bed early, or an owl who enjoys sleeping in and staying up late. However, everyone’s body clock impacts on a number of biological processes and can influence how well we respond to medical treatments. For example, research has shown people can recover more quickly from surgery depending on what time of the day the operation is performed.

Hannah has carried out research that shows that asthma is certainly impacted by our body clock. She says asthma is “highly rhythmic” and if you have asthma you have probably already identified this for yourself. You might find your symptoms are worse at night and you wake up in the early hours with wheezing, breathlessness or chest tightness. Hannah’s research shows that this might be caused by changes in our bodies over the course of the day. Even in people without asthma, peak flow measurements (a quick test to measure air flow out of the lungs) will be lower at 4am than at midday. This is probably because everyone’s airways are tighter at night regardless of whether they have asthma, so in people with asthma whose airways are already tighter, further restriction can lead to more symptoms at night.

Research has also shown that our body clock could play an important role in monitoring the severity of asthma, particularly eosinophilic asthma which is a type of asthma associated with high levels of a white blood cell called eosinophils. To assess the severity of eosinophilic asthma, doctors measure the levels of eosinophils in blood or sputum. Hannah’s research has shown that these levels naturally vary over the course of the day. This means it could be helpful to time appointments around the variations in eosinophils to ensure doctors get the most accurate picture of a person’s asthma. Hannah has also looked into whether we are more likely to have a bad reaction to allergens – house dust mites, pollen etc – at different times of the day. A study in mice showed that they had a stronger allergic reaction to house dust mites if they were exposed to them shortly before their most active period of time (which for mice is at night). If the same thing was seen in humans, it could help people with asthma understand when they are more likely to be at risk of worsening symptoms caused by allergens and find ways to reduce their exposure or take preventative measures.

Ultimately, Hannah is keen to find out whether something called ‘chronotherapy’ could help people with asthma. Chronotherapy means timing when you take medication or other treatments according to when it’s likely to have the greatest benefit. Her research may help us to find out if there is an optimum time of day to use inhalers and take other asthma medication so it has the best chance of keeping asthma symptoms under control. “We don’t have all the answers yet, but it would be fantastic if, through research, we could find out what time of day asthma treatment is likely to give the greatest benefit to patients,” says Hannah.

.

Asthma research is severely underfunded

DID YOU KNOW: Research into respiratory diseases like asthma accounts for just 2% of all the medical research funding in the UK.

This underfunding is exactly why ashma.uk launched the 2021 Research Appeal...


Saturday, 26 June 2021

Ministerial code does not apply to Tories

 Matt Hancock may yet be forced out by the pressure exerted by the media. It is notable that such a pillar of the establishment as BBC News has made the revelation of his long-standing extra-marital relationship a leading item on its bulletins. However, by a strict interpretation of the ministerial code, the prime minister should have sacked him a long time ago. The trouble is that the code has no legal status and such power as it has rests in the hands of the prime minister.

In the foreword to the latest (2019) revision of the code, the present incumbent of that post has written:

we must uphold the very highest standards of propriety – and this code sets out how we must do so. There must be no bullying and no harassment; no leaking; no breach of collective responsibility. No misuse of taxpayer money and no actual or perceived conflicts of interest. The precious principles of public life enshrined in this document – integrity, objectivity, accountability, transparency, honesty and leadership in the public interest – must be honoured at all times; as must the political impartiality of our much admired civil service. 

PM Johnson's own personal conduct in office has strayed from those stated ideals, but that is the subject for another post. Hancock has clearly misused public money in awarding contracts during the Covid-19 emergency, lied about his department's preparedness and at the very least allowed a perception of a conflict of interest in appointing Ms Coladangelo to a position within the Department of Health - bypassing Special Adviser procedures, in itself a failure to act transparently.

One contrasts the Teflon-coating of several current ministers, whose only qualification seems to be a devotion to Brexit, with the treatment of David Laws, a financial expert in the Treasury under the first coalition government, whose only "crime" was to have a personal relationship with his landlord. No public money was wasted and no preferment for public office was involved. Unfortunately, Laws was a Liberal Democrat and knew his subject so had to go.


Friday, 25 June 2021

Bad police officers no longer escape justice

A judge in Minneapolis has just passed a sentence of 270 months imprisonment on Derek Chauvin, the police officer convicted of the second degree murder of George Floyd. While not going as far as the family and activists demanded (they were looking for the maximum 40 years), the sentence goes beyond the standard tariff and takes account of the aggravating circumstances, the abuse of trust by an officer of the law. The judge has written a voluminous memorandum explaining his thinking in detail and no doubt a link to this will be provided in due course.

In the UK, in Birmingham Crown Court, PC Benjamin Monk has been found guilty of the manslaughter of former footballer Dalian Atkinson. This trial has been unduly delayed (Atkinson was killed in 2016) and we still await sentencing, but it would be surprising if the judge in this case did not pass an appropriate sentence.

It is to be hoped that these two cases mark an end to the belief common to polities on either side of the Atlantic that the police can never do wrong and that victims of colour can never be in the right.