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. 


Thursday, 24 June 2021

Congratulations to the Black Caps

 New Zealand has crowned her steady rise up the cricketing nations standings by winning the first official Test championship. This is all the more remarkable when you consider the difference in population between opponents India's 1.4 billion and New Zealand's 4.9 million.

One now looks forward to the progress of a small European nation (3.1 million)  in a football tournament.


Wednesday, 23 June 2021

Black Lives Matter to UEFA, but not sexual diversity

 Three cheers for the German football authorities who have defied the Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) in lighting up German stadiums in the rainbow colours associated with the LGBT movement. UEFA's argument is that because the light show is timed to coincide with a Euro 2020 match with Hungary, it is political in nature. (Hungary under its illiberal populist Fidesz government has recently passed legislation clearly inspired by Margaret Thatcher's Section 28.) However, UEFA has not prevented teams competing in Euro 2020 from "taking the knee". One wonders what their attitude would be if this happened at a friendly match with the USA.


Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Sarah Green joins a special group

The new MP for Chesham & Amersham follows Jeremy Thorpe, Simon Hughes and Alan Beith in being a Welsh-speaking Liberal or Liberal Democrat representing an English constituency. However, none of the others took the parliamentary oath in Welsh.

Incidentally, Simon Hughes, the former MP for Bermondsey and Southwark, has recently been spotted on a Welsh refresher course.


Monday, 21 June 2021

Jane Russell

 The actress, singer and evangelist would have been 100 today.


Sunday, 20 June 2021

Reactions to Chesham & Amersham

 It was down to a massive campaign by the Liberal Democrats who threw more than the kitchen sink at the constituency; it was a typical mid-term show of disrespect to a sitting government; it was all down to local issues; it was just another irrelevant Liberal by-election win; a collapsing Labour vote was looking for an anti-Tory home; and "we'll get it back at the next general election". So much of this reaction was expected, and there is some truth in parts of it. There was another thread which was not picked up by most commentators but which was becoming clear from the reports of Lib Dems on the canvassing "front line": that the respectable voters of Buckinghamshire were alienated by the squalid values of the Johnson administration. 

It took a former Conservative MP from the liberal wing of the party to draw attention to the last point. Writing in the i, Anna Soubry asserts:
Those of us who abhor pretty much everything that Boris Johnson and his Vote Leave campaign chums have done to the Conservative Party have good cause to believe this is a significant moment in British politics. The great charlatan is finally being found out. The lovable rogue with the tussled hair and ill-fitting suits, who can barely string two words together as he tries to explain another Covid shambles to a lockdown-weary public, may reach parts of the electorate no other Conservative leader has before, but in so doing Johnson is now alienating huge swathes of the country.

There was a demographic factor. It seems that young, well-educated, liberal-minded couples are escaping inner London to set up home on the northern fringes, in Buckinghamshire and Hertfordshire. The against-trend Liberal Democrat gain of St Albans following local election success in the area was one result. One notes that, like Chesham & Amersham, St Albans was won by a purposeful young woman.

HS2 construction is marring the constituency for no local benefit. It is government policy and the late Cheryl Gillan lost her ministerial post as a result of her opposition to HS2. It enabled her to hold on to the seat, though. It is also Liberal Democrat policy (though in the light of recent pandemic issues this should be reconsidered, or at least nuanced) but Sarah Green has also vigorously argued against it.

Tory changes to planning law, effectively removing local discretion, have also angered voters in the region. There is no sign that Johnson and Jenrick (the property developer's friend) will roll back this policy in spite of a belated back-bench revolt.

For all those reasons, Sarah Green should still be the MP after the next general election. In fact, Liberals and Liberal Democrats had a roughly 50% success rate in maintaining seats won at by-elections and there were some outstanding retentions. Simon Hughes held Bermondsey for 32 years. 

There was not so much a collapse in the Labour vote, as a return to the fold of the Liberal vote. For years, Liberals or Lib Dems held a respectable second place in elections for the constituency. They plummeted in 2015, clearly as a result of Clegg's participation in the Cameron/Osborne austerity programme, Labour being the main beneficiaries, though UKIP took second place at that election. Labour's second place in 2017 with 11,374 votes was a high point. In 2019, Liberal Democrat Dan Gallagher regained second place on 14,627 votes with big swings against both Conservatives and Labour. I believe that there is a decline in Labour support in England, but Chesham & Amersham is not a valid example of it.

The "we've been here before" argument is trotted out both by Conservative and Labour adherents. It is exemplified by Sean O'Grady in The Independent

The commuter belt has always been up for a shock. Places such asington (1962), Sutton and Cheam (1982), Newbury (1993), Winchester (1997), Richmond Park (2016). Sometimes local factors play a part - nimbyism - or the Tories complacently pick an idiot candidate. In any case, voters give the Tories a kick up the ballots, and the media gets (sic) excited. And then nothing happens.

Not true, but by falsifying the evidence, O'Grady disguises the pattern. By omitting the Torrington by-election of 1958 and advancing the true date of Sutton & Cheam by ten years, he seeks to minimise the rise of the Liberal party from post-war obscurity to a position in 1978 when they had an influence on government at a time of financial crisis. Knocked back from 13 seats to 11 in Margaret Thatcher's 1979  landslide victory, the advance resumed, starting with Glasgow Hillhead (1982, an early SDP win) and Bermondsey (1983) culminating in Dunfermline & West Fife (2006) when the Liberal Democrats achieved the highest representation by a third party in Westminster. As a result, Lib Dems were able, even after losing a few seats, in 2010 to enter a coalition at a time of financial crisis. Who knows what would have happened to the party's fortunes if Clegg and company had, crisis over, refused to go along with the Cameron ministerial purge of 2011 and subsequent austerity programme? There may not have been an advance at the general election which would have resulted, but there would surely not have been the devastation of 2015 when the party was reduced to 8 seats, worse than under any Liberal leader since Jo Grimond. 

The Johnson machine clearly did not think the by-election unimportant. On Vince Cable's evidence, the number of Lib Dem workers from all over the country was matched by Tory troops on the ground.

Chesham & Amersham marks a significant point in the climb-back from the 2015 low. It is unlikely that the party will achieve more than third party status at the next election, but there should be a third steady revival over the next dozen years with another spell in government at the end of it. If only I could still be around to see it!



Saturday, 19 June 2021

Vote of confidence in Swansea Bay hospitality sector

 The catering equipment and supplies company Nisbets has opened a Swansea branch. Having weathered the pandemic storm, Nisbets clearly believes that south-west Wales, and in particular the Swansea Bay area, is going to be one of the areas where the hospitality sector is in the forefront of the recovery.

An opening week discount is on offer until 24th June. More details here.

Footnote; it is good to see that, like the Radio Times, Nisbets use minimal and recyclable covers for their mail-shots.


Friday, 18 June 2021

Who needs a women's equality party?

 Sandi Toksvig gave up on us too early. I make it that as a result of yesterday's stunning by-election win, the parliamentary Liberal Democrat party will comprise four men and eight women after Sarah Green's introduction to the House of Commons.

Just for fun: plugging the Chesham & Amersham 25% swing from Conservatives to Lib Dems into UK Elect's forecasting application would give us 137 seats if a general election were held today. We would be the second party in Westminster, Labour being the first with 305 MPs, i.e. 21 short of an overall majority. I trust that this does not encourage the Loreleis in both parties who want us to join in a "progressive" alliance with Keir Starmer's Labour against the Conservatives and that our candidate in Batley & Spen is pressing a distinctive Liberal Democrat message.


Thursday, 17 June 2021

America's war on drugs: 50th anniversary of its declaration

 President Richard Nixon called a press conference on 17th June 1971 to declare a "war on drugs". Action was overdue. In addition to the rampant drug trade largely controlled by the Mafia, empowered by misguided US policy in Sicily at the end of the second world war, the Vietnam war had created a new generation of addicts and an additional illegal network to supply them. 

www.history.com records that:

Nixon increased federal funding for drug-control agencies and proposed strict measures, such as mandatory prison sentencing, for drug crimes. He also announced the creation of the Special Action Office for Drug Abuse Prevention (SAODAP), which was headed by Dr. Jerome Jaffe. Nixon went on to create the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1973. This agency is a special police force committed to targeting illegal drug use and smuggling in the United States. At the start, the DEA was given 1,470 special agents and a budget of less than $75 million. Today, the agency has nearly 5,000 agents and a budget of $2.03 billion.

There may well have been eletoral motives for seeming to be strong on drugs. However, the institutions which Nixon created have remained, although it has to be said that the war was not over when Ronald Reagan came to power and the situation is no better today.


Wednesday, 16 June 2021

The Metropolitan Police needs a system shakeup

 As expected, the report into the Daniel Morgan murder, whose publication has been scandalously delayed by the Home Secretary until today, does not establish the name of a guilty party. As was evident from last year's Channel 4 documentary too many key witnesses, including one likely suspect, have died.   However, it does reveal wholesale corruption in the Metropolitan Police and, going right to the top, cover-ups and obstruction of justice and of the legitimate concerns of the grieving family. There is a Channel 4 News report

Not covered by the TV report, but a factor in the Morgan execution or at least its cover-up, is the involvement of the Murdoch press. Several News International reporters employed Southern Investigations, in which Daniel Morgan was a partner, for information some of which was obtained by illicit means. It will be interesting to see what the full panel report has to say about this aspect.

In that same Channel 4 News broadcast earlier tonight was the revelation that the Met. has done nothing to aid the bringing to justice of Jeffrey Epstein and Ghislaine Maxwell. This was in spite of the facts that several of the complainants of abuse by Epstein and his clients were British, and that one of the American witnesses states that she was brought over to England while still a minor for the purposes of sex. Epstein flew his private jet to the UK around five times a year for the decade in which he was most active. He was clearly of the opinion that he had nothing to fear from the police in London.



Sunday, 13 June 2021

The Pentagon Papers

 The New York Times on 13th June 1971 began printing excerpts obtained from Daniel Ellsberg of an official Department of Defense history of US involvement in Vietnam since 1945. The publication exposed lies by the administration.


Saturday, 12 June 2021

Immunisation of the third world should be more than a numbers game

Prime minister Johnson has topped his spin about donation of vaccine (referred to here) with a pledge to eliminate SARS-CoV2 in the world by the end of next year. G7 leaders have promised 1bn vaccine doses to poorer nations. Critics have immediately responded by saying this will not be enough.

But the number of vaccine doses is irrelevant if the means of delivering them is not there. Dumping large quantities in one go may favour the big pharmaceutical companies providing them, but risks wasting a large proportion if the product is time-expired before it can be used. The first priority is logistical support: getting the vaccine quickly to where it is needed, setting up a just-in-time supply chain, and providing refrigeration using appropriate technology for local storage of doses which cannot be used immediately.

The next priority is to devolve the technology closer to where the vaccines are needed. Waiving patent rights would be a positive step, but more important is to provide the machinery and impart the know-how. The US should take the lead, ignoring pressure from her big multinationals. President Biden has a chance to redeem his nation, whose last impact on third-world drug production was a negative one, President Clinton approving the destruction of a factory in Ethiopia on the grounds apparently that it was an investment by members of the sprawling bin Laden family.

Friday, 11 June 2021

Government propaganda on SARS-CoV2: a professional opinion

 MD (a practising physician) writes in the current Private Eye:


I would only add that in addition to the possibility of the virus coming from a bat (or a pangolin) in the wild, it could have come from a rural area where bats live in buildings.


Thursday, 10 June 2021

Tories not bound by agreements they have signed

http://aberavonneathlibdems.blogspot.com/2021/06/northern-ireland-protocol-blame.html refers. Prime minister Johnson's pet negotiator Lord Frost describes the EU's determination to stick to the protocol agreed with the UK as "purist" and accuses his counterparts of "point-scoring". 

One might just as well disregard the regulations against corruption in awarding government contracts or letting big companies get away with tax evasion .... oh, I see.


Wednesday, 9 June 2021

Donation of vaccine to the third world

There is much talk of United Kingdom giving up part of its vaccine supply, perhaps even sacrificing the immunisation of young people, in favour of the third world. In February, prime minister Johnson was sympathetic, promising to donate surplus vaccine ... On the eve of the G7 meeting in Cornwall, he went further, pressing "leaders of the Group of Seven (G7) rich nations to make a commitment to vaccinate the entire world against COVID-19 by the end of 2022"   

Reuter's reports:
Johnson will host the first in-person summit in almost two years of G7 leaders - which follows a meeting of the group's finance ministers which wrapped up earlier in the day - and said he would seek a pledge to hit the global vaccination goal. read more

"Vaccinating the world by the end of next year would be the single greatest feat in medical history," Johnson said in a statement. "I’m calling on my fellow G7 leaders to join us to end this terrible pandemic and pledge we will never allow the devastation wreaked by coronavirus to happen again."

The leaders of Germany, France, the United States, Italy, Japan, the European Union and Canada will join Johnson for the three-day summit in Cornwall, southwest England, which begins on Friday. It will be the first overseas trip for U.S. President Joe Biden since he took office in January. While the richest nations have been vaccinating large numbers of their populations, many poorer countries have not had the same access to vaccines. And health experts have warned that unless more COVID shots were donated, the virus will continue to spread and mutate.

U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, in London for the finance ministers meeting, said it was urgent for the richest nations to promote vaccinations in poorer countries that could not afford to buy them.

She also repeated the U.S. position that patent rights should be removed for the vaccines, and said they were doing everything they could to address supply chain problems that were preventing a build-up of shots in other parts of the world.

Britain has ordered more than 500 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine for its population of 67 million and says it will donate any shots it does not need.


One must be cautious, though. Just releasing a block of vaccine into the general pool with no idea of what will be done with it could be a mistake. Already, Malawi has destroyed nearly 20,000 doses which have expired and the Democratic Republic of Congo has returned 1.3m which the nation cannot use before the expiry date. It is believed that other nations which have received vaccine from the OAU or the Covax scheme may be in the same situation. It has clearly been a mistake to release large quantities of vaccine at one go. Apart from the logistical problems of getting enough vaccine quickly to all parts with sufficient trained staff to administer it, there has been unexpectedly high vaccine resistance among the people who should benefit from it.

I would suggest that a more sure way of delivering the vaccine would be in bilateral arrangements, that is, that advanced nations such as the UK arrange with partners in the third world to supply and administer vaccine. We have gained expertise and staff whose training may go to waste as our own mass vaccination programme runs down. We would in a sense "adopt" third-world countries to get the job done there. It would be best to start with those in the Commonwealth or with those with which we have historical ties - Mozambique and Nepal come immediately to mind.

But first let us ensure that everyone (refuseniks apart) in the UK is protected. This is not just selfishness. We are among the most travelling populations on earth. It should be remembered that the virus was brought into this country in the first place by vacationers returning from hotspots on the continent of Europe. (This is probably a major factor in South Africa's plight, too.) Let us do the rest of the world a favour by not re-exporting it.

Tuesday, 8 June 2021

Norway deal more aspirational than beneficial

Apart from some reduction in the standard tariffs which would normally apply to the food trade, and the introduction of quotas, the deal recently struck by Liz Truss, the Tory trade minister, with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway does not approach the benefits of actual membership of EFTA which we left at the end of 1972 to join the European Common Market. There is reality check by Chris Morris included in this BBC report on the deal.


Monday, 7 June 2021

"Surgical hubs"

The Royal College of Surgeons of England has called on the government to agree a ‘New Deal for Surgery’, commit an additional £1bn for surgery every year for the next five years and create ‘surgical hubs’ across the country to reduce the ‘colossal elective surgery backlog’. The College is urging every Integrated Care System (ICS) in England to identify at least one 'surgical hub' where planned surgery can continue safely if the country is hit again by COVID-19, a new variant or a severe seasonal flu/winter pressures.

I would suggest that a better solution would be to reverse the policy of closure of local hospitals - indeed, to create new establishments where routine treatments can be carried out, leaving central specialised units to deal with extraordinary procedures. An increased number of smaller hospitals would make it easier to recruit and retain nursing and ancillary staff. Hospital-acquired infections would be easier to control. 

And this would apply at least as much to Wales as to England.

Friday, 4 June 2021

Brexit voters were aware of the economic consequences

Since the EU membership referendum and, more significantly, the 2019 general election, Remainers have twitted Leavers at every new economic setback resulting from our separation that the latter constantly said that they knew what they were voting for and they repudiate the charge of ignorance or stupidity and Remainers remain incredulous.

However, as a recent book reviewed on this week's Thinking Allowed suggests, voters in post-industrial Britain were well aware of the economic consequences of leaving the EU. They understood that there would be a loss of jobs and of income. It was just that it was the them who would suffer, not the us who were already at the bottom of the pile, thrown out of work as industry closed while the them thrived. There was also the background of a decline in the Labour vote, which the authors of the study link to the decline of the coal industry. They point out that in Durham in the general election the seats that shifted to the Tory party were in the west of the county where the coal mines had closed forty years ago. In the east, where the mines had operated until comparatively recently, traditional institutions linked to Labour and the union survived, and the Labour vote held up.

There was a hint of all this in the attacks on the Kinnock family even before the referendum. The Kinnocks as a whole were seen as doing very nicely out of the EU - Neil a Commissioner, Glenys MEP (now both retired on good pensions) and Stephen married to a prominent Danish politician. (One notes that the resentment did not extend to Aberavon voting Stephen out of the Commons at the 2019 election.)

I would like to have seen the international political argument put alongside the economic ones during the public debate about remaining in the EU. The original motivation for a cross-continent institution or institutions was to tie the nations of Europe so closely that another war would be unthinkable. The devastation wrought by two world wars, both started in Europe, was fresh in the memory of those, like Winston Churchill, who supported the European Coal and Steel Community, the germ of what was to become the European Common Market and eventually the EU. It worked. No member state was ever in conflict with another (not something one could say of NATO) and the joint membership of the UK and the Republic of Ireland was a significant factor in the end of the Troubles. One of the most visible demonstrations of the malign effect of Brexit was the outbreak of violence on the streets of Belfast. I accept that presenting a more complete picture of the Remain case would have made hardly any difference to the outcome of the election, but it would have improved the debate.

There is no point in the political class attempting to rejoin the Union unless we can take the majority of the people with us. That will not happen until we can restore trust in politicians and re-connect with the people who feel they have been left behind.


Thursday, 3 June 2021

Out with the old

 I have consistently argued against getting rid of governments just for the sake of it, without offering the voters a worthwhile and stable alternative. However, occasionally an exception occurs. The need to remove a government in Israel which has presided over war crimes and has survived for too long under the shadow of corruption has brought together an unlikely coalition of liberals, campaigners for civil rights for non-Jewish residents of Israel and defenders of illegal settlers. There are still a few obstacles to overcome: for instance, the Speaker of the Knesset has to call for a formal vote of confidence in the new government, and the present holder of that post is a member of Netanyahu's Likud party. Moreover, as long as Netanyahu has a seat in the parliament, the seasoned political operator is going to harry the coalition all the way. One hopes that the coalition holds its nerve long enough to usher in healthier politics in Israel and a period of peace in which reconstruction can begin.


Wednesday, 2 June 2021

Prescriptions for the future of Liberals

Gwynoro Jones wants us to be part of a "progressive alliance" In my book,  the modern Labour Party and "progressive" do not appear in the same sentence. Also, overt collaboration with another party has been a factor in the public's loss of faith in us, as Peter Black has pointed out in a Liberator article. He also sees the influx of English residents as a large factor in Welsh Lib Dems' failure to recover lost ground in the recent Senedd elections. Naturally, the Welsh-based media (such as they are) have seized upon the latter point, which is only one of several, and made it look as if it were his main argument.

My own view of  the reason for the poor performance in Wales is that mistrust over the parliamentary party's entering into coalition with the Conservatives, and in particular our collaboration in the austerity programme starting in 2011, still lingers. As a result we became a minor party in Wales from the local elections in 2012 onwards and, just as nothing succeeds like success, failure is no success at all, to quote a coeval. People are less likely to support a party which has hardly any representation in the national assembly and no clear identity. 

There are signs of recovery in England at least, as Liberal Democrats made net gains in the council elections, especially in the south of the country where Conservatives appear to be in retreat. One trusts that next year's council elections in Wales will provide a similar way forward, provided that local regions are not saddled with an inept campaign from the centre. A party which believes in trusting the people should apply the same principle to its own internal organisation.



Tuesday, 1 June 2021

I agree with Naomi

 Naomi Osaka's suffering is understandable. There are few sportsmen and -women who are clearly comfortable with post-match grilling. When the press conferences come on the telly, I switch over rather than watch the cringe-fests. The stars who can give a performance on stage which comes close to what they produce on the field of play or on court, the Federers and Djokovics, are very rare. Even those who can string sentences together under pressure seldom rise above clich├ęs which one has heard many times before. One wonders what the point of these events are, apart from indulging the inferiority complexes of generally unfit white middle-aged male sports correspondents who are granted the only opportunity to bully people who are worth a hundred of them.


The Demise of a Computer Magazine Pioneer

Twenty-three years ago today, the premier small computer magazine came to an end. There were other Stateside monthly journals, like Interface Age, but Byte was the most substantial and attracted the best writers and artwork. The covers alone are collectors' items. In the early days at least it had an unrivalled breadth of coverage, including the mini-computer end of the existing technology, although it came to be dominated by the personal computer from the early days of single circuit boards.  When in 1978, as a senior programmer at DVL, I investigated the possibility of microcomputers (as they were then called) aiding systems development, Byte was among a bargain bundle of magazines I picked up either at, or just after, the first personal computer show at Olympia. Along with the UK's Personal Computer World which had just started, I took out a subscription to Byte and gave it up only many years later when its quality started to decline under McGraw-Hill.

New York Times journalist  Lisa Napoli wrote an obituary.

When the computer magazine Byte was started in 1975, there was no such thing as 
the personal computer, and virtually no competition in the computer publishing 
market. For 23 years, as the computer revolution changed society, the magazine 
held on, despite the emergence of a number of rival publications.

But those changes finally caught up with Byte last week. The monthly magazine 
and three other computer publications were sold by McGraw-Hill Inc. to CMP 
Media Inc. last month, and its editors and writers expected its new owner to 
revitalize Byte. Instead, CMP suspended publication of the magazine, and 74 of 
Byte's 85 employees were laid off. 

"This is a publication that has strong brand resonance, but it's staggering in 
its decline in readership," said Tony Uphoff, a vice president at CMP. "We were 
very interested in the brand, but we decided to suspend publishing." Byte's 
circulation has fallen to a recent average of 442,553 from 522,795 in 1996. 
Advertising has also fallen. In January, for example, Byte published only 61.5 
ad pages, less than half the number of pages the magazine had in 1996.

Uphoff said CMP would "resuscitate" Byte under a new business model and 
revamped editorial focus, most likely in the fall. The magazine's site on the 
World Wide Web will remain intact, however, for archival purposes. But the July 
issue will be the last for Byte in its current incarnation.

Byte was a personal computing magazine aimed at technical professionals and 
others who wanted very serious, in-depth reporting on technology. It was known 
for its influence on the computer industry and for its crisp writing style. 
Unlike some later computing magazines, which were perceived to be influenced by 
advertisers, Byte was considered editorially independent. "If you read it in 
Byte, you could absolutely believe it," said Dan Rosenbaum, a publishing 
consultant in New York who has worked closely with the computer publishing 
industry. "It was the gold standard."

For those who were involved in computer publishing long before computers were 
as ubiquitous as they are today, Byte's suspension was treated as the end of an 
era. "It's unfortunate," said Carl Helmers, one of the founders of the 
magazine, who now runs his own publishing group in Peterborough, N.H. "The 
mission was to become the Scientific American of computer science. We did that 
well." Rosenbaum had a similar view. "It's a very sad thing," he said. "If you 
wanted to know about an advance in the art of personal computing, you would 
find it first in Byte. The thing that made it so important was that it was the 
only magazine that wasn't about a single platform." 

That editorial independence was particularly important, others said, in the 
sticky world of computer publishing, where magazines cover the same companies 
that they depend on for advertising. In discussing the announcement, CMP 
officials preferred to concentrate on the "new audiences" the acquisition of 
McGraw-Hill's technology group gives them. For $28.6 million, the company 
acquired, along with Byte, three other technology publications -- Data 
Communications, LAN Times and tele.com -- as well as a product testing lab, 
giving CMP a subscriber base of 1.26 million.

John Dvorak, a columnist with PC Magazine, which competes with another CMP 
publication, Windows magazine, said he was "baffled" by CMP's decision to 
suspend Byte. "Did they see it as an enemy of Windows Magazine?" he asked. "I'm 
sure that the people running Byte would have preferred pooling their resources 
and buying the magazine themselves as a leveraged buyout. The sad thing is that 
Byte is a symbolic and historic publication that should not have met with such 
an ignominious finale. It's a crime."


Lisa Napoli at napoli@nytimes.com