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Tuesday, November 13, 2018

New report suggest it is time to end the English badger cull

I have long argued on this site that the UK Government's obsession with culling badgers is contrary to the science, and that all the evidence points to the fact that the methods they have adopted are potentially cruel, ineffective and unnecessary.

It is gratifying therefore to find some support for this point of view in an independent review commissioned by the environment secretary, Michael Gove.

The report's authors have concluded that frequent trading of cattle and poor biosecurity on farms is “severely hampering” efforts to tackle the crisis of bovine tuberculosis  in England and that it is wrong to blame badgers as the main cause of the outbreaks. The scientists say it is “highly desirable” that the government move from culling to the vaccination of badgers.

The Guardian says that TB in cattle costs taxpayers £100m in compensation every year, with 33,000 infected animals slaughtered in 2017. Gove approved a huge expansion of badger culling in September, with up to 42,000 to be shot this year. The government spent £6.6m on culling last year, and the total cost to date is estimated at about £40m, thought to equal about £1,000 for each animal killed. It is a massive drain on taxpayers' money:

The new report is highly critical of both farmers and ministers. Poor use of measures such as secure fencing to prevent TB transmission on farms is “severely hampering disease control measures”, it concluded, as are the 2 million movements of cattle every year as they are bought and sold.

The standard test used misses many infections, meaning diseased cattle are still moved around the country. Furthermore, the review said that TB levels in cattle were not falling: “Current governance arrangements poorly serve bovine TB control.”

Professor Charles Godfray, at Oxford University, led the review and said: “It is wrong to put all the blame on [badgers] and to use this as an excuse not to make hard decisions in the industry, which unfortunately is going to cost them money.”

“We are still concerned about the amount of cattle movements that happen in this country,” said Godfray, who chairs the science advisory council at the environment department. “The number is really high.”

The recommendations in the report include what Godfray called “desperately needed” research on the effectiveness of badger vaccination, the potential use of microchips to track cattle movements and the use of a more accurate test in high-risk areas, even if this leads to more false positives:

“The report is very clear that cattle are more likely to acquire TB from other cattle than from badgers,” said Prof Rosie Woodroffe, at the Zoological Society of London and part of an earlier landmark experiment called the Randomised Badger Culling Trial (RBCT), said: “It states repeatedly the desirability of replacing culling with a non-lethal alternative – specifically, it emphasises the need for a proper evaluation of badger vaccination.”

Prof John Krebs, at the University of Oxford and who commissioned the RBCT, said: “The report is a valuable, impartial summary of the current evidence. Unless the government and the farming industry now tackle [biosecurity, trading of infected cattle and testing], TB will not be eradicated or controlled.”

Clearly it is time for the Government to end this cull and invest resources both into vaccinating badgers, but also in developing a digestible vaccine, introducing stricter controls on cattle management and movement and to keep working on a vaccine for cattle.

It would also help if government ministers stopped making misleading statements about the cull allegedly 'delivering results'. That is clearly not the case and the data in this report supports that view.

Monday, November 12, 2018

BBC under scrutiny after Taxpayers' Alliance whistleblower case

By far the most far-reaching consequence of the admission by rightwing pressure group the TaxPayers’ Alliance that it illegally sacked the whistleblower, Shahmir Sanni for revealing unlawful overspending in the Brexit referendum campaign will be on the way that the so-called BBC deals with groups like this in the future.

As Carole Cadwalladr writes in the Observer, the Taxpayers' Alliance has accepted all the allegations Sanni made during his action claiming unfair dismissal, wrongful dismissal, direct discrimination and “dismissal by reason of a philosophical belief in the sanctity of British democracy”.

She says that significantly, the Alliance has also conceded that it is liable for what Sanni’s lawyer, Peter Daly of Bindmans, describes as “extreme public vilification”:

Sanni had claimed that it was responsible for a smear attack published by the website Brexit Central, and that it coordinated “derogatory statements” made by the head of Vote Leave, Matthew Elliott, to the BBC – calling Sanni a “Walter Mitty fantasist” and “so-called whistleblower” and claiming that he was guilty of “completely lying” – before an official finding by the Electoral Commission into the conduct of the Brexit referendum.

The disclosure is likely to have far-reaching consequences for the way that broadcasters describe lobby groups. The uncontested claim has stated that the TaxPayers’ Alliance is responsible for Elliott’s Brexit Central website as part of nine “linked” high-profile rightwing “thinktanks” that operate in and around offices at 55 Tufton Street in Westminster and coordinate media and other strategy. In Sanni’s case, they also coordinated with Downing Street.

The network includes the Adam Smith Institute, the Centre for Policy Studies, the Institute of Economic Affairs and Leave Means Leave. The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, is calling for a full inquiry into the groups’ funding and said that in the interests of “openness and accountability” the BBC must make clear they are lobbyists, not thinktanks” as they are sometimes referred to.

Details of the alliance’s relationship with Downing Street and the role of Stephen Parkinson, Theresa May’s political secretary, will now not be heard in court. A separate claim by Sanni against Downing Street is still ongoing. Sanni, who received an award from Gay Times last week, said: “It has proved that the TaxPayers’ Alliance sacked me for speaking the truth. And that there has been a coordinated effort by the Conservative establishment, including the government, to shut me down.

That the BBC, in its misguided attempt at impartiality, has been culpable in facilitating these smears by continuing to provide a platform to a group of lobbyists whose funding and whose relationship with the UK government is shrouded in mystery, is a disgrace.

For too long, the BBC has been giving credibility to fringe groups in the name of 'balance' without properly weighing up the facts on either side of the argument or properly evaluating the motives of the organisation it is giving a platform to or whether its claims to speak on behalf of a particular group is correct or not. Their idea of balance is a form of lazy inertia, and their failure to ask the hard questions do a disservice to licence payers.

It has been evident for some time that the Taxpayers' Alliance is a right wing lobby group that is neither funded by taxpayers nor speak on their behalf. Why then do the media continue to give them credibility? Surely that must now change.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

100 years

Strange Meeting

It seemed that out of battle I escaped
Down some profound dull tunnel, long since scooped
Through granites which titanic wars had groined.

Yet also there encumbered sleepers groaned,
Too fast in thought or death to be bestirred.
Then, as I probed them, one sprang up, and stared
With piteous recognition in fixed eyes,
Lifting distressful hands, as if to bless.
And by his smile, I knew that sullen hall,— 
By his dead smile I knew we stood in Hell.

With a thousand fears that vision's face was grained;
Yet no blood reached there from the upper ground,
And no guns thumped, or down the flues made moan.
“Strange friend,” I said, “here is no cause to mourn.” 
“None,” said that other, “save the undone years,
The hopelessness. Whatever hope is yours,
Was my life also; I went hunting wild
After the wildest beauty in the world,
Which lies not calm in eyes, or braided hair,
But mocks the steady running of the hour,
And if it grieves, grieves richlier than here.
For by my glee might many men have laughed,
And of my weeping something had been left,
Which must die now. I mean the truth untold,
The pity of war, the pity war distilled.
Now men will go content with what we spoiled.
Or, discontent, boil bloody, and be spilled.
They will be swift with swiftness of the tigress. 
None will break ranks, though nations trek from progress.
Courage was mine, and I had mystery;
Wisdom was mine, and I had mastery: 
To miss the march of this retreating world
Into vain citadels that are not walled.
Then, when much blood had clogged their chariot-wheels, 
I would go up and wash them from sweet wells,
Even with truths that lie too deep for taint.
I would have poured my spirit without stint
But not through wounds; not on the cess of war.
Foreheads of men have bled where no wounds were.

“I am the enemy you killed, my friend.
I knew you in this dark: for so you frowned
Yesterday through me as you jabbed and killed.
I parried; but my hands were loath and cold.
Let us sleep now. . . .”

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Johnson brother spells out stark truth facing the UK on Brexit

The sudden resignation of Jo Johnson from the UK Government is far more of a crisis for Theresa May than the departure of his brother. That is because, whereas Boris was clearly on manoeuvres, Jo has gone on a matter of principle and in doing so set out in stark terms the real crisis facing the UK over Brexit.

As the Guardian reports, the younger Johnson brother strongly condemned the possible choices facing us in leaving the EU:

The remain-backing MP for Orpington and rail minister published an article online saying he could not vote for the deal which May is expected to bring back to parliament within weeks and instead would be throw his weight behind a second referendum.

“It has become increasingly clear to me that the withdrawal agreement, which is being finalised in Brussels and Whitehall even as I write, will be a terrible mistake,” he wrote.

He said in his article that the public were being offered “an agreement that will leave our country economically weakened, with no say in the EU rules it must follow and years of uncertainty for business” or a no-deal Brexit “that I know as a transport minister will inflict untold damage on our nation”.

“To present the nation with a choice between two deeply unattractive outcomes, vassalage and chaos, is a failure of British statecraft on a scale unseen since the Suez crisis.”

This is an assessment that has been clear to many of us for some time. The pressure for a people's vote is growing.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Banned for being too political

I am not a great fan of Christmas adverts, especially when they are aired in November, but this is the Iceland one, which according to the Guardian, has been banned for being too political.

The paper says that as part of the retailer's festive campaign they struck a deal with Greenpeace to rebadge an animated short film featuring an orangutan and the destruction of its rainforest habitat at the hands of palm oil growers.

Earlier this year, Iceland became the first major UK supermarket to pledge to remove palm oil from all its own-brand foods. Habitat loss in countries such as Malaysia, which is a major global producer of palm oil, has contributed to the orangutan now being classified as critically endangered.

However, Clearcast, the body responsible for vetting ads before they are broadcast to the public, said it was in breach of rules banning political advertising laid down by the 2003 Communications Act:

One of the stipulations enshrined in the broadcast code for advertising practice (BCAP), is that an ad is prohibited if it is “directed towards a political end”.

“Clearcast and the broadcasters have to date been unable to clear this Iceland ad because we concerned that it doesn’t comply with the political rules of the BCAP code,” said a spokeswoman for Clearcast. “The creative submitted to us is linked to another organisation who have not yet been able to demonstrate compliance in this area.”

Iceland will still be placing TV ads, but only 10-second clips that will highlight palm oil-free products.

It seems to me that this is stretching the term 'political' to an unacceptable limit. If the future of the planet is deemed to be too political for the advertising authority then we might as well all pack up and go home.

Christmas in fact is one of the least sustainable events in the calendar, both in terms of the way we celebrate it and in the strain it puts on the earth's resources. Perhaps we should term any advert promoting excessive consumption at Christmas to be too political as well.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Corbyn under pressure to support a people's vote

Jeremy Corbyn's fence-sitting on Brexit does not appear to have gone down well with his most enthusiastic supporters within the Labour Party, many of whom like me, must be wondering why he is consistently letting this incompetent Tory Government off the hook over our proposed departure from the EU.

As the Independent reports, a new survey has found that majority of members of the left-wing Momentum group back a fresh referendum on Brexit:

53 per cent of people who responded to a major consultation by the organisation said they wanted Labour to commit to holding a fresh vote, either as a top priority or if the party cannot force a general election.

Forty-one per cent said they wanted a public vote “in all circumstances”, while a further 12 per cent said they wanted another referendum “but only if there is no general election”.

A further 28 per cent said they supported a vote “remaining on the table as an option if there is no general election”.

Just 17 per cent did not support a fresh referendum at all.

The paper says that the survey is likely to pile fresh pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to back calls for a Final Say vote. But will he listen? Only time will tell.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

UK Government hiding behind gagging clauses

Last month I wrote about UK Ministers banning charities and companies working with universal credit claimants from criticising or harming the reputation of the work and pensions secretary Esther McVey. Now the Times reports that the use of these gagging clauses by Ministers are even more prevalent than previously suspected.

The paper says that cabinet ministers have banned 40 charities and more than 300 companies from publicly criticising them, their departments or the prime minister, as part of deals costing the taxpayer £25 billion. They add that:
The paper says that while terms protecting employers’ reputations are commonly used by private companies, charities believe that they should be banned in the public sector.

Mrs May has vowed to crack down on employers who use non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) “unethically”. Despite this experts hired by the government to test cladding 12 days after the Grenfell Tower fire were banned from criticising Theresa May or doing anything to embarrass her:

It was revealed last month that charities working with universal credit claimants had been banned from criticising Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary.

A subsequent analysis of 38,500 documents relating to government deals signed since 2015 found 398 contracts that include “adverse publicity” clauses. These state that the organisations being paid must not do anything that could cause bad publicity for the “authority” commissioning the work, defined either as the department or, sometimes, the secretary of state.

Many of the organisations that have agreed to the terms are private IT contractors but they also include charities and companies working on projects that would be likely to attract public scrutiny.

The Cabinet Office signed the deal with WSP to advise officials on whether cladding used by the government estate complied with building regulations on June 26 last year. The company has expertise in cladding and fire safety and worked on the structural engineering for One World Trade Center in New York and the Shard in London.

The contract, for £100,000 plus VAT, stated the company should make sure that neither it nor anyone working for it should “embarrass” or be “in any way connected to material adverse publicity” relating to the Cabinet Office or other Crown bodies.

Clauses like these are anti-democratic and make it more difficult to hold the government to account. When there are safety issues involved, as with cladding, it could put lives at risk. The use of such clauses by government should be curtailed.

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Calls on UKIP to break links with anti-Semitic conspiracy website

It isn't just Labour who have an anti-Semitism problem it seems. According to this article in the Guardian, Jewish organisations have accused UKIP of embracing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories through the party’s links to a far-right US website that regularly attacks George Soros and which has argued that the Pittsburgh synagogue attack could have been instigated by the US government.

They add that the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Community Security Trust (CST) has called on UKIP to dissociate itself from Infowars after it brought in one of the website’s editors as a member and used him to promote the party to younger people:

John Mann, the Labour MP who chairs the all-party parliamentary group against antisemitism, said Infowars was a “vile and dangerous” organisation.

It is led by Alex Jones, a web radio host who argues the 9/11 attacks, the 7 July bombings in London and the Sandy Hook primary school massacre were either faked or carried out by government-linked forces. Jones is being sued by Sandy Hook parents and has been banned from Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

His de facto deputy at Infowars is Paul Joseph Watson, a Briton who has the title of “editor at large” for the website, and has regularly guested on Jones’s show.

In June, Watson was among a trio of YouTube personalities welcomed into UKIP as part of an attempt by its leader, Gerard Batten, to make the party more appealing to young voters.

Another was Mark Meechan, a self-described comedian and free speech activist who was fined this year for posting a video showing his girlfriend’s dog giving Nazi salutes in response to phrases including “gas the Jews”.

Watson’s membership was seen as a particular coup – he has 1.4 million YouTube subscribers – and after he joined, a video he made praising the party was featured prominently on UKIP’s website.

The association with Infowars has prompted renewed concerns about the direction of a party that remains the UK’s fourth-biggest by polling numbers, but under Batten has taken a more hard-right stance, mainly targeting Islam.

Infowars regularly carries disparaging stories about the supposed influence of Soros, the billionaire financier who is at the centre of anti-Semitic conspiracies about so-called “globalists” seeking to control the world.

Separately, Soros was among 14 prominent US figures to whom pipe bombs were posted this month. Jones has argued the bombs were a “false flag” plot.

Through these actions, UKIP are becoming more and more marginalised and, unless Labour address their anti-Semitism problem then they could well follow them.

Monday, November 05, 2018

Labour peer suggests his party's anti-semitism problem is Corbyn's fault

There was an interesting interview with Labour peer Peter Hain yesterday in which he argued that the police investigation into allegations of anti-Semitism within Labour would not have happened if leader Jeremy Corbyn had been tough enough in "stamping it out".

The former Welsh Secretary said anti-Semitism had become a "curse" in the party and added that it would be difficult for Labour to "command cross community support" on the issue:

Speaking to BBC One's Sunday Politics Wales programme, Lord Hain said he was "very disturbed" by the investigation, "because I think it highlights what has been a curse in the Labour party over this past period".

"We've always been the party that champions individual liberty and human rights, and I find it deeply deeply upsetting and painful that anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic attacks have got to the point where the police are investigating it in the Labour party," said the former MP for Neath."

"That's the sort of thing you expect from fascists and racists and anti-Semites, you don't expect it from members of the Labour party."

He said: "If the party leader had been tough enough in stamping it out... this particular investigation I don't suppose would ever have occurred."

"There is a particular problem of a particular small group on the hard left in the Labour party, who seem to think that anybody standing up for their particular view in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, if they take a view that is seeming to defend the Jewish interest in that conflict, then they are targets," Lord Hain said.

"I do not believe this has actually assisted the Palestinian cause. In fact, the reverse.

"Undoubtedly this has cast a really dark stain over the party.

"I think if you go into a general election with such an important section of the community, the Jewish community, which has historically been majority Labour... actually against the party, I think that makes it very very difficult electorally."

He denied he was "having a pop" at Mr Corbyn but he added: "I think it will be difficult for the Labour party to get out of all of this in a way that commands cross community support again on this particular issue."

If this is the view of a Labour 'grandee' then no wonder Corbyn and Labour have lost so much support amongst the Jewish community.

Sunday, November 04, 2018

Claims that Arron Banks mislead Parliament

I have just watched the Andrew Marr interview with Arron Banks and was very unimpressed with the whole process. The problem with this format of course is that there is a huge amount of material to cover in a very limited amount of time, nobody has all the paperwork in front of them, and so it is very difficult to challenge any assertion by the interviewee.

As a political interview this event was passable, but as a forensic dissection of the fog that surrounds the financing of the Leave campaign it was completely inadequate, (not least because all the parties were not there, including the Electoral Commission) and as was feared, the format enabled Banks to charm his way through it.

The BBC is not qualified to investigate the sort of complex allegations that have been made against Arron Banks and Leave.EU and it was a mistake to stage this interview in the manner that they did.

Blustering about the source of the finance on the part of Andrew Marr added nothing to our sum of knowledge about this matter, whilst the latest allegations covered by the Sunday Times and the Independent, that Parliament had been mislead received only a cursory examination.

The Independent says that leaked documents from former employees at Eldon Insurance and Rock Services to The Observer and the website Open Democracy appear to show that some workers from the two companies had a part to play in the Leave.EU campaign from their offices. Any such work in the months before the election should be declared under electoral law and Mr Banks has repeatedly denied any such work taking place.

When appearing before parliament’s inquiry into fake news in June, Mr Banks specifically said that Eldon Insurance and Leave.EU were completely differently companies with different staff and there was no link. He has also repeatedly denied any improper links between any of his businesses and the Leave.EU campaign.

On the BBC just now, Banks repeated the explanation to Marr that the two operations were separate and that everything had been properly reported to the Electoral Commission. Of course it does not help that the Electoral Commission itself is not fit for purpose and has not been so since it was established. Nevertheless, this did need to be challenged more robustly, something Andrew Marr failed to do.

Perhaps the National Crime Agency will do a better job in getting to the bottom of all these allegations, and maybe the BBC will now leave them to get on with it, instead of interfering in the process as it did this morning.

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