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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Are the DUP trying to collapse the UK Government as well?

If any of the money promised for Northern Ireland as part of the deal with the DUP has not been paid over yet, then the Treasury needs to seriously consider cancelling the payment altogether.

Voting in the House of Commons last night clearly showed that the DUP have walked away from this agreement and are actively engaged in undermining Theresa May and her government.

Having brought down the government in Stormont due to their intransigence Arlene Foster's party are now trying to do the same to the UK.

Those of us who have studied history will remember the extreme measures that Unionists were prepared to take to sabotage efforts to bring Home Rule to Ireland. This included inciting mutiny in the British Army, an offence which should have led to prison sentences or at times of war, summary execution, but was allowed to pass unpunished.

I am sure that modern day unionists would not even consider such measures, but they are clearly trying to get their pound of flesh and, unlike Shylock, they don't care if blood and other entrails come with it.

Frankly, a confidence and supply agreement with these people was never going to work at the same time as the UK Government is negotiating our exit from the EU. The DUP do not seem to care if the Good Friday Agreement is wrecked and violence returns to their own backyard.

They are a party with minority support, even in Northern Ireland, who are used to getting their own way irrespective of the consequences. It is time they were put in their place.

One other question arises from last night's voting however. As the Independent reports, all eight of the party's MPs present in the Commons abstained on three votes, and even joined forces with Labour to support one amendment relating to child poverty.

Despite that, the Labour amendment failed because the so-called official opposition could not get all its MPs into the lobbies to support it. According to Hansard, one of the absent MPs was Jeremy Corbyn. As a result an opportunity missed to defeat the Government on a key policy.

Vince Cable took enough stick for his absence on a vote over Brexit, perhaps Corbyn deserves similar opprobrium for not showing up last night.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Corbyn sits on the fence as Tories crumble

By far the most remarkable interview over the weekend was that on Sky News between Sophy Ridge and Jeremy Corbyn.

As the Guardian reports not only does the Labour Leader appear to believe that the UK can get the same benefits outside the EU as inside, a view debunked by two years of detailed negotiation and every statement by an EU leader, but he continues to stick to his pro-Brexit line despite the clear downsides of such a position.

The idea that Labour can somehow get a better deal than that delivered by Theresa May is both unevidenced and not credible. Why would the EU negotiators roll over on their red lines just because they were faced with a different Prime Minister? What even would Labour do differently? They have not told us. Their six conditions are an argument to stay in the EU, something they refuse to acknowledge.

And on the way forward, Corbyn declined to support calls for a second referendum, insisting that it is an option that can only be considered in the long term, and incredibly said that if there was another referendum, he did not know how he would vote. What sort of leadership is that? He is meant to be in charge of the opposition, not cheer-leading for the Tories.

Anybody looking to Labour to take the lead in opposition to Brexit, or even in calling for a referendum on the final deal with remain as the alternative, needs to look elsewhere. They are not coming to that party. The only UK Party that has consistently fought for that rethink is the Liberal Democrats. We are providing the leadership that Labour appear to be incapable of giving.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

The mouths of fools

'The mouths of fools are their ruin; they trap themselves with their lips' - Proverbs 18:7 New Living Translation

Nadine Dorries is by no means my favourite Tory backbencher, that privilege rests with Ken Clarke, for whom there is a parody twitter account where a tweet a few days ago summed up the state of today's Tory party. It said:

I've been sat up in bed for hours, whisky on the bedside table, soft jazz playing in the background, trying to think if I've ever worked with a more idiotic bunch of self centred bastards in my nearly 50 years as a MP.

Nope, still can't think of any. Time for another bottle.

However, in her apparent naivety the arch-Leave MP for Mid Bedfordshire has hit upon the major flaw of Theresa May's Brexit deal and of the whole Brexit agenda.

As the Independent reports,the Tory backbencher, who campaigned tirelessly to get the country out of Europe, said Ms May's deal would leave the UK without any influence in Europe.

“This is a very sad place to be,” she told Sky News. “But unfortunately, the future of the country and of our relationship with Europe is at stake. This deal gives us no voice, no votes, no MEPs, no commissioner.”

The paper says that her words were met with astonishment online:

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the quality of our politicians right now,” one Twitter user noted. “The intellect of a boiled cabbage.”

Author – and Remainer – JK Rowling was somewhat more succinct. She tweeted an emoji of a head exploding.

As the Independent says, it is not the first admission to make voters wonder if leave-supporting politicians knew exactly what they were campaigning for during the referendum. Just last week, leave voter and ex-Brexit secretary Dominic Raab let slip he “hadn’t quite understood” how heavily UK trade relies on the Dover-Calais Channel crossing.

Nadine Dorries then made an attempt to clarify her remarks. In a Tweet posted on Saturday evening, she said the proposed deal was “worse than what we have now where at least we have a seat at the table and can fight our corner”, which is precisely the point.

In just a few sentences, this MP has summed up everything that is wrong with the leave project. It is badly thought out, its proponents do not understand its consequences nor do they have a plan to make it work, it leaves the UK worse off than before under any of the many scenarios we might want to play out, and even when we have a deal (and one that accommodates all our other obligations like the Good Friday agreement) we find ourselves having to conform to standards, regulations and conditions belonging to other countries, just so that we can continue to trade with Europe and protect jobs, without any say in how those regulations are framed or what they say. That applies both with a deal and without a deal.

For those who are starting to see that we may as well stay in the EU where we at least we can fight our corner, protect jobs and exercise our veto if necessary, then welcome to the club. Brexit has led us down a blind alley full of muggers. We have to turn back. It should now be up to the people to make that decision in a new referendum, where we at last have all the facts in front of us and can make an informed choice of taking the deal or staying in.

Saturday, November 17, 2018

The House of Lords and allegations of sexual harrassment

Those of us who are members still recall how Liberal Democrats peers rallied behind the party's election guru and former Chief Executive, Chris Rennard over a number of allegations made against him. He was cleared of sexually harassing Liberal Democrat party workers despite an independent review finding “broadly credible” evidence he “violated” the personal space of women.

A lot of the arguments deployed in Rennard's defence revolved around burden of proof, but the overall impression the case left with many of us was that, despite the findings of the independent review, the party's inadequate processes had failed the alleged victims.

A new disciplinary and complaints procedure has now been put into place in the Liberal Democrats to create a proper process which treats all parties fairly, but also moves the burden of proof away from a criminal standard to one more appropriate in determining whether somebody should remain a member of the party or not.

Watching the House of Lords debate the very serious allegations against Lord Lester, I was struck by the similarities, but also with how out of touch many of those speaking in Lester's defence were. I very much agree with a lot of what Jenny Jones of the Greens and Lib Dem Peer Meral Hussein-Ece have to say in this article in yesterday's Guardian, much of which is worth quoting:

'Jones said she was dismayed by a debate in which a series of peers said they were long-time friends of Lester and cast doubt on the veracity of Sanghera’s claims, which were supported by testimony from six people.

“I actually walked out the debate at one point because I was so horrified at the things that were being said – so misogynistic [and] victim-blaming,” she said. “I couldn’t believe that this was happening in 2018. It was so archaic and, honestly, cruel.”

Hussein-Ece said the debate seemed an attempt by Lester’s friends to force a vote on a Thursday afternoon, when many peers had left London.

“It was pretty awful. I just couldn’t believe how it was unfolding,” she said. “The debate was all about how unfair it was to Lord Lester, and how he was a great friend of all of them. It was the establishment, the old boys’ network, coming together to look after their own.”

Pannick told the Lords that there were inconsistencies between Sanghera’s “allegations and her own conduct”, saying that a week after the harassment, she had written to Lester “in affectionate terms” in a book she gave him.

Other peers spoke to say they had known Lester, 82, for many years and could not believe he would act in such a way. The average age of speakers in the debate was 75.

A Lib Dem peer, Tom McNally, also noted the warm comments Sanghera had written in the book, saying: “It seems strange, but never mind.​” He also expressed doubt over whether a “confident and determined campaigner” like her would be intimidated by a peer.

Another Lib Dem, Dick Taverne, said Sanghera’s behaviour was such that if her evidence to the inquiry had been cross-examined – the key demand of Lester and Pannick – then it was likely “sufficient doubts would have been raised for the charge to be dismissed”.

This prompted shouts of, “Shame on you!” from Jones and Hussein-Ece.

Jones said it the Lords seemed “totally out of touch with the feeling of the #MeToo movement, and the general feeling of the country”.

She added: “I walked out in fury at some of the things that were being said by eminent people that I’d always had a high regard for. Pannick has always been a hero of mine. He could not be more diminished in my eyes for taking up this cause.”

Pannick has argued that Lester’s inability under the Lords disciplinary rules to cross-examine Sanghera meant her evidence could not be fully tested. Other peers argued that Lester had approved the rules and only objected to them when the inquiry found against him.'

Personally, I am appalled by the whole tone of this debate and by many of the things that were said in defence of Lester.  They underline once more how out-of-touch and unfit for purpose the House of Lords is. The sooner it is replaced with an accountable elected second chamber the better.

Friday, November 16, 2018

As May clings on, where is Corbyn?

Coming back from a meeting in mid-Wales yesterday, whilst trying to digest the ever-changing news, resignations and Prime Ministerial statements, it felt very much like the country is going to hell in a handcart. To be frank it does not feel much better today.

The deal that Theresa May has negotiated is massively disadvantageous for the UK, and yet it is the best she can possibly get under the circumstances. It was always going to be this way. No matter what Brexiteers like Boris Johnson, Michael Gove, Jacob Rees-Mogg, David Davis and their pals think, there is no better deal on the table. Either they misled us or they were deluded themselves.

This has nothing to do with the intransigence of the EU, and everything to do with the unrealistic expectations of those advocating leaving. You cannot leave a club and then expect to retain the benefits you enjoyed prior to your departure. I am pleased that Theresa May hinted yesterday that not leaving the EU was an option but we have a long way to go before we reach that point.

The big question though, in the midst of all those Ministers and MPs throwing their toys out of the pram, is where was Labour in all this? Their six conditions for supporting a deal are as unachievable as any fantasy that Rees-Mogg can dream up. They are in fact six reasons for staying in. And yet Corbyn not only refuses to acknowledge this but actively promotes the idea of a General Election as their priority, so that Labour can negotiate a better deal.

That position is as self-serving and as irresponsible as anything that Boris Johnson has come up with. It maintains the fantasy that there is such a thing as a good Brexit and in doing so effectively emasculates Labour as an opposition. He is shoring up Theresa May when he should be leading the calls for a complete rethink on Brexit, even a referendum on the final deal.

In the midst of all this chaos it is time for Corbyn to get off the fence, finally acknowledge that Brexit is dead in the water and support calls for people to be given another vote on the issue.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Brexit has destroyed Theresa May's majority

The most important consequence of Theresa May's Brexit deal has nothing to do with her future as Prime Minister nor even that of the Tory Party, it is the consequences for the UK.

We find ourselves in the worst possible situation, effectively in the EU without a voice. It was an entirely predictable outcome and one that many of us warned about before the referendum and since. Quite simply it is impossible to disentangle the UK's economy from that of our European neighbours without significant and quite possibly disastrous consequences.

Any politician who says differently is either misleading us or has come from another planet. And that is my biggest problem with the Brexiteers and, of course, with the DUP who along with some of their more extreme friends in the Tory Party seem determined to wreck the Northern Ireland peace process in pursuit of the unattainable.

But what of the DUP? According to this article in the Independent, they are being frozen out. The Prime Minister has finally woken up to the fact that they are no friends of hers. They are driven mostly by self-interest, not that of the UK as a whole.

The paper says that civil servants have been told to remove DUP contacts from planning emails which the Northern Irish party would previously have been looped into. It also emerged on Wednesday that the Prime Minister had still not spoken to the party’s leader about the draft Brexit deal and it was unclear if she intended to do so before the document was published.

The agreement between Theresa May and Arlene Foster is effectively dead and buried, another casualty of Brexit. That leaves only one item of business for the two parties - can we have our money back please?

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Hypocrisy and lies: A Brexit story

I have stopped watching Question Time on the BBC, I have too much respect for the safety of my television. Last night as Brexiteers lined up to condemn Theresa May's deal as a sell-out, the red mist descended again. I hadn't felt that way since I last dived for the remote control as David Dimbleby introduced Nigel Farage for the nine thousandth time.

Brexiteers like Boris Johnson who had made promise after promise about taking control just under two and a half years ago, who had offered us £350 million a week for the NHS and trade deals galore, and who ignored warnings that any future deals would tie us in as mute partners to regulations and rules they were railing against, are now chewing on their own dust.

They were wrong on every single point and they cannot stand it, so what do they do? They blame others and rail against the inevitable as if none of it were their fault. Why did they think that the EU would abandon their own interests to accommodate their little Englander positions?

Why did they believe that peace in Northern Ireland should be abandoned in pursuit of their ambitions?

How can they have been in key positions in government for much of these negotiations and wash their hands of the incompetence and the infighting that has left the UK an international laughing stock?

This piece in the Guardian by Tom Peck puts it far better than I can. He points out that the deal appears to contain within it much that is unsatisfactory to Jacob Rees-Mogg, Boris Johnson, and everybody else who has spent much of the last two and half years lying about the fantasies of Brexit. The UK, it would appear, will remain in a customs union with the EU until such time as a better option is found, and Northern Ireland may remain in one even after that:

So down they came, to a hastily arranged news conference of sorts, to fire the starting gun on what already looks set to be the most shameful chapter of the Brexit story so far. Which is the people whose utterly shameless lies have landed the country in this unimaginable mess, seeking to put as much distance as possible between their actions and the inevitable consequences of them.

There was Jacob Rees-Mogg, saying that this deal will make the UK “not a vassal state but a slave state,” when the words he was looking for were, “Sorry. This is my fault.”

Several weeks ago, Mr Rees-Mogg called the TV cameras to a Committee Room in the Commons, where he waved about an utterly risible document described as the “World Trade Deal.” In the morning he’d claimed that crashing out of the EU with No Deal and trading with the rest of the world on WTO terms would be worth “£1.1trn” to the UK economy. By lunchtime, he’d said he had no idea if that claim could possibly be true.

Faced with a choice between reality and taking ownership of his own outrageous lies, it is no surprise the latter should find itself beyond the pale.

Next there was Boris Johnson, to announce that, “This is just about as bad as it could possibly be.” And he’s right. There will be no bumper weekly payout for the NHS. There will be no bonanza of free trade deals, with America, with Australia, with New Zealand, India, China, Canada and everybody else, because most of those countries have already objected even to the terms on which Britain is seeking to re-join the World Trade Organisation.

There is just reality, a concept which, being the identical twin of the truth, Boris Johnson has never made even the faintest acquaintance.

If he thinks this is a failure on Theresa May’s part, there was, of course, not even a moment’s pause to reflect on whether any of it could be his fault. Not even whether it is his more than two decades worth of lying about the European Union finally coming back to haunt him. Theresa May, perhaps, might have fared better in these negotiations had she not lost her majority at the last general election. Whether she might have done better in that contest if her most high profile minister at the time had not spent the last year as a walking advert for government by rolling embarrassment is a question there is barely time to consider.

Some of us have been saying for years that because of the multi-national nature of trade, our dependence on the EU, and the difficulties of forming trade agreements elsewhere, then if we do not remain in the single market the UK economy will crash badly. The situation with Northern Ireland left the UK Government with no choice but to acquiesce to that logic.

Where is the official opposition in all of this? Tom Peck is absolutely right when he says that Jeremy Corbyn, that supposed man of great principle, will not stand in the way of anything that might return him to Downing Street, whatever the cost.

Boris is right, this deal leaves us subject to EU law without any power to change it. How else did he think it would turn out? The logic now is indisputable, we must  stay in the EU so that we can at least exercise our veto if needed. If Parliament cannot determine that then the people must be given a chance to have their say.

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. . . .”

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