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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Hans Blix slams Blair on Iraq's missing chemical weapons

For those of us waiting for the publication of the Chilcott report on the Iraq war, a BBC documentary tonight might prove to be a useful appetizer. In it former weapons inspector Hans Blix claims that Tony Blair “did not represent the reality” in relation to Iraq's possession of weapons of mass destruction ahead of the 2003 invasion. In other words Mr. Blair misled us all:

Mr Blix did not suggest the former PM acted in bad faith, adding: “Many people bring themselves to believe something that they want to believe."

The Swedish diplomat and politician added: "I think Blair had a feeling that this was an evil regime and that it was a moral thing to do away with it.

"And I don't think that's an evil thought, but I think it was a presumptuous thought that the UK and the US alone should do that."

None of this is news of course but it is good to have it confirmed by an expert who was in the front line of weapons inspection at the time. Will the Chilcott report contain stronger criticism? We will have to see.

Climate change deniers put in charge of Assembly's Climate Change Committee

The news that UKIP have been handed the chair of the Assembly's Climate Change Committee has naturally caused outrage around Wales. After all this is the party which publicly denies the existence of man-made climate change.

Quite how the new chair  is going to reconcile that belief with the evidence that he will be presented with is difficult to see. I do not share the view of some that he may be won over to a different viewpoint.

What exactly was going through the minds of party business managers when they decided on the allocation of chairs will forever remain a mystery.

However, the situation could have been worse, they might have put UKIP in charge of the committee responsible for equalities.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Brexit campaign wipe their website to remove £350m NHS claim

The Independent reports that the official Leave campaign has wiped almost its entire website from the internet. They say that the site, which previously included the suggestion that the EU budget would be sent back to the NHS and included promises about trade deals, now just has a message thanking supporters:

The promises of Leave campaigners have come under scrutiny since the UK voted on Thursday, with leading politicians walking back promises over immigration control, NHS spending and the speed that Brexit will be undertaken.

Now all of those promises have been removed from the official site. The site now just has a message reading “Thank You” at the top.

The paper says that the centrepiece of the old site was a collection of “Facts about the European Union”. Those included messages about NHS funding, immigration and trade deals:

The page also functioned as an archive of important interviews and speeches, and editorials written by people in support of Leave. Those pages are still available since only the homepage has been altered, meaning that they can be found through Google.

The site didn’t actually claim that the money saved from the EU budget would be spent on the NHS.

The UK's official EU budget is about £350 million a week,” the relevant “fact” reads. “That’s about the same as the cost of building a new NHS hospital every week.

“We get less than half of this money back, and we have no control over how it’s spent – that’s decided by politicians and officials in Brussels, not the people we elect here.”

They add that there is there is just one remnant of the pledge to give £350m extra to the NHS each week remaining on the site. The picture of campaigners that is the site’s banner includes a bus that has the promise printed on its side, but the door is open and Boris Johnson and Michael Gove are stood in front of the words, meaning that it’s not possible to read it.

How convenient.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Bend it like Boris

I am indebted to the writer Jeanette Winterson for the title to this blog. It is worth checking out the link for a few more Brexit phrases. But the reason why I chose the headline is this article on the BBC in which the former Mayor of London proves that he really does live in a fantasy land.

The BBC reference a column written by Mr. Johnson for the Daily Telegraph in which he writes:

"I cannot stress too much that Britain is part of Europe, and always will be.

"There will still be intense and intensifying European co-operation and partnership in a huge number of fields: the arts, the sciences, the universities, and on improving the environment.

"EU citizens living in this country will have their rights fully protected, and the same goes for British citizens living in the EU.

"British people will still be able to go and work in the EU; to live; to travel; to study; to buy homes and to settle down. As the German equivalent of the CBI - the BDI - has very sensibly reminded us, there will continue to be free trade, and access to the single market.

"The only change - and it will not come in any great rush - is that the UK will extricate itself from the EU's extraordinary and opaque system of legislation: the vast and growing corpus of law enacted by a European Court of Justice from which there can be no appeal."

So Boris' vision is that we leave the EU but continue to enjoy all its benefits without any downside. Is that what people voted for? It certainly was not what the Leave campaign told people they should vote for. And there is no way European Leaders would countenance such a deal without extracting a very high price.

Boris is not stupid so that just leaves a choice of him being either very naïve or extremely disingenuous.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Will Labour enter into its own civil war in the wake of half-hearted referendum effort?

I woke up this morning to the news that Hilary Benn has been sacked amid claims he was encouraging ministers to resign should Jeremy Corbyn ignore a vote of no confidence.

The BBC quotes a Labour source that Mr Corbyn had "lost confidence" in Mr Benn after the Shadow Foreign Secretary said there was "widespread concern" about Mr Corbyn's "leadership and his ability to win an election".

We are now hearing that up to half the Labour Shadow Cabinet may resign if Jeremy Corbyn does not accept the verdict of the Parliamentary Labour Party in a no confidence vote tomorrow. As I write the Press Association has announced that Shadow health secretary Heidi Alexander has also resigned from Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet

The division between Labour's grass roots and the MPs has never been so stark. Corbyn has said he will stand again in any contest forced upon him. The chances are he will win again.

Where does that leave the people whose job it is to represent the Labour Party day-in, day-out in Parliament and in the media?

How can they continue to do that job and hold the government to account for its actions whilst they are estranged from their party's leadership?

The Conservative and Labour Parties are each coalitions in their own right. The way that these coalitions are falling apart highlights the weaknesses of our electoral system.

Under a properly proportional system these divisions would resolve themselves with the various factions forming separate parties and coalescing with like-minded groups to form a government.

Under first past the post that is nigh on impossible.

The referendum result has done more than divide the country, it has also fractured the political establishment, possibly beyond repair.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

The big lies that secured a Brexit vote

Day Two of post-Brexit Britain and things are panning out pretty much as predicted. The value of the pound has plunged, falling more than 8% against the dollar and 6% against the euro, possibly leading to higher petrol prices.

Holiday makers are struggling to exchange currency abroad, Scotland is considering a second Independence referendum and there are calls for a vote in Northern Ireland on whether they should also leave and merge with the Republic.

Wall Street and the FTSE 100 both fell sharply on Friday in a wild day of trading after the UK voted for Brexit whilst the London blue-chip index fell 7% in early trading to just over 5,800 points ending the day 3.15% lower at 6,138 and Spain has called for joint sovereignty over Gibralter.

The Prime Minister has resigned and there are moves to no confidence Jeremy Corbyn. Oh, and the Mayor of Calais wants changes to the 2003 Touquet deal which allows Britain to carry out immigration checks on the French side of the English Channel.

The most galling moments though have been the rapid u-turns by pro-Brexit campaigners on what were obvious lies they told during the campaign.

As the Telegraph reports, Nigel Farage was very quick to admit that it was a "mistake" to promise that £350million a week would be spent on the NHS if the UK backed a Brexit vote. The pledge was central to the official Vote Leave campaign and was controversially emblazoned on the side of the bus which shuttled Boris Johnson and Michael Gove around the country. It was an out-and-out lie.

The Guardian also reports Farage's comments but adds that the claims by campaigners that leaving the EU would reduce immigration was also a lie. Tory MEP Daniel Hannan  agreed that free movement could result in similar levels of immigration after Brexit. He said: “Frankly, if people watching think that they have voted and there is now going to be zero immigration from the EU, they are going to be disappointed.”

It is funny how they waited until after the vote before fessing up. Meanwhile it is worth reading this from a Financial Times reader:

I think I will just leave it there and let people reflect on those points.

Friday, June 24, 2016

What now?

Whatever side you were on it is clear last week’s referendum result will cause a significant period of economic and political uncertainty.

The outcome was as much an anti-politics vote as a vote against immigration, further austerity and the European project itself.

Unravelling forty years of being tied to Europe culturally, legally and economically will not be easy. There are clear dangers.

Many of the measures to protect workers’ rights and to stop discrimination against the disabled introduced by the EU, for example are not instinctively supported by the Conservatives, least of all by those right wing members of that party likely to succeed Cameron.

And what about the jobs which are dependent on EU membership? This is not just about trade, but how viable will Port Talbot’s steel works be if exports to Europe now have to surmount a tariff barrier?

What about the companies who relocated here because we were in the free trade area? Will they now move onto the continent?

And will the UK Government really replace the structural funds and other support we get from Europe on a like-for-like basis?

In many ways, I am just re-treading arguments that the British people have already rejected. But the transition needs to address them all and we need to ensure that Wales’ politicians are at the table fighting for our best interests.

‘May you live in interesting times’ is an apocryphal Chinese curse. It seems that we are now living in those times. How we take on the challenges now presented to us will determine all our future.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

A Parliament by any other name

With the country's future hanging in the balance in today's referendum, one really does have to question whether now is the right time to table a motion in the Welsh Assembly seeking to re-classify it as a Parliament?

The Western Mail reports that a motion has been tabled by Labour's Chief Whip and Business Manager for debate on 28th June which reads: “The National Assembly for Wales agrees that: (a) its name should be changed to the ‘Welsh Parliament’ at the earliest opportunity; and that (b) it should be known unofficially by that name until such a name change can be formalised”.

It is very early in the day for the Cardiff Bay bubble to have so comprehensively engulfed politicians there but that is apparently what has happened. Whilst the rest of us worry about the economic prosperity of Wales and whether we will remain within the World's biggest free trade area or commit hari kari and leave it, the Welsh Assembly is debating what to call itself.

And it is not as if this motion has any legal effect. Yes, AMs can call themselves what they like but surely it would be better if they waited for the additional powers being proposed by the new Government of Wales Bill before rushing out of the starting blocks.

Most voters will consider this as no more than a vanity exercise, an attempt to gain prestige. They will want AMs to be taking action to protect their jobs and to bring investment into Wales, to sort out the health service and improve the performance of our schools, not to spend their time deciding whether the occupants of the Senedd will be known in future as AMs or WMPs.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Lies, damned lies and the European Referendum

With less than 24 hours left before polls open, it has all gone a bit Game of Thrones over here in Referendum UK. It is not quite as gory, but the leading figures of the Remain and Leave campaigns are fighting like a bunch of public schoolboys. Oh, wait a minute....!

The Telegraph's live blog of events records the insults being traded by both sides, summing up the reason why nobody believes a word either side is saying and why most people wish they would just go away and leave them alone. In fact, 10pm on Thursday cannot come quick enough.

It all started to go a bit crazy when Michael Gove invoked Godwin's Law and compared economic experts warning about Brexit to Nazis who smeared Albert Einstein’s scientific findings during the 1930s. I am not a big fan of economists myself but of course the big difference is that Einstein had a tenable thesis, whereas the Brexiteers just have speculation, and of course the economists in question are not in the pay of the government as the German scientists were.

This enabled David Cameron to have a pop at his erstwhile friend and colleague. He told LBC:

"Let me tell you what I think is the most extraordinary thing in the news today, and that is the Leave campaign, comparing these independent experts, businesses, economists, Nobel Prize winners to sort of Nazi propagandists.

"I think I’m afraid the Leave campaign here are making a massive mistake. If in our country, you know look at these people, some of them won Nobel Prizes, many of them are working for independent institutions we set up after the war. These businesses don’t normally come off the fence on an issue like this and speak so clearly. And I think when you’ve got that weight of opinion saying there’s a real risk to the British economy, to jobs, to families’ finances then it really is worth listening.

"And if we’re going to go to a world where we say, I’m not going to listen to experts, that’s an extraordinary thing to do."

And then Boris Johnson pitched in saying that the Michael Gove analogy comparing Remain-supporting economists to Nazi propagandists was okay. Cameron responded by suggesting that Gove had lost the plot only for the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to change the subject by accusing Cameron of lying about Turkey's prospects of joining the EU.

Talking of Nazis, Nigel Farage was asked if he had apologised for his controversial "breaking point" immigration poster based on Nazi propaganda, only to deny that he had done so, despite suggestions by his party that he had.

And then Michael Gove apologised for his remarks about the war: "Yesterday I was asked a question by Iain Dale about the predictions of doom for the economy.

"I answered as I often do with a historical analogy. It was clumsy and inappropriate.

"Obviously I did not mean to imply anything about the motives of those who have spoken out in favour of staying in the EU.

"Throughout the campaign I’ve avoided making personal attacks, I'm sorry for speaking so clumsily, and apologise for giving offence.

"I think Britain will be more prosperous if we end our connection to the euro project and I should have answered this question directly."

Will Boris now apologise for defending Michael Gove's misplaced analogy?

I don't think I can take the suspense any longer. I am off to watch the football where at least England, Wales, and Northern Ireland are still in Europe. For now, at least.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Taking the guns off the streets

I am still not sure whether this article on Sarah Palin's reaction to the murder of Jo Cox MP, is a parody or some sort of sick joke. Whatever it is, the piece sums up the 'shoot first ask questions later' attitude of far too many right wing American politicians.

In 2015, the US suffered 371 mass shootings, where four or more people are murdered in one event. That is over one a day. According to this website, so far in 2016, 49 mass shootings in the United States have left 73 people dead and 178 wounded. That makes the Orlando atrocity even more of a tragedy as America's lawmakers seem unable to take the necessary action to deal with this phenomena.

Yesterday's Guardian underlines the point. They report that on Monday the US Senate failed to advance new restrictions aimed at curtailing gun violence. Lawmakers voted down four separate measures just one week after the terrorist attack in Orlando marked the deadliest mass shooting in the nation’s history.

They say that Democrats and Republicans had put forth competing amendments to both strengthen background checks and prevent suspected terrorists from purchasing firearms. But all four bills fell short of the 60 votes needed to clear a procedural hurdle in the Senate, in a near replica of a vote held in December when a pair of shooters killed 14 people and wounded 22 more in San Bernardino, California.

Taking guns off the streets is the only way to stop halt the increase in mass-killings in America. It is difficult to understand why their law-makers can not see that.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Is the UKIP racist poster a turning point?

Anybody who seeks to predict how Thursday's vote on European Union membership will go is a fool. It is far too close to call. However, there was a feeling over the weekend that some people are pulling back from the leave option for a number of reasons.

Whether this is enough to give Remain a clear win is an unknown factor but the emergence of what Dan Hodges calls 'Project Hate' has a clear role to play in that trend. He writes:

Three weeks ago we all woke to the following quote from a pro-Brexit MP: 'I don't want to stab the Prime Minister in the back – I want to stab him in the front so I can see the expression on his face.'

One week later Nigel Farage said that British women risked being raped if we didn't vote for Brexit. At the same time posters began to circulate from the Vote Leave campaign – replete with shadowy footsteps – warning of 55 million migrants entering the UK from Turkey. Last week, as immigration began to slip down the agenda, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove again demanded Cameron 'veto' Turkish accession.

A day after the Orlando terrorist attack, a poster was published by Leave.EU urging people to 'act now' before a similar attack occurred here in the UK.

This followed a warning from Gove that if Turkey were granted access, 'extremists everywhere will believe that the West is opening its borders to appease an Islamist government'. They know what they are doing. Farage. Gove. Johnson. They have always known. That they were opening a Pandora's Box. But it glistened before them so brightly.

The defection of Baroness Warsi, the former communities minister who co-chaired the Tory party, from the Leave side to instead support us remaining in the EU is the most prominent consequence of this approach.

Warsi accused Michael Gove, the justice secretary and Brexit campaigner, of peddling “complete lies" but said that the final straw for her was hearing Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, defend a poster with the slogan “breaking point” depicting refugees trudging across Europe:

Lady Warsi told The Times: “That ‘breaking point’ poster really was — for me — the breaking point to say, ‘I can’t go on supporting this’. Are we prepared to tell lies, to spread hate and xenophobia just to win a campaign? For me that’s a step too far.”

Dan Hodges sums it up well: Project Hate has brought us to the brink. Britain – the country we live in this morning – stands on the edge. This time next week it could all be gone. Our economic security. Our national security. Our international security. Imagine if it works. The overt racism. The overt demonisation of refugees. The graphic threats to stab the Prime Minister in the chest. Imagine if that is what constitutes a successful British political campaign in 2016.

We have seen campaigns like that before, but they have always been defeated. Defeated because moderate voices on the Left and the Right united to oppose them. Today there is no such unity.

The voices of moderation have fallen silent. Actually, it's worse than that. They have not fallen silent, but actively joined the chorus of anger and hate.

My hope is that decency will prevail and that those people who, like Dan Hodges and me have been appalled by this descent into barbarism will stand up and be counted on Thursday.

If Remain wins on Thursday then it may well be that the racism of UKIP and 'that' poster in particular could prove to have been the turning point.

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