.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Why Farron is right to call for breakup of freedom of information review

In today's Guardian, Tim Farron has called for the commission reviewing the freedom of information law to be disbanded on the grounds that the group has "a bias towards limiting access to FoI requests for quite spurious reasons".

As the Liberal Democrats leader says: “I’m sure there is a cost – an administrative cost and a time cost – to providing this information, but that’s the price you pay for living in a liberal society.”

The paper says that Farron believes that any conclusions drawn by the commission other than to protect the existing rules would not be credible. “They need to scrap the current set-up and start again,” he said.

“I’m all for reviewing legislation 16 years since it came in – I think that’s a perfectly sensible thing to do – but if you start off your exercise with a group of people whose instincts are to rein in the powers then that’s illiberal.”

Democracy depends on people having access to sufficient information to make informed choices. A prerequisite is accountable and transparent government. All of that costs money, but it is money well-spent. If anything the Freedom of Information Act does not go far enough.

The commission set up to review it is a rather obvious attempt to rein it in. That is inappropriate and Tim Farron is right to say it should be disbanded.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

A discredited honours system in need of reform?

As we await the publication of the New Year honours list over the next few days, a study by The Times newspaper has found that privately educated people dominate the top echelons of the honours system as much as they did 60 years ago.

They say that 46%, nearly half of the recipients of knighthoods and above in 2015 attended public school. The figure has hardly changed since 1955, when it was 50 per cent, yet only 6.5 per cent of the population goes to private school.

The paper adds that people who attended either Oxford or Cambridge also feature strongly on the list of those given top honours. This year, in the Queen’s birthday and new year lists, 27 per cent of the people who received knighthoods or damehoods, or were appointed Companion of Honour or Order of Merit, went to the universities. That is higher than the 18 per cent of 1955 and almost as high as the 29 per cent of 1965.

More honours should be handed to ordinary citizens who make a significant contribution to their community. Yet when that happens these local heroes get an MBE or an OBE at best, leaving the knighthoods and the CBEs to more established figures. That needs to be turned on its head.

It is not just the honour's system that is at fault, however. Honours are given to people who are prominent in public life or in government. It is those positions that tend to be dominated by Oxbridge graduates and public school pupils. It is only when we start to redress that imbalance that the award of honours will become more equal.

Scrapping the honours system just addresses the symptom of inequality. If we really want reform we need to deal with wider issues concerning who governs us and how they get to that position.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

How Government is working to frustrate openness and transparency

There was an interesting article in yesterday's Guardian which illustrates how officials are seeking to frustrate the release of information under the Freedom of Information Act and how that mission is impacting on the annual release of historic records.

The columnist, Richard Norton-Taylor says that instead of the usual treasure trove of long-held documents, next week the archives will release only a limited number. The official explanation is that the way historic records are released is being changed by “moving to a more responsive and agile programme of releases”.

He says that the reality is that despite the decision to gradually open up records 20, rather than 30 years, old, this disguises a fundamental shift in Whitehall that is making a mockery of David Cameron’s early promises of transparency and accountability.

Apparently, opening up official information, including historical records, has been downgraded:

It is “a very low priority”, say senior figures with intimate knowledge of the issues. While ministers and their civil servants slash the number of staff responsible for weeding through and releasing government documents, they also blame the Freedom of Information Act for costing too much. Yet what is costing – and wasting – money is Whitehall’s increasingly determined attempts to suppress information.

Here is an example of the lengths to which the government is going to stop information from seeing the light of day, and the costs involved. Maurice Frankel, director of the Campaign for Freedom of Information, has worked out that Whitehall has so far spent more than £30,000 of taxpayers’ money in legal fees in a four-and-a-half year battle trying to stop the release of the appointments diaries of the former health secretary Andrew Lansley.

Whitehall argues that it would be damaging and embarrassing if it revealed there had been gaps in his diaries. Officials in future would have to fill up their diaries with pointless and unnecessary meetings, it argues. Yet that would be another reason why the diaries should be disclosed, according to the tribunal dealing with the case. They would expose just how civil servants were prepared to waste even more time and money. The government, rejecting the point the tribunal was trying to make, has taken the case to the court of appeal.

We also now know that senior Whitehall officials fought for three years in a failed and costly attempt to prevent British citizens from knowing that Prince Charles has access to cabinet papers. “Obviously it would have been much better if they would have been open on this point,” said the chair of the Commons constitutional committee, Conservative Bernard Jenkin. “But this is the civil service … where they’re still not used to drawing a line between what is secret and what is not secret.”.

The most senior Whitehall mandarin, Sir Jeremy Heywood, the cabinet secretary, claims the Freedom of Information Act has a chilling effect on the way his officials operate. The government has set up a commission designed to make it more difficult to obtain official information under the act – which has exposed child abuse, the misuse of MPs’ expenses, unhygienic restaurants and nuclear power station leaks.

Whitehall has also taken responsibility for freedom of information policy away from the Ministry of Justice and placed it firmly in the hands of Heywood’s Cabinet Office, the bastion of official secrecy. And the release of records to the National Archives has been placed under the control of what are called “knowledge management” units set up in Whitehall departments.

Far from having a more open, accountable and transparent government, what we have is one in retreat from those principles. And that is before we consider the catch-22, in which the act allows Whitehall to withhold documents if the intention is to publish them some time in the future. Reform is needed to close these loopholes and properly open up government to public scrutiny.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Unjustified increase in tolls underlines case for abolition

News that the tolls over the two Severn crossings will be increased again from Friday significantly dampened down Christmas spirit for many businesses.

Today's Western Mail reports that the cost of a car crossing the Severn estuary will rise by 10p t0 £6.60.  More damagingly for business, small goods vehicles and small buses will see their bill for a single crossing rise from £13.10 to £13.20, whilst heavy goods vehicles and buses will pay 20p more with the cost rising from £19.60 to £19.80.

As one campaigner points out, these increases will make the Severn tolls the most expensive toll bridges per mile in the world.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have been campaigning to have these tolls scrapped for some time. We are the only political party in the Senedd committed to abolishing them altogether. A Welsh Government report estimated that scrapping the Severn Bridge tolls would boost the South Wales economy by around £107 million a year.

That is a saving for the average commuter of around £1,536 a year.

The direct toll costs imposed on businesses are estimated to be around £47 million (excluding VAT in 2009 prices), with £34 million (including VAT) paid by consumers.

The annual cost of running the bridges is around £15m. The current operating costs are £12m a year and are made up of maintenance and toll collection, including toll collection infrastructure. Additionally, the Highways Agency spends an average of £3m on latent defects.

There are no toll roads or bridges in Northern Ireland, and there have been no toll bridges in Scotland since 2008, when the Scottish Parliament passed the Abolition of Bridge Tolls (Scotland) Bill.

The time has come to end this annual circus of price rises and scrap the tolls altogether. If you agree sign up to our campaign here.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Cameron ignored warnings from climate change advisors

It seems an eternity ago since David Cameron tried to rebrand the Conservatives as a green party, complete with a new tree logo. It is a shame that the actions have not reflected the rhetoric, so much so that he is barely pretending to be green anymore.

Since the general election, the Conservatives have enacted a series of policies that ultimately dismantle much of the work on green policy that the Liberal Democrats carried out in Government.

The Tory UK Government’s actions in stifling the renewables sector will cost thousands of jobs, jeopardising the green energy sector’s future in the UK and our ability to meet the agreement reached in Paris.

In just a few months, the Conservatives have ended tax breaks for clean cars, abandoned zero carbon housing targets, announced plans to privatise the Green Investment Bank, removed the climate change levy exemption for companies that source renewable energy, and scrapped subsidies for onshore wind and solar—the two cheapest forms of clean energy that help produce 5 per cent of the UK’s total electricity.

The chief executive of the UK Green Building Council has described the abolition of rules on zero carbon housing as the death knell for the zero carbon homes policy. A United Nations scientist, Professor Jacqueline McGlade, has said that the UK appears to have abandoned its leadership on climate change and that the policy of cuts to renewables whilst offering new tax breaks for oil and gas sent a worrying signal to the then UN climate talks in Paris.

The energy Secretary herself has admitted that the UK does not have the right policies to meet its decarbonisation targets, after a leaked letter revealed that the UK is predicted to fall short of its EU obligation for 15 per cent of energy to be from renewables by 2020.

And then on top of all that the Guardian reports that UK government was warned by its official climate change advisers in October that it needed to take action on the increasing number of homes at high risk of flooding but rejected the advice:

The decision not to develop a strategy to address increase flooding risk came just a few weeks before Storm Desmond brought about severe flooding in Cumbria, Lancashire and other parts of the north west causing an estimated £500m of damage.

The Committee on Climate Change (CCC) also told the Guardian that, despite David Cameron’s promise to do so, the government had failed to learn lessons from the widespread flooding in the winter of 2013-14. 

The Conservatives' green agenda has fallen by the wayside. They have failed to adopt a strategy to respond to increased incidences of flooding and they appear to have dismantled many of the policies that would have helped them meet the targets agreed in Paris.

It really is a long time ago since Cameron rebranded the Tories as a 'green' party and took a team of huskies up to the arctic circle.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Is the ban on hunting with dogs becoming irreversible?

It is boxing day and, as is traditional up to 300 hunts featuring approximately 250,000 riders and supporters will be gathering around the UK. However, none of them will be able to legally indulge in the traditional pastime of setting a pack of hounds onto a helpless fox, and watch as the dogs rip their prey to pieces. That is because of a law, passed in 2005, which banned hunting with dogs.

The Tories came into power determined to change all that, however, as today's Guardian reports that is becoming more and more problematic for them.

The paper says that Blue Fox, the increasingly confident lobby group coordinating Tory anti-bloodsports activists, claims that nearly 60 Conservative MPs would vote against proposals to weaken the ban.

In addition, new figures from Ipsos Mori demonstrate that public opposition to hunting is increasing. The paper says that an annual poll found that 83% of respondents objected to making foxhunting with packs of hounds legal again. Opposition to legalising foxhunting has risen from 72% in 2008 to 83% this year.

With the SNP block of MPs determined to block any relaxation of the ban, it seems that it is here to stay for some considerable time. As  Sir Roger Gale, the MP for North Thanet, president of Conservative Animal Welfare and patron of Blue Fox, says: “The hunting of wild animals with dogs has been consigned to the dustbin of history, along with cockfighting and bear-baiting, and the idea that this clock ought to be turned back is regressive and unpleasant.”

Lorraine Platt, Blue Fox’s founder, is quoted as saying: “There is a growing intolerance of killing wildlife for sport, whether it be a noble lion in Africa or a humble hare here in England.” The Guardian reports that Blue Fox’s patrons include the minister for sport, Tracey Crouch, and justice ministers Dominic Raab and Caroline Dinenage.

There has been a dramatic increase in opposition to foxhunting in rural areas over the last three years, with over eight out of 10 rural residents opposed to its legalisation of foxhunting. So much for the argument that this is an agenda adopted by ‘urbanites’ or ‘animal rights’ people who oppose hunting because they don’t understand it.

All of this is good news and the sign that things have changed for the better. Let's us hope it stays that way.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Santa Claus is coming to town - Bruce Springsteen

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Who is on Corbyn's Christmas hit list?

As the hordes of shoppers swamp the supermarkets, looking for that last brussel sprout, turkey crown or jar of cranberry sauce, spare a thought for Jeremy Corbyn who, according to the Telegraph, will be locked in some Parliamentary eyrie plotting the next phase of his cunning plan to rule the Labour Party, the UK and the universe.

There in a world far, far away the Labour leader is planning a reshuffle to oust his most prominent shadow cabinet critics. The paper says that  Corbyn and his aides will spend the next fortnight working out how to replace leading internal critics with allies in a major departure from his initial conciliatory top team.

Apparently, Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary, and Maria Eagle, the shadow defence secretary, are high on the target list after their public opposition to Mr Corbyn over Syrian air strikes:

Aides are infuriated that the leader's message is repeatedly contradicted by senior figures in broadcast interviews, with a source saying: "You need people out there saying the same thing."

Frustration came to a head over the vote on Syrian air strikes as Mr Corbyn – a former chair of Stop the War – tried to order his party to oppose intervention.

A stormy shadow cabinet meeting ahead of the vote saw Mr Corbyn abandon his plan to make Labour Party policy opposition to the bombing after heated exchanges with some of his top team.

However when the House of Commons voted days later it emerged a majority of Labour MPs, shadow ministers and shadow cabinet ministers backed Mr Corbyn’s stance and rejected air strikes.

Sources close to the Labour leader believe the vote proved that he represents the party – but is being blocked from making policy changes due to a handful of ardent opponents.

The conclusion means that Mr Corbyn is prepared to move away from the conciliatory shadow cabinet he announced after winning the leadership and promote left-wing allies.

We await the reshuffle with bated breath. Meanwhile, there is a very interesting article in the Financial Times by Janan Ganesh lifting the lid on Labour's moral superiority.

He argues that despite their electoral disappointment and internal fiasco, Britain’s opposition Labour party has always consoled itself with something stronger than gallows humour, their own righteousness. He says that Conservatives may win but Labour people are better people. We know this because they tell us so:

For many of them, the worst trauma of 2015 — a year that could not have been more harrowing had they piled into Volkswagen stock over the summer — was the challenge to that sense of moral supremacy by forces to their left. Scottish nationalists equated Labour with military belligerence and a craven sellout to Thatcherite England. Some defeated MPs resented this character assassination more than the loss of their seats in May’s general election.

Then it was the hard left, which surged into the party to support Jeremy Corbyn ’s leadership bid, that switched on the white heat of hostility. Any MP not sold on the least electable leader in Labour’s history, or on nuclear disarmament, or on Britain staying its hand in Syria, is smeared as a Tory in denial who perspires with bloodlust. Moderates feel browbeaten. Some fear deselection as MPs.

He says that what Labour does not deserve is sympathy:

For too long, people in the Labour mainstream connived in the style of politics that now engulfs them. They impugned the motives of Conservatives, often reading malevolence into policies even as they grudgingly copied them (there is no hatred like self-hatred). They seethe when they are called Tory because, to them, the name really does connote inherent vice.

Many of them despised Margaret Thatcher (“The point at which all snobberies meet,” as the historian John Vincent described her) in ways that scraped the outer limits of taste. They summoned the same poison for Michael Gove as education secretary in the last parliament. They cited the proliferation of food banks as incontrovertible proof of Tory malignity, knowing it was not even a useful proxy measure of deprivation. They still pretend that the National Health Service, which has been run by Conservatives for most of its life, is only ever hours away from a vindictive privatisation.

Some of this is the sheer sport of politics. Some of it is more than reciprocated by Conservative blowhards. The rest is the unique moral arrogance of the left. It slowly kills Labour by blinding the party to swing voters — people who are by definition open to the Tories. It also corroborates Sayre’s law: that the intensity of a dispute is inversely proportional to the importance of the issues at stake.

The reality of politics in a rich, modern country is that parties are squabbling over marginalia. Sullying someone’s character because he sees no role for local government in the oversight of state schools suggests a shortage of perspective.

Above all, it pollutes public life. Even Tony Blair, in 1999, was not above eliding conservatism (if not Conservatism) with racist violence and the imprisonment of Nelson Mandela. This columnist was in the room when another former leader yearned to “grind the [Tory] bastards into the dust”. The most lionised Labour politician who never led the party, postwar health secretary Aneurin Bevan, said Conservatives were “lower than vermin”.

For decades this has been going on, and for decades Labour has pretended it is normal. If the party’s mainstream members are now victimised by the same culture of invective and moral invigilation, they should smile wryly at the cosmic justice of it all and expect no pity. There is certainly none from one adviser in Downing Street. “Now they know what it is like to be Tory.”

His conclusion is particularly cutting:

Labour is not a singular moral project. It is just a political party born of sectional vested interests we call trade unions. It is not made up exclusively of heroes. It is run by the public sector upper-middle class for a working class that it increasingly struggles to understand. And it has no special claim on the truth, just impulses that veer from the noble to the myopic.

Once the party gets over itself and accepts the Conservatives on the same footing, it might start to drain the culture of moral presumption that gives rise to abusive letters and threats of deselection from hysterical activists. Until then it will continue to fry in the fat of its own sanctimony, and deserve to.

Merry Christmas Jeremy.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Labour MP blasts Labour's handling of Welsh NHS

Labour's handling of the Welsh NHS has come under sustained criticism in the past, both from the opposition parties in the Assembly and also from the Prime Minister.

Essentially, despite spending more per head here than on the other side of Offa's Dyke, and despite the hard-working, dedicated and under-resourced staff, patients in Wales are having to wait longer for treatment in a whole range of areas than their counterparts in England.

Now a Labour MP has rejoined the fray with her own criticism, describing diagnostic waiting times for a series of medical conditions in Wales as “shocking and simply not good enough”.

The Western Mail reports that Cynon Valley MP, Ann Clwyd, who was highly critical of the Welsh NHS over the treatment of her husband Owen Roberts before his death in 2012, has said that the latest data reveals startling differences between figures for NHS Wales and the NHS in England:

Figures for October 2015 from the House of Commons Library list the number and percentage of patients waiting six weeks and more for specified procedures.

In many cases far more people are waiting longer in Wales than over the border.

Ms Clwyd said: “These figures reveal a situation which is shocking and simply not good enough.

“The litmus test for any government is the way in which it responds to the needs of the sick and the vulnerable.

“On that basis, the Welsh Government clearly has to get to grips with the situation and do so as a matter of urgency.”

Welsh Labour often dismiss criticism as the opposition playing politics. However the figures speak for themselves and even with the improvements that are listed we are still trailing behind England. Ann Clwyd is quite right to speak out. If only more of her colleagues followed her example.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

New remuneration board confirms unacceptable pay rise for AMs

I suppose it was a bit much to expect the new Assembly Remuneration Board to be any more in-touch and sensitive to public opinion than its predecessor and so it has proved.

The chair of the board has written to the leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats to say that she is not minded to revisit the decision to give AMs a disproportionate £10,000 pay rise and that she envisages this being paid when the Senedd reconvenes after the May election..

What is worse, she has written to all Assembly Members to say that they will not be allowed to take a lesser salary. In other words they are going to force the money on us, whatever we say.

Many, like me will give the pay rise away. However, surely the time has come to review the terms of reference of the Remuneration Board to ensure that one of the factors they have to take into account when setting salaries is public opinion. That seems to be the only way to make them sit up and listen.

Monday, December 21, 2015

How Corbyn plans to force policy changes on Labour MPs

More disharmony broke out in the Labour Party over the weekend when Angela Eagle, the party's shadow first secretary of state effectively drew a line in the sand and dared her leader to cross it.

According to the Times,  Ms Eagle used an interview on The Andrew Marr Show to repeat her warning against setting policy by online voting methods. There have been suggestions that Mr Corbyn will try to bypass Labour's National Policy Forum process in favour of such exercises, which would allow left-wing supporters to frame policy-making.

Ms. Eagle said that internet consultation should be used to “involve not only our party members but wider members of the public in discussing the way forward for our country in policy terms”, but added: “We don’t make policy by plebiscite because there are very few policies that have clear, black and white, yes or no answers in a complex world.

“What we need to have is debate and decision-making after everybody has been listened to, democratically arrived at through the policy processes. I am determined to deliver a much better version of that than we’ve had in the past.”

Jeremy Corbyn was having none of this, however. He has said that he does not regret emailing Labour members over Syria and hoped that their response had had an “influence on what Labour members were thinking”.

He said that he could repeat the exercise on whether to scrap Trident, the party’s most divisive issue. “This is what social media unleashes and I think politics better get used to the idea it is here to stay.”

Whether he can successfully use social media to bring his MPs in line with his own thinking once a vote on Trident is scheduled will be worth watching. It will also be worth seeing whether the National Policy Forum survives Corbyn's excursion into on-line self-validation.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Carswell unearths the UKIP bullies

The row within UKIP rumbles on with its sole MP accusing party officials of effectively trying to blackmail him in an attempt to pull him into line.

Politics Home says that Mr. Carswell learnt yesterday that a secretly recorded Ukip call regarding allegations into his private life have been circulated in his constituency:

The call was made after Mr Carswell had a row with party secretary Matthew Richardson over parliamentary funding for opposition parties shortly after the general election.

Mr Carswell said he later learned Mr Richardson, who apparently threatened him, was “sent” by Mr Farage.

He later received a call from a “senior Ukip official” asking “grossly intrusive questions” about his private life.

“The suggestions made were preposterous,” Mr Carswell told the Mail on Sunday.

“Either they were stupid enough to believe them, and wanted to scare me into silence by letting me know that they knew about it, or they were threatening me with the spread of false rumours.

“Either way, it could be construed as blackmail by dark forces.”

Never mind Christmas television, this budding civil war between UKIPs highest profile figures could be the best entertainment on show for some time.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Now UKIP go to war

Just as we are settling down to watch Labour's civil war get underway, UKIP jumps in with its own conflict. Presumably, they were feeling left out.

The Independent reports that the party's only MP, Douglas Carswell has told the BBC that UKIP need “to change gear and change its management if it’s to go to the next level” and said the party’s disappointing result at the Oldham by-election had revealed the need for a “fresh face”. This direct challenge to Nigel Farage has provoked a typically robust response.

The paper says that divisions between Mr Farage and Mr Carswell have been growing since the General Election in May. Mr Farage intends to take the party into the EU referendum campaign with controls on immigration as its key message. Mr Carswell however, wants the party to focus on the economic case for leaving the EU and in an interview with BBC Essex, said that UKIP needed to ensure it was not seen as an “unpleasant” and “socially illiberal” party.

The fact is that UKIP is an unpleasant and socially illiberal party. Why did Douglas Carswell think he was joining something different?

Friday, December 18, 2015

How Corbyn is changing the Labour Party

Despite resistance from MPs, the evidence is that the nature of the Labour Party is changing dramatically under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.

It is not just the new members who have been attracted to the party by Corbyn, or even the growth of Momentum and the threat of deselection for dissident MPs, but also, as this article relates, the exit of tens of thousands of long-standing members, disillusioned at the direction the party has set for itself.

The article says that Lord Peter Mandelson told a meeting of Labour peers: "30,000 long term members have left the Labour party, real members, tens of thousands. There are now two Labour parties." He warned Jeremy Corbyn the "real members" of Labour are leaving the party in their tens of thousands:

The former Cabinet minister warned the new Labour leader that long standing members had left the party in recent months and that a fundamental split was emerging among supporters.

Lord Mandelson said "two parties" were emerging under his leadership, one formed of his own hard- left supporters and the other by the more moderate members.

He told the new Labour leader that the "real members of the Labour family" were abandoning the party since his election.

As MPs brace themselves for a purge of more moderate members from the Shadow Cabinet, it seems that for many the party they joined may not exist in a year's time.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Is the Welsh Government's reorganisation agenda misguided?

There are two news items today that raise fresh questions about the Welsh Labour Government's determination to recast local government in Wales in their own image?

Today's Western Mail reports on the views of Professor Colin Copus, director of the Local Governance Research Unit at De Montfort University, who has attacked arguments that bigger councils will prove more efficient and has warned that the Welsh Government's proposals could damage the communities they are supposed to serve:

He writes: “As with most local government reform, the most depressing element of the situation in Wales is the stubborn, folklore like attachment to the perceived benefits of big local government which is consistently displayed by policy-makers.”

He claims it has been known for half a century that bigger councils are not automatically “more efficient, more effective, and cheaper”.

Warning of “damage” to the “democratic health of local communities,” he states: “What that means is that as local government gets less and less local, trust in councillors and officers declines and that community engagement and cohesion deteriorates.”

I agree with much of that. It does not mean that we should not go-ahead and reduce the number of councils to ten or twelve as the Welsh Liberal Democrats have argued but it does mean that we should not claim such a reorganisation as the panacea for all ills and we should ensure that the new councils are elected through the single transferable vote system so as to ensure better accountability and transparency.

We should also look at other mechanisms such as better empowering more robust community councils, as a means of reinforcing local accountability for services. And of course we should ensure that the boundaries of new councils should be determined by the independent boundary commission and be based on natural communities.

The second item is on the BBC and focusses on the comments of the Auditor General for Wales, Huw Vaughan Thomas who believes that the debates on whether or not to merge councils have been a distraction from deciding how services should be run. He is not wrong:

Mr Thomas said services needed more radical change to cope with cuts.

Five years into the longest period of sustained spending reductions since World War Two, he said public services needed to be reformed, but that had been "overshadowed" by local government reorganisation.

The Welsh government's council merger plans have had a hostile reception from political opponents and some Labour council leaders.

"There has been a lot of debate about the nature of services, but it has been overshadowed by what kind of structure of local government we want," Mr Thomas said.

"What's more important for people is not necessarily what council is there, but the services they are providing, it's certainly been a distraction.

"It's affected, I think, the ability of some councils to think beyond four or five year horizons. They need to think much longer term."

He said councils in England were "redesigning themselves" and "we need to be doing the same in Wales".

The failure of the Welsh Labour Government to involve other parties from the start of this process or to get a consensus on their proposals within the Senedd is creating uncertainty that is preventing reform and is impacting upon future planning.

That is also the case because Labour Ministers are focussing on structures and not on the other recommendations in the Williams Commission. Labour could not have made a bigger mess of this restructuring if they had tried.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Snooper's Charter faces technical questions

I have written here many times on the principled objections to the Tory Government's Snooper's Charter, however only a small amount of attention has been paid to the technical feasibility of this proposal.

The investigatory powers bill includes not only the expected snooper’s charter, enabling the tracking of everyone’s web and social media use, but also moves to strengthen the security services’ warranted powers for the bulk interception of the content of communications.

This is the sort of mass surveillance that the Liberal Democrats spent five years fighting against. It will undermine the rights of every citizen in the UK in an untargeted sweep of all our communications data, using up valuable resources that might be better concentrated on the warranted surveillance of genuine suspects.

Today's Guardian says that Britain’s biggest phone and web companies have now raised serious questions over the cost and feasibility of their delivering the legislation. They say that senior figures from BT, Vodafone, 02 Telefonica, EE and 3 have told MPs and peers that the proposals from the home secretary in the draft investigatory powers bill are so technically complex that it is not yet possible to make any meaningful estimate of the costs involved or whether they are technically possible.

Their main concerns focus on the Home Office’s estimate that new powers requiring the companies to retain internet connection records – simplified versions of everyone’s web browsing history – will cost only £174m over the next 10 years.

They believe that the £174m figure, will prove to be a serious underestimate and have warned that it will take at least 18 months, long after the legislation has reached the statute book, before they know whether it will be technically feasible to retain and store everybody’s internet connection records:

Senior figures from all the phone companies told MPs and peers on the draft bill scrutiny committee that it might be possible to develop the technical capability to collect everyone’s internet connection records. “The technology does not exist at the moment … We are at the feasibility stage and it will take 18 months before we find a solution.” They said that until the Home Office could precisely define its requirements it was very difficult to speculate on the feasibility or the costs involved. “You cannot underestimate the complexity,” one senior executive told MPs and peers.

Do I foresee yet another disastrous Government-led ICT project?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Republican billionaires demand value for money in Presidential race

There is an interesting article here on the role of big money in American politics and how the failure of Mitt Romney to seal the deal last time has led to several big political donors going their own way in terms of how they support political activity this time around.

The article says that in the 2012 contest between Mitt Romney and Barack Obama, celebrated political strategist Karl Rove assured a host of Republican mega-donors that, with enough funding, his super-pac could put Romney in the White House:

“I had every expectation we would be the victors,” says Home Depot co-founder Kenneth Langone, who gave half a million dollars to Rove’s American Crossroads. In the closing weeks of the campaign, Crossroads circulated a top-secret presentation to a small group of billionaires that projected Romney could win a “mandate” if they contributed an additional total of $25 million to fund a “surge” of negative ads. A handful ponied up, and on Election Night, they assembled in Boston certain they would be watching their investment pay off.

Instead they watched Rove’s infamous Fox News meltdown as their $117 million grubstake went up in smoke. To many of the billionaires it felt like a mugging. A few days after the election, New York hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb, who’d helped finance Rove’s surge, tried to sue Crossroads and Fox News for misrepresenting the facts. “Loeb felt this was like an investment bank committing fraud on a road show,” a friend of his told me. After conferring with a securities lawyer, Loeb discovered that there are no investor protections in politics. He never filed a suit. (And Loeb declined to comment).

This of course underlines the point that those who donate big money to political campaigns want something in return. Sometimes it is influence, at other times a seat at the table, occasionally they do it because they want to be associated with a winner or just like to be seen to know key players so as to influence other business contacts. Every now and again money is donated because the donor has no other motive other than to support the cause or the candidate.

The New York magazine says that donors have now woken up to the realisation that top-flight consultants can earn millions from campaigns regardless of whether they win:

“It bothers a lot of people that politics has become a cottage industry. Everyone is taking a piece of this and a slice of that,” says California winemaker John Jordan, a former Rove donor. “Crossroads treated me like a child with these investor conference calls where they wouldn’t tell you what was really going on. They offered platitudes and a newsletter.”

Many are now working under the assumption that they can support a campaign better themselves, and are building their own organisations, staffed by operatives who report to them. And some of the Republican candidates have adapted accordingly. Ted Cruz’s campaign fund-raising apparatus is designed to let donors get involved. His contributors can specify how they want their money spent, much in the way universities allow benefactors to earmark their donations for a new science wing. The nature of how Republican politics is funded is changing:

The new billionaire-backed operations style themselves as models of superior sophistication. During the last Republican primary, Sheldon Adelson bankrolled Newt Gingrich’s campaign essentially by writing blank checks with little or no oversight. Compare that to the super-pac funded by Chicago Cubs owner Joe Ricketts, who has his own political staff and demands accountability. “I’m used to saying the Ricketts’ spend their super-pac money like it’s their own money — because it is,” the family’s political adviser, Brian Baker, told me.

Or look at the network being built by Elliott Management founder Paul Singer. In 2014, Singer created the American Opportunity Alliance, a group of roughly 40 Republican financiers who gather regularly for secret meetings with candidates. This fall, Singer threw his weight behind Marco Rubio and urged his members to do the same. In the general election, Singer will be a player with America Rising, the opposition-research firm headed by Romney’s dark-arts wizard Matt Rhoades. Instead of funding TV ads, Rhoades’s group offers Singer more predictable returns: It is narrowly focused on digging up dirt on Democrats, for example by sending video trackers to events in order to build a library of unflattering material.

It’s all about retaining control. In October, billionaire investor Carl Icahn announced he was launching a $150 million super-pac to lobby for corporate tax reform. “At the risk of being immodest, we have one of the best records on Wall Street. And I like doing things myself,” he told me. “Too many cooks spoil the soup.”

The article concludes that the most important lesson the billionaires are learning this year is that they aren’t much better at politics than Karl Rove. Except that with Trump leading the polls and doing all the running it seems that some are better at it than others.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Fox news presenter confirms Santa Claus is white

As news stories go this one is fairly insignificant but stands out due to the level of certainty exhibited by its subject, the Fox news presenter, Megyn Kelly, who not only still believes in Santa Claus but has apparently met him.

The Independent says that the comments were prompted by a rather dubious article published on the US website the Slate, entitled: 'Santa Claus Should Not Be A White Man Anymore', which argues that from now on Santa should be depicted as a penguin. It suggests that the confusion caused by assigning an arbitrary race to a fictitious person could be overcome by making Santa into a cuddly bird.

Responding to the story Megyn Kelly set out to put children straight on the matter and perhaps got a bit carried away:

"When I saw this headline I kinda laughed and I said, "Oh, this is ridiculous. Yet another person claiming it's racist to have a white Santa," Kelly begins.

"And by the way, for all you kids watching at home, Santa just is white. But this person is maybe just arguing that we should also have a black Santa. But, you know, Santa is what he is, and just so you know, we're just debating this because someone wrote about it, kids," she adds.

A fellow contributor to the show Jedediah Bila defended Harris' article, prompting another outburst from Kelly. "Just because it makes you feel uncomfortable doesn't mean it has to change," she said.

"You know, I mean, Jesus was a white man too. He was a historical figure; that's a verifiable fact as is Santa, I want you kids watching to know that - but my point is: how do you revise it, in the middle of the legacy of the story, and change Santa from white to black?"

I have heard of casting your heroes in your own image but this is carrying the practise too far. Clearly, it was a slow news day.

Update: Just to bring this up to date this is what scientists believe that Jesus looked like. Using computerised tomography to create X-ray slices of Semite male skulls they gathered complex data about his facial structure, muscles and skin so as to create a 3D reconstruction. And contrary to popular belief they believe God’s son had dark eyes, darker skin, short, curly hair appropriate for men at the time and was bearded, in-keeping with Jewish tradition.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Why Cameron's European referendum is threatening our economic recovery

If there is one thing business does not like it is uncertainty. That is why the warning by IMF managing director Christine Lagarde, that uncertainty over Britain's membership of the European Union is putting the UK's economic recovery at risk,should be heeded.

Her annual report on the state of the UK economy makes clear that this uncertainty needs to be resolved:

She said the UK economy had made "considerable progress" since the 2008 financial crash, but warned there remained "uncertainties" which endangered the UK's economic recovery over the next few years. 

Her report stated: "The presumed recovery of productivity growth to nearer its historical average rate, which is essential to ensure that the growth of output and incomes remains solid, may fail to materialise.

"In addition, uncertainty associated with the outcome of the planned referendum on EU membership could weigh on the outlook."

The Independent reveals that the date of the EU referendum is now unlikely to be held before next autumn at the earliest because the Government must give four months' notice and will not set a date before securing a deal with EU leaders.

That does not bode well for business confidence.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Was Carwyn's meet-the-people-tour too conveniently timed?

The First Minister's meet-the-people tour has come under fire both for its convenient timing and its cost. It has emerged that nine meetings in places as diverse as Newport, Bangor, Aberystwyth and Carmarthen cost the taxpayer £13,021.90, which works out at £18 for each of the 721 people attending.

The staging of the events cost £7,500 but there is no allowance for staff, as it is argued that the work formed part of their normal duties. Curious then that all these meetings have taken place in the run-up to the Assembly elections and none were scheduled in the previous four years.

In the circumstances it seems that this expenditure could be termed an election expense and questions need to be asked as to why public funds were used. Yes, the Welsh Government do need to engage with the public but surely that should not be confined to the period before an election, but all through its term.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Can Corbyn jettison his baggage?

The Times reports that Jeremy Corbyn is coming under increasing pressure to sever all links with the Stop the War Coalition following the decision of Caroline Lucas to do precisely that last week. The latest revelation is that Corbyn's constituency office was in the same building as the peace group’s workplace:

The revelation yesterday compounded moderate Labour MPs’ concerns about the “toxic” relationship between the anti-war group and Mr Corbyn.

Labour parliamentarians have called on their leader to distance himself from the group after it posted online last month a blog headlined: “Paris reaps whirlwind of western support for extremist violence in Middle East.” Public outrage prompted the group to delete it.

At the weekend, the group came under fire again for comparing Isis jihadists to the International Brigades of volunteers in the 1930s.

Mr Corbyn and the group both have offices in the Durham Road resource centre near Finsbury Park in North London, owned by the Ethical Property Company. It is understood that the group moved in after Mr Corbyn.

Simon Danczuk, the Labour MP for Rochdale, told The Times: “We’re seeing the closeness between Jeremy Corbyn and the Stop the War Coalition grow by the week.” A spokesman for Mr Corbyn said: “It’s an irrelevance. They are two offices in the same building, but they are in different units and are unconnected. I don’t see how it’s a factor in their relationship.”

Mr Danczuk reiterated the call for Mr Corbyn to cancel his appearance at the organisation’s £50-a-head Christmas fundraiser tonight. However, his spokesman confirmed his intention to attend the event in a Turkish restaurant.

A member of Corbyn’s shadow cabinet urged him to rein in “intimidation and abuse” of MPs by Stop the War members. Michael Dugher, the shadow culture secretary, suggested Corbyn could use his role at the fundraising dinner today to deliver this message.

The big question is whether Jeremy Corbyn really can distance himself from a group who he considers forms his core support and which he has been instrumental in bringing to prominence. If he doesn't then expect a lot more sniping from the Parliamentary Labour Party, especially if, like Stephen Doughty in Cardiff South and Penarth, more of them are obliged to cancel constituency surgeries because of pickets against their stance on bombing Syria.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Should Trump be banned from the UK?

As a liberal my instincts are always to err on the side of freedom of speech and not banning anything unless demonstrable harm can be proved. Over 350,000 people believe that Donald Trump has met the latter test and that as a result he should be barred from ever setting foot on our shores ever again. That may prove difficult if he becomes US President.

Trump has been stripped of his role as a business ambassador to Scotland, where he has invested more than £1 billion of his fortune in golf courses, as well as having Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen taking back an honorary degree in business administration it awarded him in 2010.

The Times says that Downing Street has dismissed questions over whether the government would bar Mr Trump from entering Britain as “hypothetical”, though divisive figures have been excluded in the past:

In 2013 Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, the American bloggers who co-founded Stop Islamisation of America and a group that produced a pro-Israel “Defeat Jihad” poster campaign on the New York subway, were banned from entering Britain. At the time, a government spokesman said that people whose presence was “not conducive to the public good” could be excluded by the home secretary.

The Dutch politician Geert Wilders was banned in 2009 after calling the Koran “a fascist book”. Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, a French comedian, was also excluded last year. He had been previously convicted of inciting racial hatred.

In my view Trump is an obnoxious and irresponsible individual who does not care about the consequences if what he says provokes others into violence. If the Republican party nominate him as their candidate for President they will have lost the moral right to be taken seriously as a political party.

However, banning him from the UK just plays to his agenda as an anti-establishment candidate, standing up to a western liberal conspiracy. By all means condemn him, contradict him, demonstrate against him and oppose him in the best democratic traditions, but let's not play to his agenda by giving him the notoriety he craves.

Wednesday, December 09, 2015

Behind the Whitehall curtains

Today's Times has a series of fascinating extracts from a report by the Institute for Government think tank called Ministers Reflect. It involves twenty former members of the coalition government lifting the lid on life behind Whitehall’s closed doors:

Liam Fox, the coalition’s first defence secretary, reveals that he was privately opposed to David Cameron’s decision to intervene in Libya. He said: “I wasn’t in favour of getting involved in Libya. Both the American defence secretary and I were worried about events in other places . . . and were very hesitant about committing more forces.”

Chris Huhne, the former Lib Dem energy secretary, confirms that he said “We never negotiate with terrorists” to aides telling him to talk to George Osborne’s department. The Treasury has “massive problems”, he says, including a worryingly high turnover of staff, and needs to be challenged more often.

For David Willetts, the former Tory universities minister, the real villain is a “completely dysfunctional” cabinet Office. “It imposes absurd things on you. It then runs away when things don’t work out and always blames you.”

Sir Nick Harvey sets out the hierarchy of people he needs to satisfy to remain a Minister, whilst Jeremy Browne reveals his dissatisfaction at being reshuffled:

The latter could do worse than to read the account of Sir Nick Harvey, a Lib Dem minister under Dr Fox, who took his civil servants through the “hierarchy” of the people he had to satisfy.

“I said, ‘Well you only get to participate in politics at all if you keep your family happy, you only get to be the candidate if you keep your local party happy, you only get elected to parliament if you keep your constituents happy, and you only get chosen to be a minister if you keep your party in Westminster happy’. And by the time I had kept all of them happy, I was at the disposal of the department.”

His Lib Dem colleague Jeremy Browne reveals he was not delighted with his move from the Foreign Office to the Home Office — “like going from an Oxbridge senior common room to going to work for a local council”. The feeling of his new Conservative colleagues appears to have been mutual as his new job title was discussed. “One of the suggestions was I’d be the minister of state for ‘crime reduction and prevention’, which, if you do the acronym, was arguably quite close to what some people might have wanted my responsibilities to amount to.”

Tim Loughton, suspecting an ambush after he became the Tory education minister, found a novel way to establish his authority. “The [permanent secretary] was about to sort of kick off with ‘Now minister, this is what you’ll be doing and these are the priorities’. I said, ‘Now, everybody have a jelly baby’. When they were all tucking into their jelly babies, I said, ‘Now we’re going to do psychometric testing to see how everybody eats their jelly babies’.”

It really is like Yes Minister.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Tories vote to prevent 16 and 17 year olds having a say on their future

It was too good to last. The House of Lords agreed not so long ago to ensure that 16 and 17 year olds should be able to vote in a future European Referendum.

And why not? After all, they are adults who are trusted with many responsibilities and who could be eligible to pay tax. And the referendum will be on the future of their country. It is entirely appropriate that they should be able to vote in that plebiscite.

According to the Independent though, Conservative MPs have overturned this vote and taken that right away from theese young people. In doing so they have demonstrated their prejudices.

Will the Lords fight back and put the amendment back in. They should do. Time for a bit of Parliamentary ping-pong on this very important issue.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Is Britain still a Christian country?

The conclusions of the Commission on Religion and Belief in Public Life, chaired by former High Court judge Baroness Butler-Sloss that Britain has seen a "general decline" in its Christian affiliation and the time has come for public life to take on a more "pluralist character" is hardly surprising. Nor should that change be mourned.

The commission says that only two in five British people now identify as Christian, while there has been a general move away from mainstream denominations to evangelical and Pentecostal churches. Islam, Hinduism and Sikhism have overtaken Judaism as the largest non-Christian faiths in Britain.

We should celebrate the fact that our country is culturally and religiously diverse and accept that this brings many benefits to our society.

According to the Independent the report concludes that major state occasions such as a coronation should be changed to be more inclusive, whilst the number of bishops in the House of Lords should be cut to make way for leaders of other religions:

The report also recommends scrapping the law requiring schools to hold acts of collective worship, reducing the number of children given places at schools based on religion, and including non-religious figures on the BBC’s Thought for the Day.

There also needs to be an overhaul of how religious education is taught, it argues. Many syllabuses tend to “portray religions only in a good light … and they tend to omit the role of religions in reinforcing stereotypes and prejudice around issues such as gender, sexuality, ethnicity and race.”

With the exception of the recommendations on the House of Lords, all of this is very sensible. As far as the second chamber goes, my view is that there should be no appointed members in it at all, including bishops. They should all be elected.

Sunday, December 06, 2015

Corbynistas to exact a long retribution

The Observer speculates this morning that the shadow cabinet is bracing itself for a “revenge reshuffle” in the aftermath of Labour’s victory in the Oldham by-election. They say that key senior figures are voicing fears that they will be sacrificed by Jeremy Corbyn so as to kill dissent.

This has been coming for some time. However, Corbyn and his allies do not need to rush into multiple reselection battles, and nor will they want to. The prospect of dozens of Labour MPs causing trouble from the backbenches and destabilising the leadership even more, is not a prospect they want to face.

Even less, the thought that some might join other parties or resign and force a by-election in which they stand as an independent against the official Labour candidate is not one the Corbynistas will want to entertain.

In fact, David Cameron will do Corbyn's job for him. A reduction in the number of MPs will see a massive re-drawing of boundaries across the UK. All MPs will need to face re-selection, and those contests will take place much later in this Parliament.

By the time of the 2020 General Election, whether he survives as leader or not, Corbyn's legacy will be a Parliamentary party cast in his own image.

Saturday, December 05, 2015

Dual candidacy row misses the point

There is a lot of fuss on social media and in today's Western Mail about the decision by the Welsh Conservative's board of management not to allow their candidates in next year's Assembly elections to fight both a constituency seat and stand on the regional list. This is despite the fact that the Tories, along with the Liberal Democrats removed the dual candidacy ban in the last Government of Wales Bill.

Those suggesting that these two positions are incompatible are missing the point. The injustice was in restricting candidates from making a choice and preventing them engaging in what are two inter-related but distinctive electoral processes. In this case the Welsh Conservatives have made a choice. Others may decide otherwise.

Indeed there are members of other parties who will fight both constituency and list. I am not one of those. I will have represented South Wales West for seventeen years come next May. My role as a regional Assembly Member is as valid and equal to that of a constituency AM. I will be emphasising that by standing solely on the list.

To have stood as a constituency AM as well would have been to do a disservice to those of my constituents living in other parts of the region. That is my view and relates solely to me and the role I have carved out for myself. Others will have done the job differently and will wish to reflect that in their choices.

The last Government of Wales Act made all these options available. It was the right thing to do. So let us not denigrate anybody who chooses to do something different.

Friday, December 04, 2015

Labour MPs fear backlash after Syria vote

There are lots of reports following Wednesday's vote to commence bombing in Syria of Labour MPs being targeted by anti-war activists. Many of those who voted with the Government now fear that this activity will be stepped up.

The Guardian reports that Jeremy Corbyn is facing calls to consider winding up Momentum, the grassroots group of his supporters, amid fears among Labour MPs that it could be used as a vehicle to plot against those who voted for airstrikes in Syria:

MPs raised fresh questions about the intent of the organisation, which is separate from Labour, after it joined Stop the War in urging people to lobby their representatives against voting for airstrikes in Syria.

Some of those 66 Labour MPs who voted in favour of bombing Islamic State targets have reported bullying and abuse online, with Neil Coyle, the MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, reporting one threatening tweet to the police on Thursday.

Deselection of MPs was openly being brought up by visitors to the Facebook pages of grassroots Momentum groups – including for areas that cover pro-airstrike MPs Harriet Harman and Coyle in Southwark, Chuka Umunna in Lambeth, and Heidi Alexander and Jim Dowd in Lewisham – although the national leadership of the group is opposed to this.

Ken Livingstone, a backer of Corbyn and co-chair of the party’s defence review, also gave a radio interview suggesting he would support the ousting of MPs who voted for war. “If I had an MP who had voted to bomb Syria then I would be prepared to support someone who was challenging them, as long as they were good on the other issues,” he said.

I cannot think of a time when the Labour Party has been this dysfunctional.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Report finds that Welsh Lib Dems pupil deprivation grant is making a real difference for under-performing kids

It is gratifying to find that a policy that we have advocated and forced the Welsh Government to put into effect is fulfilling its potential and making a real difference to the educational attainment of children from poorer backgrounds.

That though is what an independent evaluation of the Pupil Deprivation Grant, published today, has found:

The report shows that:
Even in opposition, the Welsh Liberal Democrats are hitting above their weight and delivering their policies. As a result schools have been able to fund additional work for poorer pupils, who tend to under-perform, and are delivering results.

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Why can't Cameron resist undermining his own arguments?

Just when it looked like he had got his way on bombing Syria, David Cameron lost his way with a throwaway comment that diverted attention from his case and presented a lifeline to his opponents. Others have labelled it as a 'Flashman tendency', I prefer to just question his judgement.

Whatever, the context the labelling of those who do not want to bomb Syria as a “bunch of terrorist sympathisers” was ill-judged, unjustified and inaccurate.

As the Telegraph outlines, the backlash raised fears among Tory MPs that Mr Cameron’s words had given Labour MPs another reason not to vote for military action, and there was speculation that his majority in tonight’s vote would not be as large as he had hoped.

This is not the first time that off-the-cuff comments by the Prime Minister have thrown his agenda off-kilter. He really needs to get a grip and show some respect for his office.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Lib Dem MPs should not ignore their own preconditions before voting on bombing Syria

Just a week ago the Liberal Democrats leadership set out five conditions before the party will support any military intervention in Syria. Those conditions and the context in which they were made can be read here. For clarity though they are set out below:

1) Legal

Military intervention must follow an international legal framework. We believe this has been provided by UN Resolution 2249 which urges members to take “all reasonable measures” to defeat ISIL. This is the instrument with which all those opposed to ISIL have the means to coordinate military action to defeat them, including regional actors on the ground.

2) Wider diplomatic framework including efforts towards a no-bomb zone to protect civilians

Any military action by the UK must be part of a wider international effort involving all who have an interest in defeating ISIL, as a prelude to ending the conflict in Syria, including Russia, Iran and Turkey. The UK Government should use all efforts to ensure that the Vienna talks succeed in bringing together the broadest possible support for action to end the war in Syria and effect political transition. In addition, we call on the government to explicitly work towards ending the Syrian regime’s bombing of civilians with a no-bomb zone to maximise civilian protection and allow for an upscaling of humanitarian access.

3) UK led pressure on Gulf States for increased support in the region

The UK should lead a concerted international effort to put pressure on the Gulf States, specifically Saudi Arabia and the Emiratis, to stop the funding of jihadi groups within the region and worldwide and do much more to assist in the effort to defeat ISIL, establish peace in Syria and help with the refugee situation. They are currently doing very little, despite claiming to be part of the anti-ISIL coalition. ISIL is not just a Western problem, and this is one way of preventing them from framing the situation in that way.

4) Post-ISIL plan

The government must be absolutely clear on what Syria and Iraq will look like post-ISIL, and what post-conflict strategy (including an exit strategy) they propose to give the best chance of avoiding a power vacuum. This must be linked to the above diplomatic framework which will outline steps for ending the wider conflict in Syria.

5) Domestic

We acknowledge that the fight against ISIL is not just in the Middle East: it is within Europe and it is here in the UK. We call on the government to immediately publish its 2014 investigation into the Muslim Brotherhood and also call on them to conduct an investigation into foreign funding and support of extremist and terrorist groups in the UK.

At the time of writing I do not know what the eight Liberal Democrats MPs will do. However, it is clear to me that many of the pre-conditions have not been met and that a lot more work needs to be undertaken by the UK Government and its allies before any bombing or other military intervention takes place.

In particular, funding for jihadi groups need to be cut off, and an exit plan put in place involving international agreement on what Syria and Iraq will look like after our intervention.

We must learn the lessons of the Iraq war. If we do not then we will fuel more terrorism, acting as a recruiter for ISIL, we will create more refugees and we will kill lots of innocent people. I am all in favour of taking action against ISIL but we must ensure that such action is effective and decisive. I do not believe that we are there yet.

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?