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Monday, October 31, 2016

Tories hoist by their own petard on health spending

Tory claims that they are puting an extra £10 billion into the English health service have been challenged by Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative chair of the Commons health select committee.

Together with four other MPs she has written to the chancellor demanding the government abandon its “incorrect” claims of putting £10bn into the NHS annual budget by the end of this parliament and admit the severity of its financial shortage.

The disagreement centres on the definition of health spending, but this is far from a technical matter. MPs have concluded that  “The £10bn figure can only be reached by adding an extra year to the spending review period, changing the date from which the real terms increase is calculated and disregarding the total health budget.”

This is because at the same time as extra cash is being given to health, social care budgets are being slashed increasing the pressure on hospitals and other health services. The MPs say that the real amount of extra cash being given to the NHS in England between 2014-15 and 2020-21 is only £6bn and even that much smaller sum has only come from cutting spending on public health programmes and medical education and training by £3.5bn.

This is actually very relevant to Wales as although we would expect a Barnet consequential of about £590 million from an English health boost of £10bn, that will be slashed drastically if the overall increase is less due to cuts elsewhere.

Theresa May's Government would do well to look to Wales in fact as to how to do this properly. For although the Welsh health service is far from healthy, extra funding has been accompanied by more money for social care thanks to pressure from opposition parties.

And this year's budget contains £60m for the Intermediate Care Fund, an initiative promoted by the Welsh Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cyrmru as part of a previous budget deal, so as to better integrate health and social care.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Lord Farage of Brexit?

As if the world was not absurd enough the Telegraph reports on the appalling suggestion from UKIP leadership contenders that Nigel Farage should receive a peerage once he finally hands over the reins as leader of Ukip.

The three frontrunners to succeed Mr Farage as party leader - Paul Nuttall, Raheem Kassam and Suzanne Evans - have all said they will seek to secure him a seat on the benches of the House of Lords if they win, according to The Sunday Times.

Given Farage's constant railing against how Britain is run by an unelected elite, then  he will clearly fit in perfectly on the red leather benches of the Lords.. Best incentive yet to replace the Lords with an elected second chamber.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Mystery over assurances given to Nissan

What exactly the UK Government promised Nissan for them to invest in new production lines in the UK remains a mystery but denials by government ministers that it did not involve them getting their chequebook at some time in the future are difficult to believe.

As Vince Cable says in the Guardian, either Nissan were told that the Government will pick up the tab for any tariffs they have to meet after Brexit, or they are envisaging that the UK will remain in the European free trade area. Suddenly, Brexit is starting to sound remarkably like anything other than Brexit.

The paper says that it emerged on Thursday that the car industry has been given concrete assurances that it will remain competitive and not be subject to tariffs when the UK leaves the EU. This enabled Nissan to announce it planned to build two new models at its Sunderland plant:

The government and Nissan have said there was no “sweetheart deal” but refused to deny that a written guarantee was offered that gave assurances the company would not be disadvantaged by May’s Brexit policy. Pressed repeatedly on whether there was a letter, No 10 said there were “all forms of communications”.

Cable told the Guardian: “The only way these big supply chain companies are going to commit themselves to Britain – and Nissan is the biggest – is that if they give them guarantees they are not going to be caught up in rules of origin problems, which is what happens if you leave the customs union.

“And if you stay in the customs union, which I think is what we’re talking about, what is the role of Dr Fox? Because it means you no longer have an independent trade policy.”

He added: “If you leave a customs union you, by definition, will have tariff regimes and have to validate all the flows of widgets going backwards or forwards. A customs union is not an incredibly big deal and it is not more radical than the single market. Turkey is in a customs union with the EU. But it does mean you can’t go round the world doing separate bilateral deals.”

The UK Government's position on Brexit is now as clear as mud. Many other companies, including those building helicopters in Somerset, will now be asking for a similar deal. The Government did a good job in keeping Nissan on board, but the ramifications of whatever deal they struck will be significant. The Brexit web has become much more complex and difficult to navigate.

Friday, October 28, 2016

How man-made climate change was predicted over a century ago

There is a fascinating article in the Independent today in which they feature a newspaper clipping from 1912 in which the inevitability of man-made climate change was outlined:

The clip was printed in a New Zealand paper, the Rodney and Otamatea Times, Waitemata and Kaipara Gazette, on 14 August 1912. Fifteen years after the piece was published the world’s carbon emissions reached 1 billion tonnes a year.

The clip highlighted the negative effects of burning coal, such as increased temperatures - owing to the large amounts of carbon dioxide burnt into the atmosphere.

As Quartz explains, scientist Joseph Fourier discovered that the earth’s temperature might have been regulated by the earth’s atmosphere in the 1820s. Forty years after he died the evidence was proven by John Tyndall who discovered that certain gases trap carbon dioxide and heat. However, Tyndall was proven to be inaccurate as he did not focus on coal being burnt – his focus was on mining.

Swedish scientist Arrhenius then developed Tyndall’s theory. Arrhenius went on to say that fossil fuel combustion can potentially lead to global warming.

As the paper says carbon dioxide levels around the world are increasing year after year. They add that the world currently produces, approximately, 40 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide into the world a day. The news clip states that in 1912 the world would have experienced 7 billion tonnes, the world now produces more than 5 times the previous daily amount.

If only we had heeded the warnings given 104 years ago.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Is this the last chance saloon for Welsh devolution?

The Western Mail reports the comments of former AM and now Welsh Office Minister, Lord Nick Bourne that the package of powers that the UK Government plans to devolve to the National Assembly in the latest Wales Bill could be the “last major piece of legislation on Wales for a long time".

He is, of course urging the Welsh Assembly to pass an order giving its consent to the Bill and has suggested that if there were a snap General Election then the Bill might be lost altogether:

Mr Bourne reckons it will be “no time soon” before there is another item of Welsh legislation on this scale and hopes that its passage will allow a new focus on issues affecting daily life in Wales.

He said: “The overriding thing about this is this a settlement that Wales, I think, will want to live with... Here we are, close to 20 years on from the first referendum.

“It’s time now to settle down and say, ‘Look, we need to move forward and focus on the big issues.’”

There is no reason to suppose that Nick Bourne is wrong about this. We will now have had four Wales Bills over a period of 19 years as both UK and Welsh Governments seek to get the settlement right. It really is time AMs concentrated on bread and butter matters and stopped obsessing about the constitution.

However, if this is to be the last Wales Bill for some time then it is also incumbent on the UK Government to get it right. As a previous Western Mail article reported, the Assembly’s Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee believes that the current Bill could “roll back” the existing devolution settlement. This indicates that the Assembly's consent for this Bill will not be so easily obtained.

If this really is the last chance saloon for constitutional change then both parties need to get together and make sure the Bill is the right one for Wales. We can't find ourselves in the situation again of parties campaigning for yet another Bill once this has been passed when there is so much more to do around the Welsh economy, education system and health service, not to mention Brexit.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Why Zac will not be able to keep his by-election focussed on a single issue

The predictable announcement by the Transport Secretary that the Tory Government plan to build a third runway at Heathrow was followed by the equally predictable resignation of Zac Goldsmith as MP so he can fight a by-election as an Independent opposed to the plans.

The catch of course is that the Tories will not oppose him, so the chances are that if he is re-elected he will end up back on the Tory benches, part of a government which is going to go-ahead with the expansion anyway. He couldn't even be bothered to properly scrutinise the Minister before falling on his sword. Is that the sort of effective representation Richmond Park electors want?

There was also major disappointment in some quarters that Boris Johnson looks like he will not fulfill his promise to lie down in front of the bulldozers. You can't have everything in this world it seems. But the key question has to be can Zac actually make this a single issue election. My view is that he can't.

Over 70% of the Richmond Park electorate voted to remain within the EU. The main challengers to Zac the Independent Tory comes from the Liberal Democrats, who are strong remainers and opposed to the Heathrow expansion. The fact that the only two credible candidates agree on the main issue gives voters latitude to base their choice on other factors. In this regard Zac Goldsmith is out-of-tune with his constituents.

And it is not as if membership of the EU is irrelevant to the Heathrow issue, it is in fact highly pertinent. The EU recognises that air pollution harms our health and our environment. As such a new EU air quality strategy pursues full compliance with existing air quality legislation by 2020 and sets new long-term objectives for 2030.

Europe has also passed an Environmental Noise Directive to help identify noise levels within the EU and to take the necessary measures to bring them down to acceptable levels. Separate legislation regulates noise emission from specific sources.

As this fact sheets says the European Parliament has repeatedly 'stressed the need for further cuts in limit values and for improved measurement procedures with regard to environmental noise. It has called for the establishment of EU values for noise around airports and also for the extension of noise reduction measures to cover military subsonic jet aircraft. [The European] Parliament has succeeded in protecting the power of local authorities to decide on noise-related measures at airports, including possible bans on night flying.'

If we leave the EU we lose that protection. Instead the people of Richmond Park and their neighbours will be at the mercy of a UK Government which believes that airport expansion is more important than the environmental considerations which surround it. And Zac, for better or worse will be part of that government, either having rejoined the Tory Party or as a Tory Party backed Independent.

Zac Goldmisth may want this by-election to be about a single issue but he is going to learn that even clear cut matters such as opposition to an infrastructure project do not exist in a vacuum. The future of Heathrow and our membership of the EU are intertwined and Zac Goldsmith is on the wrong side of the argument.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

UKIP's leadership contest embraces the 'gay donkey' tendency

The UKIP leadership contest progressed from joke to farce yesterday with the announcement by South Wales based member, John Rees-Evans that he was throwing his hat in the ring.

The announcement came by way of a rather tedious five and a half minute video on YouTube which saw Mr. Rees-Evans wander around a South Wales Valley town in a leather jacket talking to camera about his desire to transfer power to the membership, rectify the party's financial crisis and prevent it being hijacked in the future by vested interests. It was Forest Gump at a walking pace.

There was not one mention in the video of course of Mr. Rees-Evans previous claim to fame, namely the assertion in December 2014, whilst he was a UKIP Parliamentary candidate that a “homosexual donkey” had raped his horse.

As the Independent reports, Mr. Rees-Evans made the comments to protesters outside a campaign office in Merthyr Tydfil when he was confronted over claims by fellow party members that “some homosexuals prefer sex with animals”:

Mr Rees-Evans responded at the time: “Actually, I’ve witnessed that. I’ve got a horse and it was there in the field. And a donkey came up, which was male, and I’m afraid tried to rape my horse.”

The former soldier said his stallion had bitten the “homosexual donkey” in defence and that he himself had also intervened.

He later apologised for the donkey anecdote, telling the BBC’s Daily Politics programme: “It was a bit of playful banter with a mischievous activist, I’m sorry if I offended anyone in doing that.

“I concede it was a mistake to be playful with an activist in a street. The fact is I’m not a politician. The guy was just asking me questions in the street. It was an error of judgment.”

Mr Rees-Evans also told the same programme that reports he had carried a handgun around an IKEA in Bulgaria in case it was attacked by terrorists were “an embellishment”.

“That particular day I was doing some training, which is quite normal in Bulgaria. I do speed pistol shooting. I was trained by the British army to operate weapons, it’s a waste of taxpayers’ money if I don’t maintain those skills, of course,” he said.

“It simply wasn’t safe to hand [the gun] over to the security and I had some things that I had to get. That little story about laying siege to the building – quite simply, they said to me the reason they don’t allow weapons to go in there was in case there was an attack – and I said, surely you want law abiding people to be armed if people are going to come in here to attack you?”

He added that further claims he had set up a “secure compound” around his home were “entirely exaggerated”.

“A secure compound simply means a garden with a wall, which I’m sure you have if you have a garden,” he said.

Never let it be said that UKIP leadership contests are not entertaining, nor that we don't get enough of them.

Monday, October 24, 2016

How independent was Labour's report into anti-semitism?

The report by Shami Chakrabarti into anti-semitism in the Labour Party continues to make waves with revelations in today's media that Jeremy Corbyn discussed giving the former director of Liberty a peerage with his team in March, and claims she was aware her name was listed before agreeing to conduct a Labour report into anti-Semitism.

The Telegrpah says that the Labour leader is understood to have long-listed Baroness Chakrabarti for an honour after he was made aware that new peers would be created by David Cameron following the EU referendum.

They add that Chakrabarti, who is now Labour's shadow attorney general, was added before she was approached to conduct a report into anti-Semitism. Labour sources have claimed to the paper that she was told this prior to the announcement on 29 April that she would chair an independent inquiry into anti-Semitism and other forms of racism in the Labour party.

Baroness Chakrabarti denies being made aware that her name was on a long-list before she was officially approached by Mr Corbyn in July and offered the peerage. However, commentators are saying that these latest allegations raise further doubts on the independence of her report.

The claims also bring into focus questions about Jeremy Corbyn's previous announcement that he would not create any more Labour peerages and why that pledge was so quickly abandoned in this one instance.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Will Brexit sound the financial death knell for UKIP?

There is an interesting piece on Buzzfeed by Jim Waterson, which underlines how much the anti-European, so-called establishment-busting UKIP is reliant on European funds and establishment support for its survival.

Warerson says that concerns have been raised about the state of UKIP’s finances following the EU referendum, with major donors defecting to the Conservatives or threatening to form a new party now UKIP has achieved its main objective.

But, to make matters worse, the party's reliance on EU funding makes it even more likely to be cast into oblivion. He says that many support staff and a large proportion of the party’s most prominent individuals are reliant on the EU for their income. That money will vanish in 2019 if the government sticks to its planned timetable for Brexit:

Collectively UKIP’s 22 MEPs can claim up to €6,072,000 (£5,400,000) a year from the European parliament to fund staff costs, with limited scrutiny of how it is spent.

Public records reveal that at least 76 different individuals are currently listed as employed by UKIP’s MEPs using European funds, all working on behalf of the party’s politicians.

There is no suggestion UKIP has broken the strict restrictions on using the funds for domestic political purposes, and some of these simply are simply constituency case workers. However, the majority of these employees have some personal connection to UKIP and many have social media profiles showing their campaigning on behalf of the party.

Among the staff employed by UKIP MEPs are prominent UKIP volunteers, councillors, regional organisers, and parliamentary candidates who may find it harder to dedicate as much time to the party if they were forced to find another job.

UKIP’s 22 MEPs also benefit from EU-funded salaries worth €95,000 a year (£84,484) and expenses, giving them the freedom to campaign for UKIP.

Waterson says that to make matters worse, UKIP does not currently pay its leader from party funds, since Nigel Farage and his predecessors have traditionally survived on their EU-funded MEP’s salaries and outside earnings. This raises the question of how the party intends to pay its leaders in the future:

As a result, whoever wins the second UKIP leadership election of the year will have to battle to raise funds from donors to cover both campaign costs and, potentially, their own salary.

UKIP’s media profile could also be hit by the loss of the EU jobs. Of the eight UKIP politicians who have appeared on BBC Question Time this year, six rely on European parliament funding for their main job by virtue of being MEPs or working for MEPs.

Meanwhile, the loss of EU funding will also see the party lose a number of policy and communications staff. Hermann Kelly, who is frequently referred to in the media as a “UKIP spokesperson”, is technically employed by the European parliament’s EFDD grouping.

The EFDD is nominally a pan-European political party, but in reality consists of UKIP, Italy’s Five Star Movement, and a handful of fringe candidates from other nations. The arrangement was criticised after some EFDD funding was used to finance a Farage speaking tour and for security costs at major events in the run-up to the EU referendum.

Earlier this week UKIP was forced to deny reports in The Telegraph that it had a £800,000 “black hole” in its finances and owed substantial sums of money. However, the party’s most recent accounts for 2015 reveal the party “had no financial reserves” and was “dependent upon contributions from donors” to meet ongoing costs, while the most recent Electoral Commission figures show the party owes £470,000 in loans.

The situation has reached the point where UKIP does not currently even have a press office.

Waterson points out that domestically, UKIP's failure to secure sufficient numbers of full-time elected representatives will cause them further difficulties. He points out that the only prominent UKIP politicians certain to continue to receive full-time salaries from politics after 2019 are the party’s only MP, Douglas Carswell; its two London assembly representatives; and seven members of the Welsh assembly, including Neil Hamilton.

Hamilton himself employs his wife Christine as his personal assistant on a salary estimated by Private Eye at around £25.000 per year. His chief of staff is Robin Hunter-Clarke who is a Lincolnshire County Councillor, living in Skegness. His wife Melanie is also employed by Hamilton.

Another UKIP AM, Mark Reckless chairs the Assembly's Climate Change Committee for which he receives £13,000 on top of his £64,000 salary whilst at the same time working up to 20 hours a week in the UK Parliament for UKIP's sole MP, Douglas Carswell. He employs his wife as his special adviser at a wage estimated by the Eye at £30,000 a year.

The great UKIP gravy train is rolling on, for another couple of years at least.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

The Welsh way

I'm not a big fan of Lord Peter Hain's attempts at constitutional tinkering. It was his legislation that introduced the Legislative Competence Order, which crippled the Welsh Assembly's law-making ability in its third term. The LCO, as they  came to be known, had previously only been tried before when an Imperial British Government had sought to keep the Irish happy.

Hain was also responsible for restricting the ability of people to stand for both the Assembly list and a constituency at the same time, a breathtaking exercise in undermining individual rights and the sort of change I would have expected from somebody with far fewer democratic credentials.

However, his latest attempt to restrict the franchise makes perfect sense. As the Western Mail reports it comes in the guise of an amendment to the Wales Bill currently being considered by the House of Lords, and proposes that only people living in Wales can stand for the Welsh Assembly.

Such a geographical restriction already exists for other institutions, including local councils and the House of Commons and there is no reason why it should not apply to the Welsh Assembly as well. After all there is no reason why somebody who wishes to stand cannot move here so as to qualify.

And surely the least a voter should expect of their representative is that they are accessible and identify with the area they represent, not ensconced in a mansion on the other side of the border paying courtesy visits to their constituency when they feel like it.

Friday, October 21, 2016

Why another Labour-Plaid Cymru coalition would be bad for Wales

As Plaid Cymru gather in Llangollen for their annual conference all the media speculation centres on whether they will finally bite the bullet and enter into another formal coalition with Labour in the Welsh Assembly.

One of the reasons Dafydd Elis Thomas walked away from Plaid was his perception that they are not serious about exercising power and their failure to form such an alliance. He certainly has backers for that view remaining within his former party.

The BBC quote Leanne Wood as saying that there is "ongoing discussion" about whether it  is better to formally share power, with members genuinely torn over the "dilemma". Plaid Cymru AM Neil McEvoy, who came close to unseating Leanne Wood from the top of the South Wales Central list, confirms this when he says that the agreed official position is against coalition and "reports to the contrary surprise me".

Of course what Plaid Cymru and Labour do is up to them but there are minuses as well as advantages to having a 'stable' government coalition consisting of two thirds of the Welsh Assembly's members.

The big disadvantage from my point of view would be inadequate scrutiny of Welsh Government policies and legislation. At the moment the opposition is fairly diverse, with the Tories and UKIP opposing from the right and Plaid Cymru largely from the left. The only liberal voice has been subsumed into the government but Dafydd Elis Thomas himself may be able to provide that in future.

To have the government solely scrutinised from a right wing perspective may well suit some members of Labour and Plaid but it would severely diminish the quality of debate in the chamber and committee rooms. We would lose a plurality of representation within the opposition that currently benefits our democratic process.

That was not a problem during the 2007-2011 One Wales Government of course because the Welsh Liberal Democrats provided that left-leaning, liberal input into debate and scrutiny. It would not be available in the fifth Assembly.

The second disadvantage of such a coalition is that it would give the Government a free pass on the work of building a consensus for their work within the chamber and in the country.

At the moment, if Carwyn Jones wants to get something through he has to work with others and achieve a sort of consensus. In a mega-coalition that debate would be internalised, it would become less of a discussion and more of a whipping exercise.

That is not healthy for democracy nor does it help to advance the cause of devolution in a country that prides itself on a more consensual approach than Westminister. Having to win support for your policies from your opponents so as to get them through can bring a type of democratic discipline to government that is discarded by those Ministers who can rely on an automatic majority to get things through.

The current make-up of the Assembly chamber may not be comfortable for the Welsh Labour Government not does it provide the sort of certainty that some stakeholders would wish, but it does ensure that Welsh democracy remains interesting, accountable and transparent. That is surely a good thing and it would be a shame if it were lost.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Liberal Democrats influence showing in Welsh budget

The Welsh Liberal Democrats may only have one Assembly Member but the deal that Kirsty Williams struck before accepting the post of Education Secretary is very evident in the Welsh Government's draft budget that was published yesterday.

As this BBC article makes clear, Kirsty Williams influence is obvious with a doubling of the pupil deprivation grant for the youngest and poorest learners. This is a £4.5m boost for deprived children in the Foundation Phase, which was a key Lib Dem manifesto pledge.

The budget headlines are £111m for apprenticeships and traineeships, a £100m tax cut for small businesses, £10m for pilot projects to support 30 hours of free childcare a week, a £20m boost to raise school standards, £16m for a new treatment fund, £5m to start raising the residential care capital limit to £50,000, £240m extra for the Welsh NHS, £60m for the Intermediate Care Fund, the best local government settlement for years, and protection for the pupil deprivation grant.

Some of these schemes are continuations from previous budget deals, others are Welsh Liberal Democrats manifesto promises including the funding for 20,000 new affordable homes within the social sector and the Welsh Development Bank.

The Welsh Liberal Democrats are continuing to deliver in Wales, even with our depleted representation.

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Why Labour cannot be trusted with our civil liberties

Labour's record on civil liberties has not been a good one. Whether it is their support for identity cards, their attempt to bring in a 90 day and then 42 day pre-charge detention regime, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 that gave extraordinary surveillance powers to local councils and other authorities, and of course their attempt to monitor and store details of our private communications.

Of course there are some that would say that all this came in a different era, when Tony Blair was in charge and when they were in government. And it is true that being in government means making difficult decisions. But it seems that the Corbin era has not seen any change and that not only are Labour continuing to support the erosion of our liberties but they are failing in their duty as an opposition to properly scrutinise the proposals they support.

Thus, as the Guardian reports, on Monday 64 Labour peers backed an expansion of state surveillance powers, within hours of a ruling by top judges that the spying agencies unlawfully scooped up personal confidential information on a massive scale for more than a decade:

The Labour peers voted with the government to ensure that major new powers are handed to the security services to get access to records tracking every citizen’s web use for the past 12 months.

The Liberal Democrat attempt to delete the powers to order the collection and storage of the new internet connection records from the investigatory powers bill in the House of Lords was voted down by 75 to 292.

It was notable that neither the former Labour home secretary Lord Blunkett nor the new shadow attorney general, and former Liberty director, Lady Chakrabarti, took part in the vote. The 64 Labour peers who voted with the government included frontbench spokespersons, Lady Hayter and Lord Rosser and the party’s chief whip, Lord Bassam.

The vote came just hours after the ruling by the investigatory powers tribunal, the only court to hear complaints against MI5, MI6 and GCHQ, that the security services had until 2015 secretly and illegally collected huge volumes of confidential data of millions of British citizens without adequate or safeguards.

Of course the Shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, made all the right noises describing the bill as "draconian” and saying that the ruling demonstrates why it needs amending but actions speak louder than words:

The Lib Dem Lord Paddick said: “Labour’s decision not to back us in opposing this huge intrusion into our privacy shows once and for all that they cannot claim to be the party of civil liberties, regardless of who sits on their benches.

“Internet connection records are ill-conceived and disproportionate and no doubt this fight will continue in the courts.”

Jim Killock, the Director of the Open Rights Group also strongly criticised the Labour peers. He said: “Labour did not table any serious amendments to this draconian legislation in the House of Lords. Labour is simply failing to hold the government to account.

“The Labour Lords had an opportunity to improve the IP bill and make it closer to becoming a surveillance law fit for a democracy not a dictatorship. They could have called for proposals to record UK citizens’ web browsing history to be scrapped or demanded that the police need independent authorisation to access our data.”

I think that those comments speak volumes about Corbin's Labour party.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

When free speech is treason.

The arguments for and against Brexit have been well-rehearsed and in particular there are strong views on what should happen next.

The Liberal Democrats have argued that the UK Parliament should debate our negotiating position and that the final deal should be subject to a referendum so that the public can accept or reject it.

Nobody though has tried to argue that all debate should be shut down completely with severe penalties for those of us amongst the 48% who want to continue to argue the case to remain in the EU - until now.

The Independent reports that a Guildford Tory Councillor has been suspended after starting a Parliamentary petition calling for anyone supporting EU membership to be charged with treason:

Christian Holliday, a councillor in Guildford, Surrey, placed a petition on Parliament’s website demanding that the 1848 Treason Felony Act be updated to include “the following offences”.

They would be: “To imagine, devise, promote, work, or encourage others, to support UK becoming a member of the European Union.

The petition continues: “It is becoming clear that many politicians and others are unwilling to accept the democratic decision of the British people to leave the EU.

“Brexit must not be put at risk in the years and decades ahead. For this reason, we the undersigned request that the Treason Felony Act be amended as set out in this petition. (These provisions to become law the day the United Kingdom leaves the EU).”

I am surprised that he did not add 'adherence to a foreign Pope' to the list as per the reformation. As Liberal Democrat patron of the Vote Leave Watch campaign, Tom Brake said: “We knew Theresa May was intent on taking Britain back to the 1950s, but it's still a surprise to see a Tory councillor advocating a policy straight out of the 1550s.

“Let me point out gently to Cllr Holliday that 16.1 million people voted to remain in the EU - and the courts are busy enough as it is without trying to prosecute all of them for treason."

What is astonishing is that this petition has attracted nearly 1200 signatures.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Financial sector under threat from Brexit

Bankers are not the most popular of people in this country but it is an unavoidable fact that the UK’s financial services sector employs 1.9m people and is the key to maintaining a balance of payments surplus. Without it the pound would depreciate even further and we would have further increases in the cost of living, increases which will hit the poorest sections of our society the most because they spend the highest proportion of their income on basics such as food.

It is not good news therefore to read in the Guardian that banks could start making decisions to move assets out of the UK as early as the end of 2017 if there is no deal in place to maintain their rights to sell services freely across the European Union:

Open Europe, which took a neutral stance on the referendum, said Britain could risk losing its status as a hub for financial services unless passporting rights are made the top priority in negotiations with the EU. The warning came as the Financial Times reported that the government is considering proposals [paywall] that would see billions of pounds paid into the EU budget in exchange for giving the financial sector continued access to the single market.

The report’s authors also warned that failure to help UK-based banks could have repercussions on the continent, because banks would not necessarily move their business from Britain to mainland Europe, and could opt for New York or Singapore.

Meanwhile in a speech today, Nick Clegg will echo calls from the City for a transitional deal to be put in place after the end of the Article 50 process if the UK does not retain single market membership, warning food prices will see a steep hike if the UK reverts to World Trade Organisation tariffs, including on imported beef, cheese and wine:

Clegg will warn that the under WTO rules, tariffs will also have to be applied to all imports into the UK until a trade deal with the EU is struck. In his third Brexit Challenge report, the former deputy prime minister will say UK farming will be particularly badly hit by tariffs, including 47% on milk, 40% on cheese, 59% on beef, and 40% on lamb.

It really is time for the UK Government to get a grip on this process, accept that the UK Parliament should be able to scrutinise and debate their negotiating stance and that the British people should have the final say on any eventual deal. It would also help of course if the UK Government knew what it was doing. The stakes are too high for any other approach.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Donald Trump - Sociopathic Superstar

A song about Donald Trump from Neath/Swansea band Psycho Kiss from their new album. The leader singer is a Welsh Liberal Democrats Community Councillor in Skewen. Order it here:

The case against Brexit by er... Boris

All of today's media is reporting on the unpublished newspaper column by Foreign Secretary and Chief Brexiteer, Boris Johnson written just days before he decided to campaign for the UK to leave the EU, in which he makes a strong case for us to remain.

As the Observer reports, in the column Boris wrote of the EU: “This is a market on our doorstep, ready for further exploitation by British firms. The membership fee seems rather small for all that access. Why are we so determined to turn our back on it?”

The paper says Boris warned that Brexit would cause an “economic shock” and could lead to the “break-up” of the United Kingdom:

“There is the worry about Scotland, and the possibility that an English-only “leave” vote could lead to the break-up of the union,” he wrote. “There is the Putin factor: we don’t want to do anything to encourage more shirtless swaggering from the Russian leader, not in the Middle East, not anywhere.”

For once Boris got something right. What a shame that his analysis was not built upon principle. His decision a few days later to take a contradictory view and to campaign against EU membership was a career decision. What he actually believes is a matter for conjecture.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Has Dafydd Elis Thomas given Labour their majority in the Welsh Assembly?

The timing of the decision by Lord Elis Thomas to resign the Plaid Cymru whip and sit as an independent in the Welsh Assembly came as a surprise to me, but I suspect it was a body blow to Plaid Cymru and Leanne Wood's stuttering leadership.

Plaid Cymru can no longer claim to be the official opposition. Their negotiating power over the Welsh budget in particular has been severely diminsihed. Carwyn Jones now has another option to get his budget through and it will be much cheaper than meeting demands from Leanne Wood's party, assuming that Plaid are able to agree a coherent package of expenditure amongst themselves at all.

In truth Dadydd Elis Thomas has been acting as an Independent for some time. An examination of voting records reveal that he often, discreetly registers a different view to that of his leadership, including on that vote over Europe which led to a nationalist social media campaign claiming the Welsh Government are now in favour of Brexit. In fact it showed nothing of the sort.

There are now two independents sitting in the Welsh Assembly, both former leaders of their party. And whereas I cannot see Labour even contemplating the courtship of Nathan Gill, they will certainly be talking to Dafydd Elis Thomas. Will we see him in the cabinet in the near future? Anything is now possible.

Update: Plaid Cymru also lost a councillor this week when Torfaen Councillor Fiona Cross crossed the floor to join Labour.

Friday, October 14, 2016

So sorry Scotland

The Trump defence

Is it me or is the American Presidential election getting more and more surreal as an under-fire Donald Trump has gone onto the offensive in an effort to divert attention from his own indiscretions?

The Guardian reports that there was an avalanche of fresh abuse allegations on Thursday after a series of women came forward to dispute his claim that his comments about sexual assault were only empty boasts.

The paper says that the torrent of accusations includes claims from beauty pageant contenders who allege he burst into their dressing rooms to ogle them while they were nude. Nearly a dozen new names have been added to the tally of women who have accused the Republican nominee of inappropriate behavior.

Many say they were galvanised into speaking by Trump’s denials during Sunday’s presidential debate, where he dismissed a recording of him bragging about groping women as “locker room talk” and insisted they were “words not action”.

Trump's reaction is to dismiss the accusations as a vast establishment conspiracy, orchestrated by his opponent Hillary Clinton “as part of a concerted, coordinated and vicious attack”:

“There is nothing the political establishment will not do, no lie they won’t tell to hold their prestige and power at your expense and that’s what’s happening,” he told a rally in Florida. “The establishment has trillions of dollars at stake in this election.”

In his speech Trump said: “I never knew it would be this vile, this vicious,” he told the crowd in Florida. “Nevertheless I take all of these slings and arrows gladly for you. I take them for the movement so we can have our country back.”

He added: “I will not allow the Clinton machine to turn our campaign into a discussion of their slanders and lies, but will remain focused on the American people. The only thing Clinton has going for her is the press. Without the press she is nothing.”

Nevertheless, his response to the new claims took up almost the entire speech and Trump refused to take questions on them, dismissing from the room a reporter who asked about them beforehand and calling him “a sleazebag”.

The irony here of course is that Trump built his entire Presidential campaign on a series of personal insults and slurs against his opponents. As Corporal Jones repeatedly says in Dads Army: "They don't like it up 'em"

Thursday, October 13, 2016

The day that Brexit hit the pound in our pocket

I am too young to properly remember the famous quote from Harold Wilson that ultimately lost him the 1970 General Election.

It was 19th November 1967 and the then Labour Government had just devalued the pound against the dollar by 14%. The decision had been taken after weeks of increasingly feverish speculation and a day in which the Bank of England spent £200m trying to shore up the pound from its gold and dollar reserves.

In defending his government's decision, Harold Wilson very much foreshadowed sentiments being expressed by Brexiteers today. He said: "From now the pound abroad is worth 14% or so less in terms of other currencies. It does not mean, of course, that the pound here in Britain, in your pocket or purse or in your bank, has been devalued.

"What it does mean is that we shall now be able to sell more goods abroad on a competitive basis." 

It didn't quite work out like that for him and nor will it today. For we are now witnesssing the consequences of an involuntary devaluation in the pound far greater than the 14% in 1967, with price rises in our supermarkets. As the Independent reports, Tesco is in a stand-off with Unilever over the Anglo-Dutch firm's plan to hike the price of their groceries by 10%.

Tesco may be making a stand on our behalf but would that stance have been so public if the absence of certain goods on their website had not been publicised? Inevitably, there will be a compromise in which these products will go up in price. The only question is whether it is a 10% or 5% increase. And other supermarkets will follow suit.

But whereas in 1967 Harold Wilson could rely on a boost for exports as a consequence of his devaluation, things are not so clear cut in 2016. That is because our impending exit from the European Union is already affecting investment decisions.

Multi-national companies are deferring or cancelling plans to invest in new production lines in their UK factories, whilst many are actively considering moving their operation abroad so as to remain in the single market. Any jobs boost from an increase in exports will be more than cancelled out by such decisions.

It has been reported that the total cost to the Exchequer from lost revenues and other factors could be as much £66 billion a year. That is £1.2 billion a week. So much for the £350m boost we were promised to the NHS.

Even if that £66bn figure proves to be an exaggeration we are still in for substantial public sector cuts and considerable hardship once Theresa May presses the Section 50 button.

All of these figures underline why the eventual final settlement is so important and why the general public should be able to approve or reject it in a vote.We cannot afford to leave our economic future in the hands of politicians who have done so much to wreck it in the first place.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Why Communities First will not be mourned

When I blogged less than three weeks ago on the need for an effective Welsh anti-poverty programme I did so in the knowledge that the Welsh Government's flagship Communities First scheme was on the verge of being phased out. Yesterday the Minister confirmed that was the case.

Communities First has consumed more than £300 million of public money in its 15 year life and yet, despite some isolated schemes which seemed to have an impact, it failed in its unltimate objective of raising the communities it was targeting out of poverty.

In my view it was poorly focussed and improperly monitored. There were no proper meausures in place to determine how effective that expenditure was in improving educational, health or employment outcomes in the communities where the money was spent. And often it seemed as if the Welsh Government were just creating a self-perpetuating network of community workers so as to give the appearance of action.

Ultimately, Communities First failed because Welsh Ministers insisted on directing it centrally. It would have made far more sense to deliver a scheme administered by local councils, tailored to their particular circumstances. In that way the expenditure of £300m could have been coordinated with other local initiatives and we would have got far more bang for our buck.

Whatever replaces Communities First, I think that the odds are it will not be as well funded. That is because the announcement yesterday was, in my view, more about budget cuts than an acknowledgement of failure.

For that reason, the successor scheme has to be better aligned with existing programmes both national such as the pupil premium, healthy community initiatives, and Jobs Growth Wales, and local, such as regeneration schemes, housing and education programmes and employment and training initiatives.

It should be controlled by councils not remote civil servants in Cardiff Bay, and have clear, measurable objectives with proper perfomance indicators. And it should be part of an effective cross-cutting anti-poverty strategy that actually seeks to improve outcomes for people rather than alleviate the symptoms.

That is a tall order but it is the least we can expect from the Welsh Government. It is time for devolutoin to start delivering. This is an opportunity for Ministers to show that they really can make a difference.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The cost of 'hard' Brexit

There is an interesting article on the Sky News website that claims to be based on leaked government documents, which asserts that a "hard Brexit" would see the Treasury lose up to £66bn in tax revenues a year.

The document contains a warning for Cabinet ministers that leaving the single market and switching to World Trade Organisation rules would cause GDP to fall anywhere between 5.4% and 9.5% within 15 years.

The forecast is based on a study which was controversially commissioned by then chancellor George Osborne in the run up to the EU referendum. It says that assuming no contributions to the EU are made, the annual loss would be at least £38bn - with "the smaller size of the economy" to blame.

Liberal Democrats leader, Tim Farron is absolutely right when he describes the forecast as "yet more proof that hard Brexit would be an act of sheer economic vandalism".

And given that a 'hard' Brexit appears to be Theresa May's chosen option, it should certainly give her and her ministers food for thought.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Tories in disarray over immigration checks

The Guardian reports that the government has abandoned plans to force businesses to reveal how many foreign staff they employ, following widespread condemnation and accusations that the policy was akin to tattooing workers “with numbers on their forearms”:

Justine Greening, the education secretary, announced on Sunday that companies will not be made to publish the data as suggested by the home secretary, Amber Rudd, during the Conservative party conference.

She said the information would be confidential and instead used by the government to identify skills shortages, rather than to “name and shame” businesses that rely on foreign employees.

The paper says that David Cameron’s former communications director Craig Oliver has described the announcement that the data will no longer be made public as a “managed retreat”, it seems more akin to ministers in disarray.

The defence secretary, Michael Fallon also said that the Government could “absolutely rule out” asking companies to list, name, publish or identify in any way the number of foreign workers they have.

It is possible that the remarks of former Cameron advisor, Steve Hilton, that ministers might as well announce that “foreign workers will be tattooed with numbers on their forearms” has hit home as no doubt has the widespread condemnation of the policy as repugnant and divisive by politicians across the political spectrum.

The resistance of industry to the proposal as both impractical and immoral must also be a factor. but one cannot escape the feeling that making policy on the hoof in this way is not the way to run the country and that the whole episode has been shambolic. If only there was an effective official opposition to expose the incompetence of Ministers on this issue.

Sunday, October 09, 2016

New low point for UKIP as Farage defends of Trump

Just when we thought that UKIP could not stoop any lower, their interim (and fourth time future?) leader, Nigel Farage went onto Fox News to defend Donald Trump's appalling remarks about groping women.

The Guardian says that Farage insisted that the Republican candidate’s obscene remarks about groping women amounted to “alpha-male boasting”.

He said the comments were “ugly”, but stated that women also made remarks they would not want to see reported:

“Look,” he said, “this is alpha-male boasting. It’s the kind of thing, if we are being honest, that men do. They sit around and have a drink and they talk like this.

“By the way, quite a lot of women say things amongst themselves that they would not want to see on Fox News, or the front page of a newspaper. I’m not pretending it’s good – it’s ugly, it is ugly.”

Farage’s comments echo the initial response of Trump who dismissed the obscene language on a 2005 video tape as “locker room banter” before the scale of the crisis overwhelming his presidential campaign forced him to issue an apology.

Trump has reportedly lost even more support amongst women for these remarks. The question is why men are also not deserting his campaign in equal numbers?

The Republican Party hierarchy are queuing up to disassociate themselves from Trump and yet Farage is four-square behind him. If UKIP didnt have a problem attracting the support of women before, then they should do now.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

800,000 reasons to vote for Owen Smith - and he still lost

It is of course the case that how much you spend in an election is not necessarily related to how well you do, but if you spend the money effectively in getting a convincing message across then you will have a much better chance of winning.

What are we to make then of the news that Pontypridd MP, Owen Smith raised over £800,000 in donations for his unsuccessful Labour leadership challenge against Jeremy Corbyn.

Buzzfeed say that Smith, who won just 38% of the vote against Corbyn, received a total of £808,905 in cash and donations in kind during the two-month leadership campaign, according to the latest release of the official register of members’ interests.

By comparison, Jeremy Corbyn declared £325,392 in donations and loans from major benefactors to his leadership campaign:

MPs are only required to declare individual donations of more than £1,500, meaning both Smith and Corbyn are likely to have raised even more money from small donors who gave less than this amount.

Some of the biggest donations to Smith’s campaign came from individuals who have previously supported other parties, including £100,000 from a company controlled by Hull City FC chairman Assem Allam.

Allam is a long-term critic of Corbyn who previously offered Labour rebels £500,000 to start a new party and donated £10,000 to the re-election campaign of Tory MP David Davis, who is now serving in Theresa May’s government as the minister responsible for exiting the European Union.

Matthew Oakeshott, a former Liberal Democrat peer who now donates to other parties, also gave £10,000 to Smith.

Other notable donations to Smith’s campaign include £2,000 from Greg Dyke and £2,500 from Steven Moffat. The pair share their names with the former BBC director general and the executive producer of Doctor Who, although Smith’s office was unable to confirm the identities of the donors.

The GMB union – the only major trade union to back Smith over Corbyn – followed through on its support for Smith by giving £50,000 to the leadership challenger.

The cost of the Smith campaign bus – which was mocked on social media for the unfortunate hand positioned near the leadership contender’s groin – was £5,851, donated by a local bus company in his constituency.

Former Labour home secretary David Blunkett gave £2,000 to Smith’s effort to oust Corbyn from the leadership, while Charlie Parsons – who created the TV show Survivor – gave £70,000.

The website says that while Smith’s campaign was funded largely by wealthy individuals, the register of members’ interests reveals Corbyn’s campaign was largely funded by tens of thousands of pounds in donations and loans from trade unions such as Unite, the CWU, and ASLEF:

According to the register, Corbyn only received four large declarable donations from wealthy individuals, totalling £22,780.

Instead, he appears to have relied on raising large numbers of small donations from members of the public. Corbyn’s campaign claimed to have taken over £300,000 in small donations from over 19,000 people, with an average donation of just over £16. As small donations do not need to be declared to the House of Commons, these figures cannot be independently verified.

They say that Owen Smith’s campaign did not release a breakdown of its funding from ordinary members, but in an email on 14 September it said it had received donations from 6,399 people – a third of Corbyn’s donor support base.

Friday, October 07, 2016

UKIP rivalries descend into violence

Just when you thought that UKIP could not surprise us anymore, their latest leadership crisis descended into violence.

The Independent says that leadership contender, Steven Woolfe MEP collapsed on the floor in the middle of the European Parliament building in Strasbourg shortly after a brawl with one of his MEP colleagues.

The paper says that UKIP MEPs, including Mr Farage, Mr Woolfe and defence spokesman Mike Hookem had attended a party meeting to discuss the leadership crisis, following Diane James’s unexpected departure:

But the exchange at the meeting went beyond the usual political to and fro. A statement Mr Woolfe had recently released in which he admitted considering defecting to the Tories had annoyed some other party figures.

As the discussion became more heated sources said Mr Woolfe took his jacket off and suggested he and ex-commando Mr Hookem go outside.

In the ensuing tussle Mr Woolfe was reported to have hit his head, but when the fight ended colleagues believed him to be alright before they went for a vote.

Later on Mr Woolfe was seen collapsed on one of the building's internal bridges. He reportedly told the person who rushed over to assist him that he had “lost the feeling down one side of his body”. 

Mr. Woolfe is apparently recovering but that did not stop the leader of the Welsh UKIP Assembly group putting his foot in it again. The Western Mail says that Hamilton provoked anger with a television interview in which he said that hospitalised Ukip MEP Steven Woolfe 'picked a fight, and came off worse'.

The reaction on social media was scathing with many commenters suggesting that he was tacky and charmless. The Mirror reports that businessman and Ukip donor, Arron Banks branded Hamilton a "creature from the gutter" and demanded he leave the party. He said:

"I am however utterly disgusted to see Neil Hamilton touring the newsrooms this afternoon, spewing his bile before anyone knew if Steven was going to be OK.

"He truly is a creature from the gutter who will do anything to get his mug on our screens.

"Tonight I am calling for the immediate suspension of the NEC. Elections need to be held for both a new leader of the party as well as the NEC.

"People say that Ukip is split down the middle between two camps.

"This is incorrect. The Tory troublemakers and fifth columnists represent a small minority in our party yet they use and opportunity they can to undermine those working tirelessly to hold the government's feet to the flames.

"This ends today.

If Neil Hamilton and Douglas Carswell remain in the party and the NEC decide that Steven Woolfe cannot run for leader, I will be leaving Ukip.

"People have worked too long and too hard to get Ukip to where it is today but it is clear that we ourselves are at breaking point."

Is Wales now in the front line of UKIP's civil war?

Thursday, October 06, 2016

Why immigration is important to the UK economy

The above video sharply underlines the problem with the blatant Tory appeal to UKIP voters over immigration. There are a whole host of reasons why both right-wing parties are wrong on immigration but let's just look at it on their terms for a minute.

At the Tory Conference Home Secretary, Amber Rudd suggested that foreigners are “taking jobs British people could do.” Her colleague, the International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, said some immigrants “come to the country and consume the wealth of the country without ever having created anything.” Whilst, Theresa May herself said in her closing speech that some Britons have been pushed out of work due to low-skilled immigration.

The Independent has the facts.They point out that foreign-born workers are unquestionably a significant part of the UK’s 31.6 million strong workforce. There are 5.4 million non-UK born workers in the UK according to the latest official statistics. That represents 17 per cent of the total.

However, EU migrants are more likely to be in work than natives, with the participation rate for the group at just below 80 per cent, refuting the idea that most immigrants do not "contribute".

The high and rising labour force participation rate for the UK native population undermines the idea that immigrants are "taking" jobs from Britons.

Aggregate figures conceal the fact that immigrant workers are much more important for certain sectors of the economy, such as agriculture, food processing, IT and construction.

A reduction in immigration could have damaging economic side-effects. Nearly 12 per cent of the UK's 2.1 million construction workers are from abroad. And construction organisations have warned that they will struggle to complete projects without being able to draw on skilled migrant labour from Europe.

Data for the English National Health Service shows that in 2015 of the 1.22 million total staff around 235,000 were non-British, around 19 per cent. For nurses the share of non-British staff was 21 per cent. For doctors the non-British share was 30 per cent. The IPPR think tank has warned that the NHS would "collapse" without its European Union workers.

Each year around 500,000 people from 200 countries study come to the UK to study in the UK, according to Education UK. On top of this 600,000 come to do an English language course. The ExEdUK pressure group estimates that total UK education exports total more than £20bn, making it the UK's fifth largest services export sector. It also estimates that overseas students directly contribute around £11.8bn to the UK economy.

Finally, the tax benefit of the presence of immigrants is seen as outweighing the financial cost they impose through greater pressure on local infrastructure and public services.

Other research by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research suggests immigrants boost our national productivity by filling gaps in the labour market that would otherwise not be filled, which ultimately means faster GDP growth and higher incomes per head for us all.

The one thing that is clear is that if the Tories pursue their dubious moral and popularist crusade to to its logical conclusion then they will wreck the British economy and cripple our public services.

Wednesday, October 05, 2016

A real dog's brexit

On a day when the main news was a man who once described himself as "19 stone of prime Welsh beef" misspeaking in his speech to Tory conference, the whole of the UK must have breathed a huge sigh of relief to have normality restored with yet another UKIP leadership contest.

The Western Mail reports that as Welsh Tory leader, Andrew R.T. Davies wound up to the conclusion of his speech at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham, he puffed out his chest, straightened his back and delivered the immortal line: "Mark my words, we will make breakfast.... Brexit, a success".

Looking at Andrew R.T. Davies, it is possible to imagine that he seeks to make breakfast a success every day but the best line of the day definitely belonged to First Minister, Carwyn Jones who, in responding to a question from Neil Hamilton on immigration told him: "We offer a welcome to people who come and live in our country on an annual basis. We’d even offer him a welcome, if he chose to live in Wales, as well."

I bet he's been waiting some time to be able to use that line.

The resignation of Diane James as UKIP Leader after just 18 days may have surprised many, but what was not so surprising is that already there are rumours of Nigel Farage making a comeback. The Independent quotes UKIP Chairman, Paul Oakden as saying that he has spoken to Farage and that it was "not impossible" that he could make yet another comeback, even though Nigel Farage himself has ruled it out.

Meanwhile, another article in the Independent identifies a far more serious side to the Brexit debate and the identity politics that accompanied it.

They say that a report by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) has found a “number of areas of concern” over political discourse and hate speech, as well as violent racial and religious attacks. David Cameron and Nigel Farage are among the British politicians and institutions accused of fuelling rising xenophobia in the UK by the report, as debate continues to rage over Brexit, the refugee crisis and terrorism:

Police statistics have shown a sharp rise in Islamophobic, antisemitic and xenophobic assaults over the past year, amid growing tensions in Britain and across Europe.

As well as attacks on religious buildings, migrants from Eastern Europe have been targeted since the vote for Brexit, including a student stabbed in the neck for speaking Polish in Telford and killing of a Polish man in Harlow.

“It is no coincidence that racist violence is on the rise in the UK at the same time as we see worrying examples of intolerance and hate speech in the newspapers, online and even among politicians,” said ECRI chair Christian Ahlund.

“The Brexit referendum seems to have led to a further rise in ‘anti-foreigner’ sentiment, making it even more important that the British authorities take the steps outlined in our report as a matter of priority.”

Government figures have recorded a sharp increase in hate crime but the true scale of the problem may be far higher than recorded, with the Crime Survey for England and Wales estimating that of 106,000 hate-motivated crimes every year, only a quarter are recorded as such by police.

UKIP and the Conservatives have a lot to answer for.

Tuesday, October 04, 2016

Welsh Government cop-out on local council shake-up

Having spectacularly screwed up the proposed reorganisation of Welsh local councils by failing to include the other political parties in the commision that drew up the initial proposals and putting in place red lines that precluded future cross party support, the First Minister has gone back to the drawing board with a new minister and new proposals which are well, just a variation on the status quo.

The BBC report that the Local Government Secretary Mark Drakeford is to make a statement later today that proposes better joint working as the solution to all local government's problems. The problem is of course that the Williams Commission was set up because of the failure of joint working, so why will this be any different?

For the answer to that question, we need to hear the statement but I am sceptical that voluntary structures such as joint cabinets can prevail for long, given the problems of different and changing political leadership and priroities and the need to address issues of effective scrutiny, governance and accountability.

The previous local government minister observed accurately that the only way to effect permanent change in local councils was to bribe them, thart is pay them to do things, or force them to change through regulation or legislation. I paraphrase. That truism remains valid today.

So when the Welsh Government trail the possibility that resources for social care and educational improvement could be pooled along the health board boundaries and that councils could be grouped to work together on transport, economic development and planning, we need to know how they are going to achieve this. Will there be new legislation and if so why waste the opportunity to carry out the much needed reorganisation?

The answer to that last question is of course that the Welsh Government cannot get a bill reorganising local councils through the Assembly., That is because they refuse to compromise on key issues.

My view is that if they let go of the reins a bit, allowed the boundary commission to draw up new council boundaries based on natural communities instead of existing lines on the map and conceded the principle of the single transferable vote for council elections then reorganisation could be achieved. It would mean a much longer timetable but at least we would have a better chance of getting it right.

But back to the present proposals. The glaring omission in all of these suggestions is accountability. If the Welsh Government is going to pool health and social care budgets then why not hand it all over to local councils so that there is full democratic accountability for that money and how it is going to be spent?

Will they outline how joint arrangements can be sustained when past agreements have fallen apart after a few years under spending pressures and changing political priorities? Will the Cabinet Secretary say how an increase in joint boards and arms-length arrangements can be effectively policed and scrutinised? Who will set the policies they work to and what will be the role of backbench and opposition councillors in all of this? We will have to see.

So far this looks like a managerial approach without a democratic element. It is a typical top-down Labour solution that will further undermine local acountability and disempower local electors. It really isnt good enough.

Monday, October 03, 2016

The Trump-Farage Axis

For those who thought that Nigel Farage's appearance at a rally with Donald Trump was a one-off, the Independent reports that the former UKIP leader is alive and well and in the US offering informal advice to the Republican nominee.

The paper says that Farage is expected to be in the audience at the second election clash next Sunday at the invitation of Donald Trump.

Farage has apparently been advising Trump not to get into a cat fight with Hillary Clinton but to address voters directly. Some would say that is part of the problem. Trump's late night tweets to the US voting public are what are getting him in the most trouble.

Whether Farage can replicate the Brexit revolution in the USA has yet to be seen. Unfortunately, the stakes are much higher given the possibility of Trump having his finger on the nuclear button.

Sunday, October 02, 2016

Can May bring clarity to the Brexit vote?

The Sunday papers are full of speculation about what precisely Theresa May is going to announce at this week's Tory Conference.

Tory spin doctors say she will be unveiling a great reform bill putting all EU law onto our statute book. They do not say if this means all EU laws and regulations or whether ideologically inconvenient laws will be quietly forgotten about. Elsewhere there are demands that May use her speech to name the Brexit date.

There are still many divisions within the Conservatives however, as to how they will go about meeting the demands of the British people as expresed in June's referendum.

The Guardian reports that Anna Soubry, a former Business Minister, has voiced concerns about the responsibility for Brexit given to Liam Fox, Boris Johnson and David Davis, saying it was “really worrying these are the senior people who have the future of our country in their hands”:

In the run-up to the Conservative party conference in Birmingham this weekend, Anna Soubry reserved particular criticism for Fox, branding his speech on free trade in Manchester on Thursday “delusional”.

The former business minister, who sat in cabinet until July, said Theresa May was a voice of sanity following the referendum, but that the prime minister needed to explain even in “broad terms” what she wanted out of Brexit, as three months later we are “no further forward, and it’s her job to lead us”.

“Liam Fox’s speech this week was very worrying; in fact, it was delusional,” she told the Guardian. “How can we have ‘freer’ free trade? Let’s get real, for God’s sake. It’s really worrying that these are the senior people who have the future of our country in their hands. May is the voice of sanity, and without her I don’t know where the three Brexiteers would take us.”

The paper says that Fox’s grasp of trade law also came under attack from Sir David Edward, a former judge in the European court of justice who is advising the Scottish government on Brexit:

Edward challenged Fox’s claim that the UK would keep the EU’s existing tariff schedule when it leaves the bloc.

“Nobody who understands trade law could have possibly have said what he said,” he told an MLex Competition conference.

“And as an economist has said, there is no such thing in today’s world as free trade or a free trade agreement, there is only managed trade or participation in a regulated market, and that is quite important. The notion that we can get back to some kind of Victorian liberal notion of totally free trade I think is totally misleading.”

May might have set a trap for the three Brexiteers by handing them key jobs but is the UK economy who will pay for their failings.

Saturday, October 01, 2016

Did Donald Trump appear in a porn video?

I have been trying to keep away from the US Presidential election, partially so as not to jinx my favoured candidate, one Hillary Clinton, but also because the more I read about it the more preposterous the contest seems.

However, I am not immune to an opportunity to feature a bit of click bait so this piece in the Independent was irrresistible.

The story revolves around Donald Trump's treatment of women (which is appalling) and the claim by Clinton during the first debate that her opponent had verbally abused Alicia Machado during a Miss Universe contest.

Trump has been obsessing about this allegation ever since, culminating in him joining in a right wing campaign against Miss Machado in which it was alleged that she had appeared in the remarkably named porn film, Apprentass 4.

The article, which featured this allegation, has since been amended to say that “The star of Apprentass 4 was Angel Dark, not Alicia Machado."  The whole sordid episode was summed up in one tweet:  "First ever presidential nominee to release a public statement containing the phrase "check out sex tape" at 5:30AM: https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/781788223055994880 …"

Undeterred Trump continued to peddle the allegation only for it to rebound on him with devastating effect, for it transpires that Donald Trump once appeared in a Playboy VHS title:

The BuzzFeed story makes it clear that Trump did not appear in a sexual scene, but it featured him along with some Playboy 'playmates', spraying the foam from a champagne bottle onto a Playboy branded limousine on a New York City street.

As the Independent says if so inclined, you can buy the DVD on Amazon:

As a savvy consumer, you ought to know it has been reviewed twice and garnered a 4.5 star overall rating. Because the Donald is good at winning. One of the reviews, by the grace of God, lists the DVD features, which include 'It's Party Time', ' The Old Switch-a-Roo' and 'The Hunt for Playmate 2000'.

Again, we turn to Twitter for the final verdict this time from George Takei: Many wonder why no one ever noticed that Trump had a brief cameo in a soft core porn video. It turns out, everyone fast-forwarded thru it.

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